The rishis were the sacred Bards, the Saints, the great Adepts known to the Hindus, who gave great spiritual impulses in the past and are said to sometimes reincarnate, and who at one time lived on earth among men.
The world is made of seas and islands. For continents are only great lands water-encircled. Men must ever live upon sea or land, then, unless they abide in air, and if they live in the air they are not men as we know them.” Thus I thought as the great ship steamed slowly into the port of a small island, and before the anchor fell the whole scene seemed to change and the dazzling light of the past blotted out the dark pictures of modern civilization. Instead of an English ship I was standing on an ancient vehicle propelled by force unknown today, until the loud noises of disembarkation roused me once again.
But landed now and standing on the hill overlooking the town and bay, the strange light, the curious vehicle again obtained mastery over sense and eye, while the whole majesty of forgotten years rolled in from the ocean. Vainly did modern education struggle and soar: I let the curtain drop upon the miserable present.
Now softly sings the water as it rolls against the shore, with the sun but one hour old shining upon its surface. But far off, what is that spot against the sky coming nearer from the West, followed by another and another until over the horizon rise hundreds, and now some are so near that they are plainly seen? The same strange vehicles as that I saw at first. Like birds they fly through the air. They come slowly now, and some have been brought still on the land. They light on the earth with a softness that seems nearly human, with a skill that is marvellous, without any shock or rebound. From them there alight men of noble mien who address me as friends, and one more noble than the others seems to say, “wouldst thou know of all this? Then come,” as he turns again to his vehicle that stands there like a bird in wait to be off.
“Yes, I will go;” and I felt that the past and the present were but one, and knew what I should see, yet could not remember it but with a vagueness that blotted out all the details.
We entered the swift, intelligently-moving vehicle, and then it rose up on the air’s wide-spreading arms and flew again fast to the west whence it had come. It passed many more flying east to the Island, where the water was, still softly singing to the beams of the sun. The horizon slowly rose and the Island behind us was hidden by sea from our sight. And still as onward we flew to the occident, many more birds made by man like that we were in flew by us as if in haste for the soft-singing water lapping the shore of that peak of the sea-mountain we had left in the Orient. Flying too high at first, we heard no sound from the sea, but soon a damp vapor that blew in my face from the salt deep showed that we were descending and then spoke my friend.
“Look below and around and before you!”
Down there were the roar and the rush of mad billows that reached toward the sky, vast hollows that sucked in a world. Black clouds shut out the great sun, and I saw that the crust of the earth was drawn in to her own subterranean depths. Turning now to the master, I saw that he, heard my unuttered question. He said:
“A cycle has ended. The great bars that kept back the sea have broken down by their weight. From these we have come and are coming.”
Then faster sailed our bird, and I saw that a great Island was perishing. What was left of the shore still crumbled, still entered the mouth of the sea. And there were cars of the air just the same as that I was in, only, dark and unshining, vainly trying to rise with their captains; rising slowly, then falling, and then swallowed up.
But here we have rushed further in where the water has not overflowed, and now we see that few are the bright cars of air that are waiting about while their captains are entering and spoiling the mighty dark cars of the men whose clothing is red and whose bodies, so huge and amazing, are sleeping as if from the fumes of a drug.
As these great red men are slumbering, the light-stepping captains with sun-colored cloaks are finishing the work of destruction. And now, swiftly though we came, the waters have rushed on behind us, the salt breath of the all-devouring deep sweeps over us. The sun-colored captains enter their light air-cars and rise with a sweep that soon leaves the sleepers, now waking, behind them. The huge red-coated giants hear the roar of the waters and feel the cold waves roll about them. They enter their cars, but only to find all their efforts are wasted. Soon the crumbling earth no longer supports them, and all by an in-rushing wave are engulfed, drawn into the mouth of the sea, and the treacherous ocean with roars as of pleasure in conquest has claimed the last trace of the Island.
But one escaped of all the red giants, and slowly but surely his car sailed up, up, as if to elude the sun-colored men who were spoilers.
Then loud, clear, and thrilling swelled out a note of marvellous power from my captain, and back came a hundred of those brilliant, fast cars that were speeding off eastward. Now they pursue the heavy, vast, slow-moving ear of the giants surround it, and seem to avoid its attacks. Then again swells that note from my master as our car hung still on its wings. It was a signal, obeyed in an instant.
One brilliant, small, sharp-pointed car is directed full at the red giant’s vehicle. Propelled by a force that exceeds the swift bullet, it pierces the other; itself, too, is broken and falls on the wave with its victim. Trembling, I gaze down below, but my captain said kindly,
“He is safe, for he entered another bright car at the signal. All those red-coated men are now gone, and that last was the worst and the greatest.”
Back eastward once more through the salt spray and the mist until soon the bright light shone again and the Island rose over the sea with the soft-singing water murmuring back to the sun. We alighted, and then, as I turned, the whole fleet of swift-sailing cars disappeared, and out in the sky there flashed a bright streak of sun-colored light that formed into letters which read,
“This is where the Rishis were before the chalk cliffs of Albion rose out of the wave. They were but are not.”
And loud, clear, and thrilling rose that note I had heard in the car of swift pinions. It thrilled me with sadness, for past was the glory and naught for the future was left but a destiny.