Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer Lytton, , at sacred-texts.com
Whilest Calidore does follow that faire mayd,
Unmindful of his vow and high beheast
Which by the Faerie Queene was on him layd.
—Spenser, "Faerie Queene," cant. x. s. 1.
It was that grey, indistinct, struggling interval between the night and the dawn, when Clarence stood once more in his chamber. The abstruse calculations lying on his table caught his eye, and filled him with a sentiment of weariness and distaste. But—"Alas, if we could be always young! Oh, thou horrid spectre of the old, rheum-eyed man! What apparition can the mystic chamber shadow forth more ugly and more hateful than thou? Oh, yes, if we could be always young! But not [thinks the neophyte now]—not to labour forever at these crabbed figures and these cold compounds of herbs and drugs. No; but to enjoy, to love, to revel! What should be the companion of youth but pleasure? And the gift of eternal youth may be mine this very hour! What means this prohibition of Mejnour's? Is it not of the same complexion as his ungenerous reserve even in the minutest secrets of chemistry, or the numbers of his Cabala?—compelling me to perform all the toils, and yet withholding from me the knowledge of the crowning result? No doubt he will still, on his return, show me that the great mystery CAN be attained; but will still forbid ME to attain it. Is it not as if he desired to keep my youth the slave to his age; to make me dependent solely on himself; to bind me to a journeyman's service by perpetual excitement to curiosity, and the sight of the fruits he places beyond my lips?" These, and many reflections still more repining, disturbed and irritated him. Heated with wine—excited by the wild revels he had left—he was unable to sleep. The image of that revolting Old Age which Time, unless defeated, must bring upon himself, quickened the eagerness of his desire for the dazzling and imperishable Youth he ascribed to Zanoni. The prohibition only served to create a spirit of defiance. The reviving day, laughing jocundly through his lattice, dispelled all the fears and superstitions that belong to night. The mystic chamber presented to his imagination nothing to differ from any other apartment in the castle. What foul or malignant apparition could harm him in the light of that blessed sun! It was the peculiar, and on the whole most unhappy, contradiction in Glyndon's nature, that while his reasonings led him to doubt,—and doubt rendered him in MORAL conduct irresolute and unsteady; he was PHYSICALLY brave to rashness. Nor is this uncommon: scepticism and presumption are often twins. When a man of this character determines upon any action, personal fear never deters him; and for the moral fear, any sophistry suffices to self-will. Almost without analysing himself the mental process by which his nerves hardened themselves and his limbs moved, he traversed the corridor, gained Mejnour's apartment, and opened the forbidden door. All was as he had been accustomed to see it, save that on a table in the centre of the room lay open a large volume. He approached, and gazed on the characters on the page; they were in a cipher, the study of which had made a part of his labours. With but slight difficulty he imagined that he interpreted the meaning of the first sentences, and that they ran thus:—
"To quaff the inner life, is to see the outer life: to live in defiance of time, is to live in the whole. He who discovers the elixir discovers what lies in space; for the spirit that vivifies the frame strengthens the senses. There is attraction in the elementary principle of light. In the lamps of Rosicrucius the fire is the pure elementary principle. Kindle the lamps while thou openst the vessel that contains the elixir, and the light attracts towards thee those beings whose life is that light. Beware of Fear. Fear is the deadliest enemy to Knowledge." Here the ciphers changed their character, and became incomprehensible. But had he not read enough? Did not the last sentence suffice?—"Beware of Fear!" It was as if Mejnour had purposely left the page open,—as if the trial was, in truth, the reverse of the one pretended; as if the mystic had designed to make experiment of his COURAGE while affecting but that of his FORBEARANCE. Not Boldness, but Fear, was the deadliest enemy to Knowledge. He moved to the shelves on which the crystal vases were placed; with an untrembling hand he took from one of them the stopper, and a delicious odor suddenly diffused itself through the room. The air sparkled as if with a diamond-dust. A sense of unearthly delight,—of an existence that seemed all spirit, flashed through his whole frame; and a faint, low, but exquisite music crept, thrilling, through the chamber. At this moment he heard a voice in the corridor calling on his name; and presently there was a knock at the door without. "Are you there, signor?" said the clear tones of Maestro Paolo. Glyndon hastily reclosed and replaced the vial, and bidding Paolo await him in his own apartment, tarried till he heard the intruder's steps depart; he then reluctantly quitted the room. As he locked the door, he still heard the dying strain of that fairy music; and with a light step and a joyous heart he repaired to Paolo, inly resolving to visit again the chamber at an hour when his experiment would be safe from interruption.
As he crossed his threshold, Paolo started back, and exclaimed, "Why, Excellency! I scarcely recognise you! Amusement, I see, is a great beautifier to the young. Yesterday you looked so pale and haggard; but Fillide's merry eyes have done more for you than the Philosopher's Stone (saints forgive me for naming it) ever did for the wizards." And Glyndon, glancing at the old Venetian mirror as Paolo spoke, was scarcely less startled than Paolo himself at the change in his own mien and bearing. His form, before bent with thought, seemed to him taller by half the head, so lithesome and erect rose his slender stature; his eyes glowed, his cheeks bloomed with health and the innate and pervading pleasure. If the mere fragrance of the elixir was thus potent, well might the alchemists have ascribed life and youth to the draught!
"You must forgive me, Excellency, for disturbing you," said Paolo, producing a letter from his pouch; "but our Patron has just written to me to say that he will be here to-morrow, and desired me to lose not a moment in giving to yourself this billet, which he enclosed."
"Who brought the letter?"
"A horseman, who did not wait for any reply."
Glyndon opened the letter, and read as follows:—
"I return a week sooner than I had intended, and you will expect me to-morrow. You will then enter on the ordeal you desire, but remember that, in doing so, you must reduce Being as far as possible into Mind. The senses must be mortified and subdued,—not the whisper of one passion heard. Thou mayst be master of the Cabala and the Chemistry; but thou must be master also over the Flesh and the Blood,—over Love and Vanity, Ambition and Hate. I will trust to find thee so. Fast and meditate till we meet!"
Glyndon crumpled the letter in his hand with a smile of disdain. What! more drudgery,—more abstinence! Youth without love and pleasure! Ha, ha! baffled Mejnour, thy pupil shall gain thy secrets without thine aid!
"And Fillide! I passed her cottage in my way,—she blushed and sighed when I jested her about you, Excellency!"
"Well, Paolo! I thank thee for so charming an introduction. Thine must be a rare life."
"Ah, Excellency, while we are young, nothing like adventure,—except love, wine, and laughter!"
"Very true. Farewell, Maestro Paolo; we will talk more with each other in a few days."
All that morning Glyndon was almost overpowered with the new sentiment of happiness that had entered into him. He roamed into the woods, and he felt a pleasure that resembled his earlier life of an artist, but a pleasure yet more subtle and vivid, in the various colours of the autumn foliage. Certainly Nature seemed to be brought closer to him; he comprehended better all that Mejnour had often preached to him of the mystery of sympathies and attractions. He was about to enter into the same law as those mute children of the forests. He was to know THE RENEWAL OF LIFE; the seasons that chilled to winter should yet bring again the bloom and the mirth of spring. Man's common existence is as one year to the vegetable world: he has his spring, his summer, his autumn, and winter,—but only ONCE. But the giant oaks round him go through a revolving series of verdure and youth, and the green of the centenarian is as vivid in the beams of May as that of the sapling by its side. "Mine shall be your spring, but not your winter!" exclaimed the aspirant.
Wrapped in these sanguine and joyous reveries, Glyndon, quitting the woods, found himself amidst cultivated fields and vineyards to which his footstep had not before wandered; and there stood, by the skirts of a green lane that reminded him of verdant England, a modest house,—half cottage, half farm. The door was open, and he saw a girl at work with her distaff. She looked up, uttered a slight cry, and, tripping gayly into the lane to his side, he recognised the dark-eyed Fillide.
"Hist!" she said, archly putting her finger to her lip; "do not speak loud,—my mother is asleep within; and I knew you would come to see me. It is kind!"
Glyndon, with a little embarrassment, accepted the compliment to his kindness, which he did not exactly deserve. "You have thought, then, of me, fair Fillide?"
"Yes," answered the girl, colouring, but with that frank, bold ingenuousness, which characterises the females of Italy, especially of the lower class, and in the southern provinces,—"oh, yes! I have thought of little else. Paolo said he knew you would visit me."
"And what relation is Paolo to you?"
"None; but a good friend to us all. My brother is one of his band."
"One of his band!—a robber?"
"We of the mountains do not call a mountaineer 'a robber,' signor."
"I ask pardon. Do you not tremble sometimes for your brother's life? The law—"
"Law never ventures into these defiles. Tremble for him! No. My father and grandsire were of the same calling. I often wish I were a man!"
"By these lips, I am enchanted that your wish cannot be realised."
"Fie, signor! And do you really love me?"
"With my whole heart!"
"And I thee!" said the girl, with a candour that seemed innocent, as she suffered him to clasp her hand.
"But," she added, "thou wilt soon leave us; and I—" She stopped short, and the tears stood in her eyes.
There was something dangerous in this, it must be confessed. Certainly Fillide had not the seraphic loveliness of Viola; but hers was a beauty that equally at least touched the senses. Perhaps Glyndon had never really loved Viola; perhaps the feelings with which she had inspired him were not of that ardent character which deserves the name of love. However that be, he thought, as he gazed on those dark eyes, that he had never loved before.
"And couldst thou not leave thy mountains?" he whispered, as he drew yet nearer to her.
"Dost thou ask me?" she said, retreating, and looking him steadfastly in the face. "Dost thou know what we daughters of the mountains are? You gay, smooth cavaliers of cities seldom mean what you speak. With you, love is amusement; with us, it is life. Leave these mountains! Well! I should not leave my nature."
"Keep thy nature ever,—it is a sweet one."
"Yes, sweet while thou art true; stern, if thou art faithless. Shall I tell thee what I—what the girls of this country are? Daughters of men whom you call robbers, we aspire to be the companions of our lovers or our husbands. We love ardently; we own it boldly. We stand by your side in danger; we serve you as slaves in safety: we never change, and we resent change. You may reproach, strike us, trample us as a dog,—we bear all without a murmur; betray us, and no tiger is more relentless. Be true, and our hearts reward you; be false, and our hands revenge! Dost thou love me now?"
During this speech the Italian's countenance had most eloquently aided her words,—by turns soft, frank, fierce,—and at the last question she inclined her head humbly, and stood, as in fear of his reply, before him. The stern, brave, wild spirit, in which what seemed unfeminine was yet, if I may so say, still womanly, did not recoil, it rather captivated Glyndon. He answered readily, briefly, and freely, "Fillide,—yes!"
Oh, "yes!" forsooth, Clarence Glyndon! Every light nature answers "yes" lightly to such a question from lips so rosy! Have a care,—have a care! Why the deuce, Mejnour, do you leave your pupil of four-and-twenty to the mercy of these wild cats-a-mountain! Preach fast, and abstinence, and sublime renunciation of the cheats of the senses! Very well in you, sir, Heaven knows how many ages old; but at four-and-twenty, your Hierophant would have kept you out of Fillide's way, or you would have had small taste for the Cabala.
And so they stood, and talked, and vowed, and whispered, till the girl's mother made some noise within the house, and Fillide bounded back to the distaff, her finger once more on her lip.
"There is more magic in Fillide than in Mejnour," said Glyndon to himself, walking gayly home; "yet on second thoughts, I know not if I quite so well like a character so ready for revenge. But he who has the real secret can baffle even the vengeance of a woman, and disarm all danger!"
Sirrah! dost thou even already meditate the possibility of treason? Oh, well said Zanoni, "to pour pure water into the muddy well does but disturb the mud."