A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview
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As Ayrault's consciousness returned, he fancied he heard music. Though distant, it was distinct, and seemed to ring from the ether of space. Occasionally it sounded even more remote, but it was rhythmical and continuous, inspiring and stirring him as nothing that he had ever heard before. Finally, it was overcome by the more vivid impressions upon his other senses, and he found himself walking in the streets of his native city. It was spring, and the trees were white with buds. The long shadows of the late afternoon stretched across the way, but the clear sky gave indication of prolonged twilight, and the air was warm and balmy. Nature was filled with life, and seemed to be proclaiming that the cold was past.
As he moved along the street he met a funeral procession.
"What a pity," he thought, "a man should die, with summer so near at hand!"
He was also surprised at the keenness of his sight; for, inclosed in each man's body, he saw the outline of his soul. But the dead man's body was empty, like a cage without a bird. He also read the thoughts in their minds.
"Now," said a large man in the carriage next the hearse, "I may win her, since she is a widow."
The widow herself kept thinking: "Would it had been I! His life was essential to the children, while I should scarcely have been missed. I wish I had no duties here, and might follow him now."
While pondering on these things, he reached Sylvia's house, and went into the little room in which he had so often seen her. The warm southwesterly breeze blew through the open windows, and far beyond Central Park the approaching sunset promised to be beautiful. The table was covered with flowers, and though he had often seen that variety, he had never before noticed the marvellous combinations of colours, while the room was filled with a thousand delicious perfumes. The thrush hanging in the window sang divinely, and in a silver frame he saw a likeness of himself.
"I have always loved this room," he thought, "but it seems to me now like heaven."
He sat down in an arm-chair from force of habit, to await his fiancee.
"Oh, for a walk with Sylvia by twilight!" his thoughts ran on, "for she need not be at home again till after seven."
Presently he heard the soft rustle of her dress, and rose to meet her. Though she looked in his direction, she did not seem to see him, and walked past him to the window. She was the picture of loveliness silhouetted against the sky. He went towards her, and gazed into her deep-sea eyes, which had a far-away expression. She turned, went gracefully to the mantelpiece, and took a photograph of herself from behind the clock. On its back Ayrault had scrawled a boyish verse composed by himself, which ran:
"My divine, most ideal Sylvia,
O vision, with eyes so blue,
'Tis in the highest degree consequential,
To my existence in fact essential,
That I should be loved by you."
As she read and reread those lines, with his whole soul he yearned to have her look at him. He watched the colour come and go in her clear, bright complexion, and was rejoiced to see in her the personification of activity and health. Beneath his own effusion on the photograph he saw something written in pencil, in the hand he knew so well:
"Did you but know how I love you,
No more silly things would you ask.
With my whole heart and soul I adore you--
Idiot! goose! bombast!"
And as she glanced at it, these thoughts crossed her mind: "I shall never call you such names again. How much I shall have to tell you! It is provoking that you stay away so long."
He came still nearer--so near, in fact, that he could hear the beating of her heart--but she still seemed entirely unconscious of his presence. Losing his reserve and self-control, he impulsively grasped at her hands, then fell on his knees, and then, dumfounded, struggled to his feet. Her hands seemed to slip through his; he was not able to touch her, and she was still unaware of his presence.
Suddenly a whole flood of light and the truth burst upon him. He had passed painlessly and unconsciously from the dreamland of Saturn to the shadowland of eternity. The mystery was solved. Like the dead bishop, he had become a free spirit. His prayer was answered, and his body, struck by lightning, lay far away on that great ringed planet. How he longed to take in his arms the girl who had promised herself to him, and who, he now saw, loved him with her whole heart; but he was only an immaterial spirit, lighter even than the ether of space, and the unchangeable laws of the universe seemed to him but the irony of fate. As a spirit, he was intangible and invisible to those in the flesh, and likewise they were beyond his control. The tragedy of life then dawned upon him, and the awful results of death made themselves felt. He glanced at Sylvia. On coming in she had looked radiantly happy; now she seemed depressed, and even the bird stopped singing.
"Oh," he thought, "could I but return to life for one hour, to tell her how incessantly she has been in my thoughts, and how I love her! Death, to the aged, is no loss--in fact, a blessing--but now!" and he sobbed mentally in the anguish of his soul. If he could but communicate with her, he thought; but he remembered what the departed bishop had said, that it would take most men centuries to do this, and that others could never learn. By that time she, too, would be dead, perhaps having been the wife of some one else, and he felt a sense of jealousy even beyond the grave. Throwing himself upon a rug on the floor, in a paroxysm of distress, he gazed at Sylvia.
"Oh, horrible mockery!" he thought, thinking of the spirit. "He gave me worse than a stone when I asked for bread; for, in place of freedom, he sent me death. Could I but be alive again for a few moments!" But, with a bitter smile, he again remembered the words of the bishop, "What would a soul in hell not give for but one hour on earth?"
Sylvia had seated herself on a small sofa, on which, and next to her, he had so often sat. Her gentle eyes had a thoughtful look, while her face was the personification of intelligence and beauty. She occasionally glanced at his photograph, which she held in her hand.
"Sylvia, Sylvia!" he suddenly cried, rising to his knees at her feet. "I love, I adore you! It was my longing to be with you that brought me here. I know you can neither see nor hear me, but cannot your soul commune with mine?"
"Is Dick here?" cried Sylvia, becoming deadly pale and getting up, "or am I losing my reason?"
Seeing that she was distressed by the power of his mind, Ayrault once more sank to the floor, burying his face in his hands.
Unable to endure this longer, and feeling as if his heart must break, he rushed out into the street, wishing he might soothe his anguish with a hypodermic injection of morphine, and that he had a body with which to divert and suppress his soul.
Night had fallen, and the electric lamps cast their white rays on the ground, while the stars overhead shone in their eternal serenity and calm. Then was it once more brought home to him that he was a spirit, for darkness and light were alike, and he felt the beginning of that sense of prescience of which the bishop had spoken. Passing through the houses of some of the clubs to which he belonged, he saw his name still upon the list of members, and then he went to the places of amusement he knew so well. On all sides were familiar faces, but what interested him most was the great division incessantly going on. Here were jolly people enjoying life and playing cards, who, his foresight showed him, would in less than a year be under ground-- like Mercutio, in "Romeo and Juliet," to-day known as merry fellows, who to-morrow would be grave men.
While his eyes beheld the sun, he had imagined the air felt warm and balmy. He now saw that this had been a hallucination, for he was chilled through and through. He also perceived that be cast no shadow, and that no one observed his presence. He, on the other hand, saw not only the air as it entered and left his friends' lungs, but also the substance of their brains, and the seeds of disease and death, whose presence they themselves did not even suspect, and the seventy-five per cent of water in their bodies, making them appear like sacks of liquid. In some he saw the germs of consumption; in others, affections of the heart. In all, he saw the incessant struggle between the healthy bloodcells and the malignant, omnipresent bacilli that the cells were trying to overcome. Many men and women he saw were in love, and he could tell what all were about to do. Oh, the secrets that were revealed, while the motives for acts were now laid bare that till then he had misunderstood! He had often heard the old saying, that if every person in a ball-room could read the thoughts of the rest, the ball would seem a travesty on enjoyment, rather than real pleasure, and now he perceived its force. He also noticed that many were better than he had supposed, and were trying, in a blundering but persevering way, to obey their consciences. He saw some unselfish thoughts and acts. Many things that he had attributed to irresolution or inconsistency, he perceived were in reality self- sacrifice. He went on in frantic disquiet, distance no longer being of consequence, and in his roaming chanced to pass through the graveyard in which many generations of his ancestors lay buried. Within the leaden coffins he saw the cold remains; some well preserved, others but handfuls of dust.
"Tell me, O my progenitors," he cried, "you whose blood till this morning flowed in my veins, is there not some way by which I, as a spirit, can commune with the material world? I have always admired your judgment and wisdom, and you have all been in Shadowland longer than I. Give me, I pray you, some ancestral advice."
The only sound in answer was the hum of the insects that filled the evening air. The moonlight shone softly, but in a ghastly way, on the marble crosses of his vault and those around, and he felt an unspeakable sadness within this abode of the dead. "How many unfinished lives," he thought, "have ended beneath these sods! Unimproved talents here are buried in the ground. Unattained ambitions, and those who died before their time; those who tried, in a half-hearted way, to improve their opportunities, and accomplished something, and those who neglected them, and did still less--all are together here, the just with the unjust, though it be for the last time. The grave absorbs their bodies and ends their probationary record, from which there is no appeal."
Near by were some open graves, ready to receive their occupants, while a little farther on he recognized the Cortlandt mausoleum, looking exactly as when shown him, through his second sight, by the spirit on the previous day.
From the graves filled recently, and from many others, rose threads of coloured matter, in the form of gases, the forerunners of miasma. He now perceived shadowy figures flitting about on the ground and in the air, from whose eyes poured streams of immaterial tears. Their brains, hearts, and vertebral columns were the parts most easily seen, and they were filled with an inextinguishable anguish and sorrow that from its very intensity made itself seen as a blue flame. The ruffles and knickerbockers in which some of these were attired, evidently by the effects of the thoughts in their minds, doubtless from force of habit from what they had worn on earth while alive, showed that they had been dead at least two hundred years. Ayrault also now found himself in street clothes, although when in his clubs he had worn a dress suit.
"Tell me, fellow-spirits," he said, addressing them, "how can I communicate with one that is still alive?"
They looked at him with moist eyes, but answered not a word.
"I attributed the misery in my heart," thought Ayrault, "entirely to the distress at losing Sylvia, which God knows is enough; but though I suspected it before, I now see, by my companions, that I am in the depths of hell."