Meda: a Tale of the Future/Part XV
THE next thing that I recollect was being conscious of being led out of the dungeon, and taken away to a hill. Around the top of the hill was a multitude of men, in the centre of which was a number of elders who formed a ring on the most elevated portion of the ground. I was taken into the centre of the ring of elders, amongst whom I now noticed the Recorder, looking years older than when I saw him last. He was bowed down with grief for me; yet I could see that while he loved and grieved for me; and while he loved his daughter, his love and respect for his duty to the laws of his country were greater, yes, far greater than any considerations such as these. I felt my respect for this large-minded, noble, yet modest man growing greater and greater; I felt that in him, at least, was engrafted a noble, generous and right-minded nature, that one must respect, that one must admire, that one must love. The sight of his sorrow caused me to cast my dejection aside. I tried to look cheerful to cheer him; I tried to look happy to make him happy.
An elder came up to me and said: "Young man, have you any further reasons to bring forward as to why your sentence should not be carried out? You have been tried before our judges, and they have found you guilty according to the laws of our people."
I replied: "Sir, I feel that I am according to yours laws found guilty of a great crime, and I feel, looking at my sentence from your point of view, that it is a just one. I blame no one in this country for what has taken place, nor can I blame myself. What I have done, has been done in ignorance; and I feel that while it is a transgression in the eyes of your laws, it is not a sin in the eyes of the great Creator, to whom all owe their being."
"Now," he said, "your sentence must be carried out; are you prepared?"
I replied, "I am ready.—Am I to be allowed to see my wife before I leave?"
He said: "The law forbids any women to be present at such scenes as this."
"Then," I said, "bring it to a close with all speed."
The executioner now advanced towards me, putting on the same apparatus that I had on before, but no cord was tied to my feet this time. His four assistants laid hold of me, and at a word from the leading elder, he turned the handle of the exciter, and I darted into the air, the earth whirling past me at the rate of a thousand miles per hour. At first I was quite dazed, but gradually I began to regain consciousness, I saw land, and hills, and lakes, and valleys, and oceans passing beneath me in quick succession, and gradually growing more and more indistinct. Sometimes I was lost in clouds; sometimes I was in pure, pure atmosphere; I seemed to float onward and upwards. At times I imagined that some one situated like myself followed in my path, but I could not turn round to see if such was the case, as I had forgotten for the time the executioner's instructions, so I just floated on and on through space. I experienced no pain, no thirst, no hunger, no pleasure. I lived as it were in space, devoid of all feeling. The night came on; I could now see no earth, but I saw stars innumerable,—such bright, such beautiful gems of the heavens. Was it possible that I should float away to one of these? Was it possible that I should find there another race, another people, more or perhaps less intellectual than those I had just left? With such thoughts my mind was filled, and with such thoughts passing through my brain I began while floating about to dose. I felt a pleasant, happy feeling of stupor coming over me. I roused myself however by a great effort, and seeing a figure floating before me some hundred yards ahead, I began to examine it. It was like the figure of an old man with a long flowing white beard that extended below his feet. Although it was now night, it was not quite dark; I could see distinctly all before me. I did not seem to get any nearer to this figure, yet I must have floated about with it in view for some hours. Its hands were outstretched, and its ringers and the nails were of prodigious length, while the nails of its toes hung below the feet. I now began to remember the instructions given by the executioner as to the use and method of working the guiding apparatus; and my thoughts once started in this direction, all my instructions came to my memory in an instant. I remembered now his explanation about pressing the buttons of the right or left hand ball. I thought I should try pressing my right hand fingers on the buttons first. The moment I did this, I felt as if I had laid hold of an invisible rope travelling at a great speed. I was pulled away at an angle towards the right, and so fast was I moving that my body assumed a horizontal position. I was, as it were, flying forward. When I started, the figure was directly in front of me, but being drawn by this line of force towards the right, I passed at lightning speed to the right of the figure. I had hoped to be able to come up to it, and find out what kind of man it was, if man it could be called; but when I came near it, I had not the presence of mind to take my fingers off the buttons. When I was passing, however, I saw more clearly that the figure was truly that of an old man. He held out both his hands, as it were, to stop me, but I shot past out of his reach. I could see that his great gaunt limbs were quite naked; he had the same apparatus around his waist that I wore, but he evidently was not provided with any guiding power. I lifted my fingers off the buttons when I was well past him, and then came to a stop, assuming once again a vertical position. I tried several times to turn towards him, but this was impossible. Having overshot my mark, I could not now get any information from him; it was clear to me that I must wait for another chance meeting. So I touched the left hand buttons, and I sped away at an angle to the left; I then touched both, and I was drawn straight ahead.
I found considerable pleasure in experimenting with this mysterious power that pulled me about until I at last, by practice, became accustomed to its management, and could travel in any direction I liked within the angles of the lines of force. But this became very trying work; my arms felt as though they were drawn out of their sockets. I wished I could now meet another figure floating about, as I would be able to converse with it, if it spoke any language that I understood; but I had lost my chance, at least, for the present. I could see nothing but the stars and the moon that looked terribly bright and distinct; I imagined I saw a second moon below me, but its outline was only dimly bright. Could it be possible that this was the earth that I had left? If it was so, how could I ever get back to it again? Was I forever to float about in space like that poor desolate figure that I had passed? Would my beard grow like his and stream about me as his did? Would my limbs become gaunt? Would my eyes become fixed and glazed as his were? Yes, such must be my miserable fate; I must float about in this terrible solitude for all time. Here my spirit rose in indignation for the hundredth time against this cruel punishment. Death by torture, death by burning, anything would be preferable to this. But I said to myself, I have one resource left, and that is the power of motion. I grieve to say that I tried to kill myself by this power. I clutched my right hand on the buttons and away I sped to the right; then I would clench the left hand buttons, and away I went to the left, diving and twisting from right to left and then from left to right; I would close both hands, and off I started straight ahead. I went on thus without ceasing for hours, until I became perfectly exhausted. I was unable to do anything now, so I stood at rest.
[I had now been many days sitting in Folingsby's garden, engaged in writing his adventures. As his health had not improved, I feared that the excitement of relating what he had seen in space would be too much for him. In fact, his wife had given me several scoldings, and she said that I was encouraging him to talk nonsense and injuring his health. I noticed also that when he came to relate what he saw in space, his manner quite changed, and he spoke like one in a dream, with his eyes fixed stedfastly, as if he saw all he described. Although highly interested, I felt it my duty to Folingsby and his wife not to allow him to continue relating his floating experiences for the present, but rather encouraged him to keep them until he was quite well and strong. I at last got him persuaded to skip all this portion of his experiences, and to be content with relating how he got released from his curious position.]
"Well," he said, "I suppose I must jump to the conclusion, since you and Mary have conspired against me, and I am too weak to resist you. After floating about for months and months, and seeing many strange things, I felt one night as if I were half asleep and half awake. I thought I heard voices whispering: I thought I felt a kindly hand bathing my brow; and I thought some one was feeling my pulse. I heard a woman's voice say, 'Doctor, he is better; do say my darling is better,' And then I heard a strong, kindly voice say: 'Yes, the crisis is past, I can now give you some hope, but the greatest prudence must be exercised, a relapse would have terrible results. You must now go to bed, and leave the nurse to attend to the patient.'
"'But I cannot leave my darling, doctor,' the voice pleaded.
"'I insist on your doing so,' was the reply. And then I listened and thought I heard them retiring. Where had I heard that woman's voice before? It was quite familiar to me, I knew it; yes, it was my first dear wife Mary's voice. I was sure of this; how could it be, though? She has been dead more than three thousand years. What has become of me? No, it is not her voice. I tried to open my eyes; I did so with great difficulty. I looked around and saw I was in a room the exact counterpart of the one I had occupied in the latter days of my first life. Who was that dark man standing at the foot of the bed looking so grave? I knew his face. Yes, yes, that is good, kind, doctor Brown, that I knew of old, the same face. I tried to speak, but could not; I tried to move, but could not stir, I felt quite faint. The doctor came up to the head of the bed, and laid his hand on my forehead, saying:
"Thank God, you are better, Folingsby; but you must be very prudent and do not speak on any account; you have had a terrible time of it. Take this.' He poured something down my throat from a drinking cup, and I again became unconscious.
"My next recollection of consciousness was a feeling of soreness and tiredness all over my body. My eyes were closed. I was trying to move myself, but I felt so worn-out, so tired, and so weak that I had not energy to do anything. My mouth was dry and hard; when I moved my tongue about, it seemed to rattle against my teeth. My very teeth appeared loose in my gums. I could not breathe through my nose, my head seemed stuffed up. What could it all mean? I had a distinct recollection of having revisited my old home, of having heard my first wife speak, of having seen my old doctor. What had come over me now? Had I gone away again on the lines of force? One time on the blue track, and another time on the red track, had I got away from my old home again, and jumped ahead three thousand years?
"I groaned aloud in perfect misery; and immediately a soft, gentle hand was placed on my brow, bathing it with perfume; then, drop by drop, moisture was let fall between my lips, but not a word was spoken. I moved my tongue now with greater freedom; it got gradually moist and pliable, and my teeth seemed to get more securely fixed. I could not speak, nor could I open my eyes, but my sense of hearing was most acute, and I was conscious that there was only one person in the room, and that that person was a woman. No hands save those of a woman could be so gentle and kindly as those hands were. They were not those kind of hands that are hard all over; hands that when they try to caress you, only dab at you or probe you, as if they were made of a combination of jointed bits of wood, without feeling or sense of touch. No, these were nice, soft, gentle, sympathetic hands; the fingers did not move in rows like a company of soldiers or the teeth of a rake. No, they moved individually, guided in the gentleness of their touch by the veriest love in sympathy with suffering. You must, dear reader, have had experience in hands. What a deal of character there is displayed by this member! I would know a gentle heart at once by a hand shaking. I don't care how big, how clumsy the hand is, if there is sympathy in the grip there is a sympathetic heart behind.
"As I lay in this weak but conscious state, I wondered who this could be that was attending to my wants with such gentle care. My first thought was of Meda; I thought she must have followed me up into the clouds and was now nursing me; but no, that was not the case, those hands were not hers. I began now to think of Meda. What a curious creature she was, with her large head, and big chest! How did I ever love her? What queer people I had been with! And how cruel they had been to me to send me off to the skies in the way they did! But, after all. I thought it was a good thing they did so, as it got me clear away from Meda. Oh, how cruel was this thought! Poor Meda! did she love me? I certainly loved her; but somehow I have changed. I wonder where I am?
"Then I began thinking of my early life, my first life, my first love, my Mary, my own wife! I tried several times to speak, but could not. The moisture was kindly and regularly applied to my lips; I got more strength; I managed to mutter the word 'Mary,' and to my great delight I heard as in a whisper,—'Hush, love, your Mary is beside you.'
"What did it all mean? Had I not died? Had I not been born again more than three thousand years later? Had I not lived with the people of the future? Had I not been married a second time to Meda? Had these people not acted cruelly towards me? Had I not floated away into interminable space? And had I not seen terrible and interesting things there? How was it now that a voice said, 'Your Mary is beside you?' Was I dreaming? Was I mad? What was it? Yet those hands, that gentle, kindly sympathetic touch; yes, that was Mary's, my Mary's hand, I should know it amid a thousand. I again essayed to speak, and at last managed to say, 'My Mary, are you there?'
"'Yes, dear one, I am here, but oh, Kenneth darling, do be quiet. I will get such a scolding from the doctor if I speak or allow you to speak, so do be quiet, like a good, dear fellow.' "I said, 'Give me your hand.' She placed her hand in mine, and then I knew it was not a dream; I knew that wherever I was, Mary was with me, in reality, in truth, yes, in very life; I felt happy, so truly happy, that my exhausted state mattered not to me now. I then said, 'Where am I, Mary?'
"'You are in your own room, in your own house, near your own garden, dear; but it is the middle of the night now, and all is darkness, and the fact is, Kenneth dear, you must go to sleep. I will not speak another word to you; it is, the doctor says, as much as your life is worth; there now.'
"I knew from experience that it was useless for me to say another word to Mary when she wound up with 'There now.' There was no use in trying to move her, so I tried to please her, and at last I fell into a gentle slumber, and did not awake again until the sun was shining brightly. Then I was able to open my eyes and examine my surroundings. I could not lift my head from my pillow I was so weak, but before me, asleep in an easy chair, was my Mary. But oh! how changed. Her face bore a worn-out expression; her cheeks, that I had known as blooming and fresh, were now thin and hollow; her whole figure seemed haggard and exhausted; her sleep seemed broken and restless. But although my mouth was dry and parched, I would not for all the water in the world have disturbed her, so I lay and watched and thought. I could hear the birds singing such lovely songs of love; ah! that I could but look out through the window and see them. I could hear the gentle breeze rustling amongst the trees. All seemed love; all seemed pleasure; all seemed happiness. At last Mary awoke, and starting up as if she had committed some sin, she came over to me, and seeing my eyes open she burst into tears, and stooping, kissed me. The hot tears I knew were not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy. I wept also; my very weakness and joy caused me to be overcome.
"It was three days after this that I got a short account of what had taken place. I had had a very serious illness that for a long time puzzled the doctor. I lay like one dead, so like, that at one time the doctor thought I was gone. This state of coma, it appears, lasted for five weeks; and the doctor told me that had it not been for the untiring care of my dear wife I could not have lived. For weeks and weeks she had sat up with me, day and night; all wondered that she stood this terrible fatigue, but her devoted loving devotion pulled me through. For my part I have never since been the same man. My conviction is that while my body lay in that state of coma my spirit has been away in the far future, gleaning information to lay before the people of 1888, a warning to them of what is to come.
"You have prevented me telling you what I saw while floating in space, but this will keep until I am stronger. I am glad I have been able to tell you what I have told, as it is a great relief to my mind."