Read CHAPTER XVIII of The Secret Power , free online book, by Marie Corelli, on ReadCentral.com.

A red sky burned over Egypt, red with deep intensity of spreading fire. The slow-creeping waters of the Nile washed patches of dull crimson against the oozy mud-banks, tipping palms and swaying reeds with colour as though touched with vermilion, and here and there long stretches of wet sand gleamed with a tawny gold. All Cairo was out, inhabitants and strangers alike, strangers especially, conceiving it part of their “money’s worth” never to miss a sunset, and beyond Cairo, where the Pyramids lifted their summits aloft, stern points of warning or menace from the past to the present and the future, a crowd of tourists with their Arab guides were assembled, staring upward in, amazement at a white wonder in the red sky, a great air-ship, which, unlike other air-ships, was noiseless, and that moved vast wings up and down with the steady, swift rhythm of a bird’s flight, as though of its own volition. It soared at an immense height so that it was quite impossible to see any pilot or passenger. It hung over the Pyramids almost motionless for three or four minutes as if about to descend, and the watching groups below made the usual alarmist prognostications of evil, taking care to look about for the safest place of shelter for themselves should the huge piece of mechanism above them suddenly escape control and take a downward dive. But apparently nothing was further from the intention of its invisible guides. Its pause above the Pyramids was brief and almost before any of the observers had time to realise its departure it had floated away with an easy grace, silence and swiftness, miraculous to all who saw it vanish into space towards the Libyan desert and beyond. The Pyramids, even the Sphinx lost interest for the time being, every eye being strained to watch the strange aerial visitant till it disappeared. Then a babble of question and comment began in all languages among the travellers from many lands, who, though most of them were fairly well accustomed to aeroplanes, air-ships and aerial navigation as having become part of modern civilisation, found themselves nonplussed by the absolute silence and lightning swiftness of this huge bird-shaped thing that had appeared with extraordinary suddenness in the deep rose glow of the Egyptian sunset sky. Meanwhile the object of their wonder and admiration had sped many miles away, and was sailing above a desert which, from the height it had attained, looked little more than a small stretch of sand such as children play upon by the sea. Its speed gradually slackened and its occupants, Morgana, the Marchese Rivardi and their expert mechanic, Gaspard, gazed down on the unfolding panorama below them with close and eager interest. There was nothing much to see. Every sign of humanity seemed blotted out. The red sky burning on the little stretch of sand was all.

“How small the world looks from the air!” said Morgana “It’s not worth half the fuss made about it! And yet it’s such a pretty little God’s toy!”

She smiled, and in her smiling expressed a lovely sweetness. Rivardi raised his eyes from his steering gear.

“You are not tired, Madama?” he asked.

“Tired? No, indeed! How can I be tired with so short a journey!”

“Yet we have travelled a thousand miles since we left Sicily this morning” said Rivardi “We have kept up the pace, have we not, Gaspard? or rather, the ‘White Eagle’ has proved its speed?”

Gaspard looked up from his place at the end of the ship.

“About two hundred and fifty to three hundred miles an hour,” he said “One does not realise it in the movement.”

“But you realise that the flight is as safe as it is quick?” said Morgana “Do you not?”

“Madama, I confess my knowledge is outdistanced by yours,” replied Gaspard “I am baffled by your secret but I freely admit its power and success.”

“Good! Now let us dine!” said Morgana, opening a leather case such as is used for provisions in motoring, set plates, glasses, wine and food on the table “A cold collation but we’ll have hot coffee to finish. We could have dined in Cairo, but it would have been a bore! Marchese, we’ll stop here, suspended in mid-air, and the stars shall be our festal lamps, vying with our own!” and she turned on a switch which illumined the whole interior of the air-ship with a soft bright radiance “Whereabouts are we? Still over the Libyan desert?”

Rivardi consulted the chart which was spread open in his steering-cabin.

“No I think not. We have passed beyond it. We are over the Sahara. Just now we can take no observations the sunset is dying rapidly and in a few minutes it will be quite dark.”

As he spoke he brought the ship to a standstill it remained absolutely motionless except for the slight swaying as though touched by wave-like ripples of air. Morgana went to the window aperture of her silken-lined “drawing-room” and looked out. All round the great air-ship were the illimitable spaces of the sky, now of a dense dark violet hue with here and there a streak of dull red remaining of the glow of the vanished sun, below there was only blackness. For the first time a nervous thrill ran through her frame at the look of this dark chaos and she turned quickly back to the table where Rivardi and Gaspard awaited her before sitting down to their meal. Something quite foreign to her courageous spirit chilled her blood, but she fought against it, and seating herself became the charming hostess to her two companions as they ate and drank, though she took scarcely anything herself. For most unquestionably there was something uncanny in a meal served under such strange circumstances, and so far as the two men were concerned it was only eaten to sustain strength.

“Well, now, have I not been very good?” she asked suddenly of Rivardi “Did I not say you should fly with me to the East, and are you not here? I have not come alone though that was my wish, I have even brought Gaspard who had no great taste for the trip!”

Gaspard moved uneasily.

“That is true, Madama,” he said “The art of flying is still in its infancy, and though in my profession as an engineer I have studied and worked out many problems, I dare not say I have fathomed all the mysteries of the air or the influences of atmosphere. I am glad that we have made this voyage safely so far but I shall be still more glad when we return to Sicily!”

Morgana laughed.

“We can do that to-morrow, I dare say!” she said; “If there is nothing to see in the whole expanse of the desert but dark emptiness”

“But what do you expect to see, Madama?” enquired Gaspard, with lively curiosity.

She laughed again as she met Rivardi’s keen glance.

“Why, ruins of temples columns colossi a new Sphinx-all sorts of things!” she replied “But at night, of course, we can see nothing and we must move onward slowly I cannot rest swaying like this in mid-air.” She put aside the dinner things, and served them with hot coffee from one of the convenient flasks that hold fluids hot or cold for an interminable time, and when they had finished this, they went back to their separate posts. The great ship began to move and she was relieved to feel it sailing steadily, though at almost a snail’s pace “on the bosom of the air.” The oppressive nervousness which affected her had not diminished; she could not account for it to herself, and to rally her forces she went to the window, so-called, of her luxurious cabin. This was a wide aperture filled in with a transparent, crystal-clear material, which looked like glass, but which was wholly unbreakable, and through this she gazed, awe-smitten, at the magnificence of the starry sky. The millions upon millions of worlds which keep the mystery of their being veiled from humanity flashed upon her eyes and moved her mind to a profound sadness.

“What is the use of it all!” she thought “If one could only find the purpose of this amazing creation! We learn a very little, only to see how much more there is to know! We live our lives, all hoping, searching, praying and never an answer comes for all our prayers! From the very beginning not a word from the mysterious Poet who has written the Poem! We are to breed and die and there an end! it seems strange and cruel, because so purposeless! Or is it our fault? Do we fail to discover the things we ought to know?”

So she mused, while her “White Eagle” ship sailed serenely on with a leisurely, majestic motion through a seeming wilderness of stars. Courageous as she was, with a veritable lion-heart beating in her delicate little body, and firm as was her resolve to discover what no woman had ever discovered before, to-night she was conscious of actual fear. Something she knew not what crept with a compelling influence through her blood, she felt that some mysterious force she had never reckoned with was insidiously surrounding her with an invisible ring. She called to Rivardi

“Are we not flying too high? Have you altered the course?”

“No, Madama,” he replied at once “We are on the same level.”

She turned towards him. Her face was very pale.

“Well be careful! To my mind we seem to be in a new atmosphere there is a sensation of greater tension in the air or it is my fancy. We must not be too adventurous, we must avoid the Great Nebula in Orion for example!”

“Madama, you jest! We are trillions upon trillions of miles distant from any great constellation ”

“Do I not know it? You are too literal, Marchese! Of course I jest you could not suppose me to be in earnest! But I am sure we are passing through the waves of a new ether not altogether suited to the average human being. The average human being is not made to inhabit the higher spaces of the upper air hark! What was that?”

She held up a warning hand, and listened. There was a distinct and persistent chiming of bells. Bells loud and soft, bells mellow and deep, clear and silvery clanging in bass and treble shocks of rising and falling rhythm and tune! “Do you hear?”

Rivardi and Gaspard simultaneously rose to their feet, amazed. Undoubtedly they heard! It was impossible not to hear such a clamour of concordant sound! Startled beyond all expression, Morgana sprang to the window of her cabin, and looking out uttered a cry of mingled terror and rapture... for there below her, in the previously inky blackness of the Great Desert, lay a great City, stretching out for miles, and glittering from end to end with a peculiarly deep golden light which seemed to bathe it in the lustre of a setting sun. Towers, cupolas, bridges, streets, squares, parks and gardens could be plainly seen from the air-ship, which had suddenly stopped, and now hung immovably in mid-air; though for some moments Morgana was too excited to notice this. Again she called to her companions

“Look! Look!” she exclaimed “We have found it! The Brazen City!”

But she called in vain. Turning for response, she saw, to her amazement and alarm, both men stretched on the floor, senseless! She ran to them and made every effort to rouse them, they were breathing evenly and quietly as in profound and comfortable sleep but it was beyond her skill to renew their consciousness. Then it flashed upon her that the “White Eagle” was no longer moving, that it was, in fact, quite stationary, and a quick rush of energy filled her as she realised that now she was as she had wished to be, alone with her air-ship to do with it as she would. All fear had left her, her nerves were steady, and her daring spirit was fired with resolution. Whatever the mischance which had so swiftly overwhelmed Rivardi and Gaspard, she could not stop now to question, or determine it, she was satisfied that they were not dead, or dying. She went to the steering-gear to take it in hand but though the mysterious mechanism of the air-ship was silently and rapidly throbbing, the ship did not move. She grasped the propeller it resisted her touch with hard and absolute inflexibility. All at once a low deep voice spoke close to her ear

“Do not try to steer. You cannot proceed.”

Her heart gave one wild bound, then almost stood still from sheer terror. She felt herself swaying into unconsciousness, and made a violent effort to master the physical weakness that threatened her. That voice what voice? Surely one evoked from her own imagination! It spoke again this time with an intonation that was exquisitely soothing and tender.

“Why are you afraid? For you there is nothing to fear!”

She raised her eyes and looked about nervously. The soft luminance which lit the “White Eagle’s” interior from end to end showed nothing new or alarming, her dainty, rose-lined cabin held no strange or supernatural visitant, all was as usual. After a pause she rallied strength enough to question the audible but invisible intruder.

“Who is it that speaks to me?” she asked, faintly.

“One from the city below,” was the instant reply given in full clear accents “I am speaking on the Sound Ray.”

She held her breath in mute wonder, listening. The voice went on, equably

“You know the use of wireless telephony we have it as you have it, only your methods are imperfect. We speak on Sound Rays which are not yet discovered in your country. We need neither transmitter nor receiver. Wherever we send our messages, no matter how great the distance, they are always heard.”

Slowly Morgana began to regain courage. By degrees she realised that she was attaining the wish of her heart namely, to know what no woman had ever known before. Again she questioned the voice

“You tell me I cannot proceed,” she said “Why?”

“Because our city is guarded and fortified by the air,” was the answer “We are surrounded by a belt of etheric force through which nothing can pass. A million bombs could not break it, everything driven against it would be dashed to pieces. We saw you coming we were surprised, for no air-ship has ever ventured so far we rang the bells of the city to warn you, and stopped your flight.”

The warm gentleness of the voice thrilled her with a sudden sympathy.

“That was kind!” she said, and smiled. Some one smiled in response or she thought so. Presently she spoke again

“Then you hold me here a prisoner?”

“No. You can return the way you came, quite freely.”

“May I not come down and see your city?” “No.”

“Why?”

“Because you are not one of us.” The Voice hesitated. “And because you are not alone.”

Morgana glanced at the prostrate and unconscious forms of Rivardi and Gaspard with a touch of pity.

“My companions are half dead!” she said.

“But not wholly!” was the prompt reply.

“Is it that force you speak of the force which guards your city that has struck them down?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“Then why was I not also struck down?”

“Because you are what you are!” Then after a silence “You are Morgana!”

At this every nerve in her body started quivering like harp strings pulled by testing fingers. The unseen speaker knew her name! and uttered it with a soft delicacy that made it sound more than musical. She leaned forward, extending a hand as though to touch the invisible.

“How do you know me?” she asked.

“As we all know you,” came the answer “Even as you have known the inside of a sun-ray!”

She listened, amazed utterly mystified. Whoever or whatever it was that spoke knew not only her name, but the trend of her earliest studies and theories. The “inside of a sun-ray”! This was what she had only the other day explained to Father Aloysius as being her first experience of real happiness! She tried to set her thoughts in order to realise her position. Here she was, a fragile human thing, in a flying ship of her own design, held fast by atmospheric force above an unknown city situate somewhere in the Great Desert, and some one in that city was conversing with her by a method of “wireless” as yet undiscovered by admitted science, yet communication was perfect and words distinct. Following up the suggestion presented to her she said

“You are speaking to me in English. Are you all English folk in your city?”

A faint quiver as of laughter vibrated through the “Sound Ray.”

“No, indeed! We have no nationality.”

“No nationality?”

“None. We are one people. But we speak every language that ever has been spoken in the past, or is spoken in the present. I speak English to you because it is your manner of talk, though not your manner of life.”

“How do you know it is not my manner of life?”

“Because you are not happy in it. Your manner of life is ours. It has nothing to do with nations or peoples. You are Morgana.”

“And you?” she cried with sudden eagerness “Oh, who are you that speak to me? man, woman, or angel? What are the dwellers in your city, if it is in truth a city, and not a dream!”

“Look again and see!” answered the Voice “Convince yourself! do not be deceived! You are not dreaming Look and make yourself sure!”

Impelled to movement, she went to the window which she had left to take up the steering-gear, and from there saw again the wonderful scene spread out below, the towers, spires, cupolas and bridges, all lit with that mysterious golden luminance like smouldering sunset fire.

“It is beautiful!” she said “It seems true it seems real ”

“It is true-it is real!” the Voice replied “It has been seen by many travellers, but because they can never approach it they call it a desert ‘mirage.’ It is more real and more lasting than any other city in the world.”

“Can I never enter it?” she asked, appealingly “Will you never let me in?”

There was a silence, which seemed to her very long. Still standing at the window of her cabin she looked down on the shining city, a broad stretch of splendid gold luminance under the canopy of the dark sky with its millions of stars. Then the Voice answered her

“Yes if you come alone!”

These words sounded so close to her ear that she felt sure the speaker must be standing beside her.

“I will come!” she said, impulsively “Somehow some way! no matter how difficult or dangerous! I will come!”

As she spoke she was conscious of a curious vibration round her, as though some other thing than the ceaseless, silent throbbing of the air-ship’s mechanism had disturbed the atmosphere.

“Wait!” said the Voice “You say this without thought. You do not realise the meaning of your words. For if you come, you must stay!”

A thrill ran through her blood.

“I must stay!” she echoed “Why?”

“Because you have learned the Life-Secret,” answered the Voice “And, as you have learned it, so must you live. I will tell you more if you care to hear ”

An inrush of energy came to her as she listened she felt that the unseen speaker acknowledged the power which she herself knew she possessed.

“With all my soul I care to hear!” she said “But where do you speak from? And who are you that speak?”

“I speak from the central Watch-Tower,” the Voice replied “The City is guarded from that point and from there we can send messages all over the world in every known language. Sometimes they are understood more often they are ignored, but we, who have lived since before the coming of Christ, have no concern with such as do not or will not hear. Our business is to wait and watch while the ages go by, wait and watch till we are called forth to the new world. Sometimes our messages cross the ‘wireless’ Marconi system and some confusion happens but generally the ‘Sound Ray’ carries straight to its mark. You must well understand all that is implied when you say you will come to us, it means that you leave the human race as you have known it and unite yourself with another human race as yet unknown to the world!”

Here was an overwhelming mystery but, nothing daunted, Morgana pursued her enquiry.

“You can talk to me on the Sound Ray” she said “And I understand its possibility. You should equally be able to project your own portrait a true similitude of yourself on a Light Ray. Let me see you!”

“You are something of a wilful spirit!” answered the Voice “But you know many secrets of our science and their results. So as you wish it ”

Another second, and the cabin was filled with a pearly lustre like the vapour which sweeps across the hills in an early summer dawn and in the center of this as in an aureole stood a nobly proportioned figure, clad in gold-coloured garments fashioned after the early Greek models. Presumably this personage was human, but never was a semblance of humanity so transfigured. The face and form were those of a beautiful youth, the eyes were deep and brilliant, and the expression of the features was one of fine serenity and kindliness. Morgana gazed and gazed, bending herself towards her wonderful visitor with all her soul in her eyes, when suddenly the vision, if so it might be called, paled and vanished. She uttered a little cry.

“Oh, why have you gone so soon?” she exclaimed.

“It is not I who have gone,” replied the Voice “It is only the reflection of me. We cannot project a light picture too far or too long. And even now when you come to us if you ever do come! do you think you will remember me?”

“How could I forget anyone so beautiful!” she said, with passionate enthusiasm.

This time the Sound Ray conveyed a vibration of musical laughter.

“Where every being has beauty for a birthright, how should you know me more than another!” said the Voice “Beauty is common to all in our city as common as health, because we obey the Divine laws of both.”

She stretched out her hands appealingly.

“Oh, if I could only come to you now!” she murmured.

“Patience!” and the Voice grew softer “There is something for you to do in the world. You must lose a love before you find it!”

She drew a quick breath. What could these words mean?

“It is time for you now to turn homeward,” went on the Voice “You must not be seen above this City at dawn. You would be attacked and instantly destroyed, as having received a warning which you refused to heed.”

“Do you attack and destroy all strangers so?” she asked “Is that your rule?”

“It is our rule to keep away the mischief of the modern world” replied the Voice “As well admit a pestilence as the men and women of to-day!”

“I am a woman of to-day,” said Morgana.

“No, you are not, you are a woman of the future!” and the Voice was grave and insistent “You are one of the new race. At the appointed hour you will take your part with us in the new world?”

“When will be that hour?”

There was a pause. Then, with an exceeding sweetness and solemnity the Voice replied

“If He will that we tarry till He come, what is that to thee?”

A sense of great awe swept over her, oppressive and humiliating. She looked once more through her cabin window at the city spread out below, and saw that some of the lights were being extinguished in the taller buildings and on the bridges which connected streets and avenues in a network of architectural beauty.

The Voice spoke again

“We are releasing you from the barrier. You are free to depart.”

She sighed.

“I have no wish to go!” she said.

“You must!” The Voice became commanding. “If you stay now, you and your companions are doomed to perish. There is no alternative. Be satisfied that we know you we watch you we shall expect you sooner or later. Meanwhile guide your ship! the way is open.”

Quickly she sprang to the steering-gear she felt the “White Eagle” moving, and lifting its vast wings for flight.

“Farewell!” she cried, with a sense of tears in her throat “Farewell!”

“Not farewell!” came the reply, spoken softly and with tenderness “We shall meet again soon! I will speak to you in Sicily!”

“In Sicily!” she exclaimed, joyfully “You will speak to me there?”

“There and everywhere!” answered the Voice “The Sound Ray knows no distance. I shall speak and you shall hear whenever you will!”

The last syllables died away like faintly sung music and in a few more seconds the great air-ship was sailing steadily in a level line and at a swift pace onward, the last shining glimpse of the mysterious City vanished, and the “White Eagle” soared over a sable blackness of empty desert, through a dark space besprinkled with stars. Filled with a new sense of power and gladness, Morgana held the vessel in the guidance of her slight but strong hands, and it had flown many miles before the Marchese Rivardi sprang up suddenly from where he had lain lost in unconsciousness and stared around him amazed and confused.

“A thousand pardons, Madama!” he stammered “I shall never forgive myself! I have been asleep!”