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A Wanderer in the Sprit Lands, by Franchezzo (A. Farnese), [1896], at

CHAPTER XX.--The Imperial City.

We were now traversing a wide causeway of black marble, on either side of which were deep, dark chasms of which it was impossible to see the bottom from the great clouds of heavy vapor that hung over them. Passing and repassing us upon this highway were a great many dark spirits, some bearing great heavy loads upon their backs, others almost crawling along on all fours like beasts. Great gangs of slaves passed us, wearing heavy iron collars on their necks and linked together by a heavy chain. They were coming from the second or inner gate of what was evidently a large fortified city whose dark buildings loomed through the dense masses of dark fog in front of us. The causeway, the style of buildings, and the appearance of many of the spirits made me feel as though we were entering some ancient fortified city of the old Roman Empire, only here everything gave one the sense of being foul and horrible, in spite of the fine architecture and the magnificent buildings whose outlines we could dimly trace. The second gateway was finer in appearance than the first, and the gates being open we passed in with the stream of spirits hurrying through it, and as before we seemed to pass unseen.

"You will perceive," said Faithful Friend, "that here there is a life in no way different from the earthly life of such a city at the time when the one of which this is the spiritual reflection, was in the full zenith of its power, and when the particles of which this is formed were thrown off from its material life and drawn down by the force of attraction to form this city and these buildings, fit dwellings for its spiritual inhabitants; and you will see in the more modern appearance of many of the buildings and inhabitants how it has been added to from time to time by the same process which is going on continuously. You will notice that most of the spirits here fancy themselves still in the earthly counterpart and wonder why all looks so dark and foul and dingy. In like manner this same city has its spiritual prototype in the higher spheres to which all that was fair and good and noble in its life has been attracted, and where those spirits who were good and true have gone to dwell; for in the lives of cities as of men the spiritual emanations are attracted upwards or downwards according as there is good or evil in the deeds done in them. And as the deeds done in this city have in evil far exceeded those which were good, so this city is far larger, far more thickly peopled in this sphere than in those above. In the ages to come when the spirits who are here now shall have progressed, that heavenly counterpart will be fully finished and fully peopled, and then will this place we gaze at now have crumbled into dust--faded from this sphere."

We were now in a narrow street, such as it must have been in the earthly city, and a short distance farther brought us into a large square surrounded with magnificent palaces, while before us towered one more splendid in design than all the others. A great wide flight of marble steps led up to its massive portico, and looming through the dark cloudy atmosphere we could trace its many wings and buildings. All was truly on a magnificent scale, yet all to my eyes appeared dark, stained with great splashes of blood, and covered with slimy fungus growth which disfigured the magnificence and hung in great repulsive-looking festoons, like twisted snakes, from all the pillars and cope-stones of the buildings. Black slimy mud oozed up through the crevices of the marble pavement, as though the city floated upon a foul swamp, and noisome vapors curled up from the ground and floated above and around us in fantastic and horrible smoke wreaths like the huge phantoms of past crimes. Everywhere were dark spirits crawling across the great square and in and out of the palace doors, driven onward by other stronger dark spirits with lash or spear. Such cries of execration as broke forth from time to time, such fearful oaths, such curses and imprecations, it was truly the pandemonium of the lost souls in the Infernal regions! And over all hung those black night clouds of sorrow and suffering and wrong.

Far away to the earth my thoughts traveled, back to the days of the Roman Empire, and I saw reflected as in a glass this city in all the splendor of her power, in all the iniquities of her tyranny and her crimes, weaving down below, from the loom of fate, this other place of retribution for all those men and women who disgraced her beauties by their sins; I saw this great city of Hell building atom by atom till it should become a great prison for all the evil spirits of that wicked time.

We went up the wide flight of steps through the lofty doorway and found ourselves in the outer court of the Emperor's Palace. No one spoke to us or seemed aware of our presence, and we passed on through several smaller halls till we reached the door of the Presence Chamber. Her my companion stopped and said:

"I cannot enter with you, friend, because I have already visited the dark spirit who reigns here, and therefore my presence would at once excite his suspicions and defeat the object of your visit, which is that you may rescue an unhappy spirit whose repentant prayers have reached the higher spheres, and will be answered by the help you are sent to give him. You will find the person you seek without any difficulty. His desire for help has already drawn us thus near to him and will draw you still closer. I must now for a time part from you because I have my own path of work to follow, but we shall meet again ere long, and if you but keep a stout heart and a strong will and do not forget the warnings given you, no harm can befall you. Adieu, my friend, and know that I also shall need all my powers."

Thus, then, I parted from Faithful Friend and passed out alone into the Council Chamber, which I found thronged with spirits, both men and women, and furnished with all the barbaric splendor of the days of the Emperors; yet to my sight there was over everything the same stamp of foul loathsomeness which had struck me in the exterior of the palace. The men and women, haughty patricians in their lives, no doubt, appeared to be eaten up with a loathsome disease like lepers, only they were even more horrible to look upon. The walls and floors seemed stained with dark pools of blood and hung with evil thoughts for drapery. Worm-eaten and corrupting were the stately robes these haughty spirits wore, and saturated with the disease germs from their corrupted bodies.

On a great throne sat the Emperor himself, the most foul and awful example of degraded intellect and manhood in all that vast crowd of degraded spirits, while stamped upon his features was such a look of cruelty and vice that beside him the others sank into insignificance by comparison. I could not but admire, even while it revolted me, the majestic power of this man's intellect and will. The kingly sense of power over even such a motley crew as these, the feeling that even in Hell he reigned as by a right, seemed to minister to his pride and love of dominion even in the midst of his awful surroundings.

Looking at him I beheld him for one brief moment, not as I saw him and as he saw these disgusting creatures round him, but as he still appeared in his own eyes, which even after all these centuries were not opened to his true state, his real self. I saw him as a haughty handsome man, with cruel clear-cut features, hard expression, and eyes like a wild vulture, yet withal possessing a certain beauty of form, a certain power to charm. All that was repulsive and vile was hidden by the earthly envelope, not revealed as now in all the nakedness of the spirit.

I saw his court and his companions change back to the likeness of their earthly lives, and I knew that to each and all they appeared just the same in their own eyes, all were alike unconscious of the horrible change in themselves, yet perfectly conscious of the change in each of their companions.

Were all unconscious? No! not quite all. There was one man crouching in a corner, his mantle drawn over his disfigured face, whom I perceived to be fully conscious of his own vileness as well as the vileness of all who surrounded him.

And in this man's heart there had sprung up a desire, hopeless, as it seemed to himself, for better things, for a path to open before him which, however hard and thorny, might lead him from this night of Hell and give him even at this eleventh hour the hope of a life removed from the horrors of this place and these associates; and as I looked I knew it was to this man that I was sent, though how I was to help him I knew not, I could not guess. I only felt that the power which had led me so far would open up my path and show me the way.

While I had stood thus gazing around me the dark spirits and their Ruler became conscious of my presence, and a look of anger and ferocity passed over his face, while in a voice thick and hoarse with passion he demanded who I was and how I dared to enter his presence.

I answered: "I am a stranger only lately come to this dark sphere and I am still lost in wonder at finding such a place in the spirit world."

A wild ferocious laugh broke from the spirit, and he cried out that they would soon enlighten me as to many things in the spirit world. "But since you are a stranger," he continued, "and because we always receive strangers right royally here, I pray you to be seated and partake with us of our feast."

He pointed to a vacant seat at the long table in front of him at which many of the spirits were seated, and which was spread with what bore the semblance of a great feast, such as might have been given in the days of his earthly grandeur. Everything looked real enough, but I had been warned that it was all more or less illusionary, that the food never satisfied the awful cravings of hunger which these former gluttons felt, and that the wine was a fiery liquid which scorched the throat and rendered a thousand times worse the thirst which consumed these drunkards. I had been told to neither eat nor drink anything offered me in these regions, nor to accept any invitation to rest myself given by these beings; for to do so would mean the subjugation of my higher powers to the senses once more, and would at once put me more on a level with these dark beings and into their power. I answered: "While I fully appreciate the motives which prompt you to offer me the hospitality of your place, I must still decline it, as I have no desire to either eat or drink anything."

At this rebuff his eyes shot gleams of living fire at me and a deeper shade of anger crossed his brow, but he still maintained a pretense of graciousness and signed to me to approach yet nearer to him. Meanwhile the man whom I had come to help, aroused from his bitter meditations by my arrival and the Emperor's speech with me, had drawn near in wonder at my boldness and alarmed for my safety, for he knew no more of me than that I seemed some unlucky new arrival who had not yet learned the dangers of this horrible place. His anxiety for me and a certain sense of pity created a link between us, which, unknown to either, was to be the means whereby I would be able to draw him away with me.

When I advanced a few steps towards the Emperor's throne, this repentant spirit followed me, and, coming close, whispered:

"Do not be beguiled by him. Turn and fly from this place while there is yet time, and I will draw their attention from you for the moment."

I thanked the spirit but said: "I shall not fly from any man, be he whom he may, and will take care not to fall into any trap."

Our hurried speech had not been unnoticed by the Emperor, for he became most impatient, and striking his sword upon the ground he cried out to me:

"Approach, stranger! Have you no manners that you keep an Emperor waiting? Behold my chair of state, my throne, seat yourself in it and try for a moment how it feels to be in an Emperor's place."

I looked at the throne as he pointed, and saw it was like a great chair with a canopy over it. Two immense winged figures in bronze stood at the back of the seat, each with six long arms extended to form the back and sides, while upon the heads of these figures the canopy rested as upon pillars. I had no thought to sit in such a place; its late occupant was too repulsive to me to desire to go any nearer to him, but had even curiosity made me wish to examine the chair the sight I saw would have effectually prevented me. The chair seemed suddenly to become endowed with life, and before my eyes I beheld a vision of an unhappy spirit struggling in the embraces of those awful arms which encircled it and crushed its body into a mangled writhing mass. And I knew that such was the fate of all those whom the Emperor induced to try the comforts of his chair. Only for one brief instant the vision lasted and then I turned to the Emperor and, bowing, said to him:

"I have no desire to place myself upon your level, and must again decline the honor you would do me."

Then he broke into a tempest of rage, and cried out to his guards to seize me and thrust me into that chair and pour the food and the wine down my throat till they choked me.

Immediately there was a rush made towards me, the man I had come to save throwing himself before me to protect me, and in a moment we were surrounded by a seething, fighting mass of spirits, and for that moment, I confess my heart sank within me and my courage began to fail. They looked so horrible, so fiendish, so like a pack of wild beasts let loose and all setting upon me at once. Only for a moment, however, for the conflict aroused all my combative qualities of which I have been thought to possess my fair share. And I threw out all my will to repel them, calling upon all good powers to aid me while I grasped firm hold of the poor spirit who had sought to help me. Thus I retreated to the door, step by step, the whole crowd of dark spirits following us with wild cries and menacing gestures, yet unable to touch us while I kept firm my determination to keep them off. At last we reached the door and passed through it, whereupon it seemed to close fast and keep in our pursuers. Then strong arms seemed to lift us both up and bear us away into a place of safety on the dark plain.

My rescued companion was by this time in a state of unconsciousness, and as I stood by him I saw four majestic spirits from the higher spheres making magnetic passes over his prostrate form; and then I beheld the most wonderful sight I had ever seen. From the dark disfigured body which lay as in a sleep of death there arose a mist-like vapor which grew more and more dense till it took shape in the form of the spirit himself; the purified soul of that poor spirit released from its dark envelope; and I saw those four angelic spirits lift the still unconscious risen soul in their arms as one would bear a child, and then they all floated away from me up, up, till they vanished from my sight. At my side stood another bright angel who said to me: "Be of good cheer, oh! Son of the Land of Hope, for many shalt thou help in this dark land, and great is the joy of the angels in Heaven over these sinners that have repented."

As he finished speaking he vanished, and I was alone once more on the bleak plains of Hell.

Next: Chapter XXI.--The Fires of Hell--A Vengeful Spirit--Pirates--The Sea of Foul Mud--The Mountains of Selfish Oppression--The Forest of Desolation--Messages of Love