Two weeks later I stood on the deck of Lucio's yacht 'The Flame,'—a vesse_hose complete magnificence filled me as well as all other beholders wit_ewildered wonderment and admiration. She was a miracle of speed, her motiv_ower being electricity; and the electric engines with which she was fitte_ere so complex and remarkable as to baffle all would-be inquirers into th_ecret of their mechanism and potency. A large crowd of spectators gathered t_ee her as she lay off Southampton, attracted by the beauty of her shape an_ppearance,—some bolder spirits even came out in tugs and row-boats, hoping t_e allowed to make a visit of inspection on board, but the sailors, powerfully-built men of a foreign and somewhat unpleasing type, soon intimate_hat the company of such inquisitive persons was undesirable and unwelcome.
With white sails spread and a crimson flag flying from her mast, she weighe_nchor at sunset on the afternoon of the day her owner and I joined her, an_oving through the waters with delicious noiselessness and incredibl_apidity, soon left far behind her the English shore, looking like a whit_ine in the mist, or the pale vision of a land that might once have been. _ad done a few quixotic things before departing from my native country,—fo_xample, I had made a free gift of his former home, Willowsmere, to Lor_lton, taking a sort of sullen pleasure in thinking that he, the spendthrif_obleman, owed the restoration of his property to _me._ —to me who had neve_een either a successful linen draper or furniture man, but simply an author, one of 'those sort of people' whom my lord and my lady imagine they can
'patronize' and neglect again at pleasure without danger to themselves. Th_rrogant fools invariably forget what lasting vengeance can be taken for a_nmerited slight by the owner of a brilliant pen! I was glad too, in a way, t_ealize that the daughter of the American railway-king would be brought to th_rand old house to air her 'countess-ship,' and look at her prettily per_ittle physiognomy in the very mirror where Sibyl had watched herself die. _o not know why this idea pleased me, for I bore no grudge against Dian_hesney,— she was vulgar but harmless, and would probably make a much mor_opular chatelaine at Willowsmere Court than my wife had ever been. Amon_ther things, I dismissed my man Morris, and made him miserable,—with the gif_f a thousand pounds, to marry and start a business on. He was miserabl_ecause he could not make up his mind what business to adopt, his anxiet_eing to choose the calling that would 'pay' best,—and also, because, thoug_e 'had his eye' upon several young women, he could not tell which among the_ould be likely to be least extravagant, and the most serviceable as a coo_nd housekeeper. The love of money and the pains of taking care of it, embittered his days as it embitters the days of most men, and my unexpecte_unificence towards him burdened him with such a weight of trouble as robbe_im of natural sleep and appetite. I cared nothing for his perplexities, however, and gave him no advice, good or bad. My other servants I dismissed, each with a considerable gift of money, not that I particularly wished t_enefit _them,_ but simply because I desired them to speak well of me. An_n this world it is very evident that the only way to get a good opinion is t_ay for it! I gave orders to a famous Italian sculptor for Sibyl's monument, English sculptors having no conception of sculpture,—it was to be of exquisit_esign, wrought in purest white marble, the chief adornment being the centre- figure of an angel ready for flight, with the face of Sibyl faithfully copie_rom her picture. Because, however devilish a woman may be in her life-time, one is bound by all the laws of social hypocrisy to make an angel of her a_oon as she is dead! Just before I left London I heard that my old college- friend 'Boffles,' John Carnngton, had met with a sudden end. Busy at the
'retorting' of his gold, he had been choked by the mercurial fumes and ha_ied in hideous torment. At one time this news would have deeply affected me, but now, I was scarcely sorry. I had heard nothing of him since I had com_nto my fortune,—he had never even written to congratulate me. Always full o_y own self-importance, I judged this as great neglect on his part, and no_hat he was dead I felt no more than any of us feel now-a-days at the loss o_riends. And that is very little,—we have really no time to be sorry,—so man_eople are always dying !—and we are in such a desperate hurry to rush on t_eath ourselves! Nothing seemed to touch me that did not closely concern m_wn personal interest,—and I had no affections left, unless I may call th_ague tenderness I had for Mavis Clare an affection. Yet, to be honest, thi_ery emotion was after all nothing but a desire to be consoled, pitied an_oved by her, —to be able to turn upon the world and say, "This woman whom yo_ave lifted on your shield of honour and crowned with laurels,—she loves _me_ —she is not yours, but _mine!"_ Purely interested and purely selfish was th_onging,—and it deserved no other name than selfishness.
My feelings for Rimanez too began at this time to undergo a curious change.
The fascination I had for him, the power he exercised over me remained a_reat as ever, but I found myself often absorbed in a close study of him, strangely against my own will. Sometimes his every look seemed fraught wit_eaning,—his every gesture suggestive of an almost terrific authority. He wa_lways to me the most attractive of beings, —nevertheless there was an uneas_ensation of doubt and fear growing up in my mind regarding him,—a painfu_nxiety to know more about him than he had ever told me,—and on rare occasion_ experienced a sudden shock of inexplicable repulsion against him which lik_ tremendous wave threw me back with violence upon myself and left me hal_tunned with a dread of I knew not what. Alone with him, as it were, on th_ide sea, cut off for a time from all other intercourse than that which w_hared together, these sensations were very strong upon me. I began to not_any things which I had been too blind or too absorbed in my own pursuits t_bserve before; the offensive presence of Amiel, who acted as chief steward o_oard the yacht, filled me now not only with dislike, but nervou_pprehension,—the dark and more or less repulsive visages of the crew haunte_e in my dreams ;—and one day, leaning over the vessel's edge and gazin_lankly down into the fathomless water below, I fell to thinking of strang_orceries of the East, and stories of magicians who by the exercise o_nlawful science did so make victims of men and delude them that their will_ere entirely perverted and no longer their own. I do not know why thi_assing thought should have suddenly overwhelmed me with deep depression, —bu_hen I looked up, to me the sky had grown dark, and the face of one of th_ailors who was near me polishing the brass hand-rail, seemed singularl_hreatening and sinister. I moved to go to the other side of the deck, when _and was gently laid on my shoulder from behind, and turning, I met the sa_nd splendid eyes of Lucio.
"Are you growing weary of the voyage, Geoffrey?" he asked—"weary of those tw_uggestions of eternity—the interminable sky, the interminable sea? I a_fraid you are !— man easily gets fatigued with his own littleness an_owerlessness when he is set afloat on a plank between air and ocean. Yet w_re travelling as swiftly as electricity will bear us,— and, as worked in thi_essel, it is carrying us at a far greater speed than you perhaps realize o_magine.''
I made no immediate answer, but taking his arm strolled slowly up and down. _elt he was looking at me, but I avoided meeting his gaze.
"You have been thinking of your wife?" he queried softly and, as I thought, sympathetically. "I have shunned,—for reasons you know of,—all allusion to th_ragic end of so beautiful a creature. Beauty is, alas!—so often subject t_ysteria! Yet—if you had any faith, you would believe she is an angel now."
I stopped short at this, and looked straight at him. There was a fine smile o_is delicate mouth.
"An angel!" I repeated slowly—"or a devil? Which would you say she is ?—you, who sometimes declare that you believe in Heaven,—and Hell?"
He was silent, but the dreamy smile remained still on his lips.
"Come, speak !" I said roughly. "You can be frank with me, you know,—angel o_evil—which?"
"My dear Geoffrey!" he remonstrated gently and with gravity—"a woman is alway_n angel,—both here and hereafter!''
I laughed bitterly. "If that is part of your faith I am sorry for you !''
"I have not spoken of my faith," he rejoined in colder accents, lifting hi_rilliant eyes to the darkening heaven. "I am not a Salvationist, that _hould bray forth a creed to the sound of trump and drum."
"All the same, you _have_ a creed," I persisted—"and I fancy it must be _trange one! If you remember, you promised to explain it to me"
"Are you ready to receive such an explanation?" he asked in a somewha_ronical tone. "No, my dear friend !—permit me to say you are _not_eady—not yet! My beliefs are too positive to be brought even into contac_ith your contradictions,—too frightfully real to submit to your doubts for _oment. You would at once begin to revert to the puny used-up old arguments o_oltaire, Schopenhauer and Huxley, —little atomic theories like grains of dus_n the whirlwind of My knowledge! I can tell you I believe in God as a ver_ctual and Positive Being,—and that is presumably the first of the Churc_rticles."
"You believe in God!" I echoed his words, staring at him stupidly. He seeme_n earnest. In fact he had always seemed in earnest on the subject of Deity.
Vaguely I thought of a woman in society whom I slightly knew,—an ugly woman, unattractive and mean-minded, who passed her time in entertaining semi- Royalties and pushing herself amongst them,— she had said to me one day—"_ate people who believe in God, don't you? The idea of a God makes m_sick!"_
"You believe in God !" I repeated again dubiously.
"Look!" he said, raising his hand towards the sky. "There, a few driftin_louds cover millions of worlds, impenetrable, mysterious, yet _actual;_ —down there," and he pointed to the sea, "lurk a thousand things of which, though the ocean is a part of earth, human beings have not yet learned th_ature. Between these upper and lower spaces of the Incomprehensible ye_bsolute, you, a finite atom of limited capabilities stand, uncertain how lon_he frail thread of your life shall last, yet arrogantly balancing th_uestion with your own poor brain, as to whether you,— _you_ in your utte_ittleness and incompetency shall condescend to accept a God or not! _onfess, that of all astonishing things in the Universe, this particula_ttitude of modern mankind is the most astonishing to me!"
"Your own attitude is?"
"The reluctant acceptance of such terrific knowledge as is forced upon me," h_eplied with a dark smile. "I do not say I have been an apt or a willin_upil,—I have had to suffer in learning what I know!"
"Do you believe in hell!" I asked him suddenly—"and in Satan, the Arch-Enem_f mankind ?''
He was silent for so long that I was surprised, the more so as he grew pale t_he lips, and a curious, almost deathlike rigidity of feature gave hi_xpression something of the ghastly and terrible. After a pause he turned hi_yes upon me,—. an intense burning misery was reflected in them, though h_miled.
"Most assuredly I believe in hell! How can I do otherwise if I believe i_eaven? If there is an Up there must be a Down; if there is Light, there mus_lso be Darkness. And, … concerning the Arch-Enemy of mankind,—if half th_tories reported of him be true, he must be the most piteous and pitiabl_igure in the Universe! What would be the sorrows of a thousand millio_orlds, compared to the sorrows of Satan !''
"Sorrows!" I echoed. "He is supposed to rejoice in the working of evil!"
"Neither angel nor devil can do that," he said slowly. "To rejoice in th_orking of evil is a temporary mania which affects man only. For actual joy t_ome out of evil, Chaos must come again, and God must extinguish Himself." H_tared across the dark sea,—the sun had sunk, and one faint star twinkle_hrough the clouds. "And so I again say —the sorrows of Satan! Sorrow_mmeasurable as eternity itself,—imagine them! To be shut out of Heaven !—t_ear, all through the unending seons, the far-off voices of angels whom onc_e knew and loved !—to be a wanderer among deserts of darkness, and to pin_or the light celestial that was formerly as air and food to his being,—and t_now that Man's folly, Man's utter selfishness, Man's cruelty, keep him thu_xiled, an outcast from pardon and peace! Man's nobleness may lift the Los_pirit almost within reach of his lost joys,—but Man's vileness drags him dow_gain,—easy was the torture of Sisyphus compared with the torture of Satan! N_onder that he loathes Mankind !—small blame to him if he seeks to destroy th_uny tribe eternally,—little marvel that he grudges them their share o_mmortality! Think of it as a legend merely,"—and he turned upon me with _ovement that was almost fierce,—" Christ redeemed Man,—and by his teaching, showed how it was possible for Man to redeem the Devill"
"I do not understand you," I said feebly, awed by the strange pain and passio_f his tone.
"Do you not? Yet my meaning is scarcely obscure! If men were true to thei_mmortal instincts and to the God that made them,—if they were generous, honest, fearless, faithful, reverent, unselfish, … if women were pure, brave, tender and loving,—can you not imagine that, in the strong force and fairnes_f such a world, 'Lucifer, son of the Morning' would be moved to love instea_f hate?—that the closed doors of Paradise would be unbarred,—and that he, lifted towards his Creator on the prayers of pure lives, would wear again hi_ngel's crown? Can you not realize this, even by way of a legendary story?" *
"Why yes, as a legendary story the idea is beautiful,"—I admitted,—" and t_e, as I told you once before, quite new. Still, as men are never likely to b_onest, or women pure, I'm afraid the poor Devil stands a bad chance of eve_etting redeemed!''
"I fear so too!" and he eyed me with a curious derision— "I very much fear so!
And his chances being so slight, I rather respect him for being the Arch-Enem_f such a worthless race!" He paused a moment, then added—"I wonder how w_ave managed to get on such an absurd subject of conversation? It is dull an_ninteresting, as all 'spiritual' themes invariably are. My object in bringin_ou out on this voyage is not to indulge in psychological argument, but t_ake you forget your troubles as much as possible, and enjoy the present whil_t lasts."
There was a vibration of compassionate kindness in his voice which at onc_oved me to an acute sense of self-pity, the worst enervator of moral forc_hat exists. I sighed heavily.
"Truly I have suffered," I said—" more than most men!"
"More even than most millionaires deserve to suffer!" declared Lucio, wit_hat inevitable touch of sarcasm which distinguished some of his friendlies_emarks. "Money is supposed to make amends to a man for everything,—and eve_he wealthy wife of a certain Irish 'patriot' has not found it incompatibl_ith affection to hold her moneybags close to herself while her husband ha_een declared a bankrupt. How she has 'idolized' him, let others say! Now, considering _your_ cash-abundance, it must be owned the fates have treate_ou somewhat unkindly!"
The smile that was half-cruel and half-sweet radiated in his eyes as h_poke,—and again a singular revulsion of feeling against him moved me t_islike and fear. And yet,—how fascinating was his company! I could not bu_dmit that the voyage with him to Alexandria on board 'The Flame' was one o_ositive enchantment and luxury all the way. There was nothing in a materia_ense left to wish for,—all that could appeal to the intelligence or th_magination had been thought of on board this wonderful yacht which sped lik_ fairy ship over the sea. Some of the sailors were skilled musicians, and o_ranquil nights, or at sunset, would bring stringed instruments and discours_o our ears the most dulcet and ravishing melodies. Lucio himself too woul_ften sing,—his luscious voice resounding, as it seemed, over all the visibl_ea and sky, with such passion as might have drawn an angel down to listen.
Gradually my mind became impregnated with these snatches of mournful, fierce, or weird minor tunes,— and I began to suffer in silence from an inexplicabl_epression and foreboding sense of misery, as well as from another terribl_eeling to which I could scarcely give a name,—a dreadful _uncertainty o_yself,_ as of one lost in a wilderness and about to die. I endured thes_its of mental agony alone, —and in such dreary burning moments, believed _as going mad. I grew more and more sullen and taciturn, and when we at las_rrived at Alexandria I was not moved to any particular pleasure. The plac_as new to me, but I was not conscious of novelty,—everything seemed flat, dull, and totally uninteresting. A heavy almost lethargic stupor chained m_its, and when we left the yacht in harbour and went on to Cairo, I was no_ensible of any personal enjoyment in the journey, or interest in what I saw.
I was only partially roused when we took possession of a luxurious dahabeah, which, with a retinue of attendants, had been specially chartered for us, an_ommenced our lotus-like voyage up the Nile. The reed-edged, sluggish yello_iver fascinated me,—I used to spend long hours reclining at full length in _eck-chair, gazing at the flat shores, the blown sand-heaps, the broke_olumns and mutilated temples of the dead kingdoms of the past. One evening, thus musing, while the great golden moon climbed languidly up into the sky t_tare at the wrecks of earthly ages I said—
"If one could only see these ancient cities as they once existed, what strang_evelations might be made! Our modern marvels of civilization and progres_ight seem small trifles after all,—for I believe in our days we are only re- discovering what the peoples of old time knew."
Lucio drew his cigar from his mouth and looked at it meditatively. Then h_lanced up at me with a half-smile—
"Would you like to see a city resuscitated?" he inquired. "Here, in this ver_pot, some six thousand years ago, a king reigned, with a woman not his queen, but his favourite (quite a lawful arrangement in those days), who was a_amous for her beauty and virtue as this river is for its fructifying tide.
Here civilization had progressed enormously,—with the one exception that i_ad not outgrown faith. Modern France and England have beaten the ancients i_heir scorn of God and creed, their contempt for divine things, thei_nnamable lasciviousness and blasphemy. This city"—and he waved his han_owards a dreary stretch of shore where a cluster of tall reeds waved abov_he monster fragment of a fallen column—" was governed by the strong pur_aith of its people more than anything,—and the ruler of social things in i_as a woman. The king's favourite was something like Mavis Clare in that sh_ossessed genius,—she had also the qualities of justice, intelligence, love, truth and a most noble unselfishness,—she made this place happy. It was _aradise on earth while she lived,—when she died, its glory ended. So much ca_ woman do if she chooses,—so much does she _not_ do, in her usual cow-lik_ay of living!"
"How do you know all this you tell me of?" I asked him.
"By study of past records," he replied. I read what modern men declare the_ave no time to read. You are right in the idea that all 'new' things are onl_ld things re-invented or re-discovered,—if you had gone a step further an_aid that some of men's present lives are only the continuation of their past, you would not have been wrong. Now, if you like, I can, by my science, sho_ou the city that stood here long ago,—the 'City Beautiful' as its name is, translated from the ancient tongue."
I roused myself from my lounging attitude and looked at him amazedly. He me_y gaze unmoved.
"You can show it to me!" I exclaimed. "How can you do such an impossible thing ?''
"Permit me to hypnotize you," he answered smiling. "My system of hypnotism is, very fortunately, not yet discovered by meddlesome inquirers into occul_atters,—but it never fails of its effect,—and I promise you, you shall, unde_y influence, see not only the place, but the people."
My curiosity was strongly excited, and I became more eager to try th_uggested experiment than I cared to openly show. I laughed, however, wit_ffected indifference.
"I am perfectly willing !" I said. "All the same, I don't think you ca_ypnotize me,—I have much too strong a will
of my own "at which remark I saw a smile, dark and
saturnine, hover on his lips—" But you can make the attempt."
He rose at once, and signed to one of our Egyptian servants.
"Stop the dahabeah, Azimah," he said. "We will rest here for the night."
Azimah, a superb-looking Eastern in picturesque white garments, put his hand_o his head in submission and retired to give the order. In another fe_oments the dahabeah had stopped. A great silence was around us,—the moonligh_ell like yellow wine on the deck,—in the far distance, across the stretche_f dark sand, a solitary column towered so clear-cut against the sky that i_as almost possible to discern upon it the outline of a monstrous face. Luci_tood still, confronting me,—saying nothing, but looking me steadily throug_nd through, with those wonderfully mystic, melancholy eyes that seemed t_enetrate and burn my very flesh. I was attracted as a bird might be by th_asilisk eyes of a snake,—yet I tried to smile and say something indifferent.
My efforts were useless,—personal consciousness was slipping from me fast,—th_ky, the water and the moon whirled round each other in a giddy chase fo_recedence;—I could not move, for my limbs seemed fastened to my chair wit_eights of iron, and I was for a few minutes absolutely powerless. The_uddenly my vision cleared (as I thought)—my senses grew vigorous and alert, … I heard the sound of solemn marching music, and there,—there in the ful_adiance of the moon, with a thousand lights gleaming from towers and cupolas, shone the 'City Beautiful'!