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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 27
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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 27 Post by :zsaddique Category :Long Stories Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :651

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The Child Of The Dawn - Chapter 27

CHAPTER XXVII.

I had somehow never expected to be used with positive violence in the world of spirits, and least of all in that lazy and good-natured place. Considering, too, the errand on which I had come, not for my own convenience but for the sake of another, my treatment seemed to me very hard. What was still more humiliating was the fact that my spirit seemed just as powerless in the hands of these ruffians as my body would have been on earth. I was pushed, hustled, insulted, hurt. I could have summoned Amroth to my aid, but I felt too proud for that; yet the thought of the cragmen, and the possibility of the second death, did visit my mind with dismal iteration. I did not at all desire a further death; I felt very much alive, and full of interest and energy. Worst of all was my sense that Cynthia had gone over to the enemy. I had been so loftily kind with her, that I much resented having appeared in her sight as feeble and ridiculous. It is difficult to preserve any dignity of demeanour or thought, with a man's hand at one's neck and his knee in one's back: and I felt that Lucius had displayed a really Satanical malignity in using this particular means of degrading me in Cynthia's sight, and of regaining his own lost influence.

I was thrust and driven before my captors along an alley in the garden, and what added to my discomfiture was that a good many people ran together to see us pass, and watched me with decided amusement. I was taken finally to a little pavilion of stone, with heavily barred windows, and a flagged marble floor. The room was absolutely bare, and contained neither seat nor table. Into this I was thrust, with some obscene jesting, and the door was locked upon me.

The time passed very heavily. At intervals I heard music burst out among the alleys, and a good many people came to peep in upon me with an amused curiosity. I was entirely bewildered by my position, and did not see what I could have done to have incurred my punishment. But in the solitary hours that followed I began to have a suspicion of my fault. I had found myself hitherto the object of so much attention and praise, that I had developed a strong sense of complacency and self-satisfaction. I had an uncomfortable suspicion that there was even more behind, but I could not, by interrogating my mind and searching out my spirits, make out clearly what it was; yet I felt I was having a sharp lesson; and this made me resolve that I would ask for no kind of assistance from Amroth or any other power, but that I would try to meet whatever fell upon me with patience, and extract the full savour of my experience.

I do not know how long I spent in the dismal cell. I was in some discomfort from the handling I had received, and in still greater dejection of mind. Suddenly I heard footsteps approaching. Three of my captors appeared, and told me roughly to go with them. So, a pitiable figure, I limped along between two of them, the third following behind, and was conducted through the central piazza of the place, between two lines of people who gave way to the most undisguised merriment, and even shouted opprobrious remarks at me, calling me spy and traitor and other unpleasant names. I could not have believed that these kind-mannered and courteous persons could have exhibited, all of a sudden, such frank brutality, and I saw many of my own acquaintance among them, who regarded me with obvious derision.

I was taken into a big hall, in which I had often sat to hear a concert of music. On the dais at the upper end were seated a number of dignified persons, in a semicircle, with a very handsome and stately old man in the centre on a chair of state, whose face was new to me. Before this Court I was formally arraigned; I had to stand alone in the middle of the floor, in an open space. Two of my captors stood on each side of me; while the rest of the court was densely packed with people, who greeted me with obvious hostility.

When silence was procured, the President said to me, with a show of great courtesy, that he could not disguise from himself that the charge against me was a serious one; but that justice would be done to me, fully and carefully. I should have ample opportunity to excuse myself. He then called upon one of those who sat with him to state the case briefly, and call witnesses and after that he promised I might speak for myself.

A man rose from one of the seats, and, pleading somewhat rhetorically, said that the object of the great community, to which so many were proud to belong, was to secure to all the utmost amount of innocent enjoyment, and the most entire peace of mind; that no pressure was put upon any one who decided to stay there, and to observe the quiet customs of the place; but that it was always considered a heinous and ill-disposed thing to attempt to unsettle any one's convictions, or to attempt, by using undue influence, to bring about the migration of any citizen to conditions of which little was known, but which there was reason to believe were distinctly undesirable.

"We are, above all," he said, "a religious community; our rites and our ceremonies are privileges open to all; we compel no one to attend them; all that we insist is that no one, by restless innovation or cynical contempt, should attempt to disturb the emotions of serene contemplation, distinguished courtesy, and artistic feeling, for which our society has been so long and justly celebrated."

This was received with loud applause, indulgently checked by the President. Some witnesses were then called, who testified to the indifference and restlessness which I had on many occasions manifested. It was brought up against me that I had provoked a much-respected member of the community, Charmides, to utter some very treasonous and unpleasant language, and that it was believed that the rash and unhappy step, which he had lately taken, of leaving the place, had been entirely or mainly the result of my discontented and ill-advised suggestion.

Then Lucius himself, wearing an air of extreme gravity and even despondency, was called, and a murmur of sympathy ran through the audience. Lucius, apparently struggling with deep emotion, said that he bore me no actual ill-will; that on my first arrival he had done his best to welcome me and make me feel at home; that it was probably known to all that I had been accompanied by an accomplished and justly popular lady, whom I had openly treated with scanty civility and undisguised contempt. That he had himself, under the laws of the place, contracted a close alliance with my unhappy protegee, and that their union had been duly accredited; but that I had lost no opportunity of attempting to undermine his happiness, and to maintain an unwholesome influence over her. That I had at last left the place myself, with a most uncivil abruptness; during the interval of absence my occupations were believed to have been of the most dubious character: it was more than suspected, indeed, that I had penetrated to places, the very name of which could hardly be mentioned without shame and consternation. That my associates had been persons of the vilest character and the most brutal antecedents; and at last, feeling in need of distraction, I had again returned with the deliberate intention of seducing his unhappy partner into accompanying me to one or other of the abandoned places I had visited. He added that Cynthia had been so much overcome by her emotion, and her natural compassion for an old acquaintance, that he had persuaded her not to subject herself to the painful strain of an appearance in public; but that for this action he threw himself upon the mercy of the Court, who would know that it was only dictated by chivalrous motives.

At this there was subdued applause, and Lucius, after adding a few broken words to the effect that he lived only for the maintenance of order, peace, and happiness, and that he was devoted heart and soul to the best interests of the community, completely broke down, and was assisted from his place by friends.

The whole thing was so malignant and ingenious a travesty of what had happened, that I was entirely at a loss to know what to say. The President, however, courteously intimated that though the case appeared to present a good many very unsatisfactory features, yet I was entirely at liberty to justify myself if I could, and, if not, to make submission; and added that I should be dealt with as leniently as possible.

I summoned up my courage as well as I might. I began by saying that I claimed no more than the liberty of thought and action which I knew the Court desired to concede. I said that my arrival at the place was mysterious even to myself, and that I had simply acted under orders in accompanying Cynthia, and in seeing that she was securely bestowed. I said that I had never incited any rebellion, or any disobedience to laws of the scope of which I had never been informed. That I had indeed frankly discussed matters of general interest with any citizen who seemed to desire it; that I had been always treated with marked consideration and courtesy; and that, as far as I was aware, I had always followed the same policy myself. I said that I was sincerely attached to Cynthia, but added that, with all due respect, I could no longer consider myself a member of the community. I had transferred myself elsewhere under direct orders, with my own entire concurrence, and that I had since acted in accordance with the customs and regulations of the community to which I had been allotted. I went on to say that I had returned under the impression that my presence was desired by Cynthia, and that I must protest with all my power against the treatment I had received. I had been arrested and imprisoned with much violence and contumely, without having had any opportunity of hearing what my offence was supposed to have been, or having had any semblance of a trial, and that I could not consider that my usage had been consistent with the theory of courtesy, order, or justice so eloquently described by the President.

This onslaught of mine produced an obvious revulsion in my favour. The President conferred hastily with his colleagues, and then said that my arrest had indeed been made upon the information of Lucius, and with the cognisance of the Court; but that he sincerely regretted that I had any complaint of unhandsome usage to make, and that the matter would be certainly inquired into. He then added that he understood from my words that I desired to make a complete submission, and that in that case I should be acquitted of any evil intentions. My fault appeared to be that I had yielded too easily to the promptings of an ill-balanced and speculative disposition, and that if I would undertake to disturb no longer the peace of the place, and to desist from all further tampering with the domestic happiness of a much-respected pair, I should be discharged with a caution, and indeed be admitted again to the privileges of orderly residence.

"And I will undertake to say," he added, "that the kindness and courtesy of our community will overlook your fault, and make no further reference to a course of conduct which appears to have been misguided rather than deliberately malevolent. We have every desire not to disturb in any way the tranquillity which it is, above all things, our desire to maintain. May I conclude, then, that this is your intention?"

"No, sir," I said, "certainly not! With all due respect to the Court, I cannot submit to the jurisdiction. The only privilege I claim is the privilege of an alien and a stranger, who in a perfectly peaceful manner, and with no seditious intent, has re-entered this land, and has thereupon been treated with gross and unjust violence. I do not for a moment contest the right of this community to make its own laws and regulations, but I do contest its right to fetter the thought and the liberty of speech of all who enter it. I make no submission. The Lady Cynthia came here under my protection, and if any undue influence has been used, it has been used by Lucius, whom I treated with a confidence he has abused. And I here appeal to a higher power and a higher court, which may indeed permit this unhappy community to make its own regulations, but will not permit any gross violation of elementary justice."

I was carried away by great indignation in the course of my words, which had a very startling effect. A large number of the audience left the hall in haste. The judge grew white to the lips, whether with anger or fear I did not know, said a few words to his neighbour, and then with a great effort to control himself, said to me:

"You put us, sir, by your words, in a very painful position. You do not know the conditions under which we live--that is evident--and intemperate language like yours has before now provoked an invasion of our peace of a most undesirable kind. I entreat you to calm yourself, to accept the apologies of the Court for the incidental and indeed unjustifiable violence with which you were treated. If you will only return to your own community, the nature of which I will not now stay to inquire, you may be assured that you will be conducted to our gates with the utmost honour. Will you pledge yourself as a gentleman, and, as I believe I am right in saying, as a Christian, to do this?"

"Yes," I said, "upon one condition: that I may have an interview with the Lady Cynthia, and that she may be free to accompany me, if she wishes."

The President was about to reply, when a sudden and unlooked-for interruption occurred. A man in a pearly-grey dress, with a cloak clasped with gold, came in at the end of the hall, and advanced with rapid steps and a curiously unconcerned air up the hall. The judges rose in their places with a hurried and disconcerted look. The stranger came up to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and bade me presently follow him. Then he turned to the President, and said in a clear, peremptory voice:

"Dissolve the Court! Your powers have been grossly and insolently exceeded. See that nothing of this sort occurs again!" and then, ascending the dais, he struck the President with his open hand hard upon the cheek.

The President gave a stifled cry and staggered in his place, and then, covering his face with his hands, went out at a door on the platform, followed by the rest of the Council in haste. Then the man came down again, and motioned me to follow him. I was not prepared for what happened. Outside in the square was a great, pale, silent crowd, in the most obvious and dreadful excitement and consternation. We went rapidly, in absolute stillness, through two lines of people, who watched us with an emotion I could not quite interpret, but it was something very like hatred.

"Follow me quickly," said my guide; "do not look round!" and, as we went, I heard the crowd closing up in a menacing way behind us. But we walked straight forward, neither slowly nor hurriedly but at a deliberate pace, to the gateway which opened on the cliffs. At this point I saw a confusion in the crowd, as though some one were being kept back, and in the forefront of the throng, gesticulating and arguing, was Lucius himself, with his back to us. Just as we reached the gate I heard a cry; and from the crowd there ran Cynthia, with her hair unbound, in terror and faintness. Our guide opened the gate, and motioned us swiftly through, turning round to face the crowd, which now ran in upon us. I saw him wave his arm; and then he came quickly through the gate and closed it. He looked at us with a smile. "Don't be afraid," he said; "that was a dangerous business. But they cannot touch us here." As he said the word, there burst from the gardens behind us a storm of the most hideous and horrible cries I had ever heard, like the howling of wild beasts. Cynthia clung to me in terror, and nearly swooned in my arms. "Never mind," said the guide; "they are disappointed, and no wonder. It was a near thing; but, poor creatures, they have no initiative; their life is not a fortifying one; and besides, they will have forgotten all about it to-morrow. Rut we had better not stop here. There is no use in facing disagreeable things, unless one is obliged." And he led the way down the valley.

When we had got a little farther off, our guide told us to sit down and rest. Cynthia was still very much frightened, speechless with excitement and agitation, and, like all impulsive people, regretting her decision. I saw that it was useless to say anything to her at present. She sat wearily enough, her eyes closed, and her hands clasped. Our guide looked at me with a half-smile, and said:

"That was rather an unpleasant business! It is astonishing how excited those placid and polite people can get if they think their privileges are being threatened. But really that Court was rather too much. They have tried it before with some success, and it is a clever trick. But they have had a lesson to-day, and it will not need to be repeated for a while."

"You arrived just at the right moment," I said, "and I really cannot express how grateful I am to you for your help."

"Oh," he said, "you were quite safe. It was just that touch of temper that saved you; but I was hard by all the time, to see that things did not go too far."

"May I ask," I said, "exactly what they could have done to me, and what their real power is?"

"They have none at all," he said. "They could not really have done anything to you, except imprison you. What helps them is not their own power, which is nothing, but the terror of their victims. If you had not been frightened when you were first attacked, they could not have overpowered you. It is all a kind of playacting, which they perform with remarkable skill. The Court was really an admirable piece of drama--they have a great gift for representation."

"Do you mean to say," I said, "that they were actually aware that they had no sort of power to inflict any injury upon me?"

"They could have made it very disagreeable for you," he said, "if they had frightened you, and kept you frightened. As long as that lasted, you would have been extremely uncomfortable. But as you saw, the moment you defied them they were helpless. The part played by Lucius was really unpardonable. I am afraid he is a great rascal."

Cynthia faintly demurred to this. "Never mind," said the guide soothingly, "he has only shown you his good side, of course; and I don't deny that he is a very clever and attractive fellow. But he makes no progress, and I am really afraid that he will have to be transferred elsewhere; though there is indeed one hope for him."

"Tell me what that is," said Cynthia faintly.

"I don't think I need do that," said our friend, "you know better than I; and some day, I think, when you are stronger, you will find the way to release him."

"Ah, you don't know him as I do," said Cynthia, and relapsed into silence; but did not withdraw her hand from mine.

"Well," said our guide after a moment's pause, "I think I have done all I can for the time being, and I am wanted elsewhere."

"But will you not advise me what to do next?" I said. "I do not see my way clear."

"No," said the guide rather drily, "I am afraid I cannot do that. That lies outside my province. These delicate questions are not in my line. I will tell you plainly what I am. I am just a messenger, perhaps more like a policeman," he added, smiling, "than anything else. I just go and appear when I am wanted, if there is a row or a chance of one. Don't misunderstand me!" he said more kindly. "It is not from any lack of interest in you or our friend here. I should very much like to know what step you will take, but it is simply not my business: our duties here are very clearly defined, and I can just do my job, and nothing more."

He made a courteous salute, and walked off without looking back, leaving on me the impression of a young military officer, perfectly courteous and reliable, not inclined to cultivate his emotions or to waste words, but absolutely effective, courageous, and dutiful.

"Well," I said to Cynthia with a show of cheerfulness, "what shall we do next? Are you feeling strong enough to go on?"

"I am sure I don't know," said Cynthia wearily. "Don't ask me. I have had a great fright, and I begin to wish I had stayed behind. How uncomfortable everything is! Why can one never have a moment's peace? There," she said to me, "don't be vexed, I am not blaming you; but I hated you for not showing more fight when those men set on you, and I hated Lucius for having done it; you must forgive me! I am sure you only did what was kind and right--but I have had a very trying time, and I don't like these bothers. Let me alone for a little, and I daresay I shall be more sensible."

I sat by her in much perplexity, feeling singularly helpless and ineffective; and in a moment of weakness, not knowing what to do, I wished that Amroth were near me, to advise me; and to my relief saw him approaching, but also realised in a flash that I had acted wrongly, and that he was angry, as I had never seen him before.

He came up to us, and bending down to Cynthia with great tenderness, took her hand, and said, "Will you stay here quietly a little, Cynthia, and rest? You are perfectly safe now, and no one will come near you. We two shall be close at hand; but we must have a talk together, and see what can be done."

Cynthia smiled and released me. Amroth beckoned me to withdraw with him. When we had got out of earshot, he turned upon me very fiercely, and said, "You have made a great mess of this business."

"I know it," I said feebly, "but I cannot for the life of me see where I was wrong."

"You were wrong from beginning to end," he said. "Cannot you see that, whatever this place is, it is not a sentimental place? It is all this wretched sentiment that has done the mischief. Come," he added, "I have an unpleasant task before me, to unmask you to yourself. I don't like it, but I must do it. Don't make it harder for me."

"Very good," I said, rather angrily too. "But allow me to say this first. This is a place of muddle. One is worked too hard, and shown too many things, till one is hopelessly confused. But I had rather have your criticism first, and then I will make mine."

"Very well!" said Amroth facing me, looking at me fixedly with his blue eyes, and his nostrils a little distended. "The mischief lies in your temperament. You are precocious, and you are volatile. You have had special opportunities, and in a way you have used them well, but your head has been somewhat turned by your successes. You came to that place yonder, with Cynthia, with a sense of superiority. You thought yourself too good for it, and instead of just trying to see into the minds and hearts of the people you met, you despised them; instead of learning, you tried to teach. You took a feeble interest in Cynthia, made a pet of her; then, when I took you away, you forgot all about her. Even the great things I was allowed to show you did not make you humble. You took them as a compliment to your powers. And so when you had your chance to go back to help Cynthia, you thought out no plan, you asked no advice. You went down in a very self-sufficient mood, expecting that everything would be easy."

"That is not true," I said. "I was very much perplexed."

"It is only too true," said Amroth; "you enjoyed your perplexity; I daresay you called it faith to yourself! It was that which made you weak. You lost your temper with Lucius, you made a miserable fight of it--and even in prison you could not recognise that you were in fault. You did better at the trial--I fully admit that you behaved well there--but the fault is in this, that this girl gave you her heart and her confidence, and you despised them. Your mind was taken up with other things; a very little more, and you would be fit for the intellectual paradise. There," he said, "I have nearly done! You may be angry if you will, but that is the truth. You have a wrong idea of this place. It is not plain sailing here. Life here is a very serious, very intricate, very difficult business. The only complications which are removed are the complications of the body; but one has anxious and trying responsibilities all the same, and you have trifled with them. You must not delude yourself. You have many good qualities. You have some courage, much ingenuity, keen interests, and a good deal of conscientiousness; but you have the makings of a dilettante, the readiness to delude yourself that the particular little work you are engaged in is excessively and peculiarly important. You have got the proportion all wrong."

I had a feeling of intense anger and bitterness at all this; but as he spoke, the scales seemed to fall from my eyes, and I saw that Amroth was right. I wrestled with myself in silence.

Presently I said, "Amroth, I believe you are right, though I think at this moment that you have stated all this rather harshly. But I do see that it can be no pleasure to you to state it, though I fear I shall never regain my pleasure in your company."

"There," said Amroth, "that is sentiment again!"

This put me into a great passion.

"Very well," I said, "I will say no more. Perhaps you will just be good enough to tell me what I am to do with Cynthia, and where I am to go, and then I will trouble you no longer."

"Oh," said Amroth with a sneer, "I have no doubt you can find some very nice semidetached villas hereabouts. Why not settle down, and make the poor girl a little mote worthy of yourself?"

At this I turned from him in great anger, and left him standing where he was. If ever I hated any one, I hated Amroth at that moment. I went back to Cynthia.

"I have come back to you, dear," I said. "Can you trust me and go with me? No one here seems inclined to help us, and we must just help each other."

At which Cynthia rose and flung herself into my arms.

"That was what I wanted all along," she said, "to feel that I could be of use too. You will see how brave I can be. I can go anywhere with you and do anything, because I think I have loved you all the time."

"And you must forgive me, Cynthia," I said, "as well. For I did not know till this moment that I loved you, but I know it now; and I shall love you to the end."

As I said these words I turned, and saw Amroth smiling from afar; then with a wave of the hand to us, he turned and passed out of our sight.

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CHAPTER XXVI.But all my speculations were cut short by a strange event which happened about this time. One day, without any warning, the thought of Cynthia darted urgently and irresistibly into my mind. Her image came between me and all my tasks; I saw her in innumerable positions and guises, but always with her eyes bent on me in a pitiful entreaty. After endeavouring to resist the thought for a little as some kind of fantasy, I became suddenly convinced that she was in need of me, and in urgent need. I asked for an interview with our Master, and told
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