The Great Secret/Chapter 27

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"There is one who will meet you at Thebes," said Hesperia before she parted with them. "Amongst the purest and most man-devoted of the immortals he is not the least. He can tell you much about those cities and nations, for he has studied them profoundly. His name amongst the Romans was Apollonius Tyaneus, of whom I see you have read."

Philip heard with a thrill of awe the name of this great moral reformer and mystic, who,' even in the days of Domitian, had solved the grand problem which has so troubled humanity, and who had conquered death, as his fearless words to the capricious and tyrannical royal madman proved: "Put me to death you cannot, for this the laws of fate will not permit."

"Who was this great man, Philip?" asked Adela, who had not paid much attention to her classics at school.

"Apollonius Tyaneus, at that period of his existence, was a native of Tyana, a city of Cappadocia. His birth took place some years before that of our Lord, was foretold long before and accompanied by many prodigies. At the age of fourteen he studied the philosophy of Pythagoras, and at sixteen began his life of self-sacrifice and austerity, abstaining from all animal food, going barefoot and clad only in linen, that he might use nothing proceeding from any living creature.

"Like the Lord Bhudda he relinquished his inheritance to his younger brother and other needy relatives, reserving only sufficient for his own bare necessities, and then commenced his wanderings and teachings. At Pamphylia, Celicia and Aspenda he acted as peacemaker between the infuriated populace and the magistrates. At Antioch and Ephesus, and other cities of Asia Minor, he revived old religions and practised secret mysteries.

"He said that he had direct revelations from heaven, gave proofs that he possessed a thorough and intuitive knowledge of all languages, even those of the beasts and birds, and also stated that he could traverse space as he pleased, and that the innermost heart of man lay open to him.

"He travelled to India by Nineveh and Babylon, conferring with the magi of these cities, and in India was received with marked confidence and respect by Hiarchus, the chief of the Brahmins. All his teachings and example went to repress the licentiousness and moral depravity of the age. As a reformer he accomplished wonders. At Athens he abolished the gladiatorial exhibitions; also at Corinth, Lacedaemonia and Crete his pure and stern example did much good. Protected by some strange occult power he rebuked Nero, as he afterwards did Domitian, who, unable to destroy him, banished him from Rome. In Egypt he was followed by prodigious multitudes, and consulted by Vespasian, whom he advised to rule with justice and moderation. When the mad Domitian, enraged at his seditious virtue, had him arrested and sent from Asia to Rome in chains, he was already on his way to face the tyrant, and when brought before the emperor was particularly severe in his rebuke, warning him of the evil consequences of giving ear to informers, adding loftily,—'As for myself, I have no fears. You may cause me to be seized, as I choose, but put me to death you cannot.' Domitian listened with dread to his words and declared him innocent; thus Apollonius passed from his presence, and was seen that same evening at Patioli, three days' journey from Rome.

"On the day and hour of the assassination of Domitian the sage was preaching at Ephesus, when suddenly he stopped, and, fixing his eyes on the ground, after a short silence, exclaimed,—'Strike home! Strike the tyrant dead! Courage,' then he looked up and said to his numerous hearers,—'Rejoice, for Domitian is no more. Stephanus has just now struck the blow.'

"His friend Nerva succeeded Domitian, and invited him at once to Rome, but he replied by letter, sent by Damis, his disciple, that by the decree of fate they would see each other no more in the body, yet he gave much excellent political advice, and while his disciple Damis was on the way he embarked at Ephesus for Lindus, in the Island of Rhodes, and was never afterwards seen."

They were gliding softly through space as Philip imparted to her these historical items, her head on his breast and her eyes looking into his with admiring tenderness, while he held her in his arms and watched the world over which they floated so insensibly yet so rapidly. It was a past world they were floating over, a world of water first, and then over a land rich with cities, temples, monuments, obelisks, sphinxes, pyramids, fertile fields and gardens, with countless ditches, lakes and canals, all drawn from the broad river that rushed so smoothly between those fertile banks and architectural marvels.

"Beloved, we are in Egypt!" he exclaimed, pointing beneath them.

Adela glanced down upon the magnificent works and landscape over which they were passing with dreamy indifference, and then up again with the entranced look of adoration to that strangely young face of the one who was her own for ever.

It was all so new yet and wonderful this transformation wrought by death. On earth she had been so unutterably weary and lonely, and with her heart so hopeless and old, now she was a girl with a girl's freshness united to the intensity of a woman, and he, her mate, so buoyant, so beautiful, so strong, so youthful, and yet so tender and world-wise. All places and states seemed alike while he was with her, to hold her as he was holding her now, and this ecstatic bliss was to continue throughout eternity. How good and tenderly considerate the Maker of souls was to make them in pairs—the man and the woman. The sun was setting over great Thebes, the capital of the Pharaohs, when they alighted, with the Nile, a broad band of gold, and the buildings ruddy in the ardent glow.

They came to earth on a smooth terrace or landing-place close to the river against which the ancient square boats were moored, while all round them were walls, streets filled with people of both sexes, stately columns and massive portals covered with paintings.

On this landing-place two forms waited for them, one a white-robed priest with shaven head, and the other, a venerable figure, tall and straight, with flowing beard and hair, both snowy and long. The priest wore sandals, but this majestic figure was barefooted and bareheaded, with a loose, light robe of linen. One glance at his lofty brow, grave eyes and noble features showed Philip in whose presence he stood.

"Apollonius Tyaneus," he said, bending before the sage, who advanced to meet them, and held out both hands over their heads in a benediction.

"All hail! son and daughter. I was asked to meet you here and be your guide for a time."

The sage paused for a moment to allow them to recover the awe which his presence caused them, and then he continued in a quiet voice,—

"You now see ancient Thebes as it was in the earlier dynasties, down to the reign of Amenophis the Fourth, who named himself Khu-u-atus, who, with the aid of my friend here, his high priest, brought back to its original simplicity the ancient faith, after its true significance and purity had been clouded by gross superstition for ages. It is the same faith which comforts the Christians and other sects at present in the world. The faith of the reasoning Brahmin, Buddhist, Persian and so-called pagan. The belief and knowledge of an eternal life and an everlasting and almighty Source, who gives but does not destroy."

Amenophis had the true revelation and became a reformer, suffering as all reformers do from bigotry and priestcraft. He learnt that the God of creation was not the God of burnt offerings and death, but rather the God of productiveness and beauty and universal good. The Christians have not yet learnt this great truth, but they will do so yet, as the Egyptians, the Brahmins and the scholars did. He moved from Thebes because superstition had encrusted it with unexplained symbolism, and custom is the strongest of tyrants to crush. He moved, and founded another city, yet Thebes must ever be regarded as the mother of modern cities, and it is a goodly sight.

It was a wonderful sight, this city with its swarming population and refined luxuries. Philip and Adela became, with Apollonius, the guests of this priest in the temple of Amour, and had ample opportunities of judging the daily life of this ancient race of hard workers and ardent pleasure-seekers. They still continued, as they had lived of yore, industrious and just in their laws, striving during their lifetime to win a good record afterwards. They had won their reward now and were of the blest, yet still they had not altered in their daily life.

Philip saw an Arab dhow pass by while they still watched the purple twilight on the river. He saw that the passengers were mortal and modern from the tourist costumes. They were laughing loudly and passing inane remarks about the ruins, but they could not see that mighty multitude who moved to and fro paying no heed to these nineteenth century innovations. The tourists passed oblivious, and the busy city lived its life. The flesh-controlled blind, and the freeborn indifferent, to what was passing.

The city of Thebes, as it was now presented to Philip and Adela, was as it had been in its most palmy days of prosperity, only that the spirits of the embalmed ones had simplified their ceremonials. The hieroglyphics were there, but they were no longer signs only for the priesthood to read, but for all the people. The priests could no longer hide their craft or make mysteries, therefore they no longer posed as superiors. The Pharaohs who returned were no longer regarded as sacred, yet they were tolerated when they pleased to act the king as portion of the pageantry which amused the spectators. They were a people much given to ceremonials and feasting, and over each feast a Pharaoh sat at the head of the table, as the mummy was still carried round at the end of the repast before the drinking began. The formula used had no significance now, for they had all passed the dark portals, and still could eat and drink as of old, yet the .bearers cried out still,—"Look on this, drink, and enjoy thyself, for such as this is thou hast been and art."

Philip and Adela spent some weeks in Egypt, visiting the different cities with their guide and admiring the splendours of the buildings which Philip had before seen in their decay, for he had been to Egypt formerly in his mortal lifetime. Now the sands appeared scooped away from the yellow and rose-tinted sandstone temples—the paint and enamel were fresh and new—the grey granite obelisks and sphinx avenues. The gardens were extensive and in order, the fields regularly watered and green, so that they no longer wondered at it being called the treasure-house of the world. Order and system were everywhere displayed, while there appeared no poverty nor oppression, for they were a gay and junketing race.

They were feasted in elegant halls, with the walls and ceilings painted gorgeously, where the tables and chairs were beautifully carved from foreign woods—ebony, cedar and mahogany—and inlaid with mother-of-pearl, gold and silver, and the lamps were rare works of art. Vases of perfumes and flowers were lavishly scattered about. The guests came to these feasts in chariots and palanquins, and when admitted were washed, perfumed, anointed and garlanded with roses, violets and lotus flowers. Musician played, incense was burnt, and punkahs and fans waved, and dancers danced.

As in Atalantis, the servants of to-day might be the guests of to-morrow, for equality had been one of their first lessons after death which they had learnt. It was easy for a Pharaoh to become a servant, for during his earth life his duties as ruler had been harder and his liberty more restricted than the meanest in his land. Philip and Adela saw many of the past kings and queens at these feasts pouring out the wine and washing the guests' feet, yet all were happy.

During the evenings they would stand on the housetops, with their pillared sides and upper roofs, and look over the city, which swarmed with people and chariots at this hour, while along the river the gay boats floated past, filled with serenaders, and watched by crowds from the landing-steps. It was a land of life, movement and merriment, beautiful by day, and blazing with coloured lanterns and lamps at night. Except for the difference of costume, colour and architecture, there was not much difference between the daily life of Egypt four and five thousand years ago and the modern life of a rich and prosperous country of to-day.

"Mankind has ever been the same," said their guide, "with their pleasures and their pains, their tyrants and their slaves, their wealth and their poverty. We have still the pleasures left, but the tyranny and slavery have ceased, and what these spirits do here in their hours of rest, is because it affords them a pleasure to return to the customs and play of their earth life, as old men will return, after long wandering, to the homes of their childhood. These Egyptians were a wise and humane people in many things: their laws were just, and their innate knowledge of the spiritual world not far from correct, therefore the change with them has been less violent than with some other races, such as the Assyrians, Greeks and Romans. Hie we to Nineveh and Babylon now?"

"Yes," answered Philip, who had had his curiosity fully satisfied. He had lived and talked with the fathers and mothers of nations, stood with the august Pharaoh and Nitocris by the side of their own mummy cases; had the philosophies and secret mysteries explained to him by the same sages who had initiated Moses. He had conversed with the once mighty Rameses, and beheld that serpent of old Nile, the syren Cleopatra. Yes, his soul was satisfied with the lore and wonders of old Egypt; he was ready to hie to Babylon with his erudite and matchless guide.

For months they wandered as the thought seized them, now to Nineveh and Babylon, where they beheld those once fierce, warlike and haughty masters of human destiny—Nimrod and Ninus, with the great Queen Semiramis, also the monarch Nebuchadnezzar who did his penance while yet in the flesh, and thus escaped much after tribulation.

What ages it must have taken to humble the pride of those fierce and remorseless tyrants, was a thought to make Philip shudder. The flames of hell they must have passed through before they became even humanised. Apollonius sighed as he answered the thought.

"Yes, it takes many ages to teach an earth monarch like one of these, his true position in the eternal scheme, and many have to work hard for his salvation. Yet he has our pity, because the unlucky circumstances of birth have forced this evil lot upon him. Jehovah spoke plainly to Moses on the mountain, and warned him against this curse as He warned him against the savage craving for flesh which his followers had expressed. Again He spoke to Samuel against the evils they were bringing upon themselves when they would have a tyrant. Alas! it was a sorry elevation they gave the poor spirits, a limited number of years of god-like power to commit crime with impunity, to be paid for by after ages of degradation and misery. Happily the effects of evil are not all-enduring, so that the vilest may hope for liberty and reason at last."

Semiramis, the once fierce and deadly, came to them with the gentleness and charity of Hesperia. In her own land a certain pathos blended with her majesty of grace, for all round her were her former victims who had helped her out of her hell, and she was humble and grateful to them. The grandeur still remained to Assyria, but there was no more fear and trembling amongst the multitude. The past wrongs had been forgiven, and peace reigned over the land with plenty.

They visited Troy, and saw the famous Helen and Paris, with the bard Homer and the heroes of his Iliad. All lived now in harmony, for they had found their proper mates, and the mistakes of the past were condoned. They visited the Greeks, that race of subtle liars, skilful artists and patriotic robbers. It was pleasant to linger in Ionian waters and find that even they had learnt to appreciate truth and honesty.

"It did not take so long to redeem this race as you might suppose," said the sage Apollonius, "for they were a large-brained and adaptable people, and patriotism, like charity, covers a multitude of vices."

They passed through India; and here Philip had reason to congratulate himself with having such a guide, for he learnt much, and, when they quitted that land, felt that he had made a decided advance in his spiritual education. Here he met men, who by sacrifices had been able, like Enoch, to retain their flesh, or rather escape the great ordeal death. They were devoted to mankind, and preferred remaining amongst their erring fellows and aiding them, rather than enjoy the felicity of the perfectly free.

"I belong to this order of men," said Apollonius gently. "I have not passed as you have, but have existed through the ages as a man, and so I shall continue, by choice, until humanity has conquered self and vain desires, and what you call the millennium comes."

They saw Israel in its glory, and Rome in its days of strength, with its vices purified and its virtues strengthened; and then, satisfied with what they had seen, and saturated with the wisdom of the past, the desire for work and duty came upon them.

"We have learnt enough from the past, Adela," said Philip, while the master smiled approvingly. "We must now return to our kind, and help in the eternal labour."

"I am ready, Philip," answered Adela fondly, as she looked in his eyes.

"Then farewell, my brother and sister. We shall meet again. If you need help it shall be given to you."

It was at Rome where they parted, and as they stood overlooking the city of seven hills, where the old world and the new blended together like a soft mist, the temples of the ancient gods and goddesses mingling with and limning somewhat the dome of St Peter and the many Christian spires and domes, a vision loomed over the golden crucifix—Aphrodite with a pale halo and a purple robe, Antoninus hanging on a cross.

"Farewell," said Apollonius, as he slowly drifted from their vision. "The sacrifice of self is the supremest good."