Theosophical Path, April - September, 1917.
Martin stood by the open door until the footsteps died in the depth below, then he turned and looked round the room astonished at the transformation it had undergone in those few moments. He pulled back the curtain that usually covered the little south window, and looked out over the city. Changes of mood were familiar experiences to this undisciplined nature, but never before had he sprung at a bound from such a depth of discouragement to the sunlit heights of faith in his destiny. It was not hope, but knowledge of his power and conviction of his vocation that filled him with such a jubilant sense of energy. What he had heard was no prophecy, no mere promise, but a revelation of the truth. He laughed at his weakness, and despised himself sincerely for allowing a simple injustice, or perhaps only a fault of judgment on the part of men who were not qualified to understand such work as his, to plunge him in despair. Once more he stood upon the heights, and knew himself a soul incarnate, a being from a higher sphere. This was not vanity, but inspiration. His brain was clear as a mirror, in which the motions of his soul were pictured in thoughts, while he stood back and watched the transformation of the transcendental concepts of the higher mind into the concrete images intelligible to the lower. He was the soul, and for a moment knew himself more than a mortal.
Time has no hold on transcendental consciousness, or if it has, then it must be a transcendental measure of eternity beyond the comprehension of the brain-mind; for in such rare moments one is made aware of what is meant by the old scripture in which it is written: "in thy sight a thousand years are but as yesterday."
When he turned from the window the sight of his preparations for a journey made him smile. He had no need to go to the seaside now. He had been farther than that and had come back refreshed, nay, reborn, rather. Now he would start in earnest. The path lay clear before him, and he saw that it was very long, and that it lay across a wild and barren land and lost itself among the mountains, where the sun shone low in the heavens. Even as he stood at the window watching the sunlight on the city fade, he saw the other sun go down and disappear in darkness. No matter; he had seen the path: nothing now could rob him of the certainty that it
existed, and that it was his path, whether he followed it or failed. Before he went to bed the studio was once more cleared for work and the vacuity caused by the absence of the 'Cleopatra' was changed to a vortex in which vibrated the nebulous substance of a new creation, whose germ was in the artist's heart waiting the hour of its release, to struggle forth to life in the dark shadow-world of mortals. It is said that the angels aspire to become men. So too a dream or spiritual idea seeks its expression in the realm of matter, even as the souls of men seek reincarnation on this earth having already tasted of its joys and sorrows, being all bound upon the wheel of the Great Law.
Martin Delaney had found a bridge across the chasm revealed by the completion of a work, even if he had not yet grasped the thread of 'continuity' we call 'The Path.'
This time he determined to make more careful preparation for the work, and also to take warning from experience. He had not heeded his father's reminder that his income was to be reduced, and so he came near absolute failure simply for want of money. He was not mercenary, but he was afraid of actual want: it seemed to him that he must first of all protect himself against this deadly enemy to success. So he at once began the painting of another picture in the same style as that which had proved a 'seller.' But before this was finished fame had found him out. It was a modest kind of fame, but of a sort not to be despised.
His friend Talbot, writing for an English weekly, had mentioned the young English artist so favorably that a local paper reproduced the notice with additions and references to his family. This brought congratulations from his relatives and a proposal from his new brother-in-law that Martin should come over and paint full-length portraits of himself and wife. He had but recently inherited a large estate with a fine old house filled with ancestral portraits, to which he felt he must contribute as his fore-bears had done.
Martin was nothing loath to take a summer holiday that would be so profitable, and he accepted readily.
His extraordinary facility fitted him for popular portraiture, and his first efforts proved so successful that commissions came from other members of the family before the portraits of his brother-in-law and sister were ready to hang in their places. He decided that he must take fortune while she smiled upon him, knowing that the path he meant to follow lay across a very barren land. It would be wise, he thought, to start with a balance in the bank. The contrast between his life in Paris and that of a favored guest in English country houses of the better sort was altogether agreeable to his taste, and he soon found himself in demand; so that the summer slipped away and autumn before he found time to accept his father's pressing invitation to come and paint portraits of his parents. His home-coming was a little triumph in itself, for he had gone abroad almost in disgrace, because of his refusal to follow the family tradition, which prescribed a choice of three professions for the sons of a family such as theirs. Army, Navy and Church; these were the only alternatives to the bar, which was to him an unthinkable proposition. But since he was successful in the line that he had chosen, his parents decided they might now recognise his choice of a career, that had moreover taken a much higher rank in the last generation than previously. Martin was treated as a genius, and enjoyed his popularity. Then came a pressing invitation from his married sister to visit them for a ball they meant to give in honor of the new portraits, hinting moreover at probable orders for more commissions from some of the neighbors, whom she was already canvassing in his interest.
That ball was fateful. He was flattered and made much of by all kinds of people, and several commissions resulted; but the fatefulness of the visit was embodied in a fascinating personality, the orphan heiress of a wealthy manufacturer, who had given his daughter a fashionable education, and had placed her before his death under the protection of an impoverished widow, whose defunct husband was a bankrupt baronet. She, poor lady, had done her duty faithfully by the orphaned heiress, and had secured for her the entree into a class of society that would hardly have opened its doors to her parents. She made her home with Lady Marshbank, and kept up the old house in fitting style, but not extravagantly. She had good taste and a will of her own. When she met the popular young artist she decided to have him paint her portrait for the Academy. There was time before the opening of the Spring Exhibition to complete the picture, and Martin undertook it, although he knew that it would postpone the great work he had planned. But then the price to be paid for this picture was in itself enough to keep him for a year if he lived economically, and then it would leave him time for several minor commissions in between times, for the picture was to be painted at Lady Marshbank's house Gadby, in Leicestershire, and Miss Southwick was very much in demand, spending a great deal of time visiting the houses of new friends with marriageable sons; so that the sittings for the portrait would be interrupted by occasional absences from home. All this combined to keep the artist in an atmosphere that was not favorable to Art as he understood it when he was in Paris: and to tell the truth, he was content to let his visions and his dreams rest a while. He told himself this was but a preparation for his great career. The life pleased him, and he found himself personally popular as well as being treated as a genius, which in itself is somewhat intoxicating to a young man of undisciplined character.
Miss Southwick was not beautiful, but she was attractive and intelligent. There was a certain charm about her that was not easily definable, and Martin was interested by her as by an artistic problem. He saw an effective picture to be made, and knew that he could do it. He also knew that if it were a success he would be able to command far higher, prices for portraits in future; and that would leave him free to devote more time to serious Work. Yes! that would leave him free to choose his sitters too. So that he could avoid some of the unpleasantness that comes with exacting subjects, who want to be made beautiful and yet to have a portrait that everyone can recognise. And also that would make it hard to turn his back upon the life he found so pleasant even now. He saw the danger, but he was not alarmed by it; he thought he knew his strength; it is hard to realize that one's little weaknesses are the true measure of one's strength in the long run.
So Martin went to Gadby and began the portrait of Julia Southwick. He was interested in the girl as a study, and was charmed by her as a woman. She was indeed a woman who easily won the affection of those with whom she came in contact. Her guardian, Lady Marshbank, loved her as a daughter, and the girl had come to look upon her chaperon as a mother, with Gadby as her home. It had been understood between her father and the widow of the ruined baronet that Julia should marry Alister Marshbank in due course. The boy was then at school, a handsome pleasant fellow and about Julia's age. But, as the young people grew up together, and the boy became more and more like his father, there were times when his mother hoped he would turn his attention to some other girl, some woman of the world. She loved her adopted daughter, and had not the heart to throw her in the way of such a marriage as her own had been. So she adopted the plan of treating the two as brother and sister, and the plan seemed to have answered, so far as she was able to judge. There was a frank and open friendship between them such as a brother and sister might display, and nothing more so far. But Alister himself took it for granted that he was to marry Julia some day, while she looked upon Gadby as her home, and if she had to marry someone she supposed it naturally would be Alister. But when Martin came to Gadby and the sittings for the portrait had begun, things took another aspect.
Julia insisted that her foster-mother's portrait should be added to the collection, and then when Lady Marshbank suggested Alister instead of herself, Julia said, "Why not both?" And so it was decided, and Alister was told to apply for leave from his regiment in order to come home and sit for his portrait.
Sir Alister was very like his father, and inherited a disposition to spend money recklessly. The estate was in the, hands of a receiver, who paid him a very moderate allowance, which his mother supplemented by an addition out of her own pocket, which in its turn was regularly replenished by Julia's check-book. And as all were satisfied with the arrangement there was nothing to be said against it. But when the young guardsman came home and found a rather striking (not to say handsome) artist installed on terms of intimacy in the house, he felt as if someone were intruding, and it certainly could not be he, who was the master of the house. He was inclined to be a little stiff and rather formal in his treatment of their guest, till Julia made fun of him and got him into a good humor again, as she knew how. She looked upon him as a boy, and certainly he could not claim to be much more.
Julia's portrait in due course went to the Royal Academy, and was well hung and favorably noticed by the critics. The other two portraits were only half-lengths and did not take long to paint, but long enough to make Martin wish there were other members of the family to be painted; and it was long enough to make Lady Marshbank wonder if it had not been altogether too long for Julia's happiness. But for the girl herself the time was all too short.
Martin declared that he was eager to be back in Paris and at work on a new picture, which he was at last persuaded to describe to a most sympathetic listener. She was intensely interested. Then she was told the story of the first 'Cleopatra' picture, omitting of course all mention of the girl who sat for the great queen. The new picture was to be 'The Passing of the Queen,' and Julia was thrilled with excitement by the eloquent description that the artist gave of the subject as he had conceived it. She wanted to go to Paris at once and see the other picture which had returned to the empty studio. She got down old books on Egypt from neglected shelves in the library, and sent to London for the latest works on the subject, and they studied them together. Then she had a costume arranged by her maid, and Martin made sketches for the picture and listened to her suggestions, which were always intelligent and practical. Finally one day they got a book with magnificent pictures of the temples on the Nile, and that settled the matter. She decided then and there that the only way to get into the right mood to study such a subject was to go to Egypt.
"Let's go!" she said enthusiastically; then realized the bearing of her words, and stopped. But looking him straight in the eyes she added, Why not?
Martin was silent a moment under the spell of her straightforward challenge. He did not hesitate long, but just repeated, "Ah! why not?"
And yet it was hard to say just what was in his heart. He hardly knew himself. It was as though he felt the influence of a will stronger than his own which yet was so in tune with his that the two wills were one. It was a new experience to find himself guided and at the same time dominated by a woman whose will raised no opposition from his own. Hitherto he had resented any evident attempt to lead or influence him in any way; but Julia was so frank and honest, and so clear-headed, he felt that he could trust her absolutely, as a man seldom does trust a woman. Besides she understood him: so he said to himself in confidence, meaning by that most probably that she accepted him at his own valuation; which was not quite true perhaps.
Lady Marshbank was a little startled by the announcement that her ward had made up her mind to visit Egypt and to invite the painter to go with them. She put it very nicely, asking her chaperon if she would not like to take them on a tour of archaeological research. This led to a serious conversation and a promise from Julia not to say more about the matter till her fostermother should have time to talk with the artist. She was not an alarming person, yet Martin felt extraordinarily uncomfortable when next day he was invited to take a walk in the garden with his hostess. He guessed what was coming, and tried to clear his thoughts sufficiently to give a reasonable account of his position.
He had not contemplated marriage, and was quite innocent of any attempt to win the heiress. He still held himself pledged to his art: but somehow his art had changed its aspect since he came to England and began painting portraits. The atmosphere of these old country houses was very soothing, but it did not foster the dreams that came to him in the neglected studio, which had been hallowed by the presence of the Queen. No visions of mystery rose to stir his imagination with awe and majesty. Here life was very comfortable and extremely rational. Mysticism was unknown and art meant merely the embellishment of homes dedicated to the comfort of the living and the honor of the dead. Sometimes he chafed at the narrowness of it all; but it was very pleasant to be flattered and petted as he had been, and there was a keen delight in feeling his power as a painter: for portraiture seemed to come naturally to him; each new canvas was a new triumph, and his career looked rich and rosy to him compared with that path which led through barren wastes up to the heights he still meant to reach. So it was truth he spoke in telling Lady Marshbank that he had not yet thought of marriage, and certainly had not dreamed of trying to attract the love of one who might aspire to a far more brilliant future than he could offer her. He spoke sincerely and his words carried conviction, and won the admiration of a woman who was accustomed to see her ward followed by a never-ending string of fortune-hunters young and old. As guardian of an heiress she felt bound to inquire as closely as possible into the antecedents of a man in whom her ward was evidently interested, to say no more; and so she left the young man with the feeling that it might be as well to bring his visit to a close and to go back to Paris at once. And this he did. Julia was just as charming as possible, showed no surprise, but merely said:
"You may expect a summons to Cairo one of these days, so be prepared.
She thanked him for the pictures as if they were gifts and let him go with a cheery "Au revoir," that sounded very pleasant to his ears. It haunted him all the way back and did not leave him when he found himself once again in his studio gazing in wonder at the 'Cleopatra,' which seemed to him like some old memory of other days. Suddenly he thought of Clara Martel, and wondered what had become of her. She had dropped out of his mind as if she too were but a memory of some former life. Now he was back again, but the place had no welcome for him. Something had happened in his absence. He felt as if someone must have died here; and then he fancied he was the dead man come like an unwelcome ghost to haunt the studio, that had been his home, and more than any ordinary home, for it had been indeed a temple dedicated to the sacred mystery of art. It was here unaltered, and yet changed. Something had gone. The place seemed empty, even more vacant than it did when first the 'Cleopatra' left the easel. It now seemed but a shell: yet he was here to call the sleeping soul to life and make it vibrate responsive to his will. He was at home again, he told himself, older and stronger and more confident of success: yet there was something lacking. The change was in himself: he had passed on into a new life, had stretched his wings in flight, and felt his power: now he would show his mastery, and compel the attention and respect that were his due. He had gained confidence, and this is much; but he had passed on into a different life, and, as he passed, some door had closed behind him. The future seemed as bright, nay brighter, than before, more golden; and his path lay fair and smooth across a sunlit garden rich in flowers, where birds of hope sang softly and the bees gathered honey; but the past was - past.
LARA MARTEL had gone away, after the sale of her father's library, and had left no address. Martin made no attempt to find out where she had gone; she was a part of the past. The future now claimed his attention, and the present was filled with preparations for the great work that was to bring him to the notice of the world. He felt that Egypt was to be his field; he was ordained to be the revealer of its mysteries; Egypt the ancient, the mighty school of antique wisdom, the Lamp of the World, whose light had burned brightly thousands of years before the dawn of modern history, and whose glory still remained undimned when European civilization was in its infancy.
But while Egypt still fascinated him and held his imagination, it was a different Egypt in which he now sought subjects for pictorial treatment. Formerly it was the mystery of the sacred science and the occult philosophy which fired his soul; now it was the 'pomp and circumstance' of the temples and the pageantry of the court life that appealed to him. The solid facts of archaeology seemed to him now more attractive than any speculative investigations along the lines of religion or philosophy. His point of view had changed almost without his being aware of it. His vanity would have repudiated the suggestion that he was psychologized by a strong-willed woman, and yet it is a fact that he now saw with Julia's eyes, and Julia was no mystic.
She had caused him to be supplied with all the latest literature on the subject, and to please her he had become a reader rather than a dreamer, a scientist rather than a seer. The field was rich enough to satisfy an even more diligent investigator and he became a frequenter of museums, seeking material for his art.
This was a life-work that he saw before him, and it fired his ambition. He had no fear of falling short of money now, for he imagined his success in portraiture would never fail him, and that he could just paint enough portraits to replenish his exchequer as the need arose. Young people always think the smiles of fortune once experienced can be recalled at will; the old can tell a different tale, to which no young man would pay attention perhaps, having to learn life's lesson for himself.
One day he was at work upon a brilliant composition when a knock came at the door, and for a moment his mind went back to that day so long ago when he was in despair for want of a model for his 'Cleopatra.' Now he was not in want of anyone, and yet the sound stirred his imagination and he rose eagerly to see who it could be. And when he saw, he suddenly became aware that he had been waiting for her ever since he came back and felt the emptiness of the studio.
She laughed, and gave him her hand so frankly pleased to meet him again that he put no restraint upon his own genuine delight at the 'surprise,' and even went so far as to declare that he had been listening for that knock for months. At which she smiled, and said:
"That, I suppose, is why you never wrote to tell us how you were getting on. Well, no matter; we will forgive you. I know you have been busy. Oh! that is grand!"
She planted herself before the easel in delight and became all absorbed in studying the composition.
Seeing this, he turned another canvas round and several panels, arranging them in order; and the critic turned to them silently. She went from one to the other slowly and without a word, while he looked on, appreciating the flattery of her evident interest in the work. At last she said:
"Yes, this is your work. Oh, what a field! But you must have a studio in Egypt. You cannot paint these pictures here."
She looked around disapprovingly.
"Of course you may want a studio here too, but it must be one in which you can feel the atmosphere of Egypt about you. I have great faith in having the right conditions for work. Now you must come and say 'How do you do' nicely to my dear Mother, who is waiting for me in the carriage at the door, and she will perhaps invite you to dine with us tonight. Will you come?"
"Will I?" he said, and smiled, so that she almost blushed, and hastily rising, went to the door.
"Oh, come as you are, that coat is all right, we understand. This is a surprise visit. Another day perhaps we will come for a visit of ceremony; then you may put on your best bib and tucker, and give us tea."
So they went down to Lady Marshbank, who did invite the artist to dinner just as Miss Julia had prophesied. And he accepted, also as foretold. He had no inclination to fight against destiny. But when he went back to the studio he looked across at the little window, recalling the picture of the Path that he had seen there, and he smiled somewhat scornfully to think how his imagination had fooled him with that old-fashioned allegory of the path that leads through dark and dangerous places, when all the time the straight broad flower-bordered way is open to the one who is really called by destiny. A faint light glimmered through the curtain that hung before the window, and again his fancy went to work and made him see two big brown eyes that looked at him reproachfully and faded from his sight. He turned impatiently to the canvas on the easel and shook off the uncomfortable suggestion of the eyes. He had grown somewhat intolerant of visions, since he took up the scientific study of his subject. He said that what he wanted now was facts, not dreams. But what are facts, and dreams?
The facts in his case seemed to nullify the warning of his dreams, which told him that 'the Path' would lead him through a wild and barren land. A barren land? What were the facts? Simply that every difficulty that he had foreseen was proved by facts to be a dream. No more. Or was it that the darkness of the first stages of the path was past, and that now he stood upon the mountain and looked down into the 'El Dorado' of his dream, which opened welcoming arms to him as to a child of destiny? He smiled contentedly, and thought that unsuccessful men said hard things of destiny, when all they had to blame perhaps was their own unjustified presumption in attempting enterprises to which they were not called by anything higher than their own ambition. This thought was very comforting, and he dressed for dinner in a state of complete self-satisfaction.
Julia was radiant and full of the Egyptian trip. She had got everything laid out, and Martin had nothing to do but to accept the blessings that the Gods showered down upon his path. He felt himself acknowledged as their agent, who was to make revelation to the world of secrets that the archaeologists had failed to unravel. He now saw how he had first been called, then tried and tested, and now stood approved and chosen as the artistic interpreter of Egypt to modern European civilization. And they, the Gods, had sent him a companion to help him in his mission.
He told her something of this charming fantasy, and found a most sympathetic listener; for though Julia was not a mystic she was romantic, and had a keen sense of the dramatic aspect of antiquity. As to the Gods, they meant nothing at all to her, except as accessories to a fairytale. Her own religion was a fairytale; her faith was simply the Joy of Life; and Life meant more to her than physical existence, but how much more, it might have been hard to say. She herself never inquired into the mysteries of her own nature; she took life as she found it, and she found it beautiful.
This talk about his mission came on the occasion of a flying visit to the studio, which lasted so much longer than the five minutes allotted to it, that a visit to the dressmaker had to be omitted from the program for the day, and as everyone knows how long a visit to the dressmaker may last, there is no need to inquire how long the conversation in the studio continued; but it was not time wasted, for a matter of some interest was discussed and settled, whereby the future of the two explorers was simplified, and Lady Chalmers was relieved of the necessity of chaperoning her ward upon this, to her, rather alarming expedition. Young married people need no chaperon.
Winter in Egypt, and spring in Paris, and a picture in the Salon to show that they had not been idle. Then to England; visits to the family and friends, and back again to Paris to a luxurious studio filled with Egyptian curios and oriental rugs, rare books and bronzes, ancient embroideries, and modern furniture made on the best antique models. Certainly there was an Egyptian atmosphere; but the word Egypt covers a vast and varied field of human aspirations as well as of human passions, plots and infamies, spiritual mysteries and the basest perversions of high rites degraded to the vilest superstitions, high-souled initiates ruling divinely, who in their turn gave place to politicians masquerading as the agents of the Gods; kings who seemed almost more than mortals, and sovereigns lower than ordinary men. All these and countless other contradictions and incongruities are covered by the one word 'Egypt,' and who shall say that the atmosphere of the luxurious Paris studio was not Egyptian?
But it was so in the sense in which one might have gaid the sordid attic in the Rue Baroche seemed like some columned temple of the Nile. There were no oriental rugs or incense there; and yet at times there was a 'presence,' and one that was of a different order from that which presided now in unquestioned sovereignty here in the large and sumptuous atelier.
Julia was Queen, and wife, and comrade, critic and counselor, ever willing to help, capable, active, industrious, and very practical. But in her presence no veils were lifted and no visions came, no star shone in the darkness nor glowed mysteriously in the full light of day. Before her, mystery was veiled. She represented actuality, she was the present personified. She was the joy of life. She was Success. Can a man want more? Man is not always reasonable, perhaps, and as an artist he may demand the moon; he may be plagued with yearnings for the infinite, the unattainable, being an artist and irrational. Ingratitude comes naturally to the artistic temperament. But Martin had found his El Dorado, and gloried in it. Yet there were moments even now when he was conscious of a chill. The Path was bathed in sunlight, and in the distance lay a golden city, where a throne waited for him when he should care to claim it. Such was his dream; but though it was certainly a pleasant kind of vision it left him wondering what was lacking. And then he felt that strange uncomfortable chill, which he had never experienced in the old days.
Under the guidance of his clever wife, he did not plunge rashly into great undertakings unprepared to carry them through successfully, but felt his way cautiously with works of moderate size and scope. Each was a marked success, and soon he found his reputation rising. And when at last he launched an ambitious composition, it came to port in triumph amid the applause of artists and the most flattering notice from the press. But in the crowd that gathered at the Salon round the picture on the opening day to compliment the artist and to congratulate his charming wife, Martin caught sight of his old friend Talbot turning away as if he had no place among the admirers, who were so eager to claim acquaintance with the hero of the hour. He felt hurt that his old friend did not congratulate him on his success. It was a success, of that he had no doubt. The work was excellent in every way; there was erudition displayed in archaeological features and accessories, and there was originality both in the conception and in the execution of the design. Yet Talbot turned away because he could not find the flattering words that were expected from him, he who had seen such promise in the first 'Cleopatra' picture, which had been generally ignored. He saw the merit of the work; but what he saw even more plainly was its soullessness, its total lack of inspiration. As science it was no doubt interesting; as Art it had no existence in his eyes.
Martin was perhaps unreasonably sensitive, and felt as if he had received a stab from one whom he remembered as a friend of former days, and would have liked to have among the little coterie of admirers who made life pleasant to him on this bright spring morning.
A little later in the day he met a collector of pictures and prints, who was anxious to make his acquaintance, and who said he would like to show him his collection the next time he was in London. The man was full of his own affairs, and really wanted to get an opinion on some doubtful canvases that had come into his possession as works of various notable painters: in particular he mentioned a couple of Fromentins, for which he had given a large price, because they were not generally known to collectors of that master's work; and he was in some doubt now as to their authenticity. Martin inquired where he had got them, and was told they came from the gallery of a well-known London dealer, who was credited with many doubtful transactions, but who being now defunct could not be called to account for imposing spurious works on credulous customers. Martin excused himself saying that he was not often in London just now, and turned to other friends. But his mind went back unpleasantly to the pictures he had painted for Chalmers in the style of Fromentin; and he had little doubt that he could identify the questionable canvases alluded to by this new acquaintance. It was another jarring note in the general harmony of the day, and served to recall more than he cared to remember of the days before he tasted his first success. He could feel the rustle of the crisp bank-notes that was so refreshing and invigorating then when his pocket was empty and his credit nil. And that recalled the foolish fancy of his day-dream, when he saw the star in the little window veiled by a curtain that assumed the aspect of a Bank of England note. And instantly a pair of dark brown eyes seemed fixed upon him reproachfully.
Why should these foolish fancies come to spoil his satisfaction now? Was Fortune jealous of his well-deserved success? Had he not worked for it and won it, by means which seemed to him proper and right?
His wife was chatting gaily to a group of men, but she was conscious of a contretemps. She felt his changes of mood almost as soon as he did; sometimes she seemed to anticipate them and to ward off unpleasantnesses. But now something, she felt, had hurt him while she was off guard, and she reproached herself, as a mother would if she let a bee sting her baby.
But Martin was beyond her reach, for she knew nothing of the things that were now tormenting his sensitive vanity. It was essential to his peace of mind that he should forget all that was in any way derogatory to his artistic honor or his personal dignity; and there was something about that matter of the pictures which Chalmers had commissioned him to paint that had not been altogether satisfactory to him at the time, and which would have caused him to decline the task if it had not been for the immediate need in which he found himself. That was the thing that galled him now. He felt as if he had been guilty of a dishonorable act under the pressure of want. His code of honor was more to him than his religion, in fact it was his creed. Now, looking back from the position of prosperity and success, that incident seemed mean and pitiful enough, and yet significant. Suddenly the picture of the banknote in the window shutting out the vision of the star enshrining those deep eyes became a symbol whose interpretation shocked him painfully. It seemed to mean that he had sold his 'vision' to feed his body and relieve himself of personal discomforts - an interpretation that he resented as unjust, although it came from his own imagination. He thought those big brown eyes gazed at him in reproach, and he was deeply wounded by the implication of weakness and failure under temptation, which he read into their strange glance. Those eyes had seemed to him lit by a mystic fire that was not of the earth; and since that time he had seen nothing that had the power so to stir the depths of his imagination. Clara Martel had passed out of his life as suddenly as she had entered it, and he had almost forgotten her until this moment. He looked around him, fearing to see her standing in the crowd and holding him under the spell of those unusual eyes. At one time he would have taken the mental impression to be a response to an inner warning from some higher power, but now he instinctively associated it with the bodily presence of a personality. His mind had almost unconsciously resumed the materialistic attitude familiar to him in his home-life in England, before he went to study art in Paris and dreamed of Cleopatra.
His archaeological researches had kept him interested in the facts of life ancient and modern; and his desire to become recognised as a great artistic authority on Egyptology had closed his mind to all those finer forces and more subtle suggestions, that had at one time seemed to him to be the essential elements of Egypt as he loved to think and dream of that land of mystery.
Once spiritual forces seemed actual realities, now he relied on facts, rejecting undemonstrated causes as mere speculations.
Once dreams and visions were full of significance, and to them he looked for inspiration and instruction; now he referred to books, and inscriptions, dubiously interpreted, but strictly scientific.
In those days the Gods seemed near, though fortune and fame were very far away. Now he was prosperous and happy, and success already smiled upon him; but the great Gods had faded into the limbo of 'mere sacerdotal superstition,' and the ancient mysteries had ceased to inspire him with awe and reverence. They too were antique traditions, to be scientifically investigated and criticised. The Great Queen herself was honored as a supreme intelligence and as a mighty ruler, but not as an emissary of those higher powers, that formerly he seemed to recognise as the true rulers of the world and the divine Guardians of humanity. In those few years he had gone far upon the downward path of mere materialism. He had discarded faith in visions; but yet here he was upset and most unpleasantly disturbed by the mere memory of a dream.
Meanwhile the conversation all around him flowed on unceasingly, and he made some pretense of taking part in it; but the pleasure of the morning had suddenly changed to weariness, and he wished he were home again in the studio.
His wife, watching him as she talked, caught something of his thought, and promptly proposed that they should go for a drive through the Bois, to get rid of the dust they had inhaled in the crowded galleries. He caught the suggestion eagerly, and thanked the Gods who had given him Julia. She never reproached him. He never felt mean or pitiful with her to encourage him. He felt she understood him and he was not ungrateful to her.
THE day was beautiful, and Julia bethought her of a letter from Lady Marshbank which she proposed to read to her husband by way of entertainment, for the good lady was an amusing correspondent, and gave them all the gossip in a light and easy style that was surprisingly free from malice. The latest beauty to attract the admiration of her son was always reported with a most searching analysis of the lady's charms and defects of character. This time, however, the writer confessed herself somewhat alarmed because the object of Sir Alister's most recent infatuation, while not strictly beautiful, was in some respects more dangerously attractive to a young man of his peculiar temperament. His mother always spoke of her son's 'temperament,' when she wished to allude delicately to his inordinate vanity. Lack of beauty was no defect in the anxious mother's eyes; it was indeed rather a recommendation, but there was a more serious defect in the young woman's qualifications: to wit, a total absence of independent fortune with which to minister to the needs of an extravagant husband; but the worst fault of all was that she was an actress, one of the latest claimants to the rather uncertain honors of the stage.
These things were bad, but what most alarmed the good lady was the fact that the girl was entirely unlike the young women whom the susceptible Sir Alister usually selected for the fleeting favor of his admiration. She was not frivolous, nor was her personal character open to criticism, and moreover she seemed to have rather severely snubbed the young man for some time. Under these circumstances Julia was well able to understand her foster-mother's anxiety.
Martin was amused at the writer's alarm and asked the name of this new light of the drama, whose fame had not yet spread to Paris.
"This is what she says," said Julia, delighted to have got his mind on to another theme. She went on reading.
"You know how I dislike those horrible plays of Ibsen; well, for my sins, I was induced to go with him to hear the latest horror, in order to see this miracle. The play was just as gruesome as anyone with a taste for 'problems' could desire, but the woman was certainly remarkable. Her big brown eyes have a queer fascination: they haunted me for days, yet she is almost insignificant in size and not particularly beautiful. But those eyes are dangerous. I know that Alister will make a fool of himself, if she allows it. But she seems really a very worthy sort of person. Of no particular origin, her father was an unknown artist and I believe she uses her own name Clara Martel."
Martin sat up and repeated in a peculiar voice, "Clara Martel," as if he had been asleep and were now trying to recall his dream. Clara Martel."
"Why, Martin, do you know her?" exclaimed his wife wondering a little at his manner.
"Yes. I knew her slightly, in fact she sat to me for my first Cleopatra picture."
"Ah! She was your model?" Julia's voice was almost chilly as she asked the simple question; but Martin hardly noticed it, and answered simply.
"Her father was a friend of Talbot's, and was interested in Cleopatra, so she let me make a study of her for my picture, when I was 'stuck' for want of a model. Then her father died, and I never knew what became of her. I went to England about that time and clean forgot her. Yes, her eyes are certainly remarkable. Her father was a delightful talker and seemed to have read a lot. The girl was silent and peculiar. I never dreamed of her going on the stage. I had almost forgotten her."
Julia felt somehow inclined to wish the "almost" could have been "altogether." Martin had never mentioned the incident of the sitting for that picture, which now returned to her memory vividly. She recalled the peculiar fascination of the Queen's eyes in the painting, and recognised some underlying current of mystery connected with that past, which was beyond her reach. She felt as if she had stepped upon a forgotten tomb and heard her footfall echo in the unknown depth below. Martin seemed now inclined to sit and dream rather than talk. Julia was jealous of anything that drew him away from her even in thought. She watched over him more as a doting mother does over a wayward child, and she was ready to forgive his humors and his weaknesses if only she could remain his confidante. She thought there were no secret chambers in his soul to which she had not access; and she had never felt the pang of that kind of jealousy, familiar to so many wives, for Martin was well content to look to her for all the comfort and companionship he needed. So she too relapsed into a silent meditation on the subject of the girl who had so suddenly appeared as a disturbing element in the family.
She was familiar with Alister's unstable 'temperament.' He was extremely candid in his confidences, and used to tell her of a good many of his love affairs (the more innocent ones); and other people would at times complete the record of his escapades, so that she was not under any delusions as to a man's 'fidelity' in love: and yet she never for a moment believed her husband capable of such levity as was natural to Sir Alister. She thought of those eyes, and wondered if Martin had indeed forgotten them so completely; and then she could not help speculating as to how much there might have been for him to forget. Lady Marshbank had easily adopted the old saying: "There's safety in numbers," as her consoling motto in thinking of her son's matrimonial projects, and so far none of his infatuations had given her cause for much anxiety, except upon the score of a possible scandal. But a woman who was not beautiful nor rich nor easy of approach, and who yet had the power to hold his admiration, was certainly a cause for serious consideration if not alarm.
To Martin the name of Clara Martel came ominously as an answer to his own querulous self-examination. She seemed to stand before him now as an accusing spirit, silently scornful of his small success, his comfortable life and popularity; and her glance had no need of language to call back his first ideals and aspirations, his dedication to the task of vindicating the reputation of the Great Queen, his reverence for the Gods and for the ancient mysteries. She seemed to be looking down on him from some forgotten height which he too once had scaled; and once again dimly and distantly he saw himself standing in the presence of the Queen, whose eyes were those of the unknown girl, who came to him in his need, as if she were indeed a ministering spirit sent by some higher power to help him in his task. He had forgotten her; and the Gods seemed very far away. His years of archaeological research now looked to him like a mere pleasure voyage in some safe sea among the enchanted islands of a land of dreams, where he had gathered pretty shells and curious stones to play with childishly. Meanwhile he had forgotten her: and the Gods look coldly on ingratitude.
He shuddered slightly, and his wife roused herself, saying: "The air is chilly still. Shall we go home?"
Yes. He was impatient now to be at home. The studio was home. The luxury of his present abode was strangely in contrast with the poverty of the old studio in which he had dreamed such splendid dreams, but still it was home. The studio is still the studio in spite of the upholsterer's most laudable efforts, and to an artist the studio is home.
For the first time since his marriage a cloud had come between them - a memory; no more.
Where had it come from?
Suddenly he felt as if his life had lost reality. He tried to rouse himself; and as he did so he looked at his wife beside him. She seemed far away. She too was part of that pleasure voyage on a fairy sea, where scientific facts were magic toys created by wizardry for the delusion of such dilettanti as himself. He wondered vaguely if she too would prove as illusive as the science he had accepted as a substitute for true vision and the wisdom of the Gods.
She turned to look at him, and noticed the strange look on his face. She was alarmed; but laughed, and said "Come! wake up, we are nearly home. I think you have been asleep. You look dazed and dreamy. Have you got cold?"
He shook himself and answered:
"I think I was half asleep. Yes, it is cold. I shall be glad to be in the studio again. That is the best place for an artist."
Clara Martel had passed out of the painter's life, but she had not forgotten nor lost sight of him. She followed his career as one might read a legend of the past in the events that are occurring on the stage of our own day. She thought the time would come again when he would need help, but whether it then would be her lot to set his feet upon the path once more she could not tell.
Meanwhile she had her destiny to fulfil; and her career afforded ample occupation for her thoughts; but still she could find time to think of others. The idle have no time to think of anyone but themselves.
Though living now in London she had not lost touch with her old friends the Talbots, and they gladly kept up a regular correspondence with her. They had told her of Martin's marriage and of the pictures he exhibited; some of them she had seen for herself; and from these data she could partly read the story of his life. It was a disappointment; but she still hoped that he would some day turn back and find the forgotten path, before his life was wasted utterly, and the fire of creative imagery had grown cold; before the years had set the seal of failure on his brow beneath the wreath of victory with which the vain world crowns its favored ones. For it is so that a man may be acclaimed by men and highly honored, while the assessors in the "Hall of Judgment" watching the weighing of the heart may have already uttered the verdict that admits of no appeal: "Tried and found wanting."
When she remembered his lofty aspirations and thought now of his academic triumphs and social success, she feared to hear the voice of the recorder proclaiming "Tried in the balance and found wanting." She still dared to believe the promise of his youth might be fulfilled.
But she had seen so many a fair promise wither ere the life that bore it reached maturity; and she had seen stars that had burned bright in the eyes of children fade or disappear in adolescence, while fires of another kind blazed up in place of them. The world in which she moved was full of such fires, which too often she saw worshiped as the pure flame of genius: fairy fires, will-o'-the-wisps, indeed, that lead to the swamps and quagmires of life.
Many of those she met were marked with the mud in which they wallowed secretly - though such poor secrets are not hard to read, nor are they pleasant reading; and Clara Martel was forced to shut her eyes to very many things in order to endure her constant contact with such undesirable companions. She was a dramatic student, one amongst many, but very much apart from all the rest; although but few of them were conscious of the fact, perhaps because she hardly was aware of it herself. She saw so much to love in human nature, and was content to shut her eyes also to so much, that she was seldom conscious of her loneliness, which is an affliction that particularly pertains to egotism; the selfish person is eternally alone.
But she was rarely lonely, and if the atmosphere of her thought-world was of too rarefied a kind for those with whom she was in daily contact, that was perhaps unavoidable: to her it was but the natural state of things, normal and familiar from her infancy.
But now her student days were over, and she had already gained a certain reputation for her interpretation of some of Ibsen's characters. His plays were only then beginning to find acceptance with the public, and she was one of the few who could successfully fill some of the more exacting roles. She was already popular among the more ardent of the great dramatist's admirers, though not herself by any means an enthusiastic worshiper of the master. She had no sympathy with the gloom and horror in which he seemed to revel; she was an optimist. Still, there was scope for her talent in an attempt to impart some warmth to, characters that to her seemed lacking in the higher qualities of woman-hood, and she did full justice to the marvelous dramatic instinct of the great Norwegian.
Like Martin she had dreamed her dream, and seen the path before her; and like him she had held herself pledged to a noble cause, and she believed herself called to fulfil a certain destiny. Like him she looked on Egypt as the home of human culture and the shrine of art; like him she hoped to see the ancient mysteries revived on earth, and the lost secret sciences restored to their former place of honor. Vrom her father she had learned more real Egyptology than the archaeologists of that day believed capable of scientific demonstration. But she looked in vain for a dramatist touched with the sacred fire, who should restore the drama to its ancient glory as the revealer of the Sacred Science.
She marveled that the message of Theosophy should wake so few echoing voices among the dramatic authors of the world. Surely some genius must arise to put into dramatic form some of the teachings of antiquity that Madame Blavatsky in her great books had brought to the western world, and to redeem the theater, and rededicate it to the service of humanity. She knew that this must come; but feared that she might not live to help in the great work.
When she had heard of Martin Delaney and his Cleopatra picture, she thought that he must be one of the brotherhood, one of a group of souls that come to earth at stated times to give new spiritual energy to a degenerate age. But he seemed to have lost heart, or to have chosen a lower path; he was now little more than one of the dilettanti, with whom Science and Art are hobbies, and philosophy a subject for 'Scientific investigation,' which is a polite term for 'groping in the dark.' Genius does not go groping, but stands on a height and sees with opened eyes.
Unlike the painter she was not deluded by success; she knew that it was no more than an incident in her search for the true path. But Martin looked on his triumphs as so many milestones on the Path itself, on which he felt that he was already far advanced.
Yet all his satisfaction seemed to melt away, and all his secret triumph lost its savor at the mere memory of a woman's eyes.
Julia sat in her own room wondering wherein she had failed, wondering what evil influence had passed her by and struck the heart she thought herself so well able to protect against all pain or disappointment. She felt as a mother might, who finds her child has gone beyond her. Had she grown old and helpless?
For the first time she felt the pang of doubt as to her power to protect him from himself. Was Love then not omnipotent? The doubt was momentary. Youth was still strong within her, and her confidence returned, but henceforth tempered with a doubt.
When Lady Marshbank next wrote to Julia it was to tell her of a new phase of Alister's infatuation. Julia did not read the letter to her husband. In it the writer said:
"Alister is really too absurd; he wanted me to go with him to a house in Bayswater last week. You know the kind of people one expects to find in Bayswater; but this if you please was to meet the Theosophist Madame Blavatsky. It appears that his inamorata is a disciple of hers, and had induced the silly boy to go with her to a Theosophical meeting at her house in Lansdowne Road. Now you know my dear I am not prejudiced about religion, but I object to being dragged into new movements without knowing what they are about; and then they say that all sorts of queer people go to these meetings. Alister has been there several times and was deeply impressed, so he says at least; but I am too old for new religions and things of that sort. The world is good enough for me, although no doubt it might be better; but it will last my time. So I declined. Now he subscribes to their new magazine 'Lucifer'! Think of it! I try to keep it out of sight, but it is sure to be on the table when some particularly orthodox caller comes, and I get credit for it. It really is too bad. You know how I dislike new notions and unnecessary fads, - and then to be taken for a Theosophist. That boy will bring me into disgrace with everybody in one way or another. I shall have to go back to Gadby. I think I must be getting old."
"Poor dear," sighed Julia - sympathetically. "That boy is certainly a trial. But then I suppose all men are, more or less."
And then she fell to musing on the mystery of the girl who seemed to have such a strange influence on the two men so differently yet so intimately connected with her life. The name of Clara Martel seemed ominous to her. When she thought of her a cold hand seemed laid upon her heart to still its beating.
A few days later she found her husband reading a book she had not seen before. When he went out she picked it up and found it was The Voice of the Silence, by H. P. Blavatsky. She frowned on reading the title, and felt again that cold hand on her heart. But she drew a chair up to the fire and sat down to see for herself what this Theosophy really meant. Some hours later she stood with the book still in her hand looking intently into the fire. She was very pale.
She had read the book, and in her own way understood it. Now she knew what was before her. If Martin should accept the teaching of this book, her day was done. She could no longer be his guide and comforter. He would go beyond her. If he entered on that Path he would be lost to her. She could not follow him. She, who had been his guide. She knew that his imagination would transport him into regions beyond her ken. She was intelligent, and knew that the earth was her world, and that she had no wings to bear her to the heights that he would scale if once he left her guardianship. She saw him lost to the world and her upon those dazzling heights, unless she saved him from himself. Therefore she did not hesitate.
She stirred the fire, and put the book into the hottest part, and watched it slowly burn to ashes, but with no sense of satisfaction. It was an act of sheer despair. As she stood there her husband entered. He saw the ashes of the book still glowing in the fire, and noticed the pale cheek of his wife as she turned to greet him.
"Why Julia," he said. "What are you burning there?" Then looking closer, he saw and understood. "You have burned that book. Why?" he asked coldly.
She put her two hands upon his shoulders and looked into his eyes pathetically, saying,
"Because I love you."
At her touch he stiffened slightly and put up his hands as if to thrust her from him, but hesitated, and merely took her hands in his, looking down at her reproachfully. Then she knew that she had won.
She dropped her head against his shoulder and cried there, as he gently stroked her hair in silence.
The ashes in the hearth turned dull and grey, the light was fading from the sky; and in the studio the shadows deepened about them softly, as if to hide her triumph and his shame: and both were grateful for the gathering gloom, that seemed to set its seal on some unspoken pact.
He looked into the fire, where the dull grey ashes seemed to have stifled all the throbbing fire that usually made the embers glow with fairy-pictures. But he looked in vain, for he saw no pictures now, but one that he did not choose to see: it was "the dying of the light." In his heart he knew a fire had gone out, leaving the chill of death within the house of life: and as he kissed the woman in his arms his lips were cold.
Although there was no dedication written in the book that Julia had burned, it was not difficult for her to guess the name of the sender; yet it, stirred no jealousy in her heart. She had no fear that any other woman would rob
her of her throne. But in Theosophy, she recognised a rival that she could not cope with if once it were allowed an entrance in the studio. Nor was she jealous of Art, believing as she did that she could herself become the channel through which artistic inspiration should come to her husband. She held herself more as a leader than a fellow-student. Her role of wife was the most sacred thing she knew, and its responsibilities were boundless as her own ambition.
It may be that the goddess Art smiled somewhat pitifully on the presumption of her human rival, knowing the frailty of womanhood, the instability of human life, and her own immortality.
Julia had heard that "Art is long, and life is short"; but she believed that youth and love and life were inexhaustible. Convinced that her love was wholly unselfish, she did not hesitate to make her husband entirely dependent on her. In the studio she reigned supreme; and Martin was well content to have it so. She was the central figure in all his more important works; she was in fact the genius loci, the spirit of the studio, and she could brook no rival influence there.
When she had read that book and understood the spiritual nature of the Theosophical ideals, she shuddered and drew back alarmed at the vast horizon suddenly revealed. It was as if the solid walls had ceased to shelter her from the dull horror of infinity; as if her little world had lost for a moment its reality; and as if utter impotence had fallen upon her. She was afraid. She realized the danger at a glance, and in desperate defiance she had burned the book, believing that in doing so she broke a spell that had been cast upon her husband. And yet she feared. Was it too late? No! Her love was stronger than destiny, and made her bold to brave his anger. She was triumphant when he kissed her for she knew that she had won. And yet his lips were cold, and there was something almost scornful in his tenderness. But she was unmindful of it in her gladness. She had defied the Gods and vanquished them by love; and yet it has been said: "The mills of the Gods grind slowly but they grind exceeding small."
Martin plunged into work again on a more ambitious composition than the last. In it he intended to embody much of the archaeological lore he had accumulated, as well as to display his mastery in handling a pageant.
The year passed busily enough for him, and when the time for finishing his picture for the Salon came round, he felt that he could count upon a more pronounced success than had rewarded his last year's effort.
Occasionally he saw Clara Martel's name in the theatrical news. It seemed that she was in America winning some little notoriety, but he knew nothing more. And now another interest had come into his life, for Julia was soon to become a mother.
The coming of the child seemed ominous to him. It would occur about the same time of year as that which brought the first visit of the strange girl with the big brown eyes that stamped themselves so vividly on his imagination at the time. Then too it was the time when all his labor of the year was tested in the ordeal of the public exhibition. But the coming event did not distract him from his work, and he saw no cause for any anxiety on Julia's account. She was serenely happy and confident. But just at the last, when his picture had gone in, and he was free to give more attention to his wife, there came a telegram announcing his father's serious illness, and begging him to come home at once to see him before he died. Martin could not refuse. Julia was well, and Lady Marshbank who had just arrived assured him there was no need for him to stay in Paris, so he left immediately.
The journey naturally enough recalled that other journey to England, when he met Julia, and changed the current of his life. What would the returning cycle bring him now, he wondered. His natural mysticism had been crushed by the materialistic spirit of his surroundings and of his own scientific studies in archaeology, but it was not dead, it was degraded into superstition. He looked for omens and found them in occurrences that his brain-mind told him were purely fortuitous coincidences.
The prospect of his father's death filled him with a vague sense of catastrophe, which was altogether unwarranted by the natural and peaceful close of a long life. Nor was there anything alarming in the separation, since he had long ago broken his home-ties with the parents who had not been at any time demonstrative in their affection. Somehow he felt as if called upon to meet some crisis, the nature of which was altogether a mystery to him.
His father was sinking slowly, but lingered on, and Martin decided to stay with him, because his wife wrote so cheerfully, and Lady Marshbank added her assurances that all was going on well. He read all sorts of trivial literature and exhausted the magazines and papers. In one of these he came upon an item under the heading of theatrical gossip, from which he gathered that Clara Martel had given up a promising career upon the stage in order to devote herself to the study of Theosophy and, the propaganda of what the paper called the 'new cult.' This news hardly surprised him, but it seemed to have some peculiar significance, as a stray thread woven into the web of destiny in which he had become involved. There seemed to be some link between them that was forged perhaps in other lives. He was pondering over this news when the servant brought in the letters. He looked for Julia's handwriting, but found in place of it a letter from Lady Marshbank informing him that the event was to be expected shortly, and promising to telegraph the news.
This definite announcement brought to him the realization of a new aspect of life. So far his interests had all been centered in his art, that is to say, in himself. Julia herself was but a satellite who fostered the self-sufficiency of the great central sun of his little universe. He, was so absolutely devoted to the cultivation of his own tastes and hobbies, and so entirely convinced of his whole-hearted devotion to Art, that he had not, until this moment, realized that a new center of interest could take possession of the home, in which he had occupied the chief place. The thought that he must take a back seat in his own house was somewhat of a shock to his abnormal egotism. To calm his mind he strolled out into the garden, and stood for a long time watching the gold-fish in the lily pond, until a groom came to bring him a telegram that had just arrived. It read: "The child was still-born this morning. Complications feared. Come if possible."
His father's condition was unchanged, and the call was too urgent to be neglected. He decided that his place was with his wife, and left for London by the express. Catching the night train for Dover he was in Paris by next morning, but too late. His wife was dead.
Martin was staggered by the blow. It seemed impossible that Julia could be dead. She seemed to him the very embodiment of life. He had occasionally meditated speculatively upon the possibility of his own death, but never of hers. Death had not touched him closely hitherto, and it surprised him in a strange way. The very foundations of life were shaken; he seemed to be standing on a quicksand. His mind was shaken from its fancied security and found no resting point, except that lifeless body on the bed, that looked like Julia, but was not. He could not grasp the truth. He found his brain listening for her step. His eyes wandered continually to her favorite comer in the studio, then to the empty easel. Some letters lay there waiting for him, and he wondered why they did not interest him. One was from the Salon, evidently, but he did not open it.
What was it that had happened? Something incredible, impossible; Death. His little world was utterly shattered, and now he was alone.
Lady Marshbank was kind and motherly to him, and he accepted her presence there as if she were in fact his mother, but she was not able to reach him. He was shut in beyond the reach of sympathy. He talked to her quietly, like a child wondering at the strange thing that had befallen. She wished that he would show some feeling, but he had none to show beyond astonishment and loneliness.
All day long and nearly all night he wandered about the studio. He could not sleep and refused food, and when at last the funeral was over, he was completely worn out. Then the doctor could no longer refuse to give him the sleeping-draught he demanded; but its effect was only temporary, and his demand was so insistent that the doctor gave him a prescription that he could get made up when necessary, merely accompanying it with a warning against allowing its use to become habitual. A futile warning. From that day he was never without an opiate at hand. He smoked continually and ate seldom. Soon he found means to procure the drug in other forms, and then the days as well as the nights were passed in a dream, in which his loneliness was blotted from his memory along with his former ambitions and aspirations. His life was nothing but a long debauch.
He excused himself from going to England for his father's funeral; and he did not go to see how his picture was placed in the Salon. He had forgotten it. The papers were unopened, he was no longer curious to know what people thought of his great work. The world was dead to him. Julia had made herself necessary to his life, and now that she was gone, he had no care to live. She had rescued him from his high ideals, and cured him of dreams; and now they had their compensation, making him their slave. She had obliterated his early life, and closed the door she thought was opening on to a new world in which she had no part; now she was gone, and he was adrift without a past to fall back on, or a future to look forward to, and for the present moment what wonder if he chose oblivion.
Extreme in everything he did not hesitate to increase the dose continually, and was in a very short time reduced to a moral wreck, whose physical decay would follow swiftly.
Winter found him in Egypt; and, when it was known that the great English artist had returned, his studio was besieged by natives whom he had used as models on former occasions; but now they got small consolation from his servant, who could only say that there was no work for them at present, for the artist was not painting pictures now. He only smoked and dreamed. They all understood the matter, and were sorry for themselves; for he, had been very generous to them.
One old Arab who had been dragoman for him on several expeditions, came to him and tried to persuade him to make an excursion to a newly discovered buried temple or tomb some distance up the Nile, but Martin refused to go. Arabi tried hard, to arouse his interest, thinking that if he got him away he might contrive things so that he should be forced to do without the drug for such a time as might be sufficient to enable him to break off the habit. But Martin was not to bet persuaded. Old Arabi was sad becauge he had known so many victims of the fatal drug, and also because he looked upon the artist as one who in heart had reverence for the ancient Gods of Egypt, one who although an alien was yet a brother in a spiritual sense. He would have saved him if he were allowed. Martin himself was fond of the old man, who had been quite a traveler and had, known many artists in his day. He had a wonderful store of anecdote and legend which he would spin into most delightful stories, having the native faculty of romance. Martin would listen to his stories where he could tolerate no one else near him, for he had grown irritable and morose when he was not actually dazed with drugs, and almost oblivious to his surroundings.
One day old Arabi came to the studio and begged admission. He had a dream to tell, a dream that concerned the artist, and this explanation opened the door for him, though it was closed peremptorily to everyone else.
Martin was in a very irritable mood and hardly tried to conceal the fact that he wanted to be alone, but Arabi was gently imperturbable and quietly insistent, so that in a little while, when coffee and cigarettes were brought, his host was almost amiable and was anxious to put the old man at his ease.
"Well, now, what is this dream? I used to believe in dreams: and then I lost faith in all that sort of thing; and now - well - tell me the dream."
Arabi slowly blew a cloud of smoke and watched it circling and swirling away into invisibility.
"That is like a dream," he said. "At first it is strong and all alive and then it gets fainter and is gone, so that you cannot bring it back. But there are some dreams that stay fixed; they are the true dreams, sent to us to be remembered." There was a pause for another whiff, and then the old man went on. "I was standing in a garden and the trees were full of fruit and flowers, and there were bees and birds and grasshoppers, and the pink lotus in the pond was full of blossom. And I saw a woman coming toward me with her face unveiled. I do not know who she was, but she had dark eyes and looked like a queen. I bowed to her and kissed the hem of her robe; and she spoke to me, saying: 'Arabi, you have been faithful to the one we must not name for many lifetimes, and I know that you are faithful still. Look up! what do you see?' I looked and saw a man wandering in a black forest full of reptiles writhing in the swamp; and down among the roots of trees, where the black mud was almost like water, there were things like alligators, but black and shiny and with dull white eyes. They seemed to be watching the man, and somehow I seemed to know that if he slipped and fell he never would get up again, but so long as he could keep his feet they dared not touch him. He leaned against a tree and in his hand he held a bunch of big red poppies; and the lady said to me, 'Ask him to throw away the poppies and to follow me: tell him that I will save him from himself, and bring him to a safe place, if he will trust me; but he must throw away the poppies. That he must do himself, or else I cannot help him.' Her eyes were beautiful; I think she was a queen. When I looked back to where the man had been I saw no forest, nothing but the garden and the flowers and the trees full of fruit; and then I woke."
"And what has that to do with me?" asked Martin trying to seem unconcerned. Arabi sighed gently and smiled as one might in speaking to a sick child.
"The man was you, sir."
There was no use in trying to misunderstand the dream. Its meaning was too obvious.
There was a long silence, and Arabi smoked quietly muttering to himself an invocation or a prayer in Arabic.
"What are you muttering there?" asked Martin irritably.
Arabi waved his hand courteously, but kept silence.
Martin began to pace the floor as he did formerly when trying to find a clue to some allegory or dream-picture. He felt that those eyes had found him out, and that now they would not let him die in peace. In peace? Was he in peace? His life was little better than a long night-mare, which he seemed powerless to break; and yet she said that he must throw away the poppies. He knew the meaning of that symbol, it was plain enough. But no! it was too much for him to do. Better to die and finish with it.
Arabi got up to go, and said, as if in answer to something that Martin had spoken, "Death is like sleep, and life goes on in sleep; perhaps it is the same in Death. I think it is."
"Is there no rest even in death then?"
"There may be if a man dies properly. Sometimes there is no rest in sleep."
"Then you believe that death is not the end of it?" asked Martin.
Arabi carefully threw his cigarette end in the bronze dish and said: "There is no end. That cigarette is ended, may I take another?"
"Help yourself," said Martin.
Arabi took one and lit it.
"So! one cigarette is ended and another lit, and there is no end of it, although that too will end. Good day, sir, and thank you."
Saying so and bowing courteously the old man went out, leaving the artist staring at the cigarette end on the dish.
Yes! Life is like a cigarette: and it may be as he says that life follows life: but what of that if only memory is cut off by death? But is that possible? Ah! Who can say?"
Martin started once more his wandering up and down the studio, following the various lines of thought that opened out involuntarily from the message he had just received. His scientific skepticism had fallen away and left him helpless against the wild vagaries of his disordered brain. Now no theory appeared improbable if it seemed but to fit the occasion, and he was convinced for the moment that he had received a warning from the Great Queen herself. Clara Martel was no longer a distinct personality to his mind, but seemed somehow to be herself a mere phantom used by a higher power as a medium of communication between the living and the dead. "Throw away the poppies?"
he repeated doubtfully. Then going to the cabinet he took out the box in which he kept the drug, and looked round almost as if he thought those eyes were on him now. He set it down and looked at it, then opened it slowly, but impatiently snapped down the lid again, muttering, "Throw it away? Yes: throw it - away! Well! Why not?" Again he looked round the room suspiciously. It, was getting dark. The servant came in with a lamp and asked if he should light up.
"No!" said Martin. "You can leave that. I am going out. Give me my hat.
~The man went for the hat: Martin put the little box under his arm and lighted a cigarette.
"Your coat, sir?" suggested his servant, seeing him starting to the door in his long studio coat, but Martin ignored him and went out as he was.
Instinctively he avoided the fashionable streets, and wandered on into a quarter generally avoided by Europeans after dark, that is if they are respectable; but Martin was following no clearer plan than that of finding a safe place in which to throw away the box he carried. He felt as if it were alive and would come back and haunt him unless he could destroy it utterly. He was in a kind of waking nightmare, tormented by his craving for the thing he carried, and haunted by the warning, "He must throw away the poppies." At last in a bewildered way he stopped at a cafe, where he thought he was not known, and ordered coffee and cigarettes. He kept the little box under his hand as if it were a jewel-case, and more than one pair of eyes turned curiously to get a glimpse of it. He was conscious that his studio coat and shoes seemed to attract attention, and it annoyed him. When he rose to go an Arab sitting outside got up and followed him. He turned impatiently and found that the man was Arabi, who bowed respectfully and said:
"This is not a good place for you, sir, will you let me follow you? They know me here."
"Where am I? I did not notice where I was going. I can take care of myself, but I shall be glad to talk with someone. I am tired of my own company. Yes, come along. Show me a place where we can get coffee that is fit to drink and where they won't stare at me."
Arabi looked at the box and said:
"They think you are carrying some rich jewel there. Will you allow me, sir, to put it in my pocket?"
"Yes, do!" said Martin eagerly. "It is nothing. I was going to throw it away."
Arabi took the box, and recognised it. He guessed the truth at once, and smiled to himself, for this was more than he had hoped. He thanked God devoutly, and felt that now he would be able to help his friend the Englishman, who had shown his faith and had gone so far as to intend to "throw away the poppies."
He talked in his most entertaining manner, telling stories of the old temples and the mysteries, such as he had not hitherto revealed his knowledge of: for in his philosophy it would be wrong to so much as appear to believe in such things unless the one to whom he spoke had shown himself worthy of trust or capable of understanding spiritual things.
Martin was fascinated, and rejuvenated in spirit by this unveiling of a soul. The faith of the old man rekindled the dead fire in his heart, and for a time his bodily craving for the drug was conquered by his mind, busied as it was with deeper interests and the pictures created by the spiritual side of his imagination.
So Arabi talked on, and gradually reintroduced the scheme he had proposed for an expedition up the Nile to visit the site of a newly discovered 'treasure-house of mystery.' This time the scheme was eagerly accepted and impatiently adopted. Arabi took charge of everything, and at once attached himself to Martin's person, watching him like a mother and doctor and nurse, as well as serving him as dragoman. He was his servant and his teacher, his counsellor and his entertainer, whose fund of anecdote and allegory was unlimited; and now and then he seemed to assume a higher role, speaking with dignity and authority that somehow seemed quite natural. At such times his master felt that he was a mere infant by comparison with this illiterate Arab, and almost as it were a humble disciple giving obedience willingly to a respected teacher. He was not left alone for more than a few moments till they were fairly on the way. Arabi seemed to have no need of sleep, and to be incapable of impatience, as well as insensible to the occasional outbreaks of the sick man, who was at times almost insane for lack of his accustomed dose. But Arabi was inflexible and imperturbable; and at last sleep came to the exhausted brain of his friend and patient, and the old man lay down, first thanking God that the long fight was over and the battle won: then he too slept like a little child.
Martin Delaney dreamed that he was back again in the old studio, where first he saw the Queen, and where her messenger had found him. Once more he stood before the easel, and looked at his own work, wondering a little at its majesty. It was his own work, yes, but completed, lifted beyond the stage of doubtful experiment into the region of accomplishment. What he saw now on the canvas was the work of one who knew his purpose, and who at the same time was able to make his knowledge subservient to his own soul, that higher self, that seems to the uninitiated as a being from another world, a ministering angel, or a God perhaps. A soul seemed brooding over the masterpiece ready to reveal the mvstery of Art to the beholder who could evoke the spiritual presence. The Great Queen in the picture looked at him from those deep brown eyes, and smiled her benediction. The studio was full of her presence as of old; but now that presence was more intimate; it was no longer foreign to his own individuality; it was indeed an emanation, as it were, from his own soul, a kind of connecting link between his brain-mind and his spiritual intelligence. The consciousness of unity was momentary; and again he seemed to be listening to a message that certainly was never spoken in audible words, but which transformed itself into intelligible language as it reached his mind. It seemed to come from the painted Queen, and yet the whole air tingled with sweet sound around him and the words formed themselves in his brain spontaneously. It said: "The Gate is passed; behold the Path before you. Follow it!" The studio vanished, and he saw the panorama of his life flash past him as a fragment of a great drama in which he had a part to play: but there was no break in continuity between the past, the present, and the future. The present was in himself; and all around unbroken continuity. He tried to catch the sequence of the pictures, and in the effort something seemed to break; the vision vanished; and he heard a voice singing softly in the night.
"Oh my Beloved; I am waiting for you in the glamor of the changeless day, which knows no night. Come to me in the rose-garden, where I sit singing to the silence. Oh my Beloved; while you linger in the shadows, the garden is forlorn, and I am but a dream. You are my life, Beloved, when we are One; but until then, you are but - a wandering ghost, and I a dream."
The plash and ripple of the water against the sides of the house-boat made an accompaniment to the song and emphasized the stillness of the night. A single ray of light ran through the darkness and revealed strange visionary distances that called him on. It was again that picture of the Path, seen long ago, but nearer now. He was no longer in the shadows outside the Gate, but stood in the way and felt his feet upon firm ground, and faced the distant mountains joyfully.
And Arabi too dreamed a dream, in which he saw himself waiting on a river's edge for one who followed timidly the path he knew so well. His friend was far behind him, but he knew that the ferry-man would wait for him, and that they two would cross the broad stream together and go up the great marble stairway to the Palace of the Queen upon the other side. He waited patiently, and heard the singer tune his lute to a new theme, the words of which were in another tongue but seemed to him like a mother's song, saying something like this, as he translated it.
"The roses that bloom in my garden are sweet, and the lilies are fair. The river flows by, and the ferry-man waits for your call. Oh my children! Ah, fairer than roses and lilies, and sweeter to me are the smiles and the tears of my children beside me. Oh come! I have waited, and hearkened, and watched from afar, while you wandered among the red poppy-fields dreaming their dreams, and you heard me not calling my children. Come home to me, Come."
Arabi smiled and murmured: "The children are coming home."
The singer was silent, and the ripple of the water lulled the sleepers dreaming peacefully, as countless generations have done, passing up and down the ancient water-way, that is as young today as when it bore on its breast the royal barges of the Great Queen herself. It seemed to Arabi she was calling them from the past to come to her in the Eternal Present, where there is neither you nor I, nor any difference of me and Thee.
So the night passed and a New Day dawned.
Last Update : January