Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part I

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


AS you are aware I am an artist. My profession has brought me into close contact with nature in all its grandeur, in all its beauty, and in all its purity. I have spent months and months in solitudes, far, far away from what is called civilisation, yes, far away from cities, towns and villages. Ah! these were indeed days of pleasure. It was in these solitudes that I was able to grasp, if but in a small degree, the goodness of the Creator and the beauty of His works. While I saw the grand effects of landscape; while I saw the flitting gleams of beauty caused by a dash of sunshine breaking through the clouds; while I saw the vast mountains raising their mighty heads above me; while I saw the mirror-like lake below me; while I saw the plants, the mosses, the lichens, all full of silent beauty; while I heard the skylark's charming note enchanting my ears with sweet melody as he floated warbling above his nest; while I saw the bees all busy gleaning their winter's stores; while I saw the butterflies decked with all their radiant beauty, I could not help thinking how different was this ever varying scene of love, harmony, and contentment, with the city-created dens of iniquity,—the great haven and boasted creation of so-called civilized man.

After many years of pleasure and activity in pursuit of my profession, I bethought me that I was not doing my duty to my fellows in avoiding city life I felt that I was living in selfishness, if I did not endeavour to do something for the advantage of mankind, and, knowing as I did the degraded life that the majority of city people lived, I determined to try my powers of reforming.

Being of an enthusiastic nature, I set to work in this vast city of ours, labouring early and late, spending all the time I could spare in this work of attempted reform. At first my enthusiasm led me to think I was making progress, but alas! all I was able to do amounted to very little indeed. I redoubled my efforts, but while undoubtedly some good had come out of my work there was so much to do, and I was so earnest, that I overtasked my strength. I became weak and excitable, and at last I had to give way to nature. My strength failed me; I took ill; and was confined to the house for months. Getting rather better I was foolish enough to enter into an election contest, supporting the faction I thought best. Of the hard work I went through during this contest I remember very little. Before the election I became ill again, lost consciousness, and knew nothing more of politics or of the result of the contest, until I awoke from a trance now fully four months ago. But while I was not conscious of what had been doing in this world, you will see from what follows, that I was fully occupied both in mind and body.

I appeared to have fallen into a trance-like slumber; I thought I was walking beside a slow flowing tidal river with banks so regular that I was almost led to think I was walking alongside a canal, but so far as I could see, there was no tow-path, and no sign of vessels or barges moving on it. It was a lovely, bright, fresh, and warm day. The change of scene to me after my anxiety and worry was quite refreshing, and I felt perfectly contented and happy. I seemed to move about without any apparent exertion, barely touching the earth, and if any obstacle came in my way I surmounted it in the most offhand manner. I saw a great mound on the banks of the river at a considerable distance, and began to think how I could get over it; but I reached it in a few seconds, and walked right over it without any difficulty. My movements reminded me more of flying than walking. When I descended to the level again, I saw the river flowing towards me in an almost straight line, and in the distance I beheld what to me seemed the ruins of a great city. So clear was the atmosphere that I could pick out many prominent buildings, some with square towers, some with spires, and some with domes. It occurred to me that I had seen these buildings before somewhere, but my recollections of them and of the general aspect of the city, while in some respects familiar to my mind, were so indistinct that I thought I was looking on some continental city that I had seen when a child. My curiosity being aroused, I sped on my way in the direction of the great city, following the banks of the river, which were completely overgrown by peculiar looking grass and weeds. As I got nearer, I found the banks of the stream encumbered by the remains of old brick and stone buildings, most of which were overgrown by creepers and grass, and in some places these ruins formed large mounds that indicated the existence in ages past of great edifices.

While I felt exhilarated and happy to a degree, there was something terribly lonely about my walk. It is true I saw an occasional fish leap in the water, and some small beasts like hares and rabbits started out of the heaps of stones as I passed them, but the very presence of this wild animal life amidst the ruins made me more lonely, causing me to wonder where I could be, and to consider why such a fair and lovely district should apparently be destitute of the human race. I went on wondering what had caused this devastation. Had there been an earthquake? Had the people been stricken down by a plague? Had the country been invaded by a foreign foe, who without mercy slew man, woman, and child, leaving no one to perpetuate the race that must have existed years ago? Yes, a nation that had erected all these great buildings that now were mere heaps of ruins overgrown by the vegetation of ages, must surely have some descendants if they were not annihilated. As I got nearer and nearer to the city, my astonishment became more and more intense. I suddenly came upon the remains of a great bridge, the piers of which were of enormous dimensions, and must have been formed of iron, built in with stone and cement, the upper structure being of granite, a great portion of it still stood, but not a trace of the iron or steel girders could be seen. The concrete work that formed the base was also in wonderful preservation, but there was not a trace of the cast iron cylinders that had formerly been the outer shell of the piers. Curiously enough the concrete retained the impression of every plate, and every flange, and every bolt, but all the ironwork had disappeared. As I stood and looked at this old bridge, the thought occurred to me—"What a story you could tell, if you only had the power of speech!" It was clear to me that all the steel and iron girders, and the cast iron pier cylinders, had gradually corroded away. I could trace in my mind the entire processes of gradual destruction through many ages: first, the people by some miserable calamity disappeared; then, the ironwork of the bridge would corrode for want of care; the girders would weaken gradually and sag down in the centre, not being able to carry their own weight; the upper member would buckle up, and the whole structure would fall into the river dragging the upper portion of the piers with it. Then the oxidation would continue; and that great structure is probably now a deposit of red oxide in the bottom of the stream, or it has been carried in minute particles to the ocean. This, I came to the conclusion, must have been a high level bridge, as the piers when perfect could not have been less than 100 feet above the water level.

On I went, taking a lively interest in all I saw, and having the same exhilarating feeling encouraging me to proceed. No trace of fatigue, no hunger troubled me, as I continued my tripping walk. I now came to what must have been a great harbour or dock. All the quays were covered by the ruins of buildings, many of which had fallen right across the roadway; but, in some cases, the buildings had fallen as it were into themselves, forming a heap of stone over-grown by weeds and scrub. You could trace the lines of the streets by these long heaps of stones, and it was evident from their regularity that this city must have been built in blocks, and that the houses, to judge from the heaps of ruins, must have been of a considerable height. Further along I came to more docks nearly filled with silt and stones, and more bridges, that had been constructed of iron with stone piers, similar to the great high level bridge that first met my vision. As in the other, the iron-work had completely disappeared, but a portion of the masonry still remained. Further up the river I saw what appeared to be the remains of a stone bridge. As I was anxious to get to the other side to examine some buildings that still stood there towering above the heaps of ruins, I hurried along, and when I reached the bridge I found that, although in a very dilapidated condition, it was in a sufficiently good state of preservation to allow me to pass over. So over I went, and wending my way about ruined streets with here and there a strong heavily built wall still standing, I came to an embankment across. On examining this, I found it must have been a high level railway, as many portions of the brick arches, in a sad state of decay, could be seen peeping through the rank herbage that covered them. When I had climbed the embankment, I could see the whole of the city. Not far off were the remains of a great building that probably had been the Municipal Chamber or Courts of Justice; then, there were the remains of churches; here, a tower, and there, a spire, with great stone columns and parts of walls. Such was the scene that met my eyes in all directions, but everything was overgrown with vegetation, and everything seemed to be decayed. No traces of ironwork existed, while the evidence of great iron structures having been there in ages past and gone were visible at every step. I followed the track of the railway for a long time through the ruined city, till I came to what evidently was the terminus, now reduced to a great pile of stones. Some pieces of the wall were still standing, and showed that the building had been highly decorated with carved stone-work; but the details of the carving had been worn away by the rubbings of time. I clambered to the top of the wall, and lying down on the grass-grown parapet, began to ponder as to where I was, what city this could have been—what had caused such devastation—why it was now deserted? How could I get information? I had all my life made a hobby of antiquarian research, but had never read or heard of such modern-looking antiquities as I now saw before me. Could it be that I had got into another planet whose inhabitants had anticipated all our civilization by thousands of years, but who through luxurious living, and over-quickened intellect, had so reduced their bodily strength, that they gradually died out, leaving all in the possession of wild animals; or could it be that I had died thousands of years ago, and that I had just been born again, and now saw my own planet after it had undergone the changes of ages; or had the power of some mysterious being so influenced me, and so cleared my vision, as to enable me to see into futurity, and view the world as it would be thousands of years hence? These and hundreds of other thoughts racked my brain; but while I pondered and thought, anxious to learn all about this ruined city, my wonder and anxiety did not bring any weariness or languor with it. On the contrary, there was a brightness and buoyancy in all my thoughts. They were acute and searching to a degree; but what astonished me most was the fact, that while I must have been travelling for many hours, I could not say that I was the least fatigued, nor had I the slightest feeling of hunger or thirst. When I lay down, it was not from any need of rest, but simply out of a desire to enjoy a stretch on the soft-looking grass-grown top of the ruined wall. How long I lay in this position I cannot tell; I was so comfortable that I could have lain there for ages. My body hardly felt the bed of grass on which I lay; in fact, I apparently was so light that the grass supported me on its tips, and never allowed my body to come into contact with the harder substance below. I must say this surprised me beyond measure, and to test the accuracy of my position, I passed my hands from either side under my body. This I found I could do without any difficulty. Then it occurred to me, that I must be a shadow; but this was not so, for when I pinched my leg to see if such was the case, I caused myself more pain than I counted on. I felt the grass with my fingers to ascertain if it was very stiff and strong, but it felt like ordinary grass, and my fingers broke it easily. Then I came to the conclusion that I must have grown very light, while at the same time I apparently retained all my bulk. I had no mirror to examine my face, but my hands, arms, legs and feet looked just the same as they always were. Well, as I said before, how long I remained in this position I cannot tell, but my desire to see more of these curious ruins caused me to stand erect and look over the edge of the wall, and there, in the centre of what must have been an open space or square, I saw something moving about in the midst of smoke or haze. This haze so obscured the object I was looking at, that I could not make out what it was, but that it was moving was an absolute certainty. After watching it for a long time, the mist seemed to lift, enabling me to see distinctly two men walking together. They were the very oddest looking pair of mortals I had ever seen. In stature they were very diminutive, but they had large heads out of all proportion to their bodies. They were walking away from me; and being most anxious to meet them, and to find out where I was, I hailed them loudly.

The effect of my cry astonished me, for, whether it was the clear atmosphere, or the desolation of the ruined city, my voice sounded like thunder. But if it had a curious effect on me, the effect it had on the two individuals I hailed, was marvellous. They first of all fell flat on the ground as if stunned, then they sprang up with wonderful agility, bounding several feet into the air, and turning around, looked in amazement toward me, singing out in piping childish voice some words that I could not understand. I beckoned them to come nearer to me, and speaking, as I thought, in a whisper, asked "Who are you?" They came nearer, and looked at me in astonishment. Now that I could see them better, and thinking I should like to get quite close to them, I stepped off the wall in the most reckless way, never noticing that I had a leap of thirty feet to make. But somehow I came down beside my little oddities without the slightest inconvenience, save that on alighting, I rebounded into the air at least twenty feet, and had to take a dozen hops, before I could settle on the earth, and talk, or try to talk, to my new acquaintances, if such I might call them.

At last, when like a rubber ball I had expended all my elastic energy and come to rest, I carefully scrutinized this odd looking couple. They were not more than four feet high, with very large heads, and small bodies and limbs. That portion of the body which contains the principal organs of digestion seemed to be almost entirely awanting, but their chests were more than fairly well developed. For clothing they wore a wrapping of a white silky material, bound closely round the body, and forming a kind of kilt around the upper portions of their limbs. On their feet they had light shoes, and to each ankle was secured a circular weight of considerable size, formed of a metal which looked like newly scraped lead. Each weight was in two pieces, bound together by a silken cord let into a circular recess, near the top. On their heads there was no covering, and the little hair they had was fine in texture, and of a dark brown colour. It formed a slight fringe from the temples round the back of the head, and when viewed from the head behind strongly resembled an egg in a brown-edged egg-cup. Their eyes had a bright, far-seeing look, wistful and dreamy withal, pale grey in colour, and very prominent. There was a sad, thoughtful look on their faces that made me feel that nothing I could say would induce them to laugh. The features were marked, and the skin was clear almost to transparency. Judging from the baldness of their heads and the solemnity of their mien, I would have said they were about seventy years old, but, judging from their limbs and the appearance of their skin, I would have guessed their age at twenty to twenty-five. In fact they were very grave, diminutive, young old men of some new type of humanity unknown to my experience.

Although it has taken me a long time to describe what I have done and seen, since I first saw these individuals, it only occupied a few moments. Then in case I should frighten them I began by asking in a whisper: "Where am I? What ruined city is this? Who are you? Why don't you speak? Don't be frightened; I won't harm you." This last exclamation was drawn from me by the horrified look I noticed on their faces. I feared they were going to take flight and leave me alone—a state of matters I did not wish. As I was determined to get some information as to the locality I was in, I looked as pleasant and harmless as I could, but it was quite evident that they were anxious to get away, and it was also clear, that they did not understand a word I said to them. I began to make signs to get them to speak, but it was no use. At last one of them made some remarks in a language that was quite unknown to me, although I am well versed in nearly all modern languages. I spoke to them in English first, then in German, then in Russian and Italian, but without success. At last I thought I would try and put together my few words of Latin, and see if they could understand it. To my delight, this last resource brought greater success. I saw they partially understood what I was saying, and so I began again—"Where am I?" and they replied, "In Scotonia." Then I asked them,—"To what nation do you belong?" and received as reply, "We are Scotonians." Again I inquired, "Of what city are these the ruins?" To this last question I could get no reply. They put their fingers on their lips, and after a short consultation, began to move off, making signs for me to follow. We went on slowly for some time; then, they both suddenly stopped, and unfolding a part of their kilt-like garment, uncovered a pocket into which they put their hands, and threw out a quantity of small gravel, meanwhile holding on by the branch of a shrub. I could not understand what this meant at first; but I soon found out, for, no sooner did they loose their hold of the shrub than they began to trip along at a rattling speed. It was now evident to me that they had been discharging ballast. "These people must be a description of animated balloon," I thought to myself, "and now that they are light they will try to get away from me." I was not going to be left behind, and so the faster they went, the harder I followed them, keeping close on their heels. Every now and then, I saw the facial side of one of the animated eggs turn round and solemnly glare at me, at the same time beckoning me to continue following. The sight of them was too ridiculous—what between the big heads and the prominent liquid grave-looking eyes, and the little bits of legs taking prodigious strides, and spinning along over stones and brushwood at a speed of at least ten miles an hour, I felt strangely amused. And then, here was I following in the wake of these elf-like mortals without any apparent difficulty. Indeed I was so highly amused with my adventure, that I burst out into a great loud laugh, the effect of which was to cause my guides to grasp hold of the branch of a tree, and to shake with terror. When I saw the result of my mirth, I was truly sorry that I had been so imprudent, and in the best Latin I could command apologised for my rudeness. At this, they began to regain courage, and each picking up a stone, as I found to act as ballast, they now began to move forward with more caution, making signs for me to follow. The slow pace at which we were now proceeding, enabled me to look around, and see in what direction we were moving in relation to the ruined city. I found we were still within the skirts of the ruins, and I could still see the towers and spires that first attracted my attention. After walking slowly for about half-an-hour, I noticed that we were approaching an elevated and highly cultivated part of the country that was surmounted by a low stone building of considerable size, like a fortification without any embrasures or armament. We soon arrived at the front of this building, where I noticed a large bronze door provided with a heavy knocker. My guides knocked at the door, giving three distinct raps and a succession of light taps. It may appear curious that I should follow with such implicit trust, but I did so. I felt no fear. I was prepared as soon as the door opened to go in, no matter what the consequences might be.

In a few seconds the great door swung open, and I entered close on the heels of my guides. I looked to see who had opened it, but could see no sign of anyone. When we had entered, it closed as quietly as it had opened, but not a soul was visible. This proved to be a gate in the outer wall, and when we passed it, we suddenly came in sight of a great hollow, and we had to go down by steps toward a large building that stood in the centre. We now saw several figures moving about in the space that surrounded the building. My guides went up to one of these, who was evidently very old, as his scant supply of hair was white as snow. The three conversed together for fully five minutes in some unknown tongue, during which time, my guides were evidently recounting in their grave matter-of-fact way the extraordinary adventure they had had with the stranger they brought with them. The sage took from his pocket a plate of bright metal about four inches square, and by means of a short pointed metal pin he scratched with wonderful rapidity what I felt was a full and true description of the curious stranger. He then placed it on a little square stool that stood on the ground near him, put his finger on a button, and it was immediately carried, or spirited away towards the building. He then deliberately came up to me, first looking at my face with a long intent rude stare, then he walked three times round me, surveying my back, front and sides, but never opening his lips. I began to wonder what would come next, when I heard a slight clank on the stool, and there lay a bright plate similar to the one that he had sent away a few seconds previously. The sage advanced and lifted the plate, which evidently contained the reply to his message. Having read it he came up to me, and addressed me in Latin, thus: "What are you?" I replied "A Man." At this answer he smiled and said, "You mean you are an antiquated specimen of an extinct race!" This put me on my mettle, and made me feel inclined to give him the benefit of an antiquated answer that would not have been very complimentary, but he went on:—

"Where do you come from?"

"From Great Britain," I replied.

At this he smiled again in a provoking way, and said:—

"Do you seriously say so?"

It was as much as I could do to restrain myself, but prudence gained the day. I just clenched my fist, and said to myself, "You might kill the poor creature, so keep your temper, and see the fun out."

He then said, "Your Name?"

And I replied, "Kenneth Folingsby."

Here he looked me hard in the face and said, "What is your profession?"

An Artist," I replied.

"You are quite sure that all you have told me is profound truth?"

"All profound truth," I replied.

Then he said, "Advance under the charge of your guides!" and sitting down on the message stool, placed his elbow on his left knee, rested his chin on his hand, and looked at me in such a comical incredulous way that I could scarcely keep from laughing. My two guides passed along in the same noiseless gliding fashion as before, and led me towards the central building.

On my way across the vacant space, I could do nothing but reflect on the curious adventure in which I was engaged. Everything was so novel and so ethereal, that I began to think that death must have overtaken me, and that my spirit was passing through that land which some say intervenes between earth and heaven. Still this could not be the case, as the city and country through which I had passed was in some way or other familiar to me, although the city and the river bank had the decay of ages stamped on them. Whilst in the midst of these meditations, I arrived with my guides at the door of the great central building. This door, like that in the outer wall, was bronze, and was provided with a knocker after the same pattern, but of much less dimensions. One of my guides lifted the knocker, and gave a single tap: immediately the door swung open, and we entered a large square hall, the walls of which were formed of great slabs of white marble.

Here we were met by another sage who was seated on what I have termed a message stool. In his hand he held a metal plate which I have no doubt was that on which the first sage wrote the description of me. He consulted his plate from time to time, looking at me to see that this message was correct. Being satisfied of its accuracy he made a sign to my guides, and they at once retired, the door closing behind them. As soon as we were alone, he came up to me and took me by the hand. This was the first time one of these creatures actually touched me. The sensation I experienced, when our hands came into contact, was most peculiar. I cannot describe it better than by saying, that it was a pleasant kind of gruesome feeling that seemed to tingle through every nerve, muscle, and bone of my body. It did not come in jerks, but in a steady continuous flow, that, although awesome, was exceedingly pleasant. When he released my hand from his grasp, I felt relieved, but at the same time sorry. It was that sort of sorrowful feeling that is experienced when by some accident one is stopped just in the act of doing something wrong, but pleasant. Sage Number Two now addressed me in Latin, asking me exactly the same questions as Sage Number One had done, but finding that I spoke Latin with much difficulty, he said, "What is your native tongue?" I replied, "English." At this he seemed perplexed, but after a moment's thought, he said, "I will send for one versed in extinct tongues." Thereupon he produced a metal plate, on which he wrote something, and placing it on the stool, touched the button, the plate disappearing as before. Now, the hall in which we stood was completely closed in. All the doors were shut, and where the light came from I could not say, but it was as bright as day. I could see no wires or telephonic connections, and to me the mystery was, how did that plate get out of the hall. I was evidently in the land of marvels, and could only wait with patience for explanations. I had not much time to ruminate, as almost immediately a door in the other end of the hall opened, and there entered a stately-looking old man whose appearance struck me as being very pleasing. He was much taller than any of the other specimens of this new race that I had seen, being about five feet eight inches high. His head, like those of the others, was abnormally large, but there was only a very slight bald patch on the crown, and there was an abundance of flowing white locks, and a long white beard. His features, too, were beautifully chiselled, and his eyes were bright and luminous. His skin was almost transparent, and I imagined I could see right through and through him. His dress was much the same as that of the others, but the material of which it was made was finer in texture.

He came up to me with the plate in his hand, and looked intently at me. After conversing with Sage Number Two for a short time, he turned to me, and taking me by the hand, I experienced the same sensation as before, but much more intensely. The pleasure of the feeling almost made me faint. He dropped my hand, and said in pure English, "You speak ancient English." I replied that he must have been misinformed, as I spoke modern English, possibly with a slight Scotch accent. He smiled (a most pleasant smile it was) and said, "I fear, my friend, you do not understand modern English. Did you understand the language your guides spoke? I see from your expression you did not. Well, that is modern English."

At this remark I could not help laughing, my previous experiences causing me to do so very quietly. He laughed also, but his laughter was very subdued, as was his voice.

At last I found enough breath to say, "My dear sir, this is the year of our Lord 1888, and the language I speak is the English spoken in 1888. Could you possibly get anything more modern than that?"

He gazed at me with admiration, his eyes and features beaming with delight, and ejaculated,—"Oh! this is a reward! This is a treasure worth a life's labour on earth! What a glorious, what a magnificent specimen of extinct man you are!" And with this the dear old fellow skipped round the hall with wonderful agility for one of his years, and coming up to me again, said:—

"This is not the year of our Lord 1888, my friend, but it is the year of our Lord 5575."

My mental observation at that moment was, "This dear old thing is mad! They all are mad! I must be mad too!" I clasped my head in my hands, and swung to and fro in a state of intense mental agony. "5575!" My agony was so great that I exclaimed aloud, "I am Mad! Mad! Mad!" and was about to swoon away, when he took hold of my hand, permeating me again with that stimulating energy, that drove out all other thoughts and said:—

"Specimen, I wonder not at your surprise; you have much to learn, much to see and much to experience, but all will come in good time. You will reside with me, and I will instruct you. This is the year of our Lord 5575. You are not mad, I am not mad, nor is any one of us mad. Madness is now of the antique past; intelligence is omnipotent. Follow me."

Thus saying he led the way out of the hall by the door through which he had entered, and passing through another door we entered a spacious room lighted I knew not how. This hall was lined right round with stone shelves, on which were arranged myriads of what looked to me to be metal plates placed on edge. I asked what these were, and he said:—

"These are the complete records of the past 5575 years. This is my department in the state; I am keeper of the records, but now you must rest. Intelligence requires rest like all our other faculties. You have experienced great fatigue to-day, and you have seen many things that have astonished you, so you must now lie down on that couch, and allow me to pass you to sleep. When I see that your mental and bodily strength is restored I will put your sleep away, and bring you, my Specimen, into active life again."

"Well," I said, "before I go to rest, please tell me to what nation you belong, and where we are?"

"That is easily answered; but lie down first, and then I will tell you." I lay down and he went on to say:—

"We are Modern British People and we are in Scotland."

This reply amazed me. He seemed to see the astonishment depicted in my face, for he said,—"Compose yourself to rest;" and then he passed his hand gently over my head, and I fell into the most delicious slumber.