Then, as my voice reverberated from the outer recesses, I caught a sound as of music in the distance. I raised my head and listened—yes, surely there was music. The melody became clearly distinct, and soon my senses were aware that both vocal and instrumental music were combined. The airs which came floating were sweet, simple, and beautiful. The voices and accompanying strains approached, but I could distinguish no words. By and by, from the corridors of the cavern, troops of bright female forms floated into view. They were clad in robes ranging from pure white to every richest hue, contrasting strangely, and in the distance their rainbow brilliancy made a gorgeous spectacle. Some were fantastically attired in short gowns, such as I imagine were worn by the dancing girls of sacred history, others had kirtles of a single bright color, others of, many shades intermingled, while others still were dressed in gauze-like fabrics of pure white.
As they filed into the cavern, and approached me, they formed into platoons, or into companies, and then, as dissolving views come and go, they presented first one and then another figure. Sometimes they would stretch in great circling lines around the hall, again they would form into squares, and again into geometrical figures of all shades and forms, but I observed that with every change they drew nearer to the stone on which I rested.
They were now so near that their features could be distinguished, and never before had I seen such loveliness in human mold. Every face was as perfect as a master's picture of the Madonna, and yet no two seemed to possess the same type of beauty. Some were of dark complexion with glossy, raven hair, others were fair with hair ranging from light brown to golden. The style of head dress, as a rule, was of the simplest description. A tinted ribbon, or twisted cord, over the head, bound their hair with becoming grace, and their silken locks were either plaited into braids, curled into ringlets, or hung loosely, flowing in wavelets about their shoulders. Some held curious musical instruments, others beautiful wands, and altogether they produced a scenic effect of rare beauty that the most extravagant dream of fairyland could not surpass. Thus it was that I became again the center of a throng, not of repulsive monsters, but of marvelously lovely beings. They were as different from those preceding as darkness is from daylight.
Could any man from the data of my past experiences have predicted such a scene? Never before had the semblance of a woman appeared, never before had an intimation been given that the gentle sex existed in these silent chambers. Now, from the grotesque figures and horrible cries of the former occupants of this same cavern, the scene had changed to a conception of the beautiful and artistic, such as a poetic spirit might evolve in an extravagant dream of higher fairy land. I glanced above; the great hall was clothed in brilliant colors, the bare rocks had disappeared, the dome of that vast arch reaching to an immeasurable height, was decorated in all the colors of the rainbow. Flags and streamers fluttered in breezes that also moved the garments of the angelic throng about me, but which I could not sense; profiles of enchanting faces pervaded the glimmering space beyond; I alone was but an onlooker, not a participant of the joys about me.
The movements of the seraph-like figures continued, innumerable forms and figures followed forms and figures innumerable, and music indescribable blended with the poetry of notion. I was rapt, the past disappeared, my former mind was blotted from existence, the world vanished, and I became a thrill of joy, a sensation of absolute delight.
The band of spirits or fairy forms reached the rock at my feet, but I did not know how long a time they consumed in doing this; it may have been a second, and it may have been an eternity. Neither did I care. A single moment of existence such as I experienced, seemed worth an age of any other pleasure.
Circling about me, these ethereal creatures paused from their motions, and, as the music ceased, I stood above them, and yet in their midst, and gazed out into a distance illimitable, but not less beautiful in the expanse than was the adjacent part. The cavern had altogether disappeared, and in the depths about me as far as the eye could reach, seemingly into the broad expanse of heaven, I saw the exquisite forms that I have so imperfectly described.
Then a single band from the throng lightly sprung upon the stony terrace where I stood, and sung and danced before me. Every motion was perfect as imagination could depict, every sound was concentrated extract of melody. This band retired to be replaced by another, which in turn gave way to another, and still another, until, as in space we have no standard, time vanished, and numbers ceased to be numbers.
No two of the band of dancers were clothed alike, no two songs were similar, though all were inexpressibly enchanting. The first group seemed perfect, and yet the second was better, and each succeeding band sung sweeter songs, were more beautiful, and richer in dress than those preceding. I became enveloped in the æsthetic atmosphere, my spirit seemed to be loosened from the body, it was apparently upon the point of escaping from its mortal frame; suddenly the music ceased, the figures about became passive, and every form standing upright and graceful, gazed upon my face, and as I looked at the radiant creatures, each successive face, in turn, seemed to grow more beautiful, each form more exquisite than those about.
Then, in the distance, I observed the phalanx divide, forming into two divisions, separated by a broad aisle, stretching from my feet to the limit of space without, and down this aisle I observed a single figure advancing toward me.
As she approached, the phalanx closed in behind her, and when at last she reached the stone on which I stood, she stepped, or was wafted to my side, and the phalanx behind moved together and was complete again.
"My name is Etidorhpa. In me you behold the spirit that elevates man, and subdues the most violent of passions. In history, so far back in the dim ages as to be known now as legendary mythology, have I ruled and blessed the world. Unclasp my power over man and beast, and while heaven dissolves, the charms of Paradise will perish. I know no master. The universe bows to my authority. Stars and suns enamored pulsate and throb in space and kiss each other in waves of light; atoms cold embrace and cling together; structures inanimate affiliate with and attract inanimate structures; bodies dead to other noble passions are not dead to love. The savage beast, under my enchantment, creeps to her lair, and gently purrs over her offspring; even man becomes less violent, and sheathes his weapon and smothers his hatred as I soothe his passions beside the loved ones in the privacy of his home.
"I have been known under many titles, and have comforted many peoples. Strike my name from Time's record, and the lovely daughters of Zeus and Dione would disappear; and with them would vanish the grace and beauty of woman; the sweet conception of the Froth Child of the Cyprus Sea would be lost; Venus, the Goddess of Love, would have no place in song, and Love herself, the holiest conception of the poet, man's superlative conception of Heaven's most precious charms, would be buried with the myrtle and the rose. My name is Etidorhpa; interpret it rightly, and you have what has been to humanity the essence of love, the mother of all that ennobles. He who loves a wife worships me; she, who in turn makes a home happy, is typical of me. I am Etidorhpa, the beginning and the end of earth. Behold in me the antithesis of envy, the opposite of malice, the enemy of sorrow, the mistress of life, the queen of immortal bliss.
"Do you know," she continued, and her voice, soft and sweet, carried with it a pleasurable sense of truthfulness indescribable, "do you know that man's idea of heaven, places me, Etidorhpa, on the highest throne? With the charm of maiden pure, I combine the devotion of wife and the holiness of mother. Take from the life of man the treasures I embody, and he will be homeless, childless, loveless. The thought of Heaven will in such a case be as the dismal conception of a dreary platitude. A life in such a Heaven, a Heaven devoid of love (and this the Scriptures teach), is one of endless torment.
"Love, by whatever name the conception is designated, rules the world. Divest the cold man of science, of the bond that binds him to his life-thought, and his work is ended. Strike from the master in music the chord that links his soul to the voice he breathes, and his songs will be hushed. Deaden the sense of love which the artist boars his art, and as the spirit that underlies his thought-scenes vanishes, his touch becomes chilled, and his brush inexpressive. The soldier thinks of his home and country, and without a murmur sheds his life blood.
"And yet there are debasing phases of love, for as love of country builds a nation, so love of pillage may destroy it. Love of the holy and the beautiful stands in human life opposed to love of the debasing and vicious, and I, Etidorhpa, am typical of the highest love of man. As the same force binds the molecules of the rose and the violet as well as those of noxious drugs, so the same soul conception may serve the love of good or the love of evil. Love may guide a tyrant or actuate a saint, may make man torture his fellow, or strive td ease his pain.
"Thus, man's propensity to serve his holy or his evil passion may each be called a degree in love, and in the serving of that passion the love of one heart may express itself as the antithesis of love in another. As bitter is to some men's taste more pleasant than sweet, and sour is yet more grateful to others, so one man may love the beautiful, another delight in the grotesque, and a third may love to see his neighbor suffer. Amid these, the phase of love that ennobles, brings the greatest degree of pleasure and comfort to mankind, but the love that degrades is love nevertheless, by whatever name the expression of the passion may be called. Love rules the world, and typical of man's intensest, holiest love, I, Etidorhpa, stand the Soul of Love Supreme." She hesitated.
"I have already said, and in saying this have told the truth, I come from beyond the empty shell of a materialistic gold and silver conception of Heaven. Go with me, and in my home you will find man's soul devotion, regardless of material surroundings. I have said, and truly, the corridors of the Heaven mansion, enriched by precious stones and metals fine, but destitute of my smiles and graces, are deserted. The golden calf is no longer worshiped, cobwebs cling in festoons motionless, and the dust of selfish thoughts perverted, dry and black as the soot from Satan's fires settling therein, as the dust of an antiquated sarcophagus, rest undisturbed. Place on one side the Heaven of which gold-bound misers sing, and on the other Etidorhpa and the treasures that come with me to man and woman, (for without me neither wife, child, nor father could exist,) and from any other heaven mankind will turn away. The noblest gift of Heaven to humanity is the highest sense of love, and I, Etidorhpa, am the soul of love."
She ceased speaking, and as I looked at the form beside me I forgot myself in the rapture of that gaze.
Crush the colors of the rainbow into a single hue possessed of the attributes of all the others, and multiply that entity to infinity, and you have less richness than rested in any of the complex colors shown in the trimming of her raiment. Lighten the softness of eiderdown a thousand times, and yet maintain its sense of substance, and you have not conceived of the softness of the gauze that decked her simple, flowing garments. Gather the shadows cast by a troop of radiant angels, then sprinkle the resultant shade with star dust, and color therewith a garment brighter than satin, softer than silk, and more ethereal than light itself, and you have less beauty than reposed in the modest dress that enveloped her figure. Abstract the perfume from the sweetest oriental grasses, and combine with it the essential spirit of the wild rose, then add thereto the soul of ambergris, and the quintessential extracts of the finest aromatics of the East, and you have not approached the exquisite fragrance that penetrated my very being at her approach. She stood before me, slender, lithe, symmetrical, radiant. Her hair was more beautiful than pen can depict; it was colorless because it can not be described by colors known to mortals. Her face paled the beauty of all who had preceded her. She could not be a fairy, for no conception of a fairy can approach such loveliness; she was not a spirit, for surely material substance was a part of her form; she was not an angel, for no abnormal, irrational wing protruded from her shoulder to blemish her seraphic figure.
"No," I said musingly; "she is a creature of other climes; the Scriptures tell of no such being; she is neither human nor angelic, but"—
"But what?" she said.
"I do not know," I answered.
"Then I will tell you," she replied. "Yes; I will tell you of myself and of my companions. I will show you our home, carrying you through the shadows of heaven to exhibit that fair land, for heaven without Etidorhpa casts a shadow in comparison therewith. See," she said, as with her dainty fingers she removed front her garment a fragment of transparent film that I had not previously observed; "see, this is a cobweb that clung to my skirt, as, on my way to meet you, I passed through the dismal corridors of the materialists’ loveless heaven."
She dropped it on the floor, and I stooped to pick it up, but vainly—my fingers passed through it as through a mist.
"You must be an angel," I stammered.
"Come," she said, "do not consume your time with thoughts of materialistic heaven; come with me to that brighter land beyond, and in those indescribable scenes we, you and I, will wander together forever."
She held out her hand; I hesitatingly touched it, and then raised it to my lips. She made no resistance.
I dropped upon my knees. "Are you to be mine?" I cried. "Mine forever?"
"Yes," she answered; "if you will it, for he who loves will be loved in turn."
"I will do it," I said; "I give myself to you, be you what you may, be your home where it may, I give up the earth behind me, and the hope of heaven before me; the here and the hereafter I will sacrifice. Let us hasten," I said, for she made no movement.
She shook her head. "You must yet be tempted as never before, and you must resist the tempter. You can not pass into the land of Etidorhpa until you have suffered as only the damned can suffer, until you have withstood the pangs of thirst, and have experienced heat and cold indescribable. Remember the warning of your former guide, mark well the words of Etidorhpa: you must not yield. ’T was to serve you that I came before you now, ’t was to preserve you from the Drunkard's Cavern, that I have given you this vision of the land beyond the End of Earth where, if you will serve yourself, we will meet again.
She held aloft two tiny cups; I sprung to my feet and grasped one of them, and as I glanced at the throng in front of me, every radiant figure held aloft in the left hand a similar cup. All were gazing in my face. I looked at the transparent cup in my hand; it appeared to be partly filled with a green liquid. I looked at her cup and saw that it contained a similar fluid.
Forgetting the warning she had so recently given, I raised the cup to my lips, and just before touching it glanced again at her face. The fair creature stood with bowed head, her face covered with her hand; her very form and attitude spoke of sorrow and disappointment, and she trembled in distress. She held one hand as though to thrust back a form that seemed about to force itself beyond her figure, for peering exultingly from behind, leered the same Satanic face that met my gaze on the preceding occasion, when in the presence of the troop of demons, I had been tempted by the perfect man.
Dashing the cup to the floor I shouted:
"No; I will not drink."
Etidorhpa dropped upon her knees and clasped her hands. The Satanic figure disappeared from sight. Realizing that we had triumphed over the tempter, I also fell upon my knees in thankfulness.