Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part VIII
THE house was not more than thirty feet square and one storey high. On a seat at the side of the door were seated two ladies. One was old and grey-haired, but possessed of a beautifully expressive face; the other was much younger, with a face of great intelligence. And oh! such lovely features and such eyes! The depth of feeling and penetration existing in them was something extraordinary; they were perfectly liquid, and sparkled anew with every change of expression. As we alighted, the ladies rose and advanced to meet us. I now saw that they were tall and slender, and I thought that if they could only reduce their heads and draw in their chests, they would be the most charming females I had ever met. The Recorder simply bowed to them, and leading me forward said:—
"My Specimen, this is my wife and this is my daughter." They evidently knew who I was and all about me. I began to feel very small and thought that these people had a better knowledge of me than I had of myself, and then I thought of that nasty model. No doubt these ladies had had explained to them all about my horrid liver, my useless lungs, my fatty heart, and my abominable abdominal regions. Only think of one's entrails being made the subject of the small talk of a great nation. It was something too humiliating to think of, and before these ladies I did feel humbled and ashamed, I can assure you.
We now entered the villa, the ladies leading the way. I could see at a glance the arrangement of the house. It was simply divided into four rooms about fifteen feet square. The door was in the corner of the building opening into one of the rooms, which formed a reception or sitting room, having windows in two sides. There was a door, I noticed, directly opposite to the entrance that evidently led to the room that formed the opposite corner of the house. Other two doors alongside this corner door led into the other two rooms. The furniture of the reception-room was exceedingly simple, but very artistic. The chairs and tables looked so light and flimsy that I did not believe they could carry the weight of a person sitting on them. I felt sure that the least thing would crush the table. All sat down but myself. The Recorder, divining my fear, said, "Come here, my Specimen," and saying so he leaped lightly on a chair. I expected to see the whole thing collapse, but the chair stood the shock without a tremble. He then said;—"Hold out your hand, my Specimen." I did so, and with a slight leap he stepped on it and balanced himself. I scarcely felt his weight, which I expected to be considerable. If he had been made hollow and lightly stuffed with cotton wool he would have weighed more than he did. Seeing my astonishment, he said:—
"You see, we are very strong, our muscles are as strong and as light as silk. Our mode of living has entirely altered the component parts of our bodies. The pressure of our atmosphere has also much to do with our weight. In your time your bodies consisted of about eighty per cent. of water, as you required a large amount of moisture to enable you to exist. With our atmosphere and with our mode of living we require almost no moisture. Our muscles, our nerves, and our bones are made of a material that is light but very strong. I cannot give you a better illustration to convey to your mind a conception of this substance, than by telling you that we are composed of a material somewhat of the nature of silk. Our brains, our very bones, consist of the same material surrounded by gases. Each nerve, each sinew, each artery, each vein, floats, as it were, in a casing consisting of cells filled with gases. Our lungs are composed of a series of cells made of the finest net-work of gauzy material, through which the atmosphere is inhaled, and the nutriment therein is thus conveyed to the blood. You will now, my Specimen, understand why we are so light, so transparent, and yet possessed of such power. While you have retained the shape that you once possessed you are really composed now of much the same material that we are: in fact, you are no longer in your old body, you are in a new body, that is in process of being provided with new organs, otherwise you could not live and move as you do. Your spirit is the old spirit, but that is all. You have yet, as I said before, to reduce the size of your digestive organs, and to increase your lung power, then with patience and education you will become as one of ourselves, because, my Specimen, I see from what you have said and from what is passing through your mind, that you are possessed of more than ordinary intelligence for one whose mind was moulded under ancient influences that were both depraved and baneful."
I was becoming more and more astonished with all that I had seen and heard, but somehow through life I had the faculty of suiting myself and my ideas to the situations in which I was placed. Whether I was alive or dead now, I could not say, but I began to feel more and more at home in this new state of existence. I saw less that was strange in the figures and costumes, the habits and the customs of the strange people I was now among. Whether this change in my ideas was caused by living in this new atmosphere, or whether it was caused by my intercourse with the Recorder and his family, I know not, but that a change was coming over me was quite evident. When we came to a stand in front of the villa, and before the Recorder released me from his hold, he slipped the little connector off the cross wires at my back. After this was done I had control over my movements, and consequently could move about the room with freedom. I saw that the walls were beautifully painted, representing groups of flowers with an odd bird or butterfly here and there. Indeed the whole room and its furniture was in the most complete harmony—a study of art.
While I was looking out from the window I saw a group of white specks in the distance. Thinking these were gulls I pointed them out to the ladies who were seated near me. The elderly lady said:—
"My dear sir, you must be short of vision. Cannot you see that those are ladies? In fact sir, these are some friends coming to see us; they are only a few miles away now, and will be here immediately."
She had scarcely ceased speaking when they arrived. The party numbered four—three elderly ladies and one girl, the latter being I should say about twenty-eight years old. I at once recognised one of the new comers as the lady who was taking part in the debate when I entered the House of Commons. She was truly a grand specimen of modern humanity. I was introduced to them all by name, but as none of the names were familiar to me I have not been able to retain them.
The Recorder asked me to give them a short account of the age in which I lived. Feeling complimented, I stood up, and laid my views of the state of politics, science, art, and manufacture in my day before them. I told them all about our immense naval fleets and their armament. I described fully our great mercantile marine. I gave them some ideas about our commerce, and, being proud of my profession, I extolled the excellence of the Schools of Art in 1888. Whether I was justified in doing so or not is rather doubtful, as our schools tended towards the same fault of preciseness and want of freedom that I complained of in theirs. I venture to think that I am a fairly good speaker, and I spoke to these people with considerable force of words but in a whisper. They heard me with great attention and politeness all through, and when I sat down they came to me individually, and said it was to them a great treat to hear me speak with such force in advocating the fallacies of the ancients. They now entered into a discussion amongst themselves about the habits and customs of people in my day. They seemed to know everything about them. I was highly entertained and pleased with all I heard. Things were discussed with the greatest intelligence and fairness. The gormandising habits of my fellows, and their greed for gain came in for some hard hits, which I felt were so entirely deserved, that I had not one word to say in their defence.
In the conversation and arguments I noticed that the ladies referred all questions of doubt to the Recorder. When a question was put to him he always reasoned it out exhaustively, giving full and ample reasons for his decisions. If any of the party did not agree, they stated their objections, but after further argument, which was carried on in a very friendly way, he invariably proved the accuracy of his decision. I was much surprised at the able manner in which the ladies put their arguments forward, their method was so unlike what I had previously been accustomed to. Perhaps I was prejudiced against them, as in my time those ladies we termed blue-stockings made one feel, that while perhaps they had a certain amount of knowledge, they believed they knew much more than they did, which caused them to be dogmatic, and at times over-bearing. These ladies, however, were not dogmatic—a fault that is objectionable in men, but quite unbearable in women. Great minds are always the most truly humble, their knowledge being great and their reading of all things broad and large-minded, they see and despise that little-mindedness that gives birth to such faults as those exhibited by the half-educated.
The Recorder having suggested that the ladies should give us some music, his wife went into one of the adjoining rooms and brought out two curious looking instruments such as I had seen in the college; keeping one herself she handed the other to one of the lady visitors. They first played a short plaintive melody without any flourishes, runs, or variations, while the rest of the party joining sang in perfect harmony. All sang very softly and with deep feeling. It was more like the music of angels than the music of this earth, so sweet, soft, and melodious was it. We were favoured with a number of other melodies, all of which were quite new to me. After these were finished I ventured to express the delight I had experienced while they performed. The Recorder's daughter now sang a solo, her mother accompanying her. This song was sung in old English, and was evidently intended for my special benefit. It was a song in praise of intelligence. At one time it was low and sweet, at another, full of spirit and fire. The girl threw her whole soul into it. You could see from the nervous quivering of her muscles that each note and word came from her very heart. For my part I sat amazed and entranced by the beauty and grandeur of the execution. I forgot the large head and expanded chest, thinking only of the music and its wonderful influence. While I sat thus admiring this girl, my ideas of the perfect proportions for a Venus faded away. I honestly believe if I had had a canvas I should at once have started to paint a true Venus after the model before me. How this was I cannot say, possibly the influences by which I was surrounded were fast altering my ideas, yes, and my very nature. I even began to think that my form was altering also. I had not noticed a mirror anywhere to enable me to see what I was like; the only reproduction of myself that I had seen was that horrid model, dressed in my old tweed suit. Our visitors soon departed, the Recorder and his family going to the door to see them off. They simply bowed to us all, as they left. I went to the window and saw them trip away. They were soon out of sight. The Recorder now told his wife to bring refreshment, at the same time explaining to me that I still required a little food. I felt quite ashamed of myself; but I must say that what the Recorder stated was true. I did feel that I wanted something. Some fruit and water were brought, and all three sat and looked at me eating with evident curiosity and interest, each taking a sip of water, by way of keeping me company. The ladies now retired, leaving me alone with the Recorder who came and sat beside me. He said:—
"My Specimen, to-morrow we start to see the seats of Government in Britain. I may tell you that the ruined city near to us is Glasgow; the river you saw is the Clyde." When I heard this, I at once recognised my native city, but it must have grown tremendously before its day of destruction came. When I knew it, it was not more than one-tenth the size that the ruined city must have been, yet I could recognise many of the general features in a dim, indistinct way. The Recorder went on:—
"I shall take you past Edinburgh, Newcastle, Manchester, London, Liverpool, and then we shall return here. We can do all this overland travelling in the same way and by means of the same power that we use every day, none of the distances are great, and there are no large sheets of water to pass over. When we go longer journeys together, we shall require either to embark in the naval or aerial packets. Those cities I have mentioned, like Glasgow, are now but ruins. They exist no longer as cities, and are left in this state of desolation as evidences of the folly of the ancients, who used the intelligence that was given them by the Creator to banish His works of beauty and over-run the country with their own smoke-begrimed productions." I here said to my companion that in my day we were proud of our great cities, of our great industries, and of the great strides we made in civilisation, and that while proud of these, most of our people could also enjoy Nature. Industry, I explained to him, became a necessity as we had to live by it; we had no other means of getting food, drink and clothing. "Yes," he replied, "I know all this, but, as I explained before, you abused your desire for food, and you debased your senses by drink; you got proud of your cities and factories, your fleets and your telegraphy. While there was undoubtedly considerable merit in many of your inventions, while there were many great ideas conceived and carried out by many of your great minds, yet these conceptions and these undertakings were so mixed with the vices of self-esteem, greed and avarice, that while producing some good, this good was obliterated by crimes that engendered misery, immorality, and degradation, that reduced humanity to a lower level than that of the reptile creation, and eventually brought a large proportion of the people of the earth to the terrible judgment that was inflicted upon them. But I will later on explain to you, my Specimen, how all this came about. Let us now retire to rest as it is getting late; we must be up betimes in the morning." He showed me to my room, which was that entered by the door in the corner opposite the entrance door. The furniture consisted of a chair, a table and a couch, and there was a shallow bath in the floor filled with water. The walls were decorated with paintings. Although it was now quite dark outside, the room was as light as day. The light came from a disc in the ceiling, and the Recorder explained that by pulling a string that hung by the wall I could reduce the light at will. This was effected by closing a louvre that was arranged to cover the luminous disc. I had previously noticed that the reception-room was lighted in the same way. He said "Good-night," and feeling tired I lay down and slept the sleep of the just, not even waiting to undress.