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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 21
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    Arrived at the house I was again disappointed at not seeing Yoletta; yet
    without reasonable cause, since it was scarcely past midday, and she
    came out from attending on her mother only at long intervals--in the
    morning, and again just before evening--to taste the freshness of nature
    for a few minutes.

    The music-room was deserted when I went there; but it was made warm and
    pleasant by the sun shining brightly in at the doors opening to the
    south. I went on to the extreme end of the room, remembering now that I
    had seen some volumes there when I had no time or inclination to look at
    them, and I wanted something to read; for although I found reading very
    irksome at this period, there was really little else I could do. I found
    the books--three volumes--in the lower part of an alcove in the wall;
    above them, within a niche in the alcove, on a level with my face as I
    stood there, I observed a bulb-shaped bottle, with a long thin neck,
    very beautifully colored. I had seen it before, but without paying
    particular attention to it, there being so many treasures of its kind in
    the house; now, seeing it so closely, I could not help admiring its
    exquisite beauty, and feeling puzzled at the scene depicted on it. In
    the widest part it was encircled with a band, and on it appeared slim
    youths and maidens, in delicate, rose-colored garments, with butterfly
    wings on their shoulders, running or hurriedly walking, playing on
    instruments of various forms, their faces shining with gladness, their
    golden hair tossed by the wind--a gay procession, without beginning or
    end. Behind these joyful ones, in pale gray, and half-obscured by the
    mists that formed the background, appeared a second procession, hurrying
    in an opposite direction--men and women of all ages, but mostly old,
    with haggard, woebegone faces; some bowed down, their eyes fixed on the
    ground; others wringing their hands, or beating their breasts; and all
    apparently suffering the utmost affliction of mind.

    Above the bottle there was a deep circular cell in the alcove, about
    fifteen inches in diameter; fitted in it was a metal ring, to which were
    attached golden strings, fine as gossamer threads: behind the first ring
    was a second, and further in still others, all stringed like the first,
    so that looking into the cell it appeared filled with a mist of golden

    Drawing a cushioned seat to this secluded nook, where no person passing
    casually through the room would be able to see me, I sat down, and
    feeling too indolent to get myself a reading-stand, I supported the
    volume I had taken up to read on my knees. It was entitled _Conduct
    and Ceremonial,_ and the subject-matter was divided into short
    sections, each with an appropriate heading. Turning over the leaves, and
    reading a sentence here and there in different sections, it occurred to
    me that this might prove a most useful work for me to study, whenever I
    could bring my mind into the right frame for such a task; for it
    contained minute instructions upon all points relating to individual
    conduct in the house--as the entertainment of pilgrims, the dress to be
    worn, and the conduct to be observed at the various annual festivals,
    with other matters of the kind. Glancing through it in this rapid way, I
    soon finished with the first volume, then went through the second in
    even less time, for many of the concluding sections related to
    lugubrious subjects which I did not care to linger over; the titles
    alone were enough to trouble me--Decay through Age, Ailments of Mind and
    of Body; then Death, and, finally, the Disposal of the Dead. This done I
    took up the third volume, the last of the series, the first portion of
    which was headed, _Renewal of the Family_. This part I began to
    examine with some attention, and pretty soon discovered that I had now
    at last accidentally stumbled upon a perfect mine of information of the
    precise kind I had so long and so vainly been seeking. Struggling to
    overcome my agitation I read on, hurrying through page after page with
    the greatest rapidity; for there was here much matter that had no
    special interest for me, but incidentally the things which concerned me
    most to know were touched on, and in some cases minutely explained. As I
    proceeded, the prophetic gloom which had oppressed me all that day, and
    for so many days before, darkened to the blackness of despair, and
    suddenly throwing up my arms, the book slipped from my knees and fell
    with a crash upon the floor. There, face downwards, with its beautiful
    leaves doubled and broken under its weight, it rested unheeded at my
    feet. For now the desired knowledge was mine, and that dream of
    happiness which had illumined my life was over. Now I possessed the
    secret of that passionless, everlasting calm of beings who had for ever
    outlived, and left as immeasurably far behind as the instincts of the
    wolf and ape, the strongest emotion of which my heart was capable. For
    the children of the house there could be no union by marriage; in body
    and soul they differed from me: they had no name for that feeling which
    I had so often and so vainly declared; therefore they had told me again
    and again that there was only one kind of love, for they, alas! could
    experience one kind only. I did not, for the moment, seek further in the
    book, or pause to reflect on that still unexplained mystery, which was
    the very center and core of the whole mater, namely, the existence of
    the father and mother in the house, from whose union the family was
    renewed, and who, fruitful themselves, were yet the parents of a barren
    race. Nor did I ask who their successors would be: for albeit
    long-lived, they were mortal like their own passionless children, and in
    this particular house their lives appeared now to be drawing to an end.
    These were questions I cared nothing about. It was enough to know that
    Yoletta could never love me as I loved her--that she could never be
    mine, body and soul, in my way and not in hers. With unspeakable
    bitterness I recalled my conversation with Chastel: now all her
    professions of affection and goodwill, all her schemes for smoothing my
    way and securing my happiness, seemed to me the veriest mockery, since
    even she had read my heart no better than the others, and that chill
    moonlight felicity, beyond which her children were powerless to imagine
    anything, had no charm for my passion-torn heart.

    Presently, when I began to recover somewhat from my stupefaction, and to
    realize the magnitude of my loss, the misery of it almost drove me mad.
    I wished that I had never made this fatal discovery, that I might have
    continued still hoping and dreaming, and wearing out my heart with
    striving after the impossible, since any fate would have been preferable
    to the blank desolation which now confronted me. I even wished to
    possess the power of some implacable god or demon, that I might shatter
    the sacred houses of this later race, and destroy them everlastingly,
    and repeople the peaceful world with struggling, starving millions, as
    in the past, so that the beautiful flower of love which had withered in
    men's hearts might blossom again.

    While these insane thoughts were passing through my brain I had risen
    from my seat, and stood leaning against the edge of the alcove, with
    that curious richly-colored bottle close to my eyes. There were letters
    on it, noticed now for the first time--minute, hair-like lines beneath
    the strange-contrasted processionists depicted on the band--and even in
    my excited condition I was a little startled when these letters, forming
    the end of a sentence, shaped themselves into the words--_and for the
    old life there shall be a new life_.

    Turning the bottle round I read the whole sentence. _When time and
    disease oppress, and the sun grows cold in heaven, and there is no
    longer any joy on the earth, and the fire of love grows cold in the
    heart, drink of me, and for the old life there shall be a new life._

    "Another important secret!" thought I; "this day has certainly been
    fruitful in discoveries. A panacea for all diseases, even for the
    disease of old age, so that a man may live two hundred years, and still
    find some pleasure in existence. But for me life has lost its savor, and
    I have no wish to last so long. There is more writing here--another
    secret perhaps, but I doubt very much that it will give me any comfort."

    _When your soul is darkened, so that it is hard to know evil from
    good, and the thoughts that are in you lead to madness, drink of me, and
    be cured._

    "No, I shall not drink and be cured! Better a thousand times the
    thoughts that lead to madness than this colorless existence without
    love. I do not wish to recover from so sweet a malady."

    I took the bottle in my hand and unstopped it. The stopper formed a
    curious little cup, round the rim of which was written, _Drink of
    me_. I poured some of the liquid out into the cup; it was pale yellow
    in color, and had a faint sickly smell as of honeysuckles. Then I poured
    it back again and replaced the bottle in its niche.

    _Drink and be cured_. No, not yet. Some day, perhaps, my trouble
    increasing till it might no longer be borne, would drive me to seek such
    dreary comfort as this cure-all bottle contained. To love without hope
    was sad enough, but to be without love was even sadder.

    I had grown calm now: the knowledge that I had it in my power to escape
    at once and for eyer from that rage of desire, had served to sober my
    mind, and at last I began to reason about the matter. The nature of my
    secret feelings could never be suspected, and in the unsubstantial realm
    of the imagination it would still be in my power to hide myself with my
    love, and revel in all supreme delight. Would not that be better than
    this cure--this calm contentment held out to me? And in time also my
    feelings would lose their present intensity, which often made them an
    agony, and would come at last to exist only as a gentle rapture stirring
    in my heart when I clasped my darling to my bosom and pressed her sweet
    lips with mine. Ah, no! that was a vain dream, I could not be deceived
    by it; for who can say to the demon of passion in him, thus far shalt
    thou go and no further?

    Perplexed in mind and unable to decide which thing was best, my troubled
    thoughts at length took me back to that far-off dead past, when the
    passion of love was so much in man's life. It was much; but in that
    over-populated world it divided the empire of his soul with a great,
    ever-growing misery--the misery of the hungry ones whose minds were
    darkened, through long years of decadence, with a sullen rage against
    God and man; and the misery of those who, wanting nothing, yet feared
    that the end of all things was coming to them.

    For the space of half an hour I pondered on these things, then said: "If
    I were to tell a hundredth part of this black retrospect to Yoletta,
    would not she bid me drink and forget, and herself pour out the divine
    liquor, and press it to my lips?"

    Again I took the bottle with trembling hand, and filled the same small
    cup to the brim, saying: "For your sake then, Yoletta, let me drink, and
    be cured; for this is what you desire, and you are more to me than life
    or passion or happiness. But when this consuming fire has left me--this
    feeling which until now burns and palpitates in every drop of my blood,
    every fiber of my being--I know that you shall still be to me a sweet,
    sacred sister and immaculate bride, worshipped more of my soul than any
    mother in the house; that loving and being loved by you shall be my one
    great joy all my life long."

    I drained the cup deliberately, then stopped the bottle and put it back
    in its place. The liquor was tasteless, but colder than ice, and made me
    shiver when I swallowed it. I began to wonder whether I would be
    conscious of the change it was destined to work in me or not; and then,
    half regretting what I had done, I wished that Yoletta would come to me,
    so that I might clasp her in my arms with all the old fervor once more,
    before that icy-cold liquor had done its work. Finally, I carefully
    raised the fallen book, and smoothed out its doubled leaves, regretting
    that I had injured it; and, sitting down again, I held the open volume
    as before, resting on my knees. Now, however, I perceived that it had
    opened at a place some pages in advance of the passages which had
    excited me; but, feeling no desire to go back to resume my reading just
    where I had left off, my eyes mechanically sought the top of the page
    before me, and this is what I read:

    "...make choice of one of the daughters of the house; it is fitting that
    she should rejoice for that brighter excellence which caused her to be
    raised to so high a state, and to have authority over all others, since
    in her, with the father, all the majesty and glory of the house is
    centered; albeit with a solemn and chastened joy, like that of the
    pilgrim who, journeying to some distant tropical region of the earth,
    and seeing the shores of his native country fading from sight, thinks at
    one and the same time of the unimaginable beauties of nature and art
    that fire his mind and call him away, and of the wide distance which
    will hold him for many years divided from all familiar scenes and the
    beings he loves best, and of the storms and perils of the great
    wilderness of waves, into which so many have ventured and have not

    returned. For now a changed body and soul shall separate her forever
    from those who were one in nature with her; and with that superior
    happiness destined to be hers there shall be the pains and perils of
    childbirth, with new griefs and cares unknown to those of humbler
    condition. But on that lesser gladness had by the children of the house
    in her exaltation, and because there will be a new mother in the
    house--one chosen from themselves--there shall be no cloud or shadow;
    and, taking her by the hand, and kissing her face in token of joy, and
    of that new filial love and obedience which will be theirs, they shall
    lead her to the Mother's Room, thereafter to be inhabited by her as long
    as life lasts. And she shall no longer serve in the house or suffer
    rebuke; but all shall serve her in love, and hold her in reverence, who
    is their predestined mother. And for the space of one year she shall be
    without authority in the house, being one apart, instructing herself in
    the secret books which it is not lawful for another to read, and
    observing day by day the directions contained therein, until that new
    knowledge and practice shall ripen her for that state she has been
    chosen to fill."

    * * * * *

    This passage was a fresh revelation to me. Again I recalled Chastel's
    words, her repeated assurances that she knew what was passing in my
    mind, that her eyes saw things more clearly than others could see them,
    that only by giving me the desire of my heart could the one remaining
    hope of her life be fulfilled. Now I seemed able to understand these
    dark sayings, and a new excitement, full of the joy of hope, sprang up
    in me, making me forget the misery I had so recently experienced, and
    even that increasing sensation of intense cold caused by the draught
    from the mysterious bottle.

    I continued reading, but the above passage was succeeded by minute
    instructions, extending over several pages, concerning the dress, both
    for ordinary and extraordinary occasions, to be worn by the chosen
    daughter during her year of preparation: the conduct to be observed by
    her towards other members of the family, also towards pilgrims visiting
    the house in the interval, with many other matters of secondary
    importance. Impatient to reach the end, I tried to turn the leaves
    rapidly, but now found that my arm had grown strangely stiff and cold,
    and seemed like an arm of iron when I raised it, so that the turning
    over of each leaf was an immense labor. Then I read yet another page,
    but with the utmost difficulty; for, notwithstanding the eagerness of my
    mind, my eyes began to remain more and more rigidly fixed on the center
    of the leaf, so that I could scarcely force them to follow the lines.
    Here I read that the bride-elect, her year of preparation being over,
    rises before daylight, and goes out alone to an appointed place at a
    great distance from the house, there to pass several hours in solitude
    and silence, communing with her own heart. Meanwhile, in the house all
    the others array themselves in purple garments, and go out singing at
    sunrise to gather flowers to adorn their heads; then, proceeding to the
    appointed spot, they seek for their new mother, and, finding her, lead
    her home with music and rejoicing.

    When, reading in this miserable, painful way, I had reached the bottom
    of the page, and attempted to turn it over, I found that I could no
    longer move my hand--my arms being now like arms of iron, absolutely
    devoid of sensation, while my hands, rigidly grasping the book like the
    hands of a frozen corpse, held it upright and motionless before me. I
    tried to start up and shake off this strange deadness from my body, but
    was powerless to move a muscle. What was the meaning of this condition?
    for I had absolutely no pain, no discomfort even; for the sensation of
    intense cold had almost ceased, and my mind was active and clear, and I
    could hear and see, and yet was as powerless as if I had been buried in
    a marble coffin a thousand fathoms deep in earth.

    Suddenly I remembered the draught from the bottle, and a terrible doubt
    shot through my heart. Alas! had I mistaken the meaning of those strange
    words I had read?--was _death_ the cure which that mysterious
    vessel promised to those who drank of its contents? "When life becomes a
    burden, it is good to lay it down"; now too late the words of the
    father, when reproving me after my fever, came back to my mind in all
    their awful significance.

    All at once I heard a voice calling my name, and in a moment the tempest
    in me was stilled. Yes, it was my darling's voice--she was coming to
    me--she would save me in this dire extremity. Again and again she
    called, but the voice now sounded further and further away; and with
    ineffable anguish I remembered that she would not be able to see me
    where I sat. I tried to cry out, "Come quick, Yoletta, and save me from
    death!" but though I mentally repeated the words again and again in an
    extreme agony of terror, my frozen tongue refused to make a sound.
    Presently I heard a light, quick step on the floor, then Yoletta's clear

    "Oh, I have found you at last!" she cried. "I have been seeking you all
    over the house. I have something glad to tell you--something to make you
    happier than on that day--do you remember?--when you saw me coming to
    you in the wood. The mother has left her chamber at last; she is in the
    Mother's Room again, waiting impatiently to see you. Come, come!"

    Her words sounded distinctly in my ears, and although I could not lift
    or turn my rigid eyes to see her, yet I seemed to see her now better
    than ever before, with some fresh glory, as of a new, unaccustomed
    gladness or excitement enhancing her unsurpassed loveliness, so clearly
    at that moment did her image shine in my soul! And not hers only, for
    now suddenly, by a miracle of the mind, the entire family appeared there
    before me; and in the midst sat Chastel, my sweet, suffering mother, as
    on that day after my illness when she had pardoned me, and put out her
    hand for me to kiss. As on that occasion, now--now she was gazing on me
    with such divine love and compassion in her eyes, her lips half parted,
    and a slight color flushing her pale face, recalling to it the bloom and
    radiance of which cruel disease had robbed her! And in my soul also, at
    that supreme moment, like a scene starting at the lightning's flash out
    of thick darkness, shone the image of the house, with all its wide,
    tranquil rooms rich in art and ancient memories, every stone within them
    glowing, with everlasting beauty--a house enduring as the green plains
    and rushing rivers and solemn woods and world-old hills amid which it
    was set like a sacred gem! O sweet abode of love and peace and purity of
    heart! O bliss surpassing that of the angels! O rich heritage, must I
    lose you for ever! Save me from death, Yoletta, my love, my bride--save
    me--save me--save me!

    Then something touched or fell on my neck, and at the same moment a
    deeper shadow passed over the page before me, with all its rich coloring
    floating formless, like vapors, mingling and separating, or dancing
    before my vision, like bright-winged insects hovering in the sunlight;
    and I knew that she was bending over me, her hand on my neck, her loose
    hair falling on my forehead.

    In that enforced stillness and silence I waited expectant for some

    Then a great cry, as of one who suddenly sees a black phantom, rang out
    loud in the room, jarring my brain with the madness of its terror, and
    striking as with a hundred passionate hands on all the hidden harps in
    wall and roof; and the troubled sounds came back to me, now loud and now
    low, burdened with an infinite anguish and despair, as of voices of
    innumerable multitudes wandering in the sunless desolations of space,
    every voice reverberating anguish and despair; and the successive
    reverberations lifted me like waves and dropped me again, and the waves
    grew less and the sounds fainter, then fainter still, and died in
    everlasting silence.

    Chapter 21
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