ZANONI: A ROSICRUCIAN TALE
The casement stood open, and Viola was seated by it. Beneath sparkled the broad waters in the cold but cloudless sunlight; and to that fair form, that half-averted face, turned the eyes of many a gallant cavalier, as their gondolas glided by.
But at last, in the centre of the canal, one of these dark vessels halted motionless, as a man fixed his gaze from its lattice upon that stately palace. He gave the word to the rowers, -- the vessel approached the marge. The stranger quitted the gondola; he passed up the broad stairs; he entered the palace. Weep on, smile no more, young mother! -- the last page is turned!
An attendant entered the room, and gave to Viola a card, with these words in English, "Viola, I must see you! Clarence Glyndon."
Oh, yes, how gladly Viola would see him; how gladly speak to him of her happiness, of Zanoni! -- how gladly show to him her child! Poor Clarence! she had forgotten him till now, as she had all the fever of her earlier life, -- its dreams, its vanities, its poor excitement, the lamps of the gaudy theatre, the applause of the noisy crowd.
He entered. She started to behold him, so changed were his gloomy brow, his resolute, careworn features, from the graceful form and careless countenance of the artist-lover. His dress, though not mean, was rude, neglected, and disordered. A wild, desperate, half-savage air had supplanted that ingenuous mien, diffident in its grace, earnest in its diffidence, which had once characterised the young worshipper of Art, the dreaming aspirant after some starrier lore.
"Is it you?" she said at last. "Poor Clarence, how changed!"
"Changed!" he said abruptly, as he placed himself by her side. "And whom am I to thank, but the fiends -- the sorcerers -- who have seized upon thy existence, as upon mine? Viola, hear me. A few weeks since the news reached me that you were in Venice. Under other pretences, and through innumerable dangers, I have come hither, risking liberty, perhaps life, if my name and career are known in Venice, to warn and save you. Changed, you call me! -- changed without; but what is that to the ravages within? Be warned, be warned in time!"
The voice of Glyndon, sounding hollow and sepulchral, alarmed Viola even more than his words. Pale, haggard, emaciated, he seemed almost as one risen from the dead, to appall and awe her. "What," she said, at last, in a faltering voice, -- "what wild words do you utter! Can you -- "
"Listen!" interrupted Glyndon, laying his hand upon her arm, and its touch was as cold as death, -- "listen! You have heard of the old stories of men who have leagued themselves with devils for the attainment of preternatural powers. Those stories are not fables. Such men live. Their delight is to increase the unhallowed circle of wretches like themselves. If their proselytes fail in the ordeal, the demon seizes them, even in this life, as it hath seized me! -- if they succeed, woe, yea, a more lasting woe! There is another life, where no spells can charm the evil one, or allay the torture. I have come from a scene where blood flows in rivers, -- where Death stands by the side of the bravest and the highest, and the one monarch is the Guillotine; but all the mortal perils with which men can be beset, are nothing to the dreariness of the chamber where the Horror that passes death moves and stirs!"
It was then that Glyndon, with a cold and distinct precision, detailed, as he had done to Adela, the initiation through which he had gone. He described, in words that froze the blood of his listener, the appearance of that formless phantom, with the eyes that seared the brain and congealed the marrow of those who beheld. Once seen, it never was to be exorcised. It came at its own will, prompting black thoughts, -- whispering strange temptations. Only in scenes of turbulent excitement was it absent! Solitude, serenity, the struggling desires after peace and virtue, -- THESE were the elements it loved to haunt! Bewildered, terror-stricken, the wild account confirmed by the dim impressions that never, in the depth and confidence of affection, had been closely examined, but rather banished as soon as felt, -- that the life and attributes of Zanoni were not like those of mortals, -- impressions which her own love had made her hitherto censure as suspicions that wronged, and which, thus mitigated, had perhaps only served to rivet the fascinated chains in which he bound her heart and senses, but which now, as Glyndon's awful narrative filled her with contagious dread, half unbound the very spells they had woven before, -- Viola started up in fear, not for HERSELF, and clasped her child in her arms!
"Unhappiest one!" cried Glyndon, shuddering, "hast thou indeed given birth to a victim thou canst not save? Refuse it sustenance, -- let it look to thee in vain for food! In the grave, at least, there are repose and peace!"
Then there came back to Viola's mind the remembrance of Zanoni's night-long watches by that cradle, and the fear which even then had crept over her as she heard his murmured half-chanted words. And as the child looked at her with its clear, steadfast eye, in the strange intelligence of that look there was something that only confirmed her awe. So there both Mother and Forewarner stood in silence, -- the sun smiling upon them through the casement, and dark by the cradle, though they saw it not, sat the motionless, veiled Thing!
But by degrees better and juster and more grateful memories of the past returned to the young mother. The features of the infant, as she gazed, took the aspect of the absent father. A voice seemed to break from those rosy lips, and say, mournfully, "I speak to thee in thy child. In return for all my love for thee and thine, dost thou distrust me, at the first sentence of a maniac who accuses?"
Her breast heaved, her stature rose, her eyes shone with a serene and holy light.
"Go, poor victim of thine own delusions," she said to Glyndon; "I would not believe mine own senses, if they accused ITS father! And what knowest thou of Zanoni? What relation have Mejnour and the grisly spectres he invoked, with the radiant image with which thou wouldst connect them?"
"Thou wilt learn too soon," replied Glyndon, gloomily. "And the very phantom that haunts me, whispers, with its bloodless lips, that its horrors await both thine and thee! I take not thy decision yet; before I leave Venice we shall meet again."
He said, and departed.