THE LAST MAN
HAPPY were the months, weeks, and hours of Adrian’s year long exile. Friendship, hand in hand with admiration, tenderness and respect, built a grove of delight in my heart. Insatiable thirst for knowledge, and boundless affection for Adrian, combined to keep both my heart and mind occupied and content.
No happiness is so true and unclouded as the overflowing delight of youth. In our boat, upon my native lake, beside the streams and the pale bordering poplars I tossed my crook aside and found a nobler flock to tend than silly sheep – a flock of newborn ideas. I studied and listened to Adrian; his discourse, whether it concerned his love or his theories for the improvement of man, entranced me. Sometimes my lawless mood would return, my love of peril, my resistance to authority, but only in his absence. Under the mild sway of his dear eyes, I was as obedient as a boy of five years old doing his mother’s bidding.
After his year with us, Adrian visited London, and came back full of plans for our future. You must begin life, he said: you are seventeen, and longer delay would render the necessary learning more and more difficult. He foresaw that his own life would be one of struggle, and that I would share his labours. To prepare me for this task, I would go abroad. He had procured for me the duty of private secretary to the Ambassador at Vienna, where I would begin my career under the best auspices. In two years, I would return to my country, with a name well known and a reputation already founded.
And Perdita? Perdita was to become the pupil, friend and surrogate younger sister of Evadne, while still maintaining her independence. How could we refuse the offers of our generous friend? In my heart of hearts, I made a vow to devote all the life, knowledge, and power which he had bestowed on me to him and his cause.
Thus I promised myself, as I journied towards my destination with roused expectation of the fulfilment of boyhood dreams of power and triumph. I knew the time had now arrived when childish occupations would be laid aside, and I would truly enter into life. Even in the Elysian fields, Virgil describes the souls of the happy as eager to drink of the wave which was to restore them to this mortal coil. The young are seldom in Elysium, for their desires outstrip all possibility, leaving them as poor as a beggar. We are told by the wisest philosophers of the dangers of the world, the deceits of men, and the treason of our own hearts, but nonetheless, we each cast off from our ports fearlessly and spread sail to attain the multitudinous streams of the sea of life. Few in youth’s prime dock their vessels on the golden sands to collect shells; instead they seek new adventures. But in the end, with shoddy rafts they make for shore, where they are wrecked as they reach it, or find some wave-beaten asylum, some desert strand, there they cast themselves and die unmourned.
A truce to philosophy! Life is before me, and I rush to possess it. Hope, glory, love, and blameless ambition are my guides, and my soul knows no dread. What has been, though sweet, is gone. The present is good only because it is about to change, and what comes is all my own. My eyes seem to penetrate the cloudy midnight of time, and to discern within the depths of its darkness, the fruition of all my soul’s desires.
During my journey I might dream, and with buoyant wings reach the summit of life’s high edifice. Now that I have arrived at its base, my pinions are furled, the mighty stairs are before me, and step by step I must ascend the wondrous temple. What door has opened before me?
Behold me in a new capacity – a diplomat. One among the pleasure-seeking society of a cheery city and a favourite of the Ambassador. With breathless amazement I entered all that was strange and admirable to a poor shepherd of Cumberland.
Soon, too soon, I entered the giddy whirl; forgetting my studious hours, and the companionship of Adrian. Passionate desire of sympathy, and ardent pursuit for a wished-for object still characterized me. The sight of beauty entranced me, and attractive manners in man or woman won my entire confidence. I called it rapture, when a smile made my heart beat and I felt lifeblood tingle in my frame, as I approached the idol which I worshipped. The mere flow of animal spirits was Paradise, and at night’s close I only desired a renewal of the intoxicating delusion. The dazzling light of ornamented rooms, and lovely forms arrayed in splendid dresses. The motions of a dance and the voluptuous tones of exquisite music cradled my senses in one delightful dream.
And is this not happiness? I appeal to preachers and sages: in the calm of their measured reveries, in the deep meditations which fill their hours, do they feel the ecstasy of a youthful novice? Can the calm beams of their heaven-seeking eyes equal the flashes of mingling passion which blind the neophyte? Can the influence of cold philosophy steep their soul in a joy equal to that of the apprentice?
But in truth, neither the lonely meditations of the hermit, nor the tumultuous raptures of the reveller, are capable of satisfying a man’s heart. From one we gather unquiet speculation, from the other satiety. The mind flags beneath the weight of thought, and sags in the heartless communion of those whose sole aim is amusement. There is no fruition in their vacant kindness, and sharp rocks lurk beneath the smiling ripples of these shallow waters.
Thus when disappointment, weariness, and solitude drove me back, I drew upon my heart to gather the joy of which it had become barren. My flagging spirits asked for something to speak to the affections; and not finding it, I sank. Thus, notwithstanding the thoughtless delight at its onset, the impression I have of my life at Vienna is melancholy. Goethe has said, that in youth we cannot be happy unless we love. I did not love, but I was devoured by a restless wish to be something to others. I became the victim of ingratitude and cold dallying – then I surrendered, and imagined that my discontent gave me a right to hate the world. I receded to solitude. I found refuge in my books, and my desire to once again enjoy Adrian’s company became a burning thirst.
At this period the exploits of one of my countrymen filled the world with admiration. Stories of his achievements, and speculation concerning his future actions, were the never-failing topics of the hour. I felt as if the praises which this darling of fame – this favourite of the masses – received were leaves torn from laurels destined for Adrian.
Lord Raymond was the sole remnant of a noble but impoverished family. From early youth he had considered his pedigree with complacency, and bitterly lamented his want of wealth. His first wish was glorification; and the means to the end were secondary considerations. He was arrogant, yet trembling to every demonstration of respect; ambitious, but too proud to show his aspirations; willing to achieve honour, yet an addict of pleasure. Life responded with an insult, real or imaginary, some disappointment to hard for his pride to bear. He writhed beneath an injury he was unable to satisfy; and he left England with a vow not to return, until his power could be felt.
He became an adventurer in the Greek wars. His reckless courage and sweeping genius brought him into notice. He became the darling hero of a rising people. Only his foreign birth, and the refusal to throw off his allegiance to England, prevented him from filling key offices in the state. While others ranked higher in title and ceremony, Lord Raymond held a station above and beyond all others. He led the Greek armies to victory; their triumphs were all his own. When he appeared, entire towns poured forth to meet him. New songs were created to celebrate his glory, valour, and benevolence.
A truce was struck between the Greeks and Turks. At the same time, Lord Raymond became the possessor of an immense fortune in England, allowing him to return, crowned with glory, to receive the honour and distinction previously denied him. His proud heart rebelled against this change. What was more valuable – power from wealth, or power earned on the battlefield? Regardless power was the aim of all his endeavours. On the battlefield or behind closed doors, his goal was the same – to attain the highest station in his own country.
This account filled me with curiosity. The events that followed his return to England, gave me anxious feelings. Among his other virtues, Lord Raymond was supremely handsome and admired by all. He was courteous and honey tongued – an adept in fascinating arts. Nothing would be beyond his reach in the busy English world. Only parts of Raymond’s story reached me for Adrian had ceased to write, and Perdita was a lazy correspondent. Rumours stated that Adrian had gone mad: that Lord Raymond was the favourite of the ex-queen, and her daughter’s destined husband. That he revived the claim of the house of Windsor to the crown, and that, in the event of Adrian’s incurable disorder and marriage with his sister, the brow of the ambitious Raymond might soon be encircled with the magic ring of regality.
Such a tale made a longer stay at Vienna, away from the friend of my youth, intolerable. Now I must fulfil my vow, to be at his side, and be his ally until death. Farewell to courtly pleasure, political intrigue and this maze of passion and folly. An irresistible voice drew me back to England. After an absence of two years I landed on its shores, fearful of what I would find. My first visit would be to my sister, who inhabited a small cottage gifted to her by Adrian, on the borders of Windsor Forest. From her I would learn the truth about our protector, why she had withdrawn from the protection of Princess Evadne, and learn as to the influence which Raymond exercised over the fortunes of my friend.
I had never before visited Windsor; the fertility and beauty of the country struck me with admiration, which increased as I approached the antique wood. The ruins of majestic oaks which had grown, flourished, and decayed over the centuries. Perdita’s humble dwelling was situated on the outskirts of the oldest portion. The cottage was shadowed by the venerable fathers of the forest, under which the deer came to graze.
The cottage, low-roofed and surrounded by flowers, had an air of elegance, and seemed to submit to the majesty of nature. As I stood at the entrance, I heard her voice, melodious as ever, which assured me of her wellbeing.
A moment more and Perdita appeared; she stood before me in the fresh bloom of youthful womanhood, different and yet the same as the mountain girl I had left. Her eyes could not be deeper than they were in childhood, nor her demeanour more expressive. When she smiled her face was embellished by sensibility, and her low, modulated voice seemed tuned by love. She was not tall, but her mountain life had given her grace as she raced across the hall to greet me. When we had parted, I held her tight with unrestrained warmth. We met again, with the same love, but now as adults on this drastically changed scene.
With calm thoughts we sat together, talking of the past and present. I alluded to the coldness of her letters, but soon she explained this. New feelings had arisen within her, which she was unable to express in writing to one whom she had only known in childhood. But in seeing each other again our bond was renewed as if we had never been apart. I detailed my sojourn abroad, and then asked her as to the changes that had taken place at home, the causes of Adrian’s absence, and her secluded life.
The tears in my sister’s eyes when I mentioned our friend seemed to vouch for the truth of the reports that had reached me. Was there indeed anarchy in the sublime universe of Adrian’s thoughts, did madness scatter the well-appointed legions, and was he no longer the lord of his own soul? Beloved friend, this sick world was no place for your gentle spirit. You delivered its governance to false humanity, which stripped it and laid bare its quivering life to the roughest winds. Have those gentle eyes,channels of the soul, lost their meaning? Does that voice no longer discourse?” Gushing tears I bear witness to my sympathy for this unimaginable ruin.
Perdita detailed the melancholy circumstances that led to this event.
The frank and unsuspicious mind of Adrian, gifted as it was by every natural grace, endowed with transcendant powers of intellect, unblemished by the shadow of defect, was devoted as ever to Evadne. He entrusted her with the treasures of his soul, his aspirations, and his plans for the betterment of mankind. As he matured, his theories acquired new resolve from the powers he felt arise within him. His love for Evadne became deep-rooted, as each day he became more certain that the path he pursued was full of difficulty, and that he must seek his reward, not for the applause or gratitude of his fellow people, but rather for his true love.
In solitude far from the haunts of men, he matured his views for the reform of the English government, and the improvement of the people. It would have been well if he had concealed his sentiments, until he had come into possession of the power which would secure their practical development. But he was impatient, frank of heart and fearless. Not only did he deny his mother’s schemes, he made public his intention of using his influence to diminish the power of the aristocracy, to effect a greater equalization of wealth and privilege, and to introduce a perfect system of nationalist government into England. At first his mother treated his theories as the wild ravings of inexperience. But they were so systematically arranged, and his arguments so well
supported, that although still incredulous, she began to fear him. She tried to reason with him, and finding him inflexible, learned to hate her own son.
Strangely, this hatred was infectious. His enthusiasm for creating equality, his contempt for the sacredness of authority and his recklessness were all at the antithesis of the usual routine of English life. The worldly feared him while the young and inexperienced did not understand his lofty moral views, and disliked him for being so radically different. Evadne thought he did well to assert his own will, but she wished that his message had been more intelligible to the multitude. She did not possess the spirit of a martyr, and did not wish to share the shame and defeat of a fallen patriot. She was aware of the purity of his motives, the generosity of his disposition, and his true and ardent attachment to her. She entertained a great affection for him. He repaid this spirit of kindness with the fondest gratitude, and made her the refuge of all his hopes.
Around this time, Lord Raymond returned from Greece. Raymond was emphatically a man of the world. His passions were violent and often controlled him; he could not always square his conduct to his self-interest, but self-gratification was paramount to him. He looked on the structure of society as part of the machinery which supported the web on which his life was traced. The earth was spread out as highway for him, with the heavens as his canopy.
Adrian felt that he was part of a greater whole. He had an affinity not only to mankind, but all of nature. He felt his life mingle with the universe of existence. His soul was sympathy, and dedicated to the worship of beauty and excellence. As Adrian and Raymond came into contact, a spirit of loathing rose between them. Adrian despised the narrow views of the politician, and Raymond held in supreme contempt the benevolent visions of the philanthropist. The two could not be further opposed to each other.
The arrival of Raymond formed a storm that laid waste to the gardens of delight and sheltered paths which Adrian had built as a refuge from defeat and abuse. Raymond, a graceful soldier and the deliverer of Greece, was loved by Evadne. Overpowered by these feelings, she let herself be governed by this love which suddenly usurped the empire of her heart. She yielded to its influence, and Adrian’s love became distasteful to her. Evadne grew volatile and responded to his gentle conduct with repulsive coldness. At times his pathetic appeals made her relent, and for a while she was able to resume some kindness toward him. But these fluctuations shook Adrian to his core; he felt in every fibre of his being the dire storms of the universe attacking his fragile being.
Perdita, who lived with Evadne, saw the torture that Adrian endured. She loved Adrian as a kind older brother; someone to guide, protect, and instruct her, without the tyranny of parental authority. She adored his virtues, and with contempt and indignation she saw Evadne pile sorrow on him, although he had hardly wronged her. In his solitary despair Adrian would often seek my sister to express his misery, while fortitude and agony divided his mind. There was no place in him for Anger. With whom should he be angry? Not with Raymond, who did not even know of the misery he caused; not with Evadne – the poor, mistaken girl – Adrian grieved for her future destiny. A tear-blotted writing of his fell into Perdita’s hands:
“Life” – it began – “is not something romance writers describe; going through the measures of a dance, and after various evolutions arriving at a conclusion, when the dancers may sit down and repose. While there is life there is action and change. We go on, each thought linked to the one which was its parent, each act to a previous act. No joy or sorrow dies barren of progeny, which for ever generated and generating, weaves the chain that make our life:
Un dia llama a otro dia
y asi llama, y encadena
llanto a llanto, y pena a pena.
Disappointment is the guardian deity of human life; she sits at the threshold of unborn time, and marshals the events as they come forth. Once my heart sat lightly in my bosom; all the beauty of the world was doubly beautiful, irradiated by the sun-light shed from my own soul. Why are love and ruin for ever joined in this, our mortal dream? So that when we make our hearts a lair for that gently seeming beast, its companion enters with it, and pitilessly lays waste to what might have been a home, a shelter.”
Gradually his health was shaken by misery, and then his mind yielded to the same despair. He grew wild, ferocious, at times absorbed in speechless melancholy.
Suddenly Evadne left London for Paris; he followed, and met her as the vessel was about to sail. No one knows what happened that day, but Perdita had not seen Adrian since. He lived in seclusion, in parts unknown, attended only by persons selected by his mother.
What would become of my dear friend?