Part 2 out of 7
have burst through the spell. I did burst through it. I found
voice, though the voice was a shriek. I remember that I broke
forth with words like these, "I do not fear, my soul does not
fear"; and at the same time I found strength to rise. Still in
that profound gloom I rushed to one of the windows; tore aside the
curtain; flung open the shutters; my first thought was--LIGHT. And
when I saw the moon high, clear, and calm, I felt a joy that almost
compensated for the previous terror. There was the moon, there was
also the light from the gas lamps in the deserted slumberous
street. I turned to look back into the room; the moon penetrated
its shadow very palely and partially--but still there was light.
The dark Thing, whatever it might be, was gone,--except that I
could yet see a dim shadow, which seemed the shadow of that shade,
against the opposite wall.
My eye now rested on the table, and from under the table (which was
without cloth or cover,--an old mahogany round table) there rose a
hand, visible as far as the wrist. It was a hand, seemingly, as
much of flesh and blood as my own, but the hand of an aged person,
lean, wrinkled, small too,--a woman's hand. That hand very softly
closed on the two letters that lay on the table; hand and letters
both vanished. There then came the same three loud, measured
knocks I had heard at the bed head before this extraordinary drama
As those sounds slowly ceased, I felt the whole room vibrate
sensibly; and at the far end there rose, as from the floor, sparks
or globules like bubbles of light, many colored,--green, yellow,
fire-red, azure. Up and down, to and fro, hither, thither as tiny
Will-o'-the-Wisps, the sparks moved, slow or swift, each at its own
caprice. A chair (as in the drawing-room below) was now advanced
from the wall without apparent agency, and placed at the opposite
side of the table. Suddenly, as forth from the chair, there grew a
shape,--a woman's shape. It was distinct as a shape of life,--
ghastly as a shape of death. The face was that of youth, with a
strange, mournful beauty; the throat and shoulders were bare, the
rest of the form in a loose robe of cloudy white. It began
sleeking its long, yellow hair, which fell over its shoulders; its
eyes were not turned toward me, but to the door; it seemed
listening, watching, waiting. The shadow of the shade in the
background grew darker; and again I thought I beheld the eyes
gleaming out from the summit of the shadow,--eyes fixed upon that
As if from the door, though it did not open, there grew out another
shape, equally distinct, equally ghastly,--a man's shape, a young
man's. It was in the dress of the last century, or rather in a
likeness of such dress (for both the male shape and the female,
though defined, were evidently unsubstantial, impalpable,--
simulacra, phantasms); and there was something incongruous,
grotesque, yet fearful, in the contrast between the elaborate
finery, the courtly precision of that old-fashioned garb, with its
ruffles and lace and buckles, and the corpselike aspect and
ghostlike stillness of the flitting wearer. Just as the male shape
approached the female, the dark Shadow started from the wall, all
three for a moment wrapped in darkness. When the pale light
returned, the two phantoms were as if in the grasp of the Shadow
that towered between them; and there was a blood stain on the
breast of the female; and the phantom male was leaning on its
phantom sword, and blood seemed trickling fast from the ruffles
from the lace; and the darkness of the intermediate Shadow
swallowed them up,--they were gone. And again the bubbles of light
shot, and sailed, and undulated, growing thicker and thicker and
more wildly confused in their movements.
The closet door to the right of the fireplace now opened, and from
the aperture there came the form of an aged woman. In her hand she
held letters,--the very letters over which I had seen THE Hand
close; and behind her I heard a footstep. She turned round as if
to listen, and then she opened the letters and seemed to read; and
over her shoulder I saw a livid face, the face as of a man long
drowned,--bloated, bleached, seaweed tangled in its dripping hair;
and at her feet lay a form as of a corpse; and beside the corpse
there cowered a child, a miserable, squalid child, with famine in
its cheeks and fear in its eyes. And as I looked in the old
woman's face, the wrinkles and lines vanished, and it became a face
of youth,--hard-eyed, stony, but still youth; and the Shadow darted
forth, and darkened over these phantoms as it had darkened over the
Nothing now was left but the Shadow, and on that my eyes were
intently fixed, till again eyes grew out of the Shadow,--malignant,
serpent eyes. And the bubbles of light again rose and fell, and in
their disordered, irregular, turbulent maze, mingled with the wan
moonlight. And now from these globules themselves, as from the
shell of an egg, monstrous things burst out; the air grew filled
with them: larvae so bloodless and so hideous that I can in no way
describe them except to remind the reader of the swarming life
which the solar microscope brings before his eyes in a drop of
water,--things transparent, supple, agile, chasing each other,
devouring each other; forms like naught ever beheld by the naked
eye. As the shapes were without symmetry, so their movements were
without order. In their very vagrancies there was no sport; they
came round me and round, thicker and faster and swifter, swarming
over my head, crawling over my right arm, which was outstretched in
involuntary command against all evil beings. Sometimes I felt
myself touched, but not by them; invisible hands touched me. Once
I felt the clutch as of cold, soft fingers at my throat. I was
still equally conscious that if I gave way to fear I should be in
bodily peril; and I concentered all my faculties in the single
focus of resisting stubborn will. And I turned my sight from the
Shadow; above all, from those strange serpent eyes,--eyes that had
now become distinctly visible. For there, though in naught else
around me, I was aware that there was a WILL, and will of intense,
creative, working evil, which might crush down my own.
The pale atmosphere in the room began now to redden as if in the
air of some near conflagration. The larvae grew lurid as things
that live in fire. Again the room vibrated; again were heard the
three measured knocks; and again all things were swallowed up in
the darkness of the dark Shadow, as if out of that darkness all had
come, into that darkness all returned.
As the gloom receded, the Shadow was wholly gone. Slowly, as it
had been withdrawn, the flame grew again into the candles on the
table, again into the fuel in the grate. The whole room came once
more calmly, healthfully into sight.
The two doors were still closed, the door communicating with the
servant's room still locked. In the corner of the wall, into which
he had so convulsively niched himself, lay the dog. I called to
him,--no movement; I approached,--the animal was dead: his eyes
protruded; his tongue out of his mouth; the froth gathered round
his jaws. I took him in my arms; I brought him to the fire. I
felt acute grief for the loss of my poor favorite,--acute self-
reproach; I accused myself of his death; I imagined he had died of
fright. But what was my surprise on finding that his neck was
actually broken. Had this been done in the dark? Must it not have
been by a hand human as mine; must there not have been a human
agency all the while in that room? Good cause to suspect it. I
cannot tell. I cannot do more than state the fact fairly; the
reader may draw his own inference.
Another surprising circumstance,--my watch was restored to the
table from which it had been so mysteriously withdrawn; but it had
stopped at the very moment it was so withdrawn, nor, despite all
the skill of the watchmaker, has it ever gone since,--that is, it
will go in a strange, erratic way for a few hours, and then come to
a dead stop; it is worthless.
Nothing more chanced for the rest of the night. Nor, indeed, had I
long to wait before the dawn broke. Not till it was broad daylight
did I quit the haunted house. Before I did so, I revisited the
little blind room in which my servant and myself had been for a
time imprisoned. I had a strong impression--for which I could not
account--that from that room had originated the mechanism of the
phenomena, if I may use the term, which had been experienced in my
chamber. And though I entered it now in the clear day, with the
sun peering through the filmy window, I still felt, as I stood on
its floors, the creep of the horror which I had first there
experienced the night before, and which had been so aggravated by
what had passed in my own chamber. I could not, indeed, bear to
stay more than half a minute within those walls. I descended the
stairs, and again I heard the footfall before me; and when I opened
the street door, I thought I could distinguish a very low laugh. I
gained my own home, expecting to find my runaway servant there; but
he had not presented himself, nor did I hear more of him for three
days, when I received a letter from him, dated from Liverpool to
"HONORED SIR,--I humbly entreat your pardon, though I can scarcely
hope that you will think that I deserve it, unless--which Heaven
forbid!--you saw what I did. I feel that it will be years before I
can recover myself; and as to being fit for service, it is out of
the question. I am therefore going to my brother-in-law at
Melbourne. The ship sails to-morrow. Perhaps the long voyage may
set me up. I do nothing now but start and tremble, and fancy it is
behind me. I humbly beg you, honored sir, to order my clothes, and
whatever wages are due to me, to be sent to my mother's, at
Walworth,--John knows her address."
The letter ended with additional apologies, somewhat incoherent,
and explanatory details as to effects that had been under the
This flight may perhaps warrant a suspicion that the man wished to
go to Australia, and had been somehow or other fraudulently mixed
up with the events of the night. I say nothing in refutation of
that conjecture; rather, I suggest it as one that would seem to
many persons the most probable solution of improbable occurrences.
My belief in my own theory remained unshaken. I returned in the
evening to the house, to bring away in a hack cab the things I had
left there, with my poor dog's body. In this task I was not
disturbed, nor did any incident worth note befall me, except that
still, on ascending and descending the stairs, I heard the same
footfall in advance. On leaving the house, I went to Mr. J----'s.
He was at home. I returned him the keys, told him that my
curiosity was sufficiently gratified, and was about to relate
quickly what had passed, when he stopped me, and said, though with
much politeness, that he had no longer any interest in a mystery
which none had ever solved.
I determined at least to tell him of the two letters I had read, as
well as of the extraordinary manner in which they had disappeared;
and I then inquired if he thought they had been addressed to the
woman who had died in the house, and if there were anything in her
early history which could possibly confirm the dark suspicions to
which the letters gave rise. Mr. J---- seemed startled, and, after
musing a few moments, answered, "I am but little acquainted with
the woman's earlier history, except as I before told you, that her
family were known to mine. But you revive some vague reminiscences
to her prejudice. I will make inquiries, and inform you of their
result. Still, even if we could admit the popular superstition
that a person who had been either the perpetrator or the victim of
dark crimes in life could revisit, as a restless spirit, the scene
in which those crimes had been committed, I should observe that the
house was infested by strange sights and sounds before the old
woman died--you smile--what would you say?"
"I would say this, that I am convinced, if we could get to the
bottom of these mysteries, we should find a living human agency."
"What! you believe it is all an imposture? For what object?"
"Not an imposture in the ordinary sense of the word. If suddenly I
were to sink into a deep sleep, from which you could not awake me,
but in that sleep could answer questions with an accuracy which I
could not pretend to when awake,--tell you what money you had in
your pocket, nay, describe your very thoughts,--it is not
necessarily an imposture, any more than it is necessarily
supernatural. I should be, unconsciously to myself, under a
mesmeric influence, conveyed to me from a distance by a human being
who had acquired power over me by previous rapport."
"But if a mesmerizer could so affect another living being, can you
suppose that a mesmerizer could also affect inanimate objects: move
chairs,--open and shut doors?"
"Or impress our senses with the belief in such effects,--we never
having been en rapport with the person acting on us? No. What is
commonly called mesmerism could not do this; but there may be a
power akin to mesmerism, and superior to it,--the power that in the
old days was called Magic. That such a power may extend to all
inanimate objects of matter, I do not say; but if so, it would not
be against Nature,--it would be only a rare power in Nature which
might be given to constitutions with certain peculiarities, and
cultivated by practice to an extraordinary degree. That such a
power might extend over the dead,--that is, over certain thoughts
and memories that the dead may still retain,--and compel, not that
which ought properly to be called the SOUL, and which is far beyond
human reach, but rather a phantom of what has been most earth-
stained on earth, to make itself apparent to our senses, is a very
ancient though obsolete theory upon which I will hazard no opinion.
But I do not conceive the power would be supernatural. Let me
illustrate what I mean from an experiment which Paracelsus
describes as not difficult, and which the author of the
'Curiosities of Literature' cites as credible: A flower perishes;
you burn it. Whatever were the elements of that flower while it
lived are gone, dispersed, you know not whither; you can never
discover nor re-collect them. But you can, by chemistry, out of
the burned dust of that flower, raise a spectrum of the flower,
just as it seemed in life. It may be the same with the human
being. The soul has as much escaped you as the essence or elements
of the flower. Still you may make a spectrum of it. And this
phantom, though in the popular superstition it is held to be the
soul of the departed, must not be confounded with the true soul; it
is but the eidolon of the dead form. Hence, like the best-attested
stories of ghosts or spirits, the thing that most strikes us is the
absence of what we hold to be soul,--that is, of superior
emancipated intelligence. These apparitions come for little or no
object,--they seldom speak when they do come; if they speak, they
utter no ideas above those of an ordinary person on earth.
American spirit seers have published volumes of communications, in
prose and verse, which they assert to be given in the names of the
most illustrious dead: Shakespeare, Bacon,--Heaven knows whom.
Those communications, taking the best, are certainly not a whit of
higher order than would be communications from living persons of
fair talent and education; they are wondrously inferior to what
Bacon, Shakespeare, and Plato said and wrote when on earth. Nor,
what is more noticeable, do they ever contain an idea that was not
on the earth before. Wonderful, therefore, as such phenomena may
be (granting them to be truthful), I see much that philosophy may
question, nothing that it is incumbent on philosophy to deny,--
namely, nothing supernatural. They are but ideas conveyed somehow
or other (we have not yet discovered the means) from one mortal
brain to another. Whether, in so doing, tables walk of their own
accord, or fiendlike shapes appear in a magic circle, or bodiless
hands rise and remove material objects, or a Thing of Darkness,
such as presented itself to me, freeze our blood,--still am I
persuaded that these are but agencies conveyed, as by electric
wires, to my own brain from the brain of another. In some
constitutions there is a natural chemistry, and those constitutions
may produce chemic wonders,--in others a natural fluid, call it
electricity, and these may produce electric wonders. But the
wonders differ from Normal Science in this,--they are alike
objectless, purposeless, puerile, frivolous. They lead on to no
grand results; and therefore the world does not heed, and true
sages have not cultivated them. But sure I am, that of all I saw
or heard, a man, human as myself, was the remote originator; and I
believe unconsciously to himself as to the exact effects produced,
for this reason: no two persons, you say, have ever told you that
they experienced exactly the same thing. Well, observe, no two
persons ever experience exactly the same dream. If this were an
ordinary imposture, the machinery would be arranged for results
that would but little vary; if it were a supernatural agency
permitted by the Almighty, it would surely be for some definite
end. These phenomena belong to neither class; my persuasion is,
that they originate in some brain now far distant; that that brain
had no distinct volition in anything that occurred; that what does
occur reflects but its devious, motley, ever-shifting, half-formed
thoughts; in short, that it has been but the dreams of such a brain
put into action and invested with a semisubstance. That this brain
is of immense power, that it can set matter into movement, that it
is malignant and destructive, I believe; some material force must
have killed my dog; the same force might, for aught I know, have
sufficed to kill myself, had I been as subjugated by terror as the
dog,--had my intellect or my spirit given me no countervailing
resistance in my will."
"It killed your dog,--that is fearful! Indeed it is strange that
no animal can be induced to stay in that house; not even a cat.
Rats and mice are never found in it."
"The instincts of the brute creation detect influences deadly to
their existence. Man's reason has a sense less subtle, because it
has a resisting power more supreme. But enough; do you comprehend
"Yes, though imperfectly,--and I accept any crotchet (pardon the
word), however odd, rather than embrace at once the notion of
ghosts and hobgoblins we imbibed in our nurseries. Still, to my
unfortunate house, the evil is the same. What on earth can I do
with the house?"
"I will tell you what I would do. I am convinced from my own
internal feelings that the small, unfurnished room at right angles
to the door of the bedroom which I occupied, forms a starting point
or receptacle for the influences which haunt the house; and I
strongly advise you to have the walls opened, the floor removed,--
nay, the whole room pulled down. I observe that it is detached
from the body of the house, built over the small backyard, and
could be removed without injury to the rest of the building."
"And you think, if I did that--"
"You would cut off the telegraph wires. Try it. I am so persuaded
that I am right, that I will pay half the expense if you will allow
me to direct the operations."
"Nay, I am well able to afford the cost; for the rest allow me to
write to you."
About ten days after I received a letter from Mr. J---- telling me
that he had visited the house since I had seen him; that he had
found the two letters I had described, replaced in the drawer from
which I had taken them; that he had read them with misgivings like
my own; that he had instituted a cautious inquiry about the woman
to whom I rightly conjectured they had been written. It seemed
that thirty-six years ago (a year before the date of the letters)
she had married, against the wish of her relations, an American of
very suspicions character; in fact, he was generally believed to
have been a pirate. She herself was the daughter of very
respectable tradespeople, and had served in the capacity of a
nursery governess before her marriage. She had a brother, a
widower, who was considered wealthy, and who had one child of about
six years old. A month after the marriage the body of this brother
was found in the Thames, near London Bridge; there seemed some
marks of violence about his throat, but they were not deemed
sufficient to warrant the inquest in any other verdict that that of
The American and his wife took charge of the little boy, the
deceased brother having by his will left his sister the guardian of
his only child,--and in event of the child's death the sister
inherited. The child died about six months afterwards,--it was
supposed to have been neglected and ill-treated. The neighbors
deposed to have heard it shriek at night. The surgeon who had
examined it after death said that it was emaciated as if from want
of nourishment, and the body was covered with livid bruises. It
seemed that one winter night the child had sought to escape; crept
out into the back yard; tried to scale the wall; fallen back
exhausted; and been found at morning on the stones in a dying
state. But though there was some evidence of cruelty, there was
none of murder; and the aunt and her husband had sought to palliate
cruelty by alleging the exceeding stubbornness and perversity of
the child, who was declared to be half-witted. Be that as it may,
at the orphan's death the aunt inherited her brother's fortune.
Before the first wedded year was out, the American quitted England
abruptly, and never returned to it. He obtained a cruising vessel,
which was lost in the Atlantic two years afterwards. The widow was
left in affluence, but reverses of various kinds had befallen her:
a bank broke; an investment failed; she went into a small business
and became insolvent; then she entered into service, sinking lower
and lower, from housekeeper down to maid-of-all-work,--never long
retaining a place, though nothing decided against her character was
ever alleged. She was considered sober, honest, and peculiarly
quiet in her ways; still nothing prospered with her. And so she
had dropped into the workhouse, from which Mr. J---- had taken her,
to be placed in charge of the very house which she had rented as
mistress in the first year of her wedded life.
Mr. J---- added that he had passed an hour alone in the unfurnished
room which I had urged him to destroy, and that his impressions of
dread while there were so great, though he had neither heard nor
seen anything, that he was eager to have the walls bared and the
floors removed as I had suggested. He had engaged persons for the
work, and would commence any day I would name.
The day was accordingly fixed. I repaired to the haunted house,--
we went into the blind, dreary room, took up the skirting, and then
the floors. Under the rafters, covered with rubbish, was found a
trapdoor, quite large enough to admit a man. It was closely nailed
down, with clamps and rivets of iron. On removing these we
descended into a room below, the existence of which had never been
suspected. In this room there had been a window and a flue, but
they had been bricked over, evidently for many years. By the help
of candles we examined this place; it still retained some moldering
furniture,--three chairs, an oak settle, a table,--all of the
fashion of about eighty years ago. There was a chest of drawers
against the wall, in which we found, half rotted away, old-
fashioned articles of a man's dress, such as might have been worn
eighty or a hundred years ago by a gentleman of some rank; costly
steel buckles and buttons, like those yet worn in court dresses, a
handsome court sword; in a waistcoat which had once been rich with
gold lace, but which was now blackened and foul with damp, we found
five guineas, a few silver coins, and an ivory ticket, probably for
some place of entertainment long since passed away. But our main
discovery was in a kind of iron safe fixed to the wall, the lock of
which it cost us much trouble to get picked.
In this safe were three shelves and two small drawers. Ranged on
the shelves were several small bottles of crystal, hermetically
stopped. They contained colorless, volatile essences, of the
nature of which I shall only say that they were not poisons,--
phosphor and ammonia entered into some of them. There were also
some very curious glass tubes, and a small pointed rod of iron,
with a large lump of rock crystal, and another of amber,--also a
loadstone of great power.
In one of the drawers we found a miniature portrait set in gold,
and retaining the freshness of its colors most remarkably,
considering the length of time it had probably been there. The
portrait was that of a man who might be somewhat advanced in middle
life, perhaps forty-seven or forty-eight. It was a remarkable
face,--a most impressive face. If you could fancy some mighty
serpent transformed into man, preserving in the human lineaments
the old serpent type, you would have a better idea of that
countenance than long descriptions can convey: the width and
flatness of frontal; the tapering elegance of contour disguising
the strength of the deadly jaw; the long, large, terrible eye,
glittering and green as the emerald,--and withal a certain ruthless
calm, as if from the consciousness of an immense power.
Mechanically I turned round the miniature to examine the back of
it, and on the back was engraved a pentacle; in the middle of the
pentacle a ladder, and the third step of the ladder was formed by
the date 1765. Examining still more minutely, I detected a spring;
this, on being pressed, opened the back of the miniature as a lid.
Within-side the lid were engraved, "Marianna to thee. Be faithful
in life and in death to ----." Here follows a name that I will not
mention, but it was not unfamiliar to me. I had heard it spoken of
by old men in my childhood as the name borne by a dazzling
charlatan who had made a great sensation in London for a year or
so, and had fled the country on the charge of a double murder
within his own house,--that of his mistress and his rival. I said
nothing of this to Mr. J----, to whom reluctantly I resigned the
We had found no difficulty in opening the first drawer within the
iron safe; we found great difficulty in opening the second: it was
not locked, but it resisted all efforts, till we inserted in the
chinks the edge of a chisel. When we had thus drawn it forth, we
found a very singular apparatus in the nicest order. Upon a small,
thin book, or rather tablet, was placed a saucer of crystal; this
saucer was filled with a clear liquid,--on that liquid floated a
kind of compass, with a needle shifting rapidly round; but instead
of the usual points of a compass were seven strange characters, not
very unlike those used by astrologers to denote the planets. A
peculiar but not strong nor displeasing odor came from this drawer,
which was lined with a wood that we afterwards discovered to be
hazel. Whatever the cause of this odor, it produced a material
effect on the nerves. We all felt it, even the two workmen who
were in the room,--a creeping, tingling sensation from the tips of
the fingers to the roots of the hair. Impatient to examine the
tablet, I removed the saucer. As I did so the needle of the
compass went round and round with exceeding swiftness, and I felt a
shock that ran through my whole frame, so that I dropped the saucer
on the floor. The liquid was spilled; the saucer was broken; the
compass rolled to the end of the room, and at that instant the
walls shook to and fro, as if a giant had swayed and rocked them.
The two workmen were so frightened that they ran up the ladder by
which we had descended from the trapdoor; but seeing that nothing
more happened, they were easily induced to return.
Meanwhile I had opened the tablet: it was bound in plain red
leather, with a silver clasp; it contained but one sheet of thick
vellum, and on that sheet were inscribed, within a double pentacle,
words in old monkish Latin, which are literally to be translated
thus: "On all that it can reach within these walls, sentient or
inanimate, living or dead, as moves the needle, so works my will!
Accursed be the house, and restless be the dwellers therein."
We found no more. Mr. J---- burned the tablet and its anathema.
He razed to the foundations the part of the building containing the
secret room with the chamber over it. He had then the courage to
inhabit the house himself for a month, and a quieter, better-
conditioned house could not be found in all London. Subsequently
he let it to advantage, and his tenant has made no complaints.
A drowning man clutching at a straw--such is Dr. Fenwick, hero of
Bulwer-Lytton's "Strange Story" when he determines to lend himself
to alleged "magic" in the hope of saving his suffering wife from
the physical dangers which have succeeded her mental disease. The
proposition has been made to him by Margrave, a wanderer in many
countries, who has followed the Fenwicks from England to Australia.
Margrave declares that he needs an accomplice to secure an "elixir
of life" which his own failing strength demands. His mysterious
mesmeric or hypnotic influence over Mrs. Fenwick had in former days
been marked; and on the basis of this undeniable fact, he has
endeavored to show that his own welfare and Mrs. Fenwick's are, in
some occult fashion, knit together, and that only by aiding him in
some extraordinary experiment can the physician snatch his beloved
Lilian from her impending doom.
As the first chapter opens, Fenwick is learning his wife's
condition from his friend, Dr. Faber.
"I believe that for at least twelve hours there will be no change
in her state. I believe also that if she recover from it, calm and
refreshed, as from a sleep, the danger of death will have passed
"And for twelve hours my presence would be hurtful?"
"Rather say fatal, if my diagnosis be right."
I wrung my friend's hand, and we parted.
Oh, to lose her now; now that her love and her reason had both
returned, each more vivid than before! Futile, indeed, might be
Margrave's boasted secret; but at least in that secret was hope.
In recognized science I saw only despair.
And at that thought all dread of this mysterious visitor vanished--
all anxiety to question more of his attributes or his history. His
life itself became to me dear and precious. What if it should fail
me in the steps of the process, whatever that was, by which the
life of my Lilian might be saved!
The shades of evening were now closing in. I remembered that I had
left Margrave without even food for many hours. I stole round to
the back of the house, filled a basket with elements more generous
than those of the former day; extracted fresh drugs from my stores,
and, thus laden, hurried back to the hut. I found Margrave in the
room below, seated on his mysterious coffer, leaning his face on
his hand. When I entered, he looked up, and said:
"You have neglected me. My strength is waning. Give me more of
the cordial, for we have work before us tonight, and I need
He took for granted my assent to his wild experiment; and he was
I administered the cordial. I placed food before him, and this
time he did not eat with repugnance. I poured out wine, and he
drank it sparingly, but with ready compliance, saying, "In perfect
health, I looked upon wine as poison; now it is like a foretaste of
the glorious elixir."
After he had thus recruited himself, he seemed to acquire an energy
that startlingly contrasted with his languor the day before; the
effort of breathing was scarcely perceptible; the color came back
to his cheeks; his bended frame rose elastic and erect.
"If I understood you rightly," said I, "the experiment you ask me
to aid can be accomplished in a single night?"
"In a single night--this night."
"Command me. Why not begin at once? What apparatus or chemical
agencies do you need?"
"Ah!" said Margrave. "Formerly, how I was misled! Formerly, how
my conjectures blundered! I thought, when I asked you to give a
month to the experiment I wish to make, that I should need the
subtlest skill of the chemist. I then believed, with Van Helmont,
that the principle of life is a gas, and that the secret was but in
the mode by which the gas might be rightly administered. But now,
all that I need is contained in this coffer, save one very simple
material--fuel sufficient for a steady fire for six hours. I see
even that is at hand, piled up in your outhouse. And now for the
substance itself--to that you must guide me."
"Near this very spot is there not gold--in mines yet undiscovered--
and gold of the purest metal?"
"There is. What then? Do you, with the alchemists, blend in one
discovery, gold and life?"
"No. But it is only where the chemistry of earth or of man
produces gold, that the substance from which the great pabulum of
life is extracted by ferment can be found. Possibly, in the
attempts at that transmutation of metals, which I think your own
great chemist, Sir Humphry Davy, allowed might be possible, but
held not to be worth the cost of the process--possibly, in those
attempts, some scanty grains of this substance were found by the
alchemists, in the crucible, with grains of the metal as niggardly
yielded by pitiful mimicry of Nature's stupendous laboratory; and
from such grains enough of the essence might, perhaps, have been
drawn forth, to add a few years of existence to some feeble
graybeard--granting, what rests on no proofs, that some of the
alchemists reached an age rarely given to man. But it is not in
the miserly crucible, it is in the matrix of Nature herself, that
we must seek in prolific abundance Nature's grand principle--life.
As the loadstone is rife with the magnetic virtue, as amber
contains the electric, so in this substance, to which we yet want a
name, is found the bright life-giving fluid. In the old gold mines
of Asia and Europe the substance exists, but can rarely be met
with. The soil for its nutriment may there be well nigh exhausted.
It is here, where Nature herself is all vital with youth, that the
nutriment of youth must be sought. Near this spot is gold; guide
me to it."
"You cannot come with me. The place which I know as auriferous is
some miles distant, the way rugged. You cannot walk to it. It is
true I have horses, but--"
"Do you think I have come this distance and not foreseen and
forestalled all that I want for my object? Trouble yourself not
with conjectures how I can arrive at the place. I have provided
the means to arrive at and leave it. My litter and its bearers are
in reach of my call. Give me your arm to the rising ground, fifty
yards from your door."
I obeyed mechanically, stifling all surprise. I had made my
resolve, and admitted no thought that could shake it.
When we reached the summit of the grassy hillock, which sloped from
the road that led to the seaport, Margrave, after pausing to
recover breath, lifted up his voice, in a key, not loud, but shrill
and slow and prolonged, half cry and half chant, like the
nighthawk's. Through the air--so limpid and still, bringing near
far objects, far sounds--the voice pierced its way, artfully
pausing, till wave after wave of the atmosphere bore and
transmitted it on.
In a few minutes the call seemed re-echoed, so exactly, so
cheerily, that for the moment I thought that the note was the
mimicry of the shy mocking lyre bird, which mimics so merrily all
that it hears in its coverts, from the whir of the locust to the
howl of the wild dog.
"What king," said the mystical charmer, and as he spoke he
carelessly rested his hand on my shoulder, so that I trembled to
feel that this dread son of Nature, Godless and soulless, who had
been--and, my heart whispered, who still could be--my bane and mind
darkener, leaned upon me for support, as the spoiled younger-born
on his brother--"what king," said this cynical mocker, with his
beautiful boyish face--"what king in your civilized Europe has the
sway of a chief of the East? What link is so strong between mortal
and mortal as that between lord and slave? I transport you poor
fools from the land of their birth; they preserve here their old
habits--obedience and awe. They would wait till they starved in
the solitude--wait to hearken and answer my call. And I, who thus
rule them, or charm them--I use and despise them. They know that,
and yet serve me! Between you and me, my philosopher, there is but
one thing worth living for--life for oneself."
Is it age, is it youth, that thus shocks all my sense, in my solemn
completeness of man? Perhaps, in great capitals, young men of
pleasure will answer, "It is youth; and we think what he says!"
Young friends, I do not believe you.
Along the grass track I saw now, under the moon, just risen, a
strange procession--never seen before in Australian pastures. It
moved on, noiselessly but quickly. We descended the hillock, and
met it on the way; a sable litter, borne by four men, in unfamiliar
Eastern garments; two other servitors, more bravely dressed, with
yataghans and silver-hilted pistols in their belts, preceded this
somber equipage. Perhaps Margrave divined the disdainful thought
that passed through my mind, vaguely and half-unconsciously; for he
said with a hollow, bitter laugh that had replaced the lively peal
of his once melodious mirth:
"A little leisure and a little gold, and your raw colonist, too,
will have the tastes of a pasha."
I made no answer. I had ceased to care who and what was my
tempter. To me his whole being was resolved into one problem: had
he a secret by which death could be turned from Lilian?
But now, as the litter halted, from the long, dark shadow which it
cast upon the turf, the figure of a woman emerged and stood before
us. The outlines of her shape were lost in the loose folds of a
black mantle, and the features of her face were hidden by a black
veil, except only the dark-bright, solemn eyes. Her stature was
lofty, her bearing majestic, whether in movement or repose.
Margrave accosted her in some language unknown to me. She replied
in what seemed to me the same tongue. The tones of her voice were
sweet, but inexpressibly mournful. The words that they uttered
appeared intended to warn, or deprecate, or dissuade; but they
called to Margrave's brow a lowering frown, and drew from his lips
a burst of unmistakable anger. The woman rejoined, in the same
melancholy music of voice. And Margrave then, leaning his arm upon
her shoulder, as he had leaned it on mine, drew her away from the
group into a neighboring copse of the flowering eucalypti--mystic
trees, never changing the hues of their pale-green leaves, ever
shifting the tints of their ash-gray, shedding bark. For some
moments I gazed on the two human forms, dimly seen by the glinting
moonlight through the gaps in the foliage. Then turning away my
eyes, I saw, standing close at my side, a man whom I had not
noticed before. His footstep, as it stole to me, had fallen on the
sward without sound. His dress, though Oriental, differed from
that of his companions, both in shape and color--fitting close to
the breast, leaving the arms bare to the elbow, and of a uniform
ghastly white, as are the cerements of the grave. His visage was
even darker than those of the Syrians or Arabs behind him, and his
features were those of a bird of prey: the beak of the eagle, but
the eye of the vulture. His cheeks were hollow; the arms, crossed
on his breast, were long and fleshless. Yet in that skeleton form
there was a something which conveyed the idea of a serpent's
suppleness and strength; and as the hungry, watchful eyes met my
own startled gaze, I recoiled impulsively with that inward warning
of danger which is conveyed to man, as to inferior animals, in the
very aspect of the creatures that sting or devour. At my movement
the man inclined his head in the submissive Eastern salutation, and
spoke in his foreign tongue, softly, humbly, fawningly, to judge by
his tone and his gesture.
I moved yet farther away from him with loathing, and now the human
thought flashed upon me: was I, in truth, exposed to no danger in
trusting myself to the mercy of the weird and remorseless master of
those hirelings from the East--seven men in number, two at least of
them formidably armed, and docile as bloodhounds to the hunter, who
has only to show them their prey? But fear of man like myself is
not my weakness; where fear found its way to my heart, it was
through the doubts or the fancies in which man like myself
disappeared in the attributes, dark and unknown, which we give to a
fiend or a specter. And, perhaps, if I could have paused to
analyze my own sensations, the very presence of this escort--
creatures of flesh and blood--lessened the dread of my
incomprehensible tempter. Rather, a hundred times, front and defy
those seven Eastern slaves--I, haughty son of the Anglo-Saxon who
conquers all races because he fears no odds--than have seen again
on the walls of my threshold the luminous, bodiless shadow!
Besides: Lilian--Lilian! for one chance of saving her life, however
wild and chimerical that chance might be, I would have shrunk not a
foot from the march of an army.
Thus reassured and thus resolved, I advanced, with a smile of
disdain, to meet Margrave and his veiled companion, as they now
came from the moonlit copse.
"Well," I said to him, with an irony that unconsciously mimicked
his own, "have you taken advice with your nurse? I assume that the
dark form by your side is that of Ayesha!"*
* Margrave's former nurse and attendant.
The woman looked at me from her sable veil, with her steadfast,
solemn eyes, and said, in English, though with a foreign accent:
"The nurse born in Asia is but wise through her love; the pale son
of Europe is wise through his art. The nurse says, 'Forbear!' Do
you say, 'Adventure'?"
"Peace!" exclaimed Margrave, stamping his foot on the ground. "I
take no counsel from either; it is for me to resolve, for you to
obey, and for him to aid. Night is come, and we waste it; move
The woman made no reply, nor did I. He took my arm and walked back
to the hut. The barbaric escort followed. When we reached the
door of the building, Margrave said a few words to the woman and to
the litter bearers. They entered the hut with us. Margrave
pointed out to the woman his coffer, to the men the fuel stowed in
the outhouse. Both were borne away and placed within the litter.
Meanwhile I took from the table, on which it was carelessly thrown,
the light hatchet that I habitually carried with me in my rambles.
"Do you think that you need that idle weapon?" said Margrave. "Do
you fear the good faith of my swarthy attendants?"
"Nay, take the hatchet yourself; its use is to sever the gold from
the quartz in which we may find it imbedded, or to clear, as this
shovel, which will also be needed, from the slight soil above it,
the ore that the mine in the mountain flings forth, as the sea
casts its waifs on the sands."
"Give me your hand, fellow laborer!" said Margrave, joyfully. "Ah,
there is no faltering terror in this pulse! I was not mistaken in
the man. What rests, but the place and the hour?--I shall live, I
Margrave now entered the litter, and the Veiled Woman drew the
black curtains round him. I walked on, as the guide, some yards in
advance. The air was still, heavy, and parched with the breath of
the Australasian sirocco.
We passed through the meadow lands, studded with slumbering flocks;
we followed the branch of the creek, which was linked to its source
in the mountains by many a trickling waterfall; we threaded the
gloom of stunted, misshapen trees, gnarled with the stringy bark
which makes one of the signs of the strata that nourish gold; and
at length the moon, now in all her pomp of light, mid-heaven among
her subject stars, gleamed through the fissures of the cave, on
whose floor lay the relics of antediluvian races, and rested in one
flood of silvery splendor upon the hollows of the extinct volcano,
with tufts of dank herbage, and wide spaces of paler sward,
covering the gold below--gold, the dumb symbol of organized
Matter's great mystery, storing in itself, according as Mind, the
informer of Matter, can distinguish its uses, evil and good, bane
Hitherto the Veiled Woman had remained in the rear, with the white-
robed, skeletonlike image that had crept to my side unawares with
its noiseless step. Thus, in each winding turn of the difficult
path at which the convoy following behind me came into sight, I had
seen, first, the two gayly dressed, armed men, next the black,
bierlike litter, and last the Black-veiled Woman and the White-
But now, as I halted on the tableland, backed by the mountain and
fronting the valley, the woman left her companion, passed by the
litter and the armed men, and paused by my side, at the mouth of
the moonlit cavern.
There for a moment she stood, silent, the procession below mounting
upward laboriously and slow; then she turned to me, and her veil
The face on which I gazed was wondrously beautiful, and severely
awful. There was neither youth nor age, but beauty, mature and
majestic as that of a marble Demeter.
"Do you believe in that which you seek?" she asked in her foreign,
melodious, melancholy accents.
"I have no belief," was my answer. "True science has none. True
science questions all things, takes nothing upon credit. It knows
but three states of the mind--denial, conviction, and that vast
interval between the two which is not belief but suspense of
The woman let fall her veil, moved from me, and seated herself on a
crag above that cleft between mountain and creek, to which, when I
had first discovered the gold that the land nourished, the rain
from the clouds had given the rushing life of the cataract; but
which now, in the drought and the hush of the skies, was but a dead
pile of stones.
The litter now ascended the height: its bearers halted; a lean hand
tore the curtains aside, and Margrave descended leaning, this time,
not on the Black-veiled Woman, but on the White-robed Skeleton.
There, as he stood, the moon shone full on his wasted form; on his
face, resolute, cheerful, and proud, despite its hollowed outlines
and sicklied hues. He raised his head, spoke in the language
unknown to me, and the armed men and the litter bearers grouped
round him, bending low, their eyes fixed on the ground. The Veiled
Woman rose slowly and came to his side, motioning away, with a mute
sign, the ghastly form on which he leaned, and passing round him
silently, instead, her own sustaining arm. Margrave spoke again a
few sentences, of which I could not even guess the meaning. When
he had concluded, the armed men and the litter bearers came nearer
to his feet, knelt down, and kissed his hand. They then rose, and
took from the bierlike vehicle the coffer and the fuel. This done,
they lifted again the litter, and again, preceded by the armed men,
the procession descended down the sloping hillside, down into the
Margrave now whispered, for some moments, into the ear of the
hideous creature who had made way for the Veiled Woman. The grim
skeleton bowed his head submissively, and strode noiselessly away
through the long grasses--the slender stems, trampled under his
stealthy feet, relifting themselves as after a passing wind. And
thus he, too, sank out of sight down into the valley below. On the
tableland of the hill remained only we three--Margrave, myself, and
the Veiled Woman.
She had reseated herself apart, on the gray crag above the dried
torrent. He stood at the entrance of the cavern, round the sides
of which clustered parasital plants, with flowers of all colors,
some among them opening their petals and exhaling their fragrance
only in the hours of night; so that, as his form filled up the jaws
of the dull arch, obscuring the moonbeam that strove to pierce the
shadows that slept within, it stood now--wan and blighted--as I had
seen it first, radiant and joyous, literally "framed in blooms."
"So," said Margrave, turning to me, "under the soil that spreads
around us lies the gold which to you and to me is at this moment of
no value, except as a guide to its twin-born--the regenerator of
"You have not yet described to me the nature of the substance which
we are to explore, nor the process by which the virtues you impute
to it are to be extracted."
"Let us first find the gold, and instead of describing the life-
amber, so let me call it, I will point it out to your own eyes. As
to the process, your share in it is so simple that you will ask me
why I seek aid from a chemist. The life-amber, when found, has but
to be subjected to heat and fermentation for six hours; it will be
placed in a small caldron which that coffer contains, over the fire
which that fuel will feed. To give effect to the process, certain
alkalies and other ingredients are required; but these are
prepared, and mine is the task to commingle them. From your
science as chemist I need and ask naught. In you I have sought
only the aid of a man."
"If that be so, why, indeed, seek me at all? Why not confide in
those swarthy attendants, who doubtless are slaves to your orders?"
"Confide in slaves, when the first task enjoined to them would be
to discover, and refrain from purloining gold! Seven such
unscrupulous knaves, or even one such, and I, thus defenseless and
feeble! Such is not the work that wise masters confide to fierce
slaves. But that is the least of the reasons which exclude them
from my choice, and fix my choice of assistant on you. Do you
forget what I told you of the danger which the Dervish declared no
bribe I could offer could tempt him a second time to brave?"
"I remember now; those words had passed away from my mind."
"And because they had passed away from your mind, I chose you for
my comrade. I need a man by whom danger is scorned."
"But in the process of which you tell me I see no possible danger
unless the ingredients you mix in your caldron have poisonous
"It is not that. The ingredients I use are not poisons."
"What other danger, except you dread your own Eastern slaves? But,
if so, why lead them to these solitudes; and, if so, why not bid me
"The Eastern slaves, fulfilling my commands, wait for my summons,
where their eyes cannot see what we do. The danger is of a kind in
which the boldest son of the East would be more craven, perhaps,
that the daintiest Sybarite of Europe, who would shrink from a
panther and laugh at a ghost. In the creed of the Dervish, and of
all who adventure into that realm of Nature which is closed to
philosophy and open to magic, there are races in the magnitude of
space unseen as animalcules in the world of a drop. For the tribes
of the drop science has its microscope. Of the host of yon azure
Infinite magic gains sight, and through them gains command over
fluid conductors that link all the parts of creation. Of these
races, some are wholly indifferent to man, some benign to him, and
some deadly hostile. In all the regular and prescribed conditions
of mortal being, this magic realm seems as blank and tenantless as
yon vacant air. But when a seeker of powers beyond the rude
functions by which man plies the clockwork that measures his hours,
and stops when its chain reaches the end of its coil, strives to
pass over those boundaries at which philosophy says, 'Knowledge
ends'--then, he is like all other travelers in regions unknown; he
must propitiate or brave the tribes that are hostile--must depend
for his life on the tribes that are friendly. Though your science
discredits the alchemist's dogmas, your learning informs you that
all alchemists were not ignorant impostors; yet those whose
discoveries prove them to have been the nearest allies to your
practical knowledge, ever hint in their mystical works at the
reality of that realm which is open to magic--ever hint that some
means less familiar than furnace and bellows are essential to him
who explores the elixir of life. He who once quaffs that elixir,
obtains in his very veins the bright fluid by which he transmits
the force of his will to agencies dormant in Nature, to giants
unseen in the space. And here, as he passes the boundary which
divides his allotted and normal mortality from the regions and
races that magic alone can explore, so, here, he breaks down the
safeguard between himself and the tribes that are hostile. Is it
not ever thus between man and man? Let a race the most gentle and
timid and civilized dwell on one side a river or mountain, and
another have home in the region beyond, each, if it pass not the
intervening barrier, may with each live in peace. But if ambitious
adventurers scale the mountain, or cross the river, with design to
subdue and enslave the population they boldly invade, then all the
invaded arise in wrath and defiance--the neighbors are changed into
foes. And therefore this process--by which a simple though rare
material of Nature is made to yield to a mortal the boon of a life
which brings, with its glorious resistance to Time, desires and
faculties to subject to its service beings that dwell in the earth
and the air and the deep--has ever been one of the same peril which
an invader must brave when he crosses the bounds of his nation. By
this key alone you unlock all the cells of the alchemist's lore; by
this alone understand how a labor, which a chemist's crudest
apprentice could perform, has baffled the giant fathers of all your
dwarfed children of science. Nature, that stores this priceless
boon, seems to shrink from conceding it to man--the invisible
tribes that abhor him oppose themselves to the gain that might give
them a master. The duller of those who were the life-seekers of
old would have told you how some chance, trivial, unlooked-for,
foiled their grand hope at the very point of fruition; some doltish
mistake, some improvident oversight, a defect in the sulphur, a
wild overflow in the quicksilver, or a flaw in the bellows, or a
pupil who failed to replenish the fuel, by falling asleep by the
furnace. The invisible foes seldom vouchsafe to make themselves
visible where they can frustrate the bungler as they mock at his
toils from their ambush. But the mightier adventurers, equally
foiled in despite of their patience and skill, would have said,
'Not with us rests the fault; we neglected no caution, we failed
from no oversight. But out from the caldron dread faces arose, and
the specters or demons dismayed and baffled us.' Such, then, is
the danger which seems so appalling to a son of the East, as it
seemed to a seer in the dark age of Europe. But we can deride all
its threats, you and I. For myself, I own frankly I take all the
safety that the charms and resources of magic bestow. You, for
your safety, have the cultured and disciplined reason which reduces
all fantasies to nervous impressions; and I rely on the courage of
one who has questioned, unquailing, the Luminous Shadow, and
wrested from the hand of the magician himself the wand which
concentered the wonders of will!"
To this strange and long discourse I listened without interruption,
and now quietly answered:
"I do not merit the trust you affect in my courage; but I am now on
my guard against the cheats of the fancy, and the fumes of a vapor
can scarcely bewilder the brain in the open air of this mountain
land. I believe in no races like those which you tell me lie
viewless in space, as do gases. I believe not in magic; I ask not
its aids, and I dread not its terrors. For the rest, I am
confident of one mournful courage--the courage that comes from
despair. I submit to your guidance, whatever it be, as a sufferer
whom colleges doom to the grave submits to the quack who says,
'Take my specific and live!' My life is naught in itself; my life
lives in another. You and I are both brave from despair; you would
turn death from yourself--I would turn death from one I love more
than myself. Both know how little aid we can win from the
colleges, and both, therefore, turn to the promises most
audaciously cheering. Dervish or magician, alchemist or phantom,
what care you and I? And if they fail us, what then? They cannot
fail us more than the colleges do!"
The gold has been gained with an easy labor. I knew where to seek
for it, whether under the turf or in the bed of the creek. But
Margrave's eyes, hungrily gazing round every spot from which the
ore was disburied, could not detect the substance of which he alone
knew the outward appearance. I had begun to believe that, even in
the description given to him of this material, he had been
credulously duped, and that no such material existed, when, coming
back from the bed of the watercourse, I saw a faint, yellow gleam
amidst the roots of a giant parasite plant, the leaves and blossoms
of which climbed up the sides of the cave with its antediluvian
relics. The gleam was the gleam of gold, and on removing the loose
earth round the roots of the plant, we came on-- No, I will not, I
dare not, describe it. The gold digger would cast it aside; the
naturalist would pause not to heed it; and did I describe it, and
chemistry deign to subject it to analysis, could chemistry alone
detach or discover its boasted virtues?
Its particles, indeed, are very minute, not seeming readily to
crystallize with each other; each in itself of uniform shape and
size, spherical as the egg which contains the germ of life, and
small as the egg from which the life of an insect may quicken.
But Margrave's keen eye caught sight of the atoms upcast by the
light of the moon. He exclaimed to me, "Found! I shall live!"
And then, as he gathered up the grains with tremulous hands, he
called out to the Veiled Woman, hitherto still seated motionless on
the crag. At his word she rose and went to the place hard by,
where the fuel was piled, busying herself there. I had no leisure
to heed her. I continued my search in the soft and yielding soil
that time and the decay of vegetable life had accumulated over the
pre-Adamite strata on which the arch of the cave rested its mighty
When we had collected of these particles about thrice as much as a
man might hold in his hand, we seemed to have exhausted their bed.
We continued still to find gold, but no more of the delicate
substance to which, in our sight, gold was as dross.
"Enough," then said Margrave, reluctantly desisting. "What we have
gained already will suffice for a life thrice as long as legend
attributes to Haroun. I shall live--I shall live through the
"Forget not that I claim my share."
"Your share--yours! True--your half of my life! It is true." He
paused with a low, ironical, malignant laugh, and then added, as he
rose and turned away, "But the work is yet to be done."
While we had thus labored and found, Ayesha had placed the fuel
where the moonlight fell fullest on the sward of the tableland--a
part of it already piled as for a fire, the rest of it heaped
confusedly close at hand; and by the pile she had placed the
coffer. And, there she stood, her arms folded under her mantle,
her dark image seeming darker still as the moonlight whitened all
the ground from which the image rose motionless. Margrave opened
his coffer, the Veiled Woman did not aid him, and I watched in
silence, while he as silently made his weird and wizard-like
On the ground a wide circle was traced by a small rod, tipped
apparently with sponge saturated with some combustible naphtha-like
fluid, so that a pale, lambent flame followed the course of the rod
as Margrave guided it, burning up the herbage over which it played,
and leaving a distinct ring, like that which, in our lovely native
fable talk, we call the "Fairy's ring," but yet more visible
because marked in phosphorescent light. On the ring thus formed
were placed twelve small lamps, fed with the fluid from the same
vessel, and lighted by the same rod. The light emitted by the
lamps was more vivid and brilliant than that which circled round
Within the circumference, and immediately round the woodpile,
Margrave traced certain geometrical figures, in which--not without
a shudder, that I overcame at once by a strong effort of will in
murmuring to myself the name of "Lilian"--I recognized the
interlaced triangles which my own hand, in the spell enforced on a
sleepwalker, had described on the floor of the wizard's pavilion.
The figures were traced like the circle, in flame, and at the point
of each triangle (four in number) was placed a lamp, brilliant as
those on the ring. This task performed, the caldron, based on an
iron tripod, was placed on the woodpile. And then the woman,
before inactive and unheeding, slowly advanced, knelt by the pile
and lighted it. The dry wood crackled and the flame burst forth,
licking the rims of the caldron with tongues of fire.
Margrave flung into the caldron the particles we had collected,
poured over them first a liquid, colorless as water, from the
largest of the vessels drawn from his coffer, and then, more
sparingly, drops from small crystal phials, like the phials I had
seen in the hand of Philip Derval.
Having surmounted my first impulse of awe, I watched these
proceedings, curious yet disdainful, as one who watches the
mummeries of an enchanter on the stage.
"If," thought I, "these are but artful devices to inebriate and
fool my own imagination, my imagination is on its guard, and reason
shall not, this time, sleep at her post!"
"And now," said Margrave, "I consign to you the easy task by which
you are to merit your share of the elixir. It is my task to feed
and replenish the caldron; it is Ayesha's to feed the fire, which
must not for a moment relax in its measured and steady heat. Your
task is the lightest of all: it is but to renew from this vessel
the fluid that burns in the lamps, and on the ring. Observe, the
contents of the vessel must be thriftily husbanded; there is
enough, but not more than enough, to sustain the light in the
lamps, on the lines traced round the caldron, and on the farther
ring, for six hours. The compounds dissolved in this fluid are
scarce--only obtainable in the East, and even in the East months
might have passed before I could have increased my supply. I had
no months to waste. Replenish, then, the light only when it begins
to flicker or fade. Take heed, above all, that no part of the
outer ring--no, not an inch--and no lamp of the twelve, that are to
its zodiac like stars, fade for one moment in darkness."
I took the crystal vessel from his hand.
"The vessel is small," said I, "and what is yet left of its
contents is but scanty; whether its drops suffice to replenish the
lights I cannot guess--I can but obey your instructions. But, more
important by far than the light to the lamps and the circle, which
in Asia or Africa might scare away the wild beasts unknown to this
land--more important than light to a lamp is the strength to your
frame, weak magician! What will support you through six weary
hours of night watch?"
"Hope," answered Margrave, with a ray of his old dazzling style.
"Hope! I shall live--I shall live through the centuries!"
One hour passed away; the fagots under the caldron burned clear in
the sullen, sultry air. The materials within began to seethe, and
their color, at first dull and turbid, changed into a pale-rose
hue; from time to time the Veiled Woman replenished the fire, after
she had done so reseating herself close by the pyre, with her head
bowed over her knees, and her face hid under her veil.
The lights in the lamps and along the ring and the triangles now
began to pale. I resupplied their nutriment from the crystal
vessel. As yet nothing strange startled my eye or my ear beyond
the rim of the circle--nothing audible, save, at a distance, the
musical wheel-like click of the locusts, and, farther still, in the
forest, the howl of the wild dogs that never bark; nothing visible,
but the trees and the mountain range girding the plains silvered by
the moon, and the arch of the cavern, the flush of wild blooms on
its sides, and the gleam of dry bones on its floor, where the
moonlight shot into the gloom.
The second hour passed like the first. I had taken my stand by the
side of Margrave, watching with him the process at work in the
caldron, when I felt the ground slightly vibrate beneath my feet,
and looking up, it seemed as if all the plains beyond the circle
were heaving like the swell of the sea, and as if in the air itself
there was a perceptible tremor.
I placed my hand on Margrave's shoulder and whispered, "To me earth
and air seem to vibrate. Do they seem to vibrate to you?"
"I know not, I care not," he answered impetuously. "The essence is
bursting the shell that confined it. Here are my air and my earth!
Trouble me not. Look to the circle--feed the lamps if they fail!"
I passed by the Veiled Woman as I walked toward a place in the ring
in which the flame was waning dim; and I whispered to her the same
question which I had whispered to Margrave. She looked slowly
around and answered, "So is it before the Invisible make themselves
visible! Did I not bid him forbear?" Her head again drooped on
her breast, and her watch was again fixed on the fire.
I advanced to the circle and stooped to replenish the light where
it waned. As I did so, on my arm, which stretched somewhat beyond
the line of the ring, I felt a shock like that of electricity. The
arm fell to my side numbed and nerveless, and from my hand dropped,
but within the ring, the vessel that contained the fluid.
Recovering my surprise or my stun, hastily with the other hand I
caught up the vessel, but some of the scanty liquid was already
spilled on the sward; and I saw with a thrill of dismay, that
contrasted indeed the tranquil indifference with which I had first
undertaken my charge, how small a supply was now left.
I went back to Margrave, and told him of the shock, and of its
consequence in the waste of the liquid.
"Beware," said he, that not a motion of the arm, not an inch of the
foot, pass the verge of the ring; and if the fluid be thus
unhappily stinted, reserve all that is left for the protecting
circle and the twelve outer lamps! See how the Grand Work
advances, how the hues in the caldron are glowing blood-red through
the film on the surface!
And now four hours of the six were gone; my arm had gradually
recovered its strength. Neither the ring nor the lamps had again
required replenishing; perhaps their light was exhausted less
quickly, as it was no longer to be exposed to the rays of the
intense Australian moon. Clouds had gathered over the sky, and
though the moon gleamed at times in the gaps that they left in blue
air, her beam was more hazy and dulled. The locusts no longer were
heard in the grass, nor the howl of the dogs in the forest. Out of
the circle, the stillness was profound.
And about this time I saw distinctly in the distance a vast Eye.
It drew nearer and nearer, seeming to move from the ground at the
height of some lofty giant. Its gaze riveted mine; my blood
curdled in the blaze from its angry ball; and now as it advanced
larger and larger, other Eyes, as if of giants in its train, grew
out from the space in its rear--numbers on numbers, like the
spearheads of some Eastern army, seen afar by pale warders of
battlements doomed to the dust. My voice long refused an utterance
to my awe; at length it burst forth shrill and loud:
"Look, look! Those terrible Eyes! Legions on legions. And hark!
that tramp of numberless feet; THEY are not seen, but the hollows
of earth echo the sound of their march!"
Margrave, more than ever intent on the caldron, in which, from time
to time, he kept dropping powders or essences drawn forth from his
coffer, looked up, defyingly, fiercely:
"Ye come," he said in a low mutter, his once mighty voice sounding
hollow and laboring, but fearless and firm--"ye come--not to
conquer, vain rebels!--ye whose dark chief I struck down at my feet
in the tomb where my spell had raised up the ghost of your first
human master, the Chaldee! Earth and air have their armies still
faithful to me, and still I remember the war song that summons them
up to confront you! Ayesha, Ayesha! recall the wild troth that we
pledged among the roses; recall the dread bond by which we united
our sway over hosts that yet own thee as queen, though my scepter
is broken, my diadem reft from my brows!"
The Veiled Woman rose at this adjuration. Her veil now was
withdrawn, and the blaze of the fire between Margrave and herself
flushed, as with the rosy bloom of youth, the grand beauty of her
softened face. It was seen, detached, as it were, from her dark-
mantled form; seen through the mist of the vapors which rose from
the caldron, framing it round like the clouds that are yieldingly
pierced by the light of the evening star.
Through the haze of the vapor came her voice, more musical, more
plaintive than I had heard it before, but far softer, more tender:
still in her foreign tongue; the words unknown to me, and yet their
sense, perhaps, made intelligible by the love, which has one common
language and one common look to all who have loved--the love
unmistakably heard in the loving tone, unmistakably seen in the
A moment or so more and she had come round from the opposite side
of the fire pile, and bending over Margrave's upturned brow, kissed
it quietly, solemnly; and then her countenance grew fierce, her
crest rose erect: it was the lioness protecting her young. She
stretched forth her arm from the black mantle, athwart the pale
front that now again bent over the caldron--stretched it toward the
haunted and hollow-sounding space beyond, in the gesture of one
whose right hand has the sway of the scepter. And then her voice
stole on the air in the music of a chant, not loud yet far-
reaching; so thrilling, so sweet and yet so solemn that I could at
once comprehend how legend united of old the spell of enchantment
with the power of song. All that I recalled of the effects which,
in the former time, Margrave's strange chants had produced on the
ear that they ravished and the thoughts they confused, was but as
the wild bird's imitative carol, compared to the depth and the art
and the soul of the singer, whose voice seemed endowed with a charm
to inthrall all the tribes of creation, though the language it used
for that charm might to them, as to me, be unknown. As the song
ceased, I heard from behind sounds like those I had heard in the
spaces before me--the tramp of invisible feet, the whir of
invisible wings, as if armies were marching to aid against armies
in march to destroy.
"Look not in front nor around," said Ayesha. "Look, like him, on
the caldron below. The circle and the lamps are yet bright; I will
tell you when the light again fails."
I dropped my eyes on the caldron.
"See," whispered Margrave, "the sparkles at last begin to arise,
and the rose hues to deepen--signs that we near the last process."
The fifth hour had passed away, when Ayesha said to me, "Lo! the
circle is fading; the lamps grow dim. Look now without fear on the
space beyond; the eyes that appalled thee are again lost in air, as
lightnings that fleet back into cloud."
I looked up, and the specters had vanished. The sky was tinged
with sulphurous hues, the red and the black intermixed. I
replenished the lamps and the ring in front, thriftily, heedfully;
but when I came to the sixth lamp, not a drop in the vessel that
fed them was left. In a vague dismay, I now looked round the half
of the wide circle in rear of the two bended figures intent on the
caldron. All along that disk the light was already broken, here
and there flickering up, here and there dying down; the six lamps
in that half of the circle still twinkled, but faintly, as stars
shrinking fast from the dawn of day. But it was not the fading
shine in that half of the magical ring which daunted my eye and
quickened with terror the pulse of my heart; the Bush-land beyond
was on fire. From the background of the forest rose the flame and
the smoke--the smoke, there, still half smothering the flame. But
along the width of the grasses and herbage, between the verge of
the forest and the bed of the water creek just below the raised
platform from which I beheld the dread conflagration, the fire was
advancing--wave upon wave, clear and red against the columns of
rock behind; as the rush of a flood through the mists of some Alp
crowned with lightnings.
Roused from my stun at the first sight of a danger not foreseen by
the mind I had steeled against far rarer portents of Nature, I
cared no more for the lamps and the circle. Hurrying hack to
Ayesha I exclaimed: "The phantoms have gone from the spaces in
front; but what incantation or spell can arrest the red march of
the foe speeding on in the rear! While we gazed on the caldron of
life, behind us, unheeded, behold the Destroyer!"
Ayesha looked and made no reply, but, as by involuntary instinct,
bowed her majestic head, then rearing it erect, placed herself yet
more immediately before the wasted form of the young magician (he
still, bending over the caldron, and hearing me not in the
absorption and hope of his watch)--placed herself before him, as
the bird whose first care is her fledgling.
As we two there stood, fronting the deluge of fire, we heard
Margrave behind us, murmuring low, "See the bubbles of light, how
they sparkle and dance--I shall live, I shall live!" And his words
scarcely died in our ears before, crash upon crash, came the fall
of the age-long trees in the forest, and nearer, all near us,
through the blazing grasses, the hiss of the serpents, the scream
of the birds, and the bellow and tramp of the herds plunging wild
through the billowy red of their pastures.
Ayesha now wound her arms around Margrave, and wrenched him,
reluctant and struggling, from his watch over the seething caldron.
In rebuke of his angry exclamations, she pointed to the march of
the fire, spoke in sorrowful tones a few words in her own language,
and then, appealing to me in English, said:
"I tell him that, here, the Spirits who oppose us have summoned a
foe that is deaf to my voice, and--"
"And," exclaimed Margrave, no longer with gasp and effort, but with
the swell of a voice which drowned all the discords of terror and
of agony sent forth from the Phlegethon burning below--"and this
witch, whom I trusted, is a vile slave and impostor, more desiring
my death than my life. She thinks that in life I should scorn and
forsake her, that in death I should die in her arms! Sorceress,
avaunt! Art thou useless and powerless now when I need thee most?
Go! Let the world be one funeral pyre! What to ME is the world?
My world is my life! Thou knowest that my last hope is here--that
all the strength left me this night will die down, like the lamps
in the circle, unless the elixir restore it. Bold friend, spurn
that sorceress away. Hours yet ere those flames can assail us! A
few minutes more, and life to your Lilian and me!"
Thus having said, Margrave turned from us, and cast into the
caldron the last essence yet left in his empty coffer.
Ayesha silently drew her black veil over her face, and turned, with
the being she loved, from the terror he scorned, to share in the
hope that he cherished.
Thus left alone, with my reason disinthralled, disenchanted, I
surveyed more calmly the extent of the actual peril with which we
were threatened, and the peril seemed less, so surveyed.
It is true all the Bush-land behind, almost up to the bed of the
creek, was on fire; but the grasses, through which the flame spread
so rapidly, ceased at the opposite marge of the creek. Watery
pools were still, at intervals, left in the bed of the creek,
shining tremulous, like waves of fire, in the glare reflected from
the burning land; and even where the water failed, the stony course
of the exhausted rivulet was a barrier against the march of the
conflagration. Thus, unless the wind, now still, should rise, and
waft some sparks to the parched combustible herbage immediately
around us, we were saved from the fire, and our work might yet be
I whispered to Ayesha the conclusion to which I came.
"Thinkest thou," she answered without raising her mournful head,
"that the Agencies of Nature are the movements of chance? The
Spirits I invoked to his aid are leagued with the hosts that
assail. A mightier than I am has doomed him!"
Scarcely had she uttered these words before Margrave exclaimed,
"Behold how the Rose of the alchemist's dream enlarges its blooms
from the folds of its petals! I shall live, I shall live!"
I looked, and the liquid which glowed in the caldron had now taken
a splendor that mocked all comparisons borrowed from the luster of
gems. In its prevalent color it had, indeed, the dazzle and flash
of the ruby; but out from the mass of the molten red, broke
coruscations of all prismal hues, shooting, shifting, in a play
that made the wavelets themselves seem living things, sensible of
their joy. No longer was there scum or film upon the surface; only
ever and anon a light, rosy vapor floating up, and quick lost in
the haggard, heavy, sulphurous air, hot with the conflagration
rushing toward us from behind. And these coruscations formed, on
the surface of the molten ruby, literally the shape of a rose, its
leaves made distinct in their outlines by sparks of emerald and
diamond and sapphire.
Even while gazing on this animated liquid luster, a buoyant delight
seemed infused into my senses; all terrors conceived before were
annulled; the phantoms, whose armies had filled the wide spaces in
front, were forgotten; the crash of the forest behind was unheard.
In the reflection of that glory, Margrave's wan cheek seemed
already restored to the radiance it wore when I saw it first in the
framework of blooms.
As I gazed, thus enchanted, a cold hand touched my own.
"Hush!" whispered Ayesha, from the black veil, against which the
rays of the caldron fell blunt, and absorbed into Dark. "Behind
us, the light of the circle is extinct; but there, we are guarded
from all save the brutal and soulless destroyers. But, before!--
but, before!--see, two of the lamps have died out!--see the blank
of the gap in the ring! Guard that breach--there the demons will
"Not a drop is there left in this vessel by which to replenish the
lamps on the ring."
"Advance, then; thou hast still the light of the soul, and the
demons may recoil before a soul that is dauntless and guiltless.
If not, Three are lost!--as it is, One is doomed."
Thus adjured, silently, involuntarily, I passed from the Veiled
Woman's side, over the sear lines on the turf which had been traced
by the triangles of light long since extinguished, and toward the
verge of the circle. As I advanced, overhead rushed a dark cloud
of wings--birds dislodged from the forest on fire, and screaming,
in dissonant terror, as they flew toward the farthermost mountains;
close by my feet hissed and glided the snakes, driven forth from
their blazing coverts, and glancing through the ring, unscared by
its waning lamps; all undulating by me, bright-eyed, and hissing,
all made innocuous by fear--even the terrible Death-adder, which I
trampled on as I halted at the verge of the circle, did not turn to
bite, but crept harmless away. I halted at the gap between the two
dead lamps, and bowed my head to look again into the crystal
vessel. Were there, indeed, no lingering drops yet left, if but to
recruit the lamps for some priceless minutes more? As I thus
stood, right into the gap between the two dead lamps strode a
gigantic Foot. All the rest of the form was unseen; only, as
volume after volume of smoke poured on from the burning land
behind, it seemed as if one great column of vapor, eddying round,
settled itself aloft from the circle, and that out from that column
strode the giant Foot. And, as strode the Foot, so with it came,
like the sound of its tread, a roll of muttered thunder.
I recoiled, with a cry that rang loud through the lurid air.
"Courage!" said the voice of Ayesha. "Trembling soul, yield not an
inch to the demon!"
At the charm, the wonderful charm, in the tone of the Veiled
Woman's voice, my will seemed to take a force more sublime than its
own. I folded my arms on my breast, and stood as if rooted to the
spot, confronting the column of smoke and the stride of the giant
Foot. And the Foot halted, mute.
Again, in the momentary hush of that suspense, I heard a voice--it
"The last hour expires--the work is accomplished! Come! come! Aid
me to take the caldron from the fire; and, quick!--or a drop may be
wasted in vapor--the Elixir of Life from the caldron!"
At that cry I receded, and the Foot advanced.
And at that moment, suddenly, unawares, from behind, I was stricken
down. Over me, as I lay, swept a whirlwind of trampling hoofs and
glancing horns. The herds, in their flight from the burning
pastures, had rushed over the bed of the water course, scaled the
slopes of the banks. Snorting and bellowing, they plunged their
blind way to the mountains. One cry alone, more wild than their
own savage blare, pierced the reek through which the Brute
Hurricane swept. At that cry of wrath and despair I struggled to
rise, again dashed to earth by the hoofs and the horns. But was it
the dreamlike deceit of my reeling senses, or did I see that giant
Foot stride past through the close-serried ranks of the maddening
herds? Did I hear, distinct through all the huge uproar of animal
terror, the roll of low thunder which followed the stride of that
When my sense had recovered its shock, and my eyes looked dizzily
round, the charge of the beasts had swept by; and of all the wild
tribes which had invaded the magical circle, the only lingerer was
the brown Death-adder, coiled close by the spot where my head had
rested. Beside the extinguished lamps which the hoofs had
confusedly scattered, the fire, arrested by the water course, had
consumed the grasses that fed it, and there the plains stretched
black and desert as the Phlegraean Field of the Poet's Hell. But
the fire still raged in the forest beyond--white flames, soaring up
from the trunks of the tallest trees, and forming, through the
sullen dark of the smoke reck, innumerable pillars of fire, like
the halls in the city of fiends.
Gathering myself up, I turned my eyes from the terrible pomp of the
lurid forest, and looked fearfully down on the hoof-trampled sward
for my two companions.
I saw the dark image of Ayesha still seated, still bending, as I
had seen it last. I saw a pale hand feebly grasping the rim of the
magical caldron, which lay, hurled down from its tripod by the rush
of the beasts, yards away from the dim, fading embers of the
scattered wood pyre. I saw the faint writhings of a frail, wasted
frame, over which the Veiled Woman was bending. I saw, as I moved
with bruised limbs to the place, close by the lips of the dying
magician, the flash of the rubylike essence spilled on the sward,
and, meteor-like, sparkling up from the torn tufts of herbage.
I now reached Margrave's side. Bending over him as the Veiled
Woman bent, and as I sought gently to raise him, he turned his
face, fiercely faltering out, "Touch me not, rob me not! YOU share
with me! Never, never! These glorious drops are all mine! Die
all else! I will live, I will live!" Writhing himself from my
pitying arms, he plunged his face amidst the beautiful, playful
flame of the essence, as if to lap the elixir with lips scorched
away from its intolerable burning. Suddenly, with a low shriek, he
fell back, his face upturned to mine, and on that face unmistakably
Then Ayesha tenderly, silently, drew the young head to her lap, and
it vanished from my sight behind her black veil.
I knelt beside her, murmuring some trite words of comfort; but she
heeded me not, rocking herself to and fro as the mother who cradles
a child to sleep. Soon the fast-flickering sparkles of the lost
elixir died out on the grass; and with their last sportive diamond-
like tremble of light, up, in all the suddenness of Australian day,
rose the sun, lifting himself royally above the mountain tops, and
fronting the meaner blaze of the forest as a young king fronts his
rebels. And as there, where the bush fires had ravaged, all was a
desert, so there, where their fury had not spread, all was a
garden. Afar, at the foot of the mountains, the fugitive herds
were grazing; the cranes, flocking back to the pools, renewed the
strange grace of their gambols; and the great kingfisher, whose
laugh, half in mirth, half in mockery, leads the choir that welcome
the morn--which in Europe is night--alighted bold on the roof of
the cavern, whose floors were still white with the bones of races,
extinct before--so helpless through instincts, so royal through
But there, on the ground where the dazzling elixir had wasted its
virtues--there the herbage already had a freshness of verdure
which, amid the duller sward round it, was like an oasis of green
in a desert. And, there, wild flowers, whose chill hues the eye
would have scarcely distinguished the day before, now glittered
forth in blooms of unfamiliar beauty. Toward that spot were
attracted myriads of happy insects, whose hum of intense joy was
musically loud. But the form of the life-seeking sorcerer lay
rigid and stark; blind to the bloom of the wild flowers, deaf to
the glee of the insects--one hand still resting heavily on the rim
of the emptied caldron, and the face still hid behind the Black
Veil. What! the wondrous elixir, sought with such hope and well-
nigh achieved through such dread, fleeting back to the earth from
which its material was drawn to give bloom, indeed--but to herbs;
joy indeed--but to insects!
And now, in the flash of the sun, slowly wound up the slopes that
led to the circle, the same barbaric procession which had sunk into
the valley under the ray of the moon. The armed men came first,
stalwart and tall, their vests brave with crimson and golden lace,
their weapons gayly gleaming with holiday silver. After them, the
Black Litter. As they came to the place, Ayesha, not raising her
head, spoke to them in her own Eastern tongue. A wail was her
answer. The armed men bounded forward, and the bearers left the
All gathered round the dead form with the face concealed under the
Black Veil; all knelt, and all wept. Far in the distance, at the
foot of the blue mountains, a crowd of the savage natives had risen
up as if from the earth; they stood motionless leaning on their
clubs and spears, and looking toward the spot on which we were--
strangely thus brought into the landscape, as if they too, the wild
dwellers on the verge which Humanity guards from the Brute, were
among the mourners for the mysterious Child of mysterious Nature!
And still, in the herbage, hummed the small insects, and still,
from the cavern, laughed the great kingfisher. I said to Ayesha,
"Farewell! your love mourns the dead, mine calls me to the living.
You are now with your own people, they may console you--say if I
"There is no consolation for me! What mourner can be consoled if
the dead die forever? Nothing for him is left but a grave; that
grave shall be in the land where the song of Ayesha first lulled
him to sleep. Thou assist ME--thou, the wise man of Europe! From
me ask assistance. What road wilt thou take to thy home?"
"There is but one road known to me through the maze of the
solitude--that which we took to this upland."
"On that road Death lurks, and awaits thee! Blind dupe, couldst
thou think that if the grand secret of life had been won, he whose
head rests on my lap would have yielded thee one petty drop of the
essence which had filched from his store of life but a moment? Me,
who so loved and so cherished him--me he would have doomed to the
pitiless cord of my servant, the Strangler, if my death could have
lengthened a hairbreadth the span of his being. But what matters
to me his crime or his madness? I loved him, I loved him!"
She bowed her veiled head lower and lower; perhaps under the veil
her lips kissed the lips of the dead. Then she said whisperingly:
"Juma the Strangler, whose word never failed to his master, whose
prey never slipped from his snare, waits thy step on the road to
thy home! But thy death cannot now profit the dead, the beloved.
And thou hast had pity for him who took but thine aid to design thy
destruction. His life is lost, thine is saved!"
She spoke no more in the tongue that I could interpret. She spoke,
in the language unknown, a few murmured words to her swarthy
attendants; then the armed men, still weeping, rose, and made a
dumb sign to me to go with them. I understood by the sign that
Ayesha had told them to guard me on my way; but she gave no reply
to my parting thanks.
I descended into the valley; the armed men followed. The path, on
that side of the water course not reached by the flames, wound
through meadows still green, or amidst groves still unscathed. As
a turning in the way brought in front of my sight the place I had
left behind, I beheld the black litter creeping down the descent,
with its curtains closed, and the Veiled Woman walking by its side.
But soon the funeral procession was lost to my eyes, and the
thoughts that it roused were erased. The waves in man's brain are
like those of the sea, rushing on, rushing over the wrecks of the
vessels that rode on their surface, to sink, after storm, in their
deeps. One thought cast forth into the future now mastered all in
the past: "Was Lilian living still?" Absorbed in the gloom of that
thought, hurried on by the goad that my heart, in its tortured
impatience, gave to my footstep, I outstripped the slow stride of
the armed men, and, midway between the place I had left and the
home which I sped to, came, far in advance of my guards, into the
thicket in which the Bushmen had started up in my path on the night
that Lilian had watched for my coming. The earth at my feet was
rife with creeping plants and many-colored flowers, the sky
overhead was half hid by motionless pines. Suddenly, whether
crawling out from the herbage or dropping down from the trees, by
my side stood the white-robed and skeleton form--Ayesha's attendant
I sprang from him shuddering, then halted and faced him. The
hideous creature crept toward me, cringing and fawning, making
signs of humble goodwill and servile obeisance. Again I recoiled--
wrathfully, loathingly, turned my face homeward, and fled on. I
thought I had baffled his chase, when, just at the mouth of the
thicket, he dropped from a bough in my path close behind me.
Before I could turn, some dark muffling substance fell between my
sight and the sun, and I felt a fierce strain at my throat. But
the words of Ayesha had warned me; with one rapid hand I seized the
noose before it could tighten too closely, with the other I tore
the bandage away from my eyes, and, wheeling round on the dastardly
foe, struck him down with one spurn of my foot. His hand, as he
fell, relaxed its hold on the noose; I freed my throat from the
knot, and sprang from the copse into the broad sunlit plain. I saw
no more of the armed men or the Strangler. Panting and breathless,
I paused at last before the fence, fragrant with blossoms, that
divided my home from the solitude.
The windows of Lilian's room were darkened; all within the house
Darkened and silenced home, with the light and sounds of the jocund
day all around it. Was there yet hope in the Universe for me? All
to which I had trusted Hope had broken down; the anchors I had
forged for her hold in the beds of the ocean, her stay from the
drifts of the storm, had snapped like the reeds which pierce the
side that leans on the barb of their points, and confides in the
strength of their stems. No hope in the baffled resources of
recognized knowledge! No hope in the daring adventures of Mind
into regions unknown; vain alike the calm lore of the practiced
physician, and the magical arts of the fated Enchanter! I had fled
from the commonplace teachings of Nature, to explore in her
Shadowland marvels at variance with reason. Made brave by the
grandeur of love, I had opposed without quailing the stride of the
Demon, and my hope, when fruition seemed nearest, had been trodden
into dust by the hoofs of the beast! And yet, all the while, I had
scorned, as a dream, more wild than the word of a sorcerer, the
hope that the old man and the child, the wise and the ignorant,
took from their souls as inborn. Man and fiend had alike failed a
mind, not ignoble, not skill-less, not abjectly craven; alike
failed a heart not feeble and selfish, not dead to the hero's
devotion, willing to shed every drop of its blood for a something
more dear than an animal's life for itself! What remained--what
remained for man's hope?--man's mind and man's heart thus
exhausting their all with no other result but despair! What
remained but the mystery of mysteries, so clear to the sunrise of
childhood, the sunset of age, only dimmed by the clouds which
collect round the noon of our manhood? Where yet was Hope found?
In the soul; in its every-day impulse to supplicate comfort and
light, from the Giver of soul, wherever the heart is afflicted, the
mind is obscured.
Then the words of Ayesha rushed over me: "What mourner can be
consoled, if the dead die forever?" Through every pulse of my
frame throbbed that dread question; all Nature around seemed to
murmur it. And suddenly, as by a flash from heaven, the grand
truth in Faber's grand reasoning shone on me, and lighted up all,
within and without. Man alone, of all earthly creatures, asks,
"Can the dead die forever?" and the instinct that urges the
question is God's answer to man. No instinct is given in vain.
And born with the instinct of soul is the instinct that leads the
soul from the seen to the unseen, from time to eternity, from the
torrent that foams toward the Ocean of Death, to the source of its
stream, far aloft from the Ocean.
"Know thyself," said the Pythian of old. "That precept descended
from Heaven." Know thyself! Is that maxim wise? If so, know thy
soul. But never yet did man come to the thorough conviction of
soul but what he acknowledged the sovereign necessity of prayer.
In my awe, in my rapture, all my thoughts seemed enlarged and
illumed and exalted. I prayed--all my soul seemed one prayer. All
my past, with its pride and presumption and folly, grew distinct as
the form of a penitent, kneeling for pardon before setting forth on
the pilgrimage vowed to a shrine. And, sure now, in the deeps of a
soul first revealed to myself, that the Dead do not die forever, my
human love soared beyond its brief trial of terror and sorrow.
Daring not to ask from Heaven's wisdom that Lilian, for my sake,
might not yet pass away from the earth, I prayed that my soul might
be fitted to bear with submission whatever my Maker might ordain.
And if surviving her--without whom no beam from yon material sun
could ever warm into joy a morrow in human life--so to guide my
steps that they might rejoin her at last, and in rejoining, regain
How trivial now became the weird riddle, that, a little while
before, had been clothed in so solemn an awe! What mattered it to
the vast interests involved in the clear recognition of Soul and
Hereafter, whether or not my bodily sense, for a moment, obscured
the face of the Nature I should one day behold as a spirit?
Doubtless the sights and the sounds which had haunted the last
gloomy night, the calm reason of Faber would strip of their magical
seemings; the Eyes in the space and the Foot in the circle might be
those of no terrible Demons, but of the wild's savage children whom
I had seen, halting, curious and mute, in the light of the morning.
The tremor of the ground (if not, as heretofore, explicable by the
illusory impression of my own treacherous senses) might be but the
natural effect of elements struggling yet under a soil unmistakably
charred by volcanoes. The luminous atoms dissolved in the caldron
might as little be fraught with a vital elixir as are the splendors
of naphtha or phosphor. As it was, the weird rite had no magic
result. The magician was not rent limb from limb by the fiends.
By causes as natural as ever extinguished life's spark in the frail
lamp of clay, he had died out of sight--under the black veil.
What mattered henceforth to Faith, in its far grander questions and
answers, whether Reason, in Faber, or Fancy, in me, supplied the
more probable guess at a hieroglyph which, if construed aright, was
but a word of small mark in the mystical language of Nature? If
all the arts of enchantment recorded by Fable were attested by
facts which Sages were forced to acknowledge, Sages would sooner or
later find some cause for such portents--not supernatural. But
what Sage, without cause supernatural, both without and within him,
can guess at the wonders he views in the growth of a blade of
grass, or the tints on an insect's wing? Whatever art Man can
achieve in his progress through time, Man's reason, in time, can
suffice to explain. But the wonders of God? These belong to the
Infinite; and these, O Immortal! will but develop new wonder on
wonder, though thy sight be a spirit's, and thy leisure to track
and to solve an eternity.
As I raised my face from my clasped hands, my eyes fell full upon a
form standing in the open doorway. There, where on the night in
which Lilian's long struggle for reason and life had begun, the
Luminous Shadow had been beheld in the doubtful light of a dying
moon and a yet hazy dawn; there, on the threshold, gathering round
her bright locks the aureole of the glorious sun, stood Amy, the
blessed child! And as I gazed, drawing nearer and nearer to the
silenced house, and that Image of Peace on its threshold, I felt
that Hope met me at the door--Hope in the child's steadfast eyes,
Hope in the child's welcoming smile!
"I was at watch for you," whispered Amy. "All is well."
"She lives still--she lives! Thank God, thank God!"
"She lives--she will recover!" said another voice, as my head sunk
on Faber's shoulder. "For some hours in the night her sleep was
disturbed, convulsed. I feared, then, the worst. Suddenly, just
before the dawn, she called out aloud, still in sleep:
"'The cold and dark shadow has passed away from me and from Allen--
passed away from us both forever!'
"And from that moment the fever left her; the breathing became
soft, the pulse steady, and the color stole gradually back to her
cheek. The crisis is past. Nature's benign Disposer has permitted
Nature to restore your life's gentle partner, heart to heart, mind
"And soul to soul," I cried in my solemn joy. "Above as below,
soul to soul!" Then, at a sign from Faber, the child took me by
the hand and led me up the stairs into Lilian's room.
Again those dear arms closed around me in wifelike and holy love,
and those true lips kissed away my tears--even as now, at the
distance of years from that happy morn, while I write the last
words of this Strange Story, the same faithful arms close around
me, the same tender lips kiss away my tears.
Thomas De Quincey
"Why callest thou me murderer, and not rather the wrath of God
burning after the steps of the oppressor, and cleansing the earth
when it is wet with blood?"
That series of terrific events by which our quiet city and
university in the northeastern quarter of Germany were convulsed
during the year 1816, has in itself, and considered merely as a
blind movement of human tiger-passion ranging unchained among men,
something too memorable to be forgotten or left without its own
separate record; but the moral lesson impressed by these events is
yet more memorable, and deserves the deep attention of coming
generations in their struggle after human improvement, not merely
in its own limited field of interest directly awakened, but in all
analogous fields of interest; as in fact already, and more than
once, in connection with these very events, this lesson has
obtained the effectual attention of Christian kings and princes
assembled in congress. No tragedy, indeed, among all the sad ones
by which the charities of the human heart or of the fireside have
ever been outraged, can better merit a separate chapter in the
private history of German manners or social life than this
unparalleled case. And, on the other hand, no one can put in a
better claim to be the historian than myself.
I was at the time, and still am, a professor in that city and
university which had the melancholy distinction of being its
theater. I knew familiarly all the parties who were concerned in
it, either as sufferers or as agents. I was present from first to
last, and watched the whole course of the mysterious storm which
fell upon our devoted city in a strength like that of a West Indian
hurricane, and which did seriously threaten at one time to
depopulate our university, through the dark suspicions which
settled upon its members, and the natural reaction of generous
indignation in repelling them; while the city in its more
stationary and native classes would very soon have manifested THEIR
awful sense of things, of the hideous insecurity for life, and of
the unfathomable dangers which had undermined their hearths below
their very feet, by sacrificing, whenever circumstances allowed
them, their houses and beautiful gardens in exchange for days
uncursed by panic, and nights unpolluted by blood. Nothing, I can
take upon myself to assert, was left undone of all that human
foresight could suggest, or human ingenuity could accomplish. But
observe the melancholy result: the more certain did these
arrangements strike people as remedies for the evil, so much the
more effectually did they aid the terror, but, above all, the awe,
the sense of mystery, when ten cases of total extermination,
applied to separate households, had occurred, in every one of which
these precautionary aids had failed to yield the slightest
assistance. The horror, the perfect frenzy of fear, which seized
upon the town after that experience, baffles all attempt at
description. Had these various contrivances failed merely in some
human and intelligible way, as by bringing the aid too tardily--
still, in such cases, though the danger would no less have been
evidently deepened, nobody would have felt any further mystery than
what, from the very first, rested upon the persons and the motives
of the murderers. But, as it was, when, in ten separate cases of
exterminating carnage, the astounded police, after an examination
the most searching, pursued from day to day, and almost exhausting
the patience by the minuteness of the investigation, had finally
pronounced that no attempt apparently had been made to benefit by
any of the signals preconcerted, that no footstep apparently had
moved in that direction--then, and after that result, a blind
misery of fear fell upon the population, so much the worse than any
anguish of a beleaguered city that is awaiting the storming fury of
a victorious enemy, by how much the shadowy, the uncertain, the
infinite, is at all times more potent in mastering the mind than a
danger that is known, measurable, palpable, and human. The very
police, instead of offering protection or encouragement, were
seized with terror for themselves. And the general feeling, as it
was described to me by a grave citizen whom I met in a morning walk
(for the overmastering sense of a public calamity broke down every
barrier of reserve, and all men talked freely to all men in the
streets, as they would have done during the rockings of an
earthquake), was, even among the boldest, like that which sometimes
takes possession of the mind in dreams--when one feels oneself
sleeping alone, utterly divided from all call or hearing of
friends, doors open that should be shut, or unlocked that should be
triply secured, the very walls gone, barriers swallowed up by
unknown abysses, nothing around one but frail curtains, and a world
of illimitable night, whisperings at a distance, correspondence
going on between darkness and darkness, like one deep calling to
another, and the dreamer's own heart the center from which the
whole network of this unimaginable chaos radiates, by means of
which the blank PRIVATIONS of silence and darkness become powers
the most POSITIVE and awful.
Agencies of fear, as of any other passion, and, above all, of
passion felt in communion with thousands, and in which the heart
beats in conscious sympathy with an entire city, through all its
regions of high and low, young and old, strong and weak; such
agencies avail to raise and transfigure the natures of men; mean
minds become elevated; dull men become eloquent; and when matters
came to this crisis, the public feeling, as made known by voice,
gesture, manner, or words, was such that no stranger could
represent it to his fancy. In that respect, therefore, I had an
advantage, being upon the spot through the whole course of the
affair, for giving a faithful narrative; as I had still more
eminently, from the sort of central station which I occupied, with
respect to all the movements of the case. I may add that I had
another advantage, not possessed, or not in the same degree, by any
other inhabitant of the town. I was personally acquainted with
every family of the slightest account belonging to the resident
population; whether among the old local gentry, or the new settlers
whom the late wars had driven to take refuge within our walls.
It was in September, 1815, that I received a letter from the chief
secretary to the Prince of M----, a nobleman connected with the
diplomacy of Russia, from which I quote an extract: "I wish, in