« PrécédentContinuer »
understands nothing; he only states a physical law and calls it a cause.
Scoff no more at these stories. Here you behold a whole company of a hundred and more who can, at will, fall into this miraculous trance. There they sit, and there, unknown to each other and to you, they see visions, hear voices, and receive instruction."
“You hear voices,” he repeated, incredulous.
“It is our miracle-our own-a special and a wonderful gift, bestowed upon this Community alone. It is impossible to doubt the blessing that rests upon us. You too will presently fall under the holy influence. As for me, I have reached to the level of the life above, the next life. I converse with the people whom I am soon to join. I see them with spiritual eyes. Is not this a great and wonderful gift? But, to obtain it, you must first forget the Past.”
“It is indeed most wonderful.” Gilbert felt himself half ready to fall into the same trance.
The Master laid his hand upon the newly-joined brother's shoulder. “Join us," he said. “Cease to think of the Past which belongs to the world and to ambition. Fix your thoughts upon the path that lies before. Forget the Past; it is full of shadows: learn the realities of life.”
So saying, he left him and walked back to his place at the head of the central table, where he occupied a wooden armchair. As he sat down, immediately there fell upon his face the white, fixed, vacuous look of trance. Gilbert looked about him. Not all the faces, he now perceived, wore this look of fixed vacuity; in a few there were signs of imperfect wakefulness. Not all of them, then, possessed this strange power completely. As for himself, Gilbert felt like a sleepy man who cannot sleep for thinking of things. He was very near unto trance. His thoughts were wandering beyond control. He was back in his London chambers; he was listening to Dorabyn's wretched story; he was hunting down the man whom he had caught at last ; he was wondering, not what he should do, but how he should do it--and when. He knew very well indeed what had to be done. He had sworn to give Dorabyn her freedom. In what way? There is but one way in such a case as this. Gilbert knew very well what had to be done. Now that the time for doing it drew near he felt no hesitations and no fears; he was no longer anxious, but he was naturally excited, and the villainous eyes of the man--the seal upon his front-only strengthened his purpose.
Such reflections, however, interfered with the conditions of mental repose necessary for trance. So, like the sleepy man who cannot sleep, he only grew more restless every moment.
He got up and walked softly along the lines of sleepers ; he peered into their faces: they moved not nor took the least notice; the open eyes did not blink though he passed his hand over them; the partly-wakeful ones only shut their eyes impatiently.
As he passed along he became aware that they all resembled each other. You know that if you regard a flock of sheep collectively you say that they are all alike; when you take them individually you find that they are all different.
Yet your first impression was right, because they all have the same face with little variations. So, if a man dwells in a monastery he presently assumes the monastic face, whatever that may be. These people all had the same face, collectively: Individually they exhibited the ordinary variations : there was the oval face, the round face, the square face, and the long face; there were the faces of the horse, the lion, the snake, the fox, the hog, the crocodile and the lamb. Somehow, no doubt because of the trance, Gilbert failed to find the spiritual face. Yet the Master, before he dropped into his rapture, had that face. The face of the Community corresponding to the face of the flock was, Gilbert had already observed, a common face. Now, a man may wear any expression he pleases; he may be as ugly as he pleases--no one will blame him; but he must not look common; and the collective face was undoubtedly of the common type.
The German musician went on playing; he played as if he were himself in a trance. His face, too, was fixed; he played louder and more inspiriting music: a march; a war song; a hymn of triumph.
Then one of the brothers—one of those with the wakeful eyes-arose and stepped upon the platform; one of the sisters followed; then another brother and another sister, till there were ten or a dozen of them. They stood in silence ; not laughing or smiling; in awkward and clumsy attitudes. They spoke not, nor smiled ; they were perfectly grave. They took places in a procession two by two, and bending forward with outstretched hands, an attitude as ungraceful as could be well imagined, they began a kind of rhythmic walk round; not that boisterous, cheerful, self-asserting walk round that used to be seen in the burlesques of thirty years ago, but a meek, shuffling, shambling tramp, whose only recommendation was that it was true to time. “This is the exercise mentioned by the Master," observed Gilbert.
“ A man can list his soul by means of music ; a little more of that man's playing would carry me out of myself; but to tramp with heavy boots round and round a stage ... perhaps I shall do it in a day or two."
The music grew louder and faster; the tramp of the feet grew noisier ; but the faces of those who danced or tramped remained the same-white in the lamplight, silent, expectant. They were dancing themselves into a condition of trance. One by one they dropped out and fell back into their seats, and the light went out of their open eyes.
A most astonishing dance. Gilbert looked to see the performers fall into some kind of ecstasy and whirl round like the dancing dervishes whom he had seen at Damascus. No, the dance was sufficient in itself, dull and monotonous as it was. Presently the last man left off tramping round and stepped off the platform.
Then the musician changed his time. Heavens! he was playing one of Strauss's most delightful waltzes--a thing which made the senses swim, partly with the recollection of it, partly with the suggestion of it. All that love contains of joy and rapture was in that waltz. He knew it well, and the world to which it belonged came back to him with a rush. And it seemed only natural and a thing to be expected when the girl Cicely sprang upon the platform and began to dance all by herself. Nobody saw her; nobody looked at her, except Gilbert ; and of his presence she seemed unaware. She danced, being self-taught, with neither model to copy nor master to teach nor audience to applaud, a kind of skirt-dance without the long skirts. She had taken off her heavy boots, and was in slippers. The sight of her dancing was like the cool shadow of a great rock, like a long draught to a chirsty throat, like smooth water after a storm. It was a marvel and a delight to mark the exquisite grace of this girl's gestures, the free carriage of her arms, the suppleness of her linibs, the flexible movements of her figure, the ordered movement of her feet. Where had she learned it? She had that ineffable charm of the born dancer, who, with every step, seems to express some thought suggested by the music; she surrendered herself to the music ; she obeyed it; she followed it.
“This," said Gilbert, “is the most truly wonderful thing of any. And not one turns his head to look at her!”
That, however, was not wonderful, because in this kind of trance you may fire a cannon beside the patient, or you may cut him into small pieces with blunt knives, but you will not awakea him. So none of these sleepers had the least knowledge of the music or the dancing.
Next, the one-man audience observed that this danseuse was dancing entirely for herself. You know the threefold smile of the professional—that on her entrance, that with which she vanishes, and the fixed smile with which she performs. Imagine a dancer without any smile at all, utterly unconscious of her audience : such was this dancer.
Suddenly she threw up her arms, and, with a cry-an exultant cry-she whirled round with swiftly twinkling feet-faster, faster, faster.
“It's splendid !” said the audience, longing to applaud.
Then she stopped suddenly, and, lightly stepping off the stage, took her seat, and became instantly entranced. The musician stopped, and there was silence ; and in this goodly company of a hundred and more this stranger was the only one not in the trance which the Master called Meditation.
“What are they thinking about ?” he asked. “They can't all hear voices and see visions. Perhaps the girl heard voices while she danced. She is a heaven-sent genius; she is inspired. With that lovely face, with that divinely-graceful step, surely, surely, if there were any voices to be heard, she would hear them. But what a dress! what a dress!"
If you come to think about it, we have, as the Master said, lost the power of Meditation. No living European can concentrate his gate and his thoughts upon his great toe and continue in abstracted Meditation for days or years together. Formerly we had recluses who thus m'ditated, lost to the outer world; they had to, or they would have been unhappy in the long winter days and nights when no one came to see them. We had hermits, too, but they were more sociable. The Carthusian, neither hermit nor anchorite, meditated a good deal. Nowadays, however, no one meditates at all-unless it be a novelist over a plot or a mathematician over a problem. We call it Meditation when we sit with a pen in hand, or when we walk alone, or when we are reading : we fix our thoughts elsewhere, while the eye, unheeded, runs mechanically over the page. I once knew a boy who meditated much because he had to go to church much; his Meditations began and ended with the sermon. Gilbert, however, had never in his life set himself to meditate, and he wondered, very naturally, what the thing might mean. All kinds of questions might be asked about this trance.
Did they carry on this kind of thing every night? Did they really advance themselves, elevate their souls in this wonderful way? Did they really get visions, hear voices, see things, while they were in trance? Would this one-man audience, without any volition on his part, become, if he stayed long enough, a performer with the rest-perhaps to tramp round with the grace and agility of a rhinoceros ?
All in silence : there was no sound at all ; no one coughed ; no one breathed; there was no scraping of a restless foot. The rows of white faces turned up to the light of the petroleum lamps were as still and motionless as the dead-only one man of them all left alive, only one to count the dead; the place seemed a tomb. Gilbert felt as if he must fly from it into the open air under the stars. To be sitting in the company of a hundred dead men and women, yourself alive, is terrible. Still he stayed on, looking for the return to life.
It was about seven when they “went off.” At nine the Master moved, sat up, stood up, and the light of life came back to his face and eyes. At the same moment all the rest with one consent sat up and breathed again. Then they rose, and, without the formalities of wishing each other good-night—'twas a House without any manners--they separated into two companies of men and women, and so filed out of the hall by the two doors which led respectively to the men's and the women's wing. Gilbert held back ; he was left alone with the Master.
“You have seen,” said the latter, " the way in which we spend our evenings. To-morrow you yourself will, perhaps, feel the gracious influence of the place. Sometimes there are exercises ; perhaps there have been some to-night.”
“There was dancing. Did you not hear or see, then ?
“I neither hear nor see ; I am carried out of myself. Remember, we are each for himself. What every one does, he does for himself. The soul is absolutely alone in the world. If any wants to dance, let him-it is for himself. As in a march some walk and some run, some ride, some lag behind, some are driven, some press on in front, so in this House, some possess, like myself, the gift of voluntary trance, and some must stir the sluggish soul. But, Brother Gilbert, forget the Past."
So the Master passed out, and Gilbert sought his cell. The gas was alight in every room, and there was the sound as of the taking off of boots ; the brothers were all going to bed. But the room next to his own— that of Brother Charleswas dark and empty. Where was Brother Charles ?
Gilbert was excited by the adventures of the day; he rolled about unable to sleep. It was about two in the morning when he heard footsteps on the stairssoft footsteps. They came along the corridor; they passed his room; they stopped at the next room—that of Brother Charles. He sat up and listened. To-morrow-nay, that day--the ordeal by battle should decide. He smiled to think of it: he had no fear. Meantime, what mischief had that saintly brother been about, that he should get up to his room four hours after the rest of the college? Would the gate porter take down his name? Would the Dean send for him ? Would he be gated or rusticated before the duello? He fell asleep again before he found an answer to these questions, and dreamed of the dancing-girl.
LABORARE EST ORARE.
At half past five in the morning the Bell Terrible awoke and began to clash and clang with such discordancies that every man, woman, child, and pig, sprang headlong out of bed, as if obedience would quiet it. Gilbert, who in dreams was in the neighbourhood of St. James's, returned with violent haste to the House of Meditation, and remembered suddenly not only where he was, but also why he was there. And his eyes saw red.
There was no shrinking or hesitation in Gilbert's mind. He intended, with all seriousness, to rid the earth of a man in order to bring freedom to a woman. This he would do out of the great reverence and worship which he entertained for this woman.
Yet one must not, even in such a cause as this, commit common