ZANONI: A ROSICRUCIAN TALE
Mervale and the Italians arrived in safety at the spot where they had left the mules; and not till they had recovered their own alarm and breath did they think of Glyndon. But then, as the minutes passed, and he appeared not, Mervale, whose heart was as good at least as human hearts are in general, grew seriously alarmed. He insisted on returning to search for his friend; and by dint of prodigal promises prevailed at last on the guide to accompany him. The lower part of the mountain lay calm and white in the starlight; and the guide's practised eye could discern all objects on the surface at a considerable distance. They had not, however, gone very far, before they perceived two forms slowly approaching them.
As they came near, Mervale recognised the form of his friend. "Thank Heaven, he is safe!" he cried, turning to the guide.
"Holy angels befriend us!" said the Italian, trembling, -- "behold the very being that crossed me last Friday night. It is he, but his face is human now!"
"Signor Inglese," said the voice of Zanoni, as Glyndon -- pale, wan, and silent -- returned passively the joyous greeting of Mervale, -- "Signor Inglese, I told your friend that we should meet to-night. You see you have NOT foiled my prediction."
"But how? -- but where?" stammered Mervale, in great confusion and surprise.
"I found your friend stretched on the ground, overpowered by the mephitic exhalation of the crater. I bore him to a purer atmosphere; and as I know the mountain well, I have conducted him safely to you. This is all our history. You see, sir, that were it not for that prophecy which you desired to frustrate, your friend would ere this time have been a corpse; one minute more, and the vapour had done its work. Adieu; goodnight, and pleasant dreams."
"But, my preserver, you will not leave us?" said Glyndon, anxiously, and speaking for the first time. "Will you not return with us?"
Zanoni paused, and drew Glyndon aside. "Young man," said he, gravely, "it is necessary that we should again meet to-night. It is necessary that you should, ere the first hour of morning, decide on your own fate. I know that you have insulted her whom you profess to love. It is not too late to repent. Consult not your friend: he is sensible and wise; but not now is his wisdom needed. There are times in life when, from the imagination, and not the reason, should wisdom come, -- this, for you, is one of them. I ask not your answer now. Collect your thoughts, -- recover your jaded and scattered spirits. It wants two hours of midnight. Before midnight I will be with you."
"Incomprehensible being!" replied the Englishman, "I would leave the life you have preserved in your own hands; but what I have seen this night has swept even Viola from my thoughts. A fiercer desire than that of love burns in my veins, -- the desire not to resemble but to surpass my kind; the desire to penetrate and to share the secret of your own existence -- the desire of a preternatural knowledge and unearthly power. I make my choice. In my ancestor's name, I adjure and remind thee of thy pledge. Instruct me; school me; make me thine; and I surrender to thee at once, and without a murmur, the woman whom, till I saw thee, I would have defied a world to obtain."
"I bid thee consider well: on the one hand, Viola, a tranquil home, a happy and serene life; on the other hand, all is darkness, -- darkness, that even these eyes cannot penetrate."
"But thou hast told me, that if I wed Viola, I must be contented with the common existence, -- if I refuse, it is to aspire to thy knowledge and thy power."
"Vain man, knowledge and power are not happiness."
"But they are better than happiness. Say! -- if I marry Viola, wilt thou be my master, -- my guide? Say this, and I am resolved.
"It were impossible."
"Then I renounce her? I renounce love. I renounce happiness. Welcome solitude, -- welcome despair; if they are the entrances to thy dark and sublime secret."
"I will not take thy answer now. Before the last hour of night thou shalt give it in one word, -- ay or no! Farewell till then."
Zanoni waved his hand, and, descending rapidly, was seen no more.
Glyndon rejoined his impatient and wondering friend; but Mervale, gazing on his face, saw that a great change had passed there. The flexile and dubious expression of youth was forever gone. The features were locked, rigid, and stern; and so faded was the natural bloom, that an hour seemed to have done the work of years.