Chapter 24. A Mother's Blessing

{266} WHEN his senses returned, his first impression was of something in him not himself. He felt it in his breathing; he tasted it in his mouth. The brook which ran by Gurta's encampment had by this time become a streamlet, though still shallow. He plunged into it; a feeling came upon him as if he ought to drown himself, had it been deeper. He rolled about in it, in spite of its flinty and rocky bed. When he came out of it, his tunic sticking to him, he tore it off his shoulders, and let it hang round his girdle in shreds, as it might. The shock of the water, however, acted as a sedative upon him, and the coolness of the night refreshed him. He walked on for a while in silence.

Suddenly the power within him began uttering, by means of his organs of speech, the most fearful blasphemies, words embodying conceptions which, had they come into his mind, he might indeed have borne with patience before this, or uttered in bravado, but which now filled him with inexpressible loathing, and a terror to which he had hitherto been quite a stranger. He had always in his heart believed in a God, but he now believed with a reality and intensity {267} utterly new to him. He felt it as if he saw Him; he felt there was a world of good and evil beings. He did not love the good, or hate the evil; but he shrank from the one, and he was terrified at the other; and he felt himself carried away, against his will, as the prey of some dreadful, mysterious power, which tyrannised over him.

The day had closed—the moon had risen. He plunged into the thickest wood, and the trees seemed to him to make way for him. Still they seemed to moan and to creak as they moved out of their place. Soon he began to see that they were looking at him, and exulting over his misery. They, of an inferior nature, had had no gift which they could abuse and lose; and they remained in that honour and perfection in which they were created. Birds of the night flew out of them, reptiles slunk away; yet soon he began to be surrounded, wherever he went, by a circle of owls, bats, ravens, crows, snakes, wild cats, and apes, which were always looking at him, but somehow made way, retreating before him, and yet forming again, and in order, as he marched along.

He had passed through the wing of the forest which he had entered, and penetrated into the more mountainous country. He ascended the heights; he was a taller, stronger man than he had been; he went forward with a preternatural vigour, and flourished his arms with the excitement of some vinous or gaseous intoxication. He heard the roar of the wild beasts echoed along the woody ravines {268} which were out into the solid mountain rock, with a reckless feeling, as if he could cope with them. As he passed the dens of the lion, leopard, hyena, jackal, wild boar, and wolf, there he saw them sitting at the entrance, or stopping suddenly as they prowled along, and eyeing him, but not daring to approach. He strode along from rock to rock, and over precipices, with the certainty and ease of some giant in Eastern fable. Suddenly a beast of prey came across him; in a moment he had torn up by the roots the stump of a wild vine plant, which was near him; had thrown himself upon his foe before it could act on the aggressive, had flung it upon its back, forced the weapon into its month, and was stamping on its chest. He knocked the life out of the furious animal; and crying "Take that," tore its flesh, and, applying his mouth to the wound, sucked a draught of its blood.

He has passed over the mountain, and has descended its side. Bristling shrubs, swamps, precipitous banks, rushing torrents, are no obstacle to his course. He has reached the brow of a hill, with a deep placid river at the foot of it, just as the dawn begins to break. It is a lovely prospect, which every step he takes is becoming more definite and more various in the daylight. Masses of oleander, of great beauty, with their red blossoms, fringed the river, and tracked out its course into the distance. The bank of the hill below him, and on the right and left, was a maze of fruit-trees, about which nature, if it were not the hand of man, had had no thought except that they should be {269} all together there. The wild olive, the pomegranate, the citron, the date, the mulberry, the peach, the apple, and the walnut, formed a sort of spontaneous orchard. Across the water, groves of palm-trees waved their long and graceful branches in the morning breeze. The stately and solemn ilex, marshalled into long avenues, showed the way to substantial granges or luxurious villas. The green turf or grass was spread out beneath, and here and there flocks and herds were emerging out of the twilight, and growing distinct upon the eye. Elsewhere the ground rose up into sudden eminences crowned with chesnut woods, or with plantations of cedar and acacia, or wildernesses of the cork-tree, the turpentine, the carooba, the white poplar, and the Phenician juniper, while overhead ascended the clinging tendrils of the hop, and an underwood of myrtle clothed their stems and roots. A profusion of wild flowers carpeted the ground far and near.

Juba stood and gazed till the sun rose opposite to him, envying, repining, hating, like Satan looking in upon Paradise. The wild mountains, or the locust-smitten track would have better suited the tumult of his mind. It would have been a relief to him to have retreated from so fair a scene, and to have retraced his steps, but he was not his own master, and was hurried on. Sorely against his determined strong resolve and will, crying out and protesting and shuddering, the youth was forced along into the fulness of beauty and blessing with which he was so {270} little in tune. With rage and terror he recognised that he had no part in his own movements, but was a mere slave. In spite of himself he must go forward and behold a peace and sweetness which witnessed against him. He dashed down through the thick grass, plunged into the water, and without rest or respite began a second course of aimless toil and travail through the day.

The savage dogs of the villages howled and fled from him as he passed by; beasts of burden, on their way to market, which he overtook or met, stood still, foamed and trembled; the bright birds, the blue jay and golden oriole, hid themselves under the leaves and grass; the storks, a religious and domestic bird, stopped their sharp clattering note from the high tree or farmhouse turret, where they had placed their nests; the very reptiles skulked away from his shadow, as if it were poisonous. The boors who were at their labour in the fields suspended it, to look at one whom the Furies were lashing and whirling on. Hour passed after hour, the sun attained its zenith, and then declined, but this dreadful compulsory race continued. Oh, what would he have given for one five minutes of oblivion, of slumber, of relief from the burning thirst which now consumed him! but the master within him ruled his muscles and his joints, and the intense pain of weariness had no concomitant prostration of strength. Suddenly he began to laugh hideously; and he went forward dancing and singing loud, and playing antics. He entered a {271} hovel, made faces at the children, till one of them fell into convulsions, and he ran away with another; and when some country people pursued him, he flung the child in their faces, saying, "Take that," and said he was Pentheus, king of Thebes, of whom he had never heard, about to solemnise the orgies of Bacchus, and he began to spout a chorus of Greek, a language he had never learnt or heard spoken.

Now it is evening again, and he has come up to a village grove, where the rustics were holding a feast in honour of Pan. The hideous brutal god, with yawning mouth, horned head, and goat's feet, was placed in a rude shed, and a slaughtered lamb, decked with flowers, lay at his feet. The peasants were frisking before him, boys and women, when they were startled by the sight of a gaunt, wild, mysterious figure, which began to dance too. He flung and capered about with such vigour that they ceased their sport to look on, half with awe and half as a diversion. Suddenly he began to groan and to shriek, as if contending with himself, and willing and not willing some new act; and the struggle ended in his falling on his hands and knees, and crawling like a quadruped towards the idol. When he got near, his attitude was still more servile; still groaning and shuddering, he laid himself flat on the ground, and wriggled to the idol as a worm, and lapped up with his tongue the mingled blood and dust which lay about the sacrifice. And then again, as if nature had successfully asserted her own dignity, he jumped up {272} high in the air, and, falling on the god, broke him to pieces, and scampered away out of pursuit, before the lookers-on recovered from their surprise.

Another restless, fearful night amid the open country; ... but it seemed as if the worst had passed, and, though still under the heavy chastisement of his pride, there was now more in Juba of human action and of effectual will. The day broke, and he found himself on the road to Sicca. The beautiful outline of the city was right before him. He passed his brother's cottage and garden; it was a wreck. The trees torn up, the fences broken down, and the room pillaged of the little that could be found there. He went on to the city, crying out "Agellius;" the gate was open, and he entered. He went on to the Forum; he crossed to the house of Jucundus; few people as yet were stirring in the place. He looked up at the wall. Suddenly, by the help of projections, and other irregularities of the brickwork, he mounted up upon the flat roof, and dropped down along the tiles, through the impluvium into the middle of the house. He went softly into Agellius's closet, where he was asleep, he roused him with the name of Callista, threw his tunic upon him, which was by his side, put his boots into his hands, and silently beckoned him to follow him. When he hesitated, he still whispered to him "Callista," and at length seized him and led him on. He unbarred the street door, and with a movement of his arm, more like a blow than a farewell, thrust him into the street. Then he barred again the {273} door upon him, and lay down himself upon the bed which Agellius had left. His good Angel, we may suppose, had gained a point in his favour, for he lay quiet, and fell into a heavy sleep.

Chapter 25

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