No Naked Ads -> Here!
Marius the epicurean %E2.., p.13

Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2, page 13

 part  #2 of  Marius the Epicurean Series

 

Marius the Epicurean — Volume 2
 


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font   Night Mode Off   Night Mode


  CHAPTER XXVII: THE TRIUMPH OF MARCUS AURELIUS

  [197] NOT many months after the date of that epistle, Marius, thenexpecting to leave Rome for a long time, and in fact about to leave itfor ever, stood to witness the triumphal entry of Marcus Aurelius,almost at the exact spot from which he had watched the emperor's solemnreturn to the capital on his own first coming thither. His triumph wasnow a "full" one--Justus Triumphus justified, by far more than the dueamount of bloodshed in those Northern wars, at length, it might seem,happily at an end. Among the captives, amid the laughter of the crowdsat his blowsy upper garment, his trousered legs and conical wolf-skincap, walked our own ancestor, representative of subject Germany, undera figure very familiar in later Roman sculpture; and, though certainlywith none of the grace of the Dying Gaul, yet with plenty of uncouthpathos in his misshapen features, and the pale, servile, yet angryeyes. His children, [198] white-skinned and golden-haired "as angels,"trudged beside him. His brothers, of the animal world, the ibex, thewild-cat, and the reindeer, stalking and trumpeting grandly, foundtheir due place in the procession; and among the spoil, set forth on aportable frame that it might be distinctly seen (no mere model, but thevery house he had lived in), a wattled cottage, in all the simplicityof its snug contrivances against the cold, and well-calculated to givea moment's delight to his new, sophisticated masters.

  Andrea Mantegna, working at the end of the fifteenth century, for asociety full of antiquarian fervour at the sight of the earthy relicsof the old Roman people, day by day returning to light out of theclay--childish still, moreover, and with no more suspicion ofpasteboard than the old Romans themselves, in its unabashed love ofopen-air pageantries, has invested this, the greatest, and alas! themost characteristic, of the splendours of imperial Rome, with a realitylivelier than any description. The homely sentiments for which he hasfound place in his learned paintings are hardly more lifelike than thegreat public incidents of the show, there depicted. And then, with allthat vivid realism, how refined, how dignified, how select in type, isthis reflection of the old Roman world!--now especially, in itstime-mellowed red and gold, for the modern visitor to the old Englishpalace.

  [199] It was under no such selected types that the great processionpresented itself to Marius; though, in effect, he found something thereprophetic, so to speak, and evocative of ghosts, as susceptible mindswill do, upon a repetition after long interval of some notableincident, which may yet perhaps have no direct concern for themselves.In truth, he had been so closely bent of late on certain very personalinterests that the broad current of the world's doings seemed to havewithdrawn into the distance, but now, as he witnessed this procession,to return once more into evidence for him. The world, certainly, hadbeen holding on its old way, and was all its old self, as it thuspassed by dramatically, accentuating, in this favourite spectacle, itsmode of viewing things. And even apart from the contrast of a verydifferent scene, he would have found it, just now, a somewhat vulgarspectacle. The temples, wide open, with their ropes of roses flappingin the wind against the rich, reflecting marble, their startlingdraperies and heavy cloud of incense, were but the centres of a greatbanquet spread through all the gaudily coloured streets of Rome, forwhich the carnivorous appetite of those who thronged them in the glareof the mid-day sun was frankly enough asserted. At best, they were butcalling their gods to share with them the cooked, sacrificial, andother meats, reeking to the sky. The child, who was concerned for thesorrows of one of [200] those Northern captives as he passed by, andexplained to his comrade--"There's feeling in that hand, you know!"benumbed and lifeless as it looked in the chain, seemed, in a moment,to transform the entire show into its own proper tinsel. Yes! theseRomans were a coarse, a vulgar people; and their vulgarities of soul infull evidence here. And Aurelius himself seemed to have undergone theworld's coinage, and fallen to the level of his reward, in a mediocrityno longer golden.

  Yet if, as he passed by, almost filling the quaint old circular chariotwith his magnificent golden-flowered attire, he presented himself toMarius, chiefly as one who had made the great mistake; to the multitudehe came as a more than magnanimous conqueror. That he had "forgiven"the innocent wife and children of the dashing and almost successfulrebel Avidius Cassius, now no more, was a recent circumstance still inmemory. As the children went past--not among those who, ere theemperor ascended the steps of the Capitol, would be detached from thegreat progress for execution, happy rather, and radiant, as adoptedmembers of the imperial family--the crowd actually enjoyed anexhibition of the moral order, such as might become perhaps thefashion. And it was in consideration of some possible touch of aheroism herein that might really have cost him something, that Mariusresolved to seek the emperor once more, [201] with an appeal forcommon-sense, for reason and justice.

  He had set out at last to revisit his old home; and knowing thatAurelius was then in retreat at a favourite villa, which lay almost onhis way thither, determined there to present himself. Although thegreat plain was dying steadily, a new race of wild birds establishingitself there, as he knew enough of their habits to understand, and theidle contadino, with his never-ending ditty of decay and death,replacing the lusty Roman labourer, never had that poetic regionbetween Rome and the sea more deeply impressed him than on this sunlessday of early autumn, under which all that fell within the immensehorizon was presented in one uniform tone of a clear, penitential blue.Stimulating to the fancy as was that range of low hills to thenorthwards, already troubled with the upbreaking of the Apennines, yeta want of quiet in their outline, the record of wild fracture there, ofsudden upheaval and depression, marked them as but the ruins of nature;while at every little descent and ascent of the road might be notedtraces of the abandoned work of man. From time to time, the way wasstill redolent of the floral relics of summer, daphne andmyrtle-blossom, sheltered in the little hollows and ravines. At last,amid rocks here and there piercing the soil, as those descents becamesteeper, and the main line of the Apennines, [202] now visible, gave ahigher accent to the scene, he espied over the plateau, almost like oneof those broken hills, cutting the horizon towards the sea, the oldbrown villa itself, rich in memories of one after another of the familyof the Antonines. As he approached it, such reminiscences crowded uponhim, above all of the life there of the aged Antoninus Pius, in itswonderful mansuetude and calm. Death had overtaken him here at theprecise moment when the tribune of the watch had received from his lipsthe word Aequanimitas! as the watchword of the night. To see theiremperor living there like one of his simplest subjects, his hands redat vintage-time with the juice of the grapes, hunting, teaching hischildren, starting betimes, with all who cared to join him, for longdays of antiquarian research in the country around:--this, and the likeof this, had seemed to mean the peace of mankind.

  Upon that had come--like a stain! it seemed to Marius just then--themore intimate life of Faustina, the life of Faustina at home. Surely,that marvellous but malign beauty must still haunt those rooms, like anunquiet, dead goddess, who might have perhaps, after all, somethingreassuring to tell surviving mortals about her ambiguous self. When,two years since, the news had reached Rome that those eyes, always sopersistently turned to vanity, had suddenly closed for ever, a strongdesire to pray had come [203] over Marius, as he followed in fancy onits wild way the soul of one he had spoken with now and again, andwhose presence in it for a time the world of art could so ill havespared. Certainly, the honours freely accorded to embalm her memorywere poetic enough--the rich temple left among those wild villagers atthe spot, now it was hoped sacred for ever, where she had breathed herlast; the golden image, in her old place at the amphitheatre; the altarat which the newly married might make their sacrifice; above all, thegreat foundation for orphan girls, to be called after her name.

  The latter, precisely, was the cause why Marius failed in fact to seeAurelius again, and make the chivalrous effort at enlightenment he hadproposed to himself. Entering the villa, he learned from an usher, atthe door of the long gallery, famo
us still for its grand prospect inthe memory of many a visitor, and then leading to the imperialapartments, that the emperor was already in audience: Marius must waithis turn--he knew not how long it might be. An odd audience it seemed;for at that moment, through the closed door, came shouts of laughter,the laughter of a great crowd of children--the "Faustinian Children"themselves, as he afterwards learned--happy and at their ease, in theimperial presence. Uncertain, then, of the time for which so pleasanta reception might last, so pleasant that he would hardly have wished to[204] shorten it, Marius finally determined to proceed, as it wasnecessary that he should accomplish the first stage of his journey onthis day. The thing was not to be--Vale! anima infelicissima!--Hemight at least carry away that sound of the laughing orphan children,as a not unamiable last impression of kings and their houses.

  The place he was now about to visit, especially as the resting-place ofhis dead, had never been forgotten. Only, the first eager period ofhis life in Rome had slipped on rapidly; and, almost on a sudden, thatold time had come to seem very long ago. An almost burdensomesolemnity had grown about his memory of the place, so that to revisitit seemed a thing that needed preparation: it was what he could nothave done hastily. He half feared to lessen, or disturb, its value forhimself. And then, as he travelled leisurely towards it, and so farwith quite tranquil mind, interested also in many another place by theway, he discovered a shorter road to the end of his journey, and foundhimself indeed approaching the spot that was to him like no other.Dreaming now only of the dead before him, he journeyed on rapidlythrough the night; the thought of them increasing on him, in thedarkness. It was as if they had been waiting for him there through allthose years, and felt his footsteps approaching now, and understood hisdevotion, quite gratefully, in that lowliness of theirs, in spite ofits tardy [205] fulfilment. As morning came, his late tranquillity ofmind had given way to a grief which surprised him by its freshness. Hewas moved more than he could have thought possible by so distant asorrow. "To-day!"--they seemed to be saying as the hard dawnbroke,--"To-day, he will come!" At last, amid all his distractions,they were become the main purpose of what he was then doing. The worldaround it, when he actually reached the place later in the day, was ina mood very different from his:--so work-a-day, it seemed, on that fineafternoon, and the villages he passed through so silent; theinhabitants being, for the most part, at their labour in the country.Then, at length, above the tiled outbuildings, were the walls of theold villa itself, with the tower for the pigeons; and, not amongcypresses, but half-hidden by aged poplar-trees, their leaves likegolden fruit, the birds floating around it, the conical roof of thetomb itself. In the presence of an old servant who remembered him, thegreat seals were broken, the rusty key turned at last in the lock, thedoor was forced out among the weeds grown thickly about it, and Mariuswas actually in the place which had been so often in his thoughts.

  He was struck, not however without a touch of remorse thereupon,chiefly by an odd air of neglect, the neglect of a place allowed toremain as when it was last used, and left in a hurry, till long yearshad covered all alike with thick dust [206] --the faded flowers, theburnt-out lamps, the tools and hardened mortar of the workmen who hadhad something to do there. A heavy fragment of woodwork had fallen andchipped open one of the oldest of the mortuary urns, many hundreds innumber ranged around the walls. It was not properly an urn, but aminute coffin of stone, and the fracture had revealed a piteousspectacle of the mouldering, unburned remains within; the bones of achild, as he understood, which might have died, in ripe age, threetimes over, since it slipped away from among his great-grandfathers, sofar up in the line. Yet the protruding baby hand seemed to stir up inhim feelings vivid enough, bringing him intimately within the scope ofdead people's grievances. He noticed, side by side with the urn of hismother, that of a boy of about his own age--one of the serving-boys ofthe household--who had descended hither, from the lightsome world ofchildhood, almost at the same time with her. It seemed as if this boyof his own age had taken filial place beside her there, in his stead.That hard feeling, again, which had always lingered in his mind withthe thought of the father he had scarcely known, melted wholly away, ashe read the precise number of his years, and reflected suddenly--He wasof my own present age; no hard old man, but with interests, as helooked round him on the world for the last time, even as mine to-day!

  [207] And with that came a blinding rush of kindness, as if twoalienated friends had come to understand each other at last. There wasweakness in all this; as there is in all care for dead persons, towhich nevertheless people will always yield in proportion as theyreally care for one another. With a vain yearning, as he stood there,still to be able to do something for them, he reflected that such doingmust be, after all, in the nature of things, mainly for himself. Hisown epitaph might be that old one eskhatos tou idiou genous+ --He wasthe last of his race! Of those who might come hither after himselfprobably no one would ever again come quite as he had done to-day; andit was under the influence of this thought that he determined to buryall that, deep below the surface, to be remembered only by him, and ina way which would claim no sentiment from the indifferent. That tookmany days--was like a renewal of lengthy old burial rites--as hehimself watched the work, early and late; coming on the last day veryearly, and anticipating, by stealth, the last touches, while theworkmen were absent; one young lad only, finally smoothing down theearthy bed, greatly surprised at the seriousness with which Mariusflung in his flowers, one by one, to mingle with the dark mould.

  NOTES

  207. +Transliteration: eskhatos tou idiou genous. Translation: "[hewas] the last of his race."

  CHAPTER XXVIII: ANIMA NATURALITER CHRISTIANA

  [208] THOSE eight days at his old home, so mournfully occupied, hadbeen for Marius in some sort a forcible disruption from the world andthe roots of his life in it. He had been carried out of himself asnever before; and when the time was over, it was as if the claim overhim of the earth below had been vindicated, over against the interestsof that living world around. Dead, yet sentient and caressing handsseemed to reach out of the ground and to be clinging about him.Looking back sometimes now, from about the midway of life--the age, ashe conceived, at which one begins to redescend one's life--thoughantedating it a little, in his sad humour, he would note, almost withsurprise, the unbroken placidity of the contemplation in which it hadbeen passed. His own temper, his early theoretic scheme of things,would have pushed him on to movement and adventure. Actually, ascircumstances had determined, all its movement [209] had been inward;movement of observation only, or even of pure meditation; in part,perhaps, because throughout it had been something of a meditatiomortis, ever facing towards the act of final detachment. Death,however, as he reflected, must be for every one nothing less than thefifth or last act of a drama, and, as such, was likely to havesomething of the stirring character of a denouement. And, in fact, itwas in form tragic enough that his end not long afterwards came to him.

  In the midst of the extreme weariness and depression which had followedthose last days, Cornelius, then, as it happened, on a journey andtravelling near the place, finding traces of him, had become his guestat White-nights. It was just then that Marius felt, as he had neverdone before, the value to himself, the overpowering charm, of hisfriendship. "More than brother!"--he felt--like a son also!"contrasting the fatigue of soul which made himself in effect an olderman, with the irrepressible youth of his companion. For it was stillthe marvellous hopefulness of Cornelius, his seeming prerogative overthe future, that determined, and kept alive, all other sentimentconcerning him. A new hope had sprung up in the world of which he,Cornelius, was a depositary, which he was to bear onward in it.Identifying himself with Cornelius in so dear a friendship, throughhim, Marius seemed to touch, to ally himself to, [210] actually tobecome a possessor of the coming world; even as happy parents reachout, and take possession of it, in and through the survival of theirchildren. For in these days their intimacy had grown very clos
e, asthey moved hither and thither, leisurely, among the country-placesthereabout, Cornelius being on his way back to Rome, till they came oneevening to a little town (Marius remembered that he had been there onhis first journey to Rome) which had even then its church andlegend--the legend and holy relics of the martyr Hyacinthus, a youngRoman soldier, whose blood had stained the soil of this place in thereign of the emperor Trajan.

  The thought of that so recent death, haunted Marius through the night,as if with audible crying and sighs above the restless wind, which cameand went around their lodging. But towards dawn he slept heavily; andawaking in broad daylight, and finding Cornelius absent, set forth toseek him. The plague was still in the place--had indeed just brokenout afresh; with an outbreak also of cruel superstition among its wildand miserable inhabitants. Surely, the old gods were wroth at thepresence of this new enemy among them! And it was no ordinary morninginto which Marius stepped forth. There was a menace in the dark massesof hill, and motionless wood, against the gray, although apparentlyunclouded sky. Under this sunless [211] heaven the earth itself seemedto fret and fume with a heat of its own, in spite of the strongnight-wind. And now the wind had fallen.

  Marius felt that he breathed some strange heavy fluid, denser than anycommon air. He could have fancied that the world had sunken in thenight, far below its proper level, into some close, thick abysm of itsown atmosphere. The Christian people of the town, hardly lessterrified and overwrought by the haunting sickness about them thantheir pagan neighbours, were at prayer before the tomb of the martyr;and even as Marius pressed among them to a place beside Cornelius, on asudden the hills seemed to roll like a sea in motion, around the wholecompass of the horizon. For a moment Marius supposed himself attackedwith some sudden sickness of brain, till the fall of a great mass ofbuilding convinced him that not himself but the earth under his feetwas giddy. A few moments later the little marketplace was alive withthe rush of the distracted inhabitants from their tottering houses; andas they waited anxiously for the second shock of earthquake, along-smouldering suspicion leapt precipitately into well-definedpurpose, and the whole body of people was carried forward towards theband of worshippers below. An hour later, in the wild tumult whichfollowed, the earth had been stained afresh with the blood of themartyrs Felix and Faustinus--Flores [212] apparuerunt in terranostra!--and their brethren, together with Cornelius and Marius, thus,as it had happened, taken among them, were prisoners, reserved for theaction of the law. Marius and his friend, with certain others,exercising the privilege of their rank, made claim to be tried in Rome,or at least in the chief town of the district; where, indeed, in thetroublous days that had now begun, a legal process had been alreadyinstituted. Under the care of a military guard the captives wereremoved on the same day, one stage of their journey; sleeping, forsecurity, during the night, side by side with their keepers, in therooms of a shepherd's deserted house by the wayside.

  It was surmised that one of the prisoners was not a Christian: theguards were forward to make the utmost pecuniary profit of thiscircumstance, and in the night, Marius, taking advantage of the loosecharge kept over them, and by means partly of a large bribe, hadcontrived that Cornelius, as the really innocent person, should bedismissed in safety on his way, to procure, as Marius explained, theproper means of defence for himself, when the time of trial came.

  And in the morning Cornelius in fact set forth alone, from theirmiserable place of detention. Marius believed that Cornelius was to bethe husband of Cecilia; and that, perhaps strangely, had but added tothe desire to get him away safely.--We wait for the great crisis which[213] is to try what is in us: we can hardly bear the pressure of ourhearts, as we think of it: the lonely wrestler, or victim, whichimagination foreshadows to us, can hardly be one's self; it seems anoutrage of our destiny that we should be led along so gently andimperceptibly, to so terrible a leaping-place in the dark, for moreperhaps than life or death. At last, the great act, the criticalmoment itself comes, easily, almost unconsciously. Another motion ofthe clock, and our fatal line--the "great climacteric point"--has beenpassed, which changes ourselves or our lives. In one quarter of anhour, under a sudden, uncontrollable impulse, hardly weighing what hedid, almost as a matter of course and as lightly as one hires a bed forone's night's rest on a journey, Marius had taken upon himself all theheavy risk of the position in which Cornelius had then been--the longand wearisome delays of judgment, which were possible; the danger andwretchedness of a long journey in this manner; possibly the danger ofdeath. He had delivered his brother, after the manner he had sometimesvaguely anticipated as a kind of distinction in his destiny; thoughindeed always with wistful calculation as to what it might cost him:and in the first moment after the thing was actually done, he felt onlysatisfaction at his courage, at the discovery of his possession of"nerve."

  Yet he was, as we know, no hero, no heroic [214] martyr--had indeed noright to be; and when he had seen Cornelius depart, on his blithe andhopeful way, as he believed, to become the husband of Cecilia;actually, as it had happened, without a word of farewell, supposingMarius was almost immediately afterwards to follow (Marius indeedhaving avoided the moment of leave-taking with its possible call for anexplanation of the circumstances), the reaction came. He could onlyguess, of course, at what might really happen. So far, he had buttaken upon himself, in the stead of Cornelius, a certain amount ofpersonal risk; though he hardly supposed himself to be facing thedanger of death. Still, especially for one such as he, with all thesensibilities of which his whole manner of life had been but apromotion, the situation of a person under trial on a criminal chargewas actually full of distress. To him, in truth, a death such as therecent death of those saintly brothers, seemed no glorious end. In hiscase, at least, the Martyrdom, as it was called--the overpowering actof testimony that Heaven had come down among men--would be but a commonexecution: from the drops of his blood there would spring nomiraculous, poetic flowers; no eternal aroma would indicate the placeof his burial; no plenary grace, overflowing for ever upon those whomight stand around it. Had there been one to listen just then, therewould have come, from the very depth of his desolation, [215] aneloquent utterance at last, on the irony of men's fates, on thesingular accidents of life and death.

  The guards, now safely in possession of whatever money and othervaluables the prisoners had had on them, pressed them forward, over therough mountain paths, altogether careless of their sufferings. Thegreat autumn rains were falling. At night the soldiers lighted a fire;but it was impossible to keep warm. From time to time they stopped toroast portions of the meat they carried with them, making theircaptives sit round the fire, and pressing it upon them. But wearinessand depression of spirits had deprived Marius of appetite, even if thefood had been more attractive, and for some days he partook of nothingbut bad bread and water. All through the dark mornings they draggedover boggy plains, up and down hills, wet through sometimes with theheavy rain. Even in those deplorable circumstances, he could butnotice the wild, dark beauty of those regions--the stormy sunrise, andplacid spaces of evening. One of the keepers, a very young soldier,won him at times, by his simple kindness, to talk a little, with wonderat the lad's half-conscious, poetic delight in the adventures of thejourney. At times, the whole company would lie down for rest at theroadside, hardly sheltered from the storm; and in the deep fatigue ofhis spirit, his old longing for inopportune sleep overpoweredhim.--Sleep anywhere, and under any conditions, [216] seemed just thena thing one might well exchange the remnants of one's life for.

  It must have been about the fifth night, as he afterwards conjectured,that the soldiers, believing him likely to die, had finally left himunable to proceed further, under the care of some country people, whoto the extent of their power certainly treated him kindly in hissickness. He awoke to consciousness after a severe attack of fever,lying alone on a rough bed, in a kind of hut. It seemed a remote,mysterious place, as he looked around in the silence; but sofresh--lying, in fact, in a high pasture-lan
d among the mountains--thathe felt he should recover, if he might but just lie there in quiet longenough. Even during those nights of delirium he had felt the scent ofthe new-mown hay pleasantly, with a dim sense for a moment that he waslying safe in his old home. The sunlight lay clear beyond the opendoor; and the sounds of the cattle reached him softly from the greenplaces around. Recalling confusedly the torturing hurry of his latejourneys, he dreaded, as his consciousness of the whole situationreturned, the coming of the guards. But the place remained in absolutestillness. He was, in fact, at liberty, but for his own disabledcondition. And it was certainly a genuine clinging to life that hefelt just then, at the very bottom of his mind. So it had been,obscurely, even through all the wild fancies of his delirium, from themoment which followed [217] his decision against himself, in favour ofCornelius.

  The occupants of the place were to be heard presently, coming and goingabout him on their business: and it was as if the approach of deathbrought out in all their force the merely human sentiments. There isthat in death which certainly makes indifferent persons anxious toforget the dead: to put them--those aliens--away out of their thoughtsaltogether, as soon as may be. Conversely, in the deep isolation ofspirit which was now creeping upon Marius, the faces of these people,casually visible, took a strange hold on his affections; the link ofgeneral brotherhood, the feeling of human kinship, asserting itselfmost strongly when it was about to be severed for ever. At nights hewould find this face or that impressed deeply on his fancy; and, in atroubled sort of manner, his mind would follow them onwards, on theways of their simple, humdrum, everyday life, with a peculiar yearningto share it with them, envying the calm, earthy cheerfulness of alltheir days to be, still under the sun, though so indifferent, ofcourse, to him!--as if these rude people had been suddenly lifted intosome height of earthly good-fortune, which must needs isolate them fromhimself.

  Tristem neminen fecit+--he repeated to himself; his old prayer shapingitself now almost as his epitaph. Yes! so much the very hardest judge[218] must concede to him. And the sense of satisfaction which thatthought left with him disposed him to a conscious effort ofrecollection, while he lay there, unable now even to raise his head, ashe discovered on attempting to reach a pitcher of water which stoodnear. Revelation, vision, the discovery of a vision, the seeing of aperfect humanity, in a perfect world--through all his alternations ofmind, by some dominant instinct, determined by the original necessitiesof his own nature and character, he had always set that above thehaving, or even the doing, of anything. For, such vision, if receivedwith due attitude on his part, was, in reality, the being something,and as such was surely a pleasant offering or sacrifice to whatevergods there might be, observant of him. And how goodly had the visionbeen!--one long unfolding of beauty and energy in things, upon theclosing of which he might gratefully utter his "Vixi!"+ Even then,just ere his eyes were to be shut for ever, the things they had seenseemed a veritable possession in hand; the persons, the places, aboveall, the touching image of Jesus, apprehended dimly through theexpressive faces, the crying of the children, in that mysterious drama,with a sudden sense of peace and satisfaction now, which he could notexplain to himself. Surely, he had prospered in life! And again, as ofold, the sense of gratitude seemed to bring with it the sense also of aliving person at his side.

  [219] For still, in a shadowy world, his deeper wisdom had ever been,with a sense of economy, with a jealous estimate of gain and loss, touse life, not as the means to some problematic end, but, as far asmight be, from dying hour to dying hour, an end in itself--a kind ofmusic, all-sufficing to the duly trained ear, even as it died out onthe air. Yet now, aware still in that suffering body of such vividpowers of mind and sense, as he anticipated from time to time how hissickness, practically without aid as he must be in this rude place, waslikely to end, and that the moment of taking final account was drawingvery near, a consciousness of waste would come, with half-angry tearsof self-pity, in his great weakness--a blind, outraged, angry feelingof wasted power, such as he might have experienced himself standing bythe deathbed of another, in condition like his own.

  And yet it was the fact, again, that the vision of men and things,actually revealed to him on his way through the world, had developed,with a wonderful largeness, the faculties to which it addressed itself,his general capacity of vision; and in that too was a success, in theview of certain, very definite, well-considered, undeniablepossibilities. Throughout that elaborate and lifelong education of hisreceptive powers, he had ever kept in view the purpose of preparinghimself towards possible further revelation some day--towards someampler vision, which [220] should take up into itself and explain thisworld's delightful shows, as the scattered fragments of a poetry, tillthen but half-understood, might be taken up into the text of a lostepic, recovered at last. At this moment, his unclouded receptivity ofsoul, grown so steadily through all those years, from experience toexperience, was at its height; the house ready for the possible guest;the tablet of the mind white and smooth, for whatsoever divine fingersmight choose to write there. And was not this precisely the condition,the attitude of mind, to which something higher than he, yet akin tohim, would be likely to reveal itself; to which that influence he hadfelt now and again like a friendly hand upon his shoulder, amid theactual obscurities of the world, would be likely to make a furtherexplanation? Surely, the aim of a true philosophy must lie, not infutile efforts towards the complete accommodation of man to thecircumstances in which he chances to find himself, but in themaintenance of a kind of candid discontent, in the face of the veryhighest achievement; the unclouded and receptive soul quitting theworld finally, with the same fresh wonder with which it had entered theworld still unimpaired, and going on its blind way at last with theconsciousness of some profound enigma in things, as but a pledge ofsomething further to come. Marius seemed to understand how one mightlook back upon life here, and its [221] excellent visions, as but theportion of a race-course left behind him by a runner still swift offoot: for a moment he experienced a singular curiosity, almost anardent desire to enter upon a future, the possibilities of which seemedso large.

  And just then, again amid the memory of certain touching actual wordsand images, came the thought of the great hope, that hope against hope,which, as he conceived, had arisen--Lux sedentibus in tenebris+--uponthe aged world; the hope Cornelius had seemed to bear away upon him inhis strength, with a buoyancy which had caused Marius to feel, not somuch that by a caprice of destiny, he had been left to die in hisplace, as that Cornelius was gone on a mission to deliver him also fromdeath. There had been a permanent protest established in the world, aplea, a perpetual after-thought, which humanity henceforth would everpossess in reserve, against any wholly mechanical and dishearteningtheory of itself and its conditions. That was a thought which relievedfor him the iron outline of the horizon about him, touching it as ifwith soft light from beyond; filling the shadowy, hollow places towhich he was on his way with the warmth of definite affections;confirming also certain considerations by which he seemed to linkhimself to the generations to come in the world he was leaving. Yes!through the survival of their children, happy parents are able to [222]think calmly, and with a very practical affection, of a world in whichthey are to have no direct share; planting with a cheerful good-humour,the acorns they carry about with them, that their grand-children may beshaded from the sun by the broad oak-trees of the future. That isnature's way of easing death to us. It was thus too, surprised,delighted, that Marius, under the power of that new hope among men,could think of the generations to come after him. Without it, dim intruth as it was, he could hardly have dared to ponder the world whichlimited all he really knew, as it would be when he should have departedfrom it. A strange lonesomeness, like physical darkness, seemed tosettle upon the thought of it; as if its business hereafter must be, asfar as he was concerned, carried on in some inhabited, but distant andalien, star. Contrariwise, with the sense of that hope warm about him,he seemed to anticipate some kindly care for
himself; never to faileven on earth, a care for his very body-that dear sister and companionof his soul, outworn, suffering, and in the very article of death, asit was now.

  For the weariness came back tenfold; and he had finally to abstain fromthoughts like these, as from what caused physical pain. And then, asbefore in the wretched, sleepless nights of those forced marches, hewould try to fix his mind, as it were impassively, and like a childthinking over the toys it loves, one after another, that it [223] mayfall asleep thus, and forget all about them the sooner, on all thepersons he had loved in life--on his love for them, dead or living,grateful for his love or not, rather than on theirs for him--lettingtheir images pass away again, or rest with him, as they would. In thebare sense of having loved he seemed to find, even amid this founderingof the ship, that on which his soul might "assuredly rest and depend."One after another, he suffered those faces and voices to come and go,as in some mechanical exercise, as he might have repeated all theverses he knew by heart, or like the telling of beads one by one, withmany a sleepy nod between-whiles.

  For there remained also, for the old earthy creature still within him,that great blessedness of physical slumber. To sleep, to lose one'sself in sleep--that, as he had always recognised, was a good thing. Andit was after a space of deep sleep that he awoke amid the murmuringvoices of the people who had kept and tended him so carefully throughhis sickness, now kneeling around his bed: and what he heard confirmed,in the then perfect clearness of his soul, the inevitable suggestion ofhis own bodily feelings. He had often dreamt he was condemned to die,that the hour, with wild thoughts of escape, was arrived; and waking,with the sun all around him, in complete liberty of life, had been fullof gratitude for his place there, alive still, in the [224] land of theliving. He read surely, now, in the manner, the doings, of thesepeople, some of whom were passing out through the doorway, where theheavy sunlight in very deed lay, that his last morning was come, andturned to think once more of the beloved. Often had he fancied of oldthat not to die on a dark or rainy day might itself have a littlealleviating grace or favour about it. The people around his bed werepraying fervently--Abi! Abi! Anima Christiana!+ In the moments of hisextreme helplessness their mystic bread had been placed, had descendedlike a snow-flake from the sky, between his lips. Gentle fingers hadapplied to hands and feet, to all those old passage-ways of the senses,through which the world had come and gone for him, now so dim andobstructed, a medicinable oil. It was the same people who, in thegray, austere evening of that day, took up his remains, and buried themsecretly, with their accustomed prayers; but with joy also, holding hisdeath, according to their generous view in this matter, to have been ofthe nature of martyrdom; and martyrdom, as the church had always said,a kind of sacrament with plenary grace.

  1881-1884.

  THE END

  NOTES

  217. +"He made no one unhappy."

  218. +"I have lived!"

  221. +From the Latin Vulgate Bible, Matthew 4:16: "populus qui sedebatin tenebris lucem vidit magnam et sedentibus in regione et umbra mortislux orta est eis." King James Bible translation: "The people which satin darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region andshadow of death light is sprung up."

  224. "Depart! Depart! Christian Soul!" The thought is from theCatholic prayer for the departing.

 
Thank you for reading books on Archive.BookFrom.Net

Share this book with friends
share


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll