What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
Two Days later Dartmouth received a despatch from the steward of his estates in the north of England announcing that there was serious trouble among his tenantry, and that his interests demanded he should be on the scene at once. The despatch was brought to his room, and he went directly down to the hall, where he had left Weir, and told her he must leave her for a few days. She had been standing by the fire-place warming her foot on the fender, but she sat suddenly down on a chair as he explained to her the nature of the telegram. "Harold," she said, "if you go you will never come back."
"My dear girl," he said, "that speech is unworthy of you. You are not the sort of woman to believe in such nonsense as presentiments."
"Presentiments may be supernatural," she said, "but not more so than the experience we have had. So long as you are with me I feel comparatively untroubled, but if you go I know that something will happen."
He sat down on the arm of her chair and took her hand. "You are low-spirited yet," he said, "and consequently you take a morbid view of everything. That is all. I am beginning to doubt if the dream we had was anything more than the most remarkable dream on record; if it were otherwise, two such wise heads as ours would have discovered the hidden meaning by this time. And, granting that, you must also grant that if anything were going to happen, you could not possibly know it; nor will predicting it bring it about. I will be with you in two days from this hour, and you will only remember how glad you were to get rid of me."
"I hope so," she said. "But--is it absolutely necessary for you to go?"
"Not if you don't mind living on bread and cheese for a year or two. The farms of my ancestral home make a pretty good rent-roll, but if my tenants become the untrammelled communists my steward predicts, we may have to camp out on burnt stubble for some time to come. It is in the hope of inducing them to leave me at least the Hall to take a bride to that I go to interview them at once. I may be too late, but I will do my best."
"You will always joke, I suppose," she said, smiling a little; "but come back to me."
He left Rhyd-Alwyn that evening and arrived at Crumford Hall the next morning. He slept little during the journey. His mood was still upon him, and without consideration for Weir as an incentive it was more difficult to fight it off, indeed, it was almost a luxury to yield to it. Moreover, although it had been easy enough to say he would think no more about his vision and its accompanying incidents, it was not so easy to put the determination into practice, and he found himself spending the night in the vain attempt to untangle the web, and in endeavoring to analyze the subtle, uncomfortable sense of mystery which those events had left behind them. Toward morning he lost all patience with himself, and taking a novel out of his bag fixed his mind deliberately upon it; and as the story was rather stupid, it had the comfortable effect of sending him to sleep.
When he arrived at his place he found that the trouble was less serious than his steward had represented. The year had been unproductive, and his tenants had demanded a lowering of their rents; but neither flames nor imprecations were in order. Dartmouth was inclined to be a just man, and, moreover, he was very much in love, and anxious to get away; consequently, after a two days' examination of the situation in all its bearings, he acceded in great part to their demands and gave his lieutenant orders to hold the reins lightly during the coming year.
On the second night after his arrival he went into his study to write to Weir. He had been so busy heretofore that he had sent her but a couple of lines at different times, scribbled on a leaf of his note book, and he was glad to find the opportunity to write her a letter. He had hoped to return to her instead, but had found several other matters which demanded his attention, and he preferred to look into them at once, otherwise he would be obliged to return later on.
His study was a comfortable little den just off the library, and its four walls had witnessed the worst of his moods and the most roseate of his dreams. In it he had frequently sat up all night talking with his grandmother, and the atmosphere had vibrated with some hot disputes. There was a divan across one end, some bookshelves across the other, and on one side was a desk with a revolving chair before it. Above the desk hung a battle-axe which he had brought from America. Opposite was a heavily curtained window, and near it a door which led into his private apartments. Between was a heavy piece of furniture of Byzantine manufacture. As he entered the little room for the first time since his arrival, he stood for a moment with a retrospective smile in his eyes. He almost fancied he could see his grandmother half-reclining on one end of the divan, with a pillow beneath her elbow, her stately head, with its tower of white hair, thrown imperiously, somewhat superciliously back, as her eyes flashed and her mouth poured forth a torrent of overwhelming argument. "Poor old girl!" he thought; "why do women like that have to die? How she and Weir would have--argued, to put it mildly. I am afraid I should have had to put a continent between them. But I would give a good deal to see her again, all the same."
He shut the door, sat down before his desk, and took a bunch of keys from his pocket. As he did so, his eyes fell upon one of curious workmanship, and he felt a sudden sense of pleasant anticipation. That key opened the Byzantine chest opposite, somewhere in whose cunningly hidden recesses lay, he was convinced, the papers which he had once seen in his grandmother's clenched hands. He did not believe she had destroyed them; she had remarked a few days before her death--which had been sudden and unexpected--that she must soon devote an unpleasant hour to the burning of old letters and papers. She had spoken lightly, but there had been a gleam in her eyes and a tightening of her lips which had suggested the night he had seen her look as if she wished that the papers between her fingers were a human throat. Should he find those papers and pass away a dull evening? There was certainly nothing but the obstinacy of the chest to prevent, and she would forgive him more than that. He had always had a strong curiosity in regard to those papers, but his curiosity so far had been an inactive one; he had never before been alone at the Hall since his grandmother's death. He wheeled about on his chair and looked whimsically at the divan. "Have I your permission, O most fascinating of grandmothers?" he demanded aloud. "No answer. That means I have. So be it."
He wrote to Weir, then went over and kneeled on one knee before the chest. It looked outwardly like a high, deep box, and was covered with heavy Smyrna cloth, and ornamented with immense brass handles and lock. Dartmouth fitted the key into a small key-hole hidden in the carving on the side of the lock, and the front of the chest fell outward. He let it down to the floor, then gave his attention to the interior. It was as complicated as the exterior was plain. On one side of the central partition were dozens of little drawers, on the other as many slides and pigeon-holes and alcoves. On every square inch of wood was a delicate tracery, each different, each telling a story. The handles of the drawers, the arcades of the alcoves, the pillars of the pigeon-holes--all were of ivory, and all were carved with the fantastic art of the Mussulman. It was so beautiful and so intricate that for a time Dartmouth forgot the papers. He had seen it before, but it was a work of art which required minute observation and study of its details to be appreciated. After a time, however, he recurred to his quest and took the drawers out, one by one, laying them on the floor. They were very small, and not one of them contained so much as a roseleaf. At the end of each fourth shelf which separated the rows of drawers, was a knob. Dartmouth turned one and the shelf fell from its place. He saw the object. Behind each four rows of drawers was a room. Each of these rooms had the dome ceiling and Byzantine pillars of a mosque, and each represented a different portion of the building--presumably that of St. Sophia. The capitals of the pillars were exquisite, few being duplicated, and the shafts were solid columns of black marble, supported on bases of porphyry. The floor was a network of mosaics, and the walls were a blaze of colored marbles. The altar, which stood in the central room, was of silver, with trappings of gold-embroidered velvet, and paraphernalia of gold. Dartmouth was entranced. He had a keen love of and appreciation for art, but he had never found anything as interesting as this. He congratulated himself upon the prospect of many pleasant hours in its company.
He let it go for the present and pressed his finger against every inch of the walls and floor and ceilings of the mosque, and of the various other apartments. It was a good half-hour's work, and the monotony and non-success induced a certain nervousness. His head ached and his hand trembled a little. When he had finished, and no panel had flown back at his touch, he threw himself down on one hand with an exclamation of impatience, and gazed with a scowl at the noncommittal beauty before him. He cared nothing for its beauty at that moment. What he wanted were the papers, and he was determined to find them. He stood up and examined the top of the chest. There was certainly a space between the visible depths of the interior and the back wall. He rapped loudly, but the wood and the stuff with which it was covered were too thick; there was no answering ring. He recalled the night when he had cynically examined the fragments of the broken cabinet at Rhyd-Alwyn. He felt anything but cynical now; indeed, he was conscious of a restless eagerness and a dogged determination with which curiosity had little to do. He would find those papers if he died in the attempt.
He knelt once more before the chest, and once more pressed his finger along its interior, following regular lines. Then he shook the pillars, and inserted his penknife in each most minute interstice of the carving; he prodded the ribs of the arches, and brought his fist down violently on the separate floors of the mosque. At the end of an hour he sprang to his feet with a smothered oath, and cutting a slit in the cover of the chest with his penknife, tore it off and examined the top and sides as carefully as his strained eyes and trembling hands would allow. He was ashamed of his nervousness, but he was powerless to overcome it. His examination met with no better success, and he suddenly sprang across the room and snatched the battle-axe from the wall. He walked quickly back to the chest. For a moment he hesitated, the thing was so beautiful! But only for a moment. The overmastering desire to feel those papers in his hands had driven out all regard for art. He lifted the axe on high and brought it down on the top of the chest with a blow which made the little room echo. He was a powerful man, and the axe was imbedded to its haft. He worked it out of the tough wood and planted another blow, which widened the rift and made the stout old chest creak like a falling tree. The mutilated wood acted upon Dartmouth like the smell of blood upon a wolf: the spirit of destruction leaped up and blazed within him, a devouring flame, and the blows fell thick and fast. He felt a fierce delight in the havoc he was making, in the rare and exquisite beauty he was ruining beyond hope of redemption. He leaned down, and swinging the axe outward, sent it straight through the arcades and pillars, the mosques and images, shattering them to bits. Then he raised the axe again and brought it down on the seam which joined the back to the top. The blow made but little impression, but a succession of blows produced a wide gap. Harold inserted the axe in the rift, and kneeling on the chest, attempted to force the back wall outward. For a time it resisted his efforts, then it suddenly gave way, and Dartmouth dropped the axe with a cry. From a shelf below the roof a package had sprung outward with the shock, and a small object had fallen with a clatter on the prostrate wall. Dartmouth picked it up in one hand and the papers in the other, his fingers closing over the latter with a joy which thrilled him from head to foot. It was a joy so great that it filled him with a profound peace; the excitement of the past hour suddenly left him. He went over to his desk and sat down before it. With the papers still held firmly in his hand, he opened the locket. There were two pictures within, and as he held them up to the light he was vaguely conscious that he should feel a shock of surprise; but he did not. The pictures were those of Lady Sioned Penrhyn and--himself! With the same apparent lack of mental prompting as on the night in the gallery when he had addressed Weir with the name of her grandmother, he raised the picture of the woman to his lips and kissed it fondly. Then he laid it down and opened the packet. Within were a thick piece of manuscript and a bundle of letters. He pressed his hand lovingly over the closely written sheets of the manuscript, but laid them down and gave his attention to the letters. They were roughly tied into a bundle with a bit of string. He slipped the string off and glanced at the address of the letter which lay uppermost. The ink, though faded, was legible enough--"Lady Sioned-ap-Penrhyn, Constantinople." He opened the letter and glanced at the signature. The note was signed with the initials of his grandfather, Lionel Dartmouth. They were peculiarly formed, and were in many of the library books.
He turned back to the first page. As he did so he was aware of a new sensation, which seemed, however, but a natural evolution in his present mental and spiritual exaltation. It was as if the page were a blank sheet and he were wielding an invisible pen. Although, before he took up the letter, he had had no idea of its contents beyond a formless, general intuition, as soon as he began to read he was clearly aware of every coming word and sentence and sentiment in it. So strong was the impression, that once he involuntarily dropped the note and, picking up a pen, began hastily writing what he knew was on the unread page. But his mind became foggy at once, and he threw down the pen and returned to the letter. Then the sense of authorship and familiarity returned. He read the letters in the order in which they came, which was the order of their writing. Among them were some pages of exquisite verse: and verses and letters alike were the words of a man to a woman whom he loved with all the concentration and intensity of a solitary, turbulent, passionate nature; who knew that in this love lay his and her only happiness; and who would cast aside the orthodoxy of the world as beneath consideration when balanced against the perfecting of two human lives. They reflected the melancholy, ill-regulated nature of the man, but they rang with a tenderness and a passion which were as unmistakable as the genius of the writer; and Harold knew that if the dead poet had never loved another woman he had loved Sioned Penrhyn. Or had he loved her himself? Or was it Weir? Surely these letters were his. He had written them to that beautiful dark-eyed woman with the jewels about her head. He could read the answers between the lines; he knew them by heart; the passionate words of the unhappy woman who had quickened his genius from its sleep. Ah, how he loved her, his beautiful Weir!--No--Sioned was her name, Sioned Penrhyn, and her picture hung in the castle where the storms beat upon the grey Welsh cliffs thousands of miles away....
If he had but met her earlier--he might to-day be one of that brilliant galaxy of poets whose music the whole world honored. Oh! the wasted years of his life, and his half-hearted attempts to give to the world those wonderful children of his brain! He had loved and been jealous of them, those children, and they had multiplied until it had seemed as if they would prove stronger than his will. But he had let them sing for himself alone; he would give the world nothing until one day in that densely peopled land of his brain there should go up a paean of rejoicing that a child, before which their own glory paled, had been born. And above the tumult should rise the sound of such a strain of music as had never been heard out of heaven; and before it the world should sink to its knees....
And it had come to pass at last, this dream. This woman had awakened his nature from its torpor, and with the love had come, leaping, rushing, thundering, a torrent of verse such as had burst from no man's brain in any age.
And to her he owed his future, his fame, and his immortal name. And she would be with him always. She had struggled and resisted and refused him speech, but the terrible strength of her nature had triumphed over dogmas and over the lesser duties she owed to others; of her free will she had sent for him. He would be with her in an hour, and to-morrow they would have left codes and conventions behind them. There was a pang in leaving this beautiful room where his poem had been born, and beneath which lay such a picture as man sees nowhere else on earth. But to that which was to come, what was this? He would write a few lines to the woman who bore his name, and then the time would have come to go. She too was a beautiful and a brilliant woman, but her nature was narrow and cold, and she had never understood him for a moment. There! he had finished, and she would be happier without him. She had her world and her child--that beautiful boy!--But this was no time for pangs. He had chosen his destiny, and a man cannot have all things. It was time to go. Should he take one last glance at the boy laughing in the room beyond? He had but to push the tapestry aside, yes--there--God!
Ah, it was grateful to get into the cool air of the street, and before him, only a short distance away, were the towers of the Embassy. Would he never reach them? The way had been so long--could it be that his footsteps were already echoing on the marble floor which led to that chamber? Yes, and the perfume of that jasmine-laden room was stealing over his senses, and the woman he loved was in his arms. How the golden sunset lay on the domes and minarets below! How sonorous sounded the voices of the muezzins as they called the people to prayer! There was music somewhere, or was it the wails for the dead down in Galata? It was all like a part of a dream, and the outlines were blurred and confused--What was that? A thunderclap? Why were he and Sioned lying prostrate there, she with horror in her wide open, glassy eyes, he with the arms which had held her lying limply on the blood stained floor beside him? He seemed to see them both as he hovered above. It was death? Well, what matter? She had gone out with him, and in some cloud-walled castle, murmurous with harmonies of quiring spheres, and gleaming with their radiance, they would dwell together. Human vengeance could not reach them there, and for love there is no death. The soul cannot die, and love, its chiefest offspring, shares its immortality. It persists throughout the ages, like the waves of music that never cease. He would take her hand and lead her upward--Where was she? Surely she must be by his side. But he could see no one, feel no presence. God! had he lost her? Had she been borne upward and away, while he had lingered, fascinated with the empty clay that a moment since had been throbbing with life and keenest happiness? But he would find her--even did he go to the confines of Eternity. But where was he? He could see the lifeless shells no longer. He was roaming--on--on--in a vast, grey, pathless land, without light, without sound, unpeopled, forsaken. These were the plains of Eternity!--the measureless, boundless, sun-forgotten region, whose monarch was Death, and whose avenging angel--Silence! An eternal twilight more desolate than the blackness of night, a twilight as of myriads of ghostly lanterns shedding their colorless rays upon an awful, echoless solitude He would never find her here The dead of ages were about him--the troubled spirits who had approached the pale, stern gates of the Hereafter with rapture, and found within their portals not rest, but a ceaseless, weary, purposeless wandering, the world tired souls of aged men pursuing their never-ending quest in meek, faltering wonder, and longing for the goal which surely they must reach at last, the white, unquestioning souls of children floating like heavenly strains of unheard music in the void immensity, but one and all invisible imponderable. They were there, the monarchs of buried centuries and the thousands who had knelt at their thrones, the high and the low, the outcast and the shrived, but each as alone as if the solitary inhabitant of all Space And he, who would have fled from his fellow-men on earth, must long in vain for the sound of human voice or the rapture of human touch He must go on--on--in these colorless, shadowless, haunted plains, until the last trumpet-blast should awaken the echoes of the Universe and summon him to confront his Maker and be judged Oh! if but once more he could see the earth he had scorned! Was it spinning on its way still, that dark, tiny ball? How long since he had given that last glance of farewell? It must be years and years and years, as reckoned by the time of men, for in Eternity there is no time. And Sioned--where was she? Desolate and abandoned, shrieked at by sudden winds, flying terrified and helpless over level, horizonless plains only to fling herself upon the grey waves of Death's noiseless ocean? Oh, if he could but find her and make her forget! Together, what would matter death and silence and everlasting unrest? All would be forgot, all but the exquisite pain of the regret for the years he had wasted on earth, and for the solitary heritage he had left the world. Those children of his brain! They were with him still. Would that he had left them below to sing his name down through the ages! They were a torment to him here, in their futility and inaction. They could not sing to these shapeless ghosts about him; their voices would be unheeded music; nor would any strain sweep downward to that world whose tears he might have drawn, whose mirth provoked, whose passions played upon at his will. The one grand thing he had done must alone speak for him. There was in it neither pathos nor mirth; it had sprung to the cloud-capped point of human genius, and its sublimity would prove its barrier to the world's approval. But it would give him fame when--God! what was that thought? The manuscript of that poem had lain in the room where he had met his death. Had the hand that had slain him executed a more terrible vengeance still? Oh, it could not be! No man would be so base. And yet, what mercy had he the right to expect? And the nature of the man--cold--relentless--To consign the man who had wronged him to eternal oblivion--would he not feel as he watched the ashes in the brazier, that such vengeance was sweeter than even the power to kill? And he was impotent! He was a waif tossed about in the chaos of eternity, with no power to smite the man whose crime had--perhaps--been greater than the thrusting of two lives from existence a few years before their time. He was as powerless as the invisible beggar who floated at his side. And that man was on earth yet, perchance, coldly indifferent in his proud position, inwardly gloating at the fullness of his revenge....
Years, years, years! They slipped from his consciousness like water from the smooth surface of a rock. And yet each had pressed more heavily and stung more sharply than the last. Oh, if he could but know that his poem had been given to the world--that it had not been blotted from existence! This was what was meant by Hell. No torture that man had ever pictured could approach the torments of such regret, such uncertainty, such pitiable impotence. Truly, if his sin had been great, his punishment was greater.
But why was he going downward? What invisible hand was this which was resistlessly guiding him through the portals of the shadow land, past the great sun and worlds of other men, and down through this quivering ether? What? He was to be born again? A bit of clay needed an atom of animate force to quicken it into life, and he must go again? And it was to the planet Earth he was going? Ah! his poem! his poem! He could write it again, and of what matter the wasted generations? And Sioned--they would meet again. Sooner or later, she too must return, and on Earth they would find what had been denied them above. What was that? His past must become a blank? His soul must be shorn of its growth? He must go back to unremembering, unforseeing infancy, and grow through long, slow years to manhood again? Still, his genius and his intelligence in their elements would be the same, and with development would come at last the fruition of all his fondest hopes. And Sioned? He would know her when they met. Their souls must be the same as when the great ocean of Force had tossed them up; and evolution could work no essential change. Ah! they had entered the blue atmosphere. And, yes--there lay the earth below them. How he remembered its green plains and white cities and blue waters! And that great island--yes, it was familiar enough. It was the land which had given him birth, and which should have knelt at his feet and granted him a resting-place amidst its illustrious dead. And this old castle they were descending upon? He did not remember it. Well, he was to be of the chosen of earth again. He would have a proud name to offer her, and this time it should be an unsullied one. This time the world should ring with his genius, not with his follies. This time--Oh, what was this? Stop! Stop! No; he could not part with it. The grand, trained intellect of which he had been so proud--the perfected genius which had been his glory--they should not strip them from him--they were part of himself; they were his very essence; he would not give them up! Oh, God! this horrible shrinking! This was Hell; this was not re-birth. Physical torture? The words were meaningless beside this warping, this tearing apart of spirit and mind--those precious children of his brain--limb from limb. Their shrieks for help!--their cries of anguish and horror! their clutches! their last spasmodic--despairing--weakening embrace! He would hold them! His clasp would defy all the powers of Earth and Air! No, they should not go--they should not. Oh! this cursed hand, with its nerves of steel. It would conquer yet, conquer and compress him down into an atom of impotence--There! it had wrenched them from him; they were gone--gone--forever. But no, they were there beside him; their moans for help filled the space about him; yes, moans--they were cries no longer--and they were growing fainter--they were fading--sinking--dying--and he was shrinking--