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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 9. Anthony Clarke, Evangel
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 9. Anthony Clarke, Evangel Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3341

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 1 - Chapter 9. Anthony Clarke, Evangel

BOOK I CHAPTER IX. ANTHONY CLARKE, EVANGEL

Mr. Britt was right. Mrs. Lambert was very fond of Clarke--had, indeed, quite taken him into her heart. He was at once son and spiritual adviser, and his wishes had the force of commands. His bereavement could not have anguished her much more keenly had Adele been her own daughter, and this affliction still lay like a mist between them, preventing even a foreboding of his impending confession of desire. Her remembrance of the beauty and high character of his wife made Viola seem doubly the child; and so when, from time to time, some busybody hinted at the minister's marked intimacy with her daughter, she put the covert insinuation away with a frank word--"You mustn't even think such a thing."

Viola, too, from the very beginning of their acquaintance, had admired the young minister quite as deeply as Serviss imagined, and had humbled herself before Adele as to a very wonderful lady of the mysterious outer world, whose deportment, dress, and speech had been sources of enlightenment; and when she passed away, the land of the shadow became just that much richer, more complete in its dominion over her. Almost at once Adele spoke through the vale, saying, "I am here to help and guide."

Thus all powers of earth and heaven had combined to make Clarke the ruler of Viola Lambert's little world. He stood between her and young Clinton Ward and all other suitors--he absorbed her thought. She admired his gifts, and trembled beneath the power of his dark eyes, his magnetic hands, and especially responded to the music of his deep voice, which was very enthralling when it took on the pleading melody of the lover. At times he filled her with such passion of vague unrest that life became a torment, for she was of the age when the world is for the lover's conquest, and the cadence of love's song means most and is least understood; and yet at times she felt a fear of him which chilled her. She was struggling, too, with growing ambitions, and with an expanding knowledge of the world which was beginning to make her critical--the wonder of the child was giving place to the insight of the woman. The wish to shake off her invisible tormentors and be like other girls was in reality a demand for the right to be loved and valued for her own natural self, entirely free from the touch of spectral hands.

She was disappointed that Clarke did not understand and sympathize with this wish, but that he desired her in marriage had never once entered her mind. He was a minister, and she reverenced his office, and, besides, she considered herself but a girl, too ignorant and too trivial to be the wife of one so high in holy service.

With the coming of the young professor a new force seemed entered upon the saner side of her life. She recognized in him a master of the great outer world--the Eastern world, the world of the unafraid--and her determination to at least subordinate her "controls" had expanded swiftly to a most dangerous height during the few hours of her companionship with him. She felt that he would sympathize with her--that he would help her. The clear positiveness of his speech, his health, his humor, grew upon her each moment, and she resolved to confide in him when next they met.

Part of this upspringing revolt, this antagonism, Clarke divined, and the determination to arrest her purpose, the desire to possess her entirely and at once, excluded every other wish or plan, and to feel was to act with Anthony Clarke, for he was born to emotional experience as the sparks fly upward. He had ever been a creature of unreason, morbidly conscious of self--and naturally, for in him struggled the blood of three races. His father was Scotch, and his mother--Spanish on the spindle side and Irish by way of a most mercurial father--remained an unsolved problem all her days, even to her husband. Her laughter was as illogical as her tears. Her household could never tell what the next hour would bring forth, so ready were her sympathies, so instant her despairs. She lived all her life at the heights or the depths, with never a day of serene, womanly, reasonable action, and when she died her passing was of the same emotional stress. She clung to earth like one whose body was about to drop into soundless deeps.

Her son had inherited all her fervency, her inconstancy of purpose, as well as her tendency to collapse under pressure. Physically he had always been of slender figure, with weak lungs, and these weaknesses he had used to free himself from work, from responsibility.

He was not a hypocrite--in that Britt was mistaken. He was by nature deeply religious. His soul aspired, at times, to high things. He was sympathetic to actual pain, and had always been morbidly in awe of death. The sight of any poor, lost, and suffering man threw him into instant, profound, and melancholy pity. A dead beetle in the road, a fly caught in a spider's web, a young robin water-soaked and bedraggled, appalled him, even as a boy, and he pondered them with sad and questioning eyes long after his young companions had forgotten them. Where had the light of their eyes fled? he asked himself. He found no sport in killing any creature, and more than once he used all his slender force to defend a cat from stoning; and yet he was known to have joined the worst youths of his native town in secret drinking-bouts, thereby acquiring the reputation of a liar and sneak, as well as that of licentiate. At seventeen, just when the appetite for liquor seemed beyond his control, a great "revivalist" won his soul, as the saying went, and at twenty-three he assumed his first pastorate.

Success as a pulpit orator was assured by the charm of his voice, the magnetism of his manner. His head was singularly handsome, and often when he spoke his face was irradiated like that of a seraph, and the women of all his congregations adored him from the first glance, embarrassing him with their ardent praises. That he had remained faithful to his wife in spite of this adoration was evidence of her great beauty of character. She was, indeed, his safeguard and his hourly monitor while she lived.

For him she had sacrificed all her friends in the East. She came to the mountains without a murmur, she bore with him, cheered him, upheld him in a hundred ways--and when she died his world went black as midnight. It was as if in the midst of a monster, interminable cavern his one starlike light had gone out in his hand. For days he beat his head against the wall, crying defiant curses against his God; but in the end he sank into voiceless despair. Then it was, as he lay prone and passive, that he began to hear mysterious whisperings and tappings on the walls of his cavern of despond. He rose and listened. He groped his way towards the dim light. He returned to the world of men. His faith in the Scriptures was weakened; but he soon discovered a wondrous change of heart towards those who claimed to be intermediaries between the worlds of matter and of spirit. He turned his attention to the study of the physical evidences of life after death.

Up to that moment he had given but little credence to Mrs. Lambert's half-hearted confidences concerning her own change of faith, and, as Viola had been away at school much of the time, he had forgotten that she was concerned in the mother's confession.

The disclosure of her powers, as he told Dr. Britt--after they were both involved in the curious case--came violently, without warning, a few days after Adele's death. "I was sitting with Mrs. Lambert in sad conversation, seeking her aid and comfort. Viola occupied a low chair beside the shaded lamp, a book upon her knee. She was listening to me. I had just finished saying, in deeply passionate tones, 'I would give all my hope of life for one whisper from the lips of my Adele,' when the room began to darken. At first I thought the effect lay in my own brain, but a moment later I perceived that the light had actually begun to fail. We all watched it in silence for a moment, then Mrs. Lambert remarked, 'Viola, Mary forgot to fill the lamp.'

"Even as she spoke a cool wind blew over my head and lay along my hands. The flame leaped into the air, the room went black, save where a pale glow coming from the street lay upon the floor. A faint rustling arose, a hand touched my cheek, soft lips brushed my ear, and a whisper that stopped the beating of my heart began. A vague, inarticulate murmur, at first; but at last I plainly heard my spirit-wife speaking in gentle reproof--'Tony, Tony, I am always with you.'

"The whisper ceased. The hand was taken away. A deep sigh came to my ear. My Adele was gone! The moment of ecstasy was over. I sat stunned, inert, my brain whirling with the far-reaching import of this experience. Before I could drag myself to my feet Mrs. Lambert, practical and undisturbed, threw open the door and let the light of the street in. Only then, as I looked on Viola, lying in trance with white, set face, did I first connect her in any way with my sweet communion with Adele.

"Then, like a flash of joyous light irradiating my soul, came the conviction that she was the medium through whom my Adele had spoken--that she had opened the gates of silence for me.

"I was no longer body--I was a brain suspended in some invisible sea of force. Here was the reality of religion. Here was the answer to the anguished cry of humanity--an answer to my prayers which the Hebrew Scriptures could not give. There _was a life beyond the grave. The spirit _did persist after the decay of the body. And here in this little room, when my despair was deepest, the proof had come, blinding me with its beauty.

"Then I said: 'Viola, you have given me the most wonderful moment of all my life. You brought my Adele and put her hand in mine. Through you I heard her voice again. God has chosen you for a great work; I feel it. You should not repel these powers; your gift may mean the most exquisite comfort to thousands--nay, millions--of bereaved souls.'

"I was amazed at the vehement unreason of her reply. 'I don't want it!' she cried. 'I hate it! I won't sit again!' Then I tried to persuade her of her great mission, to no result. The following night I came, and we pleaded with her to act again with us, but she still passionately refused. 'Why don't they come to you or to mother,' she complained, 'instead of to me?' To this I said: 'There is no answer. They have made you their instrument, and it is your duty to do their will.'

"That night the little parlor became a battle-field. Mrs. Lambert had invoked the aid of Donald McLeod, her father, the girl's 'control.' Viola resisted almost to the death. It seemed as if a strong hand clutched her throat, commanding obedience. I feared she would be torn to pieces, and at last I protested. 'She is suffering too much; let us give over the sitting.' But Mrs. Lambert said, quietly: 'It is her own fault. She is being punished for her obstinacy. Father is disciplining her--he will not harm her.' In the end the power conquered, and the girl lay back in slumber so deep, so dead, that her breath seemed stilled forever--her hands icily inert, her face as white as marble."

"Why didn't you interfere?" asked Britt, sternly.

"How could I, when the mother and the girl's 'controls' were minded otherwise? Besides, I began to believe in the girl's mission--I began to understand the enormous value of her work. My God, Dr. Britt, had I that girl's gift I would engross the world. I would write such words across the tomb that death would seem as sweet as baby slumber. I would make the grave a gateway to the light. I would eliminate sorrow from the earth. The Bible no longer satisfies me. I want something more than cold, black letters on a printed page. I want to know! I want to thrill the world with a new message; and here, now, at my hand, is a medium. I can never have this power--perhaps it is only given to babes and to sucklings, but I can spread the light. You, Dr. Britt, shall help me. Let us study this wonderful gift. Let us concentrate our energies upon this supreme problem. I will note all that comes to us, and I will write a burning book--a revelation that shall go round the globe, guiding and gladdening every human soul. Think of it! There is no mightier mission on earth. This girl can be, and must be, made a savior, a hope-bringer, to thousands of despairing souls!"

To this fervid appeal Britt remained impassive and coldly critical--till, chilled and repelled, Clarke had withdrawn his confidence. The two still met occasionally in Mrs. Lambert's home, but their antagonism had deepened to actual hatred. Britt, impotent to help, had long since ceased to protest, even to the girl herself; for he had learned that every revolt on her part brought keener pain and deeper humiliation in its train. He entered upon a study of the subject, and thus far had found little to encourage the hope of the girl's redemption from her maladies.

Clarke, too, had surrounded himself with every available book which bore upon these baffling phases of human experiences, and had put himself in touch with every society organized for the investigation of occult phenomena--and in his dark little den brooded day and night over the dimly apprehended laws of the unseen universe. He left his studies only to be with Viola, who had become as necessary to him as his daily food--as indispensable as air. She was at once his hope and his very present help. How to keep her, how to mould her to his will, how to use her to his great purpose of ridding the world of the fear of death--these became his hourly care, his only interest.

To these ends he strove to enthrall her by his singing, by his oratory, and by his love of poetry, knowing well that to drum constantly upon the harsh string of her "mission" would revolt her; and she, thus beset, thus beleaguered, gave over her rebellion, resigning herself to her guides till this ruddy and powerful young man of science came into her world to fill her with new determination to escape from her mental slavery.

Clarke loved this girl, not as he had loved Adele, of course, but quite as humanly. Her mediumship, so vital to the world, so sacred in his eyes, had but added to her allurement. "All that I am, and all I hope to be, is bound up in the possession of that sweet, wonderful child," he said, in acknowledgment of his discovery. In a very subtle way he now apprehended a change in the girl, and, realizing how utterly his aims, his daily happiness, his future depended upon her, he rose from his seat resolved not merely to advise against her going away, but to claim her as his own--his wife.

"My wife!" At this deeply significant word Adele's pleading face rose vividly before him. Writhing with shame before her reproachful glance, he cried out: "But I cannot live alone! And then consider--I shall be able to meet you each day, perhaps each hour, and as I myself develop in grace of soul I may come to you without any medium. I am not disloyal to you, Adele. I love this girl, I confess that; but not as I loved you. You were my true wife, the only spouse I can ever have--you filled my soul. My love for this girl is that of a father--a teacher. I need her for--Oh, my Adele, I will confess, before you came back to me through this child I was weary of the earth, ready to violently end my anguish. Viola put your hand again in mine--she gave me to hear your voice. I cannot bear to lose those priceless moments, and yet I must do so if she goes from me. Am I not justified in desiring her presence? Come to me; tell me, to-night, what you would have me do. Be merciful, my angel spouse. Remember my empty, desolate heart. Remember the greatness of the work I have set myself to do. Oh, my sweet spirit, if you could only put an arm about my neck _now_, without any other interposing soul! Come to me, whisper to me--now! Let me know your presence here as I sit alone and despairing--"

He ceased to pray, and bowed his head upon his desk and waited in an agony of hope--waited while the darkness deepened and the splendid eternal song of the river proclaimed the futility and folly of man. A cricket sang with heart-piercing cheer, as if to say, "I die to-morrow, but I never despair." But no silken rustle, no whispering voice came to still the agony welling in bitter sighs from the lips of the tempted man.

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