“No; you do Moses scant justice. He—shrewd soul!—was too cunning to fall into such an error as that. He forbade a few insignificant and harmless acts, which every one is liable to commit. His policy was no less simple than sagacious. By amusing mankind with such trumpery, he lured them off the scent of true sin. Believe me, the artifice was no idle one. Should mankind learn the secret, a generation would not pass before the world would be turned upside down, and its present Ruler buried in the ruins!”
At this point, surely, Helwyse got up and went to his state-room without listening to another word?—Not so. The Lucifer in him was getting the better of the sage. He wanted to hear all that the voice of darkness had to say. There might be something new, something instructive in it. He might hear a word that would unbar the door he had striven so long to open. He aimed at knowledge and power beyond recognized human reach. He had taken thought with himself keenly and deeply, but was still uncertain and unsatisfied. Here opened a new avenue, so untried as to transcend common criticism. The temptation to omnipotence is a grand thing, and may have shaken greater men than Helwyse; and he had trained himself to regard it—not exactly as a temptation. As for good or bad methods,—at a certain intellectual height such distinctions vanish. Vulgar immorality he would turn from as from anything vulgar; but refined, philosophic immorality, as a weapon of power,—there was fascination in it.
—Folly and delusion!—
But Helwyse was only Helwyse, careering through pitchy darkness, on a viewless sea, with a plausible voice at his ear insinuating villanous thoughts with an air of devilish good-fellowship!
The “Empire State” was at this moment four and a half miles northeast of the schooner whose bowsprit she was destined to carry away. The steamer was making about ten knots an hour: the schooner was slowly drifting with the tide into the line of the steamer’s course. The catastrophe was therefore about twenty-seven minutes distant.
The voice of darkness.
The fog-whistle screeched dismally. Helwyse took his feet off the camp-stool in front of him, and sat upright.
“Do you know this secret of sin?” he asked.
“It must, of course, be an object of speculation to a thoughtful man,” answered the voice, modestly parrying the question. “But I assure you that only a man of intellect—of genius—has in him the intelligence, the sublime reach of soul, which could attain the full solution of the problem; they who merely blunder into it would fail to grasp the grand significance of the idea.”
“But you affirm that whoever fairly masters the problem of absolute sin would have God and His kingdom at his mercy?”