What Dreams May Come by Gertrude Franklin Horn Atherton
Part II. The Discord.
Harold opened his eyes. The night had gone; the sun was struggling through the heavy curtains; the lamps and the fire had gone out, and the room was cold. He was faint and exhausted. His forehead was damp with horror, and his hands were shaking. That terrible struggle in which intellect and its attainments had been wrenched apart, in which the spirit and its memories had been torn asunder! He closed his eyes for a moment in obedience to his exhausted vitality. Then he rose slowly to his feet, went into his bedroom, and looked into the glass. Was it Harold Dartmouth or the dead poet who was reflected there? He went back, picked up the locket, and returned to the glass. He looked at the picture, then at his own face, and again at the picture. They were identical; there was not a line or curve or tint of difference. He returned to his chair and rested his head on his hand. Was he this man re-born? Did the dead come back and live again? Was it a dream, or had he actually lived over a chapter from a past existence? He was a practical man-of-the-world, not a vague dreamer--but all nature was a mystery; this would be no stranger than the general mystery of life itself. And he was not only this man reproduced in every line and feature; he had his nature as well. His grandmother had never mentioned her husband's name, but the Dartmouths had been less reticent. They were fond of reiterating anecdotes of Lionel Dartmouth's lawless youth, of his moody, melancholy temperament, and above all, of the infallible signs he had shown of great genius. That his genius had borne no fruit made no difference in their estimate; he had died too soon, that was all--died of fever in Constantinople, the story ran; there had never been a suggestion of scandal. And he had come back to earth to fulfill the promise of long ago, and to give to the world the one splendid achievement of that time. It had triumphed over death and crime and revenge--but--He recalled those nights of conflict in his mind. Would will and spirit ever conquer that mechanical defect in his brain which denied his genius speech?
He drew his hand across his forehead; he was so tired. He pushed the manuscript and letters into a drawer of the desk, and turning the key upon them, opened the window and stepped out into the air. His vitality was at as low an ebb as if from physical overwork and fasting. He made no attempt to think, or to comment on the events just past. For the moment they lost their interest, and he strolled aimlessly about the park, his exhausted forces slowly recuperating. At the end of an hour he returned to the house and took a cold shower-bath and ate his breakfast. Then he felt more like himself. He had a strong desire to return to his study and the lost manuscript, but, with the wilful and pleasing procrastination of one who knows that satisfaction is within his grasp, he put the temptation aside for the present, and spent the day riding over his estates with his steward. He also gave his business affairs a minute attention which delighted his servant. After dinner he smoked a cigar, then went into his study and locked the door. He sat down before the desk, and for a moment experienced a feeling of dread. He wanted no more visions: would contact with those papers induce another? He would like to read that poem with the calm criticism of a trained and cultivated mind; he had no desire to be whirled back into his study at Constantinople, his brain throbbing and bursting with what was coming next. He shrugged his shoulders. It was a humiliating confession, but there were forces over which he had no control; there was nothing to do but resign himself to the inevitable.
He opened the drawer and took out the manuscript. To his unspeakable satisfaction he remained calm and unperturbed. He felt merely a cold-blooded content that he had balked his enemies and that his ambition was to be gratified. Once, before he opened the paper, he smiled at his readiness to accept the theory of reincarnation. It had taken complete possession of him, and he felt not the slightest desire to combat it. Did a doubt cross his mind, he had but to recall the park seen by his spiritual eyes, as he descended upon it to be born again. It was the park in which he, Harold Dartmouth, had played as a child during his annual visits to his parents; the park surrounding the castle in which he had been born, and which had belonged to his father's line for centuries. For the first time in his life he did not reason. It seemed to him that there was no corner or loophole for argument, nothing but a cold array of facts which must be unconditionally accepted or rejected.
He spread out the poem. It was in blank verse, and very long. He was struck at once with its beauty and power. Although his soul responded to the words as to the tone of a dear but long unheard voice, still he was spared the mental exaltation which would have clouded his judgment and destroyed his pleasure. He leaned his elbows on the desk, and, taking his head between his hands, read on and on, scarcely drawing breath. Poets past and present had been his familiar friends, but in them he had found no such beauty as this. The grand sweep of the poem, the depth of its philosophy, the sublimity of its thought, the melody of its verse, the color, the radiant richness of its imagery, the sonorous swell of its lines, the classic purity of its style--Dartmouth felt as if an organ were pealing within his soul, lifting the song on its notes to the celestial choir which had sent it forth. Heavenly fingers were sweeping the keys, heavenly voices were quiring the melody they had with wanton hand flung into a mortal's brain. As Harold read on he felt that his spirit had dissolved and was flowing through the poem, to be blended, unified with it forever. He seemed to lose all physical sensation, not from the causes of the previous night, but from the spiritual exaltation and absorption induced by the beauty and grandeur of the theme. When he had finished, he flung out his arms upon the desk, buried his head in them, and burst into tears. The tears were the result, not so much of extreme nervous tension, as of the wonder and awe and ecstacy with which his own genius had filled him. In a few moments his emotion had subsided and was succeeded by a state less purely spiritual. He stood up, and leaning one hand on the desk, looked down at the poem, his soul filled with an exultant sense of power. Power was what he had gloried in all his life. His birth had given it to him socially, his money had lent its aid, and his personal fascination had completed the chapter. But he had wanted something more than the commonplace power which fate or fortune grants to many. He had wanted that power which lifts a man high above his fellow-men, condemning him to solitude, perhaps, but, in that fiercely beating light, revealing him to all men's gaze. If life had drifted by him, it had been because he was too much of a philosopher to attempt the impossible, too clever to publish his incompetence to the world.
His inactivity had not been the result of lack of ambition, and yet, as he stood there gazing down upon his work, it seemed to him that he had never felt the stirrings of that passion before. With the power to gratify his ambition, ambition sprang from glowing coals into a mighty flame which roared and swept about him, darted into every corner and crevice of his being, pulsated through his mind and spirit, and temporarily drove out every other instinct and desire. He threw back his head, his eyes flashing and his lips quivering. For the moment he looked inspired, as he registered a vow to have his name known in every corner of the civilized world. That he had so far been unable to accomplish anything in his present embodiment gave him no uneasiness at the moment. Sooner or later the imprisoned song would force its way through the solid masonry in which it was walled up--He gave a short laugh and came down to earth; his fancy was running away with him.
He folded the poem compactly and put it in his breast pocket, determined that it should never leave him again until a copy was in the hands of the printer. It should be sent forth from Constantinople. The poem must be the apparent offspring of his present incarnation; and as he had never been in Constantinople he must go there and remain for several months before publication.
He went into the library and sat down before the fire. He closed his eyes and let his head fall back on the soft cushion, a pleasant languor and warmth stealing through his frame. What a future! Power, honor, adoration--the proudest pedestal a man can stand upon. And, as if this were not enough, an unquestioned happiness with the woman he loved with his whole heart. To her advent into his life he owed his complete and final severance from the petty but infinite distractions and temptations of the world. His present without flaw, and his future assured, what was to prevent his gifts from flowering thickly and unceasingly in their peaceful soil and atmosphere of calm? He remembered that his first irresistible impulse to write had come on the night he had met her. Would he owe to her his final power to speak, as he had owed to that other--
He sat suddenly erect, then leaned forward, gazing at the fire with eyes from which all languor had vanished. He felt as if a flash of lightning had been projected into his brain. That other? Who was that other?--why was she so marvellously like Weir? Her grandmother? Yes, but why had he felt for Weir that sense of recognition and spiritual kinship the moment he had seen her?
He sprang to his feet and strode to the middle of the room. Great God! Was Weir reembodied as well as himself? Lady Sioned Penrhyn was indisputably the woman he had loved in his former existence--that was proved once for all by the scene in the gallery at Rhyd-Alwyn and by the letters he had found addressed to her. He recalled Weir's childhood experience. Had she really died, and the desperate, determined spirit of Sioned Penrhyn taken possession of her body? Otherwise, why that sense of affinity, and her strange empire over him the night of their mutual vision? There was something more than racial resemblance in form and feature between Sioned and Weir Penrhyn; there was absolute identity of soul and mind.
He strode rapidly from one end of the room to the other. Every nerve in his body seemed vibrating, but his mind acted rapidly and sequentially. He put the links together one by one, until, from the moment of his last meeting with Sioned Penrhyn at Constantinople to the climax of his vision in his study, the chain was complete. Love, then, as well as genius, had triumphed over the vengeance of Dafyd Penrhyn and Catherine Dartmouth. In that moment he felt no affection for his grandmother. She had worshipped and spoilt him, and had shown him only her better side; but the weakness and evil of her nature had done him incalculable injury, and he was not prepared to forgive her at once.
He returned to his seat. Truly they all were the victims of inexorable law, but the law was just, and if it took to-day it gave to-morrow. If he and Sioned Penrhyn had been destined to short-lived happiness and tragic death in that other existence, there was not an obstacle or barrier between them in the present. And if--He pushed his chair suddenly back and brought his brows together. A thought had struck him which he did not like. He got up and put another log on the fire. Then he went over to the table and took up a book--a volume of Figuier. He sat down and read a few pages, then threw down the book, and drawing writing materials toward him, wrote a half-dozen business letters. When they were finished, together with a few lines to Weir, and no other correspondence suggested itself, he got up and walked the length of the room several times. Suddenly he brought his fist violently down on the table.
"I am a fool," he exclaimed. "The idea of a man with my experience with women--" And then his voice died away and his hand relaxed, an expression of disgust crossing his face. He sank into a chair by the table and leaned his head on his hand. It was true that he was a man of the world, and that for conventional morality he had felt the contempt it deserved. Nevertheless, in loving this girl the finest and highest instincts of his nature had been aroused. He had felt for her even more of sentiment than of passion. When a man loves a girl whose mental purity is as absolute as her physical, there is, intermingled with his love, a leavening quality of reverence, and the result is a certain purification of his own nature. That Dartmouth had found himself capable of such a love had been a source of keenest gratification to him. He had been lifted to a spiritual level which he had never touched before, and there he had determined to remain.
And to have this pure and exquisite love smirched with the memory of sin and vulgar crime! To take into his arms as his wife the woman on whose soul was written the record of temptation and of sin! It was like marrying one's mistress: as a matter of fact, what else was it? But Weir Penrhyn! To connect sin with her was monstrous. And yet, the vital spark called life--or soul, or intelligence, or personal force; whatever name science or ignorance might give it--was unchanged in its elements, as his own chapter of memories had taught him. Every instinct in Sioned's nature was unaltered. If these instincts were undeveloped in her present existence, it was because of Weir's sheltered life, and because she had met him this time before it was too late.
He sprang to his feet, almost overturning the chair. "I can think no more to-night," he exclaimed. "My head feels as if it would burst."
He went into his bedroom and poured out a dose of laudanum. When he was in bed he drank it, and he did not awake until late the next day.