THE STAR OF VICTORY.
That night I really did not know whether it was night or day. In accordance with the prognostications of my learned and powerful friend, I had, in the course of a deep sleep of about twelve hours' duration, the following singular but vivid dream.
I thought I had embarked on board a large vessel, in company with a great number of noisy passengers, who had determined to sail round the world in search of wealth and happiness. We touched at many previously unknown lands, which presented many strange varieties of scenery, and wonderful peculiarities of climate, but failed to reach the objects of our desire. So far from finding wealth, we seemed to be ourselves the targets for the cupidity of the people at the places we visited, for crowds of them ran about while our ship was approaching their shores, holding up their hands, and bellowing with loud voices, 'Give! give!'
At Length, one evening, we descried an island in the distance, which shone in the midst of an emerald sea with the brightness of the noon-day sun. As in our delight we gazed upon it, and fancied that at last our most sanguine anticipations would be realized, a sudden hurricane burst upon us. Fierce and cold rain rolled down from the island which lately had shone so brightly; our ship was tossed awhile like a bubble on the angry waves, and then went down into the deep. We, its passengers and crew, paralyzed and despairing, struggled for our lives. After awhile I ceased from struggling, fell asleep, and awoke on the shore all alone.
The storm had passed away; the sea and sky were now serene and lovely. I was on an island which had shores and rocks of the brightest gold, on which the sun shone with dazzling lustre, but I could see no grass or trees growing upon it. The waves beat gently on the strand, and sent up now and again showers of pearls and diamonds, with rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones, but nothing that had the slightest sign of life. In some of the bays, where the water was calm and clear, I could see a countless number of human skulls, and other bones, lying on the bottom. I began to be tormented with hunger and thirst, and looked about anxiously for something to appease my desires, but I could find nothing but gold and gems, which I longed to change into bread. Tasting the water of the sea, I found it as bitter as gall; and then I fell down in despair, and expected to die.
While lying on the golden sands I suddenly saw a strange and startling object becoming visible in the heavens. It was a star of surpassing splendour, outshining the sun, but presenting a different appearance. It appeared to be a strong concentration of light, glowing with the power of pure oxygen-gas within an amber- coloured, transparent globe. It cast its brilliant and beautiful rays over the sparkling sea for awhile, and then gradually faded away.
Wondering what this appearance might mean, I looked around me, and then beheld a fleet of ships and boats which were approaching the island with marvellous rapidity. The ships had all their white sails set, and these were filled with a prosperous gale; the rowers in the boats tugged at their oars with all their might. Suddenly another terrific storm arose, and after battling with the waves in vain, the violence of the tempest mocking all their efforts, they all disappeared from my sight.
And yet not quite all. One very small skiff survived, in which there was only one person, and that person was a beautiful girl. She rowed her tiny boat with graceful ease, and mounted on the billows like a fearless and majestic swan. Her golden hair clustered in rich masses around her pearly shoulders. Her watchful eyes glanced quickly from side to side like twin stars. She was clothed in garments of the purest white, but wore no covering on her head. Her boat touched the shore, and in a soft, bewitching voice she addressed me:
'Dost thou wish to leave this island?
'I do, madam,' I replied; 'I am hungry and thirsty, and can find nothing to eat or drink.'
'Come with me then,' she said, 'and do not touch its riches!'
I entered her little boat in a transport of delight, and she rowed hastily away from the shore. Never in my life had I seen such a transcendently lovely creature. Her beauty cannot be described in words. While her tiny bark flew over the now calm water, I could see the remains of the lost fleet, and the bodies of the unfortunate sailors, lying beneath the surface. My fair fellow-passenger did not utter another word, but on my offering to take the oars she bent her head, intimating that I should sit still. She looked at me sometimes with, I thought, a pitying gaze; at other times, after a hurried glance, she betrayed by a celestial smile an inward consciousness of the sweetest and purest joy. We now approached another island, or continent, very different indeed from that golden shore of destruction which we had left. Landing upon it, my conductress graciously invited me to follow her. We ascended a rising ground through a rich meadow studded with brilliant flowers, into a garden more charming than any I had ever seen before. A sweet river flowed gently through it, at which I knelt down and quenched my burning thirst; but of the luscious fruit hanging in profusion over the walks I felt that I dared not eat without permission. Now I saw a mansion in the distance, a mansion of exquisite loveliness. It looked like a castle of painted porcelain, just finished. A sudden illumination fell upon it. I turned to see the source of the wonderful light, and again beheld the amber-coloured star. At that moment the young lady stood before me, took my hand in hers, embraced me, and said:
'Welcome, welcome-happy art thou, for thou hast seen the Star of Victory!'
With a beating heart, and with indescribable joy and pleasure, I walked on by her side. As we approached the mansion, which grew in my dream larger and brighter in its magnificence, my attention was attracted by a personage, clothed in white robes, who suddenly issued from the entrance gate. When the lovely creature at my side saw him she bounded forward, took him by the hand, and danced round him, saying:
He is come, Julius; here is Ubertus; I have brought him from the world of Death, and he has seen the Star of Victory welcomed me with a bright smile. I recognised my old friend, Doctor Julius, but the sweet girl who had saluted me, and danced round him, I had never before seen. Then I awoke from my dream, as all sons of earth must.
Had you a good night's rest?' asked the Doctor as we sat down to breakfast. 'You look flushed and rather bewildered. Did Old Arty, or Old Cly, disturb you? Was the "poor fellow" Astoragus sitting on your breast all night with his octopus fang at the back of your neck—eh?'
'I am very well, Doctor, thank you,' I answered. 'I have had a most refreshing sleep. Of course the personages you have named do disturb me more or less, but there is no remedy; we must try to endure all things, and resist their evil influence. I wish to take the world as I find it, and fight my way through like a brave soldier.'
He did not reply immediately, and I finished my breakfast in silence. I had been frequently warned never to say too much, and being somewhat garrulous by nature, required warning; and I was determined not to say 'poor fellow' again in that mighty presence, in reference to Astoragus, or any other person. My companion, or patron, or hero, or director—I might appropriately call him the good genius of those subterranean realms—remained wrapt in meditation for some time, and at length lifting up his head, like a lion which scents blood from afar, spoke thus as if in soliloquy:
'Wearisome platitudes, wild speculations incapable of proof; indiscriminate nonsense; universal folly; scandalous desires; wealth, pleasure, fashion; stifling of conscience; contempt of virtue and honour; dangerous political changes; neglect of experience; disregard of frightful examples of decay, disease and death; baseness in the soul, the blood, and the heart—this is the world into which we were born! . . . To what kind of country are we, children of men, now drifting? Who can devise an infallible cure for diseases? Why are we expected to be as hard and unfeeling as the rocks of the wilderness, and as insensible as the trees of the forest? Our spirit—is it immortal? tender, delicate, sensitive! Our flesh, different from the dust of which it is made, and tortured by heat, by cold, by famine, by excruciating pain. Our limbs may be smashed like rotten sticks, our shivering bodies pierced by the pitiless blast, or drenched by benumbing rain. Our best affections trampled under foot; the victims of rogues, liars, and villains; the dupes of egregious fools, who think themselves clever and wise. Is there mercy, is there peace, in store for us in the terrible future? What mercy have the winds and the waves, the tigers, scorpions, and serpents for us? Tell me, with your deep analysis of psychological metaphysics, if you have met with it in your dream world. Is there another world where we may yet live, where these persecutions have no existence?'
'Since you ask me, sir, I will also take up my parable. Yes, there is virtue, wisdom, prudence, love, faith, gentleness, feeling and consideration for others! Charity that can give away its gold; ministering spirits who can deny themselves, and watch over beds of cholera and leprosy! There are honest and honourable men and women—blessed be God for them! who are as high above baseness as the golden stars are above the earth. There are men who walk in light and not in darkness, who can subdue evil passions, who can pity and help the poor and the oppressed; who can rejoice in life's pleasures, and weep for its miseries; and for our consolation we have this in our Bible: "I know that my Redeemer Liveth!"
'Our Bible! Is it true then?' said the Doctor. 'It speaks of dreams and visions; it gives us wonderful promises: "No plague shall come nigh thy tent"—"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder"—"I will deliver him and honour him"—"I will set him on high because he hath known my name." Tell me the vision that you had last night upon your bed.'
I accordingly related my dream. The effect it had upon the Doctor was totally unexpected, and perfectly astounding. He started up from his chair, dashed his cup violently to the ground, and growled with set teeth.
'Ha I you have trespassed on my domain! Yon have seen that fearful star of my destiny, and you have seen it twice; I have also seen it twice in my dreams, when I thought it foretold me nothing but evil—and undying powers of heaven or hell—you have seen my Helen, and she embraced and kissed you. What mysterious chain is binding your fate to mine? Answer me!'
I was dumb.
He now walked rapidly up and down the room, foaming under the influence of some ungovernable passion. Then he stopped suddenly before me and spoke again.
'When you see that star for the third time, I have been told, your victory will be won, and you will be a happy man. Shall I be happy, too, when I see it for the third time? I cannot be happy without my blessed freedom, and the light of the sun of heaven. You saw it twice in the same vision, but from the time I saw it first to its second appearance more than one hundred years elapsed. You saw my Helen, and her mansion, and her garden, and you drank the water of her celestial river, and she embraced and kissed you. I have also seen her in my visions, but she embraced and kissed me not. She took my hand, and smiled on me with her enchanting smile, and danced round me like an enraptured fawn. Tell me,' he shouted fiercely—'tell me, are you that villain, Banwell Reginald?'
'I am not; I never heard of him.'
'You are not; he never had your eyes or your forehead, or your lips which my Helen hath pressed with hers.'
'You forget, Doctor, that it was only in a dream; and how can you say that the girl I saw was your Helen? Remember also this very remarkable fact, in which I see a prodigious quantity of ointment to heal your wounded spirit, you say that Helen smiled sweetly upon you, and danced round you like a fawn. Does not that show plainly that she regards you as her wedded husband, and I believe you cannot dispute that her conduct to me proves quite as clearly that she looks upon me as her brother.'
'Her brother!' He laughed disdainfully. 'Weak words—vain words of duplicity and self-deception. Beware of the devil's arts! She was my Helen, and I believe her spirit was present with you while you slept—"angels have charge over us." When I saw her in my dreams she pointed to that amber star and said : "Behold the Star of Victory! Look upon it and be happy for ever!" When I saw it again a hundred years later, she was also present, and said, half laughing, half crying, and her delicious voice thrilling through my heart: "Happy art thou, O Julius, for thou hast seen the Star of Victory!" And now to be buried in a living tomb, with devils for my playfellows! Oh, merciful God! Oh, Christ, thou blessed Son of God, save me! Oh, Helen, Helen, angelic spirit of my lost love, deliver me!'
Here the poor Doctor broke completely down. He threw himself upon the hard stone floor, and wept as if his very heart were breaking. I became dreadfully alarmed, and implored him to be calm, and arm himself with manly courage and resolution. He commanded me, as well as he could in his agony, to retire to my room and leave him to himself. I obeyed, lay down on my bed, and slept again.
When I returned to the breakfast-room it was empty, and I sat there for a long time, not knowing what to do. I could not go out into the hospital for fear of annoying my host, nor out into the streets for fear of being annoyed or knocked down myself. I therefore whiled away the time by alternately sitting still and walking up and down, like a soldier on guard. While so employed I heard a repetition of the strange music which had aroused me out of the insensibility into which I fell on the field of battle. It commenced at a considerable distance, and gradually until it seemed to be actually in the adjoining room. It sounded like a band of curious instruments, played by a number of persons, and they played a slow and solemn march, very much like those familiar ones, the 'Dead March m Saul,' and 'See the Conquering Hero Comes,' blended together. The band ceased, and after a short pause commenced another tune, a more lively air and an extremely pretty one, and I thought I recognised the sound of voices accompanying the instruments. After a few more tunes the music began to recede, the performers playing a quick march, and I was left to my own reflections.
My protector made his appearance at last; his serenity if not his cheerfulness, had returned, and, except for the fiery redness of his eyes, no observer could tell that anything more grave than usual had happened to him. He told me that the great conqueror who had crushed me was much better, and had expressed his regret at having caused me additional discomfort. He hoped to have the pleasure of meeting me at his next battle, and would certainly make me a Marshal of his Empire on the field. 'You are quite a hero with most of them already,' continued the Doctor with a laugh. They saw you in the Demon's carriage, and think you are somebody who is going to do great things and become famous, and if you do you'll have all the world bowing and scraping to you. Julius Caesar wants you, and promises to make you a conquerer. Alexander the Great says that if you are placed on his staff, you shall have the honour of polishing his armour and boots. But perhaps you are famous already; are you a poet?'
'A poet, Doctor?' I replied; 'why nearly everybody writes poetry; but if a man wants to be famous, he must go in for breeding rams and bulls.'
'Recite me a verse or two of you composition; it will cheer me up; I am in low spirits.'
'I wrote an ode to my native river many years ago; here it is, sir:
"Romantic Dodder! in the murmur
'Humph! ha! thank you,' said the Doctor. 'Where is that "Dodder" which you are trying to make famous?'
'It is a beautiful little river, sir, which falls into the Liffey, near Dublin, my native city.'
Doctor Julius now had recourse to his pipe. It seemed to be his only solace in that gloomy place, where a sunbeam never penetrated, where a sympathetic pressure of the hand of fellowship was never felt. He had spoken about going to see Helen, and of introducing me to her, and I certainly longed to see again the lovely lady of my dream. I asked myself if it were possible she could be the famous Helen of Troy, or was she, alas! only another Bellagranda? Perish the infamous thought! I dared not ask the Doctor a question on the subject; I had everything to fear if I excited his displeasure, but he had nothing to fear from me as I was not gifted with supernatural power.
'I have an insatiable curiosity, Ubertus,' he said, through his clouds of smoke, 'to know more about that bright world of yours above-ground. It is so long since I was there that my life upon it appears to me now like a far distant dream I wish I could see it again. How happy would I be if I could exchange my palace here for the poorest, lowliest hut on the surface of the earth. I am rich and powerful here, as you have seen and shall see, and as I do not abuse my power like the Demon does, I am very well liked by the people. They call me by the simple name of Doctor Julius; some of them call me the good physician. I gave to you the name of "Rabbitonius" because you raved so constantly and piteously about rabbits, fines, taxation, and ruin, in your delirium, that I thought it would do as well as any other. I ran the risk, it is true, of bringing on a relapse by recalling disagreeable recollections, but then I have powerful drugs. You are getting strong again; in a few days you will be as well as ever. I can see by the returning clearness of your eyes, and the freshening up of the colour of your skin, that, if you are not likely to grow young again, you will not grow old for a number of years to come.'
'I owe you a debt of gratitude, Doctor,' I replied 'which I could not repay, were I to live for another hundred years.'
'Well, don't consider yourself in my debt,' he rejoined; 'I did my duty. But it surprises me exceedingly to see you here at all, so young, so apparently childlike in your ways and habits of thought. I cannot imagine why the Demon brought you here; he can get plenty of private secretaries—hardened, unprincipled old rascals—without seeking to beguile an innocent, inexperienced youth like you. But remember what I told you: if you dally with his offers you are lost. Put your foot down on them at once. He does not know his own mind for two minutes together. The only thing he is constant in is the ruin of the human race, and he is so clever and artful that he succeeds in making countless thousands of poor weak men and women quite as bad as himself. Take my advice, Ubertus; I am older than you. I am two hundred and thirty-one years of age. I died at the early age of fifty-one, and have lived in this hole one hundred and eighty years.'
'A hundred and eighty years!' I exclaimed in awe and astonishment.
'Yes. I was born in London in 1644, and remember when Charles the First was beheaded.'
'What brought you here, venerable sir?' I asked, trembling, 'if I may dare to put such a question. You are to all appearance young, healthy, and vigorous. You wear your own natural hair, and your skin is clear and unwrinkled. You do not seem to be bearing the weight of a load of care, and you have no marks that I can see of deadly, unrepented sin. What brought you here, then? Did the Demon beguile you, or force you, as he did me?'
'I could treat you to a long story,' he answered, but you might not consider it a treat, so I will make it a very short one. The Demon, or some of his brethren, for their name is legion, did certainly beguile me, hardened my conscience, and deprived me of my sense. I am here through my own carelessness and indifference, fostered by foolish, evil companions, and blinded by love of their approbation. I forgot or despised the gravity of demeanour which is most becoming in an intellectual being, and gave myself up to lightness of thought, frivolity of speech, and laxity of manners, if not of principles. That is why I am here. I never committed a crime against society, but I was fond of parties, and could drink my glass and sing my song. I was praised by my large circle of acquaintances, who conferred upon me the nickname of "Jolly Chirurgeon"; that is why I am here. I was too fond of the world: not an open scoffer at the religion of Jesus Christ: a believer at one time, a doubter at another, I could not make up my mind. I did not treat religion with contempt, but I gave it no deep consideration. May I be pardoned for my folly! And to crown all I became an idolater.'
'An idolater, Doctor!'
'Yes, I fell in love—madly, deeply, desperately, in love—and fell down, so to speak, and worshipped the object of my love; another reason why I am here. That is my story for the present, and you must be satisfied with that.'
'Have you no hope, my dear sir, of ever being released from this horrible pit?' I asked deferentially.
'Very little,' he replied sadly. 'But I do not think that the good God, whom I have now learned to love and worship above all persons and things, will leave me here for ever. It can give Him no pleasure, and it certainly gives me an immense amount of pain. For one hundred and eighty years I have followed the same round—setting these men up again who have been struck down in battle, and trying to heal the diseases of other poor wretches. That is my occupation. It is true I have learned many things which are not known, or even suspected, in your world, and many things are concealed from me which perhaps you know. My researches in chemistry have made me master of some wonderful secrets. If I could only induce that, infernal Demon to take me up in his balloon, I might be able to outwit him and make my escape; but he will not, and I cannot go without his consent. He says that I dare not escape from him, and defies me to outwit him'
'I would to heaven I could help you, sir! ' I said fervently.
'Perhaps you may,' he replied. 'Who can tell what a day or a week may bring forth? I am always on the watch for an opportunity, and when it comes, Mr. Demon I'm your man. What are you doing up there just now in your world?'
'It would take me too long to tell you everything sir; but we are not doing very much. The world is at peace now, but the great nations have been expecting war and making preparations for it. They do little but hound each other on, and scowl and growl at each other through their newspapers. Every day sees some new invention for the destruction of men. Every hour some cause of bitter jealousy and hatred crops up. England, as some say, is more or less unprepared, relying on the courage and abilities of her sons should her peace be disturbed. But she is torn to pieces internally by the ferocity of party spirit and democratic combinations; blown to a white heat by factious mob orators, who study only their own interest, the breath of whose nostrils is popular applause. Ireland is on the verge of a revolution, clamouring loudly for Home Rule. If she took my humble advice she would be satisfied to remain as she is. France is preparing to do some mighty deeds of bloodshed, and ruffles her feathers, and takes off her coat at every wind that blows. Russia, Germany, and Austria are steadily arming and watching each other; and no doubt the devil is watching them all, and laughing.'
'Hush! hush! You said something about having come from the Great Lake of Tasmania; I never heard of the place before. Do the people there inhabit houses like the people in England, or do they live underground? Can they read and write, and spell properly? Are they rational beings or do they walk on their heads or their heels?'
I now gave the simple-hearted Doctor, for whom my respect and affection kept on constantly increasing, as full an account as I could of our great Australian colonies, with which I need not trouble the reader. He drank in every word with greediness. If I had sat with him for six months, I could not have satisfied his eager thirst for knowledge of the world.
'Tasmania is an island,' he said. 'When was it discovered?—by whom? How large is it? What kind of a place is it? Is it barren or fruitful?—happy or miserable?—beautiful or ugly? What do its lakes look like?' etc.
'A hundred questions to answer all in a moment. Forbear to ask, sir, and I will tell you all I know. It is one of the most lovely islands of the Southern Hemisphere, worthy of being beloved not only for its healthy and pleasant climate, but for the value of its mineral wealth, and the excellence and variety of its productions.'
I described to my delighted friend in glowing language the surpassing beauty of its mountains, lakes, and rivers; the grandeur of its trackless forests; the glory of its enchanting scenery, here, there, and everywhere. Its temperate climate favoured the growth of cereals and fruits; its delicious apples were famous in London. Its soil was most fertile in many favoured spots. It was free in summer from suffocating heat, and, except in the lake country, from intense frosts in winter. I was also careful to explain that there were thousands of acres of land in Tasmania which were worth nothing, being barren rocks and useless marshes, sandy and impenetrable scrubs, and woods choked with prickly heaths, and dense masses of ferns—land totally unfit for cultivation, where only opossums and wild cats exists. It is certainly true that the agricultural and pastoral wealth of the country is confined to a very small proportion of its actual surface.
'What kind of a Government have you in Tasmania?' he asked.
'That is exactly where our boots and shoes pinch us sir' I answered in a subdued voice; 'we have grown too big for them. It is dangerous to speak of our Government: it might be better, it might be worse. I remember when we had a moderately careful and economical Government—one that condescended to inquire, "How will it fare with generations yet unborn?" Now we have one—a Home Rule, which is incurably puffed up—and we are an aspiring and ambitious people. We have a Governor sent out from England, a grand Legislative Council, and a House of Assembly, which enact as many laws for a community of about one hundred and fifty thousand people as would suffice for one of ten millions. Our public debt now amounts to about eight millions sterling, and is constantly increasing. The taxes we have to pay for the interest of our debt, and the expenses of our Government, are very considerable, and we are constantly being threatened with additional exactions. We ought to be a happy people, but we are little more than slaves ground down by all kinds of evils and exactions.'
'"Evils and exactions!"' echoed the Doctor, puffing away at his enormous pipe—'"evils and exactions!" What do you mean?'
'I mean this: I have no desire to be witty at the expense of others, or to be offensive to anyone in particular but I am of opinion that our Government is driving us to ruin without pity or remorse.'
'Why do you let it?'
'We cannot help ourselves. There is scarcely any unanimity of thought or sentiment in the island. The genii of apathy and indifference sit on the tops of her mountains and rule over the land. Her House of Assembly is one of inflated millionaires. Have you a famous drug here which has the effect of puffing out the patient who swallows it, and making him think he is a great being, who is raised immeasurably above all mean and contemptible ideas of care, caution, and economy?'
'I have the very thing—taxacorum puffinalis, extracted from the cube root of electric fire.'
'A very appropriate name and derivation,' said I, laughing, although I was more inclined to cry. 'And have you another which has the opposite effect—which reduces the unfortunate creature until he is a mere bag of bones, and deprives him of all energy, bodily comfort, and mental peace?'
'Yes, another very powerful medicine—taxacorum soueezatalis, distilled from the concentrated essence of flea and scorpion broth.'
'It is another most appropriate name and derivation, and I think that the very first thing which our House of Assembly does, before it enters upon any public business, is to administer a strong dose of the first medicine to itself, and a dose of the last, equally strong, to the unhappy people who elected it.'
The Doctor laid down his pipe, used his pocket-handkerchief with a startling report, and laughed again.
'I wish I could see you, Ubertus, at the bar of your House of Assembly,' he said. 'I'd like to see you on your knees apologizing to the Honourable Members. But, seriously, you know there must be a Government of some kind, and the people must be taxed to pay its expenses.'
'Undoubtedly, sir—moderate, sensible, and necessary taxation; but, unhappily, we are being governed at a ruinously fast and extravagant rate. We must appear before the world as a great and rich community, or be a mere nothing at all in its eye. There is no such thing as a prudent medium to be observed.'
'You must be satisfied to pay for substantial and permanent improvements, my friend.'
'Substantial improvements! Yes, indeed, and it amounts to this: we are to be improved off the face of the earth! We are to have railways all over the island, whether there is traffic for them or not; we are to be mocked by reproductive works which cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and do not reproduce one penny. We are to be hoodwinked, and told that our riches are inexhaustible while we are borrowing millions! We have additional taxation laid upon us after the severe droughts, which wither us to the core and cause enormous losses. We have our country flooded with labourers while the borrowed money is being squandered, and these will, in another year or two, constitute a grand army of unemployed. This House of Assembly, which is composed principally of merchants and the denizens of towns, says that nearly all the wealth of the colony is appropriated by the owners of land, consequently all their efforts are concentrated on making these unlucky men bear the heaviest burdens.'
'Why are you not in the House, Ubertus? You might bring it to its senses.'
'No, sir, the House would not listen to me. It will listen to no reason, and take no warning. It waits to be taught by bitter experience. It has not a penny laid by for a rainy day, such as the landing of a foreign enemy on our shores; nothing but debt, always increasing debt, to stare us in the face. The gigantic machinery of Government must be kept in motion, and it must be well oiled so that it may run smoothly; but I expect that some day it will fly to pieces.'
'Like the Demon's lightning balloon,' said the Doctor with a laugh.
'Surely that has not gone to pieces!' I cried in great alarm.
'Not yet, but it may go some day.'
'The members of our Parliament, who are all men of undoubted honour, and whom I would treat with every possible respect, sit or recline on their luxurious couches——' 'The couches of Astoragus!' broke in the Doctor with another roar.
'I did not say so, sir. If they kindly, and for my own good and for that of my family, robbed me of every farthing I possess, may they be spared from the couches of Astoragus! They bask in the glory of their electric lights, and feel conscious of being heroes, with the attention, the eyes of beauty, and the criticism of the press, riveted upon them. It is no wonder that they should nearly explode with the pride of place and power, and be determined to show the world that the charming island which they govern is now, whatever it may have been once, no insignificant dusthole. The newspapers are teeming, day by day, with articles and letters full of remonstrances, warnings, and entreaties against their headlong course to financial destruction, but in vain. If any member is hardy enough to talk to them about prudence and economy, he is immediately snubbed, and treated to floods of cold water. It is heartrending to think that we are altogether at the mercy of men like these, who are indifferent to our future freedom from a crushing debt, and to the future happiness of our children's children.'
'And what remedy would you suggest for this alarming state of things?'
'There is no remedy that I know of but the power, the will, and the firmness to say, when large sums of money are demanded, by portions of the public, for this new road or that new railway, or for some indispensable bridge or jetty, "Gentlemen, we cannot afford it—we must check the growth of our enormous liabilities. We must limit our expenses, and dispense with the services of many public servants. We have reduced the salary of our Governor, and our own salaries as responsible ministers, from nine hundred pounds a year to seven hundred pounds.'"
'Very praiseworthy of them, too,' said the Doctor.
'Yes, and they should continue: "We are entrusted by the public at large with the management of their financial affairs, and it would be gross malversation in us to spend their money, which the majority of them find it very difficult to procure, with undue extravagance, and so add to their burdens. We are, in fact, the paid servants of the community, and we are bound to protect our employers."'
'There is sound sense in that.'
'There are truth, justice, and mercy in it, sir. It ought to be the invariable governing principle of every Parliament, but it is not. Overwhelming desire for office, for patronage, for the pleasure of spending money, and so purchasing popularity, are always rising to the surface, and must be gratified whenever opportunities occur. I do not condemn improvements that are shown to be necessary and advisable, but I do condemn reckless and wasteful expenditure of borrowed capital. I do not constitute myself the judge of our Government—the newspapers, and some members of Parliament, tell me enough about it. My abilities, whatever they may be, shall not be devoted to the thankless task of exposing every public abuse. Our Home Rule Parliament intends, doubtless, that we should all be happy and rich, yet it passes Acts which command what I must call tyranny and robbery. Tyranny, my dear sir, is the ruin of our world—the tyranny of wealth, of creditors, of pertinacious mischief-makers, of cursed political agitators. Must we always submit without a murmur to the iron-hearted disturbers of our peace?'
'You are a thinking man, Ubertus,' said the Doctor gravely; 'but many people would call you a downright fool. You know nothing at all about tyranny or cruelty. Your Government is one of angels. What if you had a Council of Ten, as they had in Venice long ago; or a Star Chamber, as they had in England in the days of Charles the First; or fiery stakes, as in the days of Queen Mary?'
'If I were not a thinking man, sir,' I answered, 'I should despise myself, though I am not in the habit of despising those who do not think—I only pity them. It is likely that I am myself despised. My serious thoughts dwell far beyond our present state of existence. Eternal life is to me something real and awful. I believe that men and women are the germs of mighty beings, as tiny nuts and berries are those of the giants of the forest. The power of their Creator can make them grow great, and decree that they shall never die. Are they justified, then, in wasting their time in frivolous amusements, in hunting wildly after pleasure and excitement; in gambling, drinking, evil speaking, or breaking the heads of their neighbours? They think a great deal of themselves, of their drastic changes and wonderful improvements, which are to stop people's mouths from asking for anything more for ever and ever, so perfectly happy and contented they shall be. Every frothy agitator lays down the law to his audience, and to the world, as who shall say, "I am Sir Oracle, and when I ope my lips let no dog bark!" Men, intellectual men, who are on the brink of the grave, worship their worldly power, and will not surrender one particle of it even when it is likely to plunge a peaceful nation into all the horrors of civil war!'
'Go on, sir,' said my companion, laughing; 'your eloquence charms me. Were I like you I'd make a noise in the world; you may do so yet. But if you expect people to be models of perfection—as wise, as true, as prudent, as thoughtful as you are yourself, in your own modest opinion, you will be mistaken.'
'My opinion of myself, my friend, is that I am nothing. To be simple Oliver Ubertus to the end of my life is all my desire. I am weak and foolish now, but the universe is thronged with mighty beings who perhaps had their origin in creatures far lower than I am. We are surrounded by giant suns hundreds of times greater than our own sublime source of light and heat. Who can imagine their vastness, or conceive the wonders they contain? But in our self-satisfied state of existence there are but few who care to think of things like these.'
'Few, indeed,' said my companion; 'but you have your infallible philosophers, who can tell you all about your origin, the cause of your present exaltation and degradation, and your future destiny. Well, we must have faith—not in them, but in God—and patience, and be cheerful, and hope for the best. We shall undoubtedly see some very wonderful things. We shall become acquainted with realities, the knowledge of which all the money in the world could not buy: yet they may be made known to comparative children. Happy would we be if we were more simple and honest; if we did not seek to blind and confound the faculties of others by the display of the blindness and foolishness of our own. But ila lex scripta est, we cannot alter our own nature; we can only make war upon our wicked inclinations. There are many who can say with Troilus:
"Alas! it is my vice, my fault,
The world was always full of scourges and tyrannies, ever since the days of Cain. Shall it be always so? There is no sign of any change. One of our greatest scourges is a too vivid imagination, and I am strongly inclined to think it is yours. Beware of it, it is the parent of a thousand crimes. I can see through you, and read your heart like printed paper. If you could die before God called you, without committing a deadly sin, your friends above-ground would long for you in vain. You are too sensitive. You are thrown into agonies by the contempt of men. But be wise and strong; avoid the errors of self-conceit; amuse yourself with your work and your books, and learn to wait until your time of deliverance shall come. Love not the foolish world; thirst not for its wealth or fame; its praises are questionable, its pleasures are contemptible. No man need envy Wolsey, or Buckingham; no woman need wish to change places with Catherine de Medici, or our Bellagranda. Now tell me something about your Irish people, and the Home Rule which you told me they are going mad about.'
'It is a most painful and delicate subject, sir, and in every well-balanced mind creates nothing but sadness and bitterness. No native of the Emerald Isle, whether Catholic or Protestant, loves his country more than I do. She is a small island on the earth, a little larger than Tasmania, yet she makes more noise, and causes more confusion, than two or three mighty empires. She has suffered from time immemorial from the diseases of worldliness and inflation of mind. I feel compelled to tell the truth, exaggerating and extenuating nothing. A large majority of her inhabitants think that she is, or ought to be, a nation within herself, entirely distinct and separate from the English nation, with which they have no desire to be amalgamated. There are about three millions of them, all burning for the power and profit which self-government would, as they think, confer upon them. Patriotic leaders spring up from time to time, men who are gifted with the power of speaking in public, but who have greater talents for political disturbance than for governing any country to its satisfaction; whose love of self is far stronger than their love of peace; and they fan into a flame the fierce anger and ambition of the multitude. They take delight in making small things appear great, in deceiving their hearers by misrepresentations, bitter words, and ferocious threats and gesticulations. The populace are ravished with their talk; they are heroes and demigods. If we listen to these men, we are told that the justice and innocence are all on their side, while the barbarous tyranny and cruel injustice are all on the side of their enemies, as they deem the English people. While admitting that Ireland has been treated with great severity in the past, I must confess that she brought much of her trouble on herself. Cannot something be done to secure peace?'
'Unquestionably,' said the Doctor; 'I remember that in my time there was a rebellion. Ireland was always in hot water and giving trouble then. Cromwell made the disturbers respect his military talents.'
'All this is old news to you, sir; some men are always giving trouble; nothing but the wholesome discipline of the army or navy will keep them in order. My unruly countrymen—alas! that I should say so—are hated and despised all the world over, and are called in derision "Pestilent Irish." And is it any wonder? According to my belief, the British Islands were intended, by Him who formed them, to be one united nation, great and powerful in our little world; able to make itself respected, and to insist on peace to the farthest parts of the earth; and having been united as one for centuries, what reasonable man can have patience with those unprincipled orators who drive a profitable trade by stirring up the most savage passions of the human heart?'
The Doctor groaned in acquiescence.
'I have spoken of the national, or patriotic, party, boiling over with hatred of England. There is another party, numbering about two millions, certainly the better informed and more peacefully inclined party, which is loyal to the Crown, and in favour of the closest union with England. It is bitterly opposed to Home Rule, which means throwing the governing and taxing power into the hands of the majority, no matter of what disloyal and discordant elements it may be composed.'
Here I was alarmed to see a wonderful change coming over my auditor. He began to fidget uneasily in his chair, stare wildly about him, shuffle with his feet, and betray by other signs of disquietude his consciousness that a formidable and unwelcome presence had intruded itself upon us, Then he suddenly started up, and walked hastily into his hospital. At the same moment the lamp on the table emitted a blue light, and a suffocating odour diffused itself through the apartment. I looked round me in terror, and distinctly saw, in my mind's eye, the Demon's fiendish balloon driver, Obeltub, scowling, and shaking his fist at me from a corner of the room. I immediately retreated into my own cell, and took refuge in my bed, where, happily, my spiritual enemies left me in peace; but, as I closed my in sleep, I heard a wild, sardonic laugh ringing through the vaulted chambers.