The Germ Growers/Chapter 10
That night we lay both of us in the outer chamber, partly for company, and partly because neither of us wished to be within sight of the light which lay all night before the door, and which could be seen from the window of the inner chamber. There was nothing, indeed, strange or ugly about the light itself; it was very bright, and, under other circumstances, might have been pleasant. But to us, guessing whence it was and what was its purpose, it had come to have a weird look of doom about it.
We lay still, scarcely speaking. Only from time to time a word or two passed between us, either suggestive of preparation, or of some topic of encouragement. By and by we lapsed into silence, and thence into an imperfect sleep. There was no artificial light in our chamber, we had no occasion for any, although day and night were nearly of equal length. Sometime in the evening before dusk we used to take a second bath (if one may use the consuetudinal for so short a period), and then to throw off our hats and sandals and to exchange the long robe, which was our only other garment, for another of the same sort, was the whole of our preparation for the night.
I do not know how long I had been sleeping, but it could not have been very long, when I woke up with a start. Surely there was a light in the room? Yes, there was, and it was growing slowly brighter. I looked over to the couch where Jack lay; it was very near my own, but not near enough to permit me to touch him without rising.
I sat up and put on my sandals. The light had now become so much brighter that I could see Jack plainly. He was awake and watching as I was. The light was now increasing much more quickly, and in a few minutes the room was quite brilliantly illuminated, and there was a sort of core of brightness beginning to appear in the centre of the light. This presently assumed a wavering aspect, and by-and-by became a bubbling fluid. I was prepared to expect the appearance of a form of human similitude, for I had witnessed as you will remember, the same thing twice already. The same, and yet not the same, for the dark vapour which I had seen in the former cases was replaced in this case by a bright rose-coloured light. I suppose it was partly because of this obvious difference that I felt now no fear, but hope. I began to think that help was coming, and that we were not going to be left to fight out a desperate battle alone.
As I looked, the bubbling fluid became consolidated and assumed, as I had expected, a human form. A man of, it might be middle age, stood before us. I should have said much under middle age only that his expression indicated, as I thought, a ripeness of experience and a calm wisdom seldom seen in very young men. There was a stately beauty and benignity in his features and demeanour, a mingled tone of love and command and entreaty; all the direct reverse of what we had seen in Signor Davelli and his men. He wore a flowing robe of much the same pattern as ours, but it was of a very bright, indeed of a luminous material, and it had somehow a strange air of being part of his body. His head was uncovered; his hair was brown, short, and slightly curled, and his eyes were blue.
We both started to our feet, and made, almost involuntarily, a profound salutation.
"Friends," he said, "you are in urgent danger, and I come to inform and counsel and help you." He spoke the English language with a very sweet and firm intonation, and yet his accent was in some way suggestive of an outland or foreign origin. "I am a friend," he said, "and in some sort a guide of men. It was my mission long ages ago to warn your first father of the designs of an enemy of the same order as this one of yours, but far mightier than he. Later on in the plains of Assyria, under the name and form of a man, I baffled the designs of another of the same evil race. And many times in more modern days I have rendered help of which no record remains to man and to the friends of man. Speak to me freely; you may call me Leäfar."
I was meditating whether or not I should begin with a confession of my own faults, when Jack stepped forward, prevented me, and spoke.
"Sir Leäfar," he said, "tell us first of all who these men are into whose power we seem to have fallen, and from whom we desire to escape."
"Yes," answered he who called himself Leäfar, "it is best that you should have information first; counsel and help will follow.
"These men and I have one thing in common. We are inhabitants not of earth, but of ether; as they have themselves told you, we are dwellers in space. But they are not, as they would have you think, a fair sample of the race which inhabits the ether, for although very many as compared with the inhabitants of earth, they are very few in comparison of those who hold with me."
"How is it possible," said I, "that you and they, although dwellers in space, or inhabitants of the ether, can assume as you do the form of men, and at least in some measure their nature?"
"I cannot," he replied, "unfold the matter to you in full detail, for you have not the faculties needful to enable you so to apprehend it; but if you will attend I will try to show you by analogies how it is possible for us to pass from our world to yours. But sit down," he said; "you will be weary, for I have much to say, and there is no time to lose."
Hereupon he sat down, having first indicated to us with a gracious air where we were to sit. We both sat in front of him, but each one a little to one side. Then he began. "The material," he said, "of your world and of such worlds as yours is limited. The material of our world envelops and pervades it all, and extends to immeasurable distances, as I believe to infinity, but the knowledge of infinity is reserved to the Infinite One Himself.
"The material of our world is the basis of the material of yours. The latter is made out of the former by a simple process of agglomeration. All the material of worlds like yours is resolvable ultimately into extremely minute particles, each of which is just a little twist of the ether. You may compare these particles to knots that you make upon a cord. Just as the parts of the cord in the knot act upon one another in a way in which they could not act if they remained in one continuous line, so the knotted or twisted ether becomes capable of a great variety of interactions which are not possible to it in its original state, and as the knots increase in complexity these possible interactions are multiplied. The motion by which the first agglomeration of ether is formed generates the various processes which are known to you as heat, magnetism, electricity, and the different chemical affinities, and so the matter of your world is built up. The bodies of the dwellers in ether are composed of ether in the simple state, and by a process which is simple enough although not fully explicable to you, we can transform them into the material of which your bodies are made and retransform them again.
"Two analogies, one mechanical and one chemical, may help you, if not to understand the process at least to see how it is possible. Suppose a string of immense length so thin as to be quite invisible; and suppose it to be knitted and woven and re-woven until it be formed into a piece of cloth, compact but very small. Suppose the process of knitting or weaving to be performed very quickly, and then suppose the web so formed to be as rapidly unravelled again. In that case the piece of cloth would appear and disappear just as you have seen our bodies do.
"Or suppose two vast masses of oxygen and hydrogen in the proportions in which they exist together as water. Suppose them to be brought together and subjected to the chemical process which is needed in order to make them combine: what happens? A small quantity of water suddenly appears. Reverse the process and it disappears.
"By means roughly analogous to these we are able to assume terrestrial bodies and to pass into the ether again. But while our bodies are in terrestrial form they are subject to the same laws as yours; we need food and sleep, and we are subject to the various accidents and conditions of humanity."
Here he paused for a moment and Jack spoke.
"But you are not subject to death as we are. Any cause that would kill us only resolves your material bodies into their ethereal form."
"That is the case," he said; "but the difference is not such as you suppose. All the material of your bodies is ultimately resolved into ethereal matter, but not all of it is essential to your being, and that which is essential is resolved by a much speedier process.
"But to speak of ourselves: while we remain in our own world we have instruments of sensation fitted to our condition and analogous to yours, just as hearing is analogous to seeing. But I cannot explain to you any more exactly our means of sensation, just as you could not explain sight to a man born blind.
"But our sensations are throughout strictly analogous to yours and pass into yours when we assume terrestrial bodies."
Here he paused again, and I asked, "Can you see our worlds from yours?"
"No," he replied. "The ether as far as we know pervades the universe and passes freely through worlds like yours, and we, while dwelling in the ether, have no more cognisance of your world than you of ours.
"But there are certain links," he added, "which bind both worlds together, and two of these are known to you as light and gravity. Our world is for ever in motion; motion is of the essence of its being, and it communicates its motion to all that is formed out of it and continued by it as your worlds are. Such motion is communicated in exact proportion to the vastly varied complexities of the matter of your worlds, and out of this proportionate communication arise the movements and the laws of movement of all the stars and planets, all of which movements and laws of movement are amenable to calculation. Much of this is already known to you, and the day will probably come when your men of science will be able to calculate the proper motion of the remotest star that your instruments can discover with as much precision as they now calculate the motions of your moon.
"Light is another link between your worlds and ours. And light is the one means which we have of detecting from our world the presence of yours. Not that we see light as you see it. The sort of perception that you have by means of light we have in our world by analogous but higher means. The presence of light is known to us when in our own world only by a slight shuddering motion of the ether. Just as you perceive a difference in the mode of motion when you travel on land and on the water or in the air; just so we perceive an analogous difference when we pass to the regions of light from the regions where light is not. A shuddering motion of the material of our world warns that we are where your worlds are. And just as for you sometimes the motion of the air or water passes into a hurricane or a whirlpool, so to us a vastly increased movement of the ether (not the regular movement which is the cause of gravity, but a quivering movement) indicates the presence of one of the secular outbursts of conflagration which form part of the process by which your worlds become fitted for your occupation."
"But how," inquired I, "can you come into our world without having any direct sensation of its whereabouts?"
"Once we have been here," he said, "it is a matter of easy calculation to us to fix the locality; and we can communicate the elements of the calculation to others who have not been here."
Here he paused, and rose to his feet, and as we were about to rise he signed to us to keep sitting.
"Now," he said, "hearken carefully while I tell you of those into whose power you are fallen." And as he spoke it seemed to me that his attention was directed more especially to myself.
He went on—"The Infinite One, ages before your worlds were formed, called the ethereal host into being. And at first they were like your brute creatures, only with vastly greater powers and intelligence; yet, like them, for their vast powers were not under the control of any will of their own, for there was no such thing then as will, except the will of the Infinite One.
"But it pleased the Infinite One at last to give His creatures will. That which is His own prerogative He communicated to them in order that He might give manifold scope to the eternal love which is His essence. That will of theirs it was His will that they should exercise in conformity with that eternal love. But being free it might oppose that eternal love, not indeed to eternity, but for incalculable cycles of time.
"A few, a very few, as compared to the whole number, opposed themselves to Him, and as the ages passed these grew ever more evil, and ever more full of hatred of Him and of all who hold with Him. A very few they were as compared with those who held with Him, but a great many when compared with all the men who inhabit this little world of yours, or who ever have inhabited it."
Here he paused again, and there was dead silence for a space, and then Jack spoke, and his voice was like that of a man hurried and somewhat overawed.
"But how did the will to resist the will of the Infinite One ever come into being at all?"
"It was a possibility from the moment when the first free being was created, and it became actual by the gradual and undue admixture of things in themselves good. The desire to do great things is good, and the joy to be able to do great things is good. But if these two good things are suffered to govern the whole being, they become the possible germs, inert as yet, of self-assertion and pride. And then when the call for self-sacrifice comes, as it must, to the finite in the presence of the Infinite, the will, the spark of divine life which the Creator has committed to the creature, rises up against the sacrifice, and by its action fertilises the germs of self-assertion and pride.
"So began the deadly war of the finite with the Infinite. That had its origin in 'worlds before the man,' and it speedily passed over into man's world, and would long ago have destroyed it had not the Infinite One Himself become human in order to teach men by His own example and in His own Person the divine lesson of self-sacrifice."
Here Leäfar paused again and sat down, and seemed to wait for some question from us. I was quite powerless to speak. I felt quite awe-stricken and shamed, but presently I heard Jack's voice ringing out clearly and confidently like the voice of a fearless and innocent child.
"Sir Leäfar," he said, "do the men who inhabit this valley belong to the evil race you speak of?"
"Yes," he replied, "they are some of the least powerful, though not the least evil among them."
"And what is their purpose here?"
"Their purpose in general is to set the inhabitants of your world against the will and purpose of the Infinite One, to teach them to call evil good and good evil. And they work out this purpose by a great variety of methods.
"They assume human forms, and they have dwellings in the most inaccessible parts of your worlds, near the summits of the loftiest mountain ranges, and in the polar regions, and in remote islands, and in deserts as here. When civilised men move into their neighbourhood they move away; and they destroy most of the marks of their occupation. Sometimes nothing remains; sometimes, it may be, a few huge rocks standing on end, or piled one upon another. Such remains, when you discover them, you account for by attributing their formation to races of men who have passed away.
"From these remote settlements of theirs they make excursions into the inhabited world; they mingle sometimes among men, stirring them to murder and rapine, sowing discontent among the people, and prompting rulers to tyrannous deeds of cruelty and violence. This Niccolo Davelli, as he calls himself, was very active in the most corrupt and violent years of the tenth century, when he was the active adviser of an Italian bandit baron.
"But they have seldom taken prominent action in their own persons in more modern times, although here and there they appear in subordinate characters, stirring up strife and all kinds of evil, and then they pass elsewhither.
"But this Davelli has lately taken up a line of action against God and man which some of the more powerful of his kind took up ages ago with far wider success; he has established here, and in the inaccessible parts of the Himalayas, and in one or two other places, artificial seed-beds of pestilence. His emissaries gather, from all quarters, germs of natural and healthful growth, and submit them to a special cultivation under which they become obnoxious and hurtful to human nature. And then they sow them here and there in the most likely places, and thus produce disease, death, and disaster among men. The black death, and the plague, and smallpox, and cholera, and typhus and typhoid fevers have all had their origin in this way, and some of these are kept alive since by the carelessness of men. But of later years men are beginning to understand health and disease better, and so the power of these evil beings is becoming greatly restricted in this direction."
Here he paused again, and I took heart and said—
"Is it simply to gratify their love of inflicting pain that they cultivate and propagate these plagues?"
"Partly that, no doubt," he said, "but, above all, their purpose is to set men against the Infinite One by making them believe Him to be the Creator of painful and abominable diseases."
"But why should they not blame Him," said I, "if He has called into existence those evil beings who invent such diseases?"
"Suppose," replied Leäfar, "that a human enemy were to poison your water supply. Would you blame God or man?"
"Man, I suppose," replied I.
"Yes," he said, "for you would recognise the fact that man, being man, is free, and that once his freedom absolutely ceases he is no longer man. The Infinite One may, if He so please, take away his freedom, but by so doing He annihilates the man."
"You raise a hard question," said I; "is the Infinite One, then, committed to the eternal prevalence of evil? Is He pledged never to annihilate the power to do evil?"
Leäfar answered very slowly and solemnly, and yet there was a smile upon his countenance as he spoke.
"There is one thing impossible to the Eternal Love, and that is to annihilate Himself: and it would be to annihilate Himself if He were to permit the existence of Eternal hatred."
"Then," said I, "if I understand you rightly, these beings are doomed to annihilation?"
He smiled again and said, "Surely the freedom which opposes and continues to oppose God must perish: it is self-doomed; that is as certain as that the Love of God is infinite. The creature who so misuses his freedom must lose it at last, and then he is as if he had never possessed it. And so his moral being is, as you say, annihilated. All his other powers remain, but his will is dead. He becomes, like the brute, or like the earliest of the ethereal creation; nothing but an instrument in the hand of God. Such is the eternal doom of those who choose evil and abide by their choice. No pain remains, no hatred remains, no sin remains, because no opposition to God remains. But no real soul remains. The moral being is dead and done with, only an intellectual being remains."
"And what becomes of them?"
"They become the beasts of burden of the universe: they become instruments for carrying on the various mechanisms of the visible creation. They become subject to us just as your horse is to you. Many such are under my own direction and control."
Here Jack started and almost interrupted him, then hesitated and said, "I beg your pardon."
"Say on," replied Leäfar, quite softly and kindly.
"What I was going to say," said Jack, "was this: It seems to me that the final doom of which you tell us must have come to some of them before this."
"Some of them are meeting it every day," said he. "The mightiest of them can hold out for periods of secular vastness without losing their power of will in any appreciable degree; others, again, lose it all after a period comparable with the life of a man."
"And do they all know that they must lose it?"
"As well as you know that you must die."
"Ah!" said Jack, "I thought so, and now, sir, tell me one thing more: if this doom comes upon them while they are in human form, what happens then?"
"They pass back at once into their own world and are dealt with as I have told you there."
"Yes, I see it now. Two of the men here appeared to be missing the other morning, and when Davelli missed them I saw his face change with terror and malignity. I said to my friend here, 'Depend upon it the loss of these men has got something to do with his damnation.' Did I not say so, Bob?"
I nodded assent.
"It is true," said Leäfar.
"Then surely," said I, "they must be dying out rapidly."
"Dying out, certainly, but not as rapidly as you might suppose."
"Have they," said I, "the power to reproduce their kind?"
"No," said he; "the dwellers in the ether 'neither marry nor are given in marriage.' But they recruit their failing ranks from amongst men and from races analogous to man in other worlds like yours; they win them over to their side here and then claim them when they pass over there. Sometimes they steal them away from this world. Their purpose is to steal you away, one of you or both."
"Steal us! Surely that would not be permitted?"
"It is not possible unless you yourselves give yourselves away."
"How should we give ourselves away?"
"If you submit your will to theirs they get power over you, power which is hard to shake off, and which is very easily increased."
Here he paused, and the smile which usually attended his pauses did not appear. A sad expression, severe yet very gentle, took its place. There was a silence of several seconds. Then I stood up and spoke, standing.
"Hear me, sir. I remember and repent my faults. I knew that this man was a bad man. Nay, I had begun to suspect that he was something other and worse than a bad man. But I saw that he knew things which I longed to know, and so I suffered myself to forget his badness and I did for the moment submit myself to his will. He exercised his power upon me and he deceived me in its exercise. He transferred me to the surface of the moon, or showed it me in a trance, I know not which. I am conscious ever since of being somehow in bondage to him; although I am now determined to resist him to the death. Is there any hope?"
"Yes, there is hope, surely, although you may have, as you say, to resist him to the death. But if you die resisting him he will have no power over you after death. I am come to rescue both you and your friend. He runs no such risk as you do, although you are both in great danger of your lives."
"And but for my compliance, I suppose neither of us would have run any risk at all."
"Not so. You were both of you in great danger of your lives, and your friend is still so. But any further compliance on your part will make you the slave of this man, living or dead."
I shuddered and said, "What is to be done?"
"Your penitence and your present purpose are accepted, and you will have one more opportunity of asserting your own will against this Davelli. Tell me what has passed between you since your first compliance."
I told him in brief all that I have told you in the last chapter.
"It is clear," said Leäfar, "that he is going to make one more attempt upon you. He will make it, no doubt, when you meet him to-morrow. If you surrender your will to him again I see no hope. If you resist, then he will have no power but over your body."
"And what will he do then?"
"I cannot certainly say. He may kill you in his unrestrained fury. It is not altogether unlikely that he will. But that is all that he can do. You will have escaped him, and I will be able most probably to extricate your friend. But I think it more probable that he will resolve to make one other effort to enslave you, and, in that case, before the effort is made, I shall probably be able to extricate you both. I have little or no doubt that I shall be able, although the strife will be hard."
It occurred to me to ask him why he would not rescue us at once, without waiting for any further conference between Davelli and me. But I knew what the answer would be, and I felt its force. I knew that I should be fit for nothing in earth or heaven until I had asserted my will against this evil being, so I answered simply, "How shall I resist him?"
"He will probably endeavour to throw you into a trance again, and if you give your will to him for a moment, he will succeed. But if you hold your soul firmly, then he will fail. Call inwardly upon God and give yourself to God with your whole purpose. Think all the time of the holiest event in the history of mankind when the power of evil flung its whole force against One that was human, and was baffled, and the victory was won through suffering. So you will keep your will unsurrendered, and your adversary will be beaten back."
"Then, as I have said, he may kill your body in his disappointment and humiliation and rage, but you will be safe from him all the same."
"Let me escape him, and I am willing to die."
"That is the true temper; keep to that, and you need have no fear. And now listen to my further counsel."
But here again Jack interrupted him. "Surely, sir," he said, "it is better, is it not, to act at once? Why expose my friend here to a fearful risk? Lead us now, and we will follow you any whither. Let the risk, then, be what it may be, it cannot be more than the risk of death."
"Sir," said Leäfar, "I deeply honour your spirit and feeling, but you do not know the nature of the case. It is true that I might be able to rescue both of you from the place without any further contact between your friend and him whom you call Niccolo Davelli. I might be able and yet I might not, for although I am stronger than these men they have great odds against me here. But that is not the question, for suppose that I were quite certain that I could take you both alive out of this place, your friend remaining as he now is, I should not try to do so, for his own sake I would not. Wherever he would be, the power which this evil being has gained over him would remain and might be exercised at the most inopportune time for him. Davelli would select his own time, and that would be, no doubt, when your friend would be not so likely as now to resist him successfully. I see that you are willing to risk your life on his account, and your willingness will, no doubt, help him greatly. But not even all the wealth of sacrifice can save a man against his will. You may win his will but you cannot dispense with its exercise as long as he is man, or no less than man. Believe me that the very best thing that can be done for your friend is to let him take at once the opportunity which presents itself of asserting his will against the will of this evil one. He never can be more favourably disposed to do so than he is now."
It seemed as if Jack was going to answer, and I tried to catch his eye to dissuade him, for I felt very certain that what Leäfar said was true. But I could not catch his eye, and he tried to speak, but hesitated before a word came. Leäfar waited courteously. Jack made a further attempt. "But, sir," he began, and then again hesitated. At last he said, "No doubt, sir, you know best; let me not interrupt you further."
Then Leäfar continued, addressing himself to me. "I will suppose, now, that you have been successful in your endeavour to resist your enemy, and that he has resolved to make one other attempt to subdue your will. For certain reasons, of which I am well aware, but which I have now no time to explain, I know that in that case another night will have to pass before the next attempt is made. And during that night you must make your endeavour to escape. Come back at once when Davelli leaves you and meet your friend at or near the entrance to these rooms. Go and take some rest and refreshment, for you will need them, and provide yourselves with as much food as you can carry with ease. Then wander whither you will, only not far, and keep well within the bounds of the valley. Make no attempt whatsoever at concealment while the daylight lasts. As the darkness comes on return hitherward and rest awhile within sight of these chambers.
"Wait there until you see two men about your own size enter the room and until you see the light settle down as usual before the door. Then go both of you to the car"—(here he addressed himself especially to Jack)—"the car, I mean, in which you rode yesterday; start at once; lose no time, there is none to lose, for if you are pursued at all, you will be pursued before daylight. I will see that the car is well stored with food and provided with a spare battery and with glasses and light."
Here he added some further instructions, which I lost. Then I heard him say further,
"If you are followed I will follow, and I will help you as far as I may. There is everything to hope, and by that time there will be but little to fear. Barring unforeseen accidents you will escape with your lives. A brave man does all he can to save his life, but he is not afraid to lose it.
"Be sure, at any rate, that one good result will come of your adventure. These men will desert this place. No whiteman before you ever set his foot here, and these beings always conceal their earthly dwelling-places from civilised men. The next pioneers will find nothing here but, perhaps, a few odd-looking rocks.
"You may not need my assistance any more, but if your enemies follow you look up for a white flag and you will see that you are not alone."
Here he ceased and stood up, and we also stood up and bent our heads. He lifted his hand simply, and said "God keep you."
Then he disappeared in the same way in which he had appeared, but much more quickly.
It was still quite dark in our quarters although the day may have been beginning to break, and after exchanging a few hopeful words we tried to sleep. Strange to say I slept soundly, and I did not awake until it was full daylight.
When the appointed hour came I wrung Jack's hand in silence, and went to meet Signor Davelli. I reached the place of meeting only a few minutes too soon, and presently I saw him coming.
I knew that this was the hour of destiny for me, and I remember thinking that a man does not always know the hour of destiny when it comes, and that it would be better for him if he did. Then, of a sudden, it struck me that such reflection indicated a coolness that was hardly native to me, and, was it a good sign or a bad? I thought it was good, and yet that it was overdone. And I remembered to have read, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall."
Just then Davelli came up, and I silently committed myself to God and awaited his onset. It came without any delay, but without any demonstration. He wasted no time, and he was evidently very confident. I was standing when he arrived, and after the usual exchange of salutations he invited me to sit down. I did so, and he sat down too, not beside me but opposite me. Then, almost immediately, he rose up again and looked straight into my face; rather, I should say, straight into my eyes. Should I look away from him? No; straight back into his eyes, and let him do his best. Then, as our eyes met, there began for me a series of desperate encounters of which there was absolutely no outward sign.
First, it seemed as if I were enduring the most imperious cravings of appetite—appetite as relentless and cruel as that which drove the Samaritan mother to devour her son; such appetite as has ever been ready to trample upon honour and hope and shame and love, for the sake of its own immediate gratification. Such keen, hungry sense of desire goaded me now, and along with its urgency came the consciousness, full, clear, and strong, that it would be gratified at once, if I would simply change the look of resistance with which I was meeting my enemy's eye for a look of acquiescence.
I do not know how long this lasted, it could hardly have been an hour, but it seemed like days and years to me. But at last there was a change, and of a sudden I became conscious of pain—physical pain multiplied and intensified indefinitely beyond all my experience or imagination—
"All fiery pangs on battle-fields
On fever beds where sick men toss."
All these seemed to wring me, and rack me, and strive to wrench the soul out of me, and ever as the pain grew, there grew also the consciousness that if I would but meet my enemy's eye with one moment's glance of acquiescence all the pain would be exchanged for ease; and oh! how delicious the very thought of ease appeared to be, more delicious than all the delights of all the senses.
Meantime, I was conscious of nothing external except the eyes of my adversary, the expression of which was an extraordinary mixture of persuasiveness and deadly determination, now and then crossed, however, by a furious flash of malignity, and again by a flash of hideous and awful terror.
But all the time also I was doing with all my might what Leäfar had bade me do, and it seemed to me as if my will were growing one with God's will, and it seemed to me as if I stood under the cross, and felt in my own flesh and sinews the very nails and thorns which pierced the Divine Sufferer.
Again there was a change; all at once there began to crowd into my mind in rapid succession all the questionings of life and of thought, of knowing and of being, that ever have tantalized the mind of man. And it seemed to me that only a thin veil was lying between me and the answers to them all. It seemed to me that the key of all knowledge was lying within my reach; as if the solution of all the moral and intellectual riddles that ever have plagued humanity were there now ready to my hand; as if all mysteries might be unsealed for me in one way, and only one way, and as if that way once again were to change my attitude of resistance, if only for a moment, for an attitude of acquiescence.
And now the burning lust of knowledge seemed to grow into a force, far exceeding all the other forces that had been brought to bear upon me. Rather it seemed to draw them all up into itself, and then to let them loose upon me. And for one dreadful moment I felt as if I must surrender. But with a sheer and last effort I offered myself to God.
And then a whisper seemed to speak within, and say that the solution of all mysteries was only to be found in the Divine Self-Sacrifice. And then it seemed as if the cross and the figure upon the cross filled all my sight, and the evil glare of the eyes that had been fixed upon me slowly passed away.
I don't know if I fainted, I suppose I did, but if I did I was roused by a loud and furious curse, and starting into consciousness I saw Signor Niccolo looking at me with a look of baffled malignity, hatred, and fear.
"Wretch!" he said, "you have resisted me and you must die. And yet not now, nor easily. Go back to prison. To-morrow you shall suffer again all and more than all that you have suffered to-day. You are in my power beyond hope of escape; you must yield to me or die."
Then he put a little phial to his mouth, and his body seemed first to melt and then to boil, and then to pass into a dark vapour, and then to disappear almost as quickly as I have written the words.
After a few minutes I rose to my feet, saying, Thank God! I found that I was quite exhausted and scarce able for any exertion. I walked very slowly away.
I soon saw Jack standing near the foot of the eastern stairway. I made a signal to him and he hurried towards me. We met in a few minutes more; and in answer to Jack's look of anxious inquiry, I whispered, "I have beaten him," and Jack said, "Thank God!" and strange as it may seem, not another word on that part of the subject passed between us for months after.
We returned to our quarters and rested and refreshed ourselves, and then we compared notes briefly. We knew exactly what we had to do, and the time was at hand. About an hour before sunset we left our quarters for the last time, and wandered about without any attempt at concealment, and exchanging only a brief word or two now and then.
The night came on cloudy and dark, and still we stayed without. It was about an hour after dark when we saw such a light as that which rested every night before our door moving about hither and thither. It seemed as if the bearers of the light were in search of us, and we were beginning to wonder how best we should baffle their scrutiny. Just then we saw the figures of two men walk up to the door of our quarters and enter. Then the door was closed, and the light settled down before the door and all was quiet.