By profession, Francis Melchior was a dealer in antiques; by avocation
he was an astronomer. Thus he contrived to placate, if not to satisfy,
two needs of a somewhat complex and unusual temperament. Through his occupation,
he gratified in a measure his craving for all things that have been steeped
in the mortuary shadows of dead ages, in the dusky amber flames of long-sunken
suns; all things that have about them the irresoluble mystery of departed
time. And through his avocation, he found a ready path to exotic realms
in further space, to the only spheres where his fancy could dwell in freedom
and his dreams could know contentment. For Melchior was one of those who
are born with an immedicable distaste for all that is present or near at
hand; one of those who have drunk too lightly of oblivion and have not
wholly forgotten the transcendent glories of other aeons, and the worlds
from which they were exiled into human birth; so that their furtive, restless
thoughts and dim, unquenchable longings return obscurely toward the vanishing
shores of a lost heritage. The earth is too narrow for such, and the compass
of mortal time is too brief; and paucity and barrenness are everywhere;
and in all places their lot is a never-ending weariness.
With a predisposition ordinarily so fatal to the acquisitive faculties,
it was indeed remarkable that Melchior should have prospered at all in
his business. His love of ancient things, of rare vases, paintings, furniture,
jewels, idols, and statues, made him readier to buy than to sell; and his
sales were too often a source of secret heart-ache and regret. But somehow,
in spite of all this, he had managed to attain a degree of financial comfort.
By nature, he was something of a solitary, and was, generally looked upon
as eccentric. He had never cared to marry; he had made no intimate friends;
and he lacked many of the interests, which, in the eyes of the average
person, are supposed to characterize a normal human being.
Melchior's passion for antiquities and his devotion to the stars,
both dated from his childhood days. Now, in his thirty-first year, with
increasing leisure and prosperity, he had turned an upper balcony of his
suburban hill-top house into an amateur observatory. Here, with a new and
powerful telescope, he studied the summer heavens night after night. He
possessed little talent and less inclination for those recondite mathematical
calculations which form so large a part of orthodox astronomy;. but he
had an intuitional grasp of the heavenly immensitudes, a mystic sensitivity
toward all that is far off in space. His imagination roamed and adventured
among the suns and nebulae; and for him, each tiny gleam of telescopic
light appeared to tell its own story and invite him toward its own unique
realm of ultramundane fantasy. He was not greatly concerned with the names
which astronomers have given to particular stars and constellations; but
nevertheless, each of them possessed for him a separate individuality not
to be mistaken for that of any other.
In especial, Melchior was drawn by one minute wide-flung constellation
south of the Milky Way. It was barely discernible to the naked eye; and
even through his telescope, it gave an impression of cosmic solitude and
remoteness such as he had never felt in any other orb. It allured him more
than the moon-surrounded planets or the first-magnitude stars with their
flaming spectra; and he returned to it again and again, forsaking for its
lonely point of light the marvelous manifold rings of Saturn and the cloudy
zone of Venus and the intricate coils of the nebula of Andromeda.
Musing through many midnights on the attraction the star held for
him, Melchior reasoned that in its narrow ray was the whole emanation of
a sun and perhaps of a planetary system; that the secret of foreign worlds
and even something of their history was implicit in that light, if one
could only read the tale. And he longed to understand, and to know the
far-woven thread of affinity which drew his attention so perennially to
this particular orb. On occasion when he looked, his brain was tantalized
by obscure intimations of loveliness and wonder that were still a little
beyond the reach of his boldest reveries, of his wildest dreams. And each
time, they seemed a trifle nearer, and more attainable than before. And
a strange, indeterminate expectancy began to mingle with the eagerness
that prompted his evening visits to the balcony.
One midnight, when he was peering through the telescope, he fancied
that the star looked a little larger and brighter than usual. Unable to
account for this, in a mounting excitement he stared more intently than
ever, and was suddenly seized by the unnatural idea that he was peering
downward into a vast, vertiginous abyss, rather than toward the zenithal
heavens. He felt that the balcony was no longer beneath his feet, but had
somehow become inverted; and then, all at once, he was falling from it
into the headlong ether, with a million thunders and flames about and behind
him. For a brief while, he still seemed to see the star he had been watching,
far down in the terrible Cimmerian void; and then he forgot, and could
find it no more. There was the sickness of incalculable descent, an ever-swiftening
torrent of vertigo not to be borne; and after moments or aeons (he could
not tell which) the thunders and flames died out in ultimate darkness,
in utmost silence; and he no longer knew that he was falling, and no longer
retained any sort of sentiency.
When Melchoir returned to consciousness, his first impulse was to
clutch the arm of the chair in which he had been sitting beneath the telescope.
It was the involuntary movement of one who has fallen in a dream. In a
moment he realized the absurdity of this impulse; for he was not sitting
in a chair at all; and his surroundings bore no manner of resemblance to
the nocturnal balcony on which he had been seized by a strange vertigo,
and from which he had seemed to fall and lose himself.
He was standing on a road paven with cyclopean blocks of gray stone
— a road that ran interminably before him into the vague, tremendous vistas
of an inconceivable world. There were low, funereal, drooping trees along
the road, with sad-colored foliage and fruits of a deathly violet; and
beyond the trees were range on range of monumental obelisks, of terraces
and domes, of colossal multiform piles, that reached away in endless, countless
perspectives toward an indistinct horizon. Over all, from an ebon-purple
zenith, there fell in rich, unlustrous rays the illumination of a blood-red
sun. The forms and proportions of the labyrinthine mass of buildings were
unlike anything that has been designed in terrestrial architecture; and,
for an instant, Melchior was overwhelmed by their number and magnitude,
by their monstrosity and bizarrerie. Then, as he looked once more, they
were no longer monstrous, no longer bizarre; and he knew them for what
they were, and knew the world upon whose road his feet were set, and the
destination he was to seek, and the part he was fated to play. It all came
back to him as inevitably as the actual deeds and impulses of life returns
to one who has thrown himself obviously for a while into some dramatic
role that is foreign to his real personality. The incidents of his existence
as Francis Melchior, though he still recalled them, had become obscure
and meaningless and grotesque in the reawakening of a state of entity,
with all its train of recovered reminiscences, of revived emotions and
sensations. There was no strangeness, only the familiarity of a homecoming,
in the fact that he had stepped into another condition of being, with its
own environmemt, with its own past, present, and future, all of which would
have been incognizably alien to the amateur astronomer who had peered a
few moments before at a tiny star remote in sidereal space.
'Of course, I am Antarion,' he mused. 'Who else could I be? 'The
language of his thoughts was not English, nor any earthly tongue; but he
was not surprised by his knowledge of this language; nor was he surprised
when he looked down and saw that he was attired in a costume of somber
moth-like red, of a style unknown to any human people or epoch. This costume,
and certain differences in his physical personality that would have appeared
rather odd a little previously, were quite as he expected them to be. He
gave them only a cursory glance, as he reviewed in his mind the circumstances
of the life he had now resumed.
He, Antarion, a renowned poet of the land of Charmalos, in the elder
world that was known to its living peoples by the name of Phandiom, had
gone on a brief journey to a neighboring realm. In the course of this journey,
a distressing dream had befallen him — the dream of a tedious. unprofitable
life as one Francis Melchior, in a quite unpleasant and peculiar sort of
planet, lying somewhere on the farther side of the universe. He was unable
to recall exactly when and where he had been beset by this dream; and he
had no idea how long it had lasted: but at any rate, he was glad to be
rid of it, and glad that he was now approaching his native city of Saddoth,
where dwelt in her and splendid palace of past aeons the beautiful Thameera.
whom he loved. Now, once more, after the obscure clouding of that dream,
his mind was full of the wisdom of and his heart was illumed by a thousand
memories of Thameera; and was darkened at whiles by an old anxiety concerning
Not without reason had Melchior been fascinated by things antique
and by things that are far away. For the world wherein he walked as Antarion
was incomputably and the ages of its history were too many for remembbrance:
and the towering obelisks and piles along the paven road were the high
tombs, the proud monuments of its immemorial dead, who had come to outnumber
infinitely the living. In more than the pomp of earthly kings, the dead
were housed in Phandiom; and their cities loomed insuperably vast, with
never-ending streets and prodigious spires, above those lesser abodes wherein
the living dwelt. And throughout Phandiom the bygone years were a tangible
presence, an air that enveloped all; and the people were steeped in the
crepuscular gloom of antiquity; and were wise with all manner of accumulated
lore; and were subtle in the practise of strange refinements, of erudite
perversities, of all that can shroud with artful opulence and grace and
variety the bare uncouth cadaver of life, or hide from mortal vision the
leering skull of death. And here, in Saddoth, beyond the domes and terraces
and columns of the huge necropolis, a necromantic flower wherein forgotten
lilies live again, there bloomed the superb and sorrowful loveliness of
Melchior, in his consciousness as the poet Antarion, was unable to
remember a time when he had not loved Thameera. She had been an ardent
passion. an exquisite ideal, a mysterious delight, and an enigmatic grief.
He had adored her implicitly through all the selenic changes of her moods
in her childish petulance, her passionate or materal tenderness, her sybilline
silence, her merry or macabre whims; and most of all, perhaps, in the obscure
sorrows and terrors that overwhelmed her at times.
He and she were the last representatives of noble ancient families,
whose untabulated lineage was lost in the crowded cycles of Phandiom. Like
all others of their race, they were embued with the heritage of a complex
and decadent culture; and upon their souls the never-lifting shadow of
necropoles had fallen from birth. In the life of Phandiom, its atmosphere
of elder time, of aeon-developed art, of epicureanism consummate, and already
a little moribund, Atarion had found an ample satisfaction for all the
instincts of his being. He had lived as an intellectual sybarite; and by
virtue of a half-primitive vigor, had not yet fallen upon the spiritual
exhaustion and desolation, the dread implacable ennui of racial senescence,
that marked so many of his fellows.
Thameera was even more sensitive, more visionary by nature; and hers
was the ultimate refinement that is close to an autumnal decay. The influences
of the past, which were a source of poetic fruition to Antarion, were turned
by her delicate nerves to pain and languor, to horror and oppression. The
palace wherein she lived, and the very streets of Saddoth, were filled
for her with emanations that welled from the sepulchral reservoirs of death;
and the weariness of the innumerable dead was everywhere; and evil or opiate
presences came forth from the mausolean vaults, to crush and stifle her
with the formless brooding of their wings, Only in the arms of Antarion
could she escape then; and only in his kisses could she forget.
Now, after his journey (whose reason he could not quite remember)
and after the curious dream in which he had imagined himself as Francis
Melchior, Antarion was once more admitted to the presence of Thameera by
slaves who were invariably discreet, being tongueless. In the oblique light
of beryl and topaz widows, in the mauve and crimson gloom of heavy-folded
tapestries, on a floor of marvelous mosaic wrought in ancient cycles, she
came forward languidly to greet him. She was fairer than his memories,
and paler than a blossom of the catacombs. She was exquisitely frail, voluptuously
proud, with hair of a lunar gold and eyes of nocturnal brown that were
pierced by flunctuating stars and circled by the dark pearl of sleepless
nights. Beauty and love and sadness exhaled from her like a manifold perfume.
'I am glad you have come, Antarion, for I have missed you.' Her voice
was as gentle as an air that is from among flowering trees, and melancholy
as remembered music.
Antarion would have knelt, but she took him by the hand and led him
to a couch beneath the intricately figured curtains. There the lovers sat
and looked at each other in affectionate silence.
"Are all things well with you. Thameera?' The query was prompted
by the anxious divination of love.
'No, all things are not well. Why did you go away'? The wings of
death and darkness are abroad, they hover more closely than ever; and shades
more fearful than those of the past have fallen upon Saddoth. There have
been strange perturbations in the aspect of the skies; and our astronomers,
after much study and calculation, have announced. the imminent doom of
the sun. There remains to us but a single month of light and warmth, and
then the sun will go out on the noontide heavens like an extinguished lamp,
and eternal night will fall, and the chill of outer space will creep across
Phandiom. Our people have gone mad with the predicted horror; and some
of them are sunk in despairing apathy, and more have given themselves to
frenzied revels and debaucheries... Where have you been, Antarion? In what
dream did you lose yourself, that you could forsake me so long?"
Antarion tried to comfort her. 'Love is still ours,' he said. 'And
even if the astronomers have read the skies aright, we have a month before
us. And a month is much.'
'Yes, but there are other perils, Antarion. Haspa the king has looked
upon me with eyes of senile desire, and woos me assiduously with gifts,
with vows, and with threats. It is the sudden, inexorable whim of age and
ennui, the caprice of desperation. He is cruel, he is relentless, he is
' I will take you away,' said Antarion. 'We will flee together, and
dwell among the sepulchers and the ruins, where none can find us. And love
and ecstasy shall bloom like flowers of scarlet beneath their shadow; and
we will meet the everlasting night in each other's arms; and thus we will
know the utmost of mortal bliss.'
Beneath the black midnight that hung above them like an imminence
of colossal, unremoving wings, the streets of Saddoth were aflare with
a million lights of yellow and cinnabar and cobalt and purple. Along the
vast avenues, the gorge-deep alleys, and in and out of the stupendous olden
palaces, temples, and mansions, there poured the antic revelry, the tumultuous
merriment of a night-long masquerade. Everyone was abroad, from Haspa the
king and his sleek, sybaritic courtiers, to the lowliest mendicants and
pariahs; and a rout of extravagant, unheard-of costumes, a melange of fantasies
more various than those of an opium dream, seethed and eddied everywhere.
As Thameera had said, the people were mad with the menace of doom foretold
by the astronomers; and they sought to forget, in a swift and evermounting
delirium of all the senses, their dread of the nearing night.
Late in the evening, Antarion left by a postern door the tall and
gloomy mansion of his forefathers, and wended his way through the hysteric
whirling of the throng toward Thameera's palace. He was garbed in apparel
of an antique style, such as had not been worn for a score of centuries
in Phandiom; and his whole head and face were enveloped in a painted mask
designed to represent the peculiar physiognomy of a people now extinct.
No one could have recognized him; nor could he on his part, have recognized
many of the revelers he met, no matter how well-known to him, for most
of them were disguised in apparel no less outré, and wore masks
that were whimsical or absurd, or loathsome or laughable beyond conception.
There were devils and empresses and deities, there were kings and necromancers
from all the far, unfathomed ages of Phandiom, there were monsters of mediaeval
or prehistoric types, there were things that had never been born or beheld
except in the minds of insane decadent artists, seeking to surpass the
abnormalities of nature. Even the tomb had been drawn upom for inspiration,
and shrouded mummies, wormgnawed cadavers, promenaded among the living.
All these masks were the screen of an orgiastic license without precedent
All the needful preparations for flight from Saddoth had been made;
and Antarion had left minute and careful instructions with his servants
regarding certain essential matters, He knew from of old the ruthless,
tyrannic temperament of Haspa, knew that the king would brook no opposition
to the indulgence of any whim or passion, no matter how momentary. There
was no time to be lost in leaving the city with Thameera.
He came by winding devious ways to the garden behind Thameera's palace.
There, among the high and spectral lilies of deep or ashen hues, the bowed
funereal trees with their fruit of subtle and opiate savor, she awaited
him, clad in a costume whose antiquity matched his own, and which was no
less impenetrable to recognition. After a brief murmur of greeting, they
stole forth together from the garden and joined the oblivious throng. Antarion
had feared that Thameera might be watched by the henchmen of Haspa;
But there was no evidence of such watching, no one in sight who seemed
to lurk or loiter; only the swift movement of an everchanging crowd, preoccupied
with the quest of pleasure. In this crowd, he felt that they were safe.
However, through a scrupulous caution, they allowed themselves to
be carried along for a while in the tide of the city's revel, before they
sought the long arterial avenue that led to the gates. They joined in the
singing of fescennine songs, they returned the bachannalian jests that
were flung by passers-by, they drank the wines that were profered them
by public urn-bearers, they tarried when the throng tarried, moved when
Everywhere, there were wildly flaming lights, and the ribaldry of
loud voices, and the strident moan or ferverous pulsing of musical instruments.
There was feasting in the great squares, and the doorways of immemorial
houses poured out a flood of illumination, a tumult of laughter and melody,
as they offered their hospitality to all who might choose to enter them.
And in the huge temples of former aeons; delirious rites were done to the
gods who stared forth with unchanging eyes of stone and metal to the hopeless
heavens; and the priests and worshippers drugged themselves with terrible
opiates, and sought the stupefying ecstacy of abandonment to an hysteria
both carnal and devout.
At length Antarion and Thameera, by unobtrusive states, by many windings
and turnings, began to approach the gates of Saddoth. For, the first time
in their history, these gates were unguarded; for, in the general demoralization,
the sentinels had stolen away without fear of detection or reproof, to
join the universal orgy. Here, in the outlying quarter, there were few
people, and only the scattered flotsam of the revels; and the broad open
space between the last houses and the city wall was utterly abandoned.
No one saw the lovers when they slipped like evanscent shadows through
the grim yawning of the gates, and followed the gray road into an outer
darkness thronged with the dim bulks of mausoleums and monuments.
Here, the stars that had been blinded by the flaring lights of Saddoth
were clearly visible in the burnt-out sky. And presently, as the lovers
went on, the two small ashea moons of Phandiom arose from behind the necropoles,
and flung the despairing languor of their faint beams on the multitudinous
domes and minarets of the dead. And beneath the twin moons, that drew their
uncertain light from a dying sun, Antarion and Thameera doffed their masks,
and looked at each other in a silence of unutterable love and shared the
first kiss of their month of ultimate delight.
For two days and nights, the lovers had fled from Saddoth. They had
hidden by daylight among the mausoleums, they had traveled in darkness
and by the doubtful glimmering of the moons, on roads that were little
used, since they ran only to age-deserted cities lying in the ulterior
tracts of Charmalos, in a land whose very soil had long become exhausted,
and was now given over to the stealthy encroachment of the desert. And
now they had come to their journey's end; for, mounting a low, treeless
ridge, they saw below them the ruinous and forgotten roofs of Urbyzaun,
which had lain unpeopled for more than a thousand years; and beyond the
roofs, the black unlustrous lake surrounded by hills of bare and wave-corroded
rock, that had once been the inlet of a great sea.
Here, in the crumbling palace of the emperor Altanoman, whose high.
tumultuous glories were now a failing legend, the slaves of Antarion had
preceded them, bringing a supply of food and such comforts and luxuries
as they would require in the interim before oblivion. And here they were
secure from all pursuit; for Haspa, in the driven fever and goaded ennui
of his last days, had doubtless turned to the satisfying of some other
and less difficult caprice, and had already forgotten Thameera.
And now, for the lovers, began the life that was a brief epitome
of all possible delight and despair. And strangely enough, Thameera lost
the vague fears that had tormented her, the dim sorrows that had obsessed,
and was wholly happy in the caresses of Antarion. And, since there was
so little time in which to express their love, to share their thoughts,
their sentiments, their reveries,
there was never enough said or enough done between them: and both
were fully content.
'But the swift, relentless days went by; and day by day, the red
sun that circled above Phandiom was darkened by a tinge of the coming shadow;
and chillness stole upon the quiet air; and the still heavens, where never
clouds or winds or bird-wings passed, were ominous of doom. And day by
day, Antarion and Thameera saw the dusking of the sun fmm a ruinous terrace
above the dead lake; and night by night, they saw the paling of the ghostly
moons. And their love became an intolerable sweetness, a thing too deep
and dear to be borne by mortal heart or mortal flesh.
Mercifully, they had lost the strict count of time, and knew not
the number of days that had passed, and thought that several more dawns
and moons and eves of joyance were before them. They were lying together
on a couch in the old palace — a marble couch that the slaves had strewn
with luxurious fabrics — and were saying over and over some litany of love,
when the sun was overtaken at high noon by the doom astronomers had foretold;
when a slow twilight filled the palace, heavier than the umbrage wrought
by any cloud, and was followed by a sudden wave of over- whelming ebon
darkness, and the creeping cold of outer space. The slaves of Antarion
moaned in the darkness; and the lovers knew that the end of all was at
hand; and they clung to each other in despairing rapture, with swift, innumerable
kisses, and murmured the supreme ecstacy of their tenderness and their
desire, till the cold that had fallen from infinitude became a growing
agony, and then a merciful numbness, and then an all-encompassing oblivion.
Francis Melchior awoke in his chair beneath the telescope. He shivered,
for the air had grown chill; and when he moved, he found that his limbs
were strangely stiff, as if he had been exposed to a more rigorous cold
than that of the late summer night. The long and curious dream that he
had undergone was inexpressibly real to him; and the thoughts, the desires,
the fears and despairs of Antarion were still his Mechanically, rather
than through any conscious renewal of the impulses of his earthly self,
he fixed his eye to the telescope and looked for the star he had been studying
when the premonitory vertigo had seized him. The configuration of the skies
had hardly changed, the surrounding constellation was still high in the
southeast; but, with a shock that became a veritable stupefaction, he saw
that the star itself had disappeared.
Never, though he searched the heavens night after night through the
alternation of many seasons, has he been able to find again the little
far-off orb that drew him so inexplicably and irresistibly. He bears a
double sorrow; and, though he has grown old and gray with the lentor of
fruitless years, with the buying and selling of antiques and the study
of the stars. Francis Melchior is still a little doubtful as to which is
the real dream: his lifetime on earth, or the month in Phandiom below a
dying sun, when, as the poet Antarion, he loved the superb and sorrowful
beauty of Thameera. And always he is troubled by a dull regret that he
should ever have wakened (if awakening it was) from the death that he died
in the palace of Altanoman, with Thameera in his arms and Thameera's kisses
on his lips.