The Great Secret/Chapter 16

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CHAPTER XVI.

THE GARDEN OF HESPERIDES.

It seemed no longer space of time than takes place between the shutting and the opening of an eyelid since Philip, Adela and Captain Nelson had stood upon the sterile shores of that black river, and now they stood beneath a clear blue sky and in the midst of a semi-tropical landscape.

"Already you have proved how easy it is to fly," said Hesperia, smiling upon them. "We are still under the Southern Ocean, yet, if we had wished, we could have been at the opposite end of the earth in the same time."

"I know that we have been whisked off, but how is still a mystery, yet I am perfectly content to be where I am for the present," answered the captain.

They were at the entrance of a spacious garden, arched over with fruit trees of many varieties. Behind them lay a sunny valley, through which a clear stream ran and bubbled over many a small cascade, pouring like crystal over the mossy boulders, dashing milky-white within the amber-tinted pools, and finally losing itself under the cool and sheltered avenues of this delicious garden.

Above the valley rose lofty mountains, purple and blue in the warm sunlight, range behind range. They rose until they seemed to reach the very sky, the most distant merely faint shadows of picturesque lines and soft dyes of deeper blue than the space above them, a vision of extreme distance and subtile gradation of colour as well as variety in form, as fairy-like and poetic as ever eye could feast upon. There was nothing harsh or monotonous about any portion, either in shape or tint, and the sunlight gleamed over it with a mellow lustre.

The sides of the valley were lined with terraces and gardens, all lavish in their luxuriant freedom. Walls had been reared at parts where wanted to support the soil, but they were toned to the harmonious tint of the cliffs, and in many places covered with trailing vines. The summits of palaces shone above those waving and clustered trees, while walks and steps led down from terrace to terrace by many a wind.

Fountains played in the gardens, the little rivulets from their basins dropping over the cliffs on to the sloping sides of the hill like

"Slow-dropping veils of thinnest lawn,"

or stealing gently down to join that louder-voiced central stream.

The upper heights swam in a mellow light like the house of the lotus-eaters, purely bright as was the heaven of St John at Patmos, while in the valley rested subdued shadows from sheltered copse, uplifted pine and pillared cypress. It was a valley where the perfection of cultivated Art was wedded to capricious Nature—a landscape without a flaw or false line.

The garden in front of them filled the entire bed of the valley from where they now stood, and had been designed during many ages of peace and security to produce shadow and repose. Down its countless festooned avenues figures of young men and maidens moved, easy and graceful, thinly-clad, as were the natives of ancient Greece. Philip was not astonished to see snowy cattle and sheep browsing or lying in lazy content on the green banks of the streams, also goats on the heights, nor the doves hovering in mid-air, neither did those floating gauze-like figures who rose at will and swam across the space surprise him; such a landscape required these wonders to be complete.

"These gardens lead to and surround the city where I was born," said Hesperia. "We will walk through them and come to the principal gate. It is all as it was during my lifetime. We were a great nation and had many places like this, for the earth was then enjoying a long millennium of peace. Men had learned to live simply and without crime, war was unknown, also want and poverty. We had no great men nor women amongst us, no kings—at least, none as you understand them. We had reached to the perfection of invention, art and science. Indeed we did not know death, for our friends never left us. We saw their bodies perish through natural decay; but they were only absent for a short time, and then they returned in their first youth to help us in the burning of their worn-out garments."

"You had books and histories then?" asked Philip.

"Yes, my friend. I will show you one of our libraries, with our picture and statue galleries. The history of the world had been written and printed then as far back as we knew it, which reached many more ages back from our day than your historians attempt. And yet you fix upon the creation of the world cycles after we had been forced by the gradual changes of climate to migrate northward."

"How did the change come about?"

"As the change is taking place on the world now and always has been. The ocean eats morsel by morsel away, and men retreat before its approach, earthquakes occur and countries sink, volcanoes burst out and bury cities, while the earth gradually alters its position, until what was tropical becomes ice-locked. Countries, like fields and gardens, when they are used up, have to lie fallow and rest for years or cycles of centuries. The human race never perished outright at any period; one nation became merged in another, adopting the habits and language of those they went amongst until their own became lost. An earthquake or an outburst of fire might destroy the records of a people or break the historical link, but change is the order of Nature."

"Yet when you reached to this state of perfection, how could your race ever change?"

"As the earth changes, my friend. Men became wearied of peace and plenty after a time, and went over the mountains and waters in search of adventure, and warlike strangers came and conquered us; but that was long after my earth-time."

"Yet you are contented with your life of peace and rest in this paradise?" queried the inquisitive Philip, who already had his own ideas about perfect rest.

He had listened in churches to descriptions about Heaven being an eternity of Sundays, and he had never been much enamoured with this notion of perfect felicity. To sit for ever in crystal halls or on golden thrones, playing the harp and singing an eternal refrain of praise was not his conception of how he would enjoy the passing ages. He had been a practical sinner on earth, mourning the sins of selfishness, meanness and duplicity, with a heart filled with sympathy for his own kind, and a great love and tenderness for those animals who are given into man's charge, yet he did not like the idea of everlasting rest, varied with everlasting adulation.

"This is our present heaven of rest, our old, dear home, to which we gladly return when we are tired with our labours. We choose this as the gathering-place of our age, as children who are called from the home circle return during holiday time, and meet together to exchange thoughts and experiences. Were I content to sit down here and bask, then indeed my soul must have left me and my days of progression be at an end. True, we have our periods of rest and reunion here as they have in the flesh, when all is pleasure and happiness, but these are only intervals in a life of action and advance."

"I am glad to hear you say so, for this radiant scene, although so perfect, those sheltered groves would satiate me and render me wretched after many days."

"Eternity is not rest except to the weary, and spirits cannot be weary for ever. They may lie passive for a time when exhausted with their efforts, yet they leap up, active and restless, after a time and go on, on, winning fresh conquests, until the next period for rest comes, then they return to the original nest and lie for a time content. Come, I am proud of my home and the laws which governed it while it was above the sea. You have your histories; we have our living pictures to remind us of the past, and they satisfy our home cravings. Eternity is perfect—all embracing, all reaching, never beginning, and without an end."

"Are there marriages amongst you?" next asked Philip, with a certain timidity, for Adela and her child daughter were with him.

While he paused for the reply so did Adela. The child meanwhile had run a little forward to pluck some flowers.

Hesperia turned and looked at them both calmly for a space, and then said quietly,—

"My husband waits for me in our home to-day. We parted only that I might come for you, yet even then we were not parted. Do you imagine that the breath of the Creator would be perfect if divided? Has the River of Purification not yet opened your eyes? Have you any doubts upon the subject?"

"No," answered Philip, as he turned towards Adela.

"Nor have I," replied Adela, looking at him with eyes in which love, the eternal, glowed.

"Be satisfied then, and ask no more questions," said Hesperia. "Mortals sometimes have, on rare occasions, a foretaste of this eternal union, yet theirs is but the shadow of the reality."

The little maid joined them here with a cluster of white roses in her arms. Her mother meant to have called her Mary, and that was now her name. She now danced before them, happy and unconscious, while they both murmured her name as they clasped hands.

"Mary will find her own mate by and by," murmured Hesperia, as she led them along the covered ways of this dream-like paradise.

They passed under the branches and leaves of trees that were familiar to them, also under others that were strange, yet all was a bewildering labyrinth of loveliness and intoxication to their newly-awakened senses. The air was balmy and not too hot for comfort, and they felt strangely lightsome and exhilarated, while the joy in each breast was perfect. Yes, they could rest for a time in this olden land of Hesperia. At present they wished for nothing more.

After a space of walking through this broad pathway, which was covered with the softest of sward, they saw the city spread out in front of them through the open gateways; the pillars and walls built of what appeared to be alabaster, and the streets bathed in the glow of the afternoon sun. A gentle rose hue prevailed everywhere, and tinged the marble or alabaster with its faint blush.

It was a city by the sea, for they saw the distant purple of the waters and the glister of the sun upon the minute ripples, for the street was straight from the gateway to the sea.

So they walked from the shadows of the garden into the glory of the golden sun, their eyes dazzled for a moment with the lustre.