The Great Secret/Chapter 9
"Oh, my friend, what a dream I have had!"
Adela lifted her head wearily from the floor and looked half-dazed on the haggard faces that surrounded her. They seemed to have all spent a wretched time during that long sleep.
It had been dawn when they lay down, it was now daylight on the third day since the vessel had been captured, so that they had lain unconscious for over sixty hours—a long sleep which ought to have refreshed them, yet which had left them wan and feeble, as horrid dreams will leave the troubled sleepers.
To Adela and the others it appeared as if an hour or two had only elapsed since they lay down, too tired out even to think about their safety. The sun was now shining brightly in at the porthole; the door was still fastened as they had left it; no one had come to disturb them, therefore the angels must have guarded them since they were still undiscovered.
"What was your dream, for we have also been dreaming?"
Several spoke at once, and all looked interested as she began; but Philip went over to her side and held her hand, at which she appeared comforted.
"I dreamt that we all rose, after lying here for a time, and went back to the saloon where the bodies lay. I tried to resist going, for I was fearful lest we should be discovered; but some power beyond my will drew me to the spot where I had been cast, and forced me to lie down once more upon the body that was under me when I recovered my consciousness after the explosion—the body that was so like me in dress and shape, which my husband concluded was me, and there I waited with a numb horror for what was to come.
"I looked round the saloon to see where the others had gone, but could see nothing except the mutilated dead on every side of me. You also had left me, Philip, to my fate, while I felt chained to that body, unable either to move or cry out, with such a feeling of frozen despair and loathing upon me that no bodily pain could equal.
"I feared and hated the dead round me, and particularly the corpse to which I was bound, and although I tried to be pitiful for them, I could not feel otherwise than sickness and disgust, as if they were foul substances with which I had no sympathy. They were dead, and I was living, yet suffering the sensation of being buried alive.
"At first it was not very light, but gradually the sun rose and brightened the saloon, showing my ghastly surroundings more plainly, and adding to my awful despair and horror. I had the knowledge now upon me that the murderers would soon come and discover me lying there, and then the escape of last night would have been all in vain.
"By and by they came, and began to lift up the dead and carry them on deck. I knew what that was for, before I heard the splashing or saw the bodies darken the portholes as they were cast overboard. They took those nearest to the distant door first, so that I was nearly the last to be lifted up, which made it worse for me.
"I could hear them talking as they went about their hideous task, which they executed hurriedly, for they wanted it over. As they came nearer to me, they were speaking about the sharks having a good feed, and how they had been swarming about and following the ship all the morning. This, then, was to be my doom, to be thrown alive, and torn to pieces by those voracious monsters.
"I tried to rise and show myself now, so that the men might kill me first, but I could not move. I strained my heart in the attempt to shriek, but no sound came, and then I became aware that I had fallen into that state of coma which I had so often read about, when people are supposed to be dead, and in this condition buried, yet seeing and feeling the most acute sensations all the time.
"At last my turn came, and I was lifted by two men, one holding my shoulders, and the other my legs, and then I was carried up the companion-steps to the open deck, my mental anguish so intense during that short journey that I thought it might have broken any natural spell; but it did not.
"Several of the Anarchists, male and female, were then leaning over the ship's side, and holding up their children so that they might see the sharks at their gruesome work. My husband was not there, neither did I expect him, for he had none of that morbid curiosity which common minds have; but I heard the laughter of the little children, and saw the fiendish pleasure glowing in the faces of their mothers, and knew what I had to expect.
"My bearers paused for a moment by the side where the others had gone, and after swinging me backwards and forwards two or three times, threw me clear over and away from them.
"An eternity seemed to pass after I left their hands until I reached the sunlit, clear waves, an eternity of anticipation, and then with a loud splash I sank below the surface.
"The vessel was going fast, so that before I touched the water I was nearly at her stern, and as I sank it was amongst the froth and turmoil that the revolving screw made. This kept off the sharks for a little time, while I was beaten and tossed wildly about, now out of the water and now submerged, wondering all the time how it was that I was not suffocated.
"Then the turmoil gradually ceased, and I began to sink softly and slowly through the limpid fluid. How blue the sky was above me, how soft and cool the sea.
"I had not long to wait before the sharks found me. They had darted away at the splash I made in falling, and hung back from the disturbance of the screw, but that was gone now and the ship many fathoms in front, while round me I could see only water brightly illumined by the sunlight, so that the objects became distinct and magnified as they approached, with swift and noiseless sweeps.
"Three monsters came towards me at once from different quarters, with dull, glaring eyes, and huge, open jaws, within which gleamed zig-zag rows of sharp, small, saw-like teeth. They came sideways towards me, and for a moment glided over me, meeting each other in deadly fight, leaving me for a second alone, while they tore at each other savagely, disputing about the possession of my poor body.
"I was still sinking and watching their white breasts and the cruel bites they gave each other, when suddenly I felt myself seized from below and dragged down with lightning speed to awful depths of green obscurity. A huge monster had swam up and caught me with its teeth by the arm, yet I felt no pain, only as if a firm clasp had gripped me.
"The three shark above, when they saw me snatched from them, left off mangling each other and darted after the thief, like swallows on the wing. Then began a deadly chase that interested me, despite my fears; indeed fear seemed to have left me now entirely with hope. There was also a benumbing feeling stealing over me, perhaps with the speed I was dragged down, yet which did not make me lose consciousness, even if I experienced no pain.
"Above me the waters spread like a dome of green-coloured glass dimly lighted. No sound reached my ears, as I shot downwards noiselessly and almost without a sensation of motion.
"I could see the sharks following and others gathering to the chase, with shoals of other fish getting rapidly out of the way. Strange shapes shot past me—things like pictures I had seen of antediluvian monsters—snakes with bat-like fins, and tendrils or tresses like sea-weed floating around them. We broke through the dense ranks of fish, small and large, and dashed those streamers aside impetuously.
"After a steady dive downwards, and while I was still speculating when we would reach the bottom of the ocean, of which there was yet no sign, my captor turned abruptly and went upward again in a slanting direction, and at the same terrific rate, still pursued by these persistent rivals.
"From the sombre grim twilight of the mid-ocean we rapidly approached a luminous space like the tender green of a spring glade with the tropic sunbeams penetrating in tremulous and broken shafts, and here the final stand and battle took place for the victim. Here I saw my body torn limb from limb, and the flesh riven from the bones piece by piece and in long ribbons, while the sunny-green fluid became gently tinged with crimson.
"A terrific and horrible battle it was, for a dozen giants had gathered by this time to the meagre feast of my poor body, and yet I watched it all, looking seemingly through the flesh while it was disjointed and mangled, and after that chained to the skeletons that went down while they tore at it. Looking on the horror now with only curiosity, for with each snap and tug, another of my cords seemed to be broken, and I thought that when they had stripped my bones clean that I would be set at liberty.
"Some retired from the battle, mortally wounded, and as they floated back upwards the victors divided their attention between their late enemies and me. I saw them tugging and tearing as viciously at their own kind as at me, while the warm blood gushed out and spread amongst the briny waters in rosy rings, and sparkle until I seemed to be floating in the midst of emeralds and rubies.
"I watched my body go piece-meal; how they mangled and snapped over each insignificant morsel, not one escaping without a wound, and then they let the few last detached bones drop from them as worthless, while I went down again with all that remained of me.
"Slowly I dropped, for the water was dense, yet it seemed borne in upon me that I must find a shelter for these pieces before I was free; therefore I pressed upon them, and bore them down fathom by fathom, past strange and repulsive beasts that barred my road, far from the reach of the penetrating daylight, into reaches of mirky night.
At times I had intervals of inky blackness, which was all the more abhorrent as I knew that I was surrounded by appalling forms; but these intervals were short, for electric flashes broke almost continually from the scaly beasts and snakes, and lighted the ocean with lurid flashes like wildfire. The submarine monsters emitted these flashes when they were disturbed in their stagnation.
"At last I reached a mountain top and descended the sloping sides, picking my way through a forest of tree-like growth until I reached the valley, carrying the remnant of my bones with me. I had gathered them together now, and carried them in my arms as a woman might carry her dead child.
"In one part of this valley I came upon the wreck of a great ship solidly embedded in the sand and covered thickly with barnacles and seaweed until it looked more like a grotto than a ship, the broken masts and shrouds hung richly festooned with waving masses of hanging weeds.
"This was the sepulchre which I fixed on for my bones. I climbed up the sides and found a way into the cabin where other bones were lying, and here I deposited mine and then sat down to wait for my liberty.
"I did not feel free to leave this dead man's lair; why, I could not define to myself in my dream. I did not know where to go even if I had been free, for I felt as if I must get some directions on that point. I felt no discomfort, although under so many-fathoms of water with that occasionally illuminated darkness all round me. A great desolation and loneliness was upon my spirit, yet I seemed able to breathe down there as easily as I had done while in the saloon of the Rockhampton.
"I had seen the sharks tear my flesh to ribbons, and had borne the remnant of my bones down with me; they were still lying at my feet, yet I was the same as before, all my limbs perfect, clothed in the same raiment and without any bodily pain, only dreary, lonely and unutterably desolate.
"The ship in which I now was had been an old fifteenth or sixteenth century vessel, and by the occasional flashes I counted seven skeletons in the saloon,—three large male frames, two slight ones, and two that looked as if they had belonged to children. What clothes they may once have worn had been torn from them or rotted away, so that not a shred remained; while the skeletons were grim with age, my poor bones were the only things that gleamed whitely there.
"A quaint cabin it was, with heavy stanchions and beams and deep panels, and with some large chests and lockers lying against the walls. She must have gone down suddenly in some tropic storm, for there was nothing much disturbed within her, while the cabin doors had not been closed: they stood wide open, allowing whatever liked to, free ingress and egress.
"I crouched on the floor, and waited for what and how long I cannot say, for there was no day and no night there, only the lurid flaring up of light as a shoal of fish darted through, followed by some larger enemy, also blazing up with the excitement of the hunt, as the hunted betrayed themselves in their fear. What a constant and merciless hunt for life there was here as well as on the earth above! All this added to my hopelessness.
"Yet I had no fear. The sharks had robbed me of that feeling, although many of the sights I witnessed would have appalled me formerly. For although they emitted flashes, there was no sound to apprise me of their coming. A weird-like and horrid monster burst upon my sight, and, after seeming to glare at me, passed away like a phantom. Gigantic things like spiders crawled along sluggishly, clutching at the sides of the cabin as they went, seemingly unconscious of my presence. Great eels or serpents trailed fathoms of slimy length over the floor, now and again filling the place with a blue radiance, and then leaving it in darkness doubly intense. Still I waited and watched, while I prayed to be delivered.
"At last, what I waited for came. A faint illumination, like to that thrown out by the fishy monsters, grew softly in front of me, and, as I looked, from that radiance stepped a little child, a girl-child, who all noiselessly placed her small shining hand in mine, and, as she did so, the weight which had held me down dropped from me, and we began to rise.
"Up, up, through the dark waters into the lightened fluid, past prowling sharks and darting fish we floated, until we came to the free and beautiful sunlight and the balmy air.
"The child still led me, without speaking, over miles of atmosphere, until once more I saw the Rockhampton in front of me. Then, when she had placed me once more safely here in this cabin, and I turned to thank her, she had gone from me, while I woke to find it was only a dream."
"Let us pray," said Captain Nelson solemnly, "for I have had a similar dream."
"So have we!" cried some of the other passengers, as they knelt beside the captain and bent their heads.
As for Philip Mortlake, he looked with grave yet thankful eyes upon Adela, and murmured in her ear,—
"You have come back to me, and now nothing can part us more."
"I thought upon my friend all through my dream, and wished to be near him," she answered softly, as they knelt together.
"And therefore the child called 'Pure Desire' brought you to me."
"Lord, Thou hast been our Refuge from one generation to another; comfort us again for the time wherein we have suffered adversity, that we, with all those, may have our perfect consummation and bliss in Thy eternal and everlasting glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
"Amen," answered the kneelers with one accord, as they joined in with the captain's deep and solemn tones.