THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS: AND OTHER TALES
HORACE HOWARD FURNESS AND GEORG BRANDES. DABO DUOBUS TESTIBUS MEIS
The Twilight of the Gods The Potion of Lao-Tsze Abdallah the Adite Ananda the Miracle Worker The City of Philosophers The Demon Pope The Cupbearer The Wisdom of the Indians The Dumb Oracle Duke Virgil The Claw Alexander the Ratcatcher The Rewards of Industry Madam Lucifer The Talismans The Elixir of Life The Poet of Panopolis The Purple Head The Firefly Pan's Wand A Page from the Book of Folly The Bell of Saint Euschemon Bishop Addo and Bishop Gaddo The Philosopher and the Butterflies Truth and Her Companions The Three Palaces New Readings in Biography The Poison Maid NOTES
THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS
Truth fails not, but her outward forms that bear The longest date do melt like frosty rime.
The fourth Christian century was far past its meridian, when, high above the summit of the supreme peak of Caucasus, a magnificent eagle came sailing on broad fans into the blue, and his shadow skimmed the glittering snow as it had done day by day for thousands of years. A human figure—or it might be superhuman, for his mien seemed more than mortal—lifted from the crag, to which he hung suspended by massy gyves and rivets, eyes mournful with the presentiment of pain. The eagle's screech clanged on the wind, as with outstretched neck he stooped earthward in ever narrowing circles; his huge quills already creaked in his victim's ears, whose flesh crept and shrank, and involuntary convulsions agitated his hands and feet. Then happened what all these millenniums had never witnessed. No thunderbolt had blazed forth from that dome of cloudless blue; no marksman had approached the inaccessible spot; yet, without vestige of hurt, the eagle dropped lifeless, falling sheer down into the unfathomable abyss below. At the same moment the bonds of the captive snapped asunder, and, projected by an impetus which kept him clear of the perpendicular precipice, he alighted at an infinite depth on a sun-flecked greensward amid young ash and oak, where he long lay deprived of sense and motion.
The sun fell, dew gathered on the grass, moonshine glimpsed through the leaves, stars peeped timidly at the prostrate figure, which remained prostrate and unconscious still. But as sunlight was born anew in the East a thrill passed over the slumberer, and he became conscious, first of an indescribably delicious feeling of restful ease, then of a gnawing pang, acute as the beak of the eagle for which he at first mistook it. But his wrists, though still encumbered with bonds and trailing fetters, were otherwise at liberty, and eagle there was none. Marvelling at his inward and invisible foe, he struggled to his feet, and found himself contending with a faintness and dizziness heretofore utterly unknown to him. He dimly felt himself in the midst of things grown wonderful by estrangement and distance. No grass, no flower, no leaf had met his eye for thousands of years, nothing but the impenetrable azure, the transient cloud, sun, moon, and star, the lightning flash, the glittering peaks of ice, and the solitary eagle. There seemed more wonder in a blade of grass than in all these things, but all was blotted in a dizzy swoon, and it needed his utmost effort to understand that a light sound hard by, rapidly growing more distinct, was indeed a footfall. With a violent effort he steadied himself by grasping a tree, and had hardly accomplished so much when a tall dark maiden, straight as an arrow, slim as an antelope, wildly beautiful as a Dryad, but liker a Maenad with her aspect of mingled disdain and dismay, and step hasty as of one pursuing or pursued, suddenly checked her speed on perceiving him.
"Who art thou?" he exclaimed.
"Gods! Thou speakest Greek!"
"What else should I speak?"
"What else? From whom save thee, since I closed my father's eyes, have I heard the tongue of Homer and Plato?"
"Who is Homer? Who is Plato?"
The maiden regarded him with a look of the deepest astonishment.
"Surely," she said, "thy gift has been bestowed upon thee to little purpose. Say not, at least, that thou usest the speech of the Gods to blaspheme them. Thou art surely yet a votary of Zeus?"
"I a votary of Zeus!" exclaimed the stranger. "By these fetters, no!" And, weak as he was, the forest rang with his disdainful laughter.
"Farewell," said the maiden, as with dilating form and kindling eye she gathered up her robes. "I parley with thee no more. Thou art tenfold more detestable than the howling mob down yonder, intent on rapine and destruction. They know no better, and can no other. But thou, apt in speaking the sacred tongue yet brutally ignorant of its treasures, knowing the father of the Gods only to revile him! Let me pass."
The stranger, if willing to hinder her, seemed little able. His eyes closed, his limbs relaxed, and without a cry he sank senseless on the sward.
In an instant the maiden was kneeling by his side. Hastily undoing a basket she carried on her arm, she drew forth a leather flask, and, supporting the sunken head with one hand, poured a stream of wine through the lips with the other. As the gurgling purple coursed down his throat the sufferer opened his eyes, and thanked her silently with a smile of exquisite sweetness. Removing the large leaves which shaded the contents of the basket, she disclosed ripe figs and pomegranates, honeycomb and snow-white curd, lying close to each other in tempting array. The stranger took of each alternately, and the basket was well-nigh emptied ere his appetite seemed assuaged.
The observant maiden, meanwhile, felt her mood strangely altered.
"So have I imaged Ulysses to myself," she thought as she gazed on the stranger's goodly form, full of vigour, though not without traces of age, the massive brow, the kindly mouth, the expression of far-seeing wisdom. "Such a man ignorant of letters, and a contemner of Zeus!"
The stranger's eloquent thanks roused her from a reverie. The Greek tongue fell upon her ear like the sweetest music, and she grieved when its flow was interrupted by a question addressed directly to herself.
"Can a God feel hunger and thirst?"
"Surely no," she rejoined.
"I should have said the same yesterday," returned the stranger.
"Wherefore not to-day?"
"Dear maiden," responded he, with winning voice and manner, "we must know each other better ere my tale can gain credence with thee. Do thou rather unfold what thine own speech has left dark to me. Why the language of the Gods, as should seem, is here understood by thee and me alone; what foes Zeus has here other than myself; what is the profane crowd of which thou didst speak; and why, alone and defenceless, thou ascendest this mountain. Think of me, if thou wilt, as one fallen from the clouds."
"Strange man," returned the maiden, "who knowest Homer's speech and not Homer's self, who renouncest Zeus and resemblest him, hear my tale ere I require thine. Yesterday I should have called myself the last priestess of Apollo in this fallen land, to-day I have neither shrine nor altar. Moved by I know not what madness, my countrymen have long ago forsaken the worship of the Gods. The temples crumbled into ruin, prayer was no longer offered or sacrifice made as of old, the priestly revenues were plundered; the sacred vessels carried away; the voice of oracles became dumb; the divine tongue of Greece was forgotten, its scrolls of wisdom mouldered unread, and the deluded people turned to human mechanics and fishermen. One faithful servant of Apollo remained, my father; but 'tis seven days since he closed his eyes for ever. It was time, for yesternoon the heralds proclaimed by order of the King that Zeus and the Olympians should be named no more in Caucasia."
"Ha!" interrupted the stranger, "I see it all. Said I not so?" he shouted, gazing into the sky as if his eye could pierce and his voice reach beyond the drifting clouds. "But to thy own tale," he added, turning with a gesture of command to the astonished Elenko.
"It is soon told," she said. "I knew that it was death to serve the Gods any more, yet none the less in my little temple did fire burn upon Apollo's altar this morning. Scarcely was it kindled ere I became aware of a ruffianly mob thronging to sack and spoil. I was ready for death, but not at their hands. I caught up this basket, and escaped up the mountain. On its inaccessible summit, it is reported, hangs Prometheus, whom Zeus (let me bow in awe before his inscrutable counsels) doomed for his benevolence to mankind. To him, as Aeschylus sings, Io of old found her way, and from him received monition and knowledge of what should come to pass. I will try if courage and some favouring God will guide me to him; if not, I will die as near Heaven as I may attain. Tell me on thy part what thou wilt, and let me depart. If thou art indeed Zeus's enemy, thou wilt find enough on thy side down yonder."
"I have been Zeus's enemy," returned the stranger, mildly and gravely, "I am so no longer. Immortal hate befits not the mortal I feel myself to have become. Nor needest thou ascend the peak further. Maiden, I am Prometheus!"
It is a prerogative of the Gods that, when they do speak sooth, mortals must needs believe them. Elenko hence felt no incredulity at the revelation of Prometheus, or sought other confirmation than the bonds and broken links of chain at his wrists and ankles.
"Now," he cried, or rather shouted, "is the prophecy fulfilled with which of old I admonished the Gods in the halls of Olympus. I told them that Zeus should beget a child mightier than himself, who should send him and them the way he had sent his father. I knew not that this child was already begotten, and that his name was Man. It has taken Man ages to assert himself, nor has he yet, as it would seem, done more than enthrone a new idol in the place of the old. But for the old, behold the last traces of its authority in these fetters, of which the first smith will rid me. Expect no thunderbolt, dear maiden; none will come: nor shall I regain the immortality of which I feel myself bereaved since yesterday."
"Is this no sorrow to thee?" asked Elenko.
"Has not my immortality been one of pain?" answered Prometheus. "Now I feel no pain, and dread one only."
"And that is?"
"The pain of missing a certain fellow-mortal," answered Prometheus, with a look so expressive that the hitherto unawed maiden cast her eyes to the ground. Hastening away from the conversation to which, nevertheless, she inly purposed to return.
"Is Man, then, the maker of Deity?" she asked.
"Can the source of his being originate in himself?" asked Prometheus. "To assert this were self-contradiction, and pride inflated to madness. But of the more exalted beings who have like him emanated from the common principle of all existence, Man, since his advent on the earth, though not the creator, is the preserver or the destroyer. He looks up to them, and they are; he out-grows them, and they are not. For the barbarian and Triballian gods there is no return; but the Olympians, if dead as deities, survive as impersonations of Man's highest conceptions of the beautiful. Languid and spectral indeed must be their existence in this barbarian age; but better days are in store for them."
"And for thee, Prometheus?"
"There is now no place," replied he, "for an impeacher of the Gods. My cause is won, my part is played. I am rewarded for my love of man by myself becoming human. When I shall have proved myself also mortal I may haply traverse realms which Zeus never knew, with, I would hope, Elenko by my side."
Elenko's countenance expressed her full readiness to accompany Prometheus as far beyond the limits of the phenomenal world as he might please to conduct her. A thought soon troubled her delicious reverie, and she inquired:
"Peradventure, then, the creed which I have execrated may be truer and better than that which I have professed?"
"If born in wiser brains and truer hearts, aye," answered Prometheus, "but of this I can have no knowledge. It seems from thy tale to have begun but ill. Yet Saturn mutilated his father, and his reign was the Golden Age."
While conversing, hand locked in hand, they had been strolling aimlessly down the mountain. Turning an abrupt bend in the path, they suddenly found themselves in presence of an assembly of early Christians.
These confessors were making the most of Elenko's dilapidated temple, whose smoking shell threw up a sable column in the background. The effigies of Apollo and the Muses had been dragged forth, and were being diligently broken up with mallets and hammers. Others of the sacrilegious throng were rending scrolls, or dividing vestments, or firing the grove of laurel that environed the shrine, or pelting the affrighted birds as they flew forth. The sacred vessels, however, at least those of gold and silver, appeared safe in the guardianship of an episcopal personage of shrewd and jovial aspect, under whose inspection they were being piled up by a troop of sturdy young ecclesiastics, the only weapon-bearers among the rabble. Elenko stood riveted to the ground. Prometheus, to her amazement, rushed forward to one of the groups with a loud "By all the Gods and Goddesses!" Following his movements, she saw that the object of his interest was an enormous dead eagle carried by one of the mob. The multitude, startled by his cry and his emotion, gazed eagerly at the strangers, and instantly a shout went up:
"The heathen woman!"
"With a heathen man!"
And clubs began to be brandished, and stones to be picked up from the ground.
Prometheus, to whom the shouts were unintelligible, looked wistfully at Elenko. As their eyes met, Elenko's countenance, which had hitherto been all disdain and defiance, assumed an expression of irresolution. A stone struck Prometheus on the temple, drawing blood; a hundred hands went up, each weighted with a missile.
"Do as I," cried Elenko to him, and crossed herself.
Prometheus imitated her, not unsuccessfully for a novice.
The uplifted arms were stayed, some even sank down.
By this time the Bishop had bustled to the front, and addressed a torrent of questions to Prometheus, who merely shook his head, and turned to inspect the eagle.
"Brethren," said the Bishop, "I smell a miracle!" And, turning to Elenko, he rapidly proceeded to cross-examine her.
"Thou wert the priestess of this temple?"
"Thou didst leave it this morning a heathen?"
"Thou returnest a Christian?"
Elenko blushed fire, her throat swelled, her heart beat violently. All her soul seemed concentrated in the gaze she fastened on the pale and bleeding Prometheus. She remained silent—but she crossed herself.
"Who then has persuaded thee to renounce Apollo?"
Elenko pointed to Prometheus.
"An enemy of Zeus, then?"
"Zeus has not such another enemy in the world."
"I knew it, I was sure of it," exclaimed the Bishop. "I can always tell a Christian when I see him. Wherefore speaks he not?"
"He is ancient, for all his vigorous mien. His martyrdom began ere our present speech was, nor could he learn this in his captivity."
"Martyrdom! Captivity!" exclaimed the prelate gleefully, "I thought we were coming thither. An early martyr, doubtless?"
"A very early martyr."
"Fettered and manacled?"
"Behold his wrists and ankles."
"Tortured, of course?"
"Miraculously kept alive to this day?"
"In an entirely supernatural manner."
"Now," said the Bishop, "I would wager my mitre and ring that his life was prolonged by the daily ministrations of yonder fowl that he caresses with such singular affection?"
"Never," replied Elenko, "for one day did that most punctual bird omit to visit him."
"Hurrah!" shouted the Bishop. "And now, its mission accomplished, the blessed creature, as I am informed, is found dead at the foot of the mountain. Saints and angels! this is glorious! On your knees, ye infidels!"
And down they all went, the Bishop setting the example. As their heads were bowed to the earth, Elenko made a sign to Prometheus, and when the multitude looked up, it beheld him in the act of imparting the episcopal blessing.
"Tell him that we are all his brethren," said the Bishop, which announcement became in Elenko's mouth, "Do as I do, and cleave to thy eagle."
A procession was formed. The new saint, his convert, and the eagle, rode in a car at the head of it. The Bishop, surrounded by his bodyguard, followed with the sacred vessels of Apollo, to which he had never ceased to direct a vigilant eye throughout the whole proceedings. The multitude swarmed along singing hymns, or contending for the stray feathers of the eagle. The representatives of seven monasteries put in their claims for the links of Prometheus's fetters, but the Bishop scouted them all. He found time to whisper to Elenko:
"You seem a sensible young person. Just hint to our friend that we don't want to hear anything about his theology, and the less he talks about the primitive Church the better. No doubt he is a most intelligent man, but he cannot possibly be up to all the recent improvements."
Elenko promised most fervently that Prometheus' theological sentiments should remain a mystery to the public. She then began to reflect very seriously on the subject of her own morals. "This day," she said to herself, "I have renounced all the Gods, and told lies enough to last me my life, and for no other reason than that I am in love. If this is a sufficient reason, lovers must have a different code of morality from the rest of the world, and indeed it would appear that they have. Will you die for me? Yes. Admirable. Will you lie for me? No. Then you don't love me. [Greek: Ball' eis korakas, eis Tainaron, eis 'Ogg Kogg]."
Elenko soon found that there was no pausing upon the path to which she had committed herself. As the sole medium of communication between Prometheus and the religious public, her time was half spent in instructing Prometheus in the creed in which he was supposed to have instructed her, and half in framing the edifying sentences which passed for the interpretation of discourses for the most part far more interesting to herself than if they had been what they professed to be. The rapt and impassioned attention which she was observed to bestow on his utterances on such occasions all but gained her the reputation of a saint, and was accepted as a sufficient set-off against the unhallowed affection which she could not help manifesting for the memory of her father. The judicious reluctance of the Caucasian ecclesiastics to inquire over-anxiously into the creeds and customs of the primitive Church was a great help to her; and another difficulty was removed by the Bishop, who, having no idea of encouraging a rival thaumaturgist, took an early opportunity of signifying that it was rather in the line of Desmotes (for by this name the new saint passed) to be the subject than the instrument of miracles, and that, at all events, no more were to be looked for from him at his time of life. The warmth with which Elenko espoused this view raised her greatly in his good opinion, and he was always ready to come to her aid when she became entangled in chronological or historical difficulties, or seasoned her versions of Desmotes' speeches with reminiscences of Plato or Marcus Aurelius, or when her invention failed altogether. On such occasions, if objectors grew troublesome, the Bishop would thunder, "Brethren, I smell a heresy!" and no more was said. One minor trouble both to Prometheus and Elenko was the affection they were naturally expected to manifest towards the carcase of the wretched eagle, which many identified with the eagle of the Evangelist John. Prometheus was of a forgiving disposition, but Elenko wished nothing more ardently than that the whole aquiline race might have but one neck, and that she might wring it. It somewhat comforted her to observe that the eagle's plumage was growing thin, while the eagle's custodian was growing fat.
But she had worse troubles to endure than any that eagles could occasion. The youth of those who resorted to her and Prometheus attracted remark from the graver members of the community. Young ladies found the precepts of the handsome and dignified saint indispensable to their spiritual health; young men were charmed with their purity as they came filtered through the lips of Elenko. Is man more conceited than woman, or more confiding? Elenko should certainly have been at ease; no temptress, however enterprising, could well be spreading her nets for an Antony three hundred years old. Prometheus, on the contrary, might have found cause for jealousy in many a noble youth's unconcealed admiration of Elenko. Yet he seemed magnificently unconscious of any cause for apprehension, while Elenko's heart swelled till it was like to burst. She had the further satisfaction of knowing herself the best hated woman in Caucasia, between the enmity of those of whose admirers she had made an involuntary conquest, and of those who found her standing between them and Prometheus. Her monopoly of Greek, she felt sure, was her only security. Two constant attendants at Prometheus's receptions particularly alarmed her, the Princess Miriam, niece of the Bishop, a handsome widow accustomed to have things as she wished them; and a tall veiled woman who seemed unknown to all, but whose unseen eyes, she instinctively knew, were never averted from the unconscious Prometheus.
It was therefore with some trepidation that she received a summons to the private apartment of the Princess Miriam.
"Dear friend," the Princess began, "thou knowest the singular affection which I have invariably entertained for thee."
"Right well do I know it," responded Elenko. ("The thirty-first lie to-day," she added wearily to herself.)
"It is this affection, dear friend," continued the Princess, "which induces me on the present occasion to transgress the limits of conventional propriety, and make a communication distressing to thee, but infinitely more so to myself."
Elenko implored the Princess to make no such sacrifice in the cause of friendship, but the great lady was resolute.
"People say," she continued—
"What say they?"
"That thy relation to Desmotes is indiscreet. That it is equivocal. That it is offensive. That it is sacrilegious. That, in a word, it is improper."
Elenko defended herself with as much energy as her candour would allow.
"Dear friend," said the Princess, "thou dost not imagine that I have part or lot in these odious imputations? Even could I deem them true, should I not think charitably of thee, but yesterday a heathen, and educated in impiety by a foul sorcerer? My poor lamb! But tongues must be stopped, and I have now to advise thee how this may be accomplished."
"People will always talk so long as thou art the sole medium of communication with the holy man. Some deem him less ignorant of our speech than he seems, but concerning this I inquire not: for, in society, what seems, is. Enough that thy colloquies expose thee to scandal. There is but one remedy. Thou must yield thy place to another. It is meet that thou forthwith instruct in that barbarous dialect some matron of unblemished repute and devout aspirations; no mere ignorant devotee, however, but a woman of the world, whose prudence and experience may preserve the holy man from the pitfalls set for him by the unprincipled. Manifestly she must be a married person, else nought were gained, yet must she not be chargeable with forsaking her duties towards her husband and children. It follows that she must be a widow. It were also well that she should be of kin to some influential personage, to whose counsel she might have recourse in times of difficulty, and whose authority might protect her against the slanderous and evil disposed. I have not been able to meet any one endowed with all these qualifications, excepting myself. I therefore propose to thee that thou shouldst instruct me in the speech of Desmotes, and when I am qualified to take thy place my uncle shall elevate thee to the dignity of Abbess, or bestow thee upon some young clergyman of extraordinary desert."
Elenko intimated, perhaps with more warmth than necessary, her aversion to both propositions, and the extreme improbability of the Princess ever acquiring any knowledge of Greek by her instrumentality.
"If this is the case," said the Princess, with perfect calmness, "I must have recourse to my other method, which is infallible."
Elenko inquired what it might be.
"I shall represent to my uncle, what indeed he very well knows, that a saint is, properly speaking, of no value till he is dead. Not until his decease are his relics available, or pilgrimages to his shrine feasible. It is solely in anticipation of this event that my uncle is keeping Desmotes at all; and the sooner it comes to pass, the sooner will my revered relative come by his own. Only think of the capital locked up in the new church, now so nearly completed, on the spot where they picked up the eagle! How shall it be dedicated to Desmotes in Desmotes' lifetime? Were it not a most blissful and appropriate coincidence if the day of the consecration were that of the saint's migration to a better world? I shall submit this view of the case to my uncle: he is accustomed to hear reason from me, of whom, between ourselves, he is not a little afraid. Thou mayest rely upon it that about the time of the consecration Desmotes will ascend to heaven; while thou, it is gravely to be feared, wilt proceed in the opposite direction. Would'st thou avert this unpleasantness, think well of my first proposal. I give thee credit for loving Desmotes, and suppose, therefore, that thou wilt make some sacrifice for his sake. I am a Kettle, thou art a Pot. Take heed how thou knockest against me!"
Elenko sped back to bear tidings of the threatened collision to Prometheus. As she approached his chamber she heard with astonishment two voices in eager conversation, and discovered with still greater amazement that their dialogue was carried on in Greek. The second speaker, moreover, was evidently a female. A jealous pang shot through Elenko's breast; she looked cautiously in, and discerned the same mysterious veiled woman whose demeanour had already been an enigma to her. But the veil was thrown back, and the countenance went far to allay Elenko's disquiet. It bore indeed traces of past beauty, but was altogether that of one who had known better days; worn and faded, weary and repining. Elenko's jealousy vanished, though her surprise redoubled, when she heard Prometheus address the stranger as "Sister."
"A pretty brother I have got," rejoined the lady, in high sharp tones: "to leave me in want! Never once to inquire after me!"
"Nay, sister, or sister-in-law," responded Prometheus, "if it comes to that, where were you while I was on Caucasus? The Oceanides ministered to me, Hermes came now and then, even Hercules left a card; but I never saw Pandora."
"How could I compromise Epimetheus, Prometheus?" demanded Pandora. "Besides, my attendant Hope was always telling me that all would come right, without any meddling of mine."
"Let her tell you so now," retorted Prometheus.
"Tell me now! Do you pretend not to know that the hussey forsook Olympus ten years ago, and has turned Christian?"
"I am sure I am very sorry to hear it. Somehow, she never forsook me. I can't imagine how you Gods get on without her."
"Get on! We are getting off. Except Eros and Plutus, who seem as usual, and the old Fates, who go on spinning as if nothing had happened, none of us expects to last for another ten years. The sacrifices have dwindled down to nothing. Zeus has put down his eagle. Hera has eaten her peacocks. Apollo's lyre is never heard—pawned, no doubt. Bacchus drinks water, and Venus—well, you can imagine how she gets on without him and Ceres. And here you are, sleek and comfortable, and never troubling yourself about your family. But you had better, or I swear I will tell Zeus; and we shall see whether these Christians will keep you with your ante-chamber full of starving gods. Take a day to think of what I have been saying!"
And away she flounced, not noticing Elenko. Long and earnestly did the pair discuss the perils that menaced them, and at the end of their deliberations Elenko sought the Bishop, and briefly imparted the Princess Miriam's ultimatum.
"It is painful to a spiritual man," replied the prelate, "to be accessory to a murder. It is also repugnant to his feelings to deny a beloved niece anything on which she has set her heart. To avoid such grievous dilemma, I judge it well that ye both ascend to heaven without further ceremony."
That night the ascent of Prometheus and Elenko was witnessed by divers credible persons. The new church was consecrated shortly afterwards. It was amply stored with relics from the wardrobe of Prometheus and what remained of the eagle. The damsels of the capital regained their admirers, and those who had become enamoured of Prometheus mostly transferred their affections to the Bishop. Everybody was satisfied except the Princess Miriam, who never ceased to deplore her indulgence in giving Elenko the chance of first speech with her uncle.
"If I had been five minutes beforehand with the minx!" she said.
The heaven to which Prometheus and Elenko had ascended was situated in a sequestered valley of Laconia. A single winding path led into the glen, which was inhabited only by a few hunters and shepherds, who still observed the rites of the ancient faith; and sometimes, deeming but to show kindness to a mortal, refreshed or sheltered a forlorn and hungry Deity. Saving at the entrance the vale was walled round by steep cliffs, for the most part waving with trees, but here and there revealing the naked crag. It was traversed by a silvery stream, in its windings enclosing Prometheus's and Elenko's cottage, almost as in an island. The cot, buried in laurel and myrtle, had a garden where fig and mulberry, grape and almond, ripened in their season. A few goats browsed on the long grass, and yielded their milk to the household. Bread and wine, and flesh when needed, were easily procured from the neighbours. Beyond necessary furniture, the cottage contained little but precious scrolls, obtained by Elenko from Athens and the newly founded city of Constantine. In these, under her guidance, Prometheus read of matters that never, while he dwelt on Olympus, entered the imagination of any God.
It is a chief happiness of lovers that each possesses treasures wholly their own, which they may yet make fully the possession of the other. These treasures are of divers kinds, beauty, affection, memory, hope. But never were such treasures of knowledge shared between lovers as between Prometheus and Elenko. Each possessed immeasurable stores, hitherto inaccessible to the other. How trifling seemed the mythical lore which Elenko had gleaned as the minister of Phoebus to that now imparted by Prometheus! The Titan had seen all, and been a part of all that he had seen. He had bowed beneath the sceptre of Uranus, he had witnessed his fall, and marked the ocean crimson with his blood. He remembered hoary Saturn a brisk active Deity, pushing his way to the throne of Heaven, and devouring in a trice the stone that now resists his fangs for millenniums. He had heard the shields of the Corybantes clash around the infant Zeus; he described to Elenko how one day the sea had frothed and boiled, and undraped Aphrodite had ascended from it in the presence of the gazing and applauding amphitheatre of cloud-cushioned gods. He could depict the personal appearance of Cybele, and sketch the character of Enceladus. He had instructed Zeus, as Chiron had instructed Achilles; he remembered Poseidon afraid of the water, and Pluto of the dark. He called to mind and expounded ancient oracles heretofore unintelligible: he had himself been told, and had disbelieved, that the happiest day of his own life would be that on which he should feel himself divested of immortality. Of the younger gods and their doings he knew but little; he inquired with interest whether Bacchus had returned in safety from his Indian expedition, and whether Proserpine had a family of divine imps.
Much more, nevertheless, had Elenko to teach Prometheus than she could learn from him. How trivial seemed the history of the gods to what he now heard of the history of men! Were these indeed the beings he had known "like ants in the sunless recesses of caves, dwelling deep-burrowing in the earth, ignorant of the signs of the seasons," to whom he had given fire and whom he had taught memory and number, for whom he had "brought the horse under the chariot, and invented the sea-beaten, flaxen-winged chariot of the sailor?" And now, how poorly showed the gods beside this once wretched brood! What Deity could die for Olympus, as Leonidas had for Greece? Which of them could, like Iphigenia, dwell for years beside the melancholy sea, keeping a true heart for an absent brother? Which of them could raise his fellows nearer to the source of all Deity, as Socrates and Plato had raised men? Who could portray himself as Phidias had portrayed Athene? Could the Muses speak with their own voices as they had spoken by Sappho's? He was especially pleased to see his own moral superiority to Zeus so eloquently enforced by AEschylus, and delighted in criticising the sentiments which the other poets had put into the mouths of the gods. Homer, he thought, must have been in Olympus often, and Aristophanes not seldom. When he read in the Cyclops of Euripides, "Stranger, I laugh to scorn Zeus's thunderbolts," he grew for a moment thoughtful. "Am I," he questioned, "ending where Polyphemus began?" But when he read a little further on:
The wise man's only Jupiter is this, To eat and drink during his little day, And give himself no care—
"No," he said, "the Zeus that nailed me to the rock is better than this Zeus. But well for man to be rid of both, if he does not put another in their place; or, in dropping his idolatry, has not flung away his religion. Heaven has not departed with Zeus." And, taking his lyre, he sang:
What floods of lavish splendour The lofty sun doth pour! What else can Heaven render? What room hath she for more?
Yet shall his course be shortly done, And after his declining The skies that held a single Sun With thousands shall be shining.
It was not long ere the gods began to find their way to Prometheus's earthly paradise, and who came once came again. The first was Epimetheus, who had probably suffered least of all from the general upset, having in truth little to lose since his ill-starred union with Pandora. He had indeed reason for thankfulness in his practical divorce from his spouse, who had settled in Caucasia, and gave Greek lessons to the Princess Miriam. Would Prometheus lend him half a talent? a quarter? a tenth? a hundredth? Thanks, thanks. Prometheus might rely upon it that his residence should not be divulged on any account. Notwithstanding which assurance, the cottage was visited next day by eleven gods and demigods, mostly Titans. Elenko found it trying, and was really alarmed when by and by the Furies, having made over their functions to the Devil, strolled up to take the air, and dropped in for a chat, bringing Cerberus. But they behaved exceedingly well, and took back a message from Elenko to Eurydice. Ere long she was on most intimate terms with all the dethroned divinities, celestial, infernal, and marine.
Beautiful and blessed beyond most things is youthful enthusiasm, looking up to something it feels or deems above itself. Beautiful, too, as autumn sunshine is maturity looking down with gentleness on the ideal it has surpassed, and reverencing it still for old ideas and associations. The thought of beholding a Deity would once have thrilled Elenko with rapture, if this had not been checked by awe at her own presumption. The idea that a Deity, other than some disgraced offender like Prometheus, could be the object of her compassion, would never have entered her mind. And now she pitied the whole Olympian cohort most sincerely, not so much for having fallen as for having deserved to fall. She could not conceal from herself how grievously they were one and all behind the age. It was impossible to make Zeus comprehend how an idea could be a match for a thunderbolt. Apollo spoke handsomely of Homer, yet evidently esteemed the Iliad and Odyssey but lightly in comparison with the blind bard's hymn to himself. Ceres candidly admitted that her mind was a complete blank on the subject of the Eleusinian mysteries. Aphrodite's dress was admirable for summer, but in winter seemed obstinate conservatism; and why should Pallas make herself a fright with her Gorgon helmet, now that it no longer frightened anybody? Where Elenko would fain have adored she found herself tolerating, excusing, condescending. How many Elenkos are even now tenderly nursing ancient creeds, whose main virtue is the virtue of their professors!
One autumn night all the principal gods were assembled under Prometheus's roof, doing justice to the figs and mulberries, and wine cooled with Taygetan snow. The guests were more than usually despondent. Prometheus was moody and abstracted, his breast seemed labouring with thought. "So looked my Pythoness," whispered Apollo to his neighbour, "when about to deliver an oracle."
And the oracle came—in lyric verse, not to infringe any patent of Apollo's—
When o'er the towers of Constantine An Orient Moon begins to shine, Waning nor waxing aught, and bright In daytide as in deep of night: Then, though the fane be brought To wreck, the God shall find, Enthroned in human thought, A temple in the mind.
"And what becomes of us while this prodigious moonshine is concocting?" demanded Zeus, who had become the most sceptical of any of the gods.
"Go to Elysium," suggested Prometheus.
"There's an idea!" cried Zeus and Pallas together.
"To Elysium! to Elysium!" exclaimed the other gods, and all rose tumultuously, saving two.
"I go not," said Eros, "for where Love is, there is Elysium. And yonder rising moon tells me that my hour is come." And he flitted forth.
"Neither go I," said an old blind god, "for where Plutus is, Elysium is not. Moreover, mankind would follow after me. But I too must away. Strange that I should have abode so long under the roof of a pair of perfect virtue." And he tottered out.
But the other gods swept forth into the moonlight, and were seen no more. And Prometheus picked up the forsaken sandals of Hermes, and bound them on his own feet, and grasped Elenko, and they rose up by a dizzy flight to empty heaven. All was silent in those immense courts, vacant of everything save here and there some rusty thunderbolt or mouldering crumb of ambrosia. Above, around, below, beyond sight, beyond thought, stretched the still deeps of aether, blazing with innumerable worlds. Eye could rove nowhither without beholding a star, nor could star be beheld from which the Gods' hall, with all its vastness, would not have been utterly invisible. Elenko leaned over the battlements, and watched the racing meteors. Prometheus stood by her, and pointed out in the immeasurable distance the little speck of shining dust from which they had flown.
"There? or here?" he asked.
"There!" said Elenko.
THE POTION OF LAO-TSZE
And there the body lay, age after age, Mute, breathing, beating, warm, and undecaying, Like one asleep in a green hermitage, With gentle sleep about its eyelids playing, And living in its dreams beyond the rage Of death or life; while they were still arraying In liveries ever new the rapid, blind, And fleeting generations of mankind.
In the days of the Tang dynasty China was long happy under the sceptre of a good Emperor, named Sin-Woo. He had overcome the enemies of the land, confirmed the friendship of its allies, augmented the wealth of the rich, and mitigated the wretchedness of the poor. But most especially was he admired and beloved for his persecution of the impious sect of Lao-tsze, which he had well-nigh exterminated.
It was but natural that such an Emperor should congratulate himself upon his goodness and worth; yet, as no human bliss is perfect, sorrow could not fail to enter his mind.
"It is grievous to reflect," said he to his courtiers, "that if, as ye all affirm, there hath not been any Emperor of equal merit with myself before my time, neither will any such arise after me, my subjects must inevitably be sufferers by my death."
To which the courtiers unanimously responded, "O Emperor, live for ever!"
"Happy thought!" exclaimed the Emperor; "but wherewithal shall it be executed?"
The Prime Minister looked at the Chancellor, the Chancellor looked at the Treasurer, the Treasurer looked at the Chamberlain, the Chamberlain looked at the Principal Bonze, the Principal Bonze looked at the Second Bonze, who, to his great surprise, looked at him in return.
"When the turn comes to me," murmured the inferior functionary, "I would say somewhat."
"Speak!" commanded the Emperor.
"O Uncle of the stars," said the Bonze, "there are those in your Majesty's dominions who possess the power of lengthening life, who have, in fact, discovered the Elixir of Immortality."
"Let them be immediately brought hither," commanded the Emperor.
"Unhappily," returned the Bonze, "these persons, without exception, belong to the abominable sect of Lao-tsze, whose members your Majesty long ago commanded to cease from existence, with which august order they have for the most part complied. In my own diocese, where for some years after your Majesty's happy accession we were accustomed to impale twenty thousand annually, it is now difficult to find twenty, with the utmost diligence on the part of the executioners."
"It has of late sometimes appeared to me," said the Emperor, "that there may be more good in that sect than I have been led to believe by my counsellors."
"I have always thought," said the Prime Minister, "that they were rather misguided than wilfully wicked."
"They are a kind of harmless lunatics," said the Chancellor; "they should, I think, be made wards in Chancery."
"Their money does not appear different from other men's," said the Treasurer.
"I," said the Chamberlain, "have known an old woman who had known another old woman who belonged to this sect, and who assured her that she had been very good when she was a little girl."
"If," said the Emperor, "it appears that his Grace the Principal Bonze hath in any respect misled us, his property will necessarily be confiscated to the Imperial Treasury, and the Second Bonze will succeed to his office. It is needful, however, to ascertain before all things whether this sect does really possess the Elixir of Immortality, for on that the entire question of its deserts obviously depends. Our Counsellor the Second Bonze having, next to myself, the greatest interest in the matter, I desire him to make due inquiries and report to us at the next council, when I shall be prepared to state what fine will be imposed upon him, should he not have succeeded."
That night all the members of the Lao-tsze sect inhabiting prisons under the jurisdiction of the Principal Bonze were decapitated, and the P.B. laid his own head upon his pillow with some approach to peace of mind, trusting that the knowledge of the Elixir of Immortality had perished with them.
The Second Bonze, having a different object to attain, proceeded in a different manner. He sent for his captives, and discoursed to them touching the evil arts of unprincipled courtiers, and the facility with which they mislead even the best intentioned princes. For years had he, the Second Bonze, pleaded the cause of toleration at court; and had at length succeeded in enlightening his Majesty to such an extent that there was every prospect of an edict of indulgence being shortly promulgated, provided always that the Elixir of Life was previously forthcoming.
The unfortunate heretics would have been only too thankful to prolong the Emperor's life indefinitely in consideration of securing peace for their own, but they could only inform the Bonze of the general tradition of their sect. This was that the knowledge of Lao-tsze's secret was confined to certain adepts, most of whom were plunged into so deep a trance that any communication with them was impossible. For the administration of the miraculous draught, it appeared, was attended with this inconvenience, that it threw the partaker into a deep sleep, lasting any time between ten years and eternity, according to the depth of his potation. During its continuance the ordinary operations of nature were suspended, and the patient awoke with precisely the same bodily constitution, old or young, as he had possessed on falling into his lethargy; and though still liable to wounds and accidents, he or she continued to enjoy undiminished health and vigour for a period equal to the duration of the trance, after which he sank back into the ranks of mortality, unless he could repeat the potion. All the adepts who had come to life under his present Majesty's most clement reign had immediately emigrated: the only persons, therefore, capable of giving information were now buried in slumber, and of course would only speak when they should awake. They were mostly concealed in the recesses of caverns, those inhabited by wild beasts being usually preferred for the sake of better security, as no tiger or bear would harm a follower of Lao-tsze. The witnesses, therefore, advised the Bonze to ascertain the residences of the most ferocious tigers in his diocese, and to wait upon them personally, in the hope of thus discovering what he sought.
This suggestion was exceedingly unpalatable to the Bonze, who felt almost equally unwilling to venture himself into a wild beast's den or to give any other person the chance of making the discovery. While he hesitated in unspeakable perplexity he was informed that an old man, about to expire at the age of an hundred and twenty years, desired to have speech with him. Thinking so venerable a personage likely to have at least a glimmering of the great secret, the Bonze hurried to his bedside.
"Our master, Lao-tsze," began the old man, "forbids us to leave this world with anything undisclosed which may contribute to the advantage of our fellow-creatures. Whether he deemed the knowledge of the cup of immortality conducive to this end I cannot say, but the question doth not arise, for I do not possess it. Hear my tale, nevertheless. Ninety years ago, being a hunter, it was my hap to fall into the jaws of an enormous tiger, who bore me off to his cavern. I there found myself in the presence of two ladies, one youthful and of surpassing loveliness, the other haggard and wrinkled. The younger lady expostulated with the tiger, and he forthwith released me. My gratitude won the women's confidence, and I learned that they were disciples of Lao-tsze who had repaired to the cavern to partake of the miraculous draught, which they were just about to do. They were, it appeared, mother and daughter, and I distinctly remember that the composition of the beverage was known to the daughter only. This impressed me, for I should naturally have expected the contrary. The tiger escorted me home. I forswore hunting, and became, and have secretly continued, a disciple of Lao-tsze. I will now indicate the position of the cavern to thee: whether the ladies will still be found in it is beyond my power to say."
And having pointed out the direction of the cavern, he expired.
The thing had to be done. The Bonze dressed himself up as much like a votary of Lao-tsze as possible, provided himself with a body-guard of bona fide disciples, and, accompanied by a small army of huntsmen and warriors as well, marched in quest of the den of the tiger. It was discovered about nightfall, and having tethered a small boy near the entrance, that his screams when being devoured might give notice of the tiger's issue from or return to his habitation, the Bonze and his myrmidons took up a flank position and awaited the dawn. The distant howls of roaming beasts of prey entirely deprived the holy man of his rest, but nothing worse befell him, and when in the morning the small boy, instead of providing the tiger with a breakfast, was heard crying for his own, the besiegers mustered up courage to enter the cavern. The glare of their torches revealed no tiger: but, to the Bonze's inexpressible delight, two females lay on the floor of the cave, corresponding in all respects to the description of the old man. Their costume was that of the preceding century. One was wrinkled and hoary; the inexpressible loveliness of the other, who might have seen seventeen or eighteen summers, extorted a universal cry of admiration, followed by a hush of enraptured silence. Warm, flexible, fresh in colour, breathing naturally as in slumber, the figures lay, the younger woman's arm underneath the elder woman's neck, and her chin nestling on the other's shoulder. The countenance of each seemed to indicate happy dreams.
"Can this indeed be but a trance?" simultaneously questioned several of the Bonze's followers.
"Fiat experimentum in corpore vili!" exclaimed the Bonze; and he thrust his long hunting spear into the elder woman's bosom. Blood poured forth freely, but there was no change in the expression of the countenance. No struggle announced dissolution; not until the body grew chill and the limbs stiff could they be sure the old woman was indeed dead.
"Carry the young woman like porcelain," ordered the priest, and like the most fragile porcelain the exquisite young beauty was borne from the cavern smiling in her trance and utterly unconscious, while the corpse of her aged companion was abandoned to the hyaenas. So often did the bearers pause to look on her beauty that it was found necessary to drape the countenance entirely, until reaching the closed sedan in which, vigilantly watched by the Bonze, she was transported to the Imperial palace.
And so she was brought to the Emperor, and he worshipped her. She was laid on a couch of cloth of gold in the Imperial apartments. Wonderful was the contrast between her youthful beauty, so still in its repose, and the old haggard Emperor, fevered with the lust of beauty and love of life.
"O Majesty," said his wisest counsellor, "is there any sect in thy dominions that possesses the secret of perpetual youth?"
And the Emperor made proclamation, but no such sect could be found. And he mourned exceedingly, and caused strong perfumes to be burned around the sleeper, and conches to be blown and gongs beaten in her ears, hoping that she would awake ere he was dead or wholly decrepit. But she stirred not. And he shut himself up with her and passed his time praying to Fo for her awakening.
But one day the door of the chamber was beaten down, and his old wife came in passionately upbraiding him.
"Sin-Woo," she cried, "thou hast not the heart of a man! Thou wouldest be deathless, leaving me to die! I shall be laid in the grave, and thou wilt reign with another! Wherefore have I been true to thee, if not that our ashes might mingle at the last? Thou hoary sensualist!"
"Su-Ti," said the Emperor, with feeling, "thou dost grievously misjudge me. I am no heartless sensualist, no butterfly sipper at the lips of beauty. Is not my soul entirely possessed by this divine creature, whom I love with an affection infinitely exceeding that which I have entertained for thee at any period? And how knowest thou," added he, striving to soothe her, "that I will not give thee to drink of the miraculous potion?"
"And keep my grey hairs and wrinkles through all time! Nay, Sin-Woo, I am no fool like thee, and were I so, I am not in love with any youth. And know I not that even if I would accept the boon, thou would'st never give it?"
And she rushed away in fury and hanged herself by her Imperial girdle. Whereupon all the other wives and concubines of the Emperor did likewise, as custom and reason prescribe. All the palace was filled with lamentation and funerals. But the Emperor lamented not, nor turned his gaze from the sleeper, nor did the sleeper awaken.
And his son came to him angry with exceeding wrath.
"Thou hast murdered my mother. Thou would'st rob me of the crown that is rightfully mine. I, born to be an Emperor, shall die a subject! Nay, but I will save thee from thyself. I will pierce thy leman with the sword, or burn her with fire."
And the Emperor, fearing he would do as he threatened, commanded him to be slain, as also his brothers and sisters. And he paid no heed to the affairs of State, but gave all into the hand of the Second, now the Principal Bonze. And the laws ceased to be observed, and rebellions broke out in the provinces, and enemies invaded the country, and there was famine in the land.
And now the Emperor was well-nigh ten years nearer to the gates of death than when the Sleeping Beauty had been brought to his court. The love of beauty was nearly quenched in him, but the longing for life grew more intense. He became angry with the sleeper, that she awakened not, and with his little remaining strength smote her fiercely on the cheeks, but she gave no sign of reviving. Remembering that if he gained the potion of immortality he would himself be plunged into a trance, he made all preparations for the interregnum. He decreed that he was to be seated erect on his throne, with all his imperial insignia, and it was to be death to any one who should presume to remove any of them. His slumbering figure was to preside at all councils, and to be consulted in every act of state, and all ministers and officers were to do homage daily. The revived Sleeping Beauty was to partake of the draught anew, at the same time and in the same manner as himself, that she might awake with him, and that he might find her charms unimpaired. All the ministers swore solemnly to observe these regulations; firmly purposing to burn the sleeper, if sleep he ever did, at the very first opportunity, and scatter his ashes to the winds. Then they would fight for the Empire among themselves; each, meanwhile, was mainly occupied in striving to gain the rebels over to his interest, insomuch that the people grew more miserable day by day.
And as the aged Emperor waxed more and more feeble, he began to see visions. Legions of little black imps surrounded him crying, "We are thy sins, and would be punished—would'st thou by living for ever deprive us of our due?" And fair female forms came veiled with drooping heads, and murmured, "We are thy virtues, and would be rewarded—would'st thou cheat us?" And other figures came, dark but lovely, and whispered, "We are thy dead friends who have long waited for thee—would'st thou take to thyself new friends, and forget us?" And others said, "We are thy memories—wilt thou live on till we are all withered in thy heart?" And others said, "We are thy strength and thy beauty, thy memory and thy wit—canst thou live, knowing thou wilt never see us more?" And at last came two warders, officers of the King of Death, and one of them was laughing. And the other asked why he laughed, and he replied:
"I laugh at the Emperor, who thinks to escape our master, not knowing that the moment of his decease was engraved with a pen of iron upon a rock of adamant a million million years or ever this world was."
"And when comes it?" asked the other.
"In ten minutes," said the first.
When the Emperor heard this he was wild with terror, and tottered to the couch on which the Sleeping Beauty lay. "Oh, awake!" he cried, "awake and save me ere it is too late!" And, oh wonder! the sleeper stirred, and opened her eyes.
If she had been so beautiful while sleeping, what was she when awake! But the love of life had overcome the love of beauty in the Emperor's bosom, and he saw not the eyes like stars, and the bloom as of peaches and lilies, or the aspect grand and smiling as daybreak. He could only cry, "Give me the potion, lest I die, give me the potion!"
"That cannot I," she said. "The secret was known only to my daughter."
"Who is thy daughter?"
"The hoary woman, she who slept with me in the cavern."
"That aged crone thy daughter, daughter to thee so youthful and so fresh?
"Even so," she said, "I bore her at sixteen, and slumbered for seventy years. When I awoke she was withered and decrepit: I youthful as when I closed my eyes. But she had learned the secret, which I never knew."
"The Bonze shall be crucified!" yelled the Emperor.
"It is too late," said she; "he is torn in pieces already."
"By the multitude that are now coming to do the like unto thee."
And as she spoke the doors were burst open, and in rushed the people, headed by the most pious Bonze in the Empire (after the late Principal Bonze), who plunged a sword into the Emperor's breast, exclaiming:
"He who despises this life in comparison with another deserves to lose the life which he has." Words, saith the historian Li, which have been thought worthy to be inscribed in letters of gold in the Hall of Confucius.
And the people were crying, "Kill the sorceress!" But she looked upon them, and they cried, "Be our Empress!"
"Remember," said she, "that ye will have to bear with me for a hundred years!"
"Would," said they, "that it might be a hundred thousand!"
So she took the sceptre, and reigned gloriously. Among her good acts is enumerated her toleration of the followers of Lao-tsze. Since, however, they have ceased to be persecuted by man, it is observed that wild beasts have lost their ancient respect for them, and devour them with no less appetite than the members of other sects and denominations.
ABDALLAH THE ADITE
An aged hermit named Sergius dwelt in the wilds of Arabia, addicting himself to the pursuit of religion and alchemy. Of his creed it could only be said that it was so much better than that of his neighbours as to cause him to be commonly esteemed a Yezidi, or devil worshipper. But the better informed deemed him a Nestorian monk, who had retired into the wilderness on account of differences with his brethren, who sought to poison him.
The imputation of Yezidism against Sergius was the cause that a certain inquisitive young man resorted to him, trusting to obtain light concerning the nature of demons. But he found that Sergius could give him no information on that subject, but, on the contrary, discoursed so wisely and beautifully on holy things, that his pupil's intellect was enlightened, and his enthusiasm was inflamed, and he longed to go forth and instruct the ignorant people around him; the Saracens, and the Sabaeans, and the Zoroastrians, and the Carmathians, and the Baphometites, and the Paulicians, who are a remnant of the ancient Manichees.
"Nay, good youth," said Sergius, "I have renounced the sending forth of missionaries, having made ample trial with my spiritual son, the Prophet Abdallah."
"What!" exclaimed the youth, "was Abdallah the Adite thy disciple?"
"Even so," said Sergius. "Hearken to his history.
"Never have I instructed so promising a pupil as Abdallah, nor when he was first my disciple do I deem that he was other than the most simple-minded and well-intentioned of youths. I always called him son, a title I have never bestowed on another. Like thee, he had compassion on the darkness around him, and craved my leave to go forth and dispel it.
"'My son,' said I, 'I will not restrain thee: thou art no longer a child. Thou hast heard me discourse on the subject of persecution, and knowest that poison was administered to me personally on account of my inability to perceive the supernatural light emanating from the navel of Brother Gregory. Thou art aware that thou wilt be beaten with rods and pricked with goads, chained and starved in a dungeon, very probably blinded, very possibly burned with fire?'
"'All these things I am prepared to undergo,' said Abdallah; and he embraced me and bid me farewell.
"After certain moons he returned covered with weals and scars, and his bones protruded through his skin.
"'Whence are these weals and scars?' asked I, 'and what signifies this protrusion of thy bones?'
"'The weals and the scars,' answered he, 'proceed from the floggings inflicted upon me by command of the Caliph; and my bones protrude by reason of the omission of his officers to furnish me with either food or drink in the dungeon wherein I was imprisoned by his orders.'
"'O my son,' exclaimed I, 'in the eyes of faith and right reason these scars are lovelier than the moles of beauty, and the sight of thy bones is like the beholding of hidden treasure!'
"And Abdallah strove to look as though he believed me; nor did he entirely fail therein. And I took him, and fed him, and healed him, and sent him forth a second time into the world.
"And after a space he returned, covered as before with wounds and bruises, but comely and somewhat fat.
"'Whence this sleekness of body, my son?' I asked.
"'Through the charity of the Caliph's wives,' he answered, 'who have fed me secretly, I having assured them that in remembrance of this good work each of them in the world to come would have seven husbands.'
"'How knewest thou this, my son?' I inquired.
"'In truth, father,' he said, 'I did not know it; but I thought it probable.'
"'O my son! my son!' exclaimed I, 'thou art on a dangerous road. To win over weak ignorant people by promises of what they shall receive in a future life, whereof thou knowest no more than they do! Knowest thou not that the inestimable blessings of religion are of an inward and spiritual nature? Did I ever promise any disciple any recompense for his enlightenment and good deeds, save flogging, starvation, and burning?'
"'Never, father," said he, 'and therefore thou hast had no follower of thy law save one, and he hath broken it.'
"He left me after a shorter stay than before, and again went forth to preach. After a long time he returned in good condition of body, yet manifestly having something upon his mind.
"'Father,' he said, 'thy son hath preached with faithfulness and acceptance, and turned thousands unto righteousness. But a sorcerer hath arisen, saying, "Why follow ye Abdallah, seeing that he breathes not fire out of his mouth and nostrils?" And the people give ear unto the words that come from this man's lips, when they behold the flame that cometh from his nose. And unless thou teachest me to do as he doth I shall assuredly perish.'
"And I told Abdallah that it was better to perish for the truth's sake than to prolong life by lies and deceit. But he wept and lamented exceeding sore, and in the end he prevailed with me; and I taught him to breathe flame and smoke out of a hollow nut filled with combustible powder. And I took a certain substance called soap, but little known in this country, and anointed his feet therewith. And when he and the sorcerer met, both breathing flame, the people knew not which to follow; but when Abdallah walked over nine hot ploughshares, and the sorcerer could not touch one of them, they beat his brains out, and became Abdallah's disciples.
"A long time afterward Abdallah came to me again, this time with a joyful, and yet with somewhat of a troubled look, carrying a camel-hair blanket, which he undid, and lo! it was full of bones.
"'O father,' he said, 'I bring thee happy tidings. We have found the bones of the camel of the prophet Ad, upon which his revelation was engraved by him.'
"'If this be so,' said I, 'thou art acquainted with the precepts of the prophet, and hast no need of mine.'
"'Nay, but father,' said he, 'although the revelation was without question originally engraved by the prophet on these very bones, it hath come to pass by the injury of time that not one letter of his writing can be distinguished. I have therefore come to ask thee to write it over again.'
"'What!' I exclaimed, 'I forge a revelation in the name of the prophet Ad! Get thee behind me!'
"'Thou knowest, father,' he rejoined, 'that if we had the original words of the prophet Ad here they would profit us nought, as by reason of their antiquity none would understand them. Seeing therefore that I myself cannot write, it is meet that thou shouldst set down in his name those things which he would have desired to deliver had he been now among us; but if thou wilt not, I shall ask Brother Gregory.'
"And when I heard him speak of having recourse to that cheat and impostor my spirit was grieved within me, and I wrote the Book of Ad myself. And I was heedful to put in none but wholesome and profitable precepts, and more especially did I forbid polygamy, having perceived a certain inclination thereunto in my disciple.
"After many days he came again, and this time he was in violent terror and agitation, and hair was wanting to the lower part of his countenance.
"'O Abdallah,' I inquired, 'where is thy beard?'
"'In the hands of my ninth wife,' said he.
"'Apostate!' I exclaimed, 'hast thou dared to espouse more wives than one? Rememberest thou not what is written in the Book of the prophet Ad?'
"'O father,' he said, 'the revelation of Ad being, as thou knowest, so exceedingly ancient, doth of necessity require a commentary. This hath been supplied by one of my disciples, a young Syrian and natural son of Gregory, as I opine. This young man can not only write, but write to my dictation, an accomplishment in which thou hast been found lacking, O Sergius. In this gloss it is set forth how, since woman hath the ninth part of the soul of man, the prophet, in enjoining us Adites (as we now call ourselves) to take but one wife, doth instruct us to take nine; to espouse a tenth would, I grant, be damnable. It ensues, therefore, that having become enamoured of a most charming young virgin, I am constrained to repudiate one of the wives whom I have taken already. To this, each thinking that it may be her turn speedily, if not now, they will in no wise consent, and have maltreated me as thou seest, and the dens of wild beasts are at this moment abodes of peace, compared to my seraglio. What is even worse, they threaten to disclose to the people the fact, of which they have unhappily become aware, that the revelation of the blessed Ad is not written upon the bones of a camel at all, but of a cow, and will therefore be accounted spurious, inasmuch as the prophet is not recorded to have ridden upon this quadruped. And seeing that thou didst inscribe the characters, O father, I cannot but fear that the fury of the people will extend unto thee, and that thou wilt be even in danger of thy life from them.'
"This argument of Abdallah's had much weight with me, and I the more readily consented to his request as he did not on this occasion require any imposture at my hands, but merely the restitution of his domestic peace. And I went with him to his wives, and discoursed with them, and they agreed to abide by my sentence. And, willing to please him, I directed that he should marry the beautiful virgin, and put away one of his wives who was old and ugly, and endowed with the dispositions of Sheitan.
"'O father,' said Abdallah, 'thou hast brought me from death unto life! And thou, Zarah,' he continued, 'wilt lose nought, but gain exceedingly, in becoming the spouse of the wise and virtuous Sergius.'
"'I marry Zarah!' I exclaimed, 'I! a monk!'
"'Surely,' said he, 'thou would'st not take away her husband without giving her another in his stead?'
"'If he does I will throttle him,' cried Zarah.
"And I wept sore, and made great intercession. And it was agreed that there should be a delay of forty days, in which space if any one else would marry Zarah, I should be free of her. And I promised all my substance to any one who would do this, and no one was found. And she was offered to thirteen criminals doomed to suffer death, and they all chose death. And at the last I was constrained to marry her. And truly I have now the comfort of thinking that if I have offended by encouraging Abdallah's deceits, or otherwise, the debt is paid, and Eternal Justice hath now nothing against me; for verily I was an inmate of Gehenna until it came to pass that she was herself translated thither. And respecting the manner of her translation, inquire not thou too curiously. It was doubtless a token of the displeasure of Heaven at her enormities that the water of the well of Kefayat, which had been known as the Diamond of the Desert, became about this time undrinkable, and pernicious to man and beast.
"As I sat in my dwelling administering to the estate of my deceased wife, which consisted principally of wines and strong liquors, Abdallah again appeared before me.
"'Hast thou come,' said I, 'to solicit me to abet thee in any new imposture? Know, once for all, that I will not.'
"'On the contrary,' said he, 'I am come to set thee at ease by proving to thee that I shall not again require thy assistance. Follow me.'
"And I followed him to a great plain, where was a host of armed horsemen and footmen, more than I could number. And they bore banners on which the name of Abdallah was embroidered in letters of gold. And in the midst was an ark of gold, with the bones of Ad's camel, or cow. And by this was a great pile of the heads of men, and warriors were continually casting more and more upon the heap.
"'How many?' asked Abdallah.
"'Twelve thousand, O Apostle of God,' answered they, 'but there are more to come.'
"'Thou monster!' said I to Abdallah.
"'Nay, father,' said he, 'there will not be more than sixteen thousand in all, and these men were unbelievers. Moreover we have spared such of their women as were young and handsome, and have taken them for our concubines, as is ordained in the eleventh supplement to the Book of Ad, just promulgated by my authority. But come, I have other things to manifest unto thee.'
"And he led me where a stake was driven into the earth, and a man was chained unto it, and fuel was heaped all around him, and many stood by with lighted torches in their hands.
"'O Abdallah,' I exclaimed, 'wherefore this atrocity?'
"'This man,' he replied, 'is a blasphemer, who hath said that the Book of Ad is written on the bones of a cow.'
"'But it is written on the bones of a cow! 'I cried.
"'Even so,' said he, 'and therefore is his heresy the more damnable, and his punishment the more exemplary. Had it been indeed written on the bones of a camel, he might have affirmed what pleased him.'
"And I shook off the dust from my feet, and hastened to my dwelling. The rest of Abdallah's acts thou knowest, and how he fell warring with the Carmathians. And now I ask thee, art thou yet minded to go forth as a missionary of the truth?"
"O Sergius," said the young man, "I perceive that the temptations are greater, and the difficulties far surpassing what I had thought. Yet will I go, and I trust by Heaven's grace not to fail utterly."
"Then go," said Sergius, "and Heaven's blessing go with thee! Come back in ten years, should I be living, and if thou canst declare that thou hast forged no scriptures, and worked no miracles, and persecuted no unbelievers, and flattered no potentate, and bribed no one with the promise of aught in heaven or earth, I will give thee the philosopher's stone."
ANANDA THE MIRACLE WORKER
The holy Buddha, Sakhya Muni, on dispatching his apostles to proclaim his religion throughout the peninsula of India, failed not to provide them with salutary precepts for their guidance. He exhorted them to meekness, to compassion, to abstemiousness, to zeal in the promulgation of his doctrine, and added an injunction never before or since prescribed by the founder of any religion—namely, on no account to perform any miracle.
It is further related, that whereas the apostles experienced considerable difficulty in complying with the other instructions of their master, and sometimes actually failed therein, the prohibition to work miracles was never once transgressed by any of them, save only the pious Ananda, the history of whose first year's apostolate is recorded as follows.
Ananda repaired to the kingdom of Magadha, and instructed the inhabitants diligently in the law of Buddha. His doctrine being acceptable, and his speech persuasive, the people hearkened to him willingly, and began to forsake the Brahmins whom they had previously revered as spiritual guides. Perceiving this, Ananda became elated in spirit, and one day he exclaimed:
"How blessed is the apostle who propagates truth by the efficacy of reason and virtuous example, combined with eloquence, rather than error by imposture and devil-mongering, like those miserable Brahmins!"
As he uttered this vainglorious speech, the mountain of his merits was diminished by sixteen yojanas, and virtue and efficacy departed from him, insomuch that when he next addressed the multitude they first mocked, then hooted, and finally pelted him.
When matters had reached this pass, Ananda lifted his eyes and discerned a number of Brahmins of the lower sort, busy about a boy who lay in a fit upon the ground. They had long been applying exorcisms and other approved methods with scant success, when the most sagacious among them suggested:
"Let us render the body of this patient an uncomfortable residence for the demon; peradventure he will then cease to abide therein."
They were accordingly engaged in branding the sufferer with hot irons, filling his nostrils with smoke, and otherwise to the best of their ability disquieting the intrusive devil. Ananda's first thought was, "The lad is in a fit;" the second, "It were a pious deed to deliver him from his tormentors;" the third, "By good management this may extricate me from my present uncomfortable predicament, and redound to the glory of the most holy Buddha."
Yielding to this temptation, he strode forward, chased away the Brahmins with an air of authority, and, uplifting his countenance to heaven, recited the appellations of seven devils. No effect ensuing, he repeated seven more, and so continued until, the fit having passed off in the course of nature, the patient's paroxysms ceased, he opened his eyes, and Ananda restored him to his relatives. But the people cried loudly, "A miracle! a miracle!" and when Ananda resumed his instructions, they gave heed to him, and numbers embraced the religion of Buddha. Whereupon Ananda exulted, and applauded himself for his dexterity and presence of mind, and said to himself:
"Surely the end sanctifies the means."
As he propounded this heresy, the eminence of his merits was reduced to the dimensions of a mole-hill, and he ceased to be of account in the eyes of any of the saints, save only of Buddha, whose compassion is inexhaustible.
The fame of his achievement, nevertheless, was bruited about the whole country, and soon reached the ears of the king, who sent for him, and inquired if he had actually expelled the demon.
Ananda replied in the affirmative.
"I am indeed rejoiced," returned the king, "as thou now wilt without doubt proceed to heal my son, who has lain in a trance for twenty-nine days."
"Alas! dread sovereign," modestly returned Ananda, "how should the merits which barely suffice to effect the cure of a miserable Pariah avail to restore the offspring of an Elephant among Kings?"
"By what process are these merits acquired?" demanded the monarch.
"By the exercise of penance," responded Ananda, "in virtue of which the austere devotee quells the winds, allays the waters, expostulates convincingly with tigers, carries the moon in his sleeve, and otherwise performs all acts and deeds appropriate to the character of a peripatetic thaumaturgist."
"This being so," answered the king, "thy inability to heal my son manifestly arises from defect of merit, and defect of merit from defect of penance. I will therefore consign thee to the charge of my Brahmins, that they may aid thee to fill up the measure of that which is lacking."
Ananda vainly strove to explain that the austerities to which he had referred were entirely of a spiritual and contemplative character. The Brahmins, enchanted to get a heretic into their clutches, immediately seized upon him, and conveyed him to one of their temples. They stripped him, and perceived with astonishment that not one single weal or scar was visible anywhere on his person. "Horror!" they exclaimed; "here is a man who expects to go to heaven in a whole skin!" To obviate this breach of etiquette, they laid him upon his face, and flagellated him until the obnoxious soundness of cuticle was entirely removed. They then departed, promising to return next day and operate in a corresponding manner upon the anterior part of his person, after which, they jeeringly assured him, his merits would be in no respect less than those of the saintly Bhagiratha, or of the regal Viswamitra himself.
Ananda lay half dead upon the floor of the temple, when the sanctuary was illuminated by the apparition of a resplendent Glendoveer, who thus addressed him:
"Well, backsliding disciple, art thou yet convinced of thy folly?"
Ananda relished neither the imputation on his orthodoxy nor that on his wisdom. He replied, notwithstanding, with all meekness:
"Heaven forbid that I should repine at any variety of martyrdom that tends to the propagation of my master's faith."
"Wilt thou then first be healed, and moreover become the instrument of converting the entire realm of Magadha?"
"How shall this be accomplished?" demanded Ananda.
"By perseverance in the path of deceit and disobedience," returned the Glendoveer.
Ananda winced, but maintained silence in the expectation of more explicit directions.
"Know," pursued the spirit, "that the king's son will revive from his trance at the expiration of the thirtieth day, which takes place at noon to-morrow. Thou hast but to proceed at the fitting period to the couch whereon he is deposited, and, placing thy hand upon his heart, to command him to rise forthwith. His recovery will be ascribed to thy supernatural powers, and the establishment of Buddha's religion will result. Before this it will be needful that I should perform an actual cure upon thy back, which is within the compass of my capacity. I only request thee to take notice, that thou wilt on this occasion be transgressing the precepts of thy master with thine eyes open. It is also meet to apprise thee that thy temporary extrication from thy present difficulties will only involve thee in others still more formidable."
"An incorporeal Glendoveer is no judge of the feelings of a flayed apostle," thought Ananda. "Heal me," he replied, "if thou canst, and reserve thy admonitions for a more convenient opportunity."
"So be it," returned the Glendoveer; and as he extended his hand over Ananda, the latter's back was clothed anew with skin, and his previous smart simultaneously allayed. The Glendoveer vanished at the same moment, saying, "When thou hast need of me, pronounce but the incantation, Gnooh Imdap Inam Mua, [*] and I will immediately be by thy side."
[Footnote: The mystic formula of the Buddhists, read backwards.]
The anger and amazement of the Brahmins may be conceived when, on returning equipped with fresh implements of flagellation, they discovered the salubrious condition of their victim. Their scourges would probably have undergone conversion into halters, had they not been accompanied by a royal officer, who took the really triumphant martyr under his protection, and carried him off to the palace. He was speedily conducted to the young prince's couch, whither a vast crowd attended him. The hour of noon not having yet arrived, Ananda discreetly protracted the time by a seasonable discourse on the impossibility of miracles, those only excepted which should be wrought by the professors of the faith of Buddha. He then descended from his pulpit, and precisely as the sun attained the zenith laid his hand upon the bosom of the young prince, who instantly revived, and completed a sentence touching the game of dice which had been interrupted by his catalepsy.
The people shouted, the courtiers went into ecstasies, the countenances of the Brahmins assumed an exceedingly sheepish expression. Even the king seemed impressed, and craved to be more particularly instructed in the law of Buddha. In complying with this request, Ananda, who had made marvellous progress in worldly wisdom during the last twenty-four hours, deemed it needless to dilate on the cardinal doctrines of his master, the misery of existence, the need of redemption, the path to felicity, the prohibition to shed blood. He simply stated that the priests of Buddha were bound to perpetual poverty, and that under the new dispensation all ecclesiastical property would accrue to the temporal authorities.
"By the holy cow!" exclaimed the monarch, "this is something like a religion!"
The words were scarcely out of the royal lips ere the courtiers professed themselves converts. The multitude followed their example. The Brahminical church was promptly disestablished and disendowed, and more injustice was committed in the name of the new and purified religion in one day than the old corrupt one had occasioned in a hundred years.
Ananda had the satisfaction of feeling able to forgive his adversaries, and of valuing himself accordingly; and to complete his felicity, he was received in the palace, and entrusted with the education of the king's son, which he strove to conduct agreeably to the precepts of Buddha. This was a task of some delicacy, as it involved interference with the princely youth's favourite amusement, which had previously consisted in torturing small reptiles.
After a short interval Ananda was again summoned to the monarch's presence. He found his majesty in the company of two most ferocious ruffians, one of whom bore a huge axe, and the other an enormous pair of pincers.
"My chief executioner and my chief tormentor," said the king.
Ananda expressed his gratification at becoming acquainted with such exalted functionaries.
"Thou must know, most holy man," resumed the king, "that need has again arisen for the exercise of fortitude and self-denial on thy part. A powerful enemy has invaded my dominions, and has impiously presumed to discomfit my troops. Well might I feel dismayed, were it not for the consolations of religion; but my trust is in thee, O spiritual father! It is urgent that thou shouldst accumulate the largest amount of merit with the least delay possible. I am unable to invoke the ministrations of thy old friends the Brahmins to this end, they being, as thou knowest, in disgrace, but I have summoned these trusty and experienced counsellors in their room. I find them not wholly in accord. My chief tormentor, being a man of mild temper and humane disposition, considers that it might at first suffice to employ gentle measures, such, for example, as suspending thee head downwards in the smoke of a wood fire, and filling thy nostrils with red pepper. My chief executioner, taking, peradventure, a too professional view of the subject, deems it best to resort at once to crucifixion or impalement. I would gladly know thy thoughts on the matter."
Ananda expressed, as well as his terror would suffer him, his entire disapproval of both the courses recommended by the royal advisers.
"Well," said the king, with an air of resignation, "if we cannot agree upon either, it follows that we must try both. We will meet for that purpose to-morrow morning at the second hour. Go in peace!"
Ananda went, but not in peace. His alarm would have well-nigh deprived him of his faculties if he had not remembered the promise made him by his former deliverer. On reaching a secluded spot he pronounced the mystic formula, and immediately became aware of the presence, not of a radiant Glendoveer, but of a holy man, whose head was strewn with ashes, and his body anointed with cow-dung.
"Thy occasion," said the Fakir, "brooks no delay. Thou must immediately accompany me, and assume the garb of a Jogi."
Ananda rebelled excessively in his heart, for he had imbibed from the mild and sage Buddha a befitting contempt for these grotesque and cadaverous fanatics. The emergency, however, left him no resource, and he followed his guide to a charnel house, which the latter had selected as his domicile. There, with many lamentations over the smoothness of his hair and the brevity of his nails, the Jogi besprinkled and besmeared Ananda agreeably to his own pattern, and scored him with chalk and ochre until the peaceful apostle of the gentlest of creeds resembled a Bengal tiger. He then hung a chaplet of infants' skulls about his neck, placed the skull of a malefactor in one of his hands and the thigh-bone of a necromancer in the other, and at nightfall conducted him into the adjacent cemetery, where, seating him on the ashes of a recent funeral pile, he bade him drum upon the skull with the thigh-bone, and repeat after himself the incantations which he began to scream out towards the western part of the firmament. These charms were apparently possessed of singular efficacy, for scarcely were they commenced ere a hideous tempest arose, rain descended in torrents, phosphoric flashes darted across the sky, wolves and hyaenas thronged howling from their dens, and gigantic goblins, arising from the earth, extended their fleshless arms towards Ananda, and strove to drag him from his seat. Urged by frantic terror, and the example and exhortations of his companion, he battered, banged, and vociferated, until on the very verge of exhaustion; when, as if by enchantment, the tempest ceased, the spectres disappeared, and joyous shouts and a burst of music announced the occurrence of something auspicious in the adjoining city.
"The hostile king is dead," said the Jogi; "and his army has dispersed. This will be attributed to thy incantations. They are coming in quest of thee even now. Farewell until thou again hast need of me."
The Jogi disappeared, the tramp of a procession became audible, and soon torches glared feebly through the damp, cheerless dawn. The monarch descended from his state elephant, and, prostrating himself before Ananda, exclaimed:
"Inestimable man! why didst thou not disclose that thou wert a Jogi? Never more shall I feel the least apprehension of any of my enemies, so long as thou continuest an inmate of this cemetery."
A family of jackals were unceremoniously dislodged from a disused sepulchre, which was allotted to Ananda for his future residence. The king permitted no alteration in his costume, and took care that the food doled out to him should have no tendency to impair his sanctity, which speedily gave promise of attaining a very high pitch. His hair had already become as matted and his nails as long as the Jogi could have desired, when he received a visit from another royal messenger. The Rajah, so ran the regal missive, had been suddenly and mysteriously attacked by a dangerous malady, but confidently anticipated relief from Ananda's merits and incantations.
Ananda resumed his thigh-bone and his skull, and ruefully began to thump the latter with the former, in dismal expectation of the things that were to come. But the spell seemed to have lost its potency. Nothing more unearthly than a bat presented itself, and Ananda was beginning to think that he might as well desist when his reflections were diverted by the apparition of a tall and grave personage, wearing a sad-coloured robe, and carrying a long wand, who stood by his side as suddenly as though just risen from the earth.
"The caldron is ready," said the stranger.
"What caldron?" demanded Ananda.
"That wherein thou art about to be immersed."
"I immersed in a caldron! wherefore?"
"Thy spells," returned his interlocutor, "having hitherto failed to afford his majesty the slightest relief, and his experience of their efficacy on a former occasion forbidding him to suppose that they can be inoperative, he is naturally led to ascribe to their pernicious influence that aggravation of pain of which he has for some time past unfortunately been sensible. I have confirmed him in this conjecture, esteeming it for the interest of science that his anger should fall upon an impudent impostor like thee rather than on a discreet and learned physician like myself. He has consequently directed the principal caldron to be kept boiling all night, intending to immerse thee therein at daybreak, unless he should in the meantime derive some benefit from thy conjurations."
"Heavens!" exclaimed Ananda, "whither shall I fly?"
"Nowhere beyond this cemetery," returned the physician, "inasmuch as it is entirely surrounded by the royal forces."
"Wherein, then," demanded the agonized apostle, "doth the path of safety lie?"
"In this phial," answered the physician. "It contains a subtle poison. Demand to be led before the king. Affirm that thou hast received a sovereign medicine from the hands of benignant spirits. He will drink it and perish, and thou wilt be richly rewarded by his successor."
"Ayaunt, tempter!" cried Ananda, hurling the phial indignantly away. "I defy thee! and will have recourse to my old deliverer—Gnooh Imdap Inam Mua!"
But the charm appeared to fail of its effect. No figure was visible to his gaze, save that of the physician, who seemed to regard him with an expression of pity as he gathered up his robes and melted rather than glided into the encompassing darkness.
Ananda remained, contending with himself. Countless times was he on the point of calling after the physician and imploring him to return with a potion of like properties to the one rejected, but something seemed always to rise in his throat and impede his utterance, until, worn out by agitation, he fell asleep and dreamed this dream.
He thought he stood at the vast and gloomy entrance of Patala. [*] The lugubrious spot wore a holiday appearance; everything seemed to denote a diabolical gala. Swarms of demons of all shapes and sizes beset the portal, contemplating what appeared to be preparations for an illumination. Strings of coloured lamps were in course of disposition in wreaths and festoons by legions of frolicsome imps, chattering, laughing, and swinging by their tails like so many monkeys. The operation was directed from below by superior fiends of great apparent gravity and respectability. These bore wands of office, tipped with yellow flames, wherewith they singed the tails of the imps when such discipline appeared to them to be requisite. Ananda could not refrain from asking the reason of these festive preparations.