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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 18
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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 18 Post by :Prd2BHawn Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :648

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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII.

We were received at the guarded door of the fortress by a porter, who seemed to be well acquainted with Amroth. Within, it was a big, bare place, with, stone-arched cloisters and corridors, more like a monastery than a castle. Amroth led me briskly along the passages, and took me into a large room very sparely furnished, where an elderly man sat writing at a table with his back to the light. He rose when we entered, and I had a sudden sense that I was coming to school again, as indeed I was. Amroth greeted him with a mixture of freedom and respect, as a well-loved pupil might treat an old schoolmaster. The man himself was tall and upright, and serious-looking, but for a twinkle of humour that lurked in his eye; yet I felt he was one who expected to be obeyed. He took Amroth into the embrasure of a window, and talked with him in low tones. Then he came back to me and asked me a few questions of which I did not then understand the drift--but it seemed a kind of very informal examination. Then he made us a little bow of dismissal, and sat down at once to his writing without giving us another look. Amroth took me out, and led me up many stone stairs, along whitewashed passages, with narrow windows looking out on the plain, to a small cell or room near the top of the castle. It was very austerely furnished, but it had a little door which took us out on the leads, and I then saw what a very large place the fortress was, consisting of several courts with a great central tower.

"Where on earth have we got to now?" I said.

"Nowhere '_on earth_,'" said Amroth. "You are at school again, and you will find it very interesting, I hope and expect, but it will be hard work. I will tell you plainly that you are lucky to be here, because if you do well, you will have the best sort of work to do."

"But what am I to do, and where am I to go?" I said. "I feel like a new boy, with all sorts of dreadful rules in the background."

"That will all be explained to you," said Amroth. "And now good-bye for the present. Let me hear a good report of you," he added, with a parental air, "when I come again. What would not we older fellows give to be back here!" he added with a half-mocking smile. "Let me tell you, my boy, you have got the happiest time of your life ahead of you. Well, be a credit to your friends!"

He gave me a nod and was gone. I stood for a little looking out rather desolately into the plain. There came a brisk tap at my door, and a man entered. He greeted me pleasantly, gave me a few directions, and I gathered that he was one of the instructors. "You will find it hard work," he said; "we do not waste time here. But I gather that you have had rather a troublesome ascent, so you can rest a little. When you are required, you will be summoned."

When he left me, I still felt very weary, and lay down on a little couch in the room, falling presently asleep. I was roused by the entry of a young man, who said he had been sent to fetch me: we went down along the passages, while he talked pleasantly in low tones about the arrangements of the place. As we went along the passages, the doors of the cells kept opening, and we were joined by young men and women, who spoke to me or to each other, but all in the same subdued voices, till at last we entered a big, bare, arched room, lit by high windows, with rows of seats, and a great desk or pulpit at the end. I looked round me in great curiosity. There must have been several hundred people present, sitting in rows. There was a murmur of talk over the hall, till a bell suddenly sounded somewhere in the castle, a door opened, a man stepped quickly into the pulpit, and began to speak in a very clear and distinct tone.

The discourse--and all the other discourses to which I listened in the place--was of a psychological kind, dealing entirely with the relations of human beings with each other, and the effect and interplay of emotions. It was extremely scientific, but couched in the simplest phraseology, and made many things clear to me which had formerly been obscure. There is nothing in the world so bewildering as the selective instinct of humanity, the reasons which draw people to each other, the attractive power of similarity and dissimilarity, the effects of class and caste, the abrupt approaches of passion, the influence of the body on the soul and of the soul on the body. It came upon me with a shock of surprise that while these things are the most serious realities in the world, and undoubtedly more important than any other thing, little attempt is made by humanity to unravel or classify them. I cannot here enter into the details of these instructions, which indeed would be unintelligible, but they showed me at first what I had not at all apprehended, namely the proportionate importance and unimportance of all the passions and emotions which regulate our relations with other souls. These discourses were given at regular intervals, and much of our time was spent in discussing together or working out in solitude the details of psychological problems, which we did with the exactness of chemical analysis.

What I soon came to understand was that the whole of psychology is ruled by the most exact and immutable laws, in which there is nothing fortuitous or abnormal, and that the exact course of an emotion can be predicted with perfect certainty if only all the data are known.

One of the most striking parts of these discourses was the fact that they were accompanied by illustrations. I will describe the first of these which I saw. The lecturer stopped for an instant and held up his hand. In the middle of one of the side-walls of the room was a great shallow arched recess. In this recess there suddenly appeared a scene, not as though it were cast by a lantern on the wall, but as if the wall were broken down, and showed a room beyond.

In the room, a comfortably furnished apartment, there sat two people, a husband and wife, middle-aged people, who were engaged in a miserable dispute about some very trivial matter. The wife was shrill and provocative, the husband curt and contemptuous. They were obviously not really concerned about the subject they were discussing--it only formed a ground for disagreeable personalities. Presently the man went out, saying harshly that it was very pleasant to come back from his work, day after day, to these scenes; to which the woman fiercely retorted that it was all his own fault; and when he was gone, she sat for a time mechanically knitting, with the tears trickling down her cheeks, and every now and then glancing at the door. After which, with great secrecy, she helped herself to some spirits which she took from a cupboard.

The scene was one of the most vulgar and debasing that can be described or imagined; and it was curious to watch the expressions on the faces of my companions. They wore the air of trained doctors or nurses, watching some disagreeable symptoms, with a sort of trained and serene compassion, neither shocked nor grieved. Then the situation was discussed and analysed, and various suggestions were made which were dealt with by the lecturer, in a way which showed me that there was much for us to master and to understand.

There were many other such illustrations given. They were, I discovered, by no means imaginary cases, projected into our minds by a kind of mental suggestion, but actual things happening upon earth. We saw many strange scenes of tragedy, we had a glimpse of lunatic asylums and hospitals, of murder even, and of evil passions of anger and lust. We saw scenes of grief and terror; and, stranger still, we saw many things that were being enacted not on the earth, but upon other planets, where the forms and appearances of the creatures concerned were fantastic and strange enough, but where the motive and the emotion were all perfectly clear. At times, too, we saw scenes that were beautiful and touching, high and heroic beyond words. These seemed to come rather by contrast and for encouragement; for the work was distinctly pathological, and dealt with the disasters and complications of emotions, as a rule, rather than with their glories and radiances. But it was all incredibly absorbing and interesting, though what it was to lead up to I did not quite discern. What struck me was the concentration of effort upon human emotion, and still more the fact that other hopes and passions, such as ambition and acquisitiveness, as well as all material and economic problems, were treated as infinitely insignificant, as just the framework of human life, only interesting in so far as the baser and meaner elements of circumstance can just influence, refining or coarsening, the highest traits of character and emotion.

We were given special cases, too, to study and consider, and here I had the first inkling of how far it is possible for disembodied spirits to be in touch with those who are still in the body.

As far as I can see, no direct intellectual contact is possible, except under certain circumstances. There is, of course, a great deal of thought-vibration taking place in the world, to which the best analogy is wireless telegraphy. There exists an all-pervading emotional medium, into which every thought that is tinged with emotion sends a ripple. Thoughts which are concerned with personal emotion send the firmest ripple into this medium, and all other thoughts and passions affect it, not in proportion to the intensity of the thought, but to the nature of the thought. The scale is perfectly determined and quite unalterable; thus a thought, however strong and intense, which is concerned with wealth or with personal ambition sends a very little ripple into the medium, while a thought of affection is very noticeable indeed, and more noticeable in proportion as it is purer and less concerned with any kind of bodily passion. Thus, strange to say, the thought of a father for a child is a stronger thought than that of a lover for his beloved. I do not know the exact scale of force, which is as exact as that of chemical values--and of course such emotions are apt to be complex and intricate; but the purer and simpler the thought is, the greater is its force. Perhaps the prayers that one prays for those whom one loves send the strongest ripple of all. If it happens that two of these ripples of personal emotion are closely similar, a reflex action takes place; and thus is explained the phenomenon which often takes place, the sudden sense of a friend's personality, if that friend, in absence, writes one a letter, or bends his mind intently upon one. It also explains the way in which some national or cosmic emotion suddenly gains simultaneous force, and vibrates in thousands of minds at the same time.

The body, by its joys and sufferings alike, offers a great obstruction to these emotional waves. In the land of spirits, as I have indicated, an intention of congenial wills gives an instantaneous perception; but this seems impossible between an embodied spirit and a disembodied spirit. The only communication which seems possible is that of a vague emotion; and it seems quite impossible for any sort of intellectual idea to be directly communicated by a disembodied spirit to an embodied spirit.

On the other hand, the intellectual processes of an embodied spirit are to a certain extent perceptible by a disembodied spirit; but there is a condition to this, and that is that some emotional sympathy must have existed between the two on earth. If there is no such sympathy, then the body is an absolute bar.

I could look into the mind of Amroth and see his thought take shape, as I could look into a stream, and see a fish dart from a covert of weed. But with those still in the body it is different. And I will therefore proceed to describe a single experience which will illustrate my point.

I was ordered to study the case of a former friend of my own who was still living upon earth. Nothing was told me about him, but, sitting in my cell, I put myself into communication with him upon earth. He had been a contemporary of mine at the university, and we had many interests in common. He was a lawyer; we did not very often meet, but when we did meet it was always with great cordiality and sympathy. I now found him ill and suffering from overwork, in a very melancholy state. When I first visited him, he was sitting alone, in the garden of a little house in the country. I could see that he was ill and sad; he was making pretence to read, but the book was wholly disregarded.

When I attempted to put my mind into communication with his, it was very difficult to see the drift of his thoughts. I was like a man walking in a dense fog, who can just discern at intervals recognisable objects as they come within his view; but there was no general prospect and no distance. His mind seemed a confused current of distressing memories; but there came a time when his thought dwelt for a moment upon myself; he wished that I could be with him, that he might speak of some of his perplexities. In that instant, the whole grew clearer, and little by little I was enabled to trace the drift of his thoughts. I became aware that though he was indeed suffering from overwork, yet that his enforced rest only removed the mental distraction of his work, and left his mind free to revive a whole troop of painful thoughts. He had been a man of strong personal ambitions, and had for twenty years been endeavouring to realise them. Now a sense of the comparative worthlessness of his aims had come upon him. He had despised and slighted other emotions; and his mind had in consequence drifted away like a boat into a bitter and barren sea. He was a lonely man, and he was feeling that he had done ill in not multiplying human emotions and relations. He reflected much upon the way in which he had neglected and despised his home affections, while he had formed no ties of his own. Now, too, his career seemed to him at an end, and he had nothing to look forward to but a maimed and invalided life of solitude and failure. Many of his thoughts I could not discern at all--the mist, so to speak, involved them--while many were obscure to me. When he thought about scenes and people whom I had never known, the thought loomed shapeless and dark; but when he thought, as he often did, about his school and university days, and about his home circle, all of which scenes were familiar to me, I could read his mind with perfect clearness. At the bottom of all lay a sense of deep disappointment and resentment. He doubted the justice of God, and blamed himself but little for his miseries. It was a sad experience at first, because he was falling day by day into more hopeless dejection; while he refused the pathetic overtures of sympathy which the relations in whose house he was--a married sister with her husband and children--offered him. He bore himself with courtesy and consideration, but he was so much worn with fatigue and despondency that he could not take any initiative. But I became aware very gradually that he was learning the true worth and proportion of things--and the months which passed so heavily for him brought him perceptions of the value of which he was hardly aware. Let me say that it was now that the incredible swiftness of time in the spiritual region made itself felt for me. A month of his sufferings passed to me, contemplating them, like an hour.

I found to my surprise that his thoughts of myself were becoming more frequent; and one day when he was turning over some old letters and reading a number of mine, it seemed to me that his spirit almost recognised my presence in the words which came to his lips, "It seems like yesterday!" I then became blessedly aware that I was actually helping him, and that the very intentness of my own thought was quickening his own.

I discussed the whole case very closely and carefully with one of our instructors, who set me right on several points and made the whole state of things clear to me.

I said to him, "One thing bewilders me; it would almost seem that a man's work upon earth constituted an interruption and a distraction from spiritual influences. It cannot surely be that people in the body should avoid employment, and give themselves to secluded meditation? If the soul grows fast in sadness and despondency, it would seem that one should almost have courted sorrow on earth; and yet I cannot believe that to be the case."

"No," he said, "it is not the case; the body has here to be considered. No amount of active exertion clouds the eye of the soul, if only the motive of it is pure and lofty, and if the soul is only set patiently and faithfully upon the true end of life. The body indeed requires due labour and exercise, and the soul can gain health and clearness thereby. But what does cloud the spirit is if it gives itself wholly up to narrow personal aims and ambitions, and uses friendship and love as mere recreations and amusements. Sickness and sorrow are not, as we used to think, fortuitous things; they are given to those who need them, as high and rich opportunities; and they come as truly blessed gifts, when they break a man's thought off from material things, and make him fall back upon the loving affections and relations of life. When one re-enters the world, a woman's life is sometimes granted to a spirit, because a woman by circumstance and temperament is less tempted to decline upon meaner ambitions and interests than a man; but work and activity are no hindrances to spiritual growth, so long as the soul waits upon God, and desires to learn the lessons of life, rather than to enforce its own conclusions upon others."

"Yes," I said, "I see that. What, then, is the great hindrance in the life of men?"

"Authority," he said, "whether given or taken. That is by far the greatest difficulty that a soul has to contend with. The knowledge of the true conditions of life is so minute and yet so imperfect, when one is in the body, that the man or woman who thinks it a duty to disapprove, to correct, to censure, is in the gravest danger. In the first place it is so impossible to disentangle the true conditions of any human life; to know how far those failures which are lightly called sins are inherited instincts of the body, or the manifestation of immaturity of spirit. Complacency, hard righteousness, spiritual security, severe judgments, are the real foes of spiritual growth; and if a man is in a position to enforce his influence and his will upon others, he can fall very low indeed, and suspend his own growth for a very long and sad period. It is not the criticism or the analysis of others which hurts the soul, so long as it remains modest and sincere and conscious of its own weaknesses. It is when we indulge in secure or compassionate comparisons of our own superior worth that we go backwards."

This was but one of the many cases which I had to investigate. I do not say that this is the work of all spirits in the other world--it is not so; there are many kinds of work and occupation. This was the one now allotted to me; but I did become aware of the intense and loving interest which is bent upon the souls of the living by those who are departed. There is not a soul alive who is not being thus watched and tended, and helped, as far as help is possible; for no one is ever forced or compelled or frightened into truth, only drawn and wooed by love and care.

I must say a word, too, of the great and noble friendships which I formed at this period of my existence. We were not free to make many of these at a time. Love seems to be the one thing that demands an entire concentration, and though in the world of spirits I became aware that one could be conscious of many of the thoughts of those about me simultaneously, yet the emotion of love, in the earlier stages, is single and exclusive.

I will speak of two only. There were a young man and a young woman who were much associated with me at that time, whom I will call Philip and Anna. Philip was one of the most beautiful of all the spirits I ever came near. His last life upon earth had been a long one, and he had been a teacher. I used to tell him that I wished I had been under him as a pupil, to which he replied, laughing, that I should have found him very uninteresting. He said to me once that the way in which he had always distinguished the two kinds of teachers on earth had been by whether they were always anxious to teach new books and new subjects, or went on contentedly with the old. "The pleasure," he said, "was in the teaching, in making the thought clear, in tempting the boys to find out what they knew all the time; and the oftener I taught a subject the better I liked it; it was like a big cog-wheel, with a number of little cog-wheels turning with it. But the men who were always wanting to change their subjects were the men who thought of their own intellectual interest first, and very little of the small interests revolving upon it." The charm of Philip was the charm of extreme ingenuousness combined with daring insight. He never seemed to be shocked or distressed by anything. He said one day, "It was not the sensual or the timid or the ill-tempered boys who used to make me anxious. Those were definite faults and brought definite punishment; it was the hard-hearted, virtuous, ambitious, sensible boys, who were good-humoured and respectable and selfish, who bothered me; one wanted to shake them as a terrier shakes a rat--but there was nothing to get hold of. They were a credit to themselves and to their parents and to the school; and yet they went downhill with every success."

Anna was a woman of singularly unselfish and courageous temperament. She had been, in the course of her last life upon earth, a hospital nurse; and she used to speak gratefully of the long periods when she was nursing some anxious case, when she had interchanged day and night, sleeping when the world was awake, and sitting with a book or needlework by the sick-bed, through the long darkness. "People used to say to me that it must be so depressing; but those were my happiest hours, as the dark brightened into dawn, when many of the strange mysteries of life and pain and death gave up their secrets to me. But of course," she added with a smile, "it was all very dim to me. I felt the truth rather than saw it; and it is a great joy to me to perceive now what was happening, and how the sad, bewildered hours of pain and misery leave their blessed marks upon the soul, like the tools of the graver on the gem. If only we could learn to plan a little less and to believe a little more, how much simpler it would all be!"

These two became very dear to me, and I learnt much heavenly wisdom from them in long, quiet conferences, where we spoke frankly of all we had felt and known.

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