I had proceeded but a short distance when I saw Faithful Friend sitting by the wayside, evidently waiting for me. I was truly glad to see him again and to have further guidance from him. We greeted one another with much cordiality. He was now, he said, appointed to accompany me during a part of my present journey, and he told me of many strange circumstances which had befallen him and which I am sure would prove very interesting, but as they do not properly belong to my own Wanderings I will not give any account of them here.
Faithful Friend took me to a tall tower, from the top of which we could see all over the city we were about to visit this view of it beforehand being, he said, likely to prove both useful and interesting to me. We were, as I have said, surrounded always by this dark midnight sky and heavy smoky atmosphere somewhat like a black fog yet different and not quite so dense, since it was possible to see through it. Here and there this darkness was lighted up in some places by the strange phosphorescent light I have described, and elsewhere by the lurid flames kindled from the fierce passions of the spiritual inhabitants.
When we had climbed to the top of the tall tower, which appeared to be built of black rocks, we saw lying below us a wide stretch of dark country. Heavy night clouds hung upon the horizon, and near to us lay the great city, a strange mixture of magnificence and ruin, such as characterized all the cities I saw in this dark land. A treeless blackened waste surrounded it and great masses of dark blood-tinged vapor hung brooding over this great city of sorrow and crime. Mighty castles, lofty palaces, handsome buildings, all stamped with ruin and decay all bleared and blotched with the stains of the sinful lives lived within them. Crumbling into decay, yet held together by the magnetism of their spiritual inhabitants buildings that would last while the links woven by their spiritual occupants' earthly lives held them in this place, and would crumble into the dust of decay whenever the soul's repentance should sever those links and suffer it to wander free; crumble into decay, however, only to be reconstructed by another sinful soul in the shape into which his earthly life of pleasure should form it. Here there was a palace there beside it a hovel. Even as the lives and ambitions of the indwelling spirits had been interwoven and blended on earth, so were their dwellings constructed here side by side.
Have you ever thought, ye who dwell yet on earth, how the associates of your earthly lives may become those of your spiritual? How the ties of magnetism which are formed on earth may link your spirits and your fates together in the spirit land so that you can only with great difficulty and much suffering sever them? Thus I saw in these buildings before me the proud patrician's palace, built of his ambitions and disfigured by his crimes, joined to the humble abodes of his slaves and his parasites and panderers of earth which had been as surely formed by their desires and disfigured by their crimes, and between which and his palace there were the same links of spiritual magnetism as between himself and those who had been the sharers and instruments of his evil ambitions. He was no more able to free himself from them and their importunities than they were able to free themselves from his tyranny, till a higher and purer desire should awaken in the souls of one set or the other of them and thus raise them above their present level. So it was that they still repeated over again their lives of earth in hideous mockery of the past, impelled thereto by that past itself, their memories presenting to them over and over again as in a moving panorama their past acts and the actors, so that by no plunge into wild excess in that dark land could they escape the grinding of memory's millstones, till at length the last lust of sin and wickedness should be ground out of their souls.
Over this great spiritual city of past earth lives hung, as I have said, patches of light of a dim misty appearance like faintly luminous smoke, steel grey in color. This, I was told, was the light thrown off from the powerful intellects of the inhabitants whose souls were degraded but not undeveloped, and whose intellects were of a high order but devoted to base things, so that the true soul light was wanting and this strange reflection of its intellectual powers alone remained. In other parts of the city the atmosphere itself seemed on fire. Flames hung in the air and flickered from place to place, like ghostly fires whose fuel has turned to ashes ere the flames have burned out, and as the floating phantom flames were swept to and fro by the currents of the air I saw groups of dark spirits passing up and down the streets heedless, or perhaps unconscious, of these spectral flames that were thrown into the atmosphere by themselves, and were created by their own fierce passions which hung around them as spiritual flames.
As I looked and gazed upon this strange city of dead and ruined souls, a strange wave of feeling swept over me, for in its crumbling walls, its disused buildings, I could trace a resemblance to the one city on earth with which I was most familiar and which was dear to my heart since I had been one of her sons, and I called aloud to my companion to ask what this meant what was this vision I beheld before me. Was it the past or the future or the present of my beloved city?
He answered, "It is all three. There before you now are the buildings and the spirits of its past such, that is, as have been evil and there among them are buildings half finished, which those who are dwelling there now are forming for themselves; and as these dwellings of the past are, so shall these half finished buildings be in the days to come when each who builds now shall have completed his or her lifework of sin and oppression. Behold and look upon it well, and then go back to earth a messenger of warning to sound in the ears of your countrymen the doom that awaits so many. If thy voice shall echo in even one heart and arrest the building of but one of these unfinished houses, you shall have done well and your visit here would be worth all that it may cost you. Yet that is not the only reason for your coming. For you and me, oh! my friend, there is work even in this city; there are souls whom we can save from their darkened lives, who will go back to earth and with trumpet tongues proclaim in the ears of men the horrors of the retribution they have known, and from which they would save others.
"Bethink you how many ages have passed since the world was young and how much improvement there has been in the lives and thoughts of the men who dwell upon it, and shall we not suppose that even ordinary reason might admit it must naturally be due to the influence of those who have returned to earth to warn others from the precipice over which themselves had fallen in all the pride and glory and lust of sin. Is it not a far nobler ideal to place before men the idea that God sends these his children (sinful and disobedient once if you will, but repentant now), back to earth as ministering spirits to war and help and strengthen others who struggle yet in the unregenerated sinfulness of their lower natures rather than believe that he would doom any to the hopeless, helpless misery of eternal punishment? You and I have both been sinners beyond pardon, some of the good of earth might have said yet we have found mercy in our God even after the eleventh hour, and shall not even these also know hope? If they have sunk lower than we, shall we therefore in our little minds set limits to the heights to which they may yet climb? No! perish the thought that such horrors as we have looked upon in these Hells could be eternal. God is good and his mercy is beyond any man's power to limit."
We descended now from the tower and entered the city. In one of the large squares with whose earthly counterpart I was very familiar we found quite a large crowd of dark spirits assembled, listening to some sort of proclamation. Evidently it was one which excited their derision and anger for there were yells, and hoots, and cries resounding on all sides, and as I drew yet more near I perceived it was one which had been read recently in the earthly counterpart, and had for its object the further liberation and advancement of the people an object which, down here in this stronghold of oppression and tyranny, only provoked a desire for its suppression and these dark beings around me were vowing themselves to thwart the good purpose as far as lay in their power. The more men were oppressed and the more that they quarreled and fought against the oppression with violence, the stronger were these beings here below to interfere in their affairs and to stir up strife and fightings among them. The more men became free and enlightened and improved, the less chance was there that these dark spirits would be drawn to earth by the kindling of kindred passions there and thus be enabled to mingle with and control men for their own evil purposes. These dark beings delight in war, misery and bloodshed, and are ever eager to return to earth to kindle men's fierce cruel passions afresh. In times of great national oppression and revolt when the heated passions of men are inflamed to fever heat, these dwellers of the depths are drawn up to earth's surface by the force of kindred desires, and excite and urge on revolutions, which, begun at first from motives that are high and pure and noble, will under the stress of passion and the instigation of these dark beings from the lower sphere become at last mere excuses for wild butcheries and excesses of every kind. By these very excesses a reaction is created, and these dark demons and those whom they control are in their turn swept away by the higher powers, leaving a wide track of ruin and suffering to mark where they have been. Thus in these lowest Hells a rich harvest is reaped of unhappy souls who have been drawn along with the evil spirits that tempted them.
As I stood watching the crowd, Faithful Friend drew my attention to a group of spirits who were pointing over at us and evidently mediated addressing us.
"I shall go," said he, "for a few moments and leave you to speak with them alone. It will be better to do so, for they may recognize me as having been here before, and I would wish you to see them by yourself. I shall not, however, be far away, and will meet you again later when I see that I can help you by doing so. At this moment something tells me to leave you for a little."
As he spoke he moved away, and the dark spirits drew near to me with every gesture of friendliness. I thought it as well to respond with politeness, though in my heart I felt the most violent repugnance to their company, they were so repulsive looking, so horrible in their wicked, leering ugliness.
One touched me on the shoulder, and as I turned to him with a dim sense of having seen him before, he laughed a wild horrid laugh and cried out: "I hail thee, friend who I see dost not so well remember me as I do thee, though it was upon the earth plane we met before. I, as well as others, then sought hard to be of service to thee, only thou wouldst have none of our help, and played us, methinks, but a scurvy trick instead. None the less for this, we, who are as lambs, didst thou but know us, have forgiven thee."
Another also drew near, leering in my face with a smile perfectly diabolical, and said: "So ho! You are here after all, friend, in this nice land with us. Then surely you must have done something to merit the distinction? Say whom you have killed or caused to be killed, for none are here who cannot claim at least one slain by them, while many of us can boast of a procession as long as the ghosts that appeared to Macbeth, and others again our most distinguished citizens count their slain by hundreds. Did you kill that one after all? ha! ha! ha!" and he broke into such a wild horrible peal of laughter that I turned to fly from them for like a flash had come across my mind the memory of that time when I, too, could have been almost a murderer, and I recognized in these horrible beings those who had surrounded me and counseled me how to fulfill my desire how to wreak my vengeance even though no earthly form was still mine. I recoiled from them but they had no thought to let me go. I was here drawn down, as they hoped, at last and they sought to keep me with them that I might afford them some sport and they might avenge themselves upon me for their former defeat.
I read in their minds this thought, though outwardly they were crowding around me with every protestation of hearty friendliness. For a moment I was at a loss what to do. Then I resolved to go with them and see what they intended, watching at the same time for the first opportunity to free myself from them. I therefore suffered them to take me by an arm each, and we proceeded towards a large house on one side of the square which they said was theirs, and where they would have the pleasure of introducing me to their friends. Faithful Friend passed close to us and looking at me impressed the warning,
"Consent to go, but beware of entering into any of their enjoyments or allowing your mind to be dragged down to the level of theirs."
We entered and passed up a wide staircase of greyish stone, which like all things here bore the marks and stains of shame and crime. The broad steps were broken and imperfect, with holes here and there large enough, some of them, to let a man through into the black dungeon-like depths beneath. As we passed up I felt one of them give me a sly push just as we were stepping over one of these, and had I not been watching for some such trick I might have been tripped up and pushed in. As it was I simply drew aside and my too officious companion narrowly escaped tumbling in himself, whereat the rest all laughed and he scowled savagely at me. I recognized him just then as the one whose hand had been shriveled in the silver ring of fire drawn around my darling on the occasion when her love had drawn me to her and saved me from yielding to these dark fiends. This spirit held his hand carefully hidden under his black cloak, yet I could see through it, and I beheld the shriveled hand and arm, and knew then that I might indeed beware of its owner.
At the top of the staircase we passed into a large magnificent room, lighted up by a glare of fire and hung around with dark draperies which were in perfect rags and tatters and all splashed with crimson stains of wet blood, as though this had been the scene of not one but many, murders. Around the rooms were placed ghostly phantoms of ancient furniture ragged, dirty, and defaced, yet retaining in them a semblance to an earthly apartment of great pretensions to splendor. This room was filled with the spirits of men and women. Such men! and alas! such women! They had lost all that could ever have given them any claim to the charms and privileges of their sex. They were worse to look upon than the most degraded bedraggled specimens to be seen in any earthly slum at night. Only in Hell could women sink to such an awful degradation as these. The men were to the full as bad or even if possible worse, and words utterly fail me to describe them, were it indeed advisable to do so. They were eating, drinking, shouting, dancing, playing cards and quarreling over them in short, going on in such a way as the worst and lowest scenes of earthly dissipation can but faintly picture.
I could see a faint reflection of the earthly lives of each, and knew that each and all of them, men and women alike, had been guilty, not only of shameless lives, but also of murder from one motive or another. On my left was one who had been a Duchess in the days of the sixteenth century, and I beheld that in her history she had from jealousy and cupidity poisoned no less than six persons. Beside her was a man who had belonged to the same era, and had caused several persons obnoxious to him to be assassinated by his bravoes, and had moreover slain another with his own hand in a most treacherous manner during a quarrel.
Another woman had killed her illegitimate child because it stood between her and wealth and position. She had not been many years in this place and seemed more overcome by shame and remorse than any of the others, so I resolved if possible to get near to and speak to her.
My entrance was greeted with great shouts of laughter and wild applause, while half a dozen or so of eager hands took hold of me and dragged me to the table, whereupon there were cries: "Let us drink to the damnation of this our new Brother! Let us baptize him with a draught of this our new Brother! Let us baptize him with a draught of this fine cooling wine?" And before I well realized their intentions, they were all waving their glasses aloft amidst yells and shouts and horrible laughter, whilst one, seizing a full glass of the fiery liquid, tried to throw it over me. I had just presence of mind enough to step lightly aside, so that the liquor was nearly all spilt upon the floor and only a small portion fell upon my robe which it scorched and burned like vitrol, while the wine itself turned into a bluish flame such as one sees with lighted whiskey and disappeared at last with an explosion as of gunpowder. Then they put before me a tray full of dishes which at first sight resembled earthly delicacies, but on closer inspection I saw they were full of the most horrible corrupting and loathsome maggots. As I turned away from them one hag of a woman (for she was much more old and ugly and horrible to look upon than the most degraded specimen you can imagine) whose bleared eyes and fiendish expression made me recoil from her, seized me round the neck and tried, with many grimaces which she intended for coquettish smiles (she had been, oh ye powers! a great beauty on earth) to induce me to join her and her party in a little game of cards. She said: "The stakes for which we would play consist of the liberty of the loser. We have invented this pleasing mode of passing our time here since it revives for us the divertissements of the past; and because there is no money here which one can win, or use if you win, seeing it all turns to dross in your hands, we have adopted this mode of paying our debts, and we agree to be the slave of anyone who beats us at our games of chance and skill till we can turn the tables on them by ourselves winning and making them in turn our slaves. 'Tis a charming arrangement, as you would find did you join our party for a little. These others here," she added, with a strange mixture of insolent arrogance and animosity in her tone "these others here are but the canaille, the scum of the place, and you do well to turn from them and their amusements. But for me, I am a Royal Duchess, and these my friends are all noble also and we would adopt you, who are also, I perceive, one of the elite, among ourselves."
With the air of a queen she signed me to be seated beside herself, and had she been a few degrees less horrible I might have been tempted to do so if only from my curiosity to see what their game would be like. But disgust was too strong in me and I shook myself free of her as well as I could, saying, which was true, that cards had never possessed any attraction for me. I was bent on getting near the woman I wished to speak to, and very soon an opening in the crowd allowed me to do so.
As soon as I got beside her I addressed her in a low voice and asked if she was sorry for the murder of her child, and would she wish to leave this place even though it would be a long and sad and suffering road that would take her from it? How her face brightened as I spoke! How eagerly she faltered out: "What do you mean?"
"Be assured," I said, "I mean well to you, and if you will watch and follow me, I shall doubtless find some means for us both to leave this dreadful place." She pressed my hand in assent, for she did not venture to speak for the other spirits were again crowding around us in a way that was rapidly growing more and more threatening, although the guise of friendliness was still kept up.
The Duchess and her party had returned to their cards with a frightful avidity; they were quarreling over them and accusing each other of cheating, which I have no doubt was the case, and it seemed as though a fight was about to begin in that corner of the room to vary the monotony of their existence. I noticed also that the others were collecting in groups round the doors so as to keep me from leaving in case I desired to do so, and I saw my enemy with the withered hand whispering with some others of very low degraded type, such as might have been slaves in their past lives. Half a dozen men and women came up and urged me to join in a dance they were indulging in, which was like some of those abominations we read of in descriptions of the Witches' Sabbaths of the old days of witchcraft, and which I shall certainly not attempt further to describe. Can it be, I thought to myself as I looked at them, that there was truth in these old tales after all? and can the explanation be that these unfortunate beings, who were accused as witches, did really allow themselves to be so dominated by evil spirits that their souls were for a time drawn down to one of these spheres, and took part in some of its frightful orgies? I know not, but there seems truly a marvelous resemblance between these things I was now witnessing and what was related by the so-called witches, most of them poor half-witted mortals more to be pitied than condemned.
As these creatures, whose gestures it were an insult to call dancing, approached, I saw they were trying to get behind us in a ring and surround us, and some instinct seemed to tell me not to allow them. I drew back close to the wall, holding the woman's hand in mine and whispering to her not to leave go of me on any account. The whole crowd of spirits were now gathering towards my end of the room, the dull ferocity of their faces and wild savage glitter of their eyes in terrible contrast to their affectation of light-hearted gaiety. Closer and closer they gathered a moving mass of evil personified.
For once their quarrels and jealousies merged in their common desire to do me harm, to get me down and trample me and rend me to pieces. As the muttering of a storm came here and there broken disjointed words of hate and menace, while those dancing demons kept up their wild antics in front of us. All at once a great cry a yell of fury broke from them. "A spy! a traitor! An enemy has got amongst us! It is one of the accursed brothers from above come here to spy upon us and carry away our victims. Down upon him! Stamp upon him! Crush him to death! Tear him to pieces! Hurl him into the vaults below! Away with him! Away! Away!"
Like as an avalanche sweeps down the mountain side they rushed upon us those raging fiends and I for one thought we were done for and could not but regret that I had been drawn into entering the place at all. I thought I was lost, when lo! just as the nearest of them were actually upon us the wall behind opened and Faithful Friend and another spirit drew us through, the wall closing again so suddenly that the yelling crowd scarce realized how we had disappeared.