A Journey in Other Worlds by J. J. Astor - HTML preview
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Failing to find words to convey his thoughts, he threw himself into an open grave, praying that the earth might hide his soul, as he had supposed it some day would hide his body. But the ground was like crystal, and he saw the white bones in the graves all around him. Unable to endure these surroundings longer, he rushed back to his old haunts, where he knew he should find the friends of his youth. He did not pause to go by the usual way, but passed, without stopping, through walls and buildings. Soon he beheld the familiar scene, and heard his own name mentioned. But there was no comfort here, and what he had seen of old was but an incident to what he gazed on now. Praying with his whole heart that he might make himself heard, he stepped upon a foot-stool, and cried:
"Your bodies are decaying before me. You are burying your talents in the ground. We must all stand for final sentence at the last day, mortals and spirits alike-- there is not a shadow of a shade of doubt. Your every thought will be known, and for every evil deed and every idle word God will bring us into judgment. The angel of death is among you and at work in your very midst. Are you prepared to receive him? He has already killed my body, and now that I can never die I wish there was a grave for my soul. I was reassured by a vision that told me I was safe, but either it was a hallucination, or I have been betrayed by some spirit. Last night I still lived, and my body obeyed my will. Since then I have experienced death, and with the resulting increased knowledge comes the loss of all hope, with keener pangs than I supposed could exist. Oh, that I had now their opportunities, that I might write a thesis that should live forever, and save millions of souls from the anguish of mine! Inoculate your mortal bodies with the germs of faith and mutual love, in a stronger degree than they dwelt in me, lest you lose the life above."
But no one heard him, and he preached in vain.
He again rushed forth, and, after a half-involuntary effort, found himself in the street before his loved one's home. Scarcely knowing why, except that it had become nature to wish to be near her, he stood for a long time opposite her dwelling.
"O house!" he cried, "inanimate object that can yet enthral me so, I stand before your cold front as a suppliant from a very distant realm; yet in my sadness I am colder than your stones, more alone than in a desolate place. She that dwells within you holds my love. I long for her shadow or the sound of her step. I am more wretchedly in love than ever--I, an impotent, invisible spirit. Must I bear this sorrow in addition to my others, in my fruitless search for rest? My life will be a waking nightmare, most bitter irony of fate."
The trees swayed above his head, and the moon, in its last quarter, looked dreamily at him.
"Ah," thought Ayrault, "could I but sleep and be happy! Drowsiness and weariness, fatigue's grasp is on me; or may Sylvia's nearness soothe, as her voice has brought me calm! Quiet I may some day enjoy, but slumber again, never! I see that souls in hades must ever have their misdeeds before them. Happy man in this world, the repentant's sins are forgiven! You lose your care in sleep. Somnolence and drowsiness--balm of aching hearts, angels of mercy! Mortals, how blessed! until you die, God sends you this rest. When I recall summer evenings with Sylvia, while gentle zephyrs fanned our brows, I would change Pope's famous line to 'Man never is, but always HAS BEEN blessed.'"
A clock in a church-steeple now struck three, the sound ringing through the still night air.
"It will soon be time for ghosts to go," thought Ayrault. "I must not haunt her dwelling."
There was a light in Sylvia's study, and Ayrault remained meditatively gazing at it.
"Happy lamp," he thought, "to shed your light on one so fair! She can see you, and you shine, for her. You are better off than I. Would that her soul might shine for me, as your light shines for her! The light of my life has departed. O that the darkness were complete! I am dead," his thoughts ran on, and when the privilege-- bitter word!--that permits me to remain here has expired, I must doubtless return to Saturn, and there in purgatory work out my probation. But what comfort is it that a few centuries hence I may be able to revisit my native earth?--
The flowers will bloom in the morning light,
And the lark salute the sun,
The earth will continue to roll through space,
And I may be nearer my final grace,
But Sylvia's life-thread will be spun.
"Even Sylvia's house will be a heap of ruins, or its place will be taken by something else. If I had Sylvia, I should care for nothing; as I have lost her, even this sight, though sweet, must always bring regret. I wish, at all events, I might see Sylvia, if only with these spirit-eyes, since, as a mortal, she may never gladden my sight again."
To his surprise, he now perceived that he could see, notwithstanding the drawn shades. Sylvia was at her writing-desk, in a light-coloured wrapper. She sat there resting her head on her hand, looking thoughtful but worried. Though it was so late, she had not retired. The thrush that Ayrault had often in life admired, and that she had for some reason brought up-stairs, was silent and asleep.
"Happy bird!" he said, "you obtain rest and forgetfulness on covering your head; but what wing can cover my soul? I used to wish I might flutter towards heaven on natural wings like you, little thrush. Now I can, indeed, outfly you. But whatever I do I'm unhappy, and wherever I go I'm in hell. What is man in his helpless, first spiritual state? He is but a flower, and withers soon. Had I, like the bishop, been less blind, and obeyed my conscience clear, I might have returned to my native earth while Sylvia still sojourns here; and coming thus by virtue of development, I should be able to commune with her. "What is life?" he continued. "In the retrospect, nothing. It seems to me already as but an infinitesimal point. Things that engrossed me, and seemed of such moment, that overshadowed the duty of obeying my conscience--what were they, and where? Ah, where? They endured but a moment. Reality and evanescence-- evanescence and reality."
The light in Sylvia's room was out now, and in the east he beheld the dawn. The ubiquitous grey which he saw at night was invaded by streams of glorious crimson and blue that reached far up into the sky. He gazed at the spectacle, and then once more at that house in which his love was centred.
"Would I might be her guardian angel, to guide her in the right and keep her from all harm! Sleep on, Sylvia. Sweet one, sleep. Yon stars fade beside your eyes. Your thoughts and your soul are fairer far than the east in this day's sunrise. I know what I have lost. Ah, desolating knowledge! for I have read Sylvia's heart, and know I was loved as truly as I loved. When Bearwarden and Cortlandt break her the news--ah, God! will she live, and do they yet know I am dead?"
Again came that spasm to shed spirit tears, and had he not known it impossible he would have thought his heart must break.
The birds twittered, and the light grew, but Ayrault lay with his face upon the ground. Finally the spirit of unrest drove him on. He passed the barred door of his own house, through which he had entered so often. It was unchanged, but seemed deserted. Next, he went to the water-front, where he had left his yacht. Invisibly and sadly he stood upon her upper deck, and gazed at the levers, in response to his touch on which the craft had cleft the waves, reversed, or turned like a thing of life.
"'Twas a pretty toy," he mused, "and many hours of joy have I had as I floated through life on board of her."
As he moped along he beheld two unkempt Italians having a piano-organ and a violin. The music was not fine, but it touched a chord in Ayrault's breast, for he had waltzed with Sylvia to that air, and it made his heart ache.
"Oh, the acuteness of my distress," he cried, "the utter depth of my sorrow! Can I have no peace in death, no oblivion in the grave? I am reminded of my blighted, hopeless love in all kinds of unexpected ways, by unforeseen trifles. Oh, would I might, indeed, die! May obliteration be my deliverer!"
"Poor fellows," he continued, glancing at the Italians, for he perceived that neither of the players was happy; the pianist was avaricious, while the violinist's natural and habitual jealousy destroyed his peace of mind.
"Unhappiness seems the common lot," thought Ayrault. "Earth cannot give that joy for which we sigh. Poor fellows! though you rack my ears and distress my heart, I cannot help you now."