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The Romance of Two Worlds, Vol. 1. Corelli, Marie, 1855–1924.
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page: 145
page: 146

CHAPTER VI.

THE HÔTEL MARS AND ITS OWNER.

IT was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon of the day succeeding the night of my arrival in Paris, when I found myself standing at the door of the Hôtel Mars, Champs Élysées. I had proved the Pension kept by Madame Denise to be everything that could be desired and on my presentation of Raffaello Cellini's card of introduction, I had been welcomed by the maîtresse de la maison with a cordial effusiveness that amounted almost to enthusiasm.

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“Ce cher Cellini!” the cheery and pleasant little woman had exclaimed, as she set before me a deliciously prepared breakfast. "Je l'aime tant! Il a si bon cœur! et ses beaux yeux! Mon Dieu, comme un ange!”

As soon as I had settled the various little details respecting my room and attendance, and had changed my travelling-dress for a quiet visiting toilette, I started for the abode of Heliobas.

The weather was very cold; I had left the summer behind me at Cannes, to find winter reigning supreme in Paris. A bitter east wind blew, and a few flakes of snow fell now and then from the frowning sky. The house to which I betook myself was situated at a commanding corner of a road facing the Champs Élysées. It was a noble-looking building. The broad steps leading to the entrance were guarded on either side by a sculptured Sphinx, each of whom held, in its massive stone paws, page: 148 a plain shield, inscribed with the old Roman greeting to strangers, “Salve!” Over the portico was designed a scroll which bore the name “Hôtel Mars” in clearly cut capitals, and the monogram C.H.

I ascended the steps with some hesitation, and twice I extended my hand towards the bell, desiring yet fearing to awaken its summons. I noticed it was an electric bell, not needing to be pulled but pressed; and at last, after many doubts and anxious suppositions, I very gently laid my fingers on the little button which formed its handle. Scarcely had I done this than the great door slid open rapidly without the least noise. I looked for the servant in attendance—there was none. I paused an instant; the door remained invitingly open, and through it I caught a glimpse of flowers. Resolving to be bold, and to hesitate no longer, I entered. As I crossed the threshold, the door closed page: 149 behind me instantly with its previous swiftness and silence.

I found myself in a spacious hall, light and lofty, surrounded with fluted pillars of white marble. In the centre a fountain bubbled melodiously, and tossed up every now and then a high jet of sparkling spray, while round its basin grew the rarest ferns and exotics, which emitted a subtle and delicate perfume. No cold air penetrated here; it was as warm and balmy as a spring day in Southern Italy. Light Indian bamboo chairs provided with luxurious velvet cushions were placed in various corners between the marble columns, and on one of these I seated myself to rest a minute, wondering what I should do next, and whether anyone would come to ask me the cause of my intrusion. My meditations were soon put to flight by the appearance of a young lad, who crossed the hall from the left-hand side and approached me. He was a handsome boy of page: 150 twelve or thirteen years of age, and he was attired in a simple Greek costume of white linen, relieved with a broad crimson silk sash. A small flat crimson cap rested on his thick black curls; this he lifted with deferential grace, and saluting me, said respectfully:

“My master is ready to receive you, mademoiselle.”

I rose without a word and followed him, scarcely permitting myself to speculate as to how his master knew I was there at all.

The hall was soon traversed, and the lad paused before a magnificent curtain of deep crimson velvet, heavily bordered with gold. Pulling a twisted cord that hung beside it, the heavy, regal folds parted in twain with noiseless regularity, and displayed an octagon room, so exquisitely designed and ornamented that I gazed upon it as upon some rare and beautiful picture. It was unoccupied, and my young escort placed a chair for me page: 151 near the central window, informing me as he did so that “Monsieur le Comte” would be with me instantly; whereupon he departed.

Left alone, I gazed in bewilderment at the loveliness around me. The walls and ceiling were painted in fresco. I could not make out the subjects, but I could see faces of surpassing beauty smiling from clouds, and peering between stars and crescents. The furniture appeared to be of very ancient Arabian design; each chair was a perfect masterpiece of wood-carving, picked out and inlaid with gold. The sight of a semi-grande piano, which stood open, displaying the name of its maker—“PLEYELL”—upon it, brought me back to the realization that I was living in modern times, and not in a dream of the Arabian Nights; while the Paris Figaro and the London Times—both of that day's issue—lying on a side-table, demonstrated the nineteenth century to me with every page: 152 possible clearness. There were flowers everywhere in this apartment—in graceful vases and in gilded osier baskets—and a queer lop-sided Oriental jar stood quite near me, filled almost to overflowing with Neapolitan violets. Yet it was winter in Paris, and flowers were rare and costly.

Looking about me, I perceived an excellent cabinet photograph of Raffaello Cellini, framed in antique silver; and I rose to examine it more closely, as being the face of a friend. While I looked at it, I heard the sound of an organ in the distance playing softly an old familiar church chant. I listened. Suddenly I bethought myself of the three dreams that had visited me. This Heliobas, was I right after all in coming to consult him? Was he not perhaps a mere charlatan? and might not his experiments upon me prove fruitless, and possibly fatal? An idea seized me that I would escape while there page: 153 was yet time. Yes; I would not see him to-day, at any rate; I would write and explain. These and other disjointed thoughts crossed my mind; and yielding to the unreasoning impulse of fear that possessed me, I actually turned to leave the room, when I saw the crimson velvet portière dividing again in its regular and graceful folds, and Heliobas himself entered.

I stood mute and motionless. I knew him well; he was the very man I had seen in my third and last dream; the same noble, calm features; the same commanding presence; the same keen, clear eyes; the same compelling smile. There was nothing extraordinary about his appearance except his stately bearing and handsome countenance; his dress was that of any well-to-do gentleman of the present day, and there was no affectation of mystery in his manner. He advanced and bowed courteously; then, with a friendly look, page: 154 held out his hand. I gave him mine at once.

“So you are the young musician?” he said, in those warm mellifluous accents that I had heard before and that I so well remembered. “My friend Raffaello Cellini has written to me about you. I hear you have been suffering from physical depression?”

He spoke as any physician might do who inquired after a patient's health. I was surprised and relieved. I had prepared myself for something darkly mystical, almost cabalistic; but there was nothing unusual in the demeanour of this pleasant and good-looking gentleman who, bidding me be seated, took a chair himself opposite to me, and observed me with that sympathetic and kindly interest which any well-bred doctor would esteem it his duty to exhibit. I became quite at ease, and answered all his questions fully and frankly. He felt my pulse in the customary way, page: 155 and studied my face attentively. I described all my symptoms, and he listened with the utmost patience. When I had concluded he leaned back in his chair and appeared to ponder deeply for some moments. Then he spoke:

“You know, of course, that I am not a doctor?”

“I know,” I said; “Signor Cellini explained to me.”

“Ah!” and Heliobas smiled. “Raffaello explained as much as he might, but not everything. I must tell you I have a simple pharmacopœia of my own—it contains twelve remedies, and only twelve. In fact there are no more that are of any use to the human mechanism. All are made of the juice of plants, and six of them are electric. Raffaello tried you with one of them, did he not?”

As he put this question, I was aware of a keenly inquiring look sent from the eyes of my interrogator into mine.

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“Yes,” I answered frankly, “and it made me dream, and I dreamt of you.”

Heliobas laughed lightly.

“So!—that is well. Now I am going in the first place to give you what I am sure will be satisfactory information. If you will agree to trust yourself to my care, you will be in perfect health in a little less than a fortnight—but you must follow my rules exactly.”

I started up from my seat.

“Of course!” I exclaimed eagerly, forgetting all my previous fear of him; “I will do all you advise, even if you wish to magnetize me as you magnetized Signor Cellini!

“I never magnetized Raffaello,” he said gravely; “he was on the verge of madness, and he had no faith whereby to save himself. I simply set him free for a time, knowing that his was a genius which would find out things for itself or perish in the effort. I let him go on a voyage of dis- discovery page: 157 covery, and he came perfectly satisfied. That is all. You do not need his experience.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“You are a woman—your desire is to be well and strong, health being beauty—to love and to be beloved—to wear pretty toilettes and to be admired; and you have a creed which satisfies you, and which you believe in without proofs.”

There was the slightest possible tinge of mockery in his voice as he said these words. A tumultuous rush of feelings overcame me. My high dreams of ambition, my innate scorn of the trite and commonplace, my deep love of art, my desires of fame—all these things bore down upon my heart and overcame it, and a pride too deep for tears arose in me and found utterance.

You think I am so slight and weak a thing!” I exclaimed. “You, who profess to understand the secrets of electricity— page: 158 you have no better instinctive knowledge of me than that! Do you deem women all alike—all on one common level, fit for nothing but to be the toys or drudges of men? Can you not realize that there are some among them who despise the inanities of everyday life—who care nothing for the routine of society, and whose hearts are filled with cravings that no mere human love or life can satisfy? Yes—even weak women are capable of greatness; and if we do sometimes dream of what we cannot accomplish through lack of the physical force necessary for large achievements, that is not our fault but our misfortune. We did not create ourselves. We did not ask to be born with the over-sensitiveness, the fatal delicacy, the highly strung nervousness of the feminine nature. Monsieur Heliobas, you are a learned and far-seeing man, I have no doubt; but you do not read me aright if you judge me as a mere woman who is perfectly page: 159 contented with the petty commonplaces of ordinary living. And as for my creed, what is it to you whether I kneel in the silence of my own room or in the glory of a lighted cathedral to pour out my very soul to ONE whom I know exists, and whom I am satisfied to believe in, as you say, without proofs, save such proofs as I obtain from my own inner consciousness? I tell you, though in your opinion it is evident my sex is against me, I would rather die than sink into the miserable nonentity of such lives as are lived by the majority of women.”

I paused, overcome by my own feelings. Heliobas smiled.

“So! You are stung!” he said quietly; “stung into action. That is as it should be. Resume your seat, mademoiselle, and do not be angry with me. I am studying you for your own good. In the meantime permit me to analyze your words a little. You are young and inexperienced. You page: 160 speak of the ‘over-sensitiveness, the fatal delicacy, the highly-strung nervousness of the feminine nature.’ My dear lady, if you had lived as long as I have, you would know that these are mere stock phrases—for the most part meaningless. As a rule, women are less sensitive than men. There are many of your sex who are nothing but lumps of lymph and fatty matter—women with less instinct than the dumb beasts, and with more brutality. There are others who, adding the low cunning of the monkey to the vanity of the peacock, seek no other object but the furtherance of their own designs, which are always petty even when not absolutely mean. There are obese women whose existence is a doze between dinner and tea. There are women with thin lips and pointed noses, who only live to squabble over domestic grievances and interfere in their neighbours' business. There are your murderous women with page: 161 large almond eyes, fair white hands, and voluptuous red lips, who, deprived of the dagger or the poison-bowl, will slay a reputation in a few lazily enunciated words, delivered with a perfectly high-bred accent. There are the miserly women who look after cheese-parings and candle-ends, and lock up the soap. There are the spiteful women whose very breath is acidity and venom. There are the frivolous women, whose chitter-chatter and senseless giggle are as empty as the rattling of dry peas on a drum. In fact, the delicacy of women is extremely over-rated—their coarseness is never done full justice to. I have heard them recite in public, selections of a kind that no man would dare to undertake—such as Tennyson's ‘Rizpah,’ for instance. I know a woman who utters every line of it, with all its questionable allusions, boldly before any and everybody, without so much as an attempt at blushing. I assure you men are far more delicate than women page: 162 —far more chivalrous—far larger in their views, and more generous in their sentiments. But I will not deny the existence of about four women in every two hundred and fifty, who may be, and possibly are, examples of what the female sex was originally intended to be—pure-hearted, self-denying, gentle and truthful—filled with tenderness and inspiration. Heaven knows my own mother was all this and more! And my sister is— But let me speak to you of yourself. You love music, I understand—you are a professional artist?”

“I was,” I answered, “till my state of health stopped me from working.”

Heliobas bent his eyes upon me in friendly sympathy.

“You were, and you will be again, an improvisatrice,” he went on. “Do you not find it difficult to make your audiences understand your aims?”

I smiled as the remembrance of some of page: 163 my experiences in public came to my mind.

“Yes,” I said, half laughing. “In England, at least, people do not know what is meant by improvising. They think it is to take a little theme and compose variations on it—the mere A B C of the art. But to sit down to the piano and plan a whole sonata or symphony in your head, and play it while planning it, is a thing they do not and will not understand. They come to hear, and they wonder and go away, and the critics declare it to be clap-trap.”

“Exactly!” replied Heliobas. “But you are to be congratulated on having attained this verdict. Everything that people cannot quite understand is called clap-trap in England; as for instance the matchless violin playing of Sarasate; the tempestuous splendour of Rubinstein; the elfish, weird grumblings and gambollings of Bottesini's contra-basso—this is, according page: 164 to the London press, clap-trap; while the coldly correct performances of Joachim, and the ‘icily-null’ renderings of Charles Hallé are voted ‘magnificent’ and ‘full of colour.’ But to return to yourself. Will you play to me?”

“I have not touched the instrument for two months,” I said; “I am afraid I am out of practice.”

“Then you shall not exert yourself to-day,” returned Heliobas kindly. “But I believe I can help you with your improvisations. You compose the music as you play, you tell me. Well, have you any idea how the melodies or the harmonies form themselves in your brain?”

“Not the least in the world,” I replied.

“Is the act of thinking them out an effort to you?” he asked.

“Not at all. They come as though some one else were planning them for me.”

“Well, well! I think I can certainly be of use to you in this matter as in others. page: 165 I understand your temperament thoroughly. And now let me give you my first prescription.”

He went to a corner of the room and lifted from the floor an ebony casket, curiously carved and ornamented with silver. This he unlocked. It contained twelve flasks of cut glass, stoppered with gold and numbered in order. He next pulled out a side drawer in this casket, and in it I saw several little thin empty glass tubes, about the size of a cigarette-holder. Taking two of these he filled them from two of the larger flasks, corked them tightly, and then turning to me, said:

“To-night, on going to bed, have a warm bath, empty the contents of the tube marked No. 1 into it, and then immerse yourself thoroughly for about five minutes. After the bath, put the fluid in this other tube marked 2, into a tumbler of fresh spring water, and drink it off. Then go straight to bed.”

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“Shall I have any dreams?” I inquired with a little anxiety.

“Certainly not,” replied Heliobas, smiling. “I wish you to sleep as soundly as a year-old child. Dreams are not for you to-night. Can you come to me to-morrow afternoon at five o'clock? If you can arrange to stay to dinner, my sister will be pleased to meet you; but perhaps you are otherwise engaged?”

I told him I was not, and explained where I had taken rooms, adding that I had come to Paris expressly to put myself under his treatment.

“You shall have no cause to regret the journey,” he said earnestly. “I can cure you thoroughly, and I will. I forget your nationality—you are not English?”

“No, not entirely. I am half Italian.”

“Ah, yes! I remember now. But you have been educated in England?”

“Partly.”

“I am glad it is only partly,” remarked page: 167 Heliobas. “If it had been entirely, your improvisations would have had no chance. In fact you never would have improvised. You would have played the piano like poor mechanical Arabella Goddard. As it is, there is some hope of originality in you—you need not be one of the rank and file unless you choose.”

“I do not choose,” I said.

“Well, but you must take the consequences, and they are bitter. A woman who does not go with her time is voted eccentric; a woman who prefers music to tea and scandal is an undesirable acquaintance; and a woman who prefers Byron to Austin Dobson is—in fact, no measure can gauge her general impossibility!”

I laughed gaily. “I will take all the consequences as willingly as I will take your medicines,” I said, stretching out my hand for the little vases which he gave me wrapped in paper. “And I thank you very much monsieur. And”—here I hesi- hesitated page: 168 tated. Ought I not to ask him his fee? Surely the medicines ought to be paid for!

Heliobas appeared to read my thoughts, for he said, as though answering my unuttered question:

“I do not accept fees, mademoiselle. To relieve your mind from any responsibility of gratitude to me, I will tell you at once that I never promise to effect a cure unless I see that the person who comes to be cured has a certain connection with myself. If the connection exists I am bound by fixed laws to serve him or her. Of course I am able also to cure those who are not by nature connected with me; but then I have to establish a connection, and this takes time, and is sometimes very difficult to accomplish, almost as tremendous a task as the laying down of the Atlantic cable. But in your case I am actually compelled to do my best for you, so you need be under no sense of obligation.”

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Here was a strange speech—the first really inexplicable one I had heard from his lips.

I am connected with you?” I asked, surprised. “How? In what way?”

“It would take too long to explain to you just now,” said Heliobas gently; “but I can prove to you in a moment that a connection does exist between your inner self and my inner self, if you wish it.”

“I do wish it very much,” I answered.

“Then take my hand,” continued Heliobas, stretching it out, “and look steadily at me.

I obeyed, half trembling. As I gazed, a veil appeared to fall from my eyes. A sense of security, of comfort, and of absolute confidence came upon me, and I saw what might be termed the image of another face looking at me through or behind the actual form and face of Heliobas. And that other face was his, and yet not his; but whatever it appeared to be, it was page: 170 the face of a friend to me, one that I was certain I had known long, long ago, and moreover one that I must have loved in some distant time, for my whole soul seemed to yearn towards that indistinct haze where smiled the fully recognised yet unfamiliar countenance. This strange sensation lasted but a few seconds, for Heliobas suddenly dropped my hand. The room swam round me; the walls seemed to rock; then everything steadied and came right again, and all was as usual, only I was amazed and bewildered.

“What does it mean?” I murmured.

“It means the simplest thing in nature,” replied Heliobas quietly, “namely that your soul and mine are for some reason or other placed on the same circle of electricity. Nothing more nor less. Therefore we must serve each other. Whatever I do for you, you have it in your power to repay me amply for hereafter.”

I met the steady glance of his keen eyes, page: 171 and a sense of some indestructible force within me gave me a bright courage.

“Decide for me as you please,” I answered fearlessly. “I trust you completely, though I do not know why I do so.”

“You will know before long. You are satisfied of the fact that my touch can influence you?”

“Yes; most thoroughly.”

“Very well. All other explanations, if you desire them, shall be given you in due time. In the power I possess over you and some others, there is neither mesmerism nor magnetism—nothing but a purely scientific fact which can be clearly and reasonably proved and demonstrated. But till you are thoroughly restored to health, we will defer all discussion. And now, mademoiselle, permit me to escort you to the door. I shall expect you to-morrow.”

Together we left the beautiful room in page: 172 which this interview had taken place, and crossed the hall. As we approached the entrance, Heliobas turned towards me and said with a smile:

“Did not the manœuvres of my street-door astonish you?”

“A little,” I confessed.

“It is very simple. The button you touch outside is electric; it opens the door and at the same time rings the bell in my study, thus informing me of a visitor. When the visitor steps across the threshold he treads, whether he will or no, on another apparatus, which closes the door behind him and rings another bell in my page's room, who immediately comes to me for orders. You see how easy? and from within it is managed in almost the same manner.”

And he touched a handle similar to the one outside, and the door opened instantly. Heliobas held out his hand—that hand which a few minutes previously page: 173 had exercised such strange authority over me.

“Good-bye, mademoiselle. You are not afraid of me now?”

I laughed. “I do not think I was ever really afraid of you,” I said. “If I was, I am not so any longer. You have promised health, and that promise is sufficient to give me entire courage.”

“That is well,” said Heliobas. “Courage and hope in themselves are the precursors of physical and mental energy. Remember to-morrow at five, and do not keep late hours to-night. I should advise you to be in bed by ten at the latest.”

I agreed to this, and we shook hands and parted. I walked blithely along, back to the Avenue du Midi, where, on my arrival indoors, I found a letter from Mrs. Everard. She wrote “in haste” to give me the names of some friends of hers whom she had discovered, through the “American Register,” to be staying at the page: 174 Grand Hotel. She begged me to call upon them, and enclosed two letters of introduction for the purpose. She concluded her epistle by saying:

“Raffaello Cellini has been invisible ever since your departure, but our inimitable waiter, Alphonse, says he is very busy finishing a picture for the Salon—something that we have never seen. I shall intrude myself into his studio on some pretence or other, and will then let you know all about it. In the meantime, believe me,

“Your ever devoted friend,

“AMY.”

I answered this letter, and then spent a pleasant evening at the Pension, chatting sociably with Madame Denise and another cheery little Frenchwoman, a day governess, who boarded there, and who had no end of droll experiences to relate, her enviable temperament being always to see page: 175 the humorous side of life. I thoroughly enjoyed her sparkling chatter and her expressive gesticulations, and we all three made ourselves merry till bedtime. Acting on the advice of Heliobas, I retired early to my room, where a warm bath had been prepared in compliance with my orders. I uncorked the glass tube No. 1, and poured the colourless fluid it contained into the water, which immediately bubbled gently as though beginning to boil. After watching it for a minute or two, and observing that this seething movement steadily continued, I undressed quickly and stepped in. Never shall I forget the exquisite sensation I experienced! I can only describe it as the poor little Doll's Dressmaker in “Our Mutual Friend” described her angel visitants her “blessed children,” who used to come and “take her up and make her light.” If my body had been composed of no grosser matter than fire and air, I could not have felt more weightless, more buoy- buoyant page: 176 ant, more thoroughly exhilarated than when, at the end of the prescribed five minutes, I got out of that marvellous bath of healing! As I prepared for bed, I noticed that the bubbling of the water had entirely ceased; but this was easy of comprehension, for if it had contained electricity, as I supposed, my body had absorbed it by contact, which would account for the movement being stilled. I now took the second little phial, and prepared it as I had been told. This time the fluid was motionless. I noticed it was very faintly tinged with amber. I drank it off—it was perfectly tasteless. Once in bed, I seemed to have no power to think any more—my eyes closed readily—the slumber of a year-old child, as Heliobas had said, came upon me with resistless and sudden force, and I remembered no more.

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