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Chapter 6

EVENTFUL winter passed; winter, the respite of our ills. By degrees the
sun, which with slant beams had before yielded the more extended reign to
night, lengthened his diurnal journey, and mounted his highest throne, at
once the fosterer of earth's new beauty, and her lover. We who, like flies
that congregate upon a dry rock at the ebbing of the tide, had played
wantonly with time, allowing our passions, our hopes, and our mad desires
to rule us, now heard the approaching roar of the ocean of destruction, and
would have fled to some sheltered crevice, before the first wave broke over
us. We resolved without delay, to commence our journey to Switzerland; we
became eager to leave France. Under the icy vaults of the glaciers, beneath
the shadow of the pines, the swinging of whose mighty branches was arrested
by a load of snow; beside the streams whose intense cold proclaimed their
origin to be from the slow-melting piles of congelated waters, amidst
frequent storms which might purify the air, we should find health, if in
truth health were not herself diseased.

We began our preparations at first with alacrity. We did not now bid adieu
to our native country, to the graves of those we loved, to the flowers, and
streams, and trees, which had lived beside us from infancy. Small sorrow
would be ours on leaving Paris. A scene of shame, when we remembered our
late contentions, and thought that we left behind a flock of miserable,
deluded victims, bending under the tyranny of a selfish impostor. Small
pangs should we feel in leaving the gardens, woods, and halls of the
palaces of the Bourbons at Versailles, which we feared would soon be
tainted by the dead, when we looked forward to vallies lovelier than any
garden, to mighty forests and halls, built not for mortal majesty, but
palaces of nature's own, with the Alp of marmoreal whiteness for their
walls, the sky for their roof.

Yet our spirits flagged, as the day drew near which we had fixed for our
departure. Dire visions and evil auguries, if such things were, thickened
around us, so that in vain might men say--

These are their reasons, they are natural,[1]

we felt them to be ominous, and dreaded the future event enchained
to them. That the night owl should screech before the noon-day
sun, that the hard-winged bat should wheel around the bed of
beauty, that muttering thunder should in early spring startle
the cloudless air, that sudden and exterminating blight should fall
on the tree and shrub, were unaccustomed, but physical events, less
horrible than the mental creations of almighty fear. Some had sight of
funeral processions, and faces all begrimed with tears, which flitted
through the long avenues of the gardens, and drew aside the curtains of the
sleepers at dead of night. Some heard wailing and cries in the air; a
mournful chaunt would stream through the dark atmosphere, as if spirits
above sang the requiem of the human race. What was there in all this, but
that fear created other senses within our frames, making us see, hear, and
feel what was not? What was this, but the action of diseased imaginations
and childish credulity? So might it be; but what was most real, was the
existence of these very fears; the staring looks of horror, the faces pale
even to ghastliness, the voices struck dumb with harrowing dread, of those
among us who saw and heard these things. Of this number was Adrian, who
knew the delusion, yet could not cast off the clinging terror. Even
ignorant infancy appeared with timorous shrieks and convulsions to
acknowledge the presence of unseen powers. We must go: in change of scene,
in occupation, and such security as we still hoped to find, we should
discover a cure for these gathering horrors.

On mustering our company, we found them to consist of fourteen hundred
souls, men, women, and children. Until now therefore, we were undiminished
in numbers, except by the desertion of those who had attached themselves to
the impostor-prophet, and remained behind in Paris. About fifty French
joined us. Our order of march was easily arranged; the ill success which
had attended our division, determined Adrian to keep all in one body. I,
with an hundred men, went forward first as purveyor, taking the road of the
Cote d'Or, through Auxerre, Dijon, Dole, over the Jura to Geneva. I was to
make arrangements, at every ten miles, for the accommodation of such
numbers as I found the town or village would receive, leaving behind a
messenger with a written order, signifying how many were to be quartered
there. The remainder of our tribe was then divided into bands of fifty
each, every division containing eighteen men, and the remainder, consisting
of women and children. Each of these was headed by an officer, who carried
the roll of names, by which they were each day to be mustered. If the
numbers were divided at night, in the morning those in the van waited for
those in the rear. At each of the large towns before mentioned, we were all
to assemble; and a conclave of the principal officers would hold council
for the general weal. I went first, as I said; Adrian last. His mother,
with Clara and Evelyn under her protection, remained also with him. Thus
our order being determined, I departed. My plan was to go at first no
further than Fontainebleau, where in a few days I should be joined by
Adrian, before I took flight again further eastward.

My friend accompanied me a few miles from Versailles. He was sad; and, in a
tone of unaccustomed despondency, uttered a prayer for our speedy arrival
among the Alps, accompanied with an expression of vain regret that we were
not already there. "In that case," I observed, "we can quicken our march;
why adhere to a plan whose dilatory proceeding you already disapprove?"

"Nay," replied he, "it is too late now. A month ago, and we were masters of
ourselves; now,--" he turned his face from me; though gathering twilight
had already veiled its expression, he turned it yet more away, as he added
--"a man died of the plague last night!"

He spoke in a smothered voice, then suddenly clasping his hands, he
exclaimed, "Swiftly, most swiftly advances the last hour for us all; as the
stars vanish before the sun, so will his near approach destroy us. I have
done my best; with grasping hands and impotent strength, I have hung on the
wheel of the chariot of plague; but she drags me along with it, while, like
Juggernaut, she proceeds crushing out the being of all who strew the high
road of life. Would that it were over--would that her procession
achieved, we had all entered the tomb together!"

Tears streamed from his eyes. "Again and again," he continued, "will the
tragedy be acted; again I must hear the groans of the dying, the wailing of
the survivors; again witness the pangs, which, consummating all, envelope
an eternity in their evanescent existence. Why am I reserved for this? Why
the tainted wether of the flock, am I not struck to earth among the first?
It is hard, very hard, for one of woman born to endure all that I endure!"

Hitherto, with an undaunted spirit, and an high feeling of duty and worth,
Adrian had fulfilled his self-imposed task. I had contemplated him with
reverence, and a fruitless desire of imitation. I now offered a few words
of encouragement and sympathy. He hid his face in his hands, and while he
strove to calm himself, he ejaculated, "For a few months, yet for a few
months more, let not, O God, my heart fail, or my courage be bowed down;
let not sights of intolerable misery madden this half-crazed brain, or
cause this frail heart to beat against its prison-bound, so that it burst.
I have believed it to be my destiny to guide and rule the last of the race
of man, till death extinguish my government; and to this destiny I submit.

"Pardon me, Verney, I pain you, but I will no longer complain. Now I am
myself again, or rather I am better than myself. You have known how from my
childhood aspiring thoughts and high desires have warred with inherent
disease and overstrained sensitiveness, till the latter became victors. You
know how I placed this wasted feeble hand on the abandoned helm of human
government. I have been visited at times by intervals of fluctuation; yet,
until now, I have felt as if a superior and indefatigable spirit had taken
up its abode within me or rather incorporated itself with my weaker being.
The holy visitant has for a time slept, perhaps to show me how powerless I
am without its inspiration. Yet, stay for a while, O Power of goodness and
strength; disdain not yet this rent shrine of fleshly mortality, O immortal
Capability! While one fellow creature remains to whom aid can be afforded,
stay by and prop your shattered, falling engine!"

His vehemence, and voice broken by irrepressible sighs, sunk to my heart;
his eyes gleamed in the gloom of night like two earthly stars; and, his
form dilating, his countenance beaming, truly it almost seemed as if at his
eloquent appeal a more than mortal spirit entered his frame, exalting him
above humanity. He turned quickly towards me, and held out his hand.
"Farewell, Verney," he cried, "brother of my love, farewell; no other weak
expression must cross these lips, I am alive again: to our tasks, to our
combats with our unvanquishable foe, for to the last I will struggle
against her."

He grasped my hand, and bent a look on me, more fervent and animated than
any smile; then turning his horse's head, he touched the animal with the
spur, and was out of sight in a moment.

A man last night had died of the plague. The quiver was not emptied, nor
the bow unstrung. We stood as marks, while Parthian Pestilence aimed and
shot, insatiated by conquest, unobstructed by the heaps of slain. A
sickness of the soul, contagious even to my physical mechanism, came over
me. My knees knocked together, my teeth chattered, the current of my blood,
clotted by sudden cold, painfully forced its way from my heavy heart. I did
not fear for myself, but it was misery to think that we could not even save
this remnant. That those I loved might in a few days be as clay-cold as
Idris in her antique tomb; nor could strength of body or energy of mind
ward off the blow. A sense of degradation came over me. Did God create man,
merely in the end to become dead earth in the midst of healthful vegetating
nature? Was he of no more account to his Maker, than a field of corn
blighted in the ear? Were our proud dreams thus to fade? Our name was
written "a little lower than the angels;" and, behold, we were no better
than ephemera. We had called ourselves the "paragon of animals," and, lo!
we were a "quint-essence of dust." We repined that the pyramids had
outlasted the embalmed body of their builder. Alas! the mere shepherd's hut
of straw we passed on the road, contained in its structure the principle of
greater longevity than the whole race of man. How reconcile this sad change
to our past aspirations, to our apparent powers!

Sudden an internal voice, articulate and clear, seemed to say:--Thus from
eternity, it was decreed: the steeds that bear Time onwards had this hour
and this fulfilment enchained to them, since the void brought forth its
burthen. Would you read backwards the unchangeable laws of Necessity?

Mother of the world! Servant of the Omnipotent! eternal, changeless
Necessity! who with busy fingers sittest ever weaving the indissoluble
chain of events!--I will not murmur at thy acts. If my human mind cannot
acknowledge that all that is, is right; yet since what is, must be, I will
sit amidst the ruins and smile. Truly we were not born to enjoy, but to
submit, and to hope.

Will not the reader tire, if I should minutely describe our long-drawn
journey from Paris to Geneva? If, day by day, I should record, in the form
of a journal, the thronging miseries of our lot, could my hand write, or
language afford words to express, the variety of our woe; the hustling and
crowding of one deplorable event upon another? Patience, oh reader! whoever
thou art, wherever thou dwellest, whether of race spiritual, or, sprung
from some surviving pair, thy nature will be human, thy habitation the
earth; thou wilt here read of the acts of the extinct race, and wilt ask
wonderingly, if they, who suffered what thou findest recorded, were of
frail flesh and soft organization like thyself. Most true, they were--
weep therefore; for surely, solitary being, thou wilt be of gentle
disposition; shed compassionate tears; but the while lend thy attention to
the tale, and learn the deeds and sufferings of thy predecessors.

Yet the last events that marked our progress through France were so full of
strange horror and gloomy misery, that I dare not pause too long in the
narration. If I were to dissect each incident, every small fragment of a
second would contain an harrowing tale, whose minutest word would curdle
the blood in thy young veins. It is right that I should erect for thy
instruction this monument of the foregone race; but not that I should drag
thee through the wards of an hospital, nor the secret chambers of the
charnel-house. This tale, therefore, shall be rapidly unfolded. Images of
destruction, pictures of despair, the procession of the last triumph of
death, shall be drawn before thee, swift as the rack driven by the north
wind along the blotted splendour of the sky.

Weed-grown fields, desolate towns, the wild approach of riderless horses
had now become habitual to my eyes; nay, sights far worse, of the unburied
dead, and human forms which were strewed on the road side, and on the steps
of once frequented habitations, where,

Through the flesh that wastes away
Beneath the parching sun, the whitening bones
Start forth, and moulder in the sable dust.[2]

Sights like these had become--ah, woe the while! so familiar, that we had
ceased to shudder, or spur our stung horses to sudden speed, as we passed
them. France in its best days, at least that part of France through which
we travelled, had been a cultivated desert, and the absence of enclosures,
of cottages, and even of peasantry, was saddening to a traveller from sunny
Italy, or busy England. Yet the towns were frequent and lively, and the
cordial politeness and ready smile of the wooden-shoed peasant restored
good humour to the splenetic. Now, the old woman sat no more at the door
with her distaff--the lank beggar no longer asked charity in
courtier-like phrase; nor on holidays did the peasantry thread with slow
grace the mazes of the dance. Silence, melancholy bride of death, went in
procession with him from town to town through the spacious region.

We arrived at Fontainebleau, and speedily prepared for the reception of our
friends. On mustering our numbers for the night, three were found missing.
When I enquired for them, the man to whom I spoke, uttered the word
"plague," and fell at my feet in convulsions; he also was infected. There
were hard faces around me; for among my troop were sailors who had crossed
the line times unnumbered, soldiers who, in Russia and far America, had
suffered famine, cold and danger, and men still sterner-featured, once
nightly depredators in our over-grown metropolis; men bred from their
cradle to see the whole machine of society at work for their destruction. I
looked round, and saw upon the faces of all horror and despair written in
glaring characters.

We passed four days at Fontainebleau. Several sickened and died, and in the
mean time neither Adrian nor any of our friends appeared. My own troop was
in commotion; to reach Switzerland, to plunge into rivers of snow, and to
dwell in caves of ice, became the mad desire of all. Yet we had promised to
wait for the Earl; and he came not. My people demanded to be led forward--
rebellion, if so we might call what was the mere casting away of
straw-formed shackles, appeared manifestly among them. They would away on
the word without a leader. The only chance of safety, the only hope of
preservation from every form of indescribable suffering, was our keeping
together. I told them this; while the most determined among them answered
with sullenness, that they could take care of themselves, and replied to my
entreaties with scoffs and menaces.

At length, on the fifth day, a messenger arrived from Adrian, bearing
letters, which directed us to proceed to Auxerre, and there await his
arrival, which would only be deferred for a few days. Such was the tenor of
his public letters. Those privately delivered to me, detailed at length the
difficulties of his situation, and left the arrangement of my future plans
to my own discretion. His account of the state of affairs at Versailles was
brief, but the oral communications of his messenger filled up his
omissions, and shewed me that perils of the most frightful nature were
gathering around him. At first the re-awakening of the plague had been
concealed; but the number of deaths encreasing, the secret was divulged,
and the destruction already achieved, was exaggerated by the fears of the
survivors. Some emissaries of the enemy of mankind, the accursed Impostors.
were among them instilling their doctrine, that safety and life could only
be ensured by submission to their chief; and they succeeded so well, that
soon, instead of desiring to proceed to Switzerland, the major part of the
multitude, weak-minded women, and dastardly men, desired to return to
Paris, and, by ranging themselves under the banners of the so called
prophet, and by a cowardly worship of the principle of evil, to purchase
respite, as they hoped, from impending death. The discord and tumult
induced by these conflicting fears and passions, detained Adrian. It
required all his ardour in pursuit of an object, and his patience under
difficulties, to calm and animate such a number of his followers, as might
counterbalance the panic of the rest, and lead them back to the means from
which alone safety could be derived. He had hoped immediately to follow me;
but, being defeated in this intention, he sent his messenger urging me to
secure my own troop at such a distance from Versailles, as to prevent the
contagion of rebellion from reaching them; promising, at the same time, to
join me the moment a favourable occasion should occur, by means of which he
could withdraw the main body of the emigrants from the evil influence at
present exercised over them.

I was thrown into a most painful state of uncertainty by these
communications. My first impulse was that we should all return to
Versailles, there to assist in extricating our chief from his perils. I
accordingly assembled my troop, and proposed to them this retrograde
movement, instead of the continuation of our journey to Auxerre. With one
voice they refused to comply. The notion circulated among them was, that
the ravages of the plague alone detained the Protector; they opposed his
order to my request; they came to a resolve to proceed without me, should I
refuse to accompany them. Argument and adjuration were lost on these
dastards. The continual diminution of their own numbers, effected by
pestilence, added a sting to their dislike of delay; and my opposition only
served to bring their resolution to a crisis. That same evening they
departed towards Auxerre. Oaths, as from soldiers to their general, had
been taken by them: these they broke. I also had engaged myself not to
desert them; it appeared to me inhuman to ground any infraction of my word
on theirs. The same spirit that caused them to rebel against me, would
impel them to desert each other; and the most dreadful sufferings would be
the consequence of their journey in their present unordered and chiefless
array. These feelings for a time were paramount; and, in obedience to them,
I accompanied the rest towards Auxerre. We arrived the same night at
Villeneuve-la-Guiard, a town at the distance of four posts from
Fontainebleau. When my companions had retired to rest, and I was left alone
to revolve and ruminate upon the intelligence I received of Adrian's
situation, another view of the subject presented itself to me. What was I
doing, and what was the object of my present movements? Apparently I was to
lead this troop of selfish and lawless men towards Switzerland, leaving
behind my family and my selected friend, which, subject as they were hourly
to the death that threatened to all, I might never see again. Was it not my
first duty to assist the Protector, setting an example of attachment and
duty? At a crisis, such as the one I had reached, it is very difficult to
balance nicely opposing interests, and that towards which our inclinations
lead us, obstinately assumes the appearance of selfishness, even when we
meditate a sacrifice. We are easily led at such times to make a compromise
of the question; and this was my present resource. I resolved that very
night to ride to Versailles; if I found affairs less desperate than I now
deemed them, I would return without delay to my troop; I had a vague idea
that my arrival at that town, would occasion some sensation more or less
strong, of which we might profit, for the purpose of leading forward the
vacillating multitude--at least no time was to be lost--I visited the
stables, I saddled my favourite horse, and vaulting on his back, without
giving myself time for further reflection or hesitation, quitted
Villeneuve-la-Guiard on my return to Versailles.

I was glad to escape from my rebellious troop, and to lose sight for a
time, of the strife of evil with good, where the former for ever remained
triumphant. I was stung almost to madness by my uncertainty concerning the
fate of Adrian, and grew reckless of any event, except what might lose or
preserve my unequalled friend. With an heavy heart, that sought relief in
the rapidity of my course, I rode through the night to Versailles. I
spurred my horse, who addressed his free limbs to speed, and tossed his
gallant head in pride. The constellations reeled swiftly by, swiftly each
tree and stone and landmark fled past my onward career. I bared my head to
the rushing wind, which bathed my brow in delightful coolness. As I lost
sight of Villeneuve-la-Guiard, I forgot the sad drama of human misery;
methought it was happiness enough to live, sensitive the while of the
beauty of the verdure-clad earth, the star-bespangled sky, and the tameless
wind that lent animation to the whole. My horse grew tired--and I,
forgetful of his fatigue, still as he lagged, cheered him with my voice,
and urged him with the spur. He was a gallant animal, and I did not wish to
exchange him for any chance beast I might light on, leaving him never to be
refound. All night we went forward; in the morning he became sensible that
we approached Versailles, to reach which as his home, he mustered his
flagging strength. The distance we had come was not less than fifty miles,
yet he shot down the long Boulevards swift as an arrow; poor fellow, as I
dismounted at the gate of the castle, he sunk on his knees, his eyes were
covered with a film, he fell on his side, a few gasps inflated his noble
chest, and he died. I saw him expire with an anguish, unaccountable even to
myself, the spasm was as the wrenching of some limb in agonizing torture,
but it was brief as it was intolerable. I forgot him, as I swiftly darted
through the open portal, and up the majestic stairs of this castle of
victories--heard Adrian's voice--O fool! O woman nurtured, effeminate
and contemptible being--I heard his voice, and answered it with
convulsive shrieks; I rushed into the Hall of Hercules, where he stood
surrounded by a crowd, whose eyes, turned in wonder on me, reminded me that
on the stage of the world, a man must repress such girlish extacies. I
would have given worlds to have embraced him; I dared not--Half in
exhaustion, half voluntarily, I threw myself at my length on the ground--
dare I disclose the truth to the gentle offspring of solitude? I did so,
that I might kiss the dear and sacred earth he trod.

I found everything in a state of tumult. An emissary of the leader of the
elect, had been so worked up by his chief, and by his own fanatical creed,
as to make an attempt on the life of the Protector and preserver of lost
mankind. His hand was arrested while in the act of poignarding the Earl;
this circumstance had caused the clamour I heard on my arrival at the
castle, and the confused assembly of persons that I found assembled in the
Salle d'Hercule. Although superstition and demoniac fury had crept among
the emigrants, yet several adhered with fidelity to their noble chieftain;
and many, whose faith and love had been unhinged by fear, felt all their
latent affection rekindled by this detestable attempt. A phalanx of
faithful breasts closed round him; the wretch, who, although a prisoner and
in bonds, vaunted his design, and madly claimed the crown of martyrdom,
would have been torn to pieces, had not his intended victim interposed.
Adrian, springing forward, shielded him with his own person, and commanded
with energy the submission of his infuriate friends--at this moment I had
entered.

Discipline and peace were at length restored in the castle; and then Adrian
went from house to house, from troop to troop, to soothe the disturbed
minds of his followers, and recall them to their ancient obedience. But the
fear of immediate death was still rife amongst these survivors of a world's
destruction; the horror occasioned by the attempted assassination, past
away; each eye turned towards Paris. Men love a prop so well, that they
will lean on a pointed poisoned spear; and such was he, the impostor, who,
with fear of hell for his scourge, most ravenous wolf, played the driver to
a credulous flock.

It was a moment of suspense, that shook even the resolution of the
unyielding friend of man. Adrian for one moment was about to give in, to
cease the struggle, and quit, with a few adherents, the deluded crowd,
leaving them a miserable prey to their passions, and to the worse tyrant
who excited them. But again, after a brief fluctuation of purpose, he
resumed his courage and resolves, sustained by the singleness of his
purpose, and the untried spirit of benevolence which animated him. At this
moment, as an omen of excellent import, his wretched enemy pulled
destruction on his head, destroying with his own hands the dominion he had
erected.

His grand hold upon the minds of men, took its rise from the doctrine
inculcated by him, that those who believed in, and followed him, were the
remnant to be saved, while all the rest of mankind were marked out for
death. Now, at the time of the Flood, the omnipotent repented him that he
had created man, and as then with water, now with the arrows of pestilence,
was about to annihilate all, except those who obeyed his decrees,
promulgated by the ipse dixit prophet. It is impossible to say on what
foundations this man built his hopes of being able to carry on such an
imposture. It is likely that he was fully aware of the lie which murderous
nature might give to his assertions, and believed it to be the cast of a
die, whether he should in future ages be reverenced as an inspired delegate
from heaven, or be recognized as an impostor by the present dying
generation. At any rate he resolved to keep up the drama to the last act.
When, on the first approach of summer, the fatal disease again made its
ravages among the followers of Adrian, the impostor exultingly proclaimed
the exemption of his own congregation from the universal calamity. He was
believed; his followers, hitherto shut up in Paris, now came to Versailles.
Mingling with the coward band there assembled, they reviled their admirable
leader, and asserted their own superiority and exemption. At length the
plague, slow-footed, but sure in her noiseless advance, destroyed the
illusion, invading the congregation of the elect, and showering promiscuous
death among them. Their leader endeavoured to conceal this event; he had a
few followers, who, admitted into the arcana of his wickedness, could help
him in the execution of his nefarious designs. Those who sickened were
immediately and quietly withdrawn, the cord and a midnight-grave disposed
of them for ever; while some plausible excuse was given for their absence.
At last a female, whose maternal vigilance subdued even the effects of the
narcotics administered to her, became a witness of their murderous designs
on her only child. Mad with horror, she would have burst among her deluded
fellow-victims, and, wildly shrieking, have awaked the dull ear of night
with the history of the fiend-like crime; when the Impostor, in his last
act of rage and desperation, plunged a poignard in her bosom. Thus wounded
to death, her garments dripping with her own life-blood, bearing her
strangled infant in her arms, beautiful and young as she was, Juliet, (for
it was she) denounced to the host of deceived believers, the wickedness of
their leader. He saw the aghast looks of her auditors, changing from horror
to fury--the names of those already sacrificed were echoed by their
relatives, now assured of their loss. The wretch with that energy of
purpose, which had borne him thus far in his guilty career, saw his danger,
and resolved to evade the worst forms of it--he rushed on one of the
foremost, seized a pistol from his girdle, and his loud laugh of derision
mingled with the report of the weapon with which he destroyed himself.

They left his miserable remains even where they lay; they placed the corpse
of poor Juliet and her babe upon a bier, and all, with hearts subdued to
saddest regret, in long procession walked towards Versailles. They met
troops of those who had quitted the kindly protection of Adrian, and were
journeying to join the fanatics. The tale of horror was recounted--all
turned back; and thus at last, accompanied by the undiminished numbers of
surviving humanity, and preceded by the mournful emblem of their recovered
reason, they appeared before Adrian, and again and for ever vowed obedience
to his commands, and fidelity to his cause.

[1] Shakespeare--Julius Caesar.
[2] Elton's Translation of Hesiod's "Shield of Hercules."

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