The Great Secret/Chapter 14

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After going for a considerable distance along the cavern, Hesperia paused at a portion of the cliff, and touching it at one point, stood aside and waited.

As she did so, a portion of the wall seemed to fall outward, revealing a wide entrance, into which she lead the way with the lamp-bearers round them.

It was such a startling upheaval of all their preconceived notions about that unknown state after death that the new-comers could hardly credit their senses, or think that they were not still in the flesh. They had been taught that everything would be so different. They had expected such a total change, and yet here they were, and had been for the past ten days, eating, drinking, and doing exactly as they had done all their lives, with only a different change of scene. Instead of passing through walls, the walls had to open like ordinary doors before they could get on their way. Their feet seemed to strike the ground solidly enough; in fact, if they had lost their bodies, they had no perception of the loss as yet.

"You are no different," said the guide Hesperia, as if in answer to the thoughts which were passing through their minds. "You have gained other powers, added to those you had before, only you cannot use them yet, for you are in the same condition as children are when they come into the earth; yet you were invisible to human eyes when I met you, although you did not know that. What you eat while on the ship, after your bodies were thrown off, was not the actual food you thought it to be, yet it satisfied the want you imagined yourselves as having. Now, by the powers that we all possess, I have materialised you as well as myself, so that you could be seen if any human eye could now see you. That is why we all walk as mortals do, instead of flashing through space, as you will easily do when you are taught and gain sufficient confidence in your own new gifts."

Philip thought of the account of Christ and Mary at the tomb, when the Master told her not to touch Him, for He had not yet risen. The stone placed there had to be rolled away, before even He could come forth, although afterwards He had appeared through closed doors without any effort.

For an instant a very human and unworthy twinge of jealousy had darted through him when he saw the reunion of mother and daughter. He had been the only friend of Adela before her little girl had come to share her affections, or, perhaps, draw them from him; but one look at the winsome little maid cured that unworthy feeling and gave him a new pleasure. She would be his child also through all eternity, a pure bond to keep them both together. The child, whose tender life on earth had been cut short by the fiendish cruelty of her earthly father, had not yet mentioned him. It was the mother only she had come for. The Woman is the only true Creator of Life, and all life belongs to her, as it came from her. Man has no after portion in it.

Adela had returned to his arms after that first embrace with her long lost infant. She was now leaning on him with one hand, while the other held the little hand that was leading them both on to that mystic future.

"What a simple effort death is," she whispered, "and how happy we are to have passed it so well. Now we are all together, Philip, I have not one wish left."

After traversing a space of level rock, they came to a long flight of steps, which they descended after their guide. Again a level stretch, and down another long range of stairs; it seemed as if they were passing into the very centre of the world, yet they felt no sense of fatigue.

At the foot of the eleventh range of stairs the beautiful guide paused, and said,—

"You have one more trial to pass through before you can enter my land, and there is no evading it; but we shall be with you to comfort you. We are coming to a wide and deep river, which flows through this dark passage. The philosophers, whom you term ancient, knew of it, as they knew a great many other secrets now lost to humanity, and they called it the Styx. Its real name is the River of Eternal Youth. It is cold as the most frozen of waters, but it will wash away all the years which have aged you and enfeebled your energies since you reached maturity. On this side of that river you stand as you quitted earth, with your earth particles restored to you in their imperfections. Those waters will dissolve them from you for ever, and leave your spirit body young and at liberty. You are now about to taste of the real bitterness of spirit birth; yet fear not to plunge in, for the reward is a mighty one."

A great horror fell upon the company as they heard these grave and solemn words. The blackness of the space around them, which the small lamps only accentuated, for they were now on a vast plain, where no sides or roof could be seen. The deathly silence that reigned around, for no echo rose from their footsteps, made that coming ordeal seem doubly dreadful.

"Do all have to pass through this river?" whispered Adela, clinging closely to the arm of Philip.

"Yes, all must pass who would become as we are. Some spirits shiver on the brink and go back again to haunt the earth. They come again and again as ages pass, until eventually they find courage to take the baptism; but until then they are imperfect and earth-bound spirits, who can only tell what they see and know. Your daughter went through as a baby. Be brave, or we must leave you and let others take you in charge."

"Go in with me, Philip, and I will not fail," answered Adela, with a convulsive shiver.

They were walking now over what seemed a plain of black basalt, shining and worn smooth as ice with the countless feet which had trodden over it, and as they went on the atmosphere became as cold as if they had been in an ice vault. Shadows also seemed to glide past them, cravens retreating from the horror.

At last they paused on the brink of a wide sheet of inky and swiftly-flowing tide. They could not see the other side, and the side they were on was solid and black rock. It was an evil sight, and their hearts stood still as they waited for someone to set the example.

Captain Nelson was the first to break the spell of silence.

"This will never do, friends. If it has to be done, best get it over quickly; so here goes."

The brave old man took a sudden run and a header from the bank. No ripple or splashing broke that oily blackness as he disappeared, only his loud and agonised shriek as he touched the surface. That shrill shriek made the ordeal seem more horrible than before.

"Be brave, be brave," whispered those who were watching them, with their lamps now burning so dimly.

"Come, Adela," said Philip, clenching his teeth, and clasping her round the waist, he drew her shrinking form towards the jetty flood.

A moment they paused on the brink, and then together, with shut eyes, they made the leap, and, as Captain Nelson had done, felt as if their souls had been torn from their bodies and was escaping in that wild and joint cry, while the waters closed over them.

Once he had read of a man who had fallen into a furnace of molten metal. The papers said the man could not have suffered at all, for those who saw him fall said he was dissolved instantly, leaving not even a trace of his humanity behind.

This fate seemed to have overtaken him now in the quick instant of touching the surface and the sinking or dissolving of his humanity. It was an eternity of agony concentrated into a second, and then came peace unutterable. He and his friend had crossed the black river.

"Ah, mother, how beautiful you are."

It was the clear voice of her child which fell upon their ears as they emerged on the other side, where willing hands were lifting them; and as Philip looked at the girl whose hand the child held, he could hardly believe his senses. It was Adela as she must have appeared before care and time had clouded her life—virginal, fresh and smiling. He also felt as if he was but twenty.

"Ah, Philip, have I changed as you have? Why, you have become a boy again."

It was Adela as it was Philip, for he still had hold of her hand and waist, and both laughed merrily as they regarded each other. She, with her abundant golden brown tresses, blooming cheeks, and eyes as blue as were her child's. He, brown-haired and slender, yet wearing the characteristics which enabled her to recognise him.

"Yes, we all seem to be altered for the better since we took that dip, but it was a scorcher while it lasted," said a voice beside them that they felt was that of Captain Nelson, no longer the white-haired veteran, but a stalwart youth.

"How many have crossed over?" asked Philip, to the guides who were still beside them.

"Alas, only you three," replied Hesperia. "The others have gone back."

"Cowards!" replied the captain in his deep musical voice.

"Ah! it takes great faith and courage to cross that river," replied Hesperia softly. "Ages may pass before they win that faith and courage; meantime, they will not be unhappy, for they will have many companions in their pilgrimage through the earth, and fair scenes to dwell in. They will be happier than they were while in the flesh, but their knowledge and powers are limited. Yours have now become unlimited. Time and space will be at your command. You will know all that the earth has passed through, and can penetrate other worlds at your will."

"That may be," said Captain Nelson, in a slightly doubtful voice. "I certainly have got rid of all symptoms of gout and rheumatics since I had that heroic plunge. I also feel as young and fresh as when I was fourth mate, but I don't seem to have either the power or the inclination to fly; but perhaps it is like swimming, wants a little practice."

"That is it exactly, or rather what is practice on the world becomes will-power here, which is the all-potent factor of the spirit body. You will to be what you please and you are without an effort. For instance, I am taking you to a land which has been for long cycles buried under the ocean. Our civilisation and the works we created then, have long since vanished from human ken, or rather become merged into other substances. Some fossilised remains are still left in those sea-buried rocks, yet they are too obscure to be read even by the most astute of scientists. No hint remains to tell earthlings of to-day what we were, cycles before the date fixed as the creation of man.

"Yet from those dispersed atoms, which were once our cities, our gardens, and our forests, we are able to rebuild the land which was our own, and where we love to dwell still, with our customs and habits. We can create our own balmy atmosphere, spread over our land the same skies we used to have before the climates changed, for, as I have said before, what has been, cannot be lost.

"We are now leagues under the ocean's bed. Buried, as mortals might think, in the heart of the earth. Yet the gardens of the old world lie quite close at hand, and it is exactly the same now as it was myriads of ages ago. We grow no older in this world of ours; time signifies nothing to us. The earth is our playground, from where humanity comes to us. We watch the changes of to-day as we watched those of yesterday. Egypt still flourishes to the freed Egyptians, Assyria to the Assyrians, Greece, Rome, all these trifling changes, down to what is considered great to-day.

"We were early on the earth, as your wise men would say, yet before us countless races had flourished and passed away.

"These men who sent you from earth, the Anarchists, had their reign before our days and after them. We occupied an era of universal peace, wisdom and rest.

"Nothing rests for ever, not even the Great Soul from whom we all come; it broods and produces new worlds in that everlasting unfathomable space, new men and women; yet the new worlds and new races come from the old worlds and old races which have been worn out.

"The Great Soul, of which we are portions, is unreachable and cannot be exhausted. We go on—on—on, gaining knowledge and power as we advance. The material atoms of worlds only are limited and reutilised. Your body of ten days ago, the last remains of which were swept down that river, will be returned to earth and rehabilitated as something else, for you have no more to do with them. If ever you require a human body you can take it from anything—the dust on the roads, the flowers, the rocks, but you may only borrow those atoms for a time, and for a special purpose.

"Your spirits are your own for all eternity, as your bodies were on earth; your soul belongs to that Mighty Source Who will not rob you of it, for what It gives It never takes back. It breathes eternally, and every breath creates myriads of souls. Come! I have told you enough for the present—let me show you my land."

As she spoke, the circle of young men and girls closed round these three rejuvenated spirits, and like a flash of thought, they felt themselves borne along through space.