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Chapter 9

They Discourse Of Alma


Sailing to and fro in the lake, to view its scenery, much discourse
took place concerning the things we had seen; and far removed from the
censer-bearers, the sad fate that awaited the boy was now the theme
of all.

A good deal was then said of Alma, to whom the guide, the pilgrims,
and the censer-bearers had frequently alluded, as to some paramount
authority.

Called upon to reveal what his chronicles said on this theme, Braid-
Beard complied; at great length narrating, what now follows condensed.

Alma, it seems, was an illustrious prophet, and teacher divine; who,
ages ago, at long intervals, and in various islands, had appeared to
the Mardians under the different titles of Brami, Manko, and Alma.
Many thousands of moons had elasped since his last and most memorable
avatar, as Alma on the isle of Maramma. Each of his advents had taken
place in a comparatively dark and benighted age. Hence, it was
devoutly believed, that he came to redeem the Mardians from their
heathenish thrall; to instruct them in the ways of truth, virtue, and
happiness; to allure them to good by promises of beatitude hereafter;
and to restrain them from evil by denunciations of woe. Separated from
the impurities and corruptions, which in a long series of centuries
had become attached to every thing originally uttered by the prophet,
the maxims, which as Brami he had taught, seemed similar to those
inculcated by Manko. But as Alma, adapting his lessons to the improved
condition of humanity, the divine prophet had more completely unfolded
his scheme; as Alma, he had made his last revelation.

This narration concluded, Babbalanja mildly observed, "Mohi: without
seeking to accuse you of uttering falsehoods; since what you relate
rests not upon testimony of your own; permit me, to question the
fidelity of your account of Alma. The prophet came to dissipate
errors, you say; but superadded to many that have survived the past,
ten thousand others have originated in various constructions of the
principles of Alma himself. The prophet came to do away all gods but
one; but since the days of Alma, the idols of Maramma have more than
quadrupled. The prophet came to make us Mardians more virtuous and
happy; but along with all previous good, the same wars, crimes, and
miseries, which existed in Alma's day, under various modifications are
yet extant. Nay: take from your chronicles, Mohi, the history of those
horrors, one way or other, resulting from the doings of Alma's nominal
followers, and your chronicles would not so frequently make mention of
blood. The prophet came to guarantee our eternal felicity; but
according to what is held in Maramma, that felicity rests on so hard a
proviso, that to a thinking mind, but very few of our sinful race may
secure it. For one, then, I wholly reject your Alma; not so much,
because of all that is hard to be understood in his histories; as
because of obvious and undeniable things all round us; which, to me,
seem at war with an unreserved faith in his doctrines as promulgated
here in Maramma. Besides; every thing in this isle strengthens my
incredulity; I never was so thorough a disbeliever as now."

"Let the winds be laid," cried Mohi, "while your rash confession is
being made in this sacred lake."

Said Media, "Philosopher; remember the boy, and they that seized him."

"Ah! I do indeed remember him. Poor youth! in his agony, how my heart
yearned toward his. But that very prudence which you deny me, my lord,
prevented me from saying aught in his behalf. Have you not observed,
that until now, when we are completely by ourselves, I have refrained
from freely discoursing of what we have seen in this island? Trust me,
my lord, there is no man, that bears more in mind the necessity of
being either a believer or a hypocrite in Maramma, and the imminent
peril of being honest here, than I, Babbalanja. And have I not reason
to be wary, when in my boyhood, my own sire was burnt for his
temerity; and in this very isle? Just Oro! it was done in the name of
Alma,--what wonder then, that, at times, I almost hate that sound. And
from those flames, they devoutly swore he went to others,--horrible
fable!"

Said Mohi: "Do you deny, then, the everlasting torments?"

"'Tis not worth a denial. Nor by formally denying it, will I run the
risk of shaking the faith of, thousands, who in that pious belief find
infinite consolation for all they suffer in Mardi."

"How?" said Media; "are there those who soothe themselves with the
thought of everlasting flames?"

"One would think so, my lord, since they defend that dogma more
resolutely than any other. Sooner will they yield you the isles of
Paradise, than it. And in truth, as liege followers of Alma, they
would seem but right in clinging to it as they do; for, according to
all one hears in Maramma, the great end of the prophet's mission seems
to have been the revealing to us Mardians the existence of horrors,
most hard to escape. But better we were all annihilated, than that one
man should be damned."

Rejoined Media: "But think you not, that possibly, Alma may have been
misconceived? Are you certain that doctrine is his?"

"I know nothing more than that such is the belief in this land. And in
these matters, I know not where else to go for information. But, my
lord, had I been living in those days when certain men are said to
have been actually possessed by spirits from hell, I had not let slip
the opportunity--as our forefathers did--to cross-question them
concerning the place they came from."

"Well, well," said Media, "your Alma's faith concerns not me: I am a
king, and a demi-god; and leave vulgar torments to the commonality."

"But it concerns me," muttered Mohi; "yet I know not what to think."

"For me," said Yoomy, "I reject it. Could I, I would not believe it.
It is at variance with the dictates of my heart instinctively my heart
turns from it, as a thirsty man from gall."

"Hush; say no more," said Mohi; "again we approach the shore."

Herman Melville