Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part XIV
HOW I wondered, as I sat in my dark room, what I could have done to deserve such barbarous treatment; it was beyond my comprehension to understand why a people could turn on me as it were with one will, at the same moment, and snatch me away from my poor wife who evidently was very ill. I had struggled hard to get to her, but the more I fought the more I was resisted. Had I been an unclean thing that carried pestilence with it, I could not have been resisted more fiercely. I felt terribly cast down; the depths of my misery were greater than I can describe, far, far greater than I had ever experienced during all the sorrows and trials of my previous life.
It was strange that the joys and pleasureable feelings of this intellectual people were so intense. Did enlightenment add to the intensity of enjoyment? And did it also add to the intensity of sorrow? Yes, I fully believe it did. The more intellectual man or woman is, the more acute are their joys and their sorrows, and the more acutely they feel pain, The lower animals do not suffer the same bodily pain that men do, nor do the lower or uneducated mortals experience the intensity of pleasure, or the same intensity of pain as the educated and refined. All great pleasures are, as it were, balanced by proportionably great sorrows. Possibly this is intended to be so, and no doubt it is ordained for the best. The solitude of my cell caused me to ruminate over the last hours I spent in my own home. I went over every word I had said until I came to the statement I had made regarding my marriage and my family. This portion of my narrative I repeated over and over again to myself, when, suddenly, it flashed upon me that this was the cause of the whole commotion. I now remembered that one of the laws of this people was that no man could marry a second time, even after his wife's death, but here I was married a second time; and I did not know whether my dear old Mary lived or not. Here was I married again after more than three thousand years. I had denied, I had degraded the finest creature God had ever made, and I had forgotten one of the best of creatures, who, in the old world days, I dearly loved. I had allowed my Mary's memory to die and be a blank to me. I felt that I was one of the greatest monsters in the world; I lay down and rolled about on the dark, damp floor; I cared not what they would do with me now. I prayed that I might be killed to put me out of this mental torture; but the release from life to death was not for me, I was too vile for this.
I think I must have been two days in confinement, when I was taken from my cell. I was led into a room, at one end of which were seated three judges (the same that I had seen when with the Recorder). A clerk sat at a table under them, and was arranging tablets when I entered. At the side of the table opposite to me, sat my late friend, the Recorder. I was told to be seated opposite to him. The presiding judge said:—"Proceed with the case."
The Recorder stood up immediately and opened his case in a most eloquent speech that was very moderate in its tone, in fact, I felt that he was performing a duty that he would have avoided if it were possible: I felt that he was, while accusing me of a horrible crime—as sorry for me as he was for his daughter. He tried to make his charge against me as leniently as he could. To go over all he said in support of the laws of his nation would be more than I could do, and more, dear reader, than you could stand. Suffice it to say that I was accused of what, in the eyes of this people, was the most heinous of heinous crimes, and that was—having married a second time. He said that he himself was much to blame as he had never asked me had I been married, but he added, as an excuse for his neglect, "How could I think that one so young had been married before?" (I did not quite see the force of this argument, as I was forty years old.) He said, to further excuse himself; "I have been much in this young man's company, and while in his company I have constantly read his thoughts, and can testify that he never once thought of his first wife while in my company." He explained that his daughter was ruined for life, and degraded in the eyes of the people. She was now a defiled woman. His sorrow and grief were great—great indeed—but his belief in a divine Providence caused him to think that some good might yet come out of this terrible sorrow; and he said further, "I loved this stranger who had come among us; I was pleased with his intelligence, besides believing that my daughter's marriage with him would be for the good of the people, because of the great distance in time of the relationship between them, dating back as it does over 3000 years. I feel for this man, knowing as I do that he was ignorant of the law of our people that forbids any man to be married a second time."
He now sat down, and the President of the court asked me had I anything to say in my defence. I stood up and said, that no one could be more grieved at what had taken place than I was, no one could be more cast down than I was, no one was more desirous to make reparation for my unconscious mistake, my unknown sin, than I was. If there had been any means of making this reparation I would make any sacrifice even with my life, to restore Meda to the happiness that she had enjoyed before she knew me. I expressed my gratitude to the Recorder for the kind and moderate way in which he had stated his case against me. But, I said, I would not be honest if I allowed the court to think that I was not conscious that it was against the laws of this country for a man to marry a second time. I had heard that such was the law from the Recorder or some one else. "But, at the same time," I said, "I feel perfectly innocent of having done anything wrong, as when wooing and gaining the affections of this gentleman's daughter, I was for the time oblivious of all my previous life's history. I forgot that I had existed before; I forgot that I had ever had wife or child—all was an utter blank to me; my memory of the past had, for the time, flown; nor did it return until some months after my marriage. And even when memory returned to me, I saw no harm in my second marriage after a lapse of over three thousand years. My first wife and my family and their descendants for generations and generations must have returned to the gases and to the dust from which they were made. Nor had my thoughts or my feelings any objections to second marriages, as such was in accordance with the laws and customs of my time."
I appealed with all my soul's fervour to the court to do what was most likely, in their opinion, to restore my dearly beloved Meda to happiness and social position. If anything, I said, that can be done to me, even unto my death, will help her, let it be done. I saw that my appeal touched the hearts of all in the court; I saw that many were moved to tears; but I also saw in the solemn, thoughtful faces of my judges that my fate was sealed.
The President asked the Recorder had he anything further to say. The Recorder immediately rose, and with a quivering voice said:
"My Lords,—I would not for worlds ask you to evade the laws of our nation, particularly as regards this terrible crime; I know that this man has acted against the law while unconscious that he was doing so; and I believe all he has stated to be true. I know he is desirous from his heart to repair the damage that he has thus unconsciously done to my much beloved daughter, my only child. In your consideration of your verdict, I would therefore pray of you to be as lenient to him as the laws of our country will permit. Remember that the customs of his people allowed and encouraged the action that he has been guilty of; remember his inexperience, and act towards him, in considering his sentence, with mercy."
I was now asked if I had anything further to say in reply. I bowed towards the President and said, "No."
The judges then retired to consider their verdict. After an absence, that to me appeared like ages, they returned, and after being seated, the President began:—
"Young man, we find you guilty of the gravest offence that it is possible for a man of our day to commit against our laws. It is an offence of such a serious nature that no woman dare mention it. By the laws of our country you are condemned by this court to float away into unmeasurable space. Where you will go to or what will become of you no man can tell. After considering your ignorance and your want of appreciation of the necessity of this law, and after making every allowance for you on these heads, the most we can do for you is to so far modify the usual conditions of this sentence, and order that you be provided with instruments, by means of which you can guide your course through space, so long as strength is left you. Whether or not this indulgence is of any value to you no one can tell. The sentence will be carried out the day after tomorrow in the presence of our people in order to show them the result that must follow any departure from the moral laws that are the outcome of intellect. The condemned may now be removed."
While the President was pronouncing my sentence, I sat and gazed at him stupefied with horror. My whole life's actions from my early babyhood's sins down to the present seemed to come before me with vivid distinctness. Every little petty sin that I had committed came before me with all its details and surroundings, the rapidity of their appearance and disappearance being something miraculous. I thought of how, as a child, I had deceived my dear, kind mother; I thought of how that father who had toiled and worked for me, had been often vexed and worried by me; I thought of my quarrels with my brothers and sisters. I remembered how at school I had deceived my masters; I remembered how I had used unfair means to advance my interests as an artist; I remembered some quarrels with my dear, first wife, Mary; I remembered that I had been often unjust to her, and had often given this kind, patient creature great pain; I remembered everything that could possibly tell against me; and all this life-like panorama seemed to flash through my brain in a moment. I tried to think that the crime I was convicted of, and sentenced for, was a terrible crime, but somehow I could not think it was a crime at all. I thought rather that I was sinned against and persecuted. In my agony when the sentence was pronounced, and when the President said I was to be removed, I rose to my feet and begged him to hear me before I left them for ever. To this request he acquiesced, but said, "You must be brief." I then began:—
"Mr. President, you have pronounced this terrible sentence on one who, in his own eyes, and in the eyes of Almighty God, is innocent of having committed any crime. To commit a crime surely you must allow that one must feel that he is doing something wrong. Had I been conversant with your laws, and had I knowingly wooed and won the affections of this lady with the knowledge that I was acting against your laws, then would I have been sinning, but acting as I did, without any consciousness of doing wrong, I hold that in the eyes of reason, in the eyes of common-sense, and in the eyes of unbiassed justice, I have committed no sin. I do not say this with any desire to evade the sentence that you have passed on me; but I say it to let you and your people know that I consider that you, in making an ignorant man amenable to laws that he did not know or understand, are committing an act of injustice that is unworthy of the intelligence that your nation is undoubtedly in possession of—an intelligence that is beyond all that it is possible for me to conceive, an intelligence that has astonished me beyond all measure. And, Mr. President, I would pray you in your great wisdom, should any such similar case as mine ever come before you, to think of the remarks that one so humble as I am in point of intellect and intelligence has ventured to make. But, Mr. President, when I think of the punishment itself I am astonished that a people of such culture could be so intellectually refined in their cruelty as to invent this most awful, this most cruel means of torturing a fellow creature. Why can you not kill outright? Why can you not spill my heart's blood? Why can you not shred my flesh, and grind my bones to atoms, rather than let a living, conscious creature float away, away to that awful desert of space that is so vast, that the greatest and the most enlightened mind among you cannot conceive where it begins, and knows not where it ends? Think but of the thoughts of your victim, who will float about for years and years, unable to live as he should live, yet unable to die. And while you are not asked to alter your laws for one so mean and humble as I am, I pray that in justice to yourselves, as a nation, you will obliterate this terribly cruel punishment from your so-called book of justice which is alike a disgrace to humanity, and to the intelligence with which humanity has been endowed by the Creator.
"Now, Mr. President, I will conclude. I do not know if your laws will allow me to see my wife before I float away, but should this be denied me, or should the lady object from feelings that may in her be justified according to her light, I wish, if it be not permitted, that this court will kindly convey to her my regret, my sincere regret for all that has taken place. Tell her that all I have done was done with the purest and most loving intentions towards her, and that if I have erred (and this, according to my light, which is perhaps but a dim and flickering one, I have not), it has been through inexperience and ignorance that I have had no means of enlightening. I have now said all that I have to say, and must thank you, Mr. President, along with your colleagues, for the patient hearing you have given me."
As I sat down I could notice that all in the court were much affected by my short speech. The judges coughed, and looked at one another until at last the President pulled himself together, and casting all sympathy from him, he spoke, simply saying:—
"Young man, we are sorry for you. You are a man of wonderful refinement of thought and feeling considering the antiquity of your origin, yet we can make no more distinction in your case than in that of any other culprit; our forefathers have made, and we have carried out this law for over six hundred years. We have found it to be beneficial to the morality of our people, and while perhaps it is, as you have described it, refined in its cruelty, it is the law and as such we respect it. Guards, remove the prisoner."
I was now taken back to my dungeon to await my fate.
After I was left alone, I lay down on the floor and slept the sleep of the exhausted. What hour it was when I awoke, I cannot tell; but I found the dungeon lighted with a glow lamp, and five men of the guide type sitting around me. After I awoke, I continued to look at them with apathetic indifference. I wondered what they were in my company for; but did not trouble to ask. I noticed that they had several curious-looking instruments with them, and it passed through my mind that these might be instruments of torture, but even to this I was indifferent. At last, one who seemed to be the chief amongst them, came to me, and said in Latin, "Arise, I wish to instruct you in the use of these instruments before you take them away with you as your sole and only friends. They are friends that will be true to you for evermore." I told him not to trouble me, but he persisted, and for the sake of getting rid of him, I stood up.
Then he said:—"I hold a most honourable and responsible position in the State, I am chief executioner. Although I do not cut off heads nor yet hang culprits by the neck, as I am told the ancients did, I cut off their connection with the earth, as effectually as if I severed their vertebræ or closed their wind-pipes. My life is devoted to science—that glorious science that teaches men all things. Were you a learned and scientific man, I would give you quick despatch, you would go up like a rocket. In your case the court has given instructions that on account of the greatness of your ignorance, or as they put it, your having through ignorance committed a terrible sin, your punishment is not to be so great as it otherwise would have been. In fact, young man, you must be a great favourite with the judges, as they have instructed me to supply you with the means of guiding yourself in the air and through space, and it is for the purpose of instructing you in the use of certain instruments that I am here with my assistants. Now, hurry up! we have not long to devote to you, as time flies, do what we will to control its action."
I went to him. He first let me see what he termed the insulator. "The use of this instrument," he said, "is to destroy the earth's attraction." In a playful way, he continued:—"This is my axe, this is my rope," and he patted and fondled it as if it were some living pet, for which he had a great affection. "Now, culprit, I will give you a practical illustration of its use." So saying, he took the instrument, which resembled a great metallic belt, and secured it around my waist by means of a spring and lock, his assistants holding me all the time. "Now," he said, "I will secure this string to your feet, and when you are ready we will pass one end of it through this ring which is secured to the floor. In a little I am going to turn on the exciter, and when this is done you will find that you will ascend. Now, I will provide you with guiding power and explain its use;" and so saying, he fastened two metallic strings to my belt, one on the right hand side, and the other to the left hand side. These strings were about a yard long, and one end was provided with a bracelet having a valve case or ball about two-and-a-half inches in diameter secured to it. He clasped the bracelets around my wrists so that one of the balls lay in the palm of each hand. I noticed that each ball was provided with two buttons placed in such a position as to allow the fingers when closed to press on one or other or both of them. My instructor said:—"No doubt you understand all about these lines of force, seeing that you are a friend of the Recorder. Well, if you press the top button on the left hand globe you will go to the left; and if you press the top button on the right hand ball you will go to the right, at the angles of the lines of force in whatever altitude you may be in. If you wish to steer a mid-course, then press both buttons in both balls equally, and you can deviate your course, more or less, from one side to the other by more or less pressing the buttons. Although this dungeon is not very high, you will be able to put my instructions to a practical test." He took the string he had previously fastened to my feet, and passing it through a bronze ring in the floor, secured it; then he went to my back and said, "I am now going to excite your girdle." I felt him moving some kind of a handle at my back, calling at the same time to his assistants to let me go; they did so, and immediately I sprang as it were into the air, the string bringing me to an anchor, with a jerk that showed the force with which I had ascended. I did not rest vertically, but I found that I was held by the string at an angle to the floor, as if I were pulled by the heels by some moving body. He now told me to press the right hand button, and in doing so, I veered around to the right, and when I pressed the left hand I veered to the left. I also noticed that as I pressed the buttons the strain on my anchorage became greater, until my ancles seemed almost cut through; so I at once desisted, as I thought my feet would be cut off by the cord. I was now at such an angle to the ground that my face nearly touched it, and there was a rush of something past me that made me feel as though I was standing in a hurricane. Possibly it was the effect of the passing lines of force by which I was now influenced. Speed of thought enabled me to take in the whole situation. This girdle of mine being excited by turning the handle, had destroyed the force of gravity, and this force being destroyed, I was trying to get away from the earth, while I at the same time was being dragged by the string attached to the ring in the floor, at a tremendous speed by the earth's motion. Had the string broken I would of a certainty have been smashed to atoms against the roof or walls of the dungeon; and I could see that when I pressed the buttons, I brought the lines of force into play, and was drawn by this mysterious power in an opposite direction to the earth's rotation, which added to the strain on the string. I begged to be taken down, and this curious specimen of an executioner said, "Oh yes! certainly, friend; I can do that now, as such are my instructions; but to-morrow I will let you loose for ever and ever, in the same way as I have released a number of criminals before. You see we have no room here for people who disrespect or disobey our just and wise laws. We don't allow even their bones or ashes to remain to pollute the earth." He turned the handle in my girdle again, and I fell flat on the floor, bruising my face and chest against it; but after this first taste of the terrible punishment that was in store for me, I wished that I had been killed outright by the fall. The executioner now removed his ingenious but horrible apparatus from me, and carried it away with him, leaving two of his assistants in charge. I tried to pass away the time by speaking to these creatures, but this was a hopeless task. They had but few ideas except about executions; this evidently was their specialty, and they stuck to it.
Broken-hearted, and worn out in mind and in body, and in very soul, I retired to a corner of the dungeon, and threw myself down on the floor, and there I started for the hundredth time to try and unravel the mystery of my position. My recollections of my first life, my first wife, and my children, were all mixed up in a mysterious jumble with modern habits and customs, modern language, music, art, and science. Where one begun or the other ended, or how I got mixed with both I could not tell; all I knew was that I was miserable, yes, utterly miserable. I prayed to God to save me from a continuance of this horrible trial, or I should go mad. How my brain stood it all, I can never explain. I was racked, worn, and miserable in mind, still I often thought of Meda. I never thought ill of her, and seemed to mix her with my earliest life. I thought I had known her as a child; I thought she was my Mary, my first wife; I could not disassociate her from every incident in my many troubles. Sleep I could not, rest I could not, but lay on the floor in the veriest and most abject misery, through the long dreary hours of waiting. Had I been condemned to death, I should have prized every moment; but being condemned to a long weary life floating about in endless space, I moaned aloud at the duration of time. At times a moment of calm would come; and then I would begin to regret that I had so soon got into this trouble which compelled me to leave the modern world before I had visited all the great seats of intelligence in America, Australia, Africa, India, and Europe. I had at one time lived in the fond hope that I should have a voyage in those wonderful aerial and naval vessels along with Meda; I had hoped to be able to study modern navigation; I had hoped to be able to investigate the principles of the mysterious forces that man had now summoned to his aid. I felt I had lost the chance of making use of all the valuable opportunities that I expected to have. And yet it was not my fault; it was the fault of that miserable hag of a woman who would insist on making me speak of myself. I believed she was a fiend in woman's clothing, sent to lead me to ruin by her master, the devil. I cried out in agony:—
"Oh Lord! excuse my presumption, but why do you allow these fiends to enter into the form of women and tempt us and lead us astray?" I no sooner had said this than I felt full of remorse. Why should I blame anyone more than myself? Why should men blame women? Are they not worse, yes, far worse themselves? But I was in such a highly strung, nervous and exhausted state that I was not answerable for what I thought, said, or did. I remember not what took place after this, until I was led to my execution. I must have swooned away.