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I have just returned from their courts of justice,--dens where tigers arraign their prey. I find not whom I would seek. They are saved as yet; but I recognise in the crimes of mortals the dark wisdom of the Everlasting. Mejnour, I see here, for the first time, how majestic and beauteous a thing is death! Of what sublime virtues we robbed ourselves, when, in the thirst for virtue, we attained the art by which we can refuse to die! When in some happy clime, where to breathe is to enjoy, the charnel- house swallows up the young and fair; when in the noble pursuit of knowledge, Death comes to the student, and shuts out the enchanted land which was opening to his gaze,--how natural for us to desire to live; how natural to make perpetual life the first object of research! But here, from my tower of time, looking over the darksome past, and into the starry future, I learn how great hearts feel what sweetness and glory there is to die for the things they love! I saw a father sacrificing himself for his son; he was subjected to charges which a word of his could dispel,--he was mistaken for his boy. With what joy he seized the error, confessed the noble crimes of valour and fidelity which the son had indeed committed, and went to the doom, exulting that his death saved the life he had given, not in vain! I saw women, young, delicate, in the bloom of their beauty; they had vowed themselves to the cloister. Hands smeared with the blood of saints opened the gate that had shut them from the world, and bade them go forth, forget their vows, forswear the Divine one these demons would depose, find lovers and helpmates, and be free. And some of these young hearts had loved, and even, though in struggles, loved yet. Did they forswear the vow? Did they abandon the faith? Did even love allure them? Mejnour, with one voice, they preferred to die. And whence comes this courage?--because such HEARTS LIVE IN SOME MORE ABSTRACT AND HOLIER LIFE THAN THEIR OWN. BUT TO LIVE FOREVER UPON THIS EARTH IS TO LIVE IN NOTHING DIVINER THAN OURSELVES. Yes, even amidst this gory butcherdom, God, the Ever-living, vindicates to man the sanctity of His servant, Death!
Again I have seen thee in spirit; I have seen and blessed thee, my sweet child! Dost thou not know me also in thy dreams? Dost thou not feel the beating of my heart through the veil of thy rosy slumbers? Dost thou not hear the wings of the brighter beings that I yet can conjure around thee, to watch, to nourish, and to save? And when the spell fades at thy waking, when thine eyes open to the day, will they not look round for me, and ask thy mother, with their mute eloquence, "Why she has robbed thee of a father?"
Woman, dost thou not repent thee? Flying from imaginary fears, hast thou not come to the very lair of terror, where Danger sits visible and incarnate? Oh, if we could but meet, wouldst thou not fall upon the bosom thou hast so wronged, and feel, poor wanderer amidst the storms, as if thou hadst regained the shelter? Mejnour, still my researches fail me. I mingle with all men, even their judges and their spies, but I cannot yet gain the clew. I know that she is here. I know it by an instinct; the breath of my child seems warmer and more familiar.
They peer at me with venomous looks, as I pass through their streets. With a glance I disarm their malice, and fascinate the basilisks. Everywhere I see the track and scent the presence of the Ghostly One that dwells on the Threshold, and whose victims are the souls that would ASPIRE, and can only FEAR. I see its dim shapelessness going before the men of blood, and marshalling their way. Robespierre passed me with his furtive step. Those eyes of horror were gnawing into his heart. I looked down upon their senate; the grim Phantom sat cowering on its floor. It hath taken up its abode in the city of Dread. And what in truth are these would-be builders of a new world? Like the students who have vainly struggled after our supreme science, they have attempted what is beyond their power; they have passed from this solid earth of usages and forms into the land of shadow, and its loathsome keeper has seized them as its prey. I looked into the tyrant's shuddering soul, as it trembled past me. There, amidst the ruins of a thousand systems which aimed at virtue, sat Crime, and shivered at its desolation. Yet this man is the only Thinker, the only Aspirant, amongst them all. He still looks for a future of peace and mercy, to begin,--ay! at what date? When he has swept away every foe. Fool! new foes spring from every drop of blood. Led by the eyes of the Unutterable, he is walking to his doom.
O Viola, thy innocence protects thee! Thou whom the sweet humanities of love shut out even from the dreams of aerial and spiritual beauty, making thy heart a universe of visions fairer than the wanderer over the rosy Hesperus can survey,--shall not the same pure affection encompass thee, even here, with a charmed atmosphere, and terror itself fall harmless on a life too innocent for wisdom?
Ombra piu che di notte, in cui di luce
Ne piu il palagio appar, ne piu le sue
(Darkness greater than of night, in which not a ray of light is mixed;...The palace appears no more: not even a vestige,--nor can one say that it has been.)
The clubs are noisy with clamorous frenzy; the leaders are grim with schemes. Black Henriot flies here and there, muttering to his armed troops, "Robespierre, your beloved, is in danger!" Robespierre stalks perturbed, his list of victims swelling every hour. Tallien, the Macduff to the doomed Macbeth, is whispering courage to his pale conspirators. Along the streets heavily roll the tumbrils. The shops are closed,--the people are gorged with gore, and will lap no more. And night after night, to the eighty theatres flock the children of the Revolution, to laugh at the quips of comedy, and weep gentle tears over imaginary woes!
In a small chamber, in the heart of the city, sits the mother, watching over her child. It is quiet, happy noon; the sunlight, broken by the tall roofs in the narrow street, comes yet through the open casement, the impartial playfellow of the air, gleesome alike in temple and prison, hall and hovel; as golden and as blithe, whether it laugh over the first hour of life, or quiver in its gay delight on the terror and agony of the last! The child, where it lay at the feet of Viola, stretched out its dimpled hands as if to clasp the dancing motes that revelled in the beam. The mother turned her eyes from the glory; it saddened her yet more. She turned and sighed.
Is this the same Viola who bloomed fairer than their own Idalia under the skies of Greece? How changed! How pale and worn! She sat listlessly, her arms dropping on her knee; the smile that was habitual to her lips was gone. A heavy, dull despondency, as if the life of life were no more, seemed to weigh down her youth, and make it weary of that happy sun! In truth, her existence had languished away since it had wandered, as some melancholy stream, from the source that fed it. The sudden enthusiasm of fear or superstition that had almost, as if still in the unconscious movements of a dream, led her to fly from Zanoni, had ceased from the day which dawned upon her in a foreign land. Then--there-- she felt that in the smile she had evermore abandoned lived her life. She did not repent,--she would not have recalled the impulse that winged her flight. Though the enthusiasm was gone, the superstition yet remained; she still believed she had saved her child from that dark and guilty sorcery, concerning which the traditions of all lands are prodigal, but in none do they find such credulity, or excite such dread, as in the South of Italy. This impression was confirmed by the mysterious conversations of Glyndon, and by her own perception of the fearful change that had passed over one who represented himself as the victim of the enchanters. She did not, therefore, repent; but her very volition seemed gone.
On their arrival at Paris, Viola saw her companion--the faithful wife--no more. Ere three weeks were passed, husband and wife had ceased to live.
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Zanoni -by- Edward Bulwer Lytton