Chapter XXI: Clarice
As Walloo-Malie finished speaking, I made the discovery, that Dracine had departed; but the exposition he had given me had been of such absorbing interest that I was lost to everything but the one great theme of his discourse. In his valued exposition I had again passed over every step I had taken since reaching the Court of the Voices, listening and watching, as he caught up every thread of’ detail, blending them together in orderly sequence, then throwing upon them the light of His clearer illumination that I might fully understand the nature, purpose and design of each and all. And the crowning charm of the service he rendered lay in the spirit of brotherly love in which he environed our communion. As he finished I became aware that we were walking in a path covered with a floral creeper which possessed a soothingly sweet perfume, and that Myhanene and Omra were on the point of meeting us.
“Well, Astroel,” was the cheery greeting of Myhanene, what do you think of the invisible fortifications by which we are protected from undesirable invasion?”
“That is a question not to be lightly or hastily answered,” I replied cautiously. “For the moment, let me content myself by saying that I think Isaiah was quite justified in declaring of the habitation of the church of God that ‘no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper’.”
“Well done, Astroel,” was Walloo-Malie’s prompt and generous commendation, expressed with a look of pleasurable animation that I was somewhat surprised to see in him. “Such discretion is most praiseworthy. It is never safe to deliver a judicial opinion respecting an incident revealed by a lightning-flash; wait until you have gained control of, and are able to meet the electric fluid; then, having investigated at your leisure, you will be able to speak with greater confidence.”
“That was a professional habit I contracted in the physical, and I have not yet seen any reason to discard it,” I replied, glad to find something of the old life that I could carry forward. “But changing the subject—if you will allow me to do so—may I ask your advice on a matter I had in mind when Dracine and I met you?”
“Certainly. Let me know in what I may be able to help you.”
“I scarcely know how to put it,” I began, with an uncertain diffidence; “but since you first mentioned the case of Clarice I have wondered a great deal about her—where she is, how she is placed, and whether I can do anything to help her, should she need it. While hoping that I might be able to be of assistance to her, I heard of the work that Zisvené is doing in the sleep-life; presently I met her, and, if she might be permitted, I am sure she would be glad to join with me. Again, if I may, I would like to do something to express the boundless gratitude I feel to God for the great mercy I have received in the exercise of His super-abounding love, and I can think of nothing which so commends itself to me, as an expression of what I feel, as trying to help poor Clarice. Do you think I might do so, and would it be permitted for Zisvené to go with me?”
We were still standing where Myhanene and Omra met us, and as I spoke I read not only approval of my proposition, but the great pleasure it gave to Myhanene especially to hear me make it. Walloo-Malie gave me a calmly veiled look that searched me through and through, then deliberately enquired:
“Can you forgive her for what she did?”
“There is nothing on my part to forgive,” I replied. “The loss of her dealt me a wound that would have been fatal had you not bound it up, but it did not kill my love for her—true love cannot die—is it not of God, eternal? Since I have met you and learned the wonderful story of your interposition on my own behalf, that love has been resurrected, strengthened, beautified, purified, and I feel as if I cannot go forward until she joins me. May I not get the best assistance that heaven can afford me, and do for her what so many have done for me?”
“Yes! In the strength of such a love you may do so, and you shall find it omnipotent to save; but as to whether Zisvené will be the best to go with you, you had better consult Myhanene.”
“So far as Zisvené is herself concerned there will not be any difficulty either on her part or my own,” Myhanene at once assured us. “We must ascertain where Clarice is to be found.”
With the faculties, and experience in the use of them, which each of my companions possessed, the information was received in less time than is required to write it. Clarice was in a very similar condition to that in which Cushna at first found Marie. Myhanene explained that Zisvené had already rendered good service to one even in a lower condition, and he was confident that in her eagerness to lift up the fallen she would be glad to assist me in my endeavour.
“Are you sure that all the circumstances are favourable to success?” Walloo-Malie enquired.
It was a veiled question, cautiously framed in order to avoid even a ripple of uneasiness on the surface of my ardent desire. I read its compassionate intent before I solved the deeper meaning of its depth. The one robbed the other of what might have been a sting of dread, and Walloo-Malie understood the thanks I enclosed him in a silent look.
Myhanene smiled in his optimistic confidence of the success of our proposed mission. It might be that we should find some initial difficulties, but Zisvené had already displayed something of a genius for surmounting them, and he had also noticed that she, being a sleep visitor, was occasionally able to exert a more persuasive influence over earth-bound souls, owing to being more physically sympathetic than he found to be the case with the usual ministrants. This unexpected development in her casual service had prompted him to watch her progress with interest, as possibly opening a new avenue in which the sleep-life might be more closely interblended with the spiritual.
Walloo-Malie became so impressed with Myhanene’s enthusiasm that it was presently arranged that Cushna should accompany us on our visit, if Zisvené consented to go, and the result was to be ultimately reported to Walloo-Malie.
On Zisvené’s next visit the scheme was instantly confirmed, and under Cushna’s guidance and control the three of us found ourselves again on the Mount, en route to my first practical mission of mercy.
It is no part of my desire or purpose to dwell in detail over the sufferings of the frail unfortunates who, yielding to temptation, have sought the shelter and oblivion of the soul’s dark cavern while they pay the penalty and endure the purgation of their sins. I have done that sufficiently already in describing the Harvest of Jealousy. (Through the Mists, pp. 173–205) Again we are engaged in reclamation. Let us hasten forward.
At the entrance of the cavern through the labyrinth of which we had to find our way in search of Clarice, Cushna and I experienced that change of dress which enables advanced ministers to meet the lower ones on more equal terms; as for Zisvené her sleep-robe was already of neutral grey from which the sheen naturally disappeared as we went forward into the darkness, where we carried just sufficient light to find our way through the apparently interminable windings.
Cushna led the way, enabling us, by the light he shed, to follow in comparative safety, but even so, we shuddered at the thought of those who had not only to find their way, but more so for those who were compelled to dwell in the horrors of such a place. Whether we passed by any who hid from us as we went by I cannot tell, but no one answered to Cushna’s frequent call of “Clarice,” nor, as we listened, did we hear the slightest sound of response.
Presently the rough passage opened into a cave of considerable proportions, at the entrance to which Cushna stopped, and we saw him raise his hand in an appeal for silence.
“She is here,” he said calmly, after a careful survey.
“Where? Let me go to her,” and I dropped Zisvené’s hand to hurry forward. But Cushna restrained me.
“You must be both cautious and patient, or she will get away,” he said. “In a place like this neither trust nor confidence is known. We have first to discover whether she is in a violent or submissive mood, and act accordingly.”
But we had not long to wait before we heard a sharp, antagonistic challenge:
“Who’s there? … What do you want? … Have I not suffered enough? … I have not injured you! … Why do you want to torment me further?”
The intense agony of the final appeal was terrible, but Cushna was adamant in his demand for silence, until he was assured that her invective was finished. Then, after a brief silence, he whispered:
“Now—speak softly and calmly, put all the tenderness and sympathy you can concentrate into the word, and call her name.”
“Clarice!” And all my yearning soul rushed out in the lingering utterance of that name as dear as life.
There was a silence as of death… Then—was it a sob or a contemptuous “You!” followed by another silence. Then, at a second sign from Cushna:
What would the answer be this time? Would it confirm the sob or the interjection? How can I record the intense eagerness with which I awaited the reply which did not come. Then, for the third time:
“Clarice! Do you not hear me?”
Silence again, and then a snarling sneer. “Hear you?—Yes! and know you too and if you are not—” She had evidently slipped or fallen, with a groan. Cushna firmly held me back when I would have rushed forward. When all was quiet again, I asked at his suggestion:
“Do you forget—”
She stopped me there with:
“Forget? Oh! who will teach me how to forget, to remember?”
“That is one of the reasons for which we have sought and found you,” Zisvené instantly replied, at Cushna’s suggestion. “Won’t you come to us, or let us come to you, and help you?”
“Who are you, and what do you want?”
“We are friends, and one is—”
“You lie,” she hissed. “No friends can ever come here. This is the pesthouse of fiends. Go! Your company would only add to my tortures.”
“Clarice, do you forget Don Fred?” I asked, and as I spoke Cushna led Zisvené towards where she was hiding in the darkness.
“Don Fred? Pshaw! Did I not say you had come to increase my torture? Is not hell’s rack sharp enough without you coming to give its wheels another turn?”
While Clarice was thus speaking, Zisvené, guided by Cushna, had approached and reached her. It was Zisvené who answered the enquiry.
“I would give it another—a backward turn, if you will allow me,” she said with calm, sisterly sympathy. “Surely you have now been sufficiently torn and mangled? Surely you have paid in full the penalty of the errors you have committed, and the hour of your redemption has come?” As she spoke she gradually drew nearer and nearer, trying to encircle the poor sufferer with an embracing arm, an effort which was at first repulsed, then sullenly permitted as Zisvené continued. “You have not been forgotten in your loneliness and desolation, but have been watched over in love, and—”
“Stop!” shrieked Clarice, as she savagely tore herself away. “Never mention that accursed word again in my hearing. Do tigers love as they tear the quivering flesh from the bones of their helpless victims? Love, forsooth—then in pity’s name show me what hate is like!”
“I understand all you mean by tigers and victims, my sister,” Zisvené replied soothingly as she cautiously moved forward. “But because some ghouls pray upon—”
“Stand back! Stand back!” Clarice cried in wild alarm. “For when the fires of this memory blaze up, I am aflame with fury. Don’t let me reach you, for every tortured nerve of my body cries out for revenge!”
“I think we had better leave her,” suggested Cushna.
“Not just yet, Daddie,” Zisvené pleaded. “I am sure she will be persuaded presently.”
“I hope she may, but I fear it,” he replied, acceding to her entreaty.
Again Zisvené addressed herself to the distressed one.
“Clarice, will you listen to me for a moment and try to calm yourself while—”
“Calm myself?” she ironically interjected. “Could you stand calm in the path of an avalanche? Could you keep cool in the embrace of a furnace?”
“I am afraid not,” Zisvené admitted; “but let me beg of you to hear what I wish to say to you, even though you refuse what Fred wants to tell you.”
“I know all he has to tell me,” she answered with stinging scorn. “He is a man, and would retrieve himself by talking again of love. Bah!”—and she broke into an outburst of hysterical laughter. “He!—who loved me so faithfully that, when I left him, could throw himself at once into the arms of a—”
“Stop!” I cried, for even for Cushna’s sake I could not longer keep my silence. “Don’t perjure your soul by making groundless accusations, Clarice. My love for you has never wavered or been trifled with, but is as pure and sacred now as when I first laid it at your feet. When the blow of your departure fell upon me, I lost my faith in women, as you have come to repudiate it in men. Through the years I wearily waited, watched, hoped and prayed for your return, and, could I have found you—no matter how or where—I would have taken you back to my heart and sheltered and defended you against the world. But I have only just heard of you from the lips of one who saved me from taking my life at the thought of losing you. What he made known to me revived my lingering hope; I appealed to him for help to enable me to find and save you. We have come for that—for that alone; for I love you so that I cannot enter heaven and leave you here, now that I have found you.”
Whether it was the sting of her false accusation, or whether it was the impassioned yearning of my soul to secure her liberty, I know not – perhaps may never know—but as I began to speak, something arrested, then stifled, her hysterical frenzy, and with a strange, almost ominous silence she listened until, in the intensity of my feelings, I found myself at a loss for words, and suddenly ceased. Then came a brief, problematical and trying silence, before she answered in a voice as quiet and calm as it had hitherto been furious, but with a keen and bitter sarcasm:
“It was the act of a genius to make a lawyer of you. How Lucifer must envy your magical power to make black appear white—your poetic skill in the manipulation of a lie. It is my misfortune that I have met you before, and am acquainted with your art, or you might impose upon me and catch my feet in the net your lying tongue so gracefully spreads. Go! Leave me! I had better bear my present torture than let you lead me into something worse.”
And the shudder with which she accompanied her decision swept over us like an icy blast.
Again Zisvené stepped into the breach with the suggestion:
“But you have not met me before. Won’t you allow me to try to help you?”
“Our not having met before may or may not be my misfortune,’’ came her prompt and snappish reply. “Strangers must be content to be judged by the company they keep. Your company may be your misfortune on this occasion, and I want none of it.”
But Zisvené was persuasively, affectionately insistent.
“Are you quite sure that you are not mistaken as to what Fred’s conduct has been in relation to you? Is it not possible that you may be doing him an injustice and, at the same time, yourself a terrible wrong, by cherishing these feelings against him? When you knew him, valued being in his company, and hoped to marry him, did you know him to be the man you now imagine him to be? Would you have endangered your own good name by associating with him, had you thought that others saw him as you now charge him with having been?” As she spoke Zisvené drew nearer, touched, then took her hand, then a sympathetic arm crept round the unresisting waist, as the speaker proceeded with an ever-increasing tenderness in her voice: “I am asking you, not for myself, dear, nor for Fred, but for your own sake, to consider what I suggest. You knew him intimately; I did not—do not. I am equally a stranger to both of you; but I am a woman, with a woman’s heart, a woman’s sympathy for those who are suffering, and a woman’s desire to help a sister who has met with misfortune.
Zisvené’s soothing appeal at once touched and commended itself to the almost expiring or neglected sense of justice in the sufferer. The storm of resentment and guilty humiliation at being discovered in such a condition was arrested, and a brief period of doubtful uncertainty trembled in the balance, as Zisvené continued. When she acknowledged to being a stranger to both equally, Clarice gave a perceptible start, and as the speaker ceased, she anxiously enquired:
“Are you really as much a stranger to him as to me?”
“Yes; almost equally so. I have known of him, but we have only met once, before he mentioned you to me, and said how anxious he was to find and help you. Then I asked to be allowed to join with him. Are you curious to know why? I will tell you.” Zisvené had by now adopted an almost maternal tone and attitude towards the half-distrustful, halfhopeful unfortunate. “You will know me better presently; then you will discover how terribly I suffer at the sight or thought of even an animal in pain. I love them so that the sight of a bearing rein on a horse, the use of a whip, a heavy load, or inconsiderate pace up a hill, will torment me for hours; and if I feel so for the dumb brute, is it strange that I feel even more so for children and my fellow sisters? So when Aph—” she stopped and corrected herself— “Fred spoke of his coming to find you, you can scarcely imagine how I wanted to come with him. I did not know you—knew nothing about you, save that you were an old friend of his, but I learned that you were in trouble; and I wanted to help you. That is how and why I am here. And now that I am here, won’t you let me help you?”
“No, you do not know me,” Clarice responded with almost despairing sorrowfulness. “If you did, you would not want to touch me. Let me tell you what I have been and done.”
“That would make no difference, nor is it the least necessary for me to know. It is enough for me that you are in need of help and sympathy. You may be even worse than you would care to confess. If so, you stand the more in need of the Christ-like ministry that would say to you, ‘neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.’ I have come to you, in that same spirit, to tell you that if you recognize that you have been wrong, there is no necessity for you to continue so. No one wishes for you to hide yourself here. Don’t you remember how you used to hear, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’? These were little more than a form of words to us in the thoughtless days that are past, but they have a life and death meaning to us now. I have felt the import of them; you have learned the awful truth of not heeding them. But they are still true. You are wanting to tell me what you have been, and done; but why should you? He who reads the heart, in the wish to tell me, hears and knows your full confession, and has already sent us to lead you out of this vile darkness towards His marvellous light. Won’t you come? Is this horrible place so much your ideal of happiness that you wish to remain? Have you lost all desire for the innocent and unsullied pleasures of life? Do you not wish for reunion with the friends of the past, before you fell into the hands of the tempter? Looking back from this place in which your sensitive soul is quivering in loathsome agony, does the glorious and vanished past possess no attraction for you? We want to lead you back. You may come. Won’t you? You have been here, alone, too long. Will you not come back? Come! We know the way and will go with you.”
As Zisvené thus tenderly and patiently pleaded with Clarice, while intently drinking in her persuasive arguments, I was carried away and was again beholding that wondrous miracle of the Magnetic Chorale, with eyes that were now open to behold its inner mystic meaning. While Clarice fell more and more under the spell of Zisvené’s entreaties. I saw a halo of that life-giving sympathy beginning to tremble around the speaker, which I had first seen poured forth to fill that great temple of love to be used by the hand and will of Siamedes to bathe and set at liberty the contorted forms of those who had been held in bondage.
In this case it was not an anthem that rolled in soul-stirring harmony as the miracle of love proceeded, but my quickened senses caught the solo effects of light, and sound, and perfume, as the sisterly sacrifice was laid upon the altar of affection. Oh, with what suppressed sighs of gratitude did I watch the progress of the ministry—the gradual snapping of the cords of resentment, the wonder excited by the tender and passionate pleading, the cautiously responsive yielding, the birth of confidence and hope, the first thrill of sympathetic response: then the fountain of feeling bursting forth, and Clarice fell in a paroxysm of repentance into the arms of her newly-found sister.
What she passed through in that awful spasm, neither of the three who watched could possibly conjecture. That can only be known to the sufferer and God. But, happily, it was of short duration, but it paid the balance of the penalty. Presently the storm began to subside; Cushna saw there was no need to continue his disguise, and the cave was at once softly illuminated by the natural light we possessed; the arms that clung so tenaciously to Zisvené ‘s relaxed; the storm-swept face was lifted, and with wondrously perplexed eyes Clarice looked upon the scene.
“Come, dear,” Zisvené entreated, “let us take you out of this horrible den.”
“You cannot—there is no way out,” she sobbed.
“Are you quite sure, dear? Come and let us try if we cannot find one.”
“I didn’t … mean that,” she answered in a voice that was still broken by sobs; “there is a way … somewhere … but no one … is allowed to pass.”
“Who or what is there to prevent us?”
“Is not the blackness, the innumerable windings, the many pitfalls—” she shuddered— “and tortures by the way enough to defy our escape?”
“Not when you have a light to guide you; and the light of love which now shines upon you will go with us all the way. Come, let us be going.”
“I cannot—dare not; much as I long to get away. If you knew the agony of the torture I should incur, you would not ask me,” and she shook as with an ague of dread at the thought of it.
“May she not come, Cushna?” asked Zisvené. “You have been on these missions many times. May she not come?
“That is why we have been sent to help her. Come, my sister, we will lead the way and guide you. There is nothing to hold and keep you but your own refusal.”
There was something in Cushna’s tone and bearing that seemed to arouse a degree of confidence in her. She took a step forward in the process of awakening, passed her hand across her eyes, shivered slightly, then looked around in an endeavour to realize what was really taking place.
“Oh! My God—my God!” she groaned as she shook herself free from Zisvené ‘s arm and stood resolutely still. “If only I could dare! But I am not able to run the risk—to bear the light.”
“Let Zisvené and I lead and support you,” I volunteered, “and the light will come so gradually that you will scarcely notice how gently the darkness will loose its hold. We will hold you up while your steps grow strong and certain. As we go your confidence will return, the terrors of these caves will be overcome, the dread will be left behind, your loneliness will be past, and our dear friend, Cushna, will show us where you may rest in peaceful comfort, beyond the reach of this hell of torture.”
As I spoke Zisvené and I took hold of her on either side, Cushna going on before. and so we moved slowly forward. Occasionally she brought us to a stand as a recurring doubt caused her to hesitate. But patience won the victory. Each step we took without our progress being contested or any disaster encountered, tended to stimulate the slender confidence our sympathy had inspired, and, presently, at every step a sign of light began to make its presence known and imperceptibly increased.
As the light grew her courage strengthened, hope began to rise. doubts and fears shrank back into the gloom. Seeing her way she gradually freed herself from our support, but clung tentatively to the touch of friendship and sympathy on either side. She did not speak, but an occasional half-suppressed sigh revealed more than words had power to convey. And so we were enabled to bring her back from her prison house to the restful shelter Cushna knew, where she would be able to recollect herself, where she would be able to recollect herself, grow familiar with more healthful surroundings, receive our frequent visits, meet with new friends, and gradually grow into the modes and habits of the life that leads from the blackness of hell, through the daybreak of hope, into the unclouded noon of the eternal day which constitutes the soul’s true home.