Marie Corelli.

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Illustration: Copyright 1906 By Marie Corelli
Signature: Marie Corelli
FROM A PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN THIS YEAR BY GABELL, LONDON


The Treasure Of Heaven

A Romance Of Riches
By
Marie Corelli

AUTHOR OF
"GOD'S GOOD MAN," "THELMA," "THE SORROWS OF SATAN," "ARDATH,"
"THE STORY OF A DEAD SELF," "FREE OPINIONS," "TEMPORAL POWER," ETC.

NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
1906

Copyright, 1906, by DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
Published, August, 1906

To Bertha
'A faithful friend is better than gold.'


Author's Note

By the special request of the Publishers, a portrait of myself, taken in
the spring of this year, 1906, forms the Frontispiece to the present
volume. I am somewhat reluctant to see it so placed, because it has
nothing whatever to do with the story which is told in the following
pages, beyond being a faithful likeness of the author who is responsible
for this, and many other previous books which have had the good fortune
to meet with a friendly reception from the reading public. Moreover, I
am not quite able to convince myself that my pictured personality can
have any interest for my readers, as it has always seemed to me that an
author's real being is more disclosed in his or her work than in any
portrayed presentment of mere physiognomy.

But - owing to the fact that various gross, and I think I may say
libellous and fictitious misrepresentations of me have been freely and
unwarrantably circulated throughout Great Britain, the Colonies, and
America, by certain "lower" sections of the pictorial press, which, with
a zeal worthy of a better and kinder cause, have striven by this means
to alienate my readers from me, - it appears to my Publishers advisable
that an authentic likeness of myself, as I truly am to-day, should now
be issued in order to prevent any further misleading of the public by
fraudulent inventions. The original photograph from which Messrs. Dodd,
Mead & Co. have reproduced the present photogravure, was taken by Mr. G.
Gabell of Eccleston Street, London, who, at the time of my submitting
myself to his camera, was not aware of my identity. I used, for the
nonce, the name of a lady friend, who arranged that the proofs of the
portrait should be sent to her at various different addresses, - and it
was not till this "Romance of Riches" was on the verge of publication
that I disclosed the real position to the courteous artist himself. That
I thus elected to be photographed as an unknown rather than a known
person was in order that no extra pains should be taken on my behalf,
but that I should be treated just as an ordinary stranger would be
treated, with no less, but at the same time certainly no more, care.

I may add, in conclusion, for the benefit of those few who may feel any
further curiosity on the subject, that no portraits resembling me in any
way are published anywhere, and that invented sketches purporting to
pass as true likenesses of me, are merely attempts to obtain money from
the public on false pretences. One picture of me, taken in my own house
by a friend who is an amateur photographer, was reproduced some time ago
in the _Strand Magazine_, _The Boudoir_, _Cassell's Magazine_, and _The
Rapid Review_; but beyond that, and the present one in this volume, no
photographs of me are on sale in any country, either in shops or on
postcards. My objection to this sort of "picture popularity" has already
been publicly stated, and I here repeat and emphasise it. And I venture
to ask my readers who have so generously encouraged me by their warm and
constant appreciation of my literary efforts, to try and understand the
spirit in which the objection is made. It is simply that to myself the
personal "Self" of me is nothing, and should be, rightly speaking,
nothing to any one outside the circle of my home and my intimate
friends; while my work and the keen desire to improve in that work, so
that by my work alone I may become united in sympathy and love to my
readers, whoever and wherever they may be, constitutes for me the
Everything of life.

MARIE CORELLI
Stratford-on-Avon
July, 1906




THE TREASURE OF HEAVEN

CHAPTER I


London, - and a night in June. London, swart and grim, semi-shrouded in a
warm close mist of mingled human breath and acrid vapour steaming up
from the clammy crowded streets, - London, with a million twinkling
lights gleaming sharp upon its native blackness, and looking, to a
dreamer's eye, like some gigantic Fortress, built line upon line and
tower upon tower, - with huge ramparts raised about it frowningly as
though in self-defence against Heaven. Around and above it the deep sky
swept in a ring of sable blue, wherein thousands of stars were visible,
encamped after the fashion of a mighty army, with sentinel planets
taking their turns of duty in the watching of a rebellious world. A
sulphureous wave of heat half asphyxiated the swarms of people who were
hurrying to and fro in that restless undetermined way which is such a
predominating feature of what is called a London "season," and the
general impression of the weather was, to one and all, conveyed in a
sense of discomfort and oppression, with a vague struggling expectancy
of approaching thunder. Few raised their eyes beyond the thick warm haze
which hung low on the sooty chimney-pots, and trailed sleepily along in
the arid, dusty parks. Those who by chance looked higher, saw that the
skies above the city were divinely calm and clear, and that not a cloud
betokened so much as the shadow of a storm.

The deep bell of Westminster chimed midnight, that hour of picturesque
ghostly tradition, when simple village maids shudder at the thought of
traversing a dark lane or passing a churchyard, and when country folks
of old-fashioned habits and principles are respectably in bed and for
the most part sleeping. But so far as the fashionable "West End" was
concerned, it might have been midday. Everybody assuming to be Anybody,
was in town. The rumble of carriages passing to and fro was
incessant, - the swift whirr and warning hoot of coming and going motor
vehicles, the hoarse cries of the newsboys, and the general insect-like
drone and murmur of feverish human activity were as loud as at any busy
time of the morning or the afternoon. There had been a Court at
Buckingham Palace, - and a "special" performance at the Opera, - and on
account of these two functions, entertainments were going on at almost
every fashionable house in every fashionable quarter. The public
restaurants were crammed with luxury-loving men and women, - men and
women to whom the mere suggestion of a quiet dinner in their own homes
would have acted as a menace of infinite boredom, - and these gilded and
refined eating-houses were now beginning to shoot forth their bundles of
well-dressed, well-fed folk into the many and various conveyances
waiting to receive them. There was a good deal of needless shouting, and
much banter between drivers and policemen. Now and again the melancholy
whine of a beggar's plea struck a discordant note through the
smooth-toned compliments and farewells of hosts and their departing
guests. No hint of pause or repose was offered in the ever-changing
scene of uneasy and impetuous excitation of movement, save where, far up
in the clear depths of space, the glittering star-battalions of a
wronged and forgotten God held their steadfast watch and kept their
hourly chronicle. London with its brilliant "season" seemed the only
living fact worth recognising; London, with its flaring noisy streets,
and its hot summer haze interposed like a grey veil between itself and
the higher vision. Enough for most people it was to see the
veil, - beyond it the view is always too vast and illimitable for the
little vanities of ordinary mortal minds.

Amid all the din and turmoil of fashion and folly seeking its own in the
great English capital at the midnight hour, a certain corner of an
exclusively fashionable quarter seemed strangely quiet and sequestered,
and this was the back of one of the row of palace-like dwellings known
as Carlton House Terrace. Occasionally a silent-wheeled hansom,
brougham, or flashing motor-car sped swiftly along the Mall, towards
which the wide stone balcony of the house projected, - or the heavy
footsteps of a policeman walking on his beat crunched the gravel of the
path beneath, but the general atmosphere of the place was expressive of
solitude and even of gloom. The imposing evidences of great wealth,
written in bold headlines on the massive square architecture of the
whole block of huge mansions, only intensified the austere sombreness of
their appearance, and the fringe of sad-looking trees edging the road
below sent a faint waving shadow in the lamplight against the cold
walls, as though some shuddering consciousness of happier woodland
scenes had suddenly moved them to a vain regret. The haze of heat lay
very thickly here, creeping along with slow stealth like a sluggish
stream, and a suffocating odour suggestive of some subtle anæsthetic
weighed the air with a sense of nausea and depression. It was difficult
to realise that this condition of climate was actually summer in its
prime - summer with all its glowing abundance of flower and foliage as
seen in fresh green lanes and country dells, - rather did it seem a dull
nightmare of what summer might be in a prison among criminals undergoing
punishment. The house with the wide stone balcony looked particularly
prison-like, even more so than some of its neighbours, perhaps because
the greater number of its many windows were shuttered close, and showed
no sign of life behind their impenetrable blackness. The only strong
gleam of light radiating from the inner darkness to the outer, streamed
across the balcony itself, which by means of two glass doors opened
directly from the room behind it. Here two men sat, or rather half
reclined in easy-cushioned lounge chairs, their faces turned towards the
Mall, so that the illumination from the apartment in the background
created a Rembrandt-like effect in partially concealing the expression
of the one from the other's observation. Outwardly, and at a first
causal glance, there was nothing very remarkable about either of them.
One was old; the other more than middle-aged. Both were in
evening-dress, - both smoked idly, and apparently not so much for the
pleasure of smoking as for lack of something better to do, and both
seemed self-centred and absorbed in thought. They had been conversing
for some time, but now silence had fallen between them, and neither
seemed disposed to break the heavy spell. The distant roar of constant
traffic in the busy thoroughfares of the metropolis sounded in their
ears like muffled thunder, while every now and again the soft sudden
echo of dance music, played by a string band in evident attendance at
some festive function in a house not far away, shivered delicately
through the mist like a sigh of pleasure. The melancholy tree-tops
trembled, - a single star struggled above the sultry vapours and shone
out large and bright as though it were a great signal lamp suddenly lit
in heaven. The elder of the two men seated on the balcony raised his
eyes and saw it shining. He moved uneasily, - then lifting himself a
little in his chair, he spoke as though taking up a dropped thread of
conversation, with the intention of deliberately continuing it to the
end. His voice was gentle and mellow, with a touch of that singular
pathos in its tone which is customary to the Celtic rather than to the
Saxon vocal cords.

"I have given you my full confidence," he said, "and I have put before
you the exact sum total of the matter as I see it. You think me
irrational, - absurd. Good. Then I am content to be irrational and
absurd. In any case you can scarcely deny that what I have stated is a
simple fact, - a truth which cannot be denied?"

"It is a truth, certainly," replied his companion, pulling himself
upright in his chair with a certain vexed vehemence of action and
flinging away his half-smoked cigar, "but it is one of those unpleasant
truths which need not be looked at too closely or too often remembered.
We must all get old - unfortunately, - and we must all die, which in my
opinion is more unfortunate still. But we need not anticipate such a
disagreeable business before its time."

"Yet you are always drawing up Last Wills and Testaments," observed the
other, with a touch of humour in his tone.

"Oh well! That, of course, has to be done. The youngest persons should
make their wills if they have anything to leave, or else run the risk of
having all their household goods and other belongings fought for with
tooth and claw by their 'dearest' relations. Dearest relations are,
according to my experience, very much like wild cats: give them the
faintest hope of a legacy, and they scratch and squawl as though it were
raw meat for which they have been starving. In all my long career as a
solicitor I never knew one 'dearest relation' who honestly regretted the
dead."

"There you meet me on the very ground of our previous discussions," said
the elder man. "It is not the consciousness of old age that troubles me,
or the inevitable approach of that end which is common to all, - it is
merely the outlook into the void, - the teasing wonder as to who may step
into my place when I am gone, and what will be done with the results of
my life's labour."

He rose as he spoke, and moved towards the balcony's edge, resting one
hand upon its smooth stone. The change of attitude allowed the light
from the interior room to play more fully on his features, and showed
him to be well advanced in age, with a worn, yet strong face and
deep-set eyes, over which the shelving brows stooped benevolently as
though to guard the sinking vital fire in the wells of vision below. The
mouth was concealed by an ashen-grey moustache, while on the forehead
and at the sides of the temples the hair was perfectly white, though
still abundant. A certain military precision of manner was attached to
the whole bearing of the man, - his thin figure was well-built and
upright, showing no tendency to feebleness, - his shoulders were set
square, and his head was poised in a manner that might have been called
uncompromising, if not obstinate. Even the hand that rested on the
balcony, attenuated and deeply wrinkled as it was, suggested strength in
its shape and character, and a passing thought of this flitted across
the mind of his companion who, after a pause, said slowly: -

"I really see no reason why you should brood on such things. What's the
use? Your health is excellent for your time of life. Your end is not
imminent. You are voluntarily undergoing a system of self-torture which
is quite unnecessary. We've known each other for years, yet I hardly
recognise you in your present humour. I thought you were perfectly
happy. Surely you ought to be, - you, David Helmsley, - 'King' David, as
you are sometimes called - one of the richest men in the world!"

Helmsley smiled, but with a suspicion of sadness.

"Neither kings nor rich men hold special grants of happiness," he
answered, quietly: "Your own experience of humanity must have taught you
that. Personally speaking, I have never been happy since my boyhood.
This surprises you? I daresay it does. But, my dear Vesey, old friend as
you are, it sometimes happens that our closest intimates know us least!
And even the famous firm of Vesey and Symonds, or Symonds and
Vesey, - for your partner is one with you and you are one with your
partner, - may, in spite of all their legal wisdom, fail to pierce the
thick disguises worn by the souls of their clients. The Man in the Iron
Mask is a familiar figure in the office of his confidential solicitor. I
repeat, I have never been happy since my boyhood - - "

"Your happiness then was a mere matter of youth and animal spirits,"
interposed Vesey.

"I thought you would say that!" - and again a faint smile illumined
Helmsley's features. "It is just what every one would say. Yet the young
are often much more miserable than the old; and while I grant that youth
may have had something to do with my past joy in life, it was not all.
No, it certainly was not all. It was simply that I had then what I have
never had since."

He broke off abruptly. Then stepping back to his chair he resumed his
former reclining position, leaning his head against the cushions and
fixing his eyes on the solitary bright star that shone above the mist
and the trembling trees.

"May I talk out to you?" he inquired suddenly, with a touch of
whimsicality. "Or are you resolved to preach copybook moralities at me,
such as 'Be good and you will be happy?'"

Vesey, more ceremoniously known as Sir Francis Vesey, one of the most
renowned of London's great leading solicitors, looked at him and
laughed.

"Talk out, my dear fellow, by all means!" he replied. "Especially if it
will do you any good. But don't ask me to sympathise very deeply with
the imaginary sorrows of so enormously wealthy a man as you are!"

"I don't expect any sympathy," said Helmsley. "Sympathy is the one thing
I have never sought, because I know it is not to be obtained, even from
one's nearest and dearest. Sympathy! Why, no man in the world ever
really gets it, even from his wife. And no man possessing a spark of
manliness ever wants it, except - sometimes - - "

He hesitated, looking steadily at the star above him, - then went on.

"Except sometimes, - when the power of resistance is weakened - when the
consciousness is strongly borne in upon us of the unanswerable wisdom of
Solomon, who wrote - 'I hated all my labour which I had taken under the
sun, because I should leave it to the man that should be after me. And
who knows whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?'"

Sir Francis Vesey, dimly regretting the half-smoked cigar he had thrown
away in a moment of impatience, took out a fresh one from his
pocket-case and lit it.

"Solomon has expressed every disagreeable situation in life with
remarkable accuracy," he murmured placidly, as he began to puff rings of
pale smoke into the surrounding yellow haze, "but he was a bit of a
misanthrope."

"When I was a boy," pursued Helmsley, not heeding his legal friend's
comment, "I was happy chiefly because I believed. I never doubted any
stated truth that seemed beautiful enough to be true. I had perfect
confidence in the goodness of God and the ultimate happiness designed by
Him for every living creature. Away out in Virginia where I was born,
before the Southern States were subjected to Yankeedom, it was a
glorious thing merely to be alive. The clear, pure air, fresh with the
strong odour of pine and cedar, - the big plantations of cotton and
corn, - the colours of the autumn woods when the maple trees turned
scarlet, and the tall sumachs blazed like great fires on the sides of
the mountains, - the exhilarating climate - the sweetness of the
south-west wind, - all these influences of nature appealed to my soul and
kindled a strange restlessness in it which has never been appeased.
Never! - though I have lived my life almost to its end, and have done all
those things which most men do who seek to get the utmost satisfaction
they can out of existence. But I am not satisfied; I have never been
satisfied."

"And you never will be," declared Sir Francis firmly. "There are some
people to whom Heaven itself would prove disappointing."

"Well, if Heaven is the kind of place depicted by the clergy, the
poorest beggar might resent its offered attractions," said Helmsley,
with a slight, contemptuous shrug of his shoulders. "After a life of
continuous pain and struggle, the pleasures of singing for ever and ever
to one's own harp accompaniment are scarcely sufficient compensation."

Vesey laughed cheerfully.

"It's all symbolical," he murmured, puffing away at his cigar, "and
really very well meant! Positively now, the clergy are capital fellows!
They do their best, - they keep it up. Give them credit for that at
least, Helmsley, - they do keep it up!"

Helmsley was silent for a minute or two.

"We are rather wandering from the point," he said at last. "What I know
of the clergy generally has not taught me to rely upon them for any
advice in a difficulty, or any help out of trouble. Once - in a moment of
weakness and irresolution - I asked a celebrated preacher what suggestion
he could make to a rich man, who, having no heirs, sought a means of
disposing of his wealth to the best advantage for others after his
death. His reply - - "

"Was the usual thing, of course," interposed Sir Francis blandly. "He
said, 'Let the rich man leave it all to me, and God will bless him
abundantly!'"

"Well, yes, it came to that," - and Helmsley gave a short impatient sigh.
"He evidently guessed that the rich man implied was myself, for ever
since I asked him the question, he has kept me regularly supplied with
books and pamphlets relating to his Church and various missions. I
daresay he's a very good fellow. But I've no fancy to assist him. He
works on sectarian lines, and I am of no sect. Though I confess I should
like to believe in God - - if I could."

Sir Francis, fanning a tiny wreath of cigar smoke away with one hand,
looked at him curiously, but offered no remark.

"You said I might talk out to you," continued Helmsley - "and it is
perhaps necessary that I should do so, since you have lately so
persistently urged upon me the importance of making my will. You are
perfectly right, of course, and I alone am to blame for the apparently
stupid hesitation I show in following your advice. But, as I have
already told you, I have no one in the world who has the least claim
upon me, - no one to whom I can bequeath, to my own satisfaction, the
wealth I have earned. I married, - as you know, - and my marriage was
unhappy. It ended, - and you are aware of all the facts - in the proved
infidelity of my wife, followed by our separation (effected quietly,
thanks to you, without the vulgar publicity of the divorce court), and
then - in her premature death. Notwithstanding all this, I did my best
for my two sons, - you are a witness to this truth, - and you remember
that during their lifetime I did make my will, - in their favour. They
turned out badly; each one ran his own career of folly, vice, and
riotous dissipation, and both are dead. Thus it happens that here I
am, - alone at the age of seventy, without any soul to care for me, or
any creature to whom I can trust my business, or leave my fortune. It
is not my fault that it is so; it is sheer destiny. How, I ask you, can
I make any 'Last Will and Testament' under such conditions?"

"If you make no will at all, your property goes to the Crown," said
Vesey bluntly.

"Naturally. I know that. But one might have a worse heir than the Crown!
The Crown may be trusted to take proper care of money, and this is more
than can often be said of one's sons and daughters. I tell you it is all
as Solomon said - 'vanity and vexation of spirit.' The amassing of great
wealth is not worth the time and trouble involved in the task. One could
do so much better - - "

Here he paused.

"How?" asked Vesey, with a half-smile. "What else is there to be done in
this world except to get rich in order to live comfortably?"

"I know people who are not rich at all, and who never will be rich, yet
who live more comfortably than I have ever done," replied
Helmsley - "that is, if to 'live comfortably' implies to live peacefully,
happily, and contentedly, taking each day as it comes with gladness as a
real 'living' time. And by this, I mean 'living,' not with the rush and
scramble, fret and jar inseparable from money-making, but living just
for the joy of life. Especially when it is possible to believe that a
God exists, who designed life, and even death, for the ultimate good of
every creature. This is what I believed - once - 'out in ole Virginny, a
long time ago!'"

He hummed the last words softly under his breath, - then swept one hand
across his eyes with a movement of impatience.

"Old men's brains grow addled," he continued. "They become clouded with
a fog through which only the memories of the past and the days of their
youth shine clear. Sometimes I talk of Virginia as if I were home-sick
and wanted to go back to it, - yet I never do. I wouldn't go back to it
for the world, - not now. I'm not an American, so I can say, without any
loss of the patriotic sense, that I loathe America. It is a country to
be used for the making of wealth, but it is not a country to be loved.



Online LibraryMarie CorelliThe Treasure of Heaven A Romance of Riches → online text (page 1 of 38)