The Great Secret/Chapter 13
IN THE CAVERN.
"Philip, my friend."
"Are we not dead?"
"I think not. I feel as much alive as ever. We had to use the rope in crossing from the wreck to the shore as human beings have; spirits are supposed to fly where they like. I think we shall have to use that rope to climb the face of the cliff that your husband has used, and which still hangs there. I feel hungry now and would like to eat, don't you?"
"Yes, now you have mentioned it."
"We were hungry and thirsty on the ship after the explosion, and we eat and drank; how is that for spirits?"
"We are also hungry and helpless. Tell us what to do?"
Philip Mortlake turned about and beheld a melancholy troop of men, women and children come from the shadows of the cave. He shuddered as he recognised some whom he had seen as corpses starting up and down in front of the ledge the night before.
"Who are you?"
"Anarchists, who shun you," moaned one whom Philip recognised as the baron. "We were drowned last night, yet we are here. I know not how, only we have no place else to go to. Can you tell us what to do?"
Philip stepped over and took the baron by the arm. He certainly, unless his imagination had played him false, had seen his dead body hover over the vaporous spout of the blow-hole, yet the baron felt solid and fleshlike as he was himself.
"Did you not escape with the others, last night?"
"No," replied the poor baron; "I was swept off the rope. I had no strength to cling on. I was drawn on to the rocks, battered about and sent upwards, for I felt it all for a time, and afterwards saw the rest. My body went to pieces while I watched it as I clung to the rocks, then I saw my wife, and lay down beside her, but I could not feel her and she had no knowledge of me. I suppose I am dead, yet I feel alive. I cannot fly. I can do nothing. I don't what to do. Can you not help me, for you have been longer here than I have?"
"I don't know myself," muttered Philip, confused. "Perhaps we have all made a mistake."
"But I saw your body pitched overboard ten days ago, therefore you must be a spirit, as I am now; and surely ten days is long enough to know one's way about even in a strange place?"
"I am on the earth, as I was all the years of my life. We have had to conceal ourselves during that time, and we came ashore through the surf by that rope which still hangs from the cliff top. My skin and clothes were drenched. I can feel you. I can also feel this wall, and if we had food of any kind I could eat and enjoy it. Does a spirit do all these?"
"I don't know," moaned the baron; "I, too, am hungry, wet and cold—oh, so cold!" he shivered violently as he spoke.
"We are all cold, wet and miserable," cried out, like a chorus, the rest of the Anarchists.
"Why did you not join the six who have climbed the wall?"
"We tried to make them see and hear us, but we could not. They passed through our midst whilst we encircled them, and shouted at them without a perception that we were there, and then we grew frightened and hid from them as you did."
Captain Nelson and his company looked on these late enemies, but now miserable objects, with compassion, wonder and some perplexity. What could they mean, and what had been the vague doubts about themselves which they had? Then Adela again spoke.
Listen, my friends, I had another dream last night. I dreamt that I was able to float about in the air, and that it was easy to do this. I merely balanced my hands above my head, as swimmers do when they are floating—"
"Swimmers don't do that, Adela," corrected Philip; they keep their hands down by their sides when they want to float."
"Do they, Philip?—yes, now I remember, you are right. Swimmers hold their arms that way when they wish to float, but to fly you have to clasp your hands at the back of your head and lean back in this way, while you will that you may rise, and lo! it comes to pass as in my dream."
As she spoke her body rose gently from the midst of the wondering audience, and floated gracefully over their heads; then she came down again and stood with a gentle smile upon her refined features before them.
"My friends, I think we have passed through the Valley of Death, and that our troubles are over, although where we may have to go, or what we may have to do is not yet revealed to us, therefore we must wait."
"But when people die, they either go to heaven or to hell," said one of Adela's listeners.
"So we have been taught, but now we know differently. We shall learn our ultimate destination by and by, I doubt not, but at present we are still on the earth, and of the earth."
While Adela was still speaking, and the others listening, their attention was attracted by a strange procession which approached them from the interior of the cavern.
A double line of young men and women, all seemingly about the same age of nineteen, came along slowly, led by a child about six, who looked only at Adela, as she advanced smiling, yet with a steady gravity and sedateness older than her years.
"That is the child who came for me when I was bound to the submerged wreck," whispered Adela to Philip.
The girl child carried in her hand a bunch of white lilies. She was dazzlingly fair to look upon, with blue eyes and soft masses of wavy golden hair; so bright did the little maid look, with her white robe and fair skin, that she seemed to shine in that semi-dark cavern.
Her older companions were also beautiful, with their regular features and graceful forms, but they were tawny in their complexions and glowing like burnished copper, with lustrous brown eyes, smiling red lips, and thick black tresses, the girls' being of a lighter tint than were the young men, yet all wore the same placid air of grave content.
They carried in their hands lighted lamps made from gold or new brass of a peculiar shape somewhat Greek-like, and as the warm fumes floated towards the spectators a perfume of violets pervaded the cavern. These lamp-bearers were twenty-four in number, twelve young men and twelve young women. They were simply clad in white robes, which fell in graceful folds about their perfect figures, leaving the arms and feet bare.
It had been bitterly cold before they entered, but now a grateful warmth spread round, like that of a summer day.
Behind these lamp-bearers advanced a woman not older than the others, and evidently of the same race, but so surpassingly beautiful that she drew all eyes upon her. She was tall and queen-like, and although as plainly costumed as were the others, yet it seemed as if a crown of glory rested upon her open brow and dark hair that spread round her shoulders almost to the ground.
Behind her came another band bearing baskets and jars of provisions, fruit, bread of various kinds, with milk, honey and wine.
As they came on, the Anarchists shrank once more to the sides of the cavern with glances of fear and hatred; but Adela, resting on the arm of Philip, as did their friends, looked at them with wondering interest.
"Welcome, friends, to the new state," this queen-like woman said in a sweet, thrilling voice, as she passed, with the fairy-like child beside her, in front of the company, while the lamp and provision-bearers ranged themselves round in a circle, shutting out the shrinking Anarchists, and ignoring them.
Then the child came forward to Adela and, holding out her little arms, she said,—
Philip started and looked at Adela, who had dropped his arm and was now kneeling before the child and staring at her with incredulous looks.
"Do you not know me, mother?" asked the child with a disappointed expression on her fair face, her little mouth quivering.
"Alas! no, my child," answered Adela, piteously; "I once had a baby girl, but I only held her in my arms for one day."
"I was that baby girl, but I have grown since, mother. Ah! now you know me."
Adela had opened her arms, and the little one was once more against her throbbing bosom.
"I have been with you often when you could not see me, mother, dear, so that it was easy to find you at the last."
"My darling, my darling," murmured the kneeling woman, hiding her face amongst the mass of golden hair.
"I have been growing ever since you lost sight of me," continued the child.
"All children keep on growing until they are women and men, only here they never grow old. You will be happy here, for we have everything we like when we have learned how to get it. I shall teach you some things, and Hesperia here will tell you the rest, for she has been here a long time and knows everything,"
"Hardly anything yet," answered the beautiful woman, "but I am learning some of the wonders of creation. But you are thirsty and hungry, therefore eat, for we have a journey to take as soon as you are satisfied."
It seemed strange, if they were spirits, how they should want to eat and drink, yet for all its apparent incongruity the invitation was grateful to one and all; therefore they sat down and permitted their beautiful attendants to wait upon them while they partook of the viands placed before them.
"Philip," said Adela, looking up with shining eyes, and a face so transfigured with joy that Philip Mortlake could hardly recognise her, "I did not tell you about that one sorrow of my past which has now become my joy, for I thought that she was lost to me forever."
"What has been is never lost," said the queen-like woman calmly.
Philip observed that the food which they were eating was composed entirely of the produce of the earth—grain and fruit, with what animals give without sacrifice. No life had been taken to cater for this repast, yet it was delicious and satisfying. He looked towards the miserable criminals by the wall and felt a sudden pity for them, and a desire to share with them also. The woman Hesperia, as if she had heard his desire, looked at him and said gently,—
"We have come for you, the victims. Our food would be insipid and distasteful to those blood-stained spirits. They will be taken care of presently by their own kind."
Even while she spoke and pointed towards the darkened cavern, Philip saw shapes moving along, shrouded by the darkness and carrying with them smoking dishes. These also gathered round the hungry Anarchists and ministered to their wants.
"What are they—devils?"
"Yes," replied Hesperia. "They are the spirits of murderers, the ministers of blood and destruction. Sympathy has drawn them to their own kind. They are what we call nucleus spirits, late arrivals. They haunt the surface of the earth and incite mortals to crime, for that is at present their only instinct and happiness, but they cannot hurt us. Soon we will leave them behind, and they will take these new-found friends with them?"
"To the haunts of their former crimes, there to plot and plan other outrages in the brains of the earth-bound and flesh-controlled."
"Is there no hope for them?"
"Yes; truth and goodness are immortal principles of the soul, crime is only an earth disease; it runs its course and wears itself out in time, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter."
"But what about the soul?" inquired Philip earnestly. "Is it not affected by this contamination?"
"Not the soul—the spirit is chained by the desires of the body long after the body has been demolished, yet those desires pass also after a time, and when that moment arrives the spirit begins its upward course. Some day the worst of these devils will become angels. It does not matter much to the soul what the body does on earth with itself, as the two are as difficult to unite as oil with water. More difficult indeed, for while oil and water may become a medium in certain proportions, the soul can never, under any conditions, amalgamate with the body. What the body does, cannot influence the soul more than prison walls influenced the captive; the prison, if badly built or badly looked after, will decay and fall to ruins, and in the same way the body suffers alone for its own neglect. The soul is always pure, for it is a living part of God."
"What of these miserable spirits, though?" again queried the inquisitive Philip.
"Some will be drawn back by desire to earth and become rehabilitated, and then they must either be worse or better."
"Time cures all evil. You will learn more by and by. Meantime, let me show you what the world was, during my last sojourn upon it, before those nations who are considered ancient by modern man and have become merged in later races existed, when what has become ocean was flourishing lands, and where now ice and snow have blocked for ages, the sun shone warm, and fertile forests and gardens beautified a world, even then no longer young, for we were the last of many races, the last of that epoch, which the inspired amongst you get a whisper of from us, and term the golden age."
She rose as she spoke and went before them, the lamp-bearers guarding the group as they passed along the cavern, leaving the hoarse roaring of that bleak sea and those damned spirits behind.