Audio recording of Chapter 9:
Download audio recording: Right-click here
Study group for Chapter 9 with Mary Magdalene, Session 1:
Audio of study group for Chapter 9, Session 1:
Chapter IX: The Harvest of Jealousy
How far we travelled during our conversation I have not the remotest idea, but if the changed aspect of the country formed any criterion of the distance it was by no means inconsiderable. When I was at liberty to notice our surroundings I discovered that we were passing through a district possessing as its principal feature a multitude of secluded spots and quiet retreats, but without any indication of a road to guide a stranger, and therefore an interminable labyrinth to anyone who had not a perfect knowledge of its key; but at the same time a sure asylum to the weary and the hunted who stood in need of such a haven of refuge. The atmosphere was heavy compared with that to which I had recently been accustomed; the wind, although not cold, had a chilliness not experienced before; the trees were more sombre in appearance, with dark shadows lingering beneath them; the flowers had lost the brilliance and fragrance which had so impressed me at the Home of Rest, while the influence of the place seemed to whisper that the severity of sorrow was just taking its departure, although it was still a matter of doubt whether peace could be induced to accept the vacancy thus created.
Presently my companion turned aside and bade me follow him, threading his way as he spoke, through the low hanging branches of the trees, which threatened to hide him entirely from my view unless I quickened my pace and diligently watched the direction he took. A dozen steps behind, our track was obliterated, and I constantly wondered by what sign or power Cushna pushed so confidently forward. My attention was also attracted to a certain moisture apparently exhaled from the leaves and which I was convinced would speedily saturate us if we had far to travel under such conditions; I was further conscious of something more than curiosity – almost alarm – as I saw the colour gradually fading, first from the robes of my conductor, and then from my own, as we advanced. But as I had full employment in clearing my way, I was compelled to refrain from asking questions for the present. When we emerged from the trees our clothing no longer possessed its delicate blue and pink tints, but had been changed to dark grey; and what surprised me equally with this was the fact of its being perfectly dry in spite of the showers of dew which had so copiously fallen upon us. As Cushna paused for me to overtake him, he smiled at my perplexity, and without waiting for me to ask, proceeded to give the explanation of such an astounding phenomenon:
“This,” he said, “is perhaps one of the most tender and beneficent provisions of our Father. Whoever come to visit or minister to one of the friends located here, experience this transformation upon nearing the end of their journey. The object is to enable us to meet on apparently equal terms, by preventing them from knowing the difference in our condition, and thus to enable us to give them the greater assistance. As you will soon discover in the case of Marie, the state of all at this point of development, is one that requires the most careful and sympathetic treatment, and the friends employed in the mission are specially appointed by Myhanene from among those most closely associated with himself.
“The condition of all those you will find here is one of repose, succeeding a period of indescribable agony – the hush of uncertainty, following in the wake of the storm of hell – and the soul is indisposed to rouse itself from the dreamy numbness in which it finds its present relief from that suffering which, being scarcely over, is so vividly impressed upon its memory. Hope is not yet strong enough to counteract the fear that any exertion may result in a return of the dreaded past; confidence is not able to supplant distrust, and the only means by which they can be roused from this state of lethargy is by association with the messengers from the Hills of Wisdom, who inspire the feeble confidence of these needy ones by the assurance of the realisation of that hope they have gained.”
“This change in our appearance, then, is but another variation of the great law of love?” I asked.
“Precisely so,” he responded; “nothing but love.”
Our path now lay down a gentle declivity between the hills, but before we reached the level of the valley, we turned, as if to round a clump of trees having a remarkable wealth of foliage, and branches which swept the ground; on reaching the further side, however, I discovered that they served to conceal the entrance to a pleasant dell in which was situated a solitary house – the first I had seen in the whole district. The little domain was a welcome retreat for one who wished to live a life of solitude; a hundred safeguards having been raised – natural and unsuspicious – against intrusion; and without a trace of path, or indication of any presence in the vicinity, it was almost beyond the range of possibility for a visitor to make his appearance in that peaceful dell, except those who by their knowledge of the homestead gave evidence of their interest in the welfare of its solitary resident. The garden, grounds, and general arrangement offered every inducement for the exercise and development of the mind, with abundant scope to wean the heart from sorrow, in congenial and ever varying employment.
The house was not a large building – such an one would have been out of character in these surroundings – but it was exceedingly cheerful and picturesque – a mountain home, engaged for the purpose of repose and restoration, with everything provided to make one forget the past and care nothing for the future, but yet by no means a permanent habitation, being devoid of that society for which the healthy mind seeks, and chafes to find inaccessible.
As we emerged from the narrow pass by which we entered, two ladies were walking leisurely across the grounds away from us, with arms affectionately entwined around each other. They looked like kindred spirits whose thoughts, too deep for words, were drawing from the well of silence a draught of refreshing sympathy.
Their preoccupation gave me an opportunity of observing them before they were made aware of our presence. From the moment I beheld them I was confident that the shorter of the two was present in the capacity of minister – or should I not use the more familiar appellation, angel – following the example of the Great Teacher in laying aside her rightful state that she might by her sacrifice be the more powerfully competent to help her unfortunate sister. The taller of the twain bore very conspicuously the evidence of weakness and weariness, and was only too glad to avail herself of the strength of her companion, so unassumingly placed at her disposal.
“Azena has been here almost constantly since Marie came,” said Cushna, as we stood watching them.
I made no reply. I would rather he had not spoken – a wish my friend was quick to appreciate, and I was left undisturbed to witness a practical lesson in nursing and sympathy which awed me with its angelic tenderness and unrestrained devotion. Such a vision of salvation needed no interpreter; my heart stood still in its sacred presence, while it made me conscious of a closer touch with God than I had ever felt before. My soul trembled with the holy tension put upon it; my feet paused in a direct refusal to cross the threshold of the temple while the fragrant incense of such a worship was ascending, and but for Cushna’s interference I should probably have yielded to my strong desire to leave that hallowed spot. But standing thus I solved a problem in spiritual mathematics, as I saw the antitheses of life – heaven and hell – curved by the power of love, until they touched, overlapped, and blended to form the circle of divinity. In that illustration I grasped the stupendous assurance that it will be impossible for any single soul ultimately to resist that gravitation which operates in the higher life for the purpose of lifting up the fallen, or rescuing the lost; and the words of Jesus – ‘until He find them’ – came to me at that moment with a force and meaning I had never seen before.
There were no outward signs to indicate the extremes which were linked together by the encircling arms of those two women, but the perceptions of my soul were quickened to discern that a legion phantoms from each of the two conditions peopled that spot, and wrestled with terrible vigour for the victory. The winds paused as they passed by, to watch the issue of the conflict; the flowers trembled alternately with hope and fear; the trees folded their arms with statuesque stolidity; and even the grass bade its pulse stand still lest in the absorption of nourishment, the movement of its expansion should give advantage to the enemy of life. Yet in this audible silence I did not fear or doubt the issue; why, I cannot tell, except it was that Cushna endowed me with his confidence, by which I realised that truth and love alone have an inherent immortality; death, pain, and hell are mortal, and having once been felled, they can never rise again. The omnipotence of right surrounded and enveloped us, its mystic influence thrilled me with its power, bidding me stand still – as the Prophet of Sinai once commanded the Israelites to stand in such a presence – and see the salvation of our God.
Still unconscious of our approach, their communion continued its unbroken flow, until they reached a point in the grounds where some distant object was brought within their view, the sight of which roused Marie from her reverie, prompting a degree of animation and interest which contrasted forcibly with her previous tranquillity. I was not unpleasantly affected at the change, since it broke the protracted spell which had enthralled me, and I was again anxious to be brought into closer contact and learn the story of her in whom my conductor manifested such a deep interest. I was curious, however, to know what had wrought such a change in her manner, and asked him for the explanation.
“From that point they obtained a magnificent view of the country,” he replied, “extending to the region of the hall from which we have come. This brings back to Marie a somewhat indefinite recollection of a home in which she slept her first exhaustion away, after she was induced to leave the place of her torment. The memory of that brief period – between the time when she awoke and her coming here – Azena uses to inspire her hope and desire to get away and re-mingle in those scenes, and for that purpose they will remain as long as possible where they are. We, however, may be of equal assistance in another way, and so I think it is well to make them aware of our presence now.”
With this he projected a small but brilliant flash which immediately arrested their attention. Marie’s face positively beamed with pleasure as she recognised who was calling her, and, relinquishing her embrace of Azena, she ran towards us and greeted Cushna with all the affection of a daughter. My presence was forgotten in those first moments of re-union, not being at all necessary to their happiness, and since there is no formality of introduction demanded in this life, I joined Azena and left Cushna to make all necessary explanations then call for me when he desired my company. I was surprised to find how free and unrestrained our intercourse was from the moment we met. Turning from our friends we walked by mutual consent towards the point at which they were standing when Cushna called them. As we did so I asked:
“Does this place seem dull and gloomy to you in comparison with your own home?”
“Dull!” she exclaimed, her face suffused with the brightness of her smile. “No, no, anything but that! Heaven consists in condition more than locality, and to have a share in driving the clouds from poor Marie’s life is quite sufficient to turn any place into a heaven.”
I was silenced; for it was by no means difficult to conceive that heaven would always be found closely attendant upon such a companion, and I could appreciate the benefits to be derived from silent communication such as Marie was indulging in when we first saw them. The music of her laughter would soon prove fatal to melancholy, and before the brightness of her eyes the clouds of sorrow be compelled to disappear. With the slight knowledge I possessed of the law of procedure here, I could easily understand her attendance and ministry upon Marie; it was another example of the unvarying and perfect fitness of every detail of this life to its requirement and necessity. What could be more apposite than that this poor, wounded, crushed soul – that it was occasioned by her own sin does not alter the fact – should be entrusted to the tender and patient care of a nurse whom a painter would solicit from the gallery of dreams to sit as a model of charity. If throughout eternity, heaven did no more than knit such hearts together in the close affection I had witnessed, it would – well – that would make it heaven.
“I am anxious to see the view which Cushna tells me may be had from the bottom of the grounds,” I remarked presently.
“Yes! You must see that,” she replied. “it is just like that dear old Doctor Grandpa to find this place for Marie.”
“I don’t think that he has much the appearance of a grandfather,” I said. “Though every inch of him is a doctor.” Yet there was something about him in spite of his youthful visage which told me that that dual epithet was the most comprehensive and correct one which could be applied to him. He had been an unsolved enigma from the moment I first met him, and the idea of obtaining a further insight into the character which had so perplexed me was a very welcome one.
“No,” she responded. “He scarcely looks old enough, does he? But that is by no means due to his lack of years; it must rather be ascribed to the eternal youth we enjoy. When he came into this life he was both a Grandpa and a Doctor, and though he has grown so very youthful in his form and bearing, we are compelled to give him his double cognomen or we should only refer to half of what he is even now.”
“Has he been here long?”
“Yes! He lived in the early days of Egypt. I think it was prior to the building of the pyramids.”
“And does he remember his earth life?”
“I do not think he has forgotten a single incident either in his earth or present life, if he will give himself a moment to recall it. One of the things which makes him like a grandpa still is the delight he finds in gathering a number of us together and recounting episodes from his own experience for our instruction and amusement. He is, I think, the most unselfish man I ever met, having no thought for himself, but only existing to augment the happiness of every one with whom he comes in contact. Always planning new pleasures and surprises, when he introduces them he does it in a kind of apologetic tone, as though he had committed some offence and was about to ask for pardon; and when he sees the additional happiness invariably resulting from his labours, he himself is quite happy, first in sympathy with those whom he has made so glad, and then, again, that he has been the means of such enjoyment. Why, now; let me tell you how it is that Marie is here. He met her first on the other side of the mists. Has he told you?”
“Yes, he told me how and where he met her.”
“But he has not told you how long and difficult was his work before he could induce her to listen to him; of the conflict he had with malignant spirits who delighted in her torture and tried to frustrate all his endeavours; you know nothing of his many failures to make her come away from such horrible surroundings, if only for a space, to prove that no one but herself stood in the way of her peace, since the legitimate penalty of her sin had been paid. No one but himself knows the extent of this – and no one ever will, for it is buried with the thousand similar secrets in the oblivion of his own breast, never to be willingly recalled or thought of again. I have heard something of this from Marie; but, poor child, her memory of that period is happily overcast, though she has told me enough to show the struggle was a fierce one, and the reward of it will, by and by, be not the least of the bright jewels which will sparkle in his diadem. When at length he accomplished his object, he gained permission to carry her to his own home, where he could watch her as she slept through the prostration that succeeded her suffering, and while she slept he could scarcely be persuaded to leave her side, lest even in her sleep she should feel his absence and be lonely. Such devotion had its reward, and was powerful in removing much of her weight of trouble. His determination to make her happy won her confidence first, then her love, and finally was the means of enabling him to be the minister of her salvation.
“It is very pathetic to hear Marie speak of her waking, and Cushna’s tender but compulsory announcement that he would take her to her own home where she would be better for a time than even where she was. She was full of fear that if he left her she would be drawn back to the agony of the past, and pleaded long and tearfully to be allowed to stay. That could not be, and so he did the next best thing to it; knowing she must be located here for a time, he searched the district till he found this house, which affords from this point the view of which he spoke. This lovely valley is an incessant theme of admiration for her, and on the hillside in the far away, but yet distinctly visible in the glory-light which plays upon it, stands Cushna’s house – her other home, as she always calls it; – and she delights to stand here talking of him, and watching for his coming, as he generally does, straight across.”
The beautiful panorama unrolled before me, the circumstances we were discussing, and the close proximity of two of the chief actors in the thrilling drama, filled me too full for speech – I could only contemplate how each succeeding incident in my career bore ever stronger testimony to that law of love which is the mainspring of this life.
“At the time Cushna called us,” she continued, after a moment’s pause, “we were looking at his home, which Marie considers the central feature of the landscape, and she was wondering – ”
“How long do you intend to keep her waiting.” We turned to find Cushna had stolen upon us unobserved. How much of our conversation had been heard we had no idea, but his next sentence told us that he well knew what its drift had been. “Azena,” he said, “I am sadly afraid that you are a little tell tale, and I shall be compelled to administer some correction to you.”
“You are a good, dear old grand-pa, and deserve to be kissed for listening – there – there,” she cried, as she threw her arms around him and saluted him on either cheek.
“Oh, these children!” he replied, as he shook his head at her in mock gravity; and then, turning to me, he said, “ I think you had better go and keep Marie company while I give this child a scolding.”
“Why, you dear old darling, you would not know how to begin if you tried,” were the last words I heard as I turned away.
I was glad to be able to hear Marie’s story from her own lips, but as I neared her and saw her face darken by the shadow of some approaching agony – so changed from its brightness as she greeted Cushna – I would have gladly foregone the recital, if by that means I could have witnessed a return of her former happiness. But again I was impelled by that mysterious influence which operates to carry us over points of difficulty and uncertainty, always in the right direction, even though opposed to inclination and understanding for the time being. In spite of the consequences, I knew it was best to go forward and leave to Cushna’s future explanation whatever might transpire of an incomprehensible nature. I had already learned so much of the development of blessings from the most apparent improbabilities as to feel confident that all things worked together for good, and began to watch for the manifestation of all kinds of surprises in every new feature of the life as it was presented to me. As Marie came towards me, I was conscious of the effort she exerted to overcome the premonition which so visibly enveloped her, and the unsuccessful attempt she made to greet me with a smile which died in its birth-throb; but I knew that my own face only too faithfully represented my feelings at the moment, so our interview commenced with a greeting signally ominous of its tragic termination.
Cushna had made all necessary explanations as to the object of my visit, and so, with very few preliminaries, Marie proceeded to give me her experiences as follows:
“I am an American, the only child of a Southern millionaire idolised by my parents, and pampered, proud and wilful from my infancy. When I wished for anything I only had to speak and it was mine. My education, both by practice and by precept, taught me that money was almighty, and as its supply to us was practically unlimited, I grew up with the idea that I was to be obeyed, and no wish I cherished or expressed could ever be thwarted. Of course this tended to make me very exacting – even overbearing – but I was by no means cruel or wicked as the world would judge. Having the money I had a right to all the pleasure it would bring, and if my enjoyment was unfortunately the cause of pain to another, I was not to be blamed for that; it was their misfortune, and they had no right to expect me to forego my desire out of consideration to their feelings. Such was my philosophy, and I acted upon it.
“We were church people, my father always liberally contributing to the various agencies promoted therefrom; punctilious in our attendance at the services, my name being duly enrolled as a member upon reaching the appointed age. Whenever I felt inclined or desired an excuse for breaking an irksome engagement I would take a class in the Sunday school, or find it necessary to pay a charitable visit. It was not often, I allow, but as I looked upon it as an act of condescension upon my part to do such work at all, it was not to be expected that I should be anything like regular in my attention to those duties.
“There was never but one girl I could really call my friend – that was Sadie Norton. Our social position was fairly equal, but I being a trifle the older of the two, could rightfully assume the premier place. Then Sadie was not exactly the girl to command or lead, so I was in no way interfered with in my assumption of leadership, and for that reason our companionship became a very close one. A friendly rivalry existing between our parents was to some extent reflected by us, but without lessening the sisterly feeling which had been engendered, and rather strengthened than otherwise with years. We were always together, and no festival, sociable, at home, or surprise party was considered complete unless we were present; upon every scheme put forward at the church we were consulted; every philanthropic object sought our patronage, and before we were out of our teens every eligible fellow in the town and country was angling to catch us. This latter fact opened an avenue for a great increase of our fun; not that we thought of marrying, for a moment, but we very seriously interfered with many others who did, and for a year or two were perfectly enraptured at the number of matches we were enabled to break off. Presently a fine young fellow came along, bringing very satisfactory credentials to my father and others, and all the girls in the town set their caps at him. Sadie and myself determined to go for him as well, and by playing him, alternately, keep him from anyone else, as well as give him a teasing. But he took matters in a most awfully serious light, and before a month had passed made me a formal proposal. I must confess that I too felt very serious about the matter, and would have accepted him if that would not have ended the romance we had determined to enjoy. So I laughed at him, and when he enlisted my mother’s aid, I stood on my dignity, and very cavalierly told him I was not of the marrying kind. He went away looking very crestfallen, but I laughed.
“My experience of men had not been a long one, but I knew his cloud would only last till sunrise. Every man enters upon the April season of his life when he falls in love, and the way he is treated and trained by the woman he wooes, at such a time, has much to do with the formation of his permanent character. So I thought, and therefore determined to give him such a schooling as would bring him out the hero into whose keeping I would entrust myself, so far as I deemed prudent. I made a mistake. The morrow came, but brought no Charlie. I was piqued. He was trying for the mastery, but he would find his match. A week passed and I did not see him. Neither did Sadie, for I had prepared her in case he should try the effect of flirtation. A month went by without a sign of him; circumstances had also prevented me seeing much of my friend. Then we met. It was at Sadie’s birthday party; and the first thing she told me was that Charlie had proposed – my face lighted with the anticipation of the fun we should have presently. She continued – that she had accepted him. The blood rushed back to my heart – I stood speechless as a statue. In a moment my blood boiled and dashed through my veins in cataracts of maddened fury. Jealousy and disappointed love devoured me; my brain reeled under the strain; I fell, and remember no more.
“The day they were married I was swinging in the balances of life and death, from brain fever. All through my delirium their names were seldom off my tongue, pleading, entreating, or cursing them, as the frenzy impelled me; but after my reason returned I had strength of mind never to mention them again. The magic potency of wealth was pressed into service in every conceivable form to wean my thoughts from my sorrow, and so skilfully did I play the part I had arranged in the early days of convalescence, that everyone was presently congratulating themselves on matters not really being so serious as was at first imagined. They little dreamed my composure was but a mask, and that in my soul I was plotting and planning how to best obtain the revenge which I would either secure, or die in the attempt. Sadie had been false; had taken advantage of our temporary estrangement to carry her base design to success, and she had succeeded with fatal effect. She had deceived Charlie as wickedly as she had injured me, for it was impossible she could be the wife I should have made him. He was not so much to be blamed since he had been made the tool of her cunning duplicity. But she should feel the weight of my vengeance. I would find them if I had to travel the world in my quest; I would return her perfidy fourfold, and take him from her even if I died in the hour of my triumph.
“For five years I continued my secret but unsuccessful inquiries, but I never for one moment faltered or forgot my vow. So perfectly did I hide my jealousy that my acquaintances began to think I was really happy again. How little we know of the man, while we rapturously applaud the actor; the stage and the home have not infrequently a gulf between them quite as impassible as the division between Dives and Lazarus; and we poor simpering mortals laugh at the memorised lines, but have no eyes or ears for the life-blood which gurgles from the heart meanwhile. I was deaf and blind to everything but the one object of my life; they thought me happy, while there was nothing in earth or heaven could make me so but the man I had lost, and who had been stolen from me by the base ingratitude of my seeming friend.
“Accident discovered his whereabouts – a small paragraph in an old newspaper, from which I was cutting a pattern; I saw his name, learned all that was necessary, and at once began to formulate a plan for reaching him. Life from that moment assumed something of a hopeful hue; but my excitement very nearly ruined everything. I would to God that it had done so. Having found him, it was easy to go to him, since an old college friend was living in the same place, and to arrange to pay her a visit was only a matter of a few days. My next step was more difficult, as everything depended upon our first interview.
“One rash or false move and all would be lost. But even here fortune – or, as I know it now, misfortune – favoured me. I met him accidentally, and alone. He recognised me, and spoke before I was aware of his presence. I saw his agitation and knew his old love was not dead, but by an almost superhuman effort I preserved a seemingly indifferent calmness even when I asked after his wife. I read volumes in his reply; he had discovered his mistake, was not happy, and the assurance of it made me frantic with delight. He was mine – I knew it – if only I acted with caution, kept my hand concealed, and waited an appropriate opportunity. We met several times after the same fashion, but he never once visited me, or invited me to his house. Presently he asked me to keep a clandestine appointment. I refused. He urged it for the sake of ‘auld lang syne’; finally I consented. I was lost, but that was the price I had calculated to pay if I could win him, and I had done it. In less than a month his wife and children were deserted, and we were flying east.
“I was happy now that I had repaid Sadie’s deceit in her own coin. I could never be Charlie’s wife, but that was nothing; I was his, he was mine, and my account with my rival was square. We were together and alone, that was all I had craved for, and my revengeful prayer had been answered. In my rebellion God stood aside and let me gather all the necessities for a heaven of my own design, and when the work was finished, He bade me enter. Then, lo! I found my heaven to be God’s exquisite and perfect hell.
“Having accomplished my desire, and the tension under which I had lived so long being over, a speedy collapse ensued. I had never really recovered from my first blow, but my craving for revenge had given me strength which was only obtained by heavy drafts upon my constitution. No sooner had I attained my wish, and the necessity for duplicity over, than the tax upon my vitality put in its claim, and it was evident that I had but a short future before me. In less than two years I was a confirmed invalid, unable to move, while we were compelled to face the awful fact that I was dying. At this time my father found me, and reproaching me for the dishonour I had brought upon his name, vowed if ever Charlie crossed his path he would shoot him like a dog. I pleaded with him, but he was inexorable – told me Charlie had left me as he had left his wife, that he had quitted the town, had gone no one knew where, and that it was impossible I could ever see him again. All the old jealous fury came back at this, followed by brain fever, then delirium, and finally a blank.
“When I awoke it was dark – horribly dark; I could almost touch the blackness, and I was lying upon a bare floor, cold as a block of ice. I called Charlie – my father – my nurse! But there was no response save the echo of my own voice, which seemed to mock and rejoice at the terror I felt creeping over me. Where was I? Great God! Could it be possible that I had gone mad, or that I had been placed under restraint to keep me from following Charlie? I rose to make what inspection was possible of my surroundings, under the circumstances, but in the ague of my fear I fell – fell without the strength to rise. All my senses resolved themselves into the power of feeling; quickened and intensified a hundredfold that I might contemplate with horror the process of my own petrifaction – voiceless, sightless, sleepless.
“How I prayed for the fever and delirium to return and conquer the icy terror which crept so slowly, so agonisingly over me. Vain prayer! I was a prisoner in the rigid domain of despair, beyond the reach of help, or rest, or pity; the sportive toy of all the remorseless machinations which are germane to such a state. I was being slowly converted into a block of frozen – yet living – flesh, and my abnormal sense of feeling heightened as the infernal transformation went on. Why was it? Where was I? Who were my relentless persecutors? How long before the morning would break? Would the day bring me relief, or wake me from the agonising dream? These, and a thousand other queries, propounded their unending enigmas for my additional punishment, till I would gladly have rushed into the arms of madness for rest; but alas! I was deprived of even such a consolation. At length my feet, my hands, my head, my eyes, my tongue, my heart, my brain were icebound: then the furies boiled in my blood, and lashing it into angry foam by its excessive heat, sent it in maddened cataracts through my veins to finish the exquisite suffering, which I must needs lie still and bear.
“Of the termination of that period I have no recollection. Whether I suffered until pain wearied itself out in the intoxication of its own excesses, or whether the intensity of my torture became an anesthetic and lulled me into the sleep of agony, remains a mystery. I only know that for a space my existence lay in oblivion, but of its duration and nature I cannot say anything.
“When my memory again took up the thread of life I was still in the same state of semi-palpable blackness amid a silence which terrified me to listen to; but the sharp agony of my suffering was over, or, rather, I should say, a respite had been granted while the nature of my torment was being changed to one, if possible, of a more agonising description. I was still ignorant of my whereabouts, or of the character of the great change that had really taken place in my career, though I was quite conscious I had gained strength, was free from actual pain and had acquired the power to move if I desired to do so. I also quickly recognised how incalculably my condition had improved from that which immediately preceded my period of unconsciousness, but I yearned for some degree of light, either natural or artificial, that I might discover my surroundings and make some guesses as to what had taken place, as well as estimate the difficulties to be contended with.
“The duration of this suspense, in which my only companions were the fantastic shadows of the subterranean gloom, was too long for me to appraise – it seemed to be centuries, but I know now that such could not be – but at length – oh! such a length – I had my wish partly gratified. I saw a light; but it was so small and far away as to be useless for my purpose. No sooner did I observe it than I was conscious of an involuntary movement, as if I was being irresistibly drawn in that direction. At first I experienced an almost imperceptible gliding sensation, gradually increasing in velocity until I was carried from my feet and borne rushing through space as upon the wings of a hurricane. On and on, league after league, with an ever-increasing momentum towards that magnetic beacon which, expanding as I travelled, yet appeared to be as far away as ever.
Oh! the fear and suspense with which that aerial voyage filled me! It was not the pain of my previous punishment, but the dread of the consequences which might result, and I was powerless to avert, was almost as terrible in its effects. Suddenly the power by which I had been attracted or impelled seemed to be exhausted, and I fell, scared but unhurt, upon the threshold of that light, to find it radiated around the only person for whose presence I sighed, and wept, and groaned. It was Charlie! I had found him – was with him again. Something told me that the force by which I had been carried hither – reluctantly in my ignorance – was by some means connected with his intense desire to see me, and in my new-found happiness at our re-union, I wept and reproached myself for the hard thoughts I had so willingly entertained against the unknown benefactor who had come to my relief, released me from my prison-house, and so brought us together again in spite of my father’s strategy and opposition.
“Then another something dashed my hopes by suggesting that what I saw was only an hallucination – the cruel vagaries of a dream, and that I should presently wake to find my father as inexorable as ever, and Charlie gone I knew not whither. The thought that such a development might be realised was an unbearable one; the shadow of such a suspicion could not be allowed to rest upon me for a moment; I would take measures to resolve the doubt at once.
“I passed into the circle of light which enveloped him. How much he had changed since we parted. His jet-black hair was profusely lined with silver, the once calm face was furrowed, the brightness of his eyes was dimmed, and his stalwart form was bowed. At the moment he was thinking of me, and I was conscious of his having passed through an ordeal almost as fierce as that I had been compelled to bear. As I reached his side he murmured my name, while his hand moved as if to make an attempt to take my own, but lost in the depth of his reverie, perhaps unsuspecting that I was so near, he did not raise his eyes to meet my hungry gaze, which was feasting upon the sight of his presence. Oh! how happy I felt. His tone and manner revealed to me he loved me as much as ever, and made me fearful to put my project into execution, lest the result should prove unpropitious.
“He had not returned to Sadie, but driven from my side had found this retreat – where it was by no means troubled me or excited my curiosity – where he had perfected a plan for my deliverance; and was he not lost in abstraction, as he nervously awaited the result – so lost that he little knew what success had been accomplished. I lifted my head and saw that the far away look had not faded from his eyes, in which I noticed a strangely suspicious light was beaming. I started to my feet in horror, and shook him, in my fear that the joy of our re-union had proved too much, and that his reason had deserted him. He only shivered as if the room had grown chilly. Then I questioned my own sanity. Could it be possible my mysterious journey had been the delirium of a madwoman’s raving? ‘Oh! God!’ I cried, ‘reveal this mystery, or it will kill me. Charlie, Charlie! don’t you know me? Speak but one word, and tell me so. I have been ill; but I have never swerved in my love for you. If you think I have done wrong, oh! my love, forgive me, and let me nurse you back again to health. We will be happy yet. Come, let us go away. Say you know me, and I will be content; Charlie! just one word, dear; say you know me!’
“At this he roused himself abruptly, picked up a book, and began to read without so much as a word, a look, or a sign that he recognised my presence. I recoiled in amazement, dumbfounded. He was not mad – but how could I account for this warrantable treatment? Why would he not speak? Surely if my presence was unwelcome, he would tell me so; if he feared the discovery, he would take means to conceal me; if I was still the same to him as before, he would clasp me in his arms, and greet me. Anyhow, I could not account for my reception except upon the basis of that cruel suggestion, that I was only the victim of a dream. God knows my suffering was real; whether anything else would prove so should be presently determined, for I would watch and wait. By and by, I reproached him for his conduct, to try if that could win a response; but he only smiled, and wearily laying his book aside, turned to someone whom I could not see and said: ‘Will you tell your mamma that I wish to speak to her?’
“What did he mean? What was any other woman to him when I was present? Was it possible that he had gone back to Sadie after all, and wished her to be at hand to witness my humiliation? All my old jealousy was aroused at the thought, and a sudden frenzy carried me past all restraint, in anticipation of the coming scene. I felt a stranger enter, but was neither able to see nor hear who it was, a fact adding considerably to the mystery and terror which possessed me. Was I equally invisible and inaudible to her? It would seem so, for while I heard every word which Charlie uttered, and saw every movement he made, and could understand that the conversation had not the slightest reference to myself, I was still ignored as completely as if I had had no existence.
“Was it possible they were playing an arranged part to drive me to distraction? Who was this woman? Oh, God! that I had been equally deaf and blind to Charlie’s conduct as she was to me. It was not Sadie, but I heard him call her by a name he never could have given to me. Then I knew his baseness and treachery, found a full explanation of the conduct I had received. He was simply mocking me. Whether she was cognisant of my nearness or not, he was aware of it – had secured my presence that I might witness his happiness with a rival who had supplanted me, as I had taken him from Sadie – that he might laugh as he saw how the knowledge of it would torture me. This was too much. The certainty of his desertion maddened me; but to witness his love passages with my rival goaded me into a diabolical frenzy, and I determined to kill him before her eyes. Alas! ere I had time to move, the light which surrounded him expired, and I was left again in that Egyptian blackness, afraid to stir on account of the terror which came back with my blindness.
“Still I could hear him – worse, I could hear her; heard without the power to stop my ears, or prevent my knowledge of what she said and called him. Rage and jealousy tormented and mocked my helplessness, until I prepared to follow the sound and wreak my revenge by laying them dead side by side. Horror! When I would have slain them, I found that I was as powerless to move as I was to see, and I was compelled to stand and listen to his perfidy, unable to make a sound to drown the echoes of his caresses.
“A thousand times over would I have chosen the gradual petrifaction of my previous state; the tortures of hell were increasing; was it possible that it could hold anything in store more excruciating than my present punishment? I prayed to go mad, that in my madness I might find relief from such poignant pain; but my prayer came back like a stream of molten lead falling upon my head and burning fiery channels into my brain, increasing my agony yet a hundredfold, and bringing to me a consciousness that my actual retribution was but just commencing; that it would continue to increase, and I should be compelled to bear it, since no escape was possible. I was chained to him, and for periods of time, as long as eternity it seemed to be, I was made to endure this indescribable development of excruciating chastisement, with every nerve quickened to a sense of feeling defying description, while memory itself is not strong enough to grasp its intensity. Madness could not come to my relief; death could not listen to my pleadings; insensibility was palsied and could not approach me; pity was beyond the reach of my wailing, and mercy had not power to enter the domain in which I was a prisoner.
“What could I do? – Nothing but suffer! Why was it that no one would wake me from such a horrible nightmare? I cried, but there was none to answer me. I was in all the agonies of hell without even the poor consolation that I was suffering in company. I could not bear it; yet I could not escape. Was there no possible limit to human endurance – no high-water-mark of vengeance, which, having touched, I should know that my sin had been atoned for? I must have help from somewhere – anywhere – so long as it broke the infernal monotony of my ever increasing pain.
“Such a quick and lively sense had I of the exquisite tortures which were accumulating around me that I would gladly have served with slavish obedience any power which would manifest itself to change my condition if only to vary the punishment. If cessation was impossible, I would be content to take the rest of change, and for this I made a last appeal, even though my prayer returned, as in the case of that which initiated my state of fury – and I cried, ‘Oh, God or devil! any being of pity or remorseless cruelty, hear me, and end my torments! Take me, tear me, or destroy me; drown my reason past all hope of restitution, or, by one tornadic blast of torture, put an end to feeling and terminate this agony. Hell! Hell! in mercy, take pity on my condition; open your gates and let me bathe my sufferings in your fiery lake. Hell! Hell! I say, in mercy open and let me in!’”
As she proceeded with her story I perceived that the present faded from her mind, and she was back again, for the time, feeling and enduring a recollection of the horrible past. Gradually she changed into the woman she once had been until great beads of perspiration stood upon her face; her eyes dilated with a maniacal gleam, and she writhed in the sufferings which had been such a terrible reality. When her strength gave way with the intensity of her last effort she fell exhausted at my feet. I, too, had been so carried away by her dramatic recital as to be oblivious for the moment, as to where we were; and as she fell looked nervously around, almost expecting to see those mythical gates opening before me in answer to her entreaty. It was with a long sigh of relief that I recognised Cushna and Azena hastening towards us.
“Hush!” he said, calmly, as though the sight afforded him intense gratification. “Let her sleep, she will soon be better.”
“Cushna!” I cried, “Can this be true?”
“Yes, poor child, it is true; and much more that is beyond her power to tell you. She had been reaping that harvest of her jealousy for more than twenty years when I first saw her.”
“And you saved her. I can well understand why it is her chief pleasure to watch for your coming.” But he was too busily engaged with Marie to offer any reply.