That fear will be torture to him, for he has been a harsh master to them. In his dreams he will imagine them chopping his tree down. That will make his days uncomfortable--I have already arranged for his nights."
It grieved me, though not sharply, to see him take such a malicious satisfaction in his plans for this foreigner.
"Does he believe what you told him, Satan?"
"He thought he didn't, but our vanishing helped. The tree, where there had been no tree before--that helped. The insane and uncanny variety of fruits--the sudden withering--all these things are helps. Let him think as he may, reason as he may, one thing is certain, he will water the tree. But between this and night he will begin his changed career with a very natural precaution--for him."
"What is that?"
"He will fetch a priest to cast out the tree's devil. You are such a humorous race--and don't suspect it."
"Will he tell the priest?"
"No. He will say a juggler from Bombay created it, and that he wants the juggler's devil driven out of it, so that it will thrive and be fruitful again. The priest's incantations will fail; then the Portuguese will give up that scheme and get his watering-pot ready."
"But the priest will burn the tree. I know it; he will not allow it to remain."
"Yes, and anywhere in Europe he would burn the man, too. But in India the people are civilized, and these things will not happen. The man will drive the priest away and take care of the tree."
I reflected a little, then said, "Satan, you have given him a hard life, I think."
"Comparatively. It must not be mistaken for a holiday."
We flitted from place to place around the world as we had done before, Satan showing me a hundred wonders, most of them reflecting in some way the weakness and triviality of our race. He did this now every few days- -not out of malice--I am sure of that--it only seemed to amuse and interest him, just as a naturalist might be amused and interested by a collection of ants.
For as much as a year Satan continued these visits, but at last he came less often, and then for a long time he did not come at all. This always made me lonely and melancholy. I felt that he was losing interest in our tiny world and might at any time abandon his visits entirely. When one day he finally came to me I was overjoyed, but only for a little while. He had come to say good-by, he told me, and for the last time. He had investigations and undertakings in other corners of the universe, he said, that would keep him busy for a longer period than I could wait for his return.
"And you are going away, and will not come back any more?"
"Yes," he said. "We have comraded long together, and it has been pleasant--pleasant for both; but I must go now, and we shall not see each other any more."
"In this life, Satan, but in another? We shall meet in another, surely?"
Then, all tranquilly and soberly, he made the strange answer, "There is no other."
A subtle influence blew upon my spirit from his, bringing with it a vague, dim, but blessed and hopeful feeling that the incredible words might be true--even must be true.
"Have you never suspected this, Theodor?"
"No. How could I? But if it can only be true--"
"It is true."
A gust of thankfulness rose in my breast, but a doubt checked it before it could issue in words, and I said, "But--but--we have seen that future life--seen it in its actuality, and so--"
"It was a vision--it had no existence."
I could hardly breathe for the great hope that was struggling in me. "A vision?--a vi--"
"Life itself is only a vision, a dream."
It was electrical. By God! I had had that very thought a thousand times in my musings!
"Nothing exists; all is a dream. God--man--the world--the sun, the moon, the wilderness of stars--a dream, all a dream; they have no existence. Nothing exists save empty space--and you!"
"And you are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream, creature of your imagination.