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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Dark Star - Chapter 3. In Embryo
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The Dark Star - Chapter 3. In Embryo Post by :Eliot_Proud Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :2362

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The Dark Star - Chapter 3. In Embryo


A child on the floor, flat on her stomach in the red light of the stove, drawing pictures; her mother by the shaded lamp mending stockings; her father reading; a faint odour of kerosene from the glass lamp in the room, and the rattle of sleet on roof and window; this was one of her childhood memories which never faded through all the years of Ruhannah's life.

Of her waking hours she preferred that hour after supper when, lying prone on the worn carpet, with pencil and paper, just outside the lamp's yellow circle of light, her youthful imagination kindled and caught fire.

For at that hour the magic of the stove's glowing eyes transformed the sitting-room chairs to furtive watchers of herself, made of her mother's work-table a sly and spidery thing on legs, crouching in ambush; bewitched the ancient cottage piano so that its ivory keys menaced her like a row of monstrous teeth.

She adored it all. The tall secretary stared at her with owlish significance. Through that neutral veil where lamplight and shadow meet upon the wall, the engraved portrait of a famous and godly missionary peered down at her out of altered and malicious eyes; the claw-footed, haircloth sofa was a stealthy creature offering to entrap her with wide, inviting arms; three folded umbrellas leaned over the edge of their shadowy stand, looking down at her like scrawny and baleful birds, ready to peck at her with crooked handles. And as for Adoniram, her lank black cat, the child's restless creative fancy was ever transforming him from goblin into warlock, from hydra to hippogriff, until the earnestness of pretence sent agreeable shivers down her back, and she edged a trifle nearer to her mother.

But when pretence became a bit too real and too grotesque she had always a perfect antidote. It was merely necessary to make a quick picture of an angel or two, a fairy prince, a swan, and she felt herself in their company, and delightfully protected.

* * * * *

There was a night when the flowing roar of the gale outside filled the lamplit silence; when the snow was drifting level with the window sills; when Adoniram, unable to prowl abroad, lay curled up tight and sound asleep beside her where she sat on the carpet in the stove radiance. Wearied of drawing castles and swans, she had been listening to her father reading passages aloud from the book on his knees to her mother who was sewing by the lamp.

Presently he continued his reading:

"I asked Alaro the angel: 'Which place is this, and which people are these?'

"And he answered: 'This place is the star-track; and these are they who in the world offered no prayers and chanted no liturgies. Through other works they have attained felicity.'"

Her mother nodded, continuing to sew. Ruhannah considered what her father had read, then:


"Yes----" He looked down at her absently.

"What were you reading?"

"A quotation from the Sacred Anthology."

"Isn't prayer really necessary?"

Her mother said:

"Yes, dear."

"Then how did those people who offered no prayers go to Heaven?"

Her father said:

"Eternal life is not attained by praise or prayer alone, Ruhannah. Those things which alone justify prayer are also necessary."

"What are they?"

"What we really _think and what we _do_--both only in Christ's name. Without these nothing else counts very much--neither form nor convention nor those individual garments called creed and denomination, which belief usually wears throughout the world."

Her mother, sewing, glanced gravely down at her daughter:

"Your father is very tolerant of what other people believe--as long as they really do believe. Your father thinks that Christ would have found friends in Buddha and Mahomet."

"Do such people go to Heaven?" asked Ruhannah, astonished.

"Listen," said her father, reading again:

"'I came to a place and I saw the souls of the liberal, adorned above all other souls in splendour. And it seemed to me sublime.

"'I saw the souls of the truthful who walked in lofty splendour. And it seemed to me sublime.

"'I saw the souls of teachers and inquirers; I saw the friendly souls of interceders and peacemakers; and these walked brilliantly in the light. And it seemed to me sublime----'"

He turned to his wife:

"To see and know _is sublime. We know, Mary; and Ruhannah is intelligent. But in spite of her faith in what she has learned from us, like us she must one day travel the common way, seeking for herself the reasons and the evidences of immortality."

"Perhaps her faith, Wilbour----"

"Perhaps. But with the intelligent, faith, which is emotional, usually follows belief; and belief comes only from reasoning. I think that Ruhannah is destined to travel the way of all intelligence when she is ready to think for herself."

"I am ready now," said the girl. "I have faith in our Lord Jesus, and in my father and mother."

Her father looked at her:

"It is good building material. Some day, God willing, you shall build a very lofty temple with it. But the foundation of the temple must first be certain. Intelligence ultimately requires reasons for belief. You will have to seek them for yourself, Ruhannah. Then, on them build your shrine of faith; and nothing shall shake it down."

"I don't understand."

"And I cannot explain. Only this; as you grow older, all around you in the world you will become aware of people, countless millions and millions of people, asking themselves--ready with the slightest encouragement, or without it, to ask you the question which is the most vital of all questions to them. And whatever way it is answered always they ask for evidence. You, too, will one day ask for evidence. All the world asks for it. But few recognise it as evidence when it is offered."

He closed his book and dropped a heavy hand upon it.

"Amid the myriad pursuits and interests and trades and professions of the human race, amid their multitudinous aspirations, perplexities, doubts, passions, endeavours, deep within every intelligent man remains one dominant desire, one persistent question to be answered if possible."

"What desire, father?"

"The universal desire for another chance--for immortality. Man's never-ending demand for evidence of an immortality which shall terminate for him the most tremendous of all uncertainties, which shall solve for him the most vital of all questions: What is to become of him after physical death? Is he to live again? Is he to see once more those whom he loved the best?"

Ruhannah sat thinking in the red stove light, cross-legged, her slim ankles clasped in either hand.

"But our souls are immortal," she said at last.


"Our Lord Jesus has said it."


"Then why should anybody not believe it?"

"Try to believe it always. Particularly after your mother and I are no longer here, try to believe it.... You are unusually intelligent; and if some day your intelligence discovers that it requires evidence for belief seek for that evidence. It is obtainable. Try to recognise it when you encounter it.... Only, in any event, remember this: never alter your early faith, never destroy your childhood's belief until evidence to prove the contrary convinces you."

"No.... There is no such evidence, is there, father?"

"I know of none."

"Then," said the girl calmly, "I shall take Christ's evidence that I shall live again if I do no evil.... Father?"


"Is there any evidence that Adoniram has no soul?"

"I know of none."

"Is there any that he has a soul?"

"Yes, I think there is."

"Are you sure?"

"Not entirely."

"I wonder," mused the girl, looking gravely at the sleeping cat.

It was the first serious doubt that Ruhannah had ever entertained in her brief career.

That night she dreamed of the Yellow Devil in Herr Wilner's box, and, awaking, remembered her dream. It seemed odd, too, because she had not even thought of the Yellow Devil for over a year.

But the menacing Mongol figure seemed bound to intrude into her life once more and demand her attention as though resentful of long oblivion and neglect; for, a week later, an old missionary from Indo-China--a native Chinese--who had lectured at the Baptist Church in Gayfield the evening previous, came to pay his respects to the Reverend Wilbour Carew. And Rue had taken the Yellow Devil from the olive-wood box that day and was busily making a pencil drawing of it.

At sight of the figure the native missionary's narrow almond eyes opened extremely wide, and he leaned on the table and regarded the bronze demon very intently.

Then he took from his pocket and adjusted to his button nose a pair of large, horn spectacles; and he carefully examined the Chinese characters engraved on the base of the ancient bronze, following them slowly with a yellow and clawlike forefinger.

"Can you read what is written there?" inquired the Reverend Mr. Carew.

"Yes, brother. This is what is written: 'I am Erlik, Ruler of Chaos and of All that Was. The old order passes when I arrive. I bring confusion among the peoples; I hurl down emperors; kingdoms crumble where I pass; the world begins to rock and tip, spilling nations into outer darkness. When there are no more kingdoms and no more kings; no more empires and no emperors; and when only the humble till, the blameless sow, the pure reap; and when only the teachers teach in the shadow of the Tree, and when the Thinker sits unstirring under the high stars, then, from the dark edges of the world I let go my grasp and drop into those immeasurable deeps from which I came--I, Erlik, Ruler of All that Was.'"

After a silence the Reverend Mr. Carew asked whether the figure was a very old one.

"It is before the period called 'Han'--a dynasty during which the Mongols were a mighty people. This inscription is Mongol. Erlik was the Yellow Devil of the Mongols."

"Not a heathen god, then?"

"No, a heathen devil. Their Prince of Darkness."

Ruhannah, pencil in hand, looked curiously at this heathen Prince of Darkness, arrived out of the dark ages to sit to her for his scowling portrait.

"I wonder what he thinks of America," she said, partly to herself.

The native missionary smiled, picked up the Yellow Devil, shook the figure, listening.

"There is something inside," he said; "perhaps jewels. If you drilled a hole in him you could find out."

The Reverend Mr. Carew nodded absently:

"Yes; it might be worth while," he said.

"If there is a jewel," repeated the missionary, "you had better take it, then cast away the figure. Erlik brings disaster to the land where his image is set up."

The Reverend Mr. Carew smiled at his Chinese and Christian confrere's ineradicable vein of superstition.

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