Lilith by George MacDonald
Chapter XLVI. The City
Lona and I, who walked below, heard at last a great shout overhead, and in a moment or two the Little Ones began to come dropping down from the foliage with the news that, climbing to the top of a tree yet taller than the rest, they had descried, far across the plain, a curious something on the side of a solitary mountain--which mountain, they said, rose and rose, until the sky gathered thick to keep it down, and knocked its top off.
"It may be a city," they said, "but it is not at all like Bulika."
I went up to look, and saw a great city, ascending into blue clouds, where I could not distinguish mountain from sky and cloud, or rocks from dwellings. Cloud and mountain and sky, palace and precipice mingled in a seeming chaos of broken shadow and shine.
I descended, the Little Ones came with me, and together we sped on faster. They grew yet merrier as they went, leading the way, and never looking behind them. The river grew lovelier and lovelier, until I knew that never before had I seen real water. Nothing in this world is more than like it.
By and by we could from the plain see the city among the blue clouds. But other clouds were gathering around a lofty tower--or was it a rock?--that stood above the city, nearer the crest of the mountain. Gray, and dark gray, and purple, they writhed in confused, contrariant motions, and tossed up a vaporous foam, while spots in them gyrated like whirlpools. At length issued a dazzling flash, which seemed for a moment to play about the Little Ones in front of us. Blinding darkness followed, but through it we heard their voices, low with delight.
"Did you see?"
"What did you see?"
"The beautifullest man."
"I heard him speak!"
"I didn't: what did he say?"
Here answered the smallest and most childish of the voices--that of Luva:--
"He said, `'Ou's all mine's, 'ickle ones: come along!'"
I had seen the lightning, but heard no words; Lona saw and heard with the children. A second flash came, and my eyes, though not my ears, were opened. The great quivering light was compact of angel-faces. They lamped themselves visible, and vanished.
A third flash came; its substance and radiance were human.
"I see my mother!" I cried.
"I see lots o' mothers!" said Luva.
Once more the cloud flashed--all kinds of creatures--horses and elephants, lions and dogs--oh, such beasts! And such birds!--great birds whose wings gleamed singly every colour gathered in sunset or rainbow! little birds whose feathers sparkled as with all the precious stones of the hoarding earth!--silvery cranes; red flamingoes; opal pigeons; peacocks gorgeous in gold and green and blue; jewelly humming birds!--great-winged butterflies; lithe-volumed creeping things--all in one heavenly flash!
"I see that serpents grow birds here, as caterpillars used to grow butterflies!" remarked Lona.
"I saw my white pony, that died when I was a child.--I needn't have been so sorry; I should just have waited!" I said.
Thunder, clap or roll, there had been none. And now came a sweet rain, filling the atmosphere with a caressing coolness. We breathed deep, and stepped out with stronger strides. The falling drops flashed the colours of all the waked up gems of the earth, and a mighty rainbow spanned the city.
The blue clouds gathered thicker; the rain fell in torrents; the children exulted and ran; it was all we could do to keep them in sight.
With silent, radiant roll, the river swept onward, filling to the margin its smooth, soft, yielding channel. For, instead of rock or shingle or sand, it flowed over grass in which grew primroses and daisies, crocuses and narcissi, pimpernels and anemones, a starry multitude, large and bright through the brilliant water. The river had gathered no turbid cloudiness from the rain, not even a tinge of yellow or brown; the delicate mass shone with the pale berylline gleam that ascended from its deep, dainty bed.
Drawing nearer to the mountain, we saw that the river came from its very peak, and rushed in full volume through the main street of the city. It descended to the gate by a stair of deep and wide steps, mingled of porphyry and serpentine, which continued to the foot of the mountain. There arriving we found shallower steps on both banks, leading up to the gate, and along the ascending street. Without the briefest halt, the Little Ones ran straight up the stair to the gate, which stood open.
Outside, on the landing, sat the portress, a woman-angel of dark visage, leaning her shadowed brow on her idle hand. The children rushed upon her, covering her with caresses, and ere she understood, they had taken heaven by surprise, and were already in the city, still mounting the stair by the side of the descending torrent. A great angel, attended by a company of shining ones, came down to meet and receive them, but merrily evading them all, up still they ran. In merry dance, however, a group of woman-angels descended upon them, and in a moment they were fettered in heavenly arms. The radiants carried them away, and I saw them no more.
"Ah!" said the mighty angel, continuing his descent to meet us who were now almost at the gate and within hearing of his words, "this is well! these are soldiers to take heaven itself by storm!--I hear of a horde of black bats on the frontiers: these will make short work with such!"
Seeing the horse and the elephants clambering up behind us--
"Take those animals to the royal stables," he added; "there tend them; then turn them into the king's forest."
"Welcome home!" he said to us, bending low with the sweetest smile.
Immediately he turned and led the way higher. The scales of his armour flashed like flakes of lightning.
Thought cannot form itself to tell what I felt, thus received by the officers of heaven. All I wanted and knew not, must be on its way to me!
We stood for a moment at the gate whence issued roaring the radiant river. I know not whence came the stones that fashioned it, but among them I saw the prototypes of all the gems I had loved on earth--far more beautiful than they, for these were living stones --such in which I saw, not the intent alone, but the intender too; not the idea alone, but the imbodier present, the operant outsender: nothing in this kingdom was dead; nothing was mere; nothing only a thing.
We went up through the city and passed out. There was no wall on the upper side, but a huge pile of broken rocks, upsloping like the moraine of an eternal glacier; and through the openings between the rocks, the river came billowing out. On their top I could dimly discern what seemed three or four great steps of a stair, disappearing in a cloud white as snow; and above the steps I saw, but with my mind's eye only, as it were a grand old chair, the throne of the Ancient of Days. Over and under and between those steps issued, plenteously, unceasingly new-born, the river of the water of life.
The great angel could guide us no farther: those rocks we must ascend alone!
My heart beating with hope and desire, I held faster the hand of my Lona, and we began to climb; but soon we let each other go, to use hands as well as feet in the toilsome ascent of the huge stones. At length we drew near the cloud, which hung down the steps like the borders of a garment, passed through the fringe, and entered the deep folds. A hand, warm and strong, laid hold of mine, and drew me to a little door with a golden lock. The door opened; the hand let mine go, and pushed me gently through. I turned quickly, and saw the board of a large book in the act of closing behind me. I stood alone in my library.