On and on, and on I rowed until the shore and my late companions were lost in the gloomy distance. On and on, and still on, until fatigued almost to exhaustion; and still, no land. A feeling of uncontrollable lonesomeness took possession of me. Silence reigned supreme. No sound greeted me save the swirl of the gently undulating waters against the boat, and the melancholy dip of the oars. Overhead, the familiar eyes of night were all that pierced the gloom that seemed to hedge me in. My feeling of distress increased when I discovered that my boat had struck a current and was beyond my control. Visions of a cataract and inevitable death instantly shot across my mind. Made passive by intense despair, I laid down in the bottom of the boat, to let myself drift into whatever fate was awaiting me.
I must have lain there many hours before I realized that I was traveling in a circle. The velocity of the current had increased, but not sufficiently to insure immediately destruction. Hope began to revive, and I sat up and looked about me with renewed courage. Directly before me rose a column of mist, so thin that I could see through it, and of the most delicate tint of green. As I gazed, it spread into a curtain that appeared to be suspended in mid-air, and began to sway gently back and forth, as if impelled by a slight breeze, while sparks of fire, like countless swarms of fire-flies, darted through it and blazed out into a thousand brilliant hues and flakes of color that chased one another across and danced merrily up and down with bewildering swiftness. Suddenly it drew together in a single fold, a rope of yellow mist, then instantly shook itself out again as a curtain of rainbows fringed with flame. Myriads of tassels, composed of threads of fire, began to dart hither and thither through it, while the rainbow stripes deepened in hue until they looked like gorgeous ribbons glowing with intensest radiance, yet softened by that delicate misty appearance which is a special quality of all atmospheric color, and which no pencil can paint, nor the most eloquent tongue adequately describe.
The swaying motion continued. Sometimes the curtain approached near enough, apparently, to flaunt its fiery fringe almost within my grasp. It hung one instant in all its marvelous splendor of colors, then suddenly rushed into a compact mass, and shot across the zenith, an arc of crimson fire that lit up the gloomy waters with a weird, unearthly glare. It faded quickly, and appeared to settle upon the water again in a circular wall of amber mist, round which the current was hurrying me with rapidly increasing speed. I saw, with alarm, that the circles were narrowing A whirlpool was my instant conjecture, and I laid myself down in the boat, again expecting every moment to be swept into a seething abyss of waters. The spray dashed into my face as the boat plunged forward with frightful swiftness. A semi-stupor, born of exhaustion and terror, seized me in its merciful embrace.
It must have been many hours that I lay thus. I have a dim recollection of my boat going on and on, its speed gradually decreasing, until I was amazed to perceive that it had ceased its onward motion and was gently rocking on quiet waters. I opened my eyes. A rosy light, like the first blush of a new day, permeated the atmosphere. I sat up and looked about me. A circular wall of pale amber mist rose behind me; the shores of a new and beautiful country stretched before. Toward them, I guided my boat with reviving hope and strength.
I entered a broad river, whose current was from the sea, and let myself drift along its banks in bewildered delight. The sky appeared bluer, and the air balmier than even that of Italy’s favored clime. The turf that covered the banks was smooth and fine, like a carpet of rich green velvet. The fragrance of tempting fruit was wafted by the zephyrs from numerous orchards. Birds of bright plumage flitted among the branches, anon breaking forth into wild and exultant melody, as if they rejoiced to be in so favored a clime.
And truly it seemed a land of enchantment. The atmosphere had a peculiar transparency, seemingly to bring out clearly objects at a great distance, yet veiling the far horizon in a haze of gold and purple. Overhead, clouds of the most gorgeous hues, like precious gems converted into vapor, floated in a sky of the serenest azure. The languorous atmosphere, the beauty of the heavens, the inviting shores, produced in me a feeling of contentment not easily described. To add to my senses another enjoyment, my ears were greeted with sounds of sweet music, in which I detected the mingling of human voices.
I wondered if I had really drifted into an enchanted country, such as I had read about in the fairy books of my childhood.
The music grew louder, yet wondrously sweet, and a large pleasure boat, shaped like a fish, glided into view. Its scales glittered like gems as it moved gracefully and noiselessly through the water. Its occupants were all young girls of the highest type of blonde beauty. It was their soft voices, accompanied by some peculiar stringed instruments they carried, that had produced the music I had heard. They appeared to regard me with curiosity, not unmixed with distrust, for their boat swept aside to give me a wide berth.
I uncovered my head, shook down my long black hair, and falling upon my knees, lifted my hands in supplication. My plea was apparently understood, for turning their boat around, they motioned me to follow them. This I did with difficulty, for I was weak, and their boat moved with a swiftness and ease that astonished me. What surprised me most was its lack of noise.
As I watched its beautiful occupants dressed in rich garments, adorned with rare and costly gems, and noted the noiseless, gliding swiftness of their boat, an uncomfortable feeling of mystery began to invade my mind, as though I really had chanced upon enchanted territory.
As we glided along, I began to be impressed by the weird stillness. No sound greeted me from the ripening orchards, save the carol of birds; from the fields came no note of harvest labor. No animals were visible, nor sound of any. No hum of life. All nature lay asleep in voluptuous beauty, veiled in a glorious atmosphere. Everything wore a dreamy look. The breeze had a loving, lingering touch, not unlike to the Indian Summer of North America. But no Indian Summer ever knew that dark green verdure, like the first robe of spring. Wherever the eye turned it met something charming in cloud, or sky, or water, or vegetation. Everything had felt the magical touch of beauty.
On the right, the horizon was bounded by a chain of mountains, that plainly showed their bases above the glowing orchards and verdant landscapes. It impressed me as peculiar, that everything appeared to rise as it gained in distance. At last the pleasure boat halted at a flight of marble steps that touched the water. Ascending these, I gained an eminence where a scene of surpassing beauty and grandeur lay spread before me. Far, far as the eye could follow it, stretched the stately splendor of a mighty city. But all the buildings were detached and surrounded by lawns and shade trees, their white marble and gray granite walls gleaming through the green foliage.
Upon the lawn, directly before us, a number of most beautiful girls had disposed themselves at various occupations. Some were reading, some sketching, and some at various kinds of needlework. I noticed that they were all blondes. I could not determine whether their language possessed a peculiarly soft accent, or whether it was an unusual melody of voice that made their conversation as musical to the ear as the love notes of some amorous wood bird to its mate.
A large building of white marble crowned a slight eminence behind them. Its porticos were supported upon the hands of colossal statues of women, carved out of white marble with exquisite art and beauty. Shade trees of a feathery foliage, like plumes of finest moss, guarded the entrance and afforded homes for brilliant-plumaged birds that flew about the porticos and alighted on the hands and shoulders of the ladies without fear. Some of the trees had a smooth, straight trunk and flat top, bearing a striking resemblance to a Chinese umbrella. On either side of the marble-paved entrance were huge fountains that threw upward a column of water a hundred feet in height, which, dissolving into spray, fell into immense basins of clearest crystal. Below the rim of these basins, but covered with the crystal, as with a delicate film of ice, was a wreath of blood red roses, that looked as though they had just been plucked from the stems and placed there for a temporary ornament. I afterward learned that it was the work of an artist, and durable as granite.
I supposed I had arrived at a female seminary, as not a man, or the suggestion of one, was to be seen. If it were a seminary, it was for the wealth of the land, as house, grounds, adornments, and the ladies’ attire were rich and elegant.
I stood apart from the groups of beautiful creatures like the genus of another race, enveloped in garments of fur that had seen much service. I presented a marked contrast. The evident culture, refinement, and gentleness of the ladies, banished any fear I might have entertained as to the treatment I should receive. But a singular silence that pervaded everything impressed me painfully. I stood upon the uplifted verge of an immense city, but from its broad streets came no sound of traffic, no rattle of wheels, no hum of life. Its marble homes of opulence shone white and grand through mossy foliage; from innumerable parks the fountains sparkled and statues gleamed like rare gems upon a costly robe; but over all a silence, as of death, reigned unbroken. The awe and the mystery of it pressed heavily upon my spirit, but I could not refuse to obey when a lady stepped out of the group, that had doubtless been discussing me, and motioned me to follow her.
She led me through the main entrance into a lofty hall that extended through the entire building, and consisted of a number of grand arches representing scenes in high relief of the finest sculpture. We entered a magnificent salon, where a large assembly of ladies regarded me with unmistakable astonishment. Every one of them was a blonde. I was presented to one, whom I instantly took to be the Lady Superior of the College, for I had now settled it in my mind that I was in a female seminary, albeit one of unheard of luxury in its appointments.
The lady had a remarkable majesty of demeanor, and a noble countenance. Her hair was white with age, but over her features, the rosy bloom of youth still lingered, as if loth to depart. She looked at me kindly and critically, but not with as much surprise as the others had evinced. I may here remark that I am a brunette. My guide, having apparently received some instruction in regard to me, led me upstairs into a private apartment. She placed before me a complete outfit of female wearing apparel, and informed me by signs that I was to put it on. She then retired. The apartment was sumptuously furnished in two colors — amber and lazulite. A bath-room adjoining had a beautiful porcelain tank with scented water, that produced a delightful feeling of exhilaration.
Having donned my new attire, I descended the stairs and met my guide, who conducted me into a spacious dining-room. The walls were adorned with paintings, principally of fruit and flowers. A large and superb picture of a sylvan dell in the side of a rock, was one exception. Its deep, cool shadows, and the pellucid water, which a wandering sunbeam accidentally revealed, were strikingly realistic. Nearly all of the pictures were upon panels of crystal that were set in the wall. The light shining through them gave them an exceedingly natural effect. One picture that I especially admired, was of a grape vine twining around the body and trunk of an old tree. It was inside of the crystal panel, and looked so natural that I imagined I could see its leaves and tendrils sway in the wind. The occupants of the dining-room were all ladies, and again I noted the fact that they were all blondes: beautiful, graceful, courteous, and with voices softer and sweeter than the strains of an eolian harp.
The table, in its arrangement and decoration, was the most beautiful one I had ever seen. The white linen cloth resembled brocaded satin. The knives and forks were gold, with handles of solid amber. The dishes were of the finest porcelain. Some of them, particularly the fruit stands, looked as though composed of hoar frost. Many of the fruit stands were of gold filigree work. They attracted my notice at once, not so much on account of the exquisite workmanship and unique design of the dishes, as the wonderful fruit they contained. One stand, that resembled a huge African lily in design, contained several varieties of plums, as large as hen’s eggs, and transparent. They were yellow, blue and red. The centre of the table was occupied by a fruit stand of larger size than the others. It looked like a boat of sea foam fringed with gold moss. Over its outer edge hung clusters of grapes of a rich wine color, and clear as amethysts. The second row looked like globes of honey, the next were of a pale, rose color, and the top of the pyramid was composed of white ones, the color and transparency of dew.
The fruit looked so beautiful. I thought it would be a sacrilege to destroy the charm it had for the eye; but when I saw it removed by pink tipped fingers, whose beauty no art could represent, and saw it disappear within such tempting lips. I thought the feaster worthy of the feast. Fruit appeared to be the principal part of their diet, and was served in its natural state. I was, however, supplied with something that resembled beefsteak of a very fine quality. I afterward learned that it was chemically prepared meat. At the close of the meal, a cup was handed me that looked like the half of a soap bubble with all its iridescent beauty sparkling and glancing in the light. It contained a beverage that resembled chocolate, but whose flavor could not have been surpassed by the fabled nectar of the gods.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52