ZANONI: A ROSICRUCIAN TALE
CHAPTER 17. The Seventeenth and Last.
And Viola was in prayer. She heard not the opening of the door; she saw not the dark shadow that fell along the floor. HIS power, HIS arts were gone; but the mystery and the spell known to HER simple heart did not desert her in the hours of trial and despair. When Science falls as a firework from the sky it would invade; when Genius withers as a flower in the breath of the icy charnel, -- the hope of a child-like soul wraps the air in light, and the innocence of unquestioning Belief covers the grave with blossoms.
In the farthest corner of the cell she knelt; and the infant, as if to imitate what it could not comprehend, bent its little limbs, and bowed its smiling face, and knelt with her also, by her side.
He stood and gazed upon them as the light of the lamp fell calmly on their forms. It fell over those clouds of golden hair, dishevelled, parted, thrown back from the rapt, candid brow; the dark eyes raised on high, where, through the human tears, a light as from above was mirrored; the hands clasped, the lips apart, the form all animate and holy with the sad serenity of innocence and the touching humility of woman. And he heard her voice, though it scarcely left her lips: the low voice that the heart speaks, -- loud enough for God to hear!
"And if never more to see him, O Father! Canst Thou not make the love that will not die, minister, even beyond the grave, to his earthly fate? Canst Thou not yet permit it, as a living spirit, to hover over him, -- a spirit fairer than all his science can conjure? Oh, whatever lot be ordained to either, grant -- even though a thousand ages may roll between us -- grant, when at last purified and regenerate, and fitted for the transport of such reunion -- grant that we may meet once more! And for his child, -- it kneels to Thee from the dungeon floor! To-morrow, and whose breast shall cradle it; whose hand shall feed; whose lips shall pray for its weal below and its soul hereafter!" She paused, -- her voice choked with sobs.
"Thou Viola! -- thou, thyself. He whom thou hast deserted is here to preserve the mother to the child!"
She started! -- those accents, tremulous as her own! She started to her feet! -- he was there, -- in all the pride of his unwaning youth and superhuman beauty; there, in the house of dread, and in the hour of travail; there, image and personation of the love that can pierce the Valley of the Shadow, and can glide, the unscathed wanderer from the heaven, through the roaring abyss of hell!
With a cry never, perhaps, heard before in that gloomy vault, -- a cry of delight and rapture, she sprang forward, and fell at his feet.
He bent down to raise her; but she slid from his arms. He called her by the familiar epithets of the old endearment, and she only answered him by sobs. Wildly, passionately, she kissed his hands, the hem of his garment, but voice was gone.
"Look up, look up! -- I am here, -- I am here to save thee! Wilt thou deny to me thy sweet face? Truant, wouldst thou fly me still?"
"Fly thee!" she said, at last, and in a broken voice; "oh, if my thoughts wronged thee, -- oh, if my dream, that awful dream, deceived, -- kneel down with me, and pray for our child!" Then springing to her feet with a sudden impulse, she caught up the infant, and, placing it in his arms, sobbed forth, with deprecating and humble tones, "Not for my sake, -- not for mine, did I abandon thee, but -- "
"Hush!" said Zanoni; "I know all the thoughts that thy confused and struggling senses can scarcely analyse themselves. And see how, with a look, thy child answers them!"
And in truth the face of that strange infant seemed radiant with its silent and unfathomable joy. It seemed as if it recognised the father; it clung -- it forced itself to his breast, and there, nestling, turned its bright, clear eyes upon Viola, and smiled.
"Pray for my child!" said Zanoni, mournfully. "The thoughts of souls that would aspire as mine are All PRAYER!" And, seating himself by her side, he began to reveal to her some of the holier secrets of his lofty being. He spoke of the sublime and intense faith from which alone the diviner knowledge can arise, -- the faith which, seeing the immortal everywhere, purifies and exalts the mortal that beholds, the glorious ambition that dwells not in the cabals and crimes of earth, but amidst those solemn wonders that speak not of men, but of God; of that power to abstract the soul from the clay which gives to the eye of the soul its subtle vision, and to the soul's wing the unlimited realm; of that pure, severe, and daring initiation from which the mind emerges, as from death, into clear perceptions of its kindred with the Father-Principles of life and light, so that in its own sense of the Beautiful it finds its joy; in the serenity of its will, its power; in its sympathy with the youthfulness of the Infinite Creation, of which itself is an essence and a part, the secrets that embalm the very clay which they consecrate, and renew the strength of life with the ambrosia of mysterious and celestial sleep. And while he spoke, Viola listened, breathless. If she could not comprehend, she no longer dared to distrust. She felt that in that enthusiasm, self-deceiving or not, no fiend could lurk; and by an intuition, rather than an effort of the reason, she saw before her, like a starry ocean, the depth and mysterious beauty of the soul which her fears had wronged. Yet, when he said (concluding his strange confessions) that to this life WITHIN life and ABOVE life he had dreamed to raise her own, the fear of humanity crept over her, and he read in her silence how vain, with all his science, would the dream have been.
But now, as he closed, and, leaning on his breast, she felt the clasp of his protecting arms, -- when, in one holy kiss, the past was forgiven and the present lost, -- then there returned to her the sweet and warm hopes of the natural life, of the loving woman. He was come to save her! She asked not how, -- she believed it without a question. They should be at last again united. They would fly far from those scenes of violence and blood. Their happy Ionian isle, their fearless solitudes, would once more receive them. She laughed, with a child's joy, as this picture rose up amidst the gloom of the dungeon. Her mind, faithful to its sweet, simple instincts, refused to receive the lofty images that flitted confusedly by it, and settled back to its human visions, yet more baseless, of the earthly happiness and the tranquil home.
"Talk not now to me, beloved, -- talk not more now to me of the past! Thou art here, -- thou wilt save me; we shall live yet the common happy life, that life with thee is happiness and glory enough to me. Traverse, if thou wilt, in thy pride of soul, the universe; thy heart again is the universe to mine. I thought but now that I was prepared to die; I see thee, touch thee, and again I know how beautiful a thing is life! See through the grate the stars are fading from the sky; the morrow will soon be here, -- The MORROW which will open the prison doors! Thou sayest thou canst save me, -- I will not doubt it now. Oh, let us dwell no more in cities! I never doubted thee in our lovely isle; no dreams haunted me there, except dreams of joy and beauty; and thine eyes made yet more beautiful and joyous the world in waking. To- morrow! -- why do you not smile? To-morrow, love! is not TO-MORROW a blessed word! Cruel! you would punish me still, that you will not share my joy. Aha! see our little one, how it laughs to my eyes! I will talk to THAT. Child, thy father is come back!"
And taking the infant in her arms, and seating herself at a little distance, she rocked it to and fro on her bosom, and prattled to it, and kissed it between every word, and laughed and wept by fits, as ever and anon she cast over her shoulder her playful, mirthful glance upon the father to whom those fading stars smiled sadly their last farewell. How beautiful she seemed as she thus sat, unconscious of the future! Still half a child herself, her child laughing to her laughter, -- two soft triflers on the brink of the grave! Over her throat, as she bent, fell, like a golden cloud, her redundant hair; it covered her treasure like a veil of light, and the child's little hands put it aside from time to time, to smile through the parted tresses, and then to cover its face and peep and smile again. It were cruel to damp that joy, more cruel still to share it.
"Viola," said Zanoni, at last, "dost thou remember that, seated by the cave on the moonlit beach, in our bridal isle, thou once didst ask me for this amulet? -- the charm of a superstition long vanished from the world, with the creed to which it belonged. It is the last relic of my native land, and my mother, on her deathbed, placed it round my neck. I told thee then I would give it thee on that day WHEN THE LAWS OF OUR BEING SHOULD BECOME THE SAME."
"I remember it well."
"To-morrow it shall be thine!"
"Ah, that dear to-morrow!" And, gently laying down her child, -- for it slept now, -- she threw herself on his breast, and pointed to the dawn that began greyly to creep along the skies.
There, in those horror-breathing walls, the day-star looked through the dismal bars upon those three beings, in whom were concentrated whatever is most tender in human ties; whatever is most mysterious in the combinations of the human mind; the sleeping Innocence; the trustful Affection, that, contented with a touch, a breath, can foresee no sorrow; the weary Science that, traversing all the secrets of creation, comes at last to Death for their solution, and still clings, as it nears the threshold, to the breast of Love. Thus, within, THE WITHIN, -- a dungeon; without, the WITHOUT, -- stately with marts and halls, with palaces and temples; Revenge and Terror, at their dark schemes and counter-schemes; to and fro, upon the tide of the shifting passions, reeled the destinies of men and nations; and hard at hand that day-star, waning into space, looked with impartial eye on the church tower and the guillotine. Up springs the blithesome morn. In yon gardens the birds renew their familiar song. The fishes are sporting through the freshening waters of the Seine. The gladness of divine nature, the roar and dissonance of mortal life, awake again: the trader unbars his windows; the flower-girls troop gayly to their haunts; busy feet are tramping to the daily drudgeries that revolutions which strike down kings and kaisars, leave the same Cain's heritage to the boor; the wagons groan and reel to the mart; Tyranny, up betimes, holds its pallid levee; Conspiracy, that hath not slept, hears the clock, and whispers to its own heart, "The hour draws near." A group gather, eager-eyed, round the purlieus of the Convention Hall; to-day decides the sovereignty of France, -- about the courts of the Tribunal their customary hum and stir. No matter what the hazard of the die, or who the ruler, this day eighty heads shall fall!
And she slept so sweetly. Wearied out with joy, secure in the presence of the eyes regained, she had laughed and wept herself to sleep; and still in that slumber there seemed a happy consciousness that the loved was by, -- the lost was found. For she smiled and murmured to herself, and breathed his name often, and stretched out her arms, and sighed if they touched him not. He gazed upon her as he stood apart, -- with what emotions it were vain to say. She would wake no more to him; she could not know how dearly the safety of that sleep was purchased. That morrow she had so yearned for, -- it had come at last. HOW WOULD SHE GREET THE EVE? Amidst all the exquisite hopes with which love and youth contemplate the future, her eyes had closed. Those hopes still lent their iris-colours to her dreams. She would wake to live! To-morrow, and the Reign of Terror was no more; the prison gates would be opened, -- she would go forth, with their child, into that summer-world of light. And HE? -- he turned, and his eye fell upon the child; it was broad awake, and that clear, serious, thoughtful look which it mostly wore, watched him with a solemn steadiness. He bent over and kissed its lips.
"Never more," he murmured, "O heritor of love and grief, -- never more wilt thou see me in thy visions; never more will the light of those eyes be fed by celestial commune; never more can my soul guard from thy pillow the trouble and the disease. Not such as I would have vainly shaped it, must be thy lot. In common with thy race, it must be thine to suffer, to struggle, and to err. But mild be thy human trials, and strong be thy spirit to love and to believe! And thus, as I gaze upon thee, -- thus may my nature breathe into thine its last and most intense desire; may my love for thy mother pass to thee, and in thy looks may she hear my spirit comfort and console her. Hark! they come! Yes! I await ye both beyond the grave!"
The door slowly opened; the jailer appeared, and through the aperture rushed, at the same instant, a ray of sunlight: it streamed over the fair, hushed face of the happy sleeper, -- it played like a smile upon the lips of the child that, still, mute, and steadfast, watched the movements of its father. At that moment Viola muttered in her sleep, "The day is come, -- the gates are open! Give me thy hand; we will go forth! To sea, to sea! How the sunshine plays upon the waters! -- to home, beloved one, to home again!"
"Citizen, thine hour is come!"
"Hist! she sleeps! A moment! There, it is done! thank Heaven! -- and STILL she sleeps!" He would not kiss, lest he should awaken her, but gently placed round her neck the amulet that would speak to her, hereafter, the farewell, -- and promise, in that farewell, reunion! He is at the threshold, -- he turns again, and again. The door closes! He is gone forever!
She woke at last, -- she gazed round. "Zanoni, it is day!" No answer but the low wail of her child. Merciful Heaven! was it then all a dream? She tossed back the long tresses that must veil her sight; she felt the amulet on her bosom, -- it was NO dream! "O God! and he is gone!" She sprang to the door, -- she shrieked aloud. The jailer comes. "My husband, my child's father?"
"He is gone before thee, woman!"
"Whither? Speak -- speak!"
"To the guillotine!" -- and the black door closed again.
It closed upon the senseless! As a lightning-flash, Zanoni's words, his sadness, the true meaning of his mystic gift, the very sacrifice he made for her, all became distinct for a moment to her mind, -- and then darkness swept on it like a storm, yet darkness which had its light. And while she sat there, mute, rigid, voiceless, as congealed to stone, A VISION, like a wind, glided over the deeps within, -- the grim court, the judge, the jury, the accuser; and amidst the victims the one dauntless and radiant form.
"Thou knowest the danger to the State, -- confess!"
"I know; and I keep my promise. Judge, I reveal thy doom! I know that the Anarchy thou callest a State expires with the setting of this sun. Hark, to the tramp without; hark to the roar of voices! Room there, ye dead! -- room in hell for Robespierre and his crew!"
They hurry into the court, -- the hasty and pale messengers; there is confusion and fear and dismay! "Off with the conspirator, and to-morrow the woman thou wouldst have saved shall die!"
"To-morrow, president, the steel falls on THEE!"
On, through the crowded and roaring streets, on moves the Procession of Death. Ha, brave people! thou art aroused at last. They shall not die! Death is dethroned! -- Robespierre has fallen! -- they rush to the rescue! Hideous in the tumbril, by the side of Zanoni, raved and gesticulated that form which, in his prophetic dreams, he had seen his companion at the place of death. "Save us! -- save us!" howled the atheist Nicot. "On, brave populace! we SHALL be saved!" And through the crowd, her dark hair streaming wild, her eyes flashing fire, pressed a female form, "My Clarence!" she shrieked, in the soft Southern language native to the ears of Viola; "butcher! what hast thou done with Clarence?" Her eyes roved over the eager faces of the prisoners; she saw not the one she sought. "Thank Heaven! -- thank Heaven! I am not thy murderess!"
Nearer and nearer press the populace, -- another moment, and the deathsman is defrauded. O Zanoni! why still upon THY brow the resignation that speaks no hope? Tramp! tramp! through the streets dash the armed troop; faithful to his orders, Black Henriot leads them on. Tramp! tramp! over the craven and scattered crowd! Here, flying in disorder, -- there, trampled in the mire, the shrieking rescuers! And amidst them, stricken by the sabres of the guard, her long hair blood-bedabbled, lies the Italian woman; and still upon her writhing lips sits joy, as they murmur, "Clarence! I have not destroyed thee!"
On to the Barriere du Trone. It frowns dark in the air, -- the giant instrument of murder! One after one to the glaive, -- another and another and another! Mercy! O mercy! Is the bridge between the sun and the shades so brief, -- brief as a sigh? There, there, -- HIS turn has come. "Die not yet; leave me not behind; hear me -- hear me!" shrieked the inspired sleeper. "What! and thou smilest still!" They smiled, -- those pale lips, -- and WITH the smile, the place of doom, the headsman, the horror vanished. With that smile, all space seemed suffused in eternal sunshine. Up from the earth he rose; he hovered over her, -- a thing not of matter, an IDEA of joy and light! Behind, Heaven opened, deep after deep; and the Hosts of Beauty were seen, rank upon rank, afar; and "Welcome!" in a myriad melodies, broke from your choral multitude, ye People of the Skies, -- "welcome! O purified by sacrifice, and immortal only through the grave, -- this it is to die." And radiant amidst the radiant, the IMAGE stretched forth its arms, and murmured to the sleeper: "Companion of Eternity! -- THIS it is to die!"
"Ho! wherefore do they make us signs from the house-tops? Wherefore gather the crowds through the street? Why sounds the bell? Why shrieks the tocsin? Hark to the guns! -- the armed clash! Fellow-captives, is there hope for us at last?"
So gasp out the prisoners, each to each. Day wanes -- evening closes; still they press their white faces to the bars, and still from window and from house-top they see the smiles of friends, -- the waving signals! "Hurrah!" at last, -- "Hurrah! Robespierre is fallen! The Reign of Terror is no more! God hath permitted us to live!"
Yes; cast thine eyes into the hall where the tyrant and his conclave hearkened to the roar without! Fulfilling the prophecy of Dumas, Henriot, drunk with blood and alcohol, reels within, and chucks his gory sabre on the floor. "All is lost!"
"Wretch! thy cowardice hath destroyed us!" yelled the fierce Coffinhal, as he hurled the coward from the window.
Calm as despair stands the stern St. Just; the palsied Couthon crawls, grovelling, beneath table; a shot, -- an explosion! Robespierre would destroy himself! The trembling hand has mangled, and failed to kill! The clock of the Hotel de Ville strikes the third hour. Through the battered door, along the gloomy passages, into the Death-hall, burst the crowd. Mangled, livid, blood-stained, speechless but not unconscious, sits haughty yet, in his seat erect, the Master-Murderer! Around him they throng; they hoot, -- they execrate, their faces gleaming in the tossing torches! HE, and not the starry Magian, the REAL Sorcerer! And round HIS last hours gather the Fiends he raised!
They drag him forth! Open thy gates, inexorable prison! The Conciergerie receives its prey! Never a word again on earth spoke Maximilien Robespierre! Pour forth thy thousands, and tens of thousands, emancipated Paris! To the Place de la Revolution rolls the tumbril of the King of Terror, -- St. Just, Dumas, Couthon, his companions to the grave! A woman -- a childless woman, with hoary hair -- springs to his side, "Thy death makes me drunk with joy!" He opened his bloodshot eyes, -- "Descend to hell with the curses of wives and mothers!"
The headsmen wrench the rag from the shattered jaw; a shriek, and the crowd laugh, and the axe descends amidst the shout of the countless thousands, and blackness rushes on thy soul, Maximilien Robespierre! So ended the Reign of Terror.
Daylight in the prison. From cell to cell they hurry with the news, -- crowd upon crowd; the joyous captives mingled with the very jailers, who, for fear, would fain seem joyous too; they stream through the dens and alleys of the grim house they will shortly leave. They burst into a cell, forgotten since the previous morning. They found there a young female, sitting upon her wretched bed; her arms crossed upon her bosom, her face raised upward; the eyes unclosed, and a smile of more than serenity -- of bliss -- upon her lips. Even in the riot of their joy, they drew back in astonishment and awe. Never had they seen life so beautiful; and as they crept nearer, and with noiseless feet, they saw that the lips breathed not, that the repose was of marble, that the beauty and the ecstasy were of death. They gathered round in silence; and lo! at her feet there was a young infant, who, wakened by their tread, looked at them steadfastly, and with its rosy fingers played with its dead mother's robe. An orphan there in a dungeon vault!
"Poor one!" said a female (herself a parent), "and they say the father fell yesterday; and now the mother! Alone in the world, what can be its fate?"
The infant smiled fearlessly on the crowd, as the woman spoke thus. And the old priest, who stood amongst them, said gently, "Woman, see! the orphan smiles! THE FATHERLESS ARE THE CARE OF GOD!"