A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance
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"But cannot you tell, Master? You know so much."
"I know much, but I do not know all. God alone is omniscient. Did not one of your poets say: 'We mortal millions live alone'? That is a great truth greatly put. Each soul must find God for itself through Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. It can be helped and instructed by those who, like myself, are humble servants of the Most High, but the soul alone can choose whether to rise or fall. I tell you, Montrose, much as Enistor suffers physically, he is infinitely more tormented mentally. Night and day, and day and night, the strife continues between evil and good, in which Narvaez and I take part. Only Enistor can elect which side will win."
"Can I not help?" asked the young man, distressed at the terrible plight of his whilom enemy.
"You have helped – helped greatly. Enistor is constantly trying to understand why you saved him, when he could have, and would have, condemned you to a shameful and unmerited death. It is well nigh impossible for him to grasp such self-abnegation, but the positive fact that you acted as you did is the spar to which he clings, and which prevents him from sinking in the troubled waters of evil desires which Narvaez is bringing up against him."
"Why don't you smash Narvaez?"
"That would be against the law of justice. Narvaez has his rights, as every one else has. If he chooses to abuse those rights he will bring destruction on himself, as he is surely doing. Hate only ceases by love, so all that I can do is to offer Narvaez the assistance which he refuses to take. With my greater powers, poured through me for selfless ends by the God of All, I could use force and render him harmless. But such force would mean employment of the power of Hate. The influence is always the same in its essence, but becomes good or evil as we employ it."
"Still, if you ended Don Pablo's wickedness, Enistor would be saved."
"I cannot tell. But he cannot be saved at the cost of injustice to Narvaez, my son. By his own acts in this life and others he has placed himself in the power of Narvaez, and must abide by his choice."
"Still he may want to escape?"
"If so, and I truly hope that such will be the case, he has only to open his heart to the incoming of Christ, and the Mighty Power of the Blessed One will sweep away Narvaez like a straw. Love is stronger than evil, and must prevail when election is made to use it. Now go, my son, for even now the Son of Perdition is putting forth his strength to overwhelm the soul, and I must withstand him. Pray constantly, my child, and tell Alice to pray; for the fight is desperately bitter."
Without a word Montrose departed, leaving Eberstein to wrestle with the Powers of Darkness. Seeking Alice, he brought her to the altar of the parish church, and there they remained kneeling for many hours. It was well that they fled for refuge to the tabernacle of God, for within all was light, and the Dark Powers halted at the door, helpless, fierce and furious, and – baffled.
During those days of the struggle Montrose's worldly position had been made secure.The confession of Rose, who had seen Narvaez murdered, proved beyond all doubt that Job Trevel was the culprit. That man never returned now or thereafter, and it could only be conjectured that he had been lost at sea in the storm which took place when the crime was committed. But Montrose was fully exonerated, and in their rough way the villagers of Polwellin apologised for their wrongful suspicions. He more than regained the place he had lost in their affections, for the coastguards had told everywhere how the Squire had been rescued and at what a cost. That Enistor should have been saved at all was a matter of regret to his tenants, who detested him for his many acts of oppression. Throughout the village there was not heard one pitying word for the man now at the point of death, so doubtless this feeling of ill-will also tormented Enistor in his then sensitive state. But as the man had sown, so the man had to reap, and by his own acts he was condemned to a punishment which went far to excuse his wickedness.
In reply to Alice's telegram Mrs. Barrast came down to see the last of her brother and was desperately annoyed to find – as she thought – that he had completely recovered. Of course for his own ends Narvaez-Hardwick played the part of a grateful brother, and to get rid of the little woman he gave her a handsome cheque out of the property he had acquired. That the same had merely been transferred from Narvaez to Narvaez was a fact not known to Mrs. Barrast, who quite believed – and very naturally – that Julian had been cured in some miraculous way of his illness by the Perchton doctor. What that gentleman himself thought no one ever knew, as he held his tongue very wisely, through sheer inability to explain matters. But his practice benefited greatly, and he made full use of his enhanced reputation. Mrs. Barrast thanked him for the wonder he had wrought, said that she would mention his skill to her friends and send them to Perchton for treatment. Then she went across the Channel with Frederick to spend the handsome cheque in Paris and did not trouble any further about her brother. Which was just what the individual masquerading in that brother's body desired. Hardwick's sister was such a trifling little butterfly that it was not worth while breaking her on a wheel. Even if, out of sheer malicious amusement, the magician had wished to do so, he had no time. All his energies were taken up in fighting the strong power of Eberstein for the soul of his escaping slave. The adversaries came to grips on the night of the fourth day after Montrose had wiped out his sin by the rescue of his enemy.
After dinner on that evening, Alice and her lover were waiting in the library, feeling sorrowful and depressed. The young man was seated in an arm-chair before the fire and Alice, on the hearth-rug, inclined her dark head against his knees. Having watched throughout the previous night by the bedside, she had slept all day, and now was giving her whole attention to Douglas before returning to her new vigil in the sick-room. Neither of the two was speaking, as the shadow of evil lay thicker and blacker than ever on the house, and there was a feeling still more terrible in the air. Montrose felt little of such things, cased as he was in less sensitive flesh; but Alice was alive to battling forces, invisible and menacing, which thrilled her soul with agony and helpless grief.
"Death is here," she said at length, without removing her gaze from the burning logs, and Montrose knew enough of her clairvoyant powers not to exclaim at the weird remark.
"Do you think he will die to-night?" he asked, looking nervously round the brilliantly lighted room.
"I think so. Something dreadful is coming nearer and nearer. Very cold, very powerful, yet very merciful."
Montrose shuddered and recalled a play by Maeterlinck which he had read some years back. The atmosphere of the library was exactly that suggested by "L'Intruse," and he felt, as did the characters in that wonderful piece of writing, that the being with the scythe was about to enter the door. When a sharp knock came, his shaken nerves extorted a start and a cry. But it was only the housekeeper who came to announce that she wanted Alice to take up the watch by Enistor's bedside and also to tell both the young people that two gentlemen had arrived simultaneously at Tremore.
"Mr. Hardwick and Dr. Eberstein," said the housekeeper.
"Tell them to come in," replied Alice quietly, in marked contrast to her lover, who started to his feet much perturbed.
"Why do they come together?" he asked uneasily. "They have never met before to my knowledge."
"It is the beginning of the end, Douglas!"
"They then bring death with them?"
"Se?or Narvaez brings death and Dr. Eberstein brings life," said Alice, still in the unemotional tone which she had used throughout. "But not in a physical way, you understand. Hush! Here they are."
The two men entered quietly: Narvaez, splendid and strong in the beauty of his stolen body, and Eberstein, elderly, grey-haired, and weary-looking. But Alice, looking through the masks of flesh, saw that they lied. Eberstein was the ever-young, glorious soul, radiant with immortal life, and Narvaez but a black evil shadow, distorted and venomous. Outwardly the magician resembled Milton's fallen archangel, magnificently sinful, while the doctor, like his Great Master the Man of Sorrows, seemed to bear the burden of other people's sins. Here indeed were the representatives of the eternal strife, the types of Heaven and Hell, bearing the cross and the wine-cup. And the world-battle on a smaller scale was about to be fought out between them. As Alice greeted the one and the other, the housekeeper turned at the door to speak.
"The Squire knows that Dr. Eberstein and Mr. Hardwick have come, miss, as I told him. He would like to see them along with you and Mr. Montrose. But I don't think it is wise, miss."
"You can go," said the girl quietly, and the housekeeper departed, grumbling at the risk of visitors to the sick man. "Shall we see my father now?"
She addressed Eberstein, who bowed, for the situation was too tense for the use of many words. But Narvaez spoke with an insolent smile. "I hope Mr. Enistor will not be the worse for my coming."
"I think he will be very much the worse, Don Pablo."
"I am your dear friend, Julian Hardwick," sneered the magician.
"I know better."
"Clever girl. But you do not know all," he taunted.
"Enough to be aware that you are an evil man, exercising more than human power. Also Dr. Eberstein has recalled to my recollection what I saw during the trance. I know who you are, Se?or Narvaez, and what you are. With me you cannot masquerade as an angel of light."
"I leave that r?le to our friend here," scoffed the other with a shrug.
Eberstein did not take the slightest notice. With Narvaez he was very watchful, but intensely quiet: always on his guard, but never offering the fuel of words to kindle useless argument. And time being precious at the moment, he softly intimated to Alice that it would be as well to seek the bedroom immediately. Without objection the girl led the way, and shortly the whole party were in the presence of the Squire.
Enistor lay in bed, propped up with many pillows. Other than a shaded lamp on a small table beside him, there was no illumination save the crimson glimmer of the fire, so that the room was filled with a kind of artificial twilight, sinister and eerie. It was a large apartment furnished in that heavy cumbersome style prevalent during the first half of the last century, eminently comfortable but markedly inartistic. The green rep curtains of the bed were looped back to show the white suffering face and sunken eyes of the sick man, on whom the gaze of the quartette was centred. The silence was intense; as the rain had ceased, the wind had died away, and only the heavy breathing of those present, or the fall of a burning coal, broke the stillness. This calm before the storm suggested itself to Alice as much more terrible than the storm itself could possibly be. It seemed as though the whole of creation waited anxiously to hear what choice the dying man would make between evil and good. The words came slowly from him, as he fixed his weary eyes on Montrose with wondering inquiry.
"Why did you save my life?" he asked.
"I was sorry for you."
"Sorry for one who intended to have you hanged for a crime you did not commit. Impossible!"
"That I saved you showed it was not impossible. I had a struggle: oh, yes, I had a great struggle. Not knowing that my character would be cleared, I nearly decided to let you perish lest you should condemn me. But I could not: I could not."
"Why?" demanded Enistor insistently. "Why? Why?"
Montrose pressed his hands tightly together to control his emotions. "How can I explain? Something higher than my ordinary self acted for me."
"The Christ, Who is building Himself up within you, spoke," said Eberstein gravely.
"Weakness spoke," struck in the magician. "The weakness of a coward who was afraid to remove an obstacle from his path."
"Montrose did remove an obstacle," said the doctor, addressing Narvaez-Hardwick for the first time. "One which was blocking his upward path."
"His murder of me in Chaldea?" questioned Enistor, after a pause.
"Yes! He owed you a life. Only by giving back in another way what he had robbed you of could he learn his lesson and cleanse his soul."
"Where is the life that has been given?" sneered Narvaez-Hardwick. "There is Enistor dying. A valuable gift indeed."
"Montrose did not know that Enistor was fatally injured by his fall. So far as he was aware he gave back what he had taken and at the risk of losing his present life unjustly. The sheet is clean."
"Sophistry! Sophistry! You are trying to make black white."
"Not so. Man is judged by his intention in whatever he does. Thought precedes both words and acts, so if the first be right the two last cannot be wrong."
"We are here to listen to a sermon, it appears," said the other man mockingly. "You are woefully dull."
Eberstein ignored the spiteful speech to advance towards the bed. "Enistor, you are about to pass away from the physical plane to reap as you have sown, and painful will be the harvesting of your sheaves."
"Tares he should call them," mocked Narvaez-Hardwick contemptuously.
"Not all tares. Always the germs of good have been in your victim."
"A victim! I?" cried the Squire, pride and indignation lighting up his faded eyes, to the delight of his dark master, who approved of the sinister quality.
"Yes," said Eberstein steadily. "Age after age, life after life, you have been the victim, the slave, the tool of this man, who is stronger than you are. By taking his gifts, you have submitted yourself to his will. Break your chain, Enistor: now, at this very moment, assert your freedom as a son of God, owing allegiance only to that Power of Love which is co-extensive with creation."
"And by so doing you render yourself the servant of all," said Narvaez-Hardwick vehemently. "Whatever you gain you must use for the benefit of others and not for yourself. Think of it."
"Yes," came the quiet voice of the White Master. "Think of it, and think of how the powers you gain through evil are used for the benefit of your dark tyrant. He does not even give you gratitude."
"I give more than gratitude: my gifts are more substantial. Virtue is not its own reward in my service. Service indeed. And who has done service? I ask you, Enistor. Did I not scheme to place this young fool in your power, and did I not do so? You failed to use the golden moment properly and crush him, or you would by now have been wealthy, by regaining your lost property, and he would have been waiting his trial in prison. Have I not rendered you a great service? Do I not deserve gratitude in return?"
"Gratitude for ruining me," said Enistor, wincing at the fiery glances cast upon him. "You ask too much. You have plotted and planned, it is true, but your schemes have been brought to naught."
"By you," said Narvaez-Hardwick scornfully, "since you failed to grasp the prize I placed within your reach."
"It was Douglas who conquered," said Alice suddenly. "He chose the good instead of the evil, and hate was overcome by love. Father," she moved forward swiftly to kneel beside the bed, "you have no bitterness against Douglas now: you cannot have since he has saved your life."
"For the moment," scoffed the magician, "a pretty saving truly."
"I have had a terrible time since regaining my senses," said the Squire feebly. "All my old life has been broken up, and I am beginning to see things in a new light. Love is stronger than Hate, I admit that, since Montrose acted so unselfishly as he did. Douglas," he held out a trembling hand, which the young man gladly took, "I thank you for what you have done, and I ask you to forgive me."
"Willingly! Willingly," said Montrose, with fervour. "If we had only understood one another better, you would not now be dying."
"There is no question of dying," cried Narvaez-Hardwick, furious to see how his empire was slipping from his grasp. "Don't hearken to this weak babble, Enistor. Listen, I can cure you: I can make you as well as ever you were."
The girl and her lover started up with incredulous looks and Enistor gasped in amazement. "Can he do this?" he demanded, looking at Eberstein.
"Yes," assented the other calmly. "His knowledge is great, even though it is wrongly used."
"Wrongly used to cure the sick? Ha! What of your Master who saved the lives of those past human aid?"
"He saved through the power of love, and left those He saved free. You would use that same power after your own evil fashion, changing its good into bad, so that you can bind Enistor the more closely to you as a slave."
"Slave! Slave! What parrot repetition. Always slave: victim: tool! Lies, I tell you, Enistor, lies. You are my friend. If I did make you suffer, it was to test your strength, so that you might become strong enough to handle those great powers which I use. I can make you omnipotent as I am myself."
"Omnipotent," echoed the Squire doubtfully. "How can that be when you were struck down in your moment of triumph?"
"I was taken by surprise," said Narvaez-Hardwick sullenly. "Had I been on my guard I could have held my own."
"I think not," observed the doctor gently; then addressing Enistor directly, with marked emphasis: "My son, creation is sustained by love, and where love is not, destruction must needs come. By pandering to self, this man has acquired a small empire, which he has cut off from the great one of God. His force is only that little which he has gained and which he is strong enough to hold. But my force," Eberstein stood up very straightly, "is the force of the whole, which is necessarily greater than the force of the part acquired by Narvaez. Through me, as through all who strive to work selflessly, the mighty power of love is poured, for the benefit of those who need aid. Only this can give you power, and will you consent to be a slave in the petty kingdom of this man, which will be destroyed when his measure is full?"
"It will never be destroyed," cried the magician, hatefully proud. "For centuries I have endured alone, defying all."
"You seek isolation, and isolation you shall have," said Eberstein sadly. "Life after life you are building thicker and thicker the prison-house which shuts you in from the source of all life. Oh, my Brother, have we not pleaded with you again and again to repent, and turn to Him who alone sustains the worlds, and you will not, in your mad pride of self. Rapidly and surely you are descending into the Abyss, and would drag this man with you. But so great is the Love of Christ, who died for you and for all, that He will forgive you even at the eleventh hour, as He forgives this poor mortal."
"I haven't asked for forgiveness!" growled Enistor savagely.
"No. Don't be so weak," said Narvaez-Hardwick eagerly. "Eberstein talks rubbish. If you turn to his foolish ways will he save your life?"
"No," said the doctor with decision. "Enistor must pass on to exhaust the evil that he has made by suffering. But in that necessary suffering he will be supported and aided by Him who suffered Himself."
"There," the magician turned triumphantly towards Enistor, "you see that he can only promise pain. A nice bribe for you to turn into a silly saint, isn't it, my friend? Now I" – the man's voice became dangerously persuasive and bland – "I can make you whole again by curing your hurt and renewing your vital powers. You have heard Eberstein admit that I can do so. Then, since you have stood the tests of inflicted pain, which were necessary, I can now instruct you in the higher magic, which will give you power over men. Also I can make you rich. Let this money of your sister's remain with Montrose and let him marry your daughter and pass out of your life. You and I, my dear friend, will go to Spain, and there you shall share in my greatness. Together we shall sway this generation, making and unmaking men and nations."
"Don't listen to him: don't listen to him," implored Alice, putting her arms round her father's neck. "Remember how cruel he has been to you: remember how he was struck down by God: remember how his schemes have failed. He is a liar, like his Father the Devil."
"There is no devil but what man makes for himself," sneered Narvaez-Hardwick. "But we will let that pass. You have heard, Enistor. Eberstein offers you death in this world and pain in the next – "
"Through which you will pass to a wider and more glorious life, when the past has been expiated," said the doctor swiftly.
"While I," went on the magician, paying no heed to the interruption, "can give you a long physical life with power and wealth, and ease and knowledge. Also in the next world I have my empire and you shall share it when we pass over this time, to return more powerful when we next incarnate. Choose! Choose!"
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