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A Wanderer in the Sprit Lands, by Franchezzo (A. Farnese), [1896], at

CHAPTER XXV.--A Pitched Battle in Hell.

We now saw before us a vast slightly undulating plain upon which great masses of dark spirits were moving. At Faithful Friend's suggestion we ascended a small hillock that we might observe their movements.

"We are now," said Faithful Friend, "about to witness one of the great battles that take place here between the opposing forces of dark spirits whose delight was in war and its rapine and bloodshed, and who, here in the dark state which is the result of their earthly cruelty and ambition, carry on yet their warlike operations against each other and contend for the supremacy of these kingdoms of Hell. Behold how they are massing their forces for an attack upon those others on our right, and observe the skill they will display in their maneuvres. The powerful minds of men who swayed armies on earth sway such unhappy beings here as are not strong enough to resist their spell, and thus they force these less powerful spirits to fight under their banners whether they will nor not, just as they did with mortals on earth. You will see these powerful leaders engage in a struggle worse than deadly since no death can come to end the contest, which they renew over and over again, as it would almost seem eternally--or until, as is to be hoped, the satiety of mind of one or other of these powerful leaders will at last make him long for some nobler form of contest, some higher triumph of the soul than is won over these miserable beings in battles where victory gives only a fresh right to torture and oppress the vanquished. The same instincts and natural gifts which are now perverted to personal ambition and the lust for cruelty and dominion as their only aim, will, when purified, make these spirits mighty helpers, where now they are destroyers, and the same powers of Will will help forward the progress they now retard. When this progress shall take place depends, for each, upon the latent nobility of the soul itself--the awakening of the dormant love of goodness and justice and truth to be found in all. Though like seeds in the earth these germs of better things may lie long hidden beneath the mass of evil that overloads them, there must and does come a time for each when the better soul awakens and these germs of good send out shoots that lead to repentance and bring forth an abounding harvest of virtue and good works."

We looked over the vast plain and now beheld the two mighty hosts of spirits drawn up to confront one another in the array of battle. Here and there I beheld powerful spirits, leading each his band or regiment as in an earthly army. In the van of the opposing forces were two majestic beings who might have been models for Milton's Lucifer, so strong was the sense of power and high intellect with which they impressed me. In each there was a certain beauty and grandeur of form and feature--a regal majesty even in the degradation of Hell--but alas! the beauty was that of a wild fierce tiger or lion that watches how he may rend his army in pieces and drag his prey into his den. Dark and forbidding were their countenances, cruel and ferocious their gleaming eyes, the false smile, showing their sharp teeth like those animals of prey. The cunning of the serpent was in their looks, and the pitiless hunger of the vulture in their smile. Each rode in his chariot of war drawn, not by horses, but by the spirits of degraded men, whom they lashed forward as beasts of burden and drove furiously on to be trampled down in the melee as cattle. Wild strains of music that sounded like the shrieks of the souls of the damned and the thunders of a mighty storm broke from the assembled armies, and with one fell swoop they rushed forward and bore down upon each other--flying and hurrying through the air, or dragging themselves along the ground. Pushing, hustling, jostling, and trampling like a herd of wild animals--on they came, and as they met, their fierce cries and shouts and imprecations rent the air and made even Hell more hideous. They charged and re-charged, they maneuvered, marched, and counter-marched, these phantom spirit armies of the dead, even as they had done in the battles of earth life. They fought and wrestled like demons, not men, for they had no weapons save those of wild beasts--their teeth and claws. If a battle with mortal weapons is horrible, this was doubly so, where they fought as wolves and tigers might--the two powerful leaders directing the mass, urging them on and guiding the fight as the tide of battle swept back one side or the other.

Over all had towered these two dark regal spirits, and now no longer content to let their soldiers fight, but bent each upon the destruction of the other, they rose from the fighting mass, and, soaring high above them, turned their looks upon each other with deadliest hate--then flying through the air with their dark robes extended behind and above them like wings, they grappled and wrestled together in a fierce struggle for supremacy. It was as though two eagles fought in mid-air while a mass of carrion crows grubbed and fought for worms beneath them. I turned from the crows to watch the eagles and to mark how, with no weapons but their hands and their powerful wills they fought as wild beasts do in a forest.

They uttered no sound, no cry, but gripped each other with a death-grip that neither would relax, and swayed to and fro in the air before us. Now one upward, now the other, their fierce eyes stabbing each other with fiery darts--their hot breath scorching each other's faces--their fingers clutching at each other's throats, and both seeking for a chance to fasten on their enemy with their teeth. Backwards and forwards, up and down they swayed and writhed in what seemed to me a death struggle for both. At last one seemed to fail. He sank below the other, who was bearing him to the ground to dash him, as I saw, over a deep precipice into a chasm in the rocks that skirted the field of battle--a deep and dark and awful pit into which he meant to hurl the vanquished one, and keep him prisoner. Fierce and long was the struggle, for the one below would not give in and clung to the other to drag him down with him if possible. But in vain. His powers were failing fast and as they reached the black chasm and hung poised over it, I saw the uppermost one wrench himself free by a mighty effort and fling the other from him, down into those awful depths.

With a shudder I turned away and saw that the battle had been raging as fiercely on the plain. Those spectral hosts had fought and the army of the victorious general had beaten back the forces of his vanquished foe till they were broken and dispersed in all directions, leaving their disabled comrades on the field lying as wounded men do in an earthly battle, while the victors were dragging away with them their captives, to what fate I could only too well guess.

Sickened and disgusted with their brutishness I would fain have left this place, but Faithful Friend, touching my shoulder, said: "Now has come the time for our work, my friend. Let us descend yonder and see if there are none whom we can help. Amongst the fallen and vanquished we may find those who are as sick of war and its horrors as you, and who will be but too glad of our help." So we went down to the plain.

It was as might have been a battle-field when night has fallen upon it and there are but the wounded and the slain left behind. All the other spirits had gone like a flock of evil birds to seek fresh carrion. I stood among a writhing, moaning mass of beings and knew not where to begin my help--there were so many. It was worse--a thousand times worse--than any mortal battle-field. I have seen the dead and dying lying in the streets of my native town thick as fallen leaves, and my heart has ached and bled for them and burned with shame and anger that such things could be; but even there was at least the peace and sleep of death to soften the anguish, and there was the hope of helping those who yet lived. But here--in this awful Hell--there seemed no hope and no death that could relieve these suffering ones, no morning that should dawn upon the night of their miseries. If they revived would it not be to live again this awful life, to find themselves surrounded ever by this awful night, and these fierce wild beasts of men?

I stooped down and tried to raise the head of one poor wretch who lay moaning at my feet--crushed till his spirit-body seemed but a shapeless mass--and as I did so the mysterious Voice spoke in my ears and said:

"Even in Hell there is Hope or why else are you come? The darkest hour is ever before the dawn, and for these--the vanquished and the fallen--has come the hour of their change. The very cause that has made them to be thus borne down and trampled under is that which shall now raise them. The desire for higher and better things, the shrinking from the evil around them has rendered them weak in the wickedness which is the strength of Hell and its inhabitants, and has made them waver and hesitate to thrust at and harm another with the ruthless force of these other wild and worthless beings, and thus they have been borne down and vanquished, but their fall from power here will open to them the doors of a higher state and thus shall there dawn for them the grey glimmer of a Higher Hope. Mourn not for them but seek to ease their sufferings that they may sink into a sleep of Death to this sphere and waken to a new life in the sphere next above."

"And what," I asked, "of that powerful spirit whom I saw thrown into the dark chasm?"

"He too will be helped in time, but his soul is not yet ripe for help, and it is of no use to try till then."

The Voice ceased and Faithful Friend, who was beside me, made signs to show me how to soothe these weary ones to sleep, and pointed out to me numerous stars of light which had gathered on that field of pain, and said they were carried by those of our Brotherhood who were, like ourselves, drawn here on their mission of Love and Mercy.

Ere long the writhing, moaning forms had sunk into unconsciousness and a short time after I saw a sight that was strange and wonderful indeed. Over each silent form there arose a faint misty floating vapor, such as I had seen once before in the case of a spirit we had rescued, as I have already told. Gradually these vapors took shape and solidity and assumed the form of the released spirit or soul, then each was borne away by bands of bright ethereal spirits--who had gathered above our heads--till the last was gone and our work and theirs was done.

Next: Chapter XXVI.--Farewell to the Dark Land