The ring, which Balder had taken off with the intention of returning it to its owner, still remained between his thumb and finger; and as he sat under the gloom of the altar, its excellent brilliancy caught his eye. He had never examined it minutely. It was pure as virtue, and possessed similar power to charm the dusky air into seven-hued beauty. A fountain of lustre continually welled up from its interior, like an exhaustless spring of wisdom. From amidst the strife of the little serpents it shone serenely forth, with, divine assurance of good,—eternal before the battle began, and immortal after it should cease. The light refreshed the somewhat jaded Helwyse, and during the ensuing interview he ever and anon renewed the draught.
But the Egyptian seemed to address a silent invocation to the mummy. The anti-spiritual kind of immortality belonging to mummies may have been congenial to Manetho’s soul. Awful is that loneliness which even the prospect of death has deserted, and which must prolong itself throughout a lifeless and hopeless Forever! If Manetho could imagine any bond of relationship between this perennial death’s-head and himself, no marvel that he cherished it jealously.
“You shall hear first about myself,” said the priest; “yet, truly, I know not how to begin! No mind can know another, nor even its own essential secrets. My time has been full of visions and unrealities. I am the victim of a thing which, for lack of a better name, I call myself!”
“Not a rare sickness,” remarked Balder.
“A ghost no spell can lay! It grasps the rudder, and steers towards gulfs the will abhors. A crew of unholy, mutinous impulses fling abroad words and thoughts unrecognizable. Not Manetho talked in the blackness of that night; but a devil, to whom I listened shuddering, unable to control him!”
“The Reverend Manetho Glyphie, my cousin by adoption,—and sometimes a devil!” muttered Balder, musingly. “I had forgotten him.”
People are more prone to err in fancying themselves righteous, than the reverse; nevertheless, the course and limits of self-deception are indefinite. It is within possibility for a man to believe himself wicked, while his actual conduct is ridiculously blameless, even praiseworthy! Although intending to mislead Balder, Manetho’s utterances were true to a degree unsuspected by himself. He was more true than had he tried to be so, because truth lay too profound for his recognition!
“A shallower man,” he resumed, “would bear a grudge against the hand that clutched his throat; but I own no relationship to the madman you chastised. And there are deep reasons why I must set your father’s son above all other men in my regard.”
“My father seldom spoke of you, and never as of an especial friend,” interposed the ingenuous Balder.