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   Chapter 10 ALUMION.

A Trip to Venus: A Novel By John Munro Characters: 30707

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Alumion-Alumion-I could think of nothing but Alumion. Her very name was music in my ears, and her image in my heart was a perpetual banquet of delight I had never known such felicity before. My inclination for Miss Carmichael and every other transient affection or interest I may have felt was altogether of a lower strain-with one exception, a boyish admiration for a school girl who died a mere child. The ethereal flame of this new passion seemed to purify all that was earthly, and exalt all that was celestial in my nature. This beautiful land, so green and smiling under a sky of serene azure and snowy wreaths, became as the highest heaven to me, and I wandered about in a dream of ecstacy like one of the blessed gods inebriated with nectar.

I avoided my travelling companions. Their worldly conversation jarred on the mood I was in, and I preferred my own thoughts to their pursuits. As my sole desire was to hear about Alumion, and if possible to see her again, I courted the society of Dinus and Otāré. I knew, of course, that in ten days she would return to her family, but I thought I might be able to visit the temple and perhaps get a glimpse of her. However, I learned from her father that during the sacred festival the temple was closed to the outer world. It was not indeed forbidden to land on the holy island, but it was considered a sacrilege for anyone not having business there to enter the precincts of the temple, excepting on the day of the ceremony which had just taken place. While bound to respect this taboo, I was, nevertheless, drawn by an irresistible attraction to the island, where I frequently spent hours in sailing about the wooded shores, or loitering in the sacred avenue, hoping against hope that I might see her passing by or in the distance. Although I was not so fortunate, I enjoyed the satisfaction of being nearer to her, and as the island seemed a perfect solitude, I could indulge my reverie in peace.

At last I made a discovery. In describing the ceremony of the Flower, Otāré had spoken of a sacred grotto where the priestess went to bathe, and on questioning him further, I ascertained that it was situated on the shore of the island in a bay or inlet to the eastward of the quay, and that she took her customary bath at set of sun.

That afternoon I made a thorough search and found a cavern in the rock close to the beach of a secluded cove which I had overlooked until then. A footpath, winding down the mountain side through the forest led to its mouth, which was overhung and almost hid by a rich creeper with large crimson blossoms. It was evidently the spot mentioned by Otāré, but wishing to make sure, and impelled by curiosity in spite of a more hallowed feeling, I lifted the creeper and was about to peer into the darkness, when a sudden noise within made me jump back with affright. It was the most horrible and excruciating shriek I had ever heard in my life. If anyone by a refinement of cruelty were to compound a torture for the ears, I do not think he could produce anything half so piercing, gruesome, and discordant.

It seemed the cry of an animal-a wild beast-and I began to think I was mistaken in the place; but the sun was near its setting now, and it was too late to seek further afield. I therefore returned to my boat and withdrew under the overarching boughs of some trees where I could see without being seen.

I had not long to wait. Between the flowering shrubs I noticed that a figure-a woman by her undulating grace-was coming down the path. A thin wrap or veil of changing stuff, with gleams of azure and fiery red, was flung about her person. Presently she stepped upon the beach into the mellow gloaming, and stood like a statue, with her eyes bent on the sinking orb, which threw a trail of splendour across the lake.

It was the priestess, and apparently alone. A closer view of her person brought me no disenchantment. Perfect beauty, like the sublime, produces an impression of the infinite, and I only speak the literal truth when I say that she appeared infinitely beautiful to me. Her golden hair, rippling over the delicate ear and gathered into a knot behind, her large violet eyes and blooming white skin, her Grecian profile and stately yet flowing form, might have become an Aphrodite of Xeuxis or Praxiteles; but her serene and gracious countenance beamed with a pure seraphic light which is wanting to the classical goddess, and must be sought in the Madonnas of Raphael. Moreover, she had an indescribable look of girlish innocence, winsome sweetness, and pitiful tenderness, which belonged to none of these ideals, and marked her as a simple, loving, perishable child of earth.

I gazed upon her marvellous beauty with a kind of religious veneration, at once attracted by her womanly charm and awed by her god-like dignity, yet with a strange, a divine state of repose and pure rapture in my heart for which there is no name.

Would that the happiness, the bliss of looking upon her, of being near her, might have lasted for ever!

I knew, however, that she would soon enter the grotto and be lost to me. Should I speak? In this fraternal community what was there to prevent it? Something held me back. Otāré had said that the priestess was isolated from the outer world during her year of office; but that was only a general statement. Mine was a peculiar case. I was a stranger. I did not belong to their world, and was not supposed to know the ins and outs of their customs. Besides, why should custom stand between such a love as mine and its object? Conventional propriety was for the pitiful earth and its wretched abortive passions. Perhaps I should frighten her? No, I did not believe it. In this golden land even the birds seemed fearless. As well think to frighten an angel in Heaven.

While I was debating the question within myself she glanced into the foliage where I was hidden. How my heart throbbed! I fancied that she saw me, and trembled with emotion; but I was mistaken, for she turned and walked towards the cavern.

Suddenly I remembered the alarming sound within the cave, and breaking through the covert, called after her.

"Take care, take care! There is a wild beast in the grotto. I heard it cry."

She looked round and started when she saw me. The surprise, visible on her face, seemed to melt into recognition.

"It is kind of you to warn me," she responded with a frank smile, "but I am not in danger. There is no wild animal inside."

Her low sweet voice was quite in keeping with her beauty. Every note rung clear and melodious as a bell.

"But the awful cry?" I rejoined with a puzzled air.

"Was that of a particular pet of mine," she answered laughingly.

"Pardon me," said I smiling for company, "I am a stranger here, as you can see, and did not know any better."

"You are one of the travellers from another world, are you not?"

"Ah! you have heard of our arrival."

"Oh yes! An event so important was not kept from me. I saw you sitting beside my father on the day of the Flower, and I knew you again. I am afraid our country will seem very odd to you. Have you enjoyed your stay?"

"So much. I cannot tell you how much."

"I hope you will remain with us a long time."

"I should like to stop here for ever."

She blushed and smiled with pleasure at these words, then, raising her arms in a noble salute, inclined her head, and entered the cavern.

I returned to the car in a delirium of happiness. I had seen her again, I had actually spoken with her. She knew me! Every detail of her look and accent was indelibly printed on my memory. All next day I wandered about in a kind of transport, feasting on the recollection of what had passed between us, and revolving over my future course of action. In two days the holy time would end, and I should have an opportunity of meeting her at home; but with the chance of seeing her again at the grotto, I could not wait. I was allured towards her by the most delicious fascination. Such a love as mine looked down upon the petty proprieties which keep lovers apart, yet are sometimes so needful in our wicked world. In this noble planet life was free and simple, because it was beautiful and good. I determined to revisit the cove that evening, and if I should see her again, to declare my secret.

Had I counted the cost? With such a passion it is not a question of cost. I was well aware that if she did not reciprocate my affection she would never marry me. Nor did I wish it otherwise. I would not ask her to sacrifice herself for my sake. If, as my heart fondly hoped, she accepted me, I would not allow anything to stand between us for a moment. I would abandon the expedition if necessary, and remain in Venus. If, on the other hand, she refused me as my judgment feared, I would return to the earth as a new man, ennobled by a glorious love, reverencing myself that I was capable of it, cherishing her image in my heart as the ideal of womanhood, and grateful for having seen and known her. Surely a rich reward for all the perils of the journey.

Sunset found me in the cove, not hidden by the leaves as before, but sitting in the boat astrand. She came. To-night her veil was of a golden yellow shading into dark green. A beautiful smile of recognition passed over her face when she saw me, and we greeted one another in the graceful fashion of the country.

I did not speak of the weather or give an excuse for my presence there, as I might have done to a woman of the world. With Alumion I felt that all such artificial forms were idle, and that I could reveal my inmost soul without disguise, in all its naked sincerity.

"I have brought you some flowers," said I, offering her a nosegay which I had picked. "Will you accept them?"

"I thank you," she replied with a beaming smile as she came and took them from my hand. "They are very beautiful, and I shall keep them for your sake."

"For my sake!"

Inspired by love I continued in a voice trembling with emotion,

"Alumion-can you not guess what brings me here?"

A blush rose to her cheek as she bent over the flowers.

"It is because I love you," said I; "because I have loved you ever since I saw you on the day you cut the sacred lily; because I love you-worship you-with all my heart and soul."

She was silent.

"If I am wrong, forgive me," I went on in a pleading tone. "Blame the spell your beauty has cast over me, but do not banish me from your presence, which is life and light to me."

"Wrong!" she murmured, lifting her wondrous eyes to mine. "Can it be wrong to love, or to speak of love? Why should I send you away from me because you love me? Is not love the glory of the heart, as the sun is the glory of the world? Rejoice, then, in your love as I do in mine."

"As you do?"

"Yes, as I do. I should have spoken sooner, but my heart was full of happiness. For I also love you. I have loved you from the beginning."

With a cry of unspeakable joy I sprang from the boat, and would have flung myself at her feet to kiss her hand or the hem of her garment, but she drew back with a look of apprehension.

"Touch me not," she said gravely, "for by the custom of our land I am holy. Until to-morrow at sunset I am consecrated to The Giver."

"Pardon my ignorance," I responded rather crestfallen. "Your will shall be my law. I only wished to manifest my eternal gratitude and devotion to you."

"Kneel not to me," she rejoined, "but rather to The Giver, who has so strangely brought us together. How many ages we might have wandered from world to world without finding each other again!"

"You think we have met before then?" I enquired eagerly, for the same thought had been haunting my own mind. It seemed to me that I had known Alumion always.

"Assuredly," she replied, "for you and I are kindred souls who have been separated in another world, by death or evil; and now that we have met again, let us be faithful and loving to each other."

"Nothing shall separate us any more."

The words had scarcely passed my lips when the same terrible cry which I had heard once before sounded from the interior of the grotto.

Alumion called or rather sang out a response to the cry, which I did not understand, then said to me in her ordinary voice,

"It is Siloo. I must go now and give him food."

I was curious to know who or what was Siloo, but did not dare to ask. She raised her arms gracefully and smiled a sweet farewell.

"Are you going to leave me like that?" said I.

"What would you have?" she answered, turning towards the cave.

"In my country lovers bind themselves by mutual vows."

"What need of vows? Have we not confessed our loves?"

"Will you not tell me when I shall see you again? Will you not say when you will be mine-when you will marry me?"

A blush mounted to her cheek as she answered with a divine glance,

"Meet me at sunset to-morrow, and I will be yours."

As yet I had not mentioned my adventure with Alumion to any of my companions, but that night I said to Gazen, as we smoked our cigars together,

"Wish me joy, old fellow! I am going to be married."

He seemed quite dumbfounded, and I rather think he fancied that I must have come to an understanding with Miss Carmichael.

"Really!" said he with the air of a man plucking up heart after an unexpected blow. "May I ask who is the lady?"

"The Priestess of the Lily."

"The Priestess!" he exclaimed utterly astonished, but at the same time vastly relieved. "The Priestess! Come, now, you are joking."

"Never was more serious in my life."

Then I told him what had happened, how I had met her, and my engagement to marry her.

"If you will take my advice," said he dryly, "you'll do nothing of the kind."

"Why?"

"Have you considered the matter?" he replied significantly.

"Considered the matter! A love like mine does not 'consider the matter' as though it were a problem in Euclid. With such a woman as Alumion a lover does not stop to 'consider the matter,' unless he is a fool."

"A woman-yes; but remember that she is a woman of another planet. She might not make a suitable wife for you."

"I love her. I love her as I can never love a woman of our world. She is a thousand times more beautiful and good than any woman I have ever known. She is an ideal woman-a perfect woman-an angel in human form."

"That may be; but what will her family say?"

"My dear Gazen, don't you know they manage these things better here. Thank goodness, the 'family' does not interfere with love affairs in this happy land! We love each other, we have agreed to be married, and that is quite sufficient. No need to get the 'consent of the parents,' or make a 'settlement,' or give out the banns, or buy a government license as though a wife were contraband goods, or hire a string of four-wheelers, or tip the pew-opener. What has love to do with pew-openers? Why should the finest thing in life become the prey of such vulgar parasites? Why should our heavenliest moments be profaned and spoiled by needless worries-hateful to the name of love? Our wedding will be very simple. We shall not even want you as groomsman or Miss Carmichael as bridesmaid. I daresay we shall get along without cake and speeches, and as for the rice and old boots, upon my word, I do

n't think we shall miss them."

"And if it is a fair question, when will the-the simple ceremony take place?"

"To-morrow evening."

"To-morrow evening!" exclaimed the professor, taken by surprise. "I thought a priestess could not marry."

"To-morrow at sunset she will be a free woman. Her priesthood will come to an end."

"And-pardon me-but what are you going to do with her when you've got her? Will you bring her home to the car-there is very little room here, as you know. Do you propose to take her to the earth, where I'm afraid she will probably die like a tender plant or a bird of paradise in a cage? Do you think her father would consent to that?"

"We are not going away just yet. There will be time enough to arrange about that."

"Well, we can't stay here much longer. I must get back to my work-and you know we intended to pay a flying visit to Mercury, and if possible to get a closer look at the sun."

"All right. You can go as soon as you like. I shall remain behind. Carmichael will take you to the earth, and then come back here for me."

"You talk as if it were merely a question of a drive."

"I think we have proved that it is not more dangerous to go from one planet to another than it is to get about town."

"If an accident should occur. If Carmichael cannot return-"

"I shall be much happier here than I should be on the earth. Even if I had never met Alumion I think I should come back and stay on Venus."

"It is certainly a better world, as far as we have seen, but remember your own words, 'Man was made for the earth.' Don't you think this eternal summer-these Elysian Fields-would pall upon you in course of time? Constant bliss, like everlasting honey, might cloy your earthly palate, and make you sigh for our poor, old, wicked, miserable world, that in spite of all its faults and crimes, is yet so interesting, so variable, so dramatic-so dear."

"Never. With Alumion even Hades would be an Elysium."

"Think of your friends at home, and what you owe to them; how they will miss you."

"I cannot be of much service to them. They will soon forget me."

"Perhaps you are mistaken there," said Gazen, assuming a more serious air. "In any case I for one shall miss you. In fact, to speak plainly, I shall feel aggrieved-hurt. You and I are old friends, and when you asked me to join you in this expedition I was moved by friendship as well as interest. Certainly, I never dreamed that you would desert the ship. I thought it was understood that we should sink or swim together. If you leave us I shan't answer for the consequences. I appreciate the dilemma in which you are placed, but surely friendship has a prior if a weaker claim than love-passion. Surely you owe some allegiance to Carmichael and myself."

"What would you have me do?"

"Only to carry out the original plan of the voyage. Promise me that you will stick to the ship. Afterwards you can return to Venus and do as you please. Stanley, you know, made his greatest journey into Africa between his engagement and his marriage."

"Very well, I promise."

With an agitated mind I repaired to the tryst next evening and waited for Alumion. How should I break the news to her, and how would she receive it?

The cool airs of the water, and the glorious pageant of the sunset calmed my troubled spirit. All day the serene and beamy azure of the heavens had been plumed with snowy cloudlets of graceful and capricious form, which, as the sun sank to the horizon, were tinged with fleeting glows resembling the iris of a dove's neck, or the hues of a dying dolphin. The great luminary himself was lost in a golden glamour, and a single bright star shone palely through a rosy mist, which covered all the southern sky, like a diamond seen through a bridal veil of gauze.

That lone star was the earth.

Strange to say, I felt a kind of yearning towards it, a yearning as of home-sickness, and it seemed to reproach me for having thought of forsaking it. I wondered what my friends were doing now within that blaze; perhaps they were looking at Venus and speculating on what I was about. How delighted I should be to see them again, and show them my incomparable wife-but could I ever take her there?

Whilst I was musing, the low sweet voice of Alumion thrilled me to the marrow. I turned and saw her. She was dressed to-night in a filmy vesture of opalescent or pearly white, partly diaphanous, and having a deep fringe of gold. There was a pink blush on her cheek and a sparkle of girlish love in her celestial eyes. Never had she seemed more ravishingly beautiful.

"Beauty too rare for use, for earth too dear."

"You were gazing on the star. You did not hear my coming," she said with a little feminine pout.

"I was thinking of you, darling."

She smiled again.

"Is it not a lovely star?" she said. "We call it the star of Love-the star of the Blest."

"It is my home."

"Your home!" she exclaimed with a look of surprise and wonderment.

"You have heard that I come from another world."

"Yes, but I did not know it was a star. And is that beautiful star your home?"

"Yes, beloved; and I am sorry to say I must return there soon again."

"And I will go! You will take me with you to that fair world!"

I thought of all the crime and folly, the deceit, violence, and wretchedness lurking behind that pure and peaceful ray. Alas! how could I tell her the truth and destroy her illusions. She was innocent as a child, and an instinct warned me to keep the knowledge of evil from her, while a contrary spirit urged me to speak.

"You might not find it so fair as it looks from here."

"I am sure it cannot be an evil world since you come from it. To us it is a sacred star."

"If the inhabitants could see it as I do now, perhaps the sight would make them lead better lives-would shame them into being worthier of their dwelling-place."

"Are they not good?" she asked with a look of wonder and sorrowful compassion. "Then how unhappy they must be."

"Some are good and some are bad. Everything is mixed in our world-the strong and the weak-the rich and the poor-the happy and the miserable."

"But do the good not help the bad?"

"Yes, to a certain extent; but life is a struggle there; every man for himself; and the good very often find it hard to secure a little happiness for themselves."

"How can they be happy when they know that others are suffering and in want, that others are bad? I long to go and help them."

"Darling, you are an angel, and I adore you; but, believe me, you alone could do very little. One has already come and taught us how to love and cherish each other, that the strong should help the weak, the rich give to the poor, and the happy comfort the wretched. His followers believe that He came from Heaven, and yet after nineteen hundred years I am afraid that some of them do not fully understand the plain meaning of His words, or else find it convenient to ignore them."

"But many of us will go there. We will bring the sinful and the suffering over here to Womla and make them happy."

"I am touched by your simple faith in us, dearest It does you honour, but I fear it is mistaken. What would you say if the very people you had saved and befriended were to turn round and take your country from you, perhaps even destroy you? Such ingratitude is not unknown in our world."

"If they are so wicked they have the more need of help."

"In any case, darling, I cannot take you with me, for the vessel we came in is too small; but I will come back as soon as possible and stay with you in Womla. How happy we shall be!"

"In Womla-no. We should not be quite at rest."

"Then we shall seek out some desert star where we can live only for each other."

"You do not understand me. Neither in Womla nor in a desert star could we be happy in a selfish love, knowing that others were in pain."

"Better I had not spoken of my world at all."

"No, a thousand times no!" cried Alumion with fervour. "For you have opened up to me a new source of happiness-of blessedness which I have never known before. Only let us go together to your world and minister to the unfortunate."

"Well, darling, we will think of it; but see! the sun has set and you are free again. I came to marry you, but since I must return so soon to my own world, perhaps it would be well to postpone the ceremony until I come back here."

"Why should we do that?"

Evidently she had no idea of the dangers of the journey, or how long it would take.

"If anything should happen to me. If I should die and never return."

"Ah! do not speak of that. The Giver will preserve you."

"But life is uncertain."

"Beloved, I shall never love another but you; therefore, let us unite ourselves, as we are already united in heart and soul, henceforth and forever. Come!"

With these words she turned and glided towards the sacred grotto. I held aside the flowering creeper which hung over the entrance like a curtain, and followed her within. To my great surprise the interior was neither dark nor dusky, but filled with a soft and luscious light from myriads of glow-worms and fire-flies of various colours, which glimmered on the walls like tiny electric lamps, or sparkled in the facets of the gems and spars depending from the roof. Judging by their shape and tint I imagine that some of these incrustations are native crystals of the diamond and ruby, the sapphire, topaz, and emerald. In a deep recess or alcove on one side a spring of clear water gushed from the rock into a natural basin of sinter, enamelled inside and out with the precious opal. Owing perhaps to the minerals through which it had passed the liquid shed a delicious perfume in the air, and made a bath fit for the goddess of beauty.

I had scarcely time to look about me when a strange and wonderful melody of most entrancing sweetness echoed through the cavern.

"Siloo, Siloo!" cried Alumion softly, and the music, which I cannot compare to any earthly strain, ceased in a moment. Presently I was more than startled to see in the gloomier background of the cavern a great white serpent glide like a ghost along the floor and come straight towards us. His milk-white body was speckled all over with jewelled scales, and shone with a pale blue phosphorescence; his eyes blazed in his head like twin carbuncles, and in spite of my instinctive dread of snakes, I could not help admiring his repulsive beauty. Presently he reared his long neck, and faced us with his forked tongue playing out and in. I shrank back, for I thought he was about to spring upon me; but Alumion, laughing gaily at my fears, stepped quickly up to him, and stroked him with her hand. The serpent laid his head caressingly upon her shoulder and emitted a low faint note of pleasure.

Alumion then took a shallow dish or patera, and, filling it from a vase which she carried with her set it upon the floor for the snake to feed.

"You don't seem to be afraid of that gruesome reptile," said I pleasantly.

"Oh, no," she replied smiling. "Siloo knows me very well."

"Tell me, was it he who made the music a little while ago?"

"Yes, and also the noise which alarmed you the first night you wandered here. The music comes from his head, and the noise is from his tail. That is why we call him Siloo."

The word, as nearly as I can translate it, means harmony, order, measure, proportion, in the Womla tongue.

"Does he always live in this cave?"

"Yes, he is a sacred animal with us, and long ago was worshipped and consulted by our forefathers, and those who preceded them in the island."

"Is he very old?"

"None can tell how old. Some say he is immortal. Others think he is only the offspring of the snake worshipped by our forefathers. He is guardian of the sacred fountain whose waters we are about to drink."

When she had spoken, Alumion tripped to the flowing spring, and, taking a cup which was standing on the edge of the basin, filled it from the pellucid stream.

"Give me your hand," she murmured, holding out her own, and lifting her celestial eyes, so full of love and tenderness, to mine. It was a dainty hand, plump, lilywhite, and dimpled, with tapering fingers; and as I felt her warm and silk-soft touch for the first time, my soul melted within me, and my whole being thrilled with delight. Her rosy lips parted with pleasure, and a delicate blush mantled her blooming cheeks and full white throat.

I gazed in rapture on her divine countenance, so like a speaking flower, the image of a beautiful soul on which neither sorrow, care, nor passion had ever left a trace.

She raised the cup, and having sipped of the water, handed it to me in silence. I sought the place where her lips had touched the brim and drank. Now whether it was phantasy or some foreign ingredient I cannot tell, but the water seemed to taste like nectar, and to run through all my veins like wine.

The glamour of the lights and the perfume of the waters wrought upon my senses, and, yielding to the intoxication of my love, I caught Alumion to my arms.

Suddenly the most appalling noise rent the air, and caused me to spring back from my bride in terror. It came from the rattlesnake. His grisly body swayed to and fro, his gaping mouth displayed all its horrid fangs, and his large eyes burned like two red-hot coals.

"Siloo, Siloo!" cried Alumion hastily in a tone of command. "Down, Siloo!"

The serpent at once obeyed her voice and retired again to his dish.

"He thought I was going to harm you," I exclaimed, not without a sense of relief. "Or perhaps he was jealous of me."

"Remember this is holy ground," responded Alumion.

"Forgive me," I said, feeling her reproof. "My love-your beauty-must be my excuse."

"We must part now," she continued, with a blinding glance and a ravishing smile. "I have some last offices to perform here. We shall meet to-morrow at my father's house."

On my way home the blood coursed through my veins like an immortal ichor of the gods, full of sweet and inextinguishable fire. Inebriated with the cup of bliss which I had only tasted, I began to repent me of my promise to leave Womla.

"To-morrow Alumion will be mine," I reflected, "but for how long? A few days at the most. It is too bad!"

An idea struck me.

"Gazen," said I that night as soon as I had a convenient opportunity to speak with him, "I have married Alumion."

"Married her!" he exclaimed, completely taken aback.

"Yes, that is to say, I have gone through the formal ceremony of marriage. I have drunk of the cup."

"But you promised me you would do nothing of the kind."

"I said I would go back to the earth with you, and I will keep my word. But I must say that since I agreed to your wishes in the matter, I think you owe me some concession, and I want you to leave me in Womla while you go on to Mercury, and then come back here to pick me up. That will give me a longer honeymoon."

"Impossible, my dear fellow-quite impossible," replied the professor. "Venus will be too far out of our way home. We have no oxygen to waste, and can't go hunting you in your love affairs all round the solar system."

"Very well, then, I shall stay behind."

"But, my dear fellow-"

"Say no more about it. I have made up my mind."

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