Глава 23. The Palace of My Ancestors. False Brothers Baffled


On the outskirts of the town we came to a magnificent palace, also most strangely familiar and yet unfamiliar to my eyes. In wandering through this city I was so reminded of its earthly double that I felt as one who sees some familiar beloved spot in a nightmare vision which has distorted and rendered hideous all that he demed so fair. I had oftentimes in my youth gazed up at this beautiful palace and taken pride to myself that I came of the race who had once owned it and all its broad lands, and now, here, to behold it thus, with all its beauties tarnished, its marble stained and mildewed, its terraces and statues broken and defaced, its fair front marred with the black cobwebs of past crimes and wrongs done within its walls, and its lovely gardens a dreary blackened waste as though the breath of a pestilence had swept over it sent through me a thrill of sorrow and dismay, and it was with a saddened heart I followed my friend into the interior.
Up its great broad stairways we passed, and through the handsome doors which opened of themselves to admit us. Around us were many dark spirits flitting to and fro. Each and all seemed to expect and welcome us as guests whose coming was awaited. At the last door Faithful Friend once again left me, saying he would rejoin me in another place.
A great blaze of ruddy light greeted my eyes as this last door opened, and seemed as though someone had opened the door of a furnace, so hot and stifling was the atmosphere. At first I almost deemed the place on fire, then by degrees the blaze of light died down to a dull red glow and a wave of steel grey mist swept through the hall instead, while a wind as of ice froze the blood at my heart and seemed to impart its icy chill. These strange waves of heat and cold were caused by the intense fire of passion and the cold selfish chill of the dual nature of the man who reigned here as Prince. To the most fierce insatiable passions he united an intense selfishness and an intellect of the highest order. As these swayed him in turn in his earthly life, causing strange alternations of fiery passion and cool calculation in his conduct, so did these as waves thrown off by his spirit cause in this his spiritual mansion these extraordinary variations of intense heat and extreme cold that knew no medium of temperature between. As he had dominated all men on earth who came within the range of his power, so did he dominate the spiritual beings around him now, and rule as absolutely over them as he had ruled over his earthly subjects.
At the top of this great hall I beheld him seated in his chair of state which had around it all but imperial insignia. His walls were hung with the semblance of ancient tapestry, but, ah! how more than merely faded and ragged it looked. It was as though the thoughts and the life and the magnetism of the man had become woven into those ghostly hangings and had corrupted them with his own corruption. Instead of pictures of the chase, of floating nymphs, and crowned sea-gods there was a constantly shifting panorama of this man's past life in all its hideousness and nakedness, thrown like pictures from a magic lantern upon the stately mouldering ragged Arras drapery behind and around him. The great windows, through which the light of day never shone, were hung with the semblance of what had on earth been handsome velvet curtains, but which now appeared as some funeral pall shrouding the skeleton shapes that lurked like avenging spectres within them spectral forms of those victims whom this man had sacrificed to his lust and ambition. Great drinking cups of silver, that seemed of a white heat when you touched them, and huge costly vases adorned the tables, and here as elsewhere there was the same hideous phantom of a feast the same bitter mockery of earthly pleasure.
At my entrance the Lord of this horrid place rose from his throne to greet me with welcoming words, and I recognized with a thrill of horror that he was the spiritual counterpart of that ancestor of my family from whom we had all been so proud to think we were descended, and whose portraits I had often been told I much resembled. The same man, the same haughty handsome features, without doubt, but, ah! how subtle, how awful was the change upon them, the brand of shame and dishonor stamped on every line, the corruption showing through the mask with which he still strove to cover it. Here in Hell all men are seen as they are, and no power can avail to hide one atom of their vileness and this man was vile indeed. Even in an age of sensuality he had been distinguished for his sins, and in an age when men thought but little of cruelty he had shown as one without pity or remorse. I saw it all now mirrored in those pictures around him, and I felt overwhelmed to think that there could have been points of resemblance of any sort between us. I shuddered at the false empty pride of those who had gloried in saying they were allied to such a man, simply because he had in his day wielded almost regal power. And this man spoke to me now as one in whom he had an interest, since I was of his race.
He told me he welcomed me here and would that I should dwell with him. By the mysterious link that earthly relationship gave he had attached himself to my earth-life and had from time to time been able to influence it. When I had felt most of ambition and a proud desire to rise and be again one with the great ones of earth as had been my ancestors in the past, then had he been drawn up to me and had fed and fostered my pride and my haughty spirit, that was in a sense akin to his own. And he it was, he told me, who had prompted those acts of my life of which I felt now the most ashamed acts that I would have given all my life to undo, after I had done them. And it was he, he said, who had from time to time sought to raise me in the world till I should be able to grasp power of some kind and reign a king in the field of intellect if I could not reign king of a country as he had done. Through me, he had hoped himself again to wield power over men, which should be some compensation for his banishment to this place of darkness and decay.
"Faugh!" he cried. "This is as a charnel-house of mouldering bones and dead skeletons, but now you are come to join me we shall see if we cannot, combined, do something to make ourselves feared, if not obeyed, by the dwellers of the earth. I have had many a disappointment in you, oh! son of our noble race, and I feared you would escape me at last. I have tried for years to draw you down, but was ever baffled by some unseen power. Once and again when I deemed I had beyond doubt made all things sure, you would shake me off and break away from all control, till I had well nigh abandoned the struggle. But I do not yield readily to anyone, and when I could not be with you myself I sent some of my henchmen to do you service ho! ho! service yes, service and so here you are at last, and by my faith you shall not again leave me. Behold how fair are the pleasures I have prepared for you."
He took my hand his seemed as though burning with more than the fire of fever and led me to a seat beside himself. I hesitated, then resolved to sit down and see this adventure out, but prayed in my heart to be kept safe from temptation. I noticed he did not offer me wine or food (his instinct and knowledge told him I should only despise them) but he caused a most lovely strain of music to sound in my ears that had so long been deprived of the solace of that heavenly art which ever appealed most strongly to my senses. A wild weird sensuous strain, such as a siren might have sung when she sought to lure her victims, swelled, died away, and rose again. No music of the earth could have been at once so beautiful and so horrible could at the same time intoxicate and inflame the brain and heart, and yet fill my soul with so intense a feeling of fear and repugnance.
And then before us rose a great black mirror in which I saw reflected the earth and its life, and myself swaying the minds and the thoughts of thousands through the fevered fascinations of such music which I could make mine, and through its spell waken the lowest yet the most refined of passions, till those who heard should lose themselves and their souls under its potent witchery.
Then he showed me armies and nations dominated to ambitious ends by himself and his influence, so that he should reign again as a despot through the organism of an earthly tyrant. Here, too, he said, I should share his power.
Again, I saw the power in intellect and in literature which I could control and influence through the imaginative descriptive faculties of mortals who, under my prompting, would write such books as appealed to the reason, the intellect, and the sensual passions of mankind, until the false glamour thrown over them should cause men to view with indulgence and even approval the most revolting ideas and the most abominable teachings.
He showed me picture after picture, illustrating how man on earth could be used by spirits, who possessed sufficient will power and knowledge, as mere tools through which to satisfy their lust for power and sensual enjoyments of every sort. Much of this I had known before but had never fully realized the vast extent of the mischief possible to such a being as the one before me, were it not for the checks imposed upon him by those higher powers whose wills are as strong as his. Them he only knows as an unseen force opposed to him, which baffles his efforts at every turn, unless he can find in man a medium of so congenial a nature that they can truly work together as one. Then indeed do sorrow and devastation follow in their train and then do we see such monsters of triumphant wickedness as have disgraced the annals of all times. Now, thank Heaven, these are growing fewer and farther between, as the human race and the spirit spheres become purified through the teachings of the angels of the celestial spheres.
Last of all there appeared before us a woman's form, of such surpassing loveliness, such seductive charm, that for one instant I arose to look more closely at her and see if she could be real, and at that moment there came between me and the black magic mirror the mist-like form of an angel with the face of my beloved. And beside her this woman seemed so coarse and material and revolting to me that the momentary illusion of the senses was gone and I knew her for what she was, what all her kind are in truth sirens that betray and ruin and drag men's souls to Hell while they themselves are all but soulless.
This revulsion of feeling in myself caused the waves of magnetic ether on which the music and these images were borne to us, to waver and break and vanish, leaving me alone with my tempter once more, with his voice sounding in my ears, pointing out to me how all these delights might still be enjoyed by me if I would but join him and be his pupil. But his words fell upon deaf ears, his promises allured me not. In my heart was only a horror of all these things, only a wild longing to free myself from his presence.
I rose and turned from him, and sought to go forth, but found I could not move one step. An invisible chain held me fast, and with a derisive laugh of rage and triumph, he called out to me ironically: "Go, since thou wilt have none of my favors or my promises. Go forth now and see what awaits you." I could not move one step, and began to feel a strange alarm creeping over me and a strange numbness of limbs and brain. A mist seemed to gather round and enfold me in its chill embrace, while phantom forms of awful shape and giant size drew near and yet more near. Oh, horror! they were my own past misdeeds, my own evil thoughts and desires, which had been prompted by this very man beside me and which nestling in my heart had formed those links between us that held me to him now.
A wild, fierce, cruel laugh broke from him at my discomfiture. He pointed to these weird shapes, and bid me see what I was who thought myself too good for his company. Darker and darker grew the hall, and wave on wave the grim phantoms crowded round us, growing each more black and fearful as they gathered, hemming me in on every side, while below our feet opened a great vault or pit in which I saw, or seemed to see, a seething mass of struggling human forms. My fearful ancestor shook in wild paroxysms of rage and fiendish laughter, and, pointing to the gathering phantoms bid them hurl me into the black pit. But suddenly above me in the darkness gleamed a star and from it fell a ray of light like a rope, which I grasped with both my hands and as the folds of light diffused themselves around me I was drawn up, out of that dark place, away from that fearful palace.