The Great Secret/Chapter 20

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"You are satisfied now that you two were made for each other, and that you are one soul now?"

"Yes, oh yes; we have no longer a single doubt. Who could have after what we have seen and heard?"

It was Hesperia who asked the final question to Philip and Adela as the three stood in the test chamber—a small chamber made of the purest crystal, through which they could see the sky above and around them, for they were on the top of the most elevated dome.

The silver moon hung above them and poured its white lustre through and through their globe-shaped chamber with a thrilling and strange intensity. The stars and planets appeared magnified, and glowing like search-lights, until they seemed lapped round by white flame.

And amidst that heatless flame their innermost thoughts and souls had been laid bare to each other's scrutiny until not a secret, past, present or to come, remained. Each read his and her own flaws in the other, or rather, each imperfection in the one had its antidote in the other, which makes the eternal unity.

"You know now, that separate, no spirits can be perfect; you know now that evil is only evil apart from its antidote, as the component parts of air are poisonous when separated, joined, they are health-giving; apart from each other you were faulty and frail, as mortals all are, together, you become complete, the perfected image of God."

"Yes; we know this now."

"You are indissolubly united from this hour henceforth and for ever. One cannot think or move without the other, and after this, being really one, although retaining your separate individualities, as we all do, you will be able to work for and think about others, for that is the result of perfect love; it is no longer selfish."

"Yes," replied the docile and happy pair.

"We have a marriage ceremony here as you had on earth. Not that the ceremonial adds to the fact, yet, like the garnishing of a dish, or the decoration of a table or chamber, it satisfies the senses and increases the pleasure."

"Yes, I should like to go through the ceremony," replied Adela, woman-like, while Philip also nodded his assent, trusting, at the same time, man-like, that it might not be too elaborate.

"Come, then, and be prepared," said Hesperia, adding, as she turned to Philip,—'It is a simple ceremony this of the consecration of a united soul to the service of its great Author, and will soon be over."

She led them from the crystal dome down the narrow and winding stairs up which they had gone together. At the bottom of this staircase, which widened as they went down, they were met by the twelve youths and twelve maidens, headed by the husband of Hesperia. They were in a corridor now of white marble, softly carpeted, and lighted with globes of rose-tinted flame.

"Come with me, Adela; you go with Imenus, Philip," said Hesperia, taking Adela by the hand and leading her one direction, followed by the twelve bridesmaids, while Philip went with Imenus and the youths in another.

This corridor seemed to be within the central dome, for it was rounded at the top and ran in a circle, while the chambers were all in the centre. Into one of the many doors Imenus conducted Philip, who found himself in a dressing chamber, where stood a bath filled with fragrant and tepid water.

There was nothing different in this bathroom from bathrooms he had been into before, except that it was perhaps more Oriental and luxurious in its fittings. Also the costume which he saw laid out for him was different to what he had been accustomed, although similar to that worn by this ancient race.

A fillet of gold lay ready to bind his brow and dark hair, with a girdle of the same material for his waist. Gem-encrusted sandals also stood ready for his feet, with the snowy tunic and mantle.

"This is my marriage costume, I suppose," he remarked a little dubiously as he regarded these innovations.

"Yes," replied Imenus.

"It is simple and rich, and, I expect, easy to wear when once put on properly. Well, I shall be glad to get out of these stiff", conventional clothes of the nineteenth century."

"You are out of them, my friend," answered his guide. "To desire a thing with us is to accomplish it."

"Upon my word, so I am," said the astonished Philip, as he surveyed his nude form in the large mirror. "Well, here goes for a plunge in this fragrant fluid. A bath, after all, is not one of the least pleasures in life."

Imenus and the young men assisted him with his toilet. After his wash they anointed him with perfumed oils and rubbed him down carefully, he submitting with the best grace in the world to their manipulations; then they combed and brushed out his dark hair, which he had worn rather long, it being naturally curly and thick, and, after dressing him, led him to the mirror to survey himself.

He had entered that chamber an Englishman—he now stood smiling at the reflection of a young Atalantian. Yes, he had to own that he did like the change both for ease and appearance. He had not considered before how much better the human feet looks in sandals than in boots, if they are not deformed. His were shapely feet, with full toes and good nails, and as they were now carefully trimmed and clean he regarded them with pardonable pride, and hoped Adela would also like the change.

"Come, let us be first in the wedding-chamber, before your bride arrives, for the guests are already assembled," said Imenus, leading the way out.

"Where are my my old clothes?" asked Philip, looking about him for these articles.

"Dissolved, until you require them again," answered Imenus, with a smile.

"You don't require to carry much luggage, I see."

"None; we make our costume as we require it—a very simple and easy process, like the taking off."

Philip laughed at this rejoinder as they went along, the two arm and arm, like good friends, and the young men following. Hesperia was much more philosophical and grave in her manner than her husband, Imenus, and seemed, if anything, to be the superior half of this harmonious whole; but Imenus was gayer in his disposition, and more companionable. Philip already had enjoyed some conversation with him, and was prepared to enjoy his company amazingly—they were en rapport.

He had been one of the great painters of his age, a kind of superior Raphael, as he had been better taught than that gifted, yet somewhat faulty, master. He had shown Philip a few of his masterpieces, or rather Hesperia had, for she was as proud of her husband's marvellous gifts as he was modest; and Philip, who was no mean artist, had been struck dumb with admiration. He had seen Raphael's supposed masterpieces in the National Gallery of England, over which the trustees of the nation had squandered twenty thousand pounds of the nation's money, yet here stood a master of the same school as Raphael, who had lived and worked ages before him, and mentally he had drawn a comparison between the two men and their works.

"Do not despise the Italian, for he was a pupil and child of mine, and did great work, with the disadvantages he laboured under," said this gentle master of Atalanta. "The art of drawing had become lost in his days, colour also was but feebly felt, yet he was a great and a receptive soul. One day before you leave us, for you must fulfil your own destiny of usefulness, I shall introduce you to some great painters who have lived from my time down to yours. We still have our art and our literary evenings, for my Hesperia was a great philosopher and poetess in her day, and therefore naturally attracts the kindred spirit. I am not much of a speaker—painters seldom are—but she can do that for me."

Philip thrilled at this promise. His idea of heaven had been the meeting of those great minds who had gone before. The painters—Titian, Tintoretto, Rembrandt; the sculptors of early Greece ; the poets—Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, Coleridge, Byron, Burns. To behold and converse with them, almost his own contemporaries, with a glimpse of the older giants—Socrates, Plato, Confucius, Guatamos, Bacon, Bunyan—ah, yes, he would like one hour with honest John of Bedford, the man who had faith enough to move mountains. Bunyan, the inspired man of the people, who, without education or polish, yet ascended to such lofty heights of intuition and foresight. Burns, the man also of the people, who had the true poet's ear for Nature's melody. He could worship both these sons of God as he did this refined and cultured painter of the past ages—this Imenus, who cared so little for his rare culture, yet valued the God-gift that had enabled him to tower above his fellows.

Philip Mortlake was unconsciously a hero worshipper. Raphael's name had become a tradition to him. The name of the greater Imenus was an unknown one, therefore did not inspire him for the present with the same awe. He was a beautiful young man in appearance, with a broad, low brow and clustering dark locks, with sunny, brown eyes and laughing lips, yet across the young brows lay tiny lines of thought, and in the sunny eyes a strength of purpose and a god-like ideal; the laughing lips also trembled as much with divine instincts as with harmless mirth, for great painters are like children, they laugh while they watch the mysteries of eternity.

Do fond mothers ever think, while they watch those innocents on their laps laughing at the blue skies above them, how much more the baby knows and sees than they do? The dog and the cat also see what the baby does, although not so much, only the baby forgets and loses its gift when it begins to learn the ways of earth, but the dog and the cat see with their limited vision all their lives, and do not wonder.

Philip had seen a good portion of the interior of the place—the magnificent entrance hall and some of the reception rooms, as they entered. They had partaken of a slight collation, similar to what they would have done on earth's surface.

Now they were going back again, through cool and lighted halls, with these rare masterpieces on either side of them, of sculpture and painting, the exquisite tapestries and unique specimens of ceramic and floral decorations. It was all so precious, so unique, so perfect.

By and by they were ushered into the apartment where the wedding guests waited; a great assemblage they were, although Philip was too agitated to see much of them at this time, for he felt himself to be the centre of observation.

A vast hall spread out before him, with courtly guests ranged round and conversing in groups. Philip felt, as he walked towards the daïs where the final ceremony was to be enacted, that immortals were looking at him, and therefore felt confused.

"Courage, my friend," whispered Imenus. "You are the same as the greatest here, for the renown which they won on earth counts for nothing here. We are all equals."

Philip had the modesty to walk up to the dais without looking round. Here, when he had taken the place indicated for him, he waited with downcast eyes.

From the gallery at the far end of the hall soft strains of music rolled—those sweet, chaotic strains which are the prelude to a grand burst of melody.

Even now it has burst out in a joyous chorus, and Philip lifts his eyes to see his beauteous bride approaching, costumed, like Hesperia, in white, with roses on her breast and amongst her rich tresses, accompanied by Hesperia and the bevy of lovely girls, and at the sight his heart thrilled with love and pride as he advanced to meet her.

The ceremony was simple and yet impressive. When the music had ceased, Hesperia stepped upon the daïs and, after uttering a prayer of gratitude to the Creator of this perfection and felicity, gave a short address of welcome to the spirits, who were then at last united and complete.

Philip noticed that her prayer and after words differed from all earthly prayer, for she asked for no more favours from the great Source; she only expressed thanks for what had been given.

The pair were now kneeling hand in hand, when Hesperia, who acted as priestess, took from a table beside her a piece of bread, and, breaking it in two, gave a half to Philip and the other half to Adela. She next handed to them a cup of wine to drink from in solemn silence, and when they had drank she retired from the dais and, kneeling beside them, waited with bent head, as did all the spectators.

A subtle and strange perfume gradually wafting towards him caused Philip to glance up, when he saw before him on the daïs a thin, white vapour hovering, and in its centre the form of a young and bearded man of about thirty-four, with grave and gentle face and lamb-like eyes, bending over them, with hands outstretched as in the act of blessing.

For a moment this benign figure hung over them tenderly, while a breathless silence reigned throughout the hall, and then the vapour shrouded the figure, and in its turn gradually vanished, and the dais was, as before, empty.

From the choir of young and trained voices in the gallery now pealed a psean of rejoicing and congratulation, the wedding hymn of the celestials, aided by harps and other instruments. The ceremony was over, and Philip and Adela were now husband and wife.