When the World Shook by H. Rider Haggard - HTML preview
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"They did not choose; it was forced upon them," was the answer. "This is a city of refuge that they occupied in time of war, not because they hated the sun. In time of peace and before the Barbarians dared to attack them, they dwelt in the city Pani which signifies Above. You may have noted some of its remaining ruins on the mount and throughout the island. The rest of them are now beneath the sea. But when trouble came and the foe rained fire on them from the air, they retreated to this town, Nyo, which signifies Beneath.""And then?"
"And then they died. The Water of Life may prolong life, but it cannot make women bear children. That they will only do beneath the blue of heaven, not deep in the belly of the world where Nature never designed that they should dwell. How would the voices of children sound in such halls as these? Tell me, you, Bickley, who are a physician.""I cannot. I cannot imagine children in such a place, and if born here they would die," said Bickley. Oro nodded.
"They did die, and if they went above to Pani they were murdered. So soon the habit of birth was lost and the Sons of Wisdom perished one by one. Yes, they who ruled the world and by tens of thousands of years of toil had gathered into their bosoms all the secrets of the world, perished, till only a few, and among them I and this daughter of mine, were left.""And then?"
"Then, Humphrey, having power so to do, I did what long I had threatened, and unchained the forces that work at the world's heart, and destroyed them who were my enemies and evil, so that they perished by millions, and with them all their works. Afterwards we slept, leaving the others, our subjects who had not the secret of this Sleep, to die, as doubtless they did in the course of Nature or by the hand of the foe. The rest you know."
"Can such a thing happen again?" asked Bickley in a voice that did not hide his disbelief.
"Why do you question me, Bickley, you who believe nothing of what I tell you, and therefore make wrath? Still I will say this, that what I caused to happen I can cause once more--only once, I think--as perchance you shall learn before all is done. Now, since you do not believe, I will tell you no more of our
mysteries, no, not whence this light comes nor what are the properties of the Water of Life, both of which you long to know, nor how to preserve the vital spark of Being in the grave of dreamless sleep, like a live jewel in a casket of dead stone, nor aught else. As to these matters, Daughter, I bid you also to be silent, since Bickley mocks at us. Yes, with all this around him, he who saw us rise from the coffins, still mocks at us in his heart. Therefore let him, this little man of a little day, when his few years are done go to the tomb in ignorance, and his companions with him, they who might have been as wise as I am."
Thus Oro spoke in a voice of icy rage, his deep eyes glowing like coals. Hearing him I cursed Bickley in my heart for I was sure that once spoken, his decree was like to that of the Medes and Persians and could not be altered. Bickley, however, was not in the least dismayed. Indeed he argued the point. He told Oro straight out that he would not believe in the impossible until it had been shown to him to be possible, and that the law of Nature never had been and never could be violated. It was no answer, he said, to show him wonders without explaining their cause, since all that he seemed to see might be but mental illusions produced he knew not how.Oro listened patiently, then answered:
"Good. So be it, they are illusions. I am an illusion; those savages who died upon the rock will tell you so. This fair woman before you is an illusion; Humphrey, I am sure, knows it as you will also before you have done with her. These halls are illusions. Live on in your illusions, O little man of science, who because you see the face of things, think that you know the body and the heart, and can read the soul at work within. You are a worthy child of tens of thousands of your breed who were before you and are now forgotten."Bickley looked up to answer, then changed his mind and was silent, thinking further argument dangerous, and Oro went on:
"Now I differ from you, Bickley, in this way. I who have more wisdom in my finger-point than you with all the physicians of your world added to you, have in your brains and bodies, yet desire to learn from those who can give me knowledge. I understand from your words to my daughter that you, Bastin, teach a faith that is new to me, and that this faith tells of life
eternal for the children of earth. Is it so?"
"Not now in the presence of Bickley who doubtless disbelieves your faith, as he does all else, holding it with justice or without, to be but another illusion. Yet you shall teach me and on it I will form my own judgment."
"I shall be delighted," said Bastin. Then a doubt struck him, and he added: "But why do you wish to learn? Not that you may make a mock of my religion, is it?"
"I mock at no man's belief, because I think that what men believe is true--for them. I will tell you why I wish to hear of yours, since I never hide the truth. I who am so wise and old, yet must die; though that time may be far away, still I must die, for such is the lot of man born of woman. And I do not desire to die. Therefore I shall rejoice to learn of any faith that
promises to the children of earth a life eternal beyond the earth. Tomorrow you shall begin to teach me. Now leave me, Strangers, for I have much to do," and he waved his hand towards the table.
We rose and bowed, wondering what he could have to do down in this luminous hole, he who had been for so many thousands of years out of touch with the world. It occurred to me, however, that during this long period he might have got in touch with other worlds, indeed he looked like it.
"Wait," he said, "I have something to tell you. I have been studying this book of writings, or world pictures," and he pointed to my atlas which, as I now observed for the first time, was also lying upon the table. "It interests me much. Your country is small, very small. When I caused it to be raised up I think that it was larger, but since then that seas have flowed in."
Here Bickley groaned aloud. "This one is much greater," went on Oro, casting a glance at Bickley that must have penetrated him like a searchlight. Then he opened the map of Europe and with his finger indicated Germany and Austria-Hungary. "I know nothing of the peoples of these lands," he added, "but as you belong to one of them and are my guests, I trust that yours may succeed in the war.""What war?" we asked with one voice.
"Since Bickley is so clever, surely he should know better than an illusion such as I. All I can tell you is that I have learned that there is war between this country and that," and he pointed to Great Britain and to Germany upon the map; "also between others.""It is quite possible," I said, remembering many things. "But how do you know?"
"If I told you, Humphrey, Bickley would not believe, so I will not tell. Perhaps I saw it in that crystal, as did the
necromancers of the early world. Or perhaps the crystal serves some different purpose and I saw it otherwise--with my soul. At least what I say is true."
"I cannot read the future, Preacher. If I could, should I ask you to expound to me your religion which probably is of no more worth than a score of others I have studied, just because it tells of the future? If I could read the future I should be a god instead of only an earth-lord."
"Your daughter called you a god and you said that you knew we were coming to wake you up, which is reading the future," answered Bastin.
"Every father is a god to his daughter, or should be; also in my day millions named me a god because I saw further and struck harder than they could. As for the rest, it came to me in a vision. Oh! Bickley, if you were wiser than you think you are, you would know that all things to come are born elsewhere and travel hither like the light from stars. Sometimes they come faster before their day into a single mind, and that is what men call prophecy. But this is a gift which cannot be commanded, even by me. Also I did not know that you would come. I knew only that we should awaken and by the help of men, for if none had been present at that destined hour we must have died for lack of warmth and sustenance.""I deny your hypothesis in toto," exclaimed Bickley, but nobody paid any attention to him.
"My father," said Yva, rising and bowing before him with her swan-like grace, "I have noted your commands. But do you permit that I show the temple to these strangers, also something of our past?"
"Yes, yes," he said. "It will save much talk in a savage tongue that is difficult to me. But bring them here no more without my command, save Bastin only. When the sun is four hours high in the upper world, let him come tomorrow to teach me, and afterwards if so I desire. Or if he wills, he can sleep here."
"I think I would rather not," said Bastin hurriedly. "I make no pretense to being particular, but this place does not appeal to me as a bedroom. There are degrees in the pleasures of solitude and, in short, I will not disturb your privacy at night."Oro waved his hand and we departed down that awful and most dreary hall. "I hope you will spend a pleasant time here, Bastin," I said, looking back from the doorway at its cold, illuminated vastness.
"I don't expect to," he answered, "but duty is duty, and if I can drag that old sinner back from the pit that awaits him, it will be worth doing. Only I have my doubts about him. To me he seems to bear a strong family resemblance to Beelzebub, and he's a bad companion week in and week out."
We went through the portico, Yva leading us, and passed the fountain of Life-water, of which she cautioned us to drink no more at present, and to prevent him from doing so, dragged Tommy past it by his collar. Bickley, however, lingered under the pretence of making a further examination of the statue. As I had seen him emptying into his pocket the contents of a corked bottle of quinine tabloids which he always carried with him, I guessed very well that his object was to procure a sample of this water for future analysis. Of course I said nothing, and Yva and Bastin took no note of what he was doing.
When we were clear of the palace, of which we had only seen one hall, we walked across an open space made unutterably dreary by the absence of any vegetation or other sign of life, towards a huge building of glorious proportions that was constructed of black stone or marble. It is impossible for me to give any idea of the frightful solemnity of this doomed edifice, for as I think I have said, it alone had a roof, standing there in the midst of that brilliant, unvarying and most unnatural illumination which came from nowhere and yet was everywhere. Thus, when one lifted a foot, there it was between the sole of the boot and the floor, or to express it better, the boot threw no shadow. I think this absence of shadows was perhaps the most terrifying circumstance connected with that universal and pervading light. Through it we walked on to the temple. We passed three courts, pillared all of them, and came to the building which was larger than St. Paul's in London. We entered through huge doors which still stood open, and presently found ourselves beneath the towering dome. There were no windows, why should there be in a place that was full of light? There was no ornamentation, there was nothing except black walls. And yet the general effect was magnificent in its majestic grace.
"In this place," said Yva, and her sweet voice went whispering round the walls and the arching dome, "were buried the Kings of the Sons of Wisdom. They lie beneath, each in his sepulchre. Its entrance is yonder," and she pointed to what seemed to be a chapel on the right. "Would you wish to see them?""Somehow I don't care to," said Bastin. "The place is dreary enough as it is without the company of a lot of dead kings." "I should like to dissect one of them, but I suppose that would not be allowed," said Bickley. "No," she answered. "I think that the Lord Oro would not wish you to cut up his forefathers." "When you and he went to sleep, why did you not choose the family vault?" asked Bastin.
"Would you have found us there?" she queried by way of answer. Then, understanding that the invitation was refused by general consent, though personally I should have liked to accept it, and have never ceased regretting that I did not, she moved towards a colossal object which stood beneath the centre of the dome.
On a stepped base, not very different from that in the cave but much larger, sat a figure, draped in a cloak on which was graved a number of stars, doubtless to symbolise the heavens. The fastening of the cloak was shaped like the crescent moon, and the foot-stool on which rested the figure's feet was fashioned to suggest the orb of the sun. This was of gold or some such metal, the only spot of brightness in all that temple. It was impossible to say whether the figure were male or female, for the cloak falling in long, straight folds hid its outlines. Nor did the head tell us, for the hair also was hidden beneath the mantle and the face might have been that of either man or woman. It was terrible in its solemnity and calm, and its expression was as remote and mystic as that of Buddha, only more stern. Also without doubt it was blind; it was impossible to mistake the sightlessness of those staring orbs. Across the knees lay a naked sword and beneath the cloak the arms were hidden. In its complete simplicity the thing was marvelous.
On either side upon the pedestal knelt a figure of the size of life. One was an old and withered man with death stamped upon his face; the other was a beautiful, naked woman, her hands clasped in the attitude of prayer and with vague terror written on her vivid features.
Such was this glorious group of which the meaning could not be mistaken. It was Fate throned upon the sun, wearing the constellations as his garment, armed with the sword of Destiny and worshipped by Life and Death. This interpretation I set out to the others.
Yva knelt before the statue for a little while, bowing her head in prayer, and really I felt inclined to follow her example, though in the end I compromised, as did Bickley, by taking off my hat, which, like the others, I still wore from force of habit, though in this place none were needed. Only Bastin remained covered."Behold the god of my people," said Yva. "Have you no reverence for it, O Bastin?"
"Not much," he answered, "except as a work of art. You see I worship Fate's Master. I might add that your god doesn't seem to have done much for you, Lady Yva, as out of all your greatness there's nothing left but two people and a lot of old walls and caves."At first she was inclined to be angry, for I saw her start. Then her mood changed, and she said with a sigh: "Fate's Master! Where does He dwell?" "Here amongst other places," said Bastin. "I'll soon explain that to you."
"I thank you," she replied gravely. "But why have you not explained it to Bickley?" Then waving her hand to show that she wished for no answer, she went on:"Friends, would you wish to learn something of the history of my people?" "Very much," said the irrepressible Bastin, "but I would rather the lecture took place in the open air."
"That is not possible," she answered. "It must be here and now, or not at all. Come, stand by me. Be silent and do not move. I am about to set loose forces that are dangerous if disturbed."Chapter XVI Visions of the Past
She led us to the back of the statue and pointed to each of us where we should remain. Then she took her place at right angles to us, as a showman might do, and for a while stood immovable. Watching her face, once more I saw it, and indeed all her body, informed with that strange air of power, and noted that her eyes flashed and that her hair grew even more brilliant than was common, as though some abnormal strength were flowing through it and her. Presently she spoke, saying:"I shall show you first our people in the day of their glory. Look in front of you."
We looked and by degrees the vast space of the apse before us became alive with forms. At first these were vague and shadowy, not to be separated or distinguished. Then they became so real that until he was reproved by a kick, Tommy growled at them and threatened to break out into one of his peals of barking. A wonderful scene appeared. There was a palace of white marble and in front of it a great courtyard upon which the sun beat vividly. At the foot of the steps of the palace, beneath a silken awning, sat a king enthroned, a crown upon his head and wearing glorious robes. In his hand was a jewelled sceptre. He was a noble-looking man of middle age and about him were gathered the glittering officers of his court. Fair women fanned him and to right and left, but a little behind, sat other fair and jewelled women who, I suppose, were his wives or daughters."One of the Kings of the Children of Wisdom new-crowned, receives the homage of the world," said Yva.
As she spoke there appeared, walking in front of the throne one by one, other kings, for all were crowned and bore sceptres. At the foot of the throne each of them kneeled and kissed the foot of him who sat thereon, as he did so laying down his sceptre which at a sign he lifted again and passed away. Of these kings there must have been quite fifty, men of all colours and of various types, white men, black men, yellow men, red men.
Then came their ministers bearing gifts, apparently of gold and jewels, which were piled on trays in front of the throne. I remember noting an incident. An old fellow with a lame leg stumbled and upset his tray, so that the contents rolled hither and thither. His attempts to recover them were ludicrous and caused the monarch on the throne to relax from his dignity and smile. I mention this to show that what we witnessed was no set scene but apparently a living piece of the past. Had it been so the absurdity of the bedizened old man tumbling down in the midst of the gorgeous pageant would certainly have been omitted.
No, it must be life, real life, something that had happened, and the same may be said of what followed. For instance, there was what we call a review. Infantry marched, some of them armed with swords and spears, though these I took to be an ornamental bodyguard, and others with tubes like savage blowpipes of which I could not guess the use. There were no cannon, but carriages came by loaded with bags that had spouts to them. Probably these were charged with poisonous gases. There were some cavalry also, mounted on a different stamp of horse from ours, thicker set and nearer the ground, but with arched necks and fiery eyes and, I should say, very strong. These again, I take it, were ornamental. Then came other men upon a long machine, slung in pairs in armoured sacks, out of which only their heads and arms projected. This machine, which resembled an elongated bicycle, went by at a tremendous rate, though whence its motive power came did not appear. It carried twenty pairs of men, each of whom held in his hand some small but doubtless deadly weapon, that in appearance resembled an orange. Other similar machines which followed carried from forty to a hundred pairs of men.
The marvel of the piece, however, were the aircraft. These came by in great numbers. Sometimes they flew in flocks like wild geese, sometimes singly, sometimes in line and sometimes in ordered squadrons, with outpost and officer ships and an exact distance kept between craft and craft. None of them seemed to be very large or to carry more than four or five men, but they were extraordinarily swift and as agile as swallows. Moreover they flew as birds do by beating their wings, but again we could not guess whence came their motive power.
The review vanished, and next appeared a scene of festivity in a huge, illuminated hall. The Great King sat upon a dais and behind him was that statue of Fate, or one very similar to it, beneath which we stood. Below him in the hall were the feasters seated at long tables, clad in the various costumes of their countries. He rose and, turning, knelt before the statue of Fate. Indeed he prostrated himself thrice in prayer. Then taking his seat again, he lifted a cup of wine and pledged that vast company. They drank back to him and prostrated themselves before him as he had done before the image of Fate. Only I noted that certain men clad in sacerdotal garments not at all unlike those which are worn in the Greek Church to-day, remained standing.
Now all this exhibition of terrestrial pomp faded. The next scene was simple, that of the death-bed of this same king--we knew him by his wizened features. There he lay, terribly old and dying. Physicians, women, courtiers, all were there watching the end. The tableau vanished and in place of it appeared that of the youthful successor amidst cheering crowds, with joy breaking through the clouds of simulated grief upon his face. It vanished also.
"Thus did great king succeed great king for ages upon ages," said Yva. "There were eighty of them and the average of their reigns was 700 years. They ruled the earth as it was in those days. They gathered up learning, they wielded power, their wealth was boundless. They nurtured the arts, they discovered secrets. They had intercourse with the stars; they were as gods. But like the gods they grew jealous. They and their councillors became a race apart who alone had the secret of long life. The rest of the world and the commonplace people about them suffered and died. They of the Household of Wisdom lived on in pomp for generations till the earth was mad with envy of them.
"Fewer and fewer grew the divine race of the Sons of Wisdom since children are not given to the aged and to those of an ancient, outworn blood. Then the World said:
"'They are great but they are not many; let us make an end of them by numbers and take their place and power and drink of their Life-water, that they will not give to us. If myriads of us
perish by their arts, what does it matter, since we are
countless?' So the World made war upon the Sons of Wisdom. See!"
Again a picture formed. The sky was full of aircraft which rained down fire like flashes of lightning upon cities beneath. From these cities leapt up other fires that destroyed the swifttravelling things above, so that they fell in numbers like gnats burned by a lamp. Still more and more of them came till the cities crumbled away and the flashes that darted from them ceased to rush upwards. The Sons of Wisdom were driven from the face of the earth.
Again the scene changed. Now it showed this subterranean hall in which we stood. There was pomp here, yet it was but a shadow of that which had been in the earlier days upon the face of the earth. Courtiers moved about the palace and there were people in the radiant streets and the houses, for most of them were occupied, but rarely did the vision show children coming through their gates.
Of a sudden this scene shifted. Now we saw that same hall in which we had visited Oro not an hour before. There he sat, yes, Oro himself, upon the dais beneath the overhanging marble shell. Round him were some ancient councillors. In the body of the hall on either side of the dais were men in military array, guards without doubt though their only weapon was a black rod not unlike a ruler, if indeed it were a weapon and not a badge of office.
Yva, whose face had suddenly grown strange and fixed, began to detail to us what was passing in this scene, in a curious monotone such as a person might use who was repeating something learned by heart. This was the substance of what she said:
"The case of the Sons of Wisdom is desperate. But few of them are left. Like other men they need food which is hard to come by, since the foe holds the upper earth and that which their doctors can make here in the Shades does not satisfy them, even though they drink the Life-water. They die and die. There comes an embassy from the High King of the confederated Nations to talk of terms of peace. See, it enters."
As she spoke, up the hall advanced the embassy. At the head of it walked a young man, tall, dark, handsome and commanding, whose aspect seemed in some way to be familiar to me. He was richly clothed in a purple cloak and wore upon his head a golden circlet that suggested royal rank. Those who followed him were mostly old men who had the astute faces of diplomatists, but a few seemed to be generals. Yva continued in her monotonous voice:
"Comes the son of the King of the confederated Nations, the Prince who will be king. He bows before the Lord Oro. He says 'Great and Ancient Monarch of the divine blood, Heaven-born One, your strait, and that of those who remain to you, is sore. Yet on behalf of the Nations I am sent to offer terms of peace, but this I may only do in the presence of your child who is your heiress and the Queen-to-be of the Sons of Wisdom.'"
Here, in the picture, Oro waved his hand and from behind the marble shell appeared Yva herself, gloriously apparelled, wearing royal ornaments and with her train held by waiting ladies. She bowed to the Prince and his company and they bowed back to her. More, we saw a glance of recognition pass between her and the Prince.
Now the real Yva by our side pointed to the shadow Yva of the vision or the picture, whichever it might be called, a strange thing to see her do, and went on:
"The daughter of the Lord Oro comes. The Prince of the Nations salutes her. He says that the great war has endured for hundreds of years between the Children of Wisdom fighting for absolute rule and the common people of the earth fighting for liberty. In that war many millions of the Sons of the Nations had perished, brought to their death by fearful arts, by wizardries and by plagues sown among them by the Sons of Wisdom. Yet they were winning, for the glorious cities of the Sons of Wisdom were destroyed and those who remained of them were driven to dwell in the caves of the earth where with all their strength and magic they could not increase, but faded like flowers in the dark. "The Lord Oro asks what are the terms of peace proposed by the Nations. The Prince answers that they are these: That the Sons of Wisdom shall teach all their wisdom to the wise men among the Nations. That they shall give them to drink of the Life-water, so that their length of days also may be increased. That they shall cease to destroy them by sickness and their mastery of the forces which are hid in the womb of the world. If they will do these things, then the Nations on their part will cease from war, will rebuild the cities they have destroyed by means of their flying ships that rain down death, and will agree that the Lord Oro and his seed shall rule them for ever as the King of kings.
"The Lord Oro asks if that be all. The Prince answers that it is not all. He says that when he dwelt a hostage at the court of the Sons of Wisdom he and the divine Lady, the daughter of the Lord Oro, and his only living child, learned to love each other. He demands, and the Nations demand, that she shall be given to him to wife, that in a day to come he may rule with her and their children after them.
"See!" went on Yva in her chanting, dreamy voice, "the Lord Oro asks his daughter if this be true. She says," here the real Yva at my side turned and looked me straight in the eyes, "that it is true; that she loves the Prince of the Nations and that if she lives a million years she will wed no other man, since she who is her father's slave in all else is still the mistress of herself, as has ever been the right of her royal mothers.
"See again! The Lord Oro, the divine King, the Ancient, grows wroth. He says that it is enough and more than enough that the Barbarians should ask to eat of the bread of hidden learning and to drink of the Life-water of the Sons of Wisdom, gifts that were given to them of old by Heaven whence they sprang in the beginning. But that one of them, however highly placed, should dare to ask to mix his blood with that of the divine Lady, the Heiress, the Queen of the Earth to be, and claim to share her imperial throne that had been held by her pure race from age to age, was an insult that could only be purged by death. Sooner would he give his daughter in marriage to an ape than to a child of the Barbarians who had worked on them so many woes and striven to break the golden fetters of their rule.
"Look again!" continued Yva. "The Lord Oro, the divine, grows angrier still" (which in truth he did, for never did I see such dreadful rage as that which the picture revealed in him). "He warns, he threatens. He says that hitherto out of gentle love and pity he has held his hand; that he has strength at his command which will slay them, not by millions in slow war, but by tens of millions at one blow; that will blot them and their peoples from the face of earth and that will cause the deep seas to roll where now their pleasant lands are fruitful in the sun. They shrink before his fury; behold, their knees tremble because they know that he has this power. He mocks them, does the Lord Oro. He asks for their submission here and now, and that in the name of the Nations they should take the great oath which may not be broken, swearing to cease from war upon the Sons of Wisdom and to obey them in all things to the ends of the earth. Some of the ambassadors would yield. They look about them like wild things that are trapped. But madness takes the Prince. He cries that the oath of an ape is of no account, but that he will tear up the Children of Wisdom as an ape tears leaves, and afterwards take the divine Lady to be his wife.
"Look on the Lord Oro!" continued the living Yva, "his wrath leaves him. He grows cold and smiles. His daughter throws herself upon her knees and pleads with him. He thrusts her away. She would spring to the side of the Prince; he commands his councillors to hold her. She cries to the Prince that she loves him and him only, and that in a day to come him she will wed and no other. He thanks her, saying that as it is with her, so it is with him, and that because of his love he fears nothing. She swoons. The Lord Oro motions with his hand to the guard. They lift their death-rods. Fire leaps from them. The Prince and his companions, all save those who were afraid and would have sworn the oath, twist and writhe. They turn black; they die. The Lord Oro commands those who are left to enter their flying ships and bear to the Nations of the Earth tidings of what befalls those who dare to defy and insult him; to warn them also to eat and drink and be merry while they may, since for their wickedness they are about to perish."
The scene faded and there followed another which really I cannot describe. It represented some vast underground place and what appeared to be a huge mountain of iron clothed in light, literally a thing like an alp, rocking and spinning down a declivity, which farther on separated into two branches because of a huge razor-edge precipice that rose between. There in the middle of this vast space with the dazzling mountain whirling towards him, stood Oro encased in some transparent armour, as though to keep off heat, and with him his daughter who under his direction was handling something in the rock behind her. Then there was a blinding flash and everything vanished. All of this picture passed so swiftly that we could not grasp its details; only a general impression remained.
"The Lord Oro, using the strength that is in the world whereof he alone has the secret, changes the world's balance causing that which was land to become sea and that which was sea to become land," said Yva in her chanting, unnatural voice.
Another scene of stupendous and changing awfulness. Countries were sinking, cities crashing down, volcanoes were spouting fire; the end of the earth seemed to be at hand. We could see human beings running to and fro in thousands like ants. Then in huge waves hundreds and hundreds of feet high, the ocean flowed in and all was troubled, yeasty sea.
"Oro carries out his threat to destroy the Nations who had rebelled against him," said Yva. "Much of the world sinks beneath the waves, but in place of it other lands arise above the waves, to be inhabited by the seed of those who remain living in those portions of the Earth that the deluge spared."
This horrible vision passed and was succeeded by one more, that of Oro standing in the sepulchre of the cave by the side of the crystal coffin which contained what appeared to be the body of his daughter. He gazed at her, then drank some potion and laid himself down in the companion coffin, that in which we had found him.
All vanished away and Yva, appearing to wake from some kind of trance, smiled, and in her natural voice asked if we had seen enough."Quite," I answered in a tone that caused her to say:
"I wonder what you have seen, Humphrey. Myself I do not know, since it is through me that you see at all and when you see I am in you who see.""Indeed," I replied. "Well, I will tell you about it later."
"Thank you so much," exclaimed Bastin, recovering suddenly from his amazement. "I have heard a great deal of these moving-picture shows which are becoming so popular, but have always avoided attending them because their influence on the young is supposed to be doubtful, and a priest must set a good example to his congregation. Now I see that they can have a distinct educational value, even if it is presented in the form of romance.""How is it done?" asked Bickley, almost fiercely.
"I do not altogether know," she answered. "This I do know, however, that everything which has happened on this world can be seen from moment to moment at some point in the depths of space, for thither the sun's light takes it. There, too, it can be
caught and thence in an instant returned to earth again, to be reflected in the mirror of the present by those who know how that mirror should be held. Ask me no more; one so wise as you, O Bickley, can solve such problems for himself."
"If you don't mind, Lady Yva," said Bastin, "I think I should like to get out of this place, interesting as it is. I have food to cook up above and lots of things to attend to, especially as I understand I am to come back here tomorrow. Would you mind showing me the way to that lift or moving staircase?""Come," she said, smiling.
So we went past the image of Fate, out of the temple, down the vast and lonely streets so unnaturally illuminated, to the place where we had first found ourselves on arrival in the depths. There we stood.
A moment later and we were whirling up as we had whirled down. I suppose that Yva came with us though I never saw her do so, and the odd thing was that when we arrived in the sepulchre, she seemed already to be standing there waiting to direct us.
"Really," remarked Bastin, "this is exactly like Maskelyne and Cook. Did you ever see their performance, Bickley? If so, it must have given you lots to explain for quite a long while."
"Jugglery never appealed to me, whether in London or in Orofena," replied Bickley in a sour voice as he extracted from his pocket an end of candle to which he set light."What is jugglery?" asked Bastin, and they departed arguing, leaving me alone with Yva in the sepulchre.
"What have I seen?" I asked her. "I do not know, Humphrey. Everyone sees different things, but perhaps something of the truth.""I hope not, Yva, for amongst other things I seemed to see you swear yourself to a man for ever." "Yes, and this I did. What of it?" "Only that it might be hard for another man." "Yes, for another man it might be hard. You were once married, were you not, Humphrey, to a wife who died?" "Yes, I was married." "And did you not swear to that wife that you would never look in love upon another woman?" "I did," I answered in a shamed voice. "But how do you know? I never told you so." "Oh! I know you and therefore guessed." "Well, what of it, Yva?"
"Nothing, except that you must find your wife before you love again, and before I love again I must find him whom I wish to be my husband.""How can that happen," I asked, "when both are dead?"
"How did all that you have seen to-day in Nyo happen?" she replied, laughing softly. "Perhaps you are very blind, Humphrey, or perhaps we both are blind. If so, mayhap light will come to us. Meanwhile do not be sad. Tomorrow I will meet you and you shall teach me--your English tongue, Humphrey, and other things.""Then let it be in the sunlight, Yva. I do not love those darksome halls of Nyo that glow like something dead."
"It is fitting, for are they not dead?" she answered, with a little laugh. "So be it. Bastin shall teach my father down below, since sun and shade are the same to him who only thinks of his religion, and you shall teach me up above.""I am not so certain about Bastin and of what he thinks," I said doubtfully. "Also will the Lord Oro permit you to come?"
"Yes, for in such matters I rule myself. Also," she added meaningly, "he remembers my oath that I will wed no man--save one who is dead. Now farewell a while and bid Bastin be here when the sun is three hours high, not before or after."Then I left her. Chapter XVII Yva Explains
When I reached the rock I was pleased to find Marama and about twenty of his people engaged in erecting the house that we had ordered them to build for our accommodation. Indeed, it was nearly finished, since house-building in Orofena is a simple business. The framework of poles let into palm trunks, since they could not be driven into the rock, had been put together on the further shore and towed over bodily by canoes. The overhanging rock formed one side of the house; the ends were of palm leaves tied to the poles, and the roof was of the same material. The other side was left open for the present, which in that equable and balmy clime was no disadvantage. The whole edifice was about thirty feet long by fifteen deep and divided into two portions, one for sleeping and one for living, by a palm leaf partition. Really, it was quite a comfortable abode, cool and rainproof, especially after Bastin had built his hut in which to cook.
Marama and his people were very humble in their demeanour and implored us to visit them on the main island. I answered that perhaps we would later on, as we wished to procure certain things from the wreck. Also, he requested Bastin to continue his ministrations as the latter greatly desired to do. But to this proposal I would not allow him to give any direct answer at the moment. Indeed, I dared not do so until I was sure of Oro's approval.Towards evening they departed in their canoes, leaving behind them the usual ample store of provisions.
We cooked our meal as usual, only to discover that what Yva had said about the Life-water was quite true, since we had but little appetite for solid food, though this returned upon the following day. The same thing happened upon every occasion after drinking of that water which certainly was a most invigorating fluid. Never for years had any of us felt so well as it caused us to do.
So we lit our pipes and talked about our experiences though of these, indeed, we scarcely knew what to say. Bastin accepted them as something out of the common, of course, but as facts which admitted of no discussion. After all, he said, the Old Testament told much the same story of people called the Sons of God who lived very long lives and ran after the daughters of men whom they should have left alone, and thus became the progenitors of a remarkable race. Of this race, he presumed that Oro and his daughter were survivors, especially as they spoke of their family as "Heaven born." How they came to survive was more than he could understand and really scarcely worth bothering over, since there they were.
It was the same about the Deluge, continued Bastin, although naturally Oro spoke falsely, or, at any rate, grossly
exaggerated, when he declared that he had caused this
catastrophe, unless indeed he was talking about a totally different deluge, though even then he could not have brought it about. It was curious, however, that the people drowned were said to have been wicked, and Oro had the same opinion about those whom he claimed to have drowned, though for the matter of that, he could not conceive anyone more wicked than Oro himself. On his own showing he was a most revengeful person and one who declined to agree to a quite suitable alliance, apparently desired by both parties, merely because it offended his family pride. No, on reflection he might be unjust to Oro in this particular, since he never told that story; it was only shown in some pictures which very likely were just made up to astonish us. Meanwhile, it was his business to preach to this old sinner down in that hole, and he confessed honestly that he did not like the job. Still, it must be done, so with our leave he would go apart and seek inspiration, which at present seemed to be quite lacking.
"Don't you tell your opinion about the Deluge or he may cause another just to show that you are wrong," called Bickley after him.
"I can't help that," answered Bastin. "Certainly I shall not hide the truth to save Oro's feelings, if he has got any. If he revenges himself upon us in any way, we must just put up with it like other martyrs.""I haven't the slightest ambition to be a martyr," said Bickley.
"No," shouted Bastin from a little distance, "I am quite aware of that, as you have often said so before. Therefore, if you become one, I am sorry to say that I do not see how you can expect any benefit. You would only be like a man who puts a sovereign into the offertory bag in mistake for a shilling. The extra nineteen shillings will do him no good at all, since in his heart he regrets the error and wishes that he could have them back."Then he departed, leaving me laughing. But Bickley did not laugh.
"Arbuthnot," he said, "I have come to the conclusion that I have gone quite mad. I beg you if I should show signs of homicidal mania, which I feel developing in me where Bastin is concerned, or of other abnormal violence, that you will take whatever steps you consider necessary, even to putting me out of the way if that is imperative.""What do you mean?" I asked. "You seem sane enough."
"Sane, when I believe that I have seen and experienced a great number of things which I know it to be quite impossible that I should have seen or experienced. The only explanation is that I am suffering from delusions.""Then is Bastin suffering from delusions, too?" "Certainly, but that is nothing new in his case."
"I don't agree with you, Bickley--about Bastin, I mean. I am by no means certain that he is not the wisest of the three of us. He has a faith and he sticks to it, as millions have done before him, and that is better than making spiritual experiments, as I am sorry to say I do, or rejecting things because one cannot understand them, as you do, which is only a form of intellectual vanity."
"I won't argue the matter, Arbuthnot; it is of no use. I repeat that I am mad, and Bastin is mad."
"How about me? I also saw and experienced these things. Am I mad, too?"
"You ought to be, Arbuthnot. If it isn't enough to drive a man mad when he sees himself exactly reproduced in an utterly impossible moving-picture show exhibited by an utterly impossible young woman in an utterly impossible underground city, then I don't know what is.""What do you mean?" I asked, starting. "Mean? Well, if you didn't notice it, there's hope for you." "Notice what?" "All that envoy scene. There, as I thought, appeared Yva. Do you admit that?" "Of course; there could be no mistake on that point."
"Very well. Then according to my version there came a man, still young, dressed in outlandish clothes, who made propositions of peace and wanted to marry Yva, who wanted to marry him. Is that right?""Absolutely." "Well, and didn't you recognise the man?" "No; I only noticed that he was a fine-looking fellow whose appearance reminded me of someone." "I suppose it must be true," mused Bickley, "that we do not know ourselves." "So the old Greek thought, since he urged that this should be our special study. 'Know thyself,' you remember."
"I meant physically, not intellectually. Arbuthnot, do you mean to tell me that you did not recognise your own double in that man? Shave off your beard and put on his clothes and no one could distinguish you apart."
I sprang up, dropping my pipe. "Now you mention it," I said slowly, "I suppose there was a resemblance. I didn't look at him very much; I was studying the simulacrum of Yva. Also, you know it is some time since--I mean, there are no pier-glasses in Orofena."
"The man was you," went on Bickley with conviction. "If I were superstitious I should think it a queer sort of omen. But as I am not, I know that I must be mad.""Why? After all, an ancient man and a modern man might resemble each other."
"There are degrees in resemblance," said Bickley with one of his contemptuous snorts. "It won't do, Humphrey, my boy," he added. "I can only think of one possible explanation--outside of the obvious one of madness.""What is that?"
"The Glittering Lady produced what Bastin called that cinematograph show in some way or other, did she not? She said that in order to do this she loosed some hidden forces. I suggest that she did nothing of the sort.""Then whence did the pictures come and why?"
"From her own brain, in order to impress us with a cock-andbull, fairy-book story. If this were so she would quite naturally fill the role of the lover of the piece with the last man who had happened to impress her. Hence the resemblance."
"You presuppose a great deal, Bickley, including supernatural cunning and unexampled hypnotic influence. I don't know, first, why she should be so anxious to add another impression to the many we have received in this place; and, secondly, if she was, how she managed to mesmerise three average but totally different men into seeing the same things. My explanation is that you were deceived as to the likeness, which, mind you, I did not recognise; nor, apparently, did Bastin."
"Bastin never recognises anything. But if you are in doubt, ask Yva herself. She ought to know. Now I'm off to try to analyse that confounded Life-water, which I suspect is of the ordinary spring variety, lightened up with natural carbonic acid gas and possibly not uninfluenced by radium. The trouble is that here I can only apply some very elementary tests."
So he went also, in an opposite direction to Bastin, and I was left alone with Tommy, who annoyed me much by attempting continually to wander off into the cave, whence I must recall him. I suppose that my experiences of the day, reviewed beneath the sweet influences of the wonderful tropical night, affected me. At any rate, that mystical side of my nature, to which I think I alluded at the beginning of this record, sprang into active and, in a sense, unholy life. The normal vanished, the abnormal took possession, and that is unholy to most of us creatures of habit and tradition, at any rate, if we are British. I lost my footing on the world; my spirit began to wander in strange places; of course, always supposing that we have a spirit, which Bickley would deny.
I gave up reason; I surrendered myself to unreason; it is a not unpleasant process, occasionally. Supposing now that all we see and accept is but the merest fragment of the truth, or perhaps only a refraction thereof? Supposing that we do live again and again, and that our animating principle, whatever it might be, does inhabit various bodies, which, naturally enough, it would shape to its own taste and likeness? Would that taste and likeness vary so very much over, let us say, a million years or so, which, after all, is but an hour, or a minute, in the aeons of Eternity?
On this hypothesis, which is so wild that one begins to suspect that it may be true, was it impossible that I and that murdered man of the far past were in fact identical? If the woman were the same, preserved across the gulf in some unknown fashion, why should not her lover be the same? What did I say--her lover? Was I her lover? No, I was the lover of one who had died--my lost wife. Well, if I had died and lived again, why should not--why should not that Sleeper--have lived again during her long sleep? Through all those years the spirit must have had some home, and, if so, in what shapes did it live? There were points,
similarities, which rushed in upon me--oh! it was ridiculous. Bickley was right. We were all mad!
There was another thing. Oro had declared that we were at war with Germany. If this were so, how could he know it? Such knowledge would presume powers of telepathy or vision beyond those given to man. I could not believe that he possessed these; as Bickley said, it would be past experience. Yet it was most strange that he who was uninformed as to our national history and dangers, should have hit upon a country with which we might well have been plunged into sudden struggle. Here again I was bewildered and overcome. My brain rocked. I would seek sleep, and in it escape, or at any rate rest from all these mysteries.
On the following morning we despatched Bastin to keep his rendezvous in the sepulchre at the proper time. Had we not done so I felt sure that he would have forgotten it, for on this
occasion he was for once an unwilling missioner. He tried to persuade one of us to come with him--even Bickley would have been welcome; but we both declared that we could not dream of interfering in such a professional matter; also that our presence was forbidden, and would certainly distract the attention of his pupil.
"What you mean," said the gloomy Bastin, "is that you intend to enjoy yourselves up here in the female companionship of the Glittering Lady whilst I sit thousands of feet underground attempting to lighten the darkness of a violent old sinner whom I suspect of being in league with Satan.""With whom you should be proud to break a lance," said Bickley.
"So I am, in the daylight. For instance, when he uses your mouth to advance his arguments. Bickley, but this is another matter. However, if I do not appear again you will know that I died in a good cause, and, I hope, try to recover my remains and give them decent burial. Also, you might inform the Bishop of how I came to my end, that is, if you ever get an opportunity, which is more than doubtful."
"Hurry up, Bastin, hurry up!" said the unfeeling Bickley, "or you will be late for your appointment and put your would-be neophyte into a bad temper."Then Bastin went, carrying under his arm a large Bible printed in the language of the South Sea Islands.
A little while later Yva appeared, arrayed in her wondrous robes which, being a man, it is quite impossible for me to describe. She saw us looking at these, and, after greeting us both, also Tommy, who was enraptured at her coming, asked us how the ladies of our country attired themselves.
We tried to explain, with no striking success. "You are as stupid about such matters as were the men of the Old World," she said, shaking her head and laughing. "I thought that you had with you pictures of ladies you have known which would show me."
Now, in fact, I had in a pocket-book a photograph of my wife in evening-dress, also a miniature of her head and bust painted on ivory, a beautiful piece of work done by a master hand, which I always wore. These, after a moment's hesitation, I produced and showed to her, Bickley having gone away for a little while to see about something connected with his attempted analysis of the Life-water. She examined them with great eagerness, and as she did so I noted that her face grew tender and troubled."This was your wife," she said as one who states what she knows to be a fact. I nodded, and she went on: "She was sweet and beautiful as a flower, but not so tall as I am, I think." "No," I answered, "she lacked height; given that she would have been a lovely woman."
"I am glad you think that women should be tall," she said, glancing at her shadow. "The eyes were such as mine, were they not--in colour, I mean?""Yes, very like yours, only yours are larger." "That is a beautiful way of wearing the hair. Would you be angry if I tried it? I weary of this old fashion." "Why should I be angry?" I asked.
At this moment Bickley reappeared and she began to talk of the details of the dress, saying that it showed more of the neck than had been the custom among the women of her people, but was very pretty.
"That is because we are still barbarians," said Bickley; "at least, our women are, and therefore rely upon primitive methods of attraction, like the savages yonder."
She smiled, and, after a last, long glance, gave me back the photograph and the miniature, saying as she delivered the latter: "I rejoice to see that you are faithful, Humphrey, and wear this picture on your heart, as well as in it."
"Then you must be a very remarkable woman," said Bickley. "Never before did I hear one of your sex rejoice because a man was faithful to somebody else."
"Has Bickley been disappointed in his love-heart, that he is so angry to us women?" asked Yva innocently of me. Then, without waiting for an answer, she inquired of him whether he had been successful in his analysis of the Life-water."How do you know what I was doing with the Life-water? Did Bastin tell you?" exclaimed Bickley.
"Bastin told me nothing, except that he was afraid of the descent to Nyo; that he hated Nyo when he reached it, as indeed I do, and that he thought that my father, the Lord Oro, was a devil or evil spirit from some Under-world which he called hell."
"Bastin has an open heart and an open mouth," said Bickley, "for which I respect him. Follow his example if you will, Lady Yva, and tell us who and what is the Lord Oro, and who and what are you."
"Have we not done so already? If not, I will repeat. The Lord Oro and I are two who have lived on from the old time when the world was different, and yet, I think, the same. He is a man and not a god, and I am a woman. His powers are great because of his knowledge, which he has gathered from his forefathers and in a life of a thousand years before he went to sleep. He can do things you cannot do. Thus, he can pass through space and take others with him, and return again. He can learn what is happening in far-off parts of the world, as he did when he told you of the war in which your country is concerned. He has terrible powers; for instance, he can kill, as he killed those savages. Also, he knows the secrets of the earth, and, if it pleases him, can change its turning so that earthquakes happen and sea becomes land, and land sea, and the places that were hot grow cold, and those that were cold grow hot.""All of which things have happened many times in the history of the globe," said Bickley, "without the help of the Lord Oro." "Others had knowledge before my father, and others doubtless will have knowledge after him. Even I, Yva, have some knowledge, and knowledge is strength." "Yes," I interposed, "but such powers as you attribute to your father are not given to man."
"You mean to man as you know him, man like Bickley, who thinks that he has learned everything that was ever learned. But it is not so. Hundreds of thousands of years ago men knew more than it seems they do today, ten times more, as they lived ten times longer, or so you tell me.""Men?" I said.
"Yes, men, not gods or spirits, as the uninstructed nations supposed them to be. My father is a man subject to the hopes and terrors of man. He desires power which is ambition, and when the world refused his rule, he destroyed that part of it which rebelled, which is revenge. Moreover, above all things he dreads death, which is fear. That is why he suspended life in himself and me for two hundred and fifty thousand years, as his knowledge gave him strength to do, because death was near and he thought that sleep was better than death.""Why should he dread to die," asked Bickley, "seeing that sleep and death are the same?"
"Because his knowledge tells him that Sleep and Death are not the same, as you, in your foolishness, believe, for there Bastin is wiser than you. Because for all his wisdom he remains ignorant of what happens to man when the Light of Life is blown out by the breath of Fate. That is why he fears to die and why he talks with Bastin the Preacher, who says he has the secret of the future.""And do you fear to die?" I asked.
"No, Humphrey," she answered gently. "Because I think that there is no death, and, having done no wrong, I dread no evil. I had dreams while I was asleep, O Humphrey, and it seemed to me that--"Here she ceased and glanced at where she knew the miniature was hanging upon my breast.
"Now," she continued, after a little pause, "tell me of your world, of its history, of its languages, of what happens there, for I long to know."
So then and there, assisted by Bickley, I began the education of the Lady Yva. I do not suppose that there was ever a more apt pupil in the whole earth. To begin with, she was better acquainted with every subject on which I touched than I was myself; all she lacked was information as to its modern aspect. Her knowledge ended two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, at which date, however, it would seem that civilisation had already touched a higher water-mark than it has ever since attained. Thus, this vanished people understood astronomy, natural magnetism, the force of gravity, steam, also electricity to some subtle use of which, I gathered, the lighting of their
underground city was to be attributed. They had mastered architecture and the arts, as their buildings and statues showed; they could fly through the air better than we have learned to do within the last few years.
More, they, or some of them, had learned the use of the Fourth Dimension, that is their most instructed individuals, could move through opposing things, as well as over them, up into them and across them. This power these possessed in a two-fold form. I mean, that they could either disintegrate their bodies at one spot and cause them to integrate again at another, or they could project what the old Egyptians called the Ka or Double, and modern Theosophists name the Astral Shape, to any distance. Moreover, this Double, or Astral Shape, while itself invisible, still, so to speak, had the use of its senses. It could see, it could hear, and it could remember, and, on returning to the body, it could avail itself of the experience thus acquired.
Thus, at least, said Yva, while Bickley contemplated her with a cold and unbelieving eye. She even went further and alleged that in certain instances, individuals of her extinct race had been able to pass through the ether and to visit other worlds in the depths of space."Have you ever done that?" asked Bickley. "Once or twice I dreamed that I did," she replied quietly. "We can all dream," he answered. As it was my lot to make acquaintance with this strange and uncanny power at a later date, I will say no more of it now.
Telepathy, she declared, was also a developed gift among the Sons of Wisdom; indeed, they seem to have used it as we use wireless messages. Only, in their case, the sending and receiving stations were skilled and susceptible human beings who went on duty for so many hours at a time. Thus intelligence was transmitted with accuracy and despatch. Those who had this faculty were, she said, also very apt at reading the minds of others and therefore not easy to deceive."Is that how you know that I had been trying to analyse your Life-water?" asked Bickley.
"Yes," she answered, with her unvarying smile. "At the moment I spoke thereof you were wondering whether my father would be angry if he knew that you had taken the water in a little flask." She studied him for a moment, then added: "Now you are wondering, first, whether I did not see you take the water from the fountain and guess the purpose, and, secondly, whether perhaps Bastin did not tell me what you were doing with it when we met in the sepulchre."
"Look here," said the exasperated Bickley, "I admit that telepathy and thought-reading are possible to a certain limited extent. But supposing that you possess those powers, as I think in English, and you do not know English, how can you interpret what is passing in my mind?"
"Perhaps you have been teaching me English all this while without knowing it, Bickley. In any case, it matters little, seeing that what I read is the thought, not the language with which it is clothed. The thought comes from your mind to mine-that is, if I wish it, which is not often--and I interpret it in my own or other tongues.""I am glad to hear it is not often, Lady Yva, since thoughts are generally considered private."
"Yes, and therefore I will read yours no more. Why should I, when they are so full of disbelief of all I tell you, and sometimes of other things about myself which I do not seek to know?"
"No wonder that, according to the story in the pictures, those Nations, whom you named Barbarians, made an end of your people, Lady Yva.""You are mistaken, Bickley; the Lord Oro made an end of the Nations, though against my prayer," she added with a sigh. Then Bickley departed in a rage, and did not appear again for an hour.
"He is angry," she said, looking after him; "nor do I wonder. It is hard for the very clever like Bickley, who think that they have mastered all things, to find that after all they are quite ignorant. I am sorry for him, and I like him very much.""Then you would be sorry for me also, Lady Yva?"
"Why?" she asked with a dazzling smile, "when your heart is athirst for knowledge, gaping for it like a fledgling's mouth for food, and, as it chances, though I am not very wise, I can satisfy something of your soul-hunger.""Not very wise!" I repeated.
"No, Humphrey. I think that Bastin, who in many ways is so stupid, has more true wisdom than I have, because he can believe and accept without question. After all, the wisdom of my people is all of the universe and its wonders. What you think magic is not magic; it is only gathered knowledge and the finding out of secrets. Bickley will tell you the same, although as yet he does not believe that the mind of man can stretch so far.""You mean that your wisdom has in it nothing of the spirit?"
"Yes, Humphrey, that is what I mean. I do not even know if there is such a thing as spirit. Our god was Fate; Bastin's god is a spirit, and I think yours also.""Yes."
"Therefore, I wish you and Bastin to teach me of your god, as does Oro, my father. I want--oh! so much, Humphrey, to learn whether we live after death."
"You!" I exclaimed. "You who, according to the story, have slept for two hundred and fifty thousand years! You, who have, unless I mistake, hinted that during that sleep you may have lived in other shapes! Do you doubt whether we can live after death?"
"Yes. Sleep induced by secret arts is not death, and during that sleep the I within might wander and inhabit other shapes, because it is forbidden to be idle. Moreover, what seems to be death may not be death, only another form of sleep from which the I awakes again upon the world. But at last comes the real death, when the I is extinguished to the world. That much I know, because my people learned it.""You mean, you know that men and women may live again and again upon the world?"
"Yes, Humphrey, I do. For in the world there is only a certain store of life which in many forms travels on and on, till the lot of each I is fulfilled. Then comes the real death, and after that--what, oh!--what?""You must ask Bastin," I said humbly. "I cannot dare to teach of such matters."
"No, but you can and do believe, and that helps me, Humphrey, who am in tune with you. Yes, it helps me much more than do Bastin and his new religion, because such is woman's way. Now, I think Bickley will soon return, so let us talk of other matters. Tell me of the history of your people, Humphrey, that my father says are now at war."Chapter XVIII The Accident
Bickley did return, having recovered his temper, since after all it was impossible for anyone to remain angry with the Lady Yva for long, and we spent a very happy time together. We instructed and she was the humble pupil.
How swift and nimble was her intelligence! In that one morning she learned all our alphabet and how to write our letters. It appeared that among her people, at any rate in their later periods, the only form of writing that was used was a highly concentrated shorthand which saved labour. They had no journals, since news which arrived telepathically or by some form of wireless was proclaimed to those who cared to listen, and on it all formed their own judgments. In the same way poems and even romances were repeated, as in Homer's day or in the time of the Norse sagas, by word of mouth. None of their secret knowledge was written down. Like the ritual of Freemasonry it was considered too sacred.
Moreover, when men lived for hundreds of years this was not so necessary, especially as their great fear was lest it should fall into the hands of the outside nations, whom they called Barbarians. For, be it remembered, these Sons of Wisdom were always a very small people who ruled by the weight of their intelligence and the strength of their accumulated lore. Indeed, they could scarcely be called a people; rather were they a few families, all of them more or less connected with the original ruling Dynasty which considered itself half divine. These families were waited upon by a multitude of servants or slaves drawn from the subject nations, for the most part skilled in one art or another, or perhaps, remarkable for their personal beauty. Still they remained outside the pale.
The Sons of Wisdom did not intermarry with them or teach them their learning, or even allow them to drink of their Life-water. They ruled them as men rule dogs, treating them with kindness, but no more, and as many dogs run their course and die in the lifetime of one master, so did many of these slaves in that of one of the Sons of Wisdom. Therefore, the slaves came to regard their lords not as men, but gods. They lived but three score years and ten like the rest of us, and went their way, they, whose great-great-grandfathers had served the same master and whose great-great-great-grandchildren would still serve him. What should we think of a lord who we knew was already adult in the time of William the Conqueror, and who remained still vigorous and all-powerful in that of George V? One, moreover, who commanded almost infinite knowledge to which we were denied the key? We might tremble before him and look upon him as halfdivine, but should we not long to kill him and possess his knowledge and thereby prolong our own existence to his wondrous measure?
Such, said Yva, was the case with their slaves and the peoples from whence these sprang. They grew mad with jealous hate, till at length came the end we knew.
Thus we talked on for hours till the time came for us to eat. As before Yva partook of fruit and we of such meats as we had at hand. These, we noticed, disgusted her, because, as she explained, the Children of Wisdom, unless driven thereto by necessity, touched no flesh, but lived on the fruits of the earth and wine alone. Only the slaves and the Barbarians ate flesh. In these views Bickley for once agreed with her, that is, except as regards the wine, for in theory, if not in practice--he was a vegetarian.
"I will bring you more of the Life-water," she said, "and then you will grow to hate these dead things, as I do. And now farewell. My father calls me. I hear him though you do not. Tomorrow I cannot come, but the day after I will come and bring you the Life-water. Nay, accompany me not, but as I see he wishes it, let Tommy go with me. I will care for him, and he is a friend in all that lonely place."So she went, and with her Tommy, rejoicing.
"Ungrateful little devil!" said Bickley. "Here we've fed and petted him from puppyhood, or at least you have, and yet he skips off with the first stranger. I never saw him behave like that to any woman, except your poor wife.""I know," I answered. "I cannot understand it. Hullo! here comes Bastin." Bastin it was, dishevelled and looking much the worse for wear, also minus his Bible in the native tongue. "Well, how have you been getting on?" said Bickley. "I should like some tea, also anything there is to eat." We supplied him with these necessaries, and after a while he said slowly and solemnly:
"I cannot help thinking of a childish story which Bickley told or invented one night at your house at home. I remember he had an argument with my wife, which he said put him in mind of it, I am sure I don't know why. It was about a monkey and a parrot that were left together under a sofa for a long while, where they were so quiet that everybody forgot them. Then the parrot came out with only one feather left in its tail and none at all on its body, saying, 'I've had no end of a time!' after which it dropped down and died. Do you know, I feel just like that parrot, only I don't mean to die, and I think I gave the monkey quite as good as he gave me!"
"What happened?" I asked, intensely interested. "Oh! the Glittering Lady took me into that palace hall where Oro was sitting like a spider in a web, and left me there. I got to work at once. He was much interested in the Old Testament stories and said there were points of truth about them, although they had evidently come down to the modern writer--he called him a modern writer--in a legendary form. I thought his remarks impertinent and with difficulty refrained from saying so. Leaving the story of the Deluge and all that, I spoke of other matters, telling him of eternal life and Heaven and Hell, of which the poor benighted man had never heard. I pointed out especially that unless he repented, his life, by all accounts, had been so wicked, that he was certainly destined to the latter place.""What did he say to that?" I asked.
"Do you know, I think it frightened him, if one could imagine Oro being frightened. At any rate he remarked that the truth or falsity of what I said was an urgent matter for him, as he could not expect to live more than a few hundred years longer, though perhaps he might prolong the period by another spell of sleep. Then he asked me why I thought him so wicked. I replied because he himself said that he had drowned millions of people, which showed an evil heart and intention even if it were not a fact. He thought a long while and asked what could be done in the circumstances. I replied that repentance and reparation were the only courses open to him.""Reparation!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, reparation was what I said, though I think I made a mistake there, as you will see. As nearly as I can remember, he answered that he was beginning to repent, as from all he had learned from us, he gathered that the races which had arisen as a consequence of his action, were worse than those which he had destroyed. As regards reparation, what he had done once he could do again. He would think the matter over seriously, and see if it were possible and advisable to raise those parts of the world which had been sunk, and sink those which had been raised. If so, he thought that would make very handsome amends to the departed nations and set him quite right with any superior Power, if such a thing existed. What are you laughing at, Bickley? I don't think it a laughing matter, since such remarks do not seem to me to indicate any real change in Oro's heart, which is what I was trying to effect."
Bickley, who was convulsed with merriment, wiped his eyes and said:
"You dear old donkey, don't you see what you have done, or rather would have done if there were a word of truth in all this ridiculous story about a deluge? You would be in the way of making your precious pupil, who certainly is the most masterly old liar in the world, repeat his offence and send Europe to the bottom of the sea."
"That did occur to me, but it doesn't much matter as I am quite certain that such a thing would never be allowed. Of course there was a real deluge once, but Oro had no more to do with it than I had. Don't you agree, Arbuthnot?"
"I think so," I answered cautiously, "but really in this place I am beginning to lose count of what is or is not possible. Also, of course, there may have been many deluges; indeed the history of the world shows that this was so; it is written in its
geological strata. What was the end of it?"
"The end was that he took the South Sea Bible and, after I had explained a little about our letters, seemed to be able to read it at once. I suppose he was acquainted with the art of printing in his youth. At any rate he said that he would study it, I don't know how, unless he can read, and that in two days' time he would let me know what he thought about the matter of my religion. Then he told me to go. I said that I did not know the way and was afraid of losing myself. Thereupon he waved his hand, and I really can't say what happened.""Did you levitate up here," asked Bickley, "like the late lamented Mr. Home at the spiritualistic seances?"
"No, I did not exactly levitate, but something or someone seemed to get a hold of me, and I was just rushed along in a most tumultuous fashion. The next thing I knew was that I was standing at the door of that sepulchre, though I have no recollection of going up in the lift, or whatever it is. I believe those beastly caves are full of ghosts, or devils, and the worst of it is that they have kept my solar-tope, which I put on this morning forgetting that it would be useless there."
"The Lady Yva's Fourth Dimension in action," I suggested, "only it wouldn't work on solar-topes."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Bastin, "but if my hat had to be left, why not my boots and other garments? Please stop your nonsense and pass the tea. Thank goodness I haven't got to go down there tomorrow, as he seems to have had enough of me for the present, so I vote we all pay a visit to the ship. It will be a very pleasant change. I couldn't stand two days running with that old fiend, and his ghosts or devils in the cave."
Next morning accordingly, fearing no harm from the Orofenans, we took the canoe and rowed to the main island. Marama had evidently seen us coming, for he and a number of his people met us with every demonstration of delight, and escorted us to the ship. Here we found things just as we had left them, for there had been no attempt at theft or other mischief.
While we were in the cabin a fit of moral weakness seemed to overcome Bickley, the first and I may add the last from which I ever saw him suffer.
"Do you know," he said, addressing us, "I think that we should do well to try to get out of this place. Eliminating a great deal of the marvelous with which we seem to have come in touch here, it is still obvious that we find ourselves in very peculiar and unhealthy surroundings. I mean mentally unhealthy, indeed I think that if we stay here much longer we shall probably go off our heads. Now that boat on the deck remains sound and seaworthy. Why should not we provision her and take our chance? We know more or less which way to steer."Bastin and I looked at each other. It was he who spoke first.
"Wouldn't it be rather a risky job in an open boat?" he asked. "However, that doesn't matter much because I don't take any account of risks, knowing that I am of more value than a sparrow and that the hairs of my head are all numbered."
"They might be numbered under water as well as above it," muttered Bickley, "and I feel sure that on your own showing, you would be as valuable dead as alive."
"What I seem to feel," went on Bastin, "is that I have work to my hand here. Also, the locum tenens at Fulcombe no doubt runs the parish as well as I could. Indeed I consider him a better man for the place than I am. That old Oro is a tough proposition, but I do not despair of him yet, and besides him there is the Glittering Lady, a most open-minded person, whom I have not yet had any real opportunity of approaching in a spiritual sense. Then there are all these natives who cannot learn without a teacher. So on the whole I think I would rather stay where I am until Providence points out some other path."
"I am of the same opinion, if for somewhat different reasons," I said. "I do not suppose that it has often been the fortune of men to come in touch with such things as we have found upon this island. They may be illusions, but at least they are very interesting illusions. One might live ten lifetimes and find nothing else of the sort. Therefore I should like to see the end of the dream."Bickley reflected a little, then said:
"On the whole I agree with you. Only my brain totters and I am terribly afraid of madness. I cannot believe what I seem to hear and see, and that way madness lies. It is better to die than to go mad."
"You'll do that anyway when your time comes, Bickley, I mean decease, of course," interrupted Bastin. "And who knows, perhaps all this is an opportunity given by Providence to open your eyes, which, I must say, are singularly blind. You think you know everything there is to learn, but the fact is that like the rest of us, you know nothing at all, and good man though you are, obstinately refuse to admit the truth and to seek support elsewhere. For my part I believe that you are afraid of falling in love with that Glittering Lady and of being convinced by her that you are wrong in your most unsatisfactory conclusions."
"I am out-voted anyway," said Bickley, "and for the rest, Bastin, look after yourself and leave me alone. I will add that on the whole I think you are both right, and that it is wisest for us to stop where we are, for after all we can only die once."
"I am not so sure, Bickley. There is a thing called the second death, which is what is troubling that old scoundrel, Oro. Now I will go and look for those books."
So the idea of flight was abandoned, although I admit that even to myself it had attractions. For I felt that I was being wrapped in a net of mysteries from which I saw no escape. Yes, and of more than mysteries; I who had sworn that I would never look upon another woman, was learning to love this sweet and wondrous Yva, and of that what could be the end?
We collected all we had come to seek, and started homewards escorted by Marama and his people, including a number of young women who danced before us in a light array of flowers.
Passing our old house, we came to the grove where the idol Oro had stood and Bastin was so nearly sacrificed. There was another idol there now which he wished to examine, but in the end did not as the natives so obviously objected. Indeed Marama told me that notwithstanding the mysterious death of the sorcerers on the Rock of Offerings, there was still a strong party in the island who would be glad to do us a mischief if any further affront were offered to their hereditary god.
He questioned us also tentatively about the apparition, for such he conceived it to be, which had appeared upon the rock and killed the sorcerers, and I answered him as I thought wisest, telling him that a terrible Power was afoot in the land, which he would do well to obey.
"Yes," he said; "the God of the Mountain of whom the tradition has come down to us from our forefathers. He is awake again; he sees, he hears and we are afraid. Plead with him for us, O Friend-from-the-Sea."
As he spoke we were passing through a little patch of thick bush. Suddenly from out of this bush, I saw a lad appear. He wore a mask upon his face, but from his shape could not have been more than thirteen or fourteen years of age. In his hand was a wooden club. He ran forward, stopped, and with a yell of hate hurled it, I think at Bastin, but it hit me. At any rate I felt a shock and remembered no more.
Dreams. Dreams. Endless dreams! What were they all about? I do not know. It seemed to me that through them continually I saw the stately figure of old Oro contemplating me gravely, as though he were making up his mind about something in which I must play a part. Then there was another figure, that of the gracious but imperial Yva, who from time to time, as I thought, leant over me and whispered in my ear words of rest and comfort. Nor was this all, since her shape had a way of changing suddenly into that of my lost wife who would speak with her voice. Or perhaps my wife would speak with Yva's voice. To my disordered sense it was as though they were one personality, having two shapes, either of which could be assumed at will. It was most strange and yet to me most blessed, since in the living I seemed to have found the dead, and in the dead the living. More, I took journeys, or rather some unknown part of me seemed to do so. One of these I remember, for its majestic character stamped itself upon my mind in such a fashion that all the waters of delirium could not wash it out nor all its winds blow away that memory.
I was travelling through space with Yva a thousand times faster than light can flash. We passed sun after sun. They drew near, they grew into enormous, flaming Glories round which circled world upon world. They became small, dwindled to points of light and disappeared.
We found footing upon some far land and passed a marvelous white city wherein were buildings with domes of crystal and alabaster, in the latter of which were set windows made of great jewels; sapphires or rubies they seemed to me. We went on up a lovely valley. To the left were hills, down which tumbled waterfalls; to the right was a river broad and deep that seemed to overflow its banks as does the Nile. Behind were high mountains on the slopes of which grew forests of glorious trees, some of them aflame with bloom, while far away up their crests stood colossal golden statues set wide apart. They looked like guardian angels watching that city and that vale. The land was lit with a light such as that of the moon, only intensified and of many colours. Indeed looking up, I saw that above us floated three moons, each of them bigger than our own at the full, and gathered that here it was night.
We came to a house set amid scented gardens and having in front of it terraces of flowers. It seemed not unlike my own house at home, but I took little note of it, because of a woman who sat upon the verandah, if I may call it so. She was clad in garments of white silk fastened about her middle with a jewelled girdle. On her neck also was a collar of jewels. I forget the colour; indeed this seemed to change continually as the light from the different moons struck when she moved, but I think its prevailing tinge was blue. In her arms this woman nursed a beauteous, sleeping child, singing happily as she rocked it to and fro. Yva went towards the woman who looked up at her step and uttered a little cry. Then for the first time I saw the woman's face. It was that of my dead wife!
As I followed in my dream, a little cloud of mist seemed to cover both my wife and Yva, and when I reached the place Yva was gone. Only my wife remained, she and the child. There she stood, solemn and sweet. While I drew near she laid down the child upon the cushioned seat from which she had risen. She stretched out her arms and flung them about me. She embraced me and I embraced her in a rapture of reunion. Then turning she lifted up the child, it was a girl, for me to kiss."See your daughter," she said, "and behold all that I am making ready for you where we shall dwell in a day to come." I grew confused. "Yva," I said. "Where is Yva who brought me here? Did she go into the house?" "Yes," she answered happily. "Yva went into the house. Look again!"
I looked and it was Yva's face that was pressed against my own, and Yva's eyes that gazed into mine. Only she was garbed as my wife had been, and on her bosom hung the changeful necklace."You may not stay," she whispered, and lo! it was my wife that spoke, not Yva. "Tell me what it means?" I implored.
"I cannot," she answered. "There are mysteries that you may not know as yet. Love Yva if you will and I shall not be jealous, for in loving Yva you love me. You cannot understand? Then know this, that the spirit has many shapes, and yet is the same spirit-sometimes. Now I who am far, yet near, bid you farewell a while."Then all passed in a flash and the dream ended. Such was the only one of those visions which I can recall.
I seemed to wake up as from a long and tumultuous sleep. The first thing I saw was the palm roof of our house upon the rock. I knew it was our house, for just above me was a palm leaf of which I had myself tied the stalk to the framework with a bit of coloured ribbon that I had chanced to find in my pocket. It came originally from the programme card of a dance that I had attended at Honolulu and I had kept it because I thought it might be useful. Finally I used it to secure that loose leaf. I stared at the ribbon which brought back a flood of memories, and as I was thus engaged I heard voices talking, and listened--Bickley's voice, and the Lady Yva's."Yes," Bickley was saying, "he will do well now, but he went near, very near." "I knew he would not die," she answered, "because my father said so."
"There are two sorts of deaths," replied Bickley, "that of the body and that of the mind. I was afraid that even if he lived, his reason would go, but from certain indications I do not think that will happen now. He will get quite well again--though--" and he stopped.
"I am very glad to hear you say so," chimed in Bastin. "For weeks I thought that I should have to read the Burial Service over poor Arbuthnot. Indeed I was much puzzled as to the best place to bury him. Finally I found a very suitable spot round the corner there, where it isn't rock, in which one can't dig and the soil is not liable to be flooded. In fact I went so far as to clear away the bush and to mark out the grave with its foot to the east. In this climate one can't delay, you know."Weak as I was, I smiled. This practical proceeding was so exactly like Bastin. "Well, you wasted your labour," exclaimed Bickley.
"Yes, I am glad to say I did. But I don't think it was your operations and the rest that cured him, Bickley, although you take all the credit. I believe it was the Life-water that the Lady Yva made him drink and the stuff that Oro sent which we gave him when you weren't looking."
"Then I hope that in the future you will not interfere with my cases," said the indignant Bickley, and either the voices passed away or I went to sleep.When I woke up again it was to find the Lady Yva seated at my side watching me.
"Forgive me, Humphrey, because I here; others gone out walking," she said slowly in English.
"Who taught you my language?" I asked, astonished. "Bastin and Bickley, while you ill, they teach; they teach me much. Man just same now as he was hundred thousand years ago," she added enigmatically. "All think one woman beautiful when no other woman there."
"Indeed," I replied, wondering to what proceedings on the part of Bastin and Bickley she alluded. Could that self-centred pair-oh! it was impossible."How long have I been ill?" I asked to escape the subject which I felt to be uncomfortable. She lifted her beautiful eyes in search of words and began to count upon her fingers. "Two moon, one half moon, yes, ten week, counting Sabbath," she answered triumphantly. "Ten weeks!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Humphrey, ten whole weeks and three days you first bad, then mad. Oh!" she went on, breaking into the Orofenan tongue which she spoke so perfectly, although it was not her own. That language of hers I never learned, but I know she thought in it and only translated into Orofenan, because of the great difficulty which she had in rendering her high and refined ideas into its simpler metaphor, and the strange words which often she introduced. "Oh! you have been very ill, friend of my heart. At times I thought that you were going to die, and wept and wept. Bickley thinks that he saved you and he is very clever. But he could not have saved you; that wanted more knowledge than any of your people have; only I pray you, do not tell him so because it would hurt his pride.""What was the matter with me then, Yva?"
"All was the matter. First, the weapon which that youth threw-he was the son of the sorcerer whom my father destroyed--crushed in the bone of your head. He is dead for his crime and may he be accursed for ever," she added in the only outbreak of rage and vindictiveness in which I ever saw her indulge.
"One must make excuses for him; his father had been killed," I said.
"Yes, that is what Bastin tells me, and it is true. Still, for that young man I can make no excuse; it was cowardly and wicked. Well, Bickley performed what he calls operation, and the Lord Oro, he came up from his house and helped him, because Bastin is no good in such things. Then he can only turn away his head and pray. I, too, helped, holding hot water and linen and jar of the stuff that made you feel like nothing, although the sight made me feel more sick than anything since I saw one I loved killed, oh, long, long ago."
"Yes, that clever man, Bickley, lifted the bone which had been crushed in. Only then something broke in your head and you began to bleed here," and she touched what I believe is called the temporal artery. "The vein had been crushed by the blow, and gave way. Bickley worked and worked, and just in time he tied it up before you died. Oh! then I felt as though I loved Bickley, though afterwards Bastin said that I ought to have loved him, since it was not Bickley who stopped the bleeding, but his prayer.""Perhaps it was both," I suggested.
"Perhaps, Humphrey, at least you were saved. Then came another trouble. You took fever. Bickley said that it was because a certain gnat had bitten you when you went down to the ship, and my father, the Lord Oro, told me that this was right. At the least you grew very weak and lost your mind, and it seemed as though you must die. Then, Humphrey, I went to the Lord Oro and kneeled before him and prayed for your life, for I knew that he could cure you if he would, though Bickley's skill was at an end.
"'Daughter,' he said to me, 'not once but again and again you have set up your will against mine in the past. Why then should I trouble myself to grant this desire of yours in the present, and save a man who is nothing to me?'
"I rose to my feet and answered, 'I do not know, my Father, yet I am certain that for your own sake it will be well to do so. I am sure that of everything even you must give an account at last, great though you be, and who knows, perhaps one life which you have saved may turn the balance in your favour.'
"'Surely the priest Bastin has been talking to you,' he said.
"'I am jealous of this stranger. What is he but a short-lived half-barbarian such as we knew in the old days? And yet already you think more of him than you do of me, your father, the divine Oro who has lived a thousand years. At first I helped that physician to save him, but now I think I wish him dead.'
"'If you let this man die, my Father,' I answered, 'then we part. Remember that I also have of the wisdom of our people, and can use it if I will.'"'Then save him yourself,' he said.
"'Perhaps I shall, my Father,' I answered, 'but if so it will not be here. I say that if so we part and you shall be left to rule in your majesty alone.'"Now this frightened the Lord Oro, for he has the weakness that he hates to be alone. "'If I do what you will, do you swear never to leave me, Yva?' he asked. 'Know that if you will not swear, the man dies.' "'I swear,' I answered--for your sake, Humphrey--though I did not love the oath.
"Then he gave me a certain medicine to mix with the Life-water, and when you were almost gone that medicine cured you, though Bickley does not know it, as nothing else could have done. Now I have told you the truth, for your own ear only, Humphrey.""Yva," I asked, "why did you do all this for me?" "Humphrey, I do not know," she answered, "but I think because I must. Now sleep a while." Chapter XIX The Proposals of Bastin and Bickley
So far as my body was concerned I grew well with great rapidity, though it was long before I got back my strength. Thus I could not walk far or endure any sustained exertion. With my mind it was otherwise. I can not explain what had happened to it; indeed I do not know, but in a sense it seemed to have become detached and to have assumed a kind of personality of its own. At times it felt as though it were no longer an inhabitant of the body, but rather its more or less independent partner. I was perfectly clear-headed and of insanity I experienced no symptoms. Yet my mind, I use that term from lack of a better, was not entirely under my control. For one thing, at night it appeared to wander far away, though whither it went and what it saw there I could never remember.
I record this because possibly it explains certain mysterious events, if they were events and not dreams, which shortly I must set out. I spoke to Bickley about the matter. He put it by lightly, saying that it was only a result of my long and most severe illness and that I should steady down in time, especially if we could escape from that island and its unnatural atmosphere. Yet as he spoke he glanced at me shrewdly with his quick eyes, and when he turned to go away I heard him mutter something to himself about "unholy influences" and "that confounded old Oro."
The words were spoken to himself and quite beneath his breath, and of course not meant to reach me. But one of the curious concomitants of my state was that all my senses, and especially my hearing, had become most abnormally acute. A whisper far away was now to me like a loud remark made in a room.
Bickley's reflection, for I can scarcely call it more, set me thinking. Yva had said that Oro sent me medicine which was administered to me without Bickley's knowledge, and as she believed, saved my life, or certainly my reason. What was in it? I wondered. Then there was that Life-water which Yva brought and insisted upon my drinking every day. Undoubtedly it was a marvelous tonic and did me good. But it had other effects also. Thus, as she said would be the case, after a course of it I conceived the greatest dislike, which I may add has never entirely left me, of any form of meat, also of alcohol. All I seemed to want was this water with fruit, or such native vegetables as there were. Bickley disapproved and made me eat fish occasionally, but even this revolted me, and since I gained steadily in weight, as we found out by a simple contrivance, and remained healthy in every other way, soon he allowed me to choose my own diet.
About this time Oro began to pay me frequent visits. He always came at night, and what is more I knew when he was coming, although he never gave me warning. Here I should explain that during my illness Bastin, who was so ingenious in such matters, had built another hut in which he and Bickley slept, of course when they were not watching me, leaving our old bed-chamber to myself.
Well, I would wake up and be aware that Oro was coming. Then he appeared in a silent and mysterious way, as though he had materialised in the room, for I never saw him pass the doorway. In the moonlight, or the starlight, which flowed through the entrance and the side of the hut that was only enclosed with latticework, I perceived him seat himself upon a certain stool, looking like a most majestic ghost with his flowing robes, long white beard, hooked nose and hawk eyes. In the day-time he much resembled the late General Booth whom I had often seen, except for certain added qualities of height and classic beauty of countenance. At night, however, he resembled no one but himself, indeed there was something mighty and godlike in his appearance, something that made one feel that he was not as are other men.
For a while he would sit and look at me. Then he began to speak in a low, vibrant voice. What did he speak of? Well, many matters. It was as though he were unburdening that hoary soul of his because it could no longer endure the grandeur of its own loneliness. Amongst sundry secret things, he told me of the past history of this world of ours, and of the mighty civilisations which for uncounted ages he and his forefathers had ruled by the strength of their will and knowledge, of the dwindling of their race and of the final destruction of its enemies, although I noticed that now he no longer said that this was his work alone. One night I asked him if he did not miss all such pomp and power.
Then suddenly he broke out, and for the first time I really learned what ambition can be when it utterly possesses the soul of man.
"Are you mad," he asked, "that you suppose that I, Oro, the King of kings, can be content to dwell solitary in a great cave with none but the shadows of the dead to serve me? Nay, I must rule again and be even greater than before, or else I too will die. Better to face the future, even if it means oblivion, than to remain thus a relic of a glorious past, still living and yet dead, like that statue of the great god Fate which you saw in the temple of my worship.""Bastin does not think that the future means oblivion," I remarked.
"I know it. I have studied his faith and find it too humble for my taste, also too new. Shall I, Oro, creep a suppliant before any Power, and confess what Bastin is pleased to call my sins? Nay, I who am great will be the equal of all greatness, or nothing."He paused a while, then went on:
"Bastin speaks of 'eternity.' Where and what then is this eternity which if it has no end can have had no beginning? I know the secret of the suns and their attendant worlds, and they are no more eternal than the insect which glitters for an hour. Out of shapeless, rushing gases they gathered to live their day, and into gases at last they dissolve again with all they bore.""Yes," I answered, "but they reform into new worlds."
"That have no part with the old. This world, too, will melt, departing to whence it came, as your sacred writings say, and what then of those who dwelt and dwell thereon? No, Man of today, give me Time in which I rule and keep your dreams of an Eternity that is not, and in which you must still crawl and serve, even if it were. Yet, if I might, I confess it, I would live on for ever, but as Master not as Slave."
On another night he began to tempt me, very subtly. "I see a spark of greatness in you, Humphrey," he said, "and it comes into my heart that you, too, might learn to rule. With Yva, the last of my blood, it is otherwise. She is the child of my age and of a race outworn; too gentle, too much all womanly. The soul that triumphs must shine like steel in the sun, and cut if need be; not merely be beauteous and shed perfume like a lily in the shade. Yet she is very wise and fair," here he looked at me, "perchance of her might come children such as were their forefathers, who again would wield the sceptre of the dominion of the earth."I made no answer, wondering what he meant exactly and thinking it wisest to be silent.
"You are of the short-lived races," he went on, "yet very much a man, not without intelligence, and by the arts I have I can so strengthen your frame that it will endure the shocks of time for three such lives as yours, or perchance for more, and then--"Again he paused and went on:
"The Daughter of kings likes you also, perhaps because you resemble--" here he fixed me with his piercing eyes, "a certain kinglet of base blood whom once she also liked, but whom it was my duty to destroy. Well, I must think. I must study this world of yours also and therein you may help me. Perhaps afterwards I will tell you how. Now sleep."
In another moment he was gone, but notwithstanding his powerful command, for a while I could not sleep. I understood that he was offering Yva to me, but upon what terms? That was the question. With her was to go great dominion over the kingdoms of the earth. I could not help remembering that always this has been and still is Satan's favourite bait. To me it did not particularly appeal. I had been ambitious in my time--who is not that is worth his salt? I could have wished to excel in something, literature or art, or whatever it might be, and thus to ensure the memory of my name in the world.
Of course this is a most futile desire, seeing that soon or late every name must fade out of the world like an unfixed photograph which is exposed to the sun. Even if it could endure, as the old demigod, or demidevil, Oro, had pointed out, very shortly, by comparison with Time's unmeasured vastness, the whole solar system will also fade. So of what use is this feeble love of fame and this vain attempt to be remembered that animates us so strongly? Moreover, the idea of enjoying mere temporal as opposed to intellectual power, appealed to me not at all. I am a student of history and I know what has been the lot of kings and the evil that, often enough, they work in their little day.
Also if I needed any further example, there was that of Oro himself. He had outlived the greatness of his House, as a royal family is called, and after some gigantic murder, if his own story was to be believed, indulged in a prolonged sleep. Now he awoke to find himself quite alone in the world, save for a daughter with whom he did not agree or sympathise. In short, he was but a kind of animated mummy inspired by one idea which I felt quite sure would be disappointed, namely, to renew his former greatness. To me he seemed as miserable a figure as one could imagine, brooding and plotting in his illuminated cave, at the end of an extended but misspent life.
Also I wondered what he, or rather his ego, had been doing during all those two hundred and fifty thousand years of sleep. Possibly if Yva's theory, as I understood it, were correct, he had reincarnated as Attila, or Tamerlane, or Napoleon, or even as Chaka the terrible Zulu king. At any rate there he was still in the world, filled with the dread of death, but consumed now as ever by his insatiable and most useless finite ambitions.
Yva, also! Her case was his, but yet how different. In all this long night of Time she had but ripened into one of the sweetest and most gentle women that ever the world bore. She, too, was great in her way, it appeared in her every word and gesture, but where was the ferocity of her father? Where his desire to reach to splendour by treading on a blood-stained road paved with broken human hearts? It did not exist. Her nature was different although her body came of a long line of these power-loving kings. Why this profound difference of the spirit? Like
everything else it was a mystery. The two were as far apart as the Poles. Everyone must have hated Oro, from the beginning, however much he feared him, but everyone who came in touch with her must have loved Yva.
Here I may break into my personal narrative to say that this, by their own confession, proved to be true of two such various persons as Bastin and Bickley.
"The truth, which I am sure it would be wrong to hide from you, Arbuthnot," said the former to me one day, "is that during your long illness I fell in love, I suppose that is the right word, with the Glittering Lady. After thinking the matter over also, I conceived that it would be proper to tell her so if only to clear the air and prevent future misunderstandings. As I remarked to her on that occasion, I had hesitated long, as I was not certain how she would fill the place of the wife of the incumbent of an English parish."
"Mothers' Meetings, and the rest," I suggested.
"Exactly so, Arbuthnot. Also there were the views of the Bishop to be considered, who might have objected to the introduction into the diocese of a striking person who so recently had been a heathen, and to one in such strong contrast to my late beloved wife."
"I suppose you didn't consider the late Mrs. Bastin's views on the subject of re-marriage. I remember that they were strong," I remarked rather maliciously.
"No, I did not think it necessary, since the Scriptural
instructions on the matter are very clear, and in another world no doubt all jealousies, even Sarah's, will be obliterated. Upon that point my conscience was quite easy. So when I found that, unlike her parent, the Lady Yva was much inclined to accept the principles of the faith in which it is my privilege to instruct her, I thought it proper to say to her that if ultimately she made up her mind to do so--of course this was a sine qua non--I should be much honoured, and as a man, not as a priest, it would make me most happy if she would take me as a husband. Of course I explained to her that I considered, under the circumstances, I could quite lawfully perform the marriage ceremony myself with you and Bickley as witnesses, even should Oro refuse to give her away. Also I told her that although after her varied experiences in the past, life at Fulcombe, if we could ever get there, might be a little monotonous, still it would not be entirely devoid of interest."
"Oh! she was most kind and flattering. Indeed that hour will always remain the pleasantest of my life. I don't know how it happened, but when it was over I felt quite delighted that she had refused me. Indeed on second thoughts, I am not certain but that I shall be much happier in the capacities of a brother and teacher which she asked me to fill, than I should have been as her husband. To tell you the truth, Arbuthnot, there are moments when I am not sure whether I entirely understand the Lady Yva. It was rather like proposing to one's guardian angel."
"Yes," I said, "that's about it, old fellow. 'Guardian Angel' is not a bad name for her."
"Look here, Arbuthnot," he said. "I want to own up to something. I think I ought to, because of certain things I have observed, in order to prevent possible future misunderstandings.""What's that?" I asked innocently.
"Only this. As you know, I have always been a confirmed bachelor on principle. Women introduce too many complications into life, and although it involves some sacrifice, on the whole, I have thought it best to do without them and leave the carrying on of the world to others.""Well, what of it? Your views are not singular, Bickley."
"Only this. While you were ill the sweetness of that Lady Yva and her wonderful qualities as a nurse overcame me. I went to pieces all of a sudden. I saw in her a realisation of every ideal I had ever entertained of perfect womanhood. So to speak, my resolves of a lifetime melted like wax in the sun.
Notwithstanding her queer history and the marvels with which she is mixed up, I wished to marry her. No doubt her physical loveliness was at the bottom of it, but, however that may be, there it was."
"That is a point on which I made no inquiries, and I should advise you, when your turn comes, as no doubt it will, to follow my example. You know, Arbuthnot," he mused, "however lovely a woman may be, it would put one off if suddenly she announced that she was--let us say--a hundred and fifty years old."
"Yes," I admitted, "for nobody wants to marry the contemporary of his great-grandmother. However, she gave her age as twentyseven years and three moons."
"And doubtless for once did not tell the truth. But, as she does not look more than twenty-five, I think that we may all agree to let it stand at that, namely, twenty-seven, plus an indefinite period of sleep. At any rate, she is a sweet and most gracious woman, apparently in the bloom of youth, and, to cut it short, I fell in love with her.""Like Bastin," I said.
"Bastin!" exclaimed Bickley indignantly. "You don't mean to say that clerical oaf presumed--well, well, after all, I suppose that he is a man, so one mustn't be hard on him. But who could have thought that he would run so cunning, even when he knew my sentiments towards the lady? I hope she told him her mind.""The point is, what did she tell you, Bickley?"
"Me? Oh, she was perfectly charming! It really was a pleasure to be refused by her, she puts one so thoroughly at one's ease." (Here, remembering Bastin and his story, I turned away my face to hide a smile.) "She said--what did she say exactly? Such a lot that it is difficult to remember. Oh! that she was not thinking of marriage. Also, that she had not yet recovered from some recent love affair which left her heart sore, since the time of her sleep did not count. Also, that her father would never consent, and that the mere idea of such a thing would excite his animosity against all of us.""Is that all?" I asked.
"Not quite. She added that she felt wonderfully flattered and extremely honoured by what I had been so good as to say to her. She hoped, however, that I should never repeat it or even allude to the matter again, as her dearest wish was to be able to look upon me as her most intimate friend to whom she could always come for sympathy and counsel.""What happened then?"
"Nothing, of course, except that I promised everything that she wished, and mean to stick to it, too. Naturally, I was very sore and upset, but I am getting over it, having always practised self-control.""I am sorry for you, old fellow." "Are you?" he asked suspiciously. "Then perhaps you have tried your luck, too?" "No, Bickley." His face fell a little at this denial, and he answered:
"Well, it would have been scarcely decent if you had, seeing how lately you were married. But then, so was that artful Bastin. Perhaps you will get over it--recent marriage, I mean--as he has." He hesitated a while, then went on: "Of course you will, old fellow; I know it, and, what is more, I seem to know that when your turn comes you will get a different answer. If so, it will keep her in the family as it were--and good luck to you. Only--""Only what?" I asked anxiously.
"To be honest, Arbuthnot, I don't think that there will be real good luck for any one of us over this woman--not in the ordinary sense, I mean. The whole business is too strange and superhuman. Is she quite a woman, and could she really marry a man as others do?"
"It is curious that you should talk like that," I said
uneasily. "I thought that you had made up your mind that the whole business was either illusion or trickery--I mean, the odd side of it."
"If it is illusion, Arbuthnot, then a man cannot marry an illusion. And if it is trickery, then he will certainly be tricked. But, supposing that I am wrong, what then?""You mean, supposing things are as they seem to be?"
"Yes. In that event, Arbuthnot, I am sure that something will occur to prevent your being united to a woman who lived thousands of years ago. I am sorry to say it, but Fate will intervene. Remember, it is the god of her people that I suppose she worships, and, I may add, to which the whole world bows."
At his words a kind of chill fell upon me. I think he saw or divined it, for after a few remarks upon some indifferent matter, he turned and went away.
Shortly after this Yva came to sit with me. She studied me for a while and I studied her. I had reason to do so, for I observed that of late her dress had become much more modern, and on the present occasion this struck me forcibly. I do not know exactly in what the change, or changes, consisted, because I am not skilled in such matters and can only judge of a woman's garments by their general effect. At any rate, the gorgeous sweeping robes were gone, and though her attire still looked foreign and somewhat oriental, with a touch of barbaric splendour about it-it was simpler than it had been and showed more of her figure, which was delicate, yet gracious.
"You have changed your robes, Lady," I said. "Yes, Humphrey. Bastin gave me pictures of those your women wear." (On further investigation I found that this referred to an old copy of the Queen newspaper, which, somehow or other, had been brought with the books from the ship.) "I have tried to copy them a little," she added doubtfully."How do you do it? Where do you get the material?" I asked. "Oh!" she answered with an airy wave of her hand, "I make it-it is there."
"I don't understand," I said, but she only smiled radiantly, offering no further explanation. Then, before I could pursue the subject, she asked me suddenly:
"What has Bickley been saying to you about me?" I fenced, answering: "I don't know. Bastin and Bickley talk of little else. You seem to have been a great deal with them while I was ill.""Yes, a great deal. They are the nearest to you who were so sick. Is it not so?" "I don't know," I answered again. "In my illness it seemed to me that you were the nearest."
"About Bastin's words I can guess," she went on. "But I ask again--what has Bickley been saying to you about me? Of the first part, let it be; tell me the rest."I intended to evade her question, but she fixed those violet, compelling eyes upon me and I was obliged to answer.
"I believe you know as well as I do," I said; "but if you will have it, it was that you are not as other human women are, and that he who would treat you as such, must suffer; that was the gist of it."
"Some might be content to suffer for such as I," she answered with quiet sweetness. "Even Bastin and Bickley may be content to suffer in their own little ways."
Then she blazed out into one of her flashes of splendour, like something that takes fire on an instant; like the faint and distant star which flames into sudden glory before the watcher's telescope.
"It is true that I am not as your women are--your poor, pale women, the shadows of an hour with night behind them and before. Because I am humble and patient, do you therefore suppose that I am not great? Man from the little country across the sea, I lived when the world was young, and gathered up the ancient wisdom of a greater race than yours, and when the world is old I think that I still shall live, though not in this shape or here, with all that wisdom's essence burning in my breast, and with all beauty in my eyes. Bickley does not believe although he worships. You only half believe and do not worship, because memory holds you back, and I myself do not understand. I only know though knowing so much, still I seek roads to learning, even the humble road called Bastin, that yet may lead my feet to the gate of an immortal city.""Nor do I understand how all this can be, Yva," I said feebly, for she dazzled and overwhelmed me with her blaze of power.
"No, you do not understand. How can you, when even I cannot? Thus for two hundred and fifty thousand years I slept, and they went by as a lightning flash. One moment my father gave me the draught and I laid me down, the next I awoke with you bending over me, or so it seemed. Yet where was I through all those centuries when for me time had ceased? Tell me, Humphrey, did you dream at all while you were ill? I ask because down in that lonely cavern where I sleep a strange dream came to me one night. It was of a journey which, as I thought, you and I seemed to make together, past suns and universes to a very distant earth. It meant nothing, Humphrey. If you and I chanced to have dreamed the same thing, it was only because my dream travelled to you. It is most common, or used to be. Humphrey, Bickley is quite right, I am not altogether as your women are, and I can bring no happiness to any man, or at the least, to one who cannot wait. Therefore, perhaps you would do well to think less of me, as I have counselled Bastin and Bickley."Then again she gazed at me with her wonderful, great eyes, and, shaking her glittering head a little, smiled and went. But oh! that smile drew my heart after her. Chapter XX Oro and Arbuthnot Travel by Night
As time went on, Oro began to visit me more and more frequently, till at last scarcely a night went by that he did not appear mysteriously in my sleeping-place. The odd thing was that neither Bickley nor Bastin seemed to be aware of these nocturnal calls. Indeed, when I mentioned them on one or two occasions, they stared at me and said it was strange that he should have come and gone as they saw nothing of him.
On my speaking again of the matter, Bickley at once turned the conversation, from which I gathered that he believed me to be suffering from delusions consequent on my illness, or perhaps to have taken to dreaming. This was not wonderful since, as I learned afterwards, Bickley, after he was sure that I was asleep, made a practice of tying a thread across my doorway and of ascertaining at the dawn that it remained unbroken. But Oro was not to be caught in that way. I suppose, as it was impossible for him to pass through the latticework of the open side of the house, that he undid the thread and fastened it again when he left; at least, that was Bastin's explanation, or, rather, one of them. Another was that he crawled beneath it, but this I could not believe. I am quite certain that during all his prolonged existence Oro never crawled.
At any rate, he came, or seemed to come, and pumped me--I can use no other word--most energetically as to existing conditions in the world, especially those of the civilised countries, their methods of government, their social state, the physical characteristics of the various races, their religions, the exact degrees of civilisation that they had developed, their attainments in art, science and literature, their martial capacities, their laws, and I know not what besides.I told him all I could, but did not in the least seem to satisfy his perennial thirst for information.
"I should prefer to judge for myself," he said at last. "Why are you so anxious to learn about all these nations, Oro?" I asked, exhausted."Because the knowledge I gather may affect my plans for the future," he replied darkly. "I am told, Oro, that your people acquired the power of transporting themselves from place to place." "It is true that the lords of the Sons of Wisdom had such power, and that I have it still, O Humphrey." "Then why do you not go to look with your own eyes?" I suggested.
"Because I should need a guide; one who could explain much in a short time," he said, contemplating me with his burning glance until I began to feel uncomfortable.
To change the subject I asked him whether he had any further information about the war, which he had told me was raging in Europe.
He answered: "Not much; only that it was going on with varying success, and would continue to do so until the nations involved therein were exhausted," or so he believed. The war did not seem greatly to interest Oro. It was, he remarked, but a small affair compared to those which he had known in the old days. Then he departed, and I went to sleep.
Next night he appeared again, and, after talking a little on different subjects, remarked quietly that he had been thinking over what I had said as to his visiting the modern world, and intended to act upon the suggestion.
"When?" I asked. "Now," he said. "I am going to visit this England of yours and the town you call London, and you will accompany me.""It is not possible!" I exclaimed. "We have no ship." "We can travel without a ship," said Oro. I grew alarmed, and suggested that Bastin or Bickley would be a much better companion than I should in my present weak state.
"An empty-headed man, or one who always doubts and argues, would be useless," he replied sharply. "You shall come and you only."I expostulated; I tried to get up and fly--which, indeed, I did do, in another sense. But Oro fixed his eyes upon me and slowly waved his thin hand to and fro above my head. My senses reeled. Then came a great darkness.
They returned again. Now I was standing in an icy, reeking fog, which I knew could belong to one place only--London, in December, and at my side was Oro."Is this the climate of your wonderful city?" he asked, or seemed to ask, in an aggrieved tone. I replied that it was, for about three months in the year, and began to look about me.
Soon I found my bearings. In front of me were great piles of buildings, looking dim and mysterious in the fog, in which I recognised the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, for both could be seen from where we stood in front of the Westminster Bridge Station. I explained their identity to Oro."Good," he said. "Let us enter your Place of Talk." "But I am not a member, and we have no passes for the Strangers' Gallery," I expostulated.
"We shall not need any," he replied contemptuously. "Lead on." Thus adjured, I crossed the road, Oro following me. Looking round, to my horror I saw him right in the path of a motor-bus which seemed to go over him."There's an end to Oro," thought I to myself. "Well, at any rate, I have got home."
Next instant he was at my side quite undisturbed by the incident of the bus. We came to a policeman at the door and I hesitated, expecting to be challenged. But the policeman seemed absolutely indifferent to our presence, even when Oro marched past him in his flowing robes. So I followed with a like success. Then I understood that we must be invisible.
We passed to the lobby, where members were hurrying to and fro, and constituents and pressmen were gathered, and so on into the House. Oro walked up its floor and took his stand by the table, in front of the Speaker. I followed him, none saying us No.
As it chanced there was what is called a scene in progress--I think it was over Irish matters; the details are of no account. Members shouted, Ministers prevaricated and grew angry, the Speaker intervened. On the whole, it was rather a degrading spectacle. I stood, or seemed to stand, and watched it all. Oro, in his sweeping robes, which looked so incongruous in that place, stepped, or seemed to step, up to the principal personages of the Government and Opposition, whom I indicated to him, and inspected them one by one, as a naturalist might examine strange insects. Then, returning to me, he said:
"Come away; I have seen and heard enough. Who would have thought that this nation of yours was struggling for its life in war?"
We passed out of the House and somehow came to Trafalgar Square. A meeting was in progress there, convened, apparently, to advocate the rights of Labour, also those of women, also to protest against things in general, especially the threat of Conscription in the service of the country.
Here the noise was tremendous, and, the fog having lifted somewhat, we could see everything. Speakers bawled from the base of Nelson's column. Their supporters cheered, their adversaries rushed at them, and in one or two instances succeeded in pulling them down. A woman climbed up and began to scream out something which could only be heard by a few reporters gathered round her. I thought her an unpleasant-looking person, and evidently her remarks were not palatable to the majority of her auditors. There was a rush, and she was dragged from the base of one of Landseer's lions on which she stood. Her skirt was half rent off her and her bodice split down the back. Finally, she was conveyed away, kicking, biting, and scratching, by a number of police. It was a disgusting sight, and tumult ensued."Let us go," said Oro. "Your officers of order are good; the rest is not good."
Later we found ourselves opposite to the doors of a famous restaurant where a magnificent and gigantic commissionaire helped ladies from motor-cars, receiving in return money from the men who attended on them. We entered; it was the hour of dinner. The place sparkled with gems, and the naked backs of the women gleamed in the electric light. Course followed upon course; champagne flowed, a fine band played, everything was costly; everything was, in a sense, repellent.
"These are the wealthy citizens of a nation engaged in fighting for its life," remarked Oro to me, stroking his long beard. "It is interesting, very interesting. Let us go."
We went out and on, passing a public-house crowded with women who had left their babies in charge of children in the icy street. It was a day of Intercession for the success of England in the war. This was placarded everywhere. We entered, or, rather, Oro did, I following him, one of the churches in the Strand where an evening service was in progress. The preacher in the pulpit, a very able man, was holding forth upon the necessity for national repentance and self-denial; also of prayer. In the body of the church exactly thirty-two people, most of them elderly women, were listening to him with an air of placid acceptance."The priest talks well, but his hearers are not many," said Oro. "Let us go."
We came to the flaunting doors of a great music-hall and passed through them, though to others this would have been impossible, for the place was filled from floor to roof. In its promenades men were drinking and smoking, while gaudy women, painted and low-robed, leered at them. On the stage girls danced, throwing their legs above their heads. Then they vanished amidst applause, and a woman in a yellow robe, who pretended to be tipsy, sang a horrible and vulgar song full of topical allusions, which was received with screams of delight by the enormous audience."Here the hearers are very many, but those to whom they listen do not talk well. Let us go," said Oro, and we went.
At a recruiting station we paused a moment to consider posters supposed to be attractive, the very sight of which sent a thrill of shame through me. I remember that the inscription under one of them was: "What will your best girl say?""Is that how you gather your soldiers? Later it will be otherwise," said Oro, and passed on.
We reached Blackfriars and entered a hall at the doors of which stood women in poke-bonnets, very sweet-faced, earnest-looking women. Their countenances seemed to strike Oro, and he motioned me to follow him into the hall. It was quite full of a miserablelooking congregation of perhaps a thousand people. A man in the blue and red uniform of the Salvation Army was preaching of duty to God and country, of self-denial, hope and forgiveness. He seemed a humble person, but his words were earnest, and love flowed from him. Some of his miserable congregation wept, others stared at him open-mouthed, a few, who were very weary, slept. He called them up to receive pardon, and a number, led by the sweetfaced women, came and knelt before him. He and others whispered to them, then seemed to bless them, and they rose with their faces changed.
"Let us go," said Oro. "I do not understand these rites, but at last in your great and wonderful city I have seen something that is pure and noble."
We went out. In the streets there was great excitement. People ran to and fro pointing upwards. Searchlights, like huge fingers of flame, stole across the sky; guns boomed. At last, in the glare of a searchlight, we saw a long and sinister object floating high above us and gleaming as though it were made of silver. Flashes came from it followed by terrible booming reports that grew nearer and nearer. A house collapsed with a crash just behind us."Ah!" said Oro, with a smile. "I know this--it is war, war as it was when the world was different and yet the same."
As he spoke, a motor-bus rumbled past. Another flash and explosion. A man, walking with his arms round the waist of a girl just ahead of us; seemed to be tossed up and to melt. The girl fell in a heap on the pavement; somehow her head and her feet had come quite close together and yet she appeared to be sitting down. The motor-bus burst into fragments and its passengers hurtled through the air, mere hideous lumps that had been men and women. The head of one of them came dancing down the pavement towards us, a cigar still stuck in the corner of its mouth."Yes, this is war," said Oro. "It makes me young again to see it. But does this city of yours understand?"
We watched a while. A crowd gathered. Policemen ran up, ambulances came. The place was cleared, and all that was left they carried away. A few minutes later another man passed by with his arm round the waist of another girl. Another motor-bus rumbled up, and, avoiding the hole in the roadway, travelled on, its conductor keeping a keen look-out for fares.
The street was cleared by the police; the airship continued its course, spawning bombs in the distance, and vanished. The incident was closed."Let us go home," said Oro. "I have seen enough of your great and wonderful city. I would rest in the quiet of Nyo and think." The next thing that I remember was the voice of Bastin, saying:
"If you don't mind, Arbuthnot, I wish that you would get up. The Glittering Lady (he still called her that) is coming here to have a talk with me which I should prefer to be private. Excuse me for disturbing you, but you have overslept yourself; indeed, I think it must be nine o'clock, so far as I can judge by the sun, for my watch is very erratic now, ever since Bickley tried to clean it."
"I am sorry, my dear fellow," I said sleepily, "but do you know I thought I was in London--in fact, I could swear that I have been there."
"Then," interrupted Bickley, who had followed Bastin into the hut, giving me that doubtful glance with which I was now familiar, "I wish to goodness that you had brought back an evening paper with you."
A night or two later I was again suddenly awakened to feel that Oro was approaching. He appeared like a ghost in the bright moonlight, greeted me, and said:"Tonight, Humphrey, we must make another journey. I would visit the seat of the war." "I do not wish to go," I said feebly. "What you wish does not matter," he replied. "I wish that you should go, and therefore you must." "Listen, Oro," I exclaimed. "I do not like this business; it seems dangerous to me." "There is no danger if you are obedient, Humphrey."
"I think there is. I do not understand what happens. Do you make use of what the Lady Yva called the Fourth Dimension, so that our bodies pass over the seas and through mountains, like the vibrations of our Wireless, of which I was speaking to you?"
"No, Humphrey. That method is good and easy, but I do not use it because if I did we should be visible in the places which we visit, since there all the atoms that make a man would collect together again and be a man.""What, then, do you do?" I asked, exasperated.
"Man, Humphrey, is not one; he is many. Thus, amongst other things he has a Double, which can see and hear, as he can in the flesh, if it is separated from the flesh.""The old Egyptians believed that," I said.
"Did they? Doubtless they inherited the knowledge from us, the Sons of Wisdom. The cup of our learning was so full that, keep it secret as we would, from time to time some of it overflowed among the vulgar, and doubtless thus the light of our knowledge still burns feebly in the world."
I reflected to myself that whatever might be their other characteristics, the Sons of Wisdom had lost that of modesty, but I only asked how he used his Double, supposing that it existed.
"Very easily," he answered. "In sleep it can be drawn from the body and sent upon its mission by one that is its master." "Then while you were asleep for all those thousands of years your Double must have made many journeys."
"Perhaps," he replied quietly, "and my spirit also, which is another part of me that may have dwelt in the bodies of other men. But unhappily, if so I forget, and that is why I have so much to learn and must even make use of such poor instruments as you, Humphrey."
"Then if I sleep and you distil my Double out of me, I suppose that you sleep too. In that case who distils your Double out of you, Lord Oro?"He grew angry and answered:
"Ask no more questions, blind and ignorant as you are. It is your part not to examine, but to obey. Sleep now," and again he waved his hand over me.
In an instant, as it seemed, we were standing in a grey old town that I judged from its appearance must be either in northern France or Belgium. It was much shattered by bombardment; the church, for instance, was a ruin; also many of the houses had been burnt. Now, however, no firing was going on for the town had been taken. The streets were full of armed men wearing the German uniform and helmet. We passed down them and were able to see into the houses. In some of these were German soldiers engaged in looting and in other things so horrible that even the unmoved Oro turned away his head.
We came to the market-place. It was crowded with German troops, also with a great number of the inhabitants of the town, most of them elderly men and women with children, who had fallen into their power. The Germans, under the command of officers, were dragging the men from the arms of their wives and children to one side, and with rifle-butts beating back the screaming women. Among the men I noticed two or three priests who were doing their best to soothe their companions and even giving them absolution in hurried whispers.
At length the separation was effected, whereon at a hoarse word of command, a company of soldiers began to fire at the men and continued doing so until all had fallen. Then petty officers went among the slaughtered and with pistols blew out the brains of any who still moved."These butchers, you say, are Germans?" asked Oro of me.
"Yes," I answered, sick with horror, for though I was in the mind and not in the body, I could feel as the mind does. Had I been in the body also, I should have fainted."Then we need not waste time in visiting their country. It is enough; let us go on."
We passed out into the open land and came to a village. It was in the occupation of German cavalry. Two of them held a little girl of nine or ten, one by her body, the other by her right hand. An officer stood between them with a drawn sword fronting the terrified child. He was a horrible, coarse-faced man who looked to me as though he had been drinking.
"I'll teach the young devil to show us the wrong road and let those French swine escape," he shouted, and struck with the sword. The girl's right hand fell to the ground.
"War as practised by the Germans!" remarked Oro. Then he stepped, or seemed to step up to the man and whispered, or seemed to whisper, in his ear.
I do not know what tongue or what spirit speech he used, or what he said, but the bloated-faced brute turned pale. Yes, he drew sick with fear.
"I think there are spirits in this place," he said with a German oath. "I could have sworn that something told me that I was going to die. Mount!"The Uhlans mounted and began to ride away. "Watch," said Oro.
As he spoke out of a dark cloud appeared an aeroplane. Its pilot saw the band of Germans beneath and dropped a bomb. The aim was good, for the missile exploded in the midst of them, causing a great cloud of dust from which arose the screams of men and horses.
"Come and see," said Oro. We were there. Out of the cloud of dust appeared one man galloping furiously. He was a young fellow who, as I noted, had turned his head away and hidden his eyes with his hand when the horror was done yonder. All the others were dead except the officer who had worked the deed. He was still living, but both his hands and one of his feet had been blown away. Presently he died, screaming to God for mercy.
We passed on and came to a barn with wide doors that swung a little in the wind, causing the rusted hinges to scream like a creature in pain. On each of these doors hung a dead man crucified. The hat of one of them lay upon the ground, and I knew from the shape of it that he was a Colonial soldier."Did you not tell me," said Oro after surveying them, "that these Germans are of your Christian faith?" "Yes; and the Name of God is always on their ruler's lips." "Ah!" he said, "I am glad that I worship Fate. Bastin the priest need trouble me no more." "There is something behind Fate," I said, quoting Bastin himself.
"Perhaps. So indeed I have always held, but after much study I cannot understand the manner of its working. Fate is enough for me."
We went on and came to a flat country that was lined with ditches, all of them full of men, Germans on one side, English and French upon the other. A terrible bombardment shook the earth, the shells raining upon the ditches. Presently that from the English guns ceased and out of the trenches in front of them thousands of men were vomited, who ran forward through a hail of fire in which scores and hundreds fell, across an open piece of ground that was pitted with shell craters. They came to barbed wire defenses, or what remained of them, cut the wire with nippers and pulled up the posts. Then through the gaps they surged in, shouting and hurling hand grenades. They reached the German trenches, they leapt into them and from those holes arose a hellish din. Pistols were fired and everywhere bayonets flashed.
Behind them rushed a horde of little, dark-skinned men, Indians who carried great knives in their hands. Those leapt over the first trench and running on with wild yells, dived into the second, those who were left of them, and there began hacking with their knives at the defenders and the soldiers who worked the spitting maxim guns. In twenty minutes it was over; those lines of trenches were taken, and once more from either side the guns began to boom.
"War again," said Oro, "clean, honest war, such as the god I call Fate decrees for man. I have seen enough. Now I would visit those whom you call Turks. I understand they have another worship and perhaps they are nobler than these Christians."
We came to a hilly country which I recognised as Armenia, for once I travelled there, and stopped on an seashore. Here were the Turks in thousands. They were engaged in driving before them mobs of men, women and children in countless numbers. On and on they drove them till they reached the shore. There they massacred them with bayonets, with bullets, or by drowning. I remember a dreadful scene of a poor woman standing up to her waist in the water. Three children were clinging to her--but I cannot go on, really I cannot go on. In the end a Turk waded out and bayoneted her while she strove to protect the last living child with her poor body whence it sprang."These, I understand," said Oro, pointing to the Turkish soldiers, "worship a prophet who they say is the voice of God." "Yes," I answered, "and therefore they massacre these who are Christians because they worship God without a prophet." "And what do the Christians massacre each other for?"
"Power and the wealth and territories that are power. That is, the King of the Germans wishes to rule the world, but the other Nations do not desire his dominion. Therefore they fight for Liberty and Justice."
"As it was, so it is and shall be," remarked Oro, "only with this difference. In the old world some were wise, but here--" and he stopped, his eyes fixed upon the Armenian woman struggling in her death agony while the murderer drowned her child, then added: "Let us go."
Our road ran across the sea. On it we saw a ship so large that it attracted Oro's attention, and for once he expressed astonishment.
"In my day," he said, "we had no vessels of this greatness in the world. I wish to look upon it."
We landed on the deck of the ship, or rather the floating palace, and examined her. She carried many passengers, some English, some American, and I pointed out to Oro the differences between the two peoples. These were not, he remarked, very wide except that the American women wore more jewels, also that some of the American men, to whom we listened as they conversed, spoke of the greatness of their country, whereas the Englishmen, if they said anything concerning it, belittled their country.
Presently, on the surface of the sea at a little distance
appeared something strange, a small and ominous object like a can on the top of a pole. A voice cried out "Submarine!" and everyone near rushed to look.
"If those Germans try any of their monkey tricks on us, I guess the United States will give them hell," said another voice near by.
Then from the direction of the pole with the tin can on the top of it, came something which caused a disturbance in the smooth water and bubbles to rise in its wake."A torpedo!" cried some. "Shut your mouth," said the voice. "Who dare torpedo a vessel full of the citizens of the United States?"
Next came a booming crash and a flood of upthrown water, in the wash of which that speaker was carried away into the deep. Then horror! horror! horror! indescribable, as the mighty vessel went wallowing to her doom. Boats launched; boats overset; boats dragged under by her rush through the water which could not be stayed. Maddened men and women running to and fro, their eyes starting from their heads, clasping children, fastening lifebelts over their costly gowns, or appearing from their cabins, their hands filled with jewels that they sought to save. Orders cried from high places by stern-faced officers doing their duty to the last. And a little way off that thin pole with a tin can on the top of it watching its work.
Then the plunge of the enormous ship into the deep, its huge screws still whirling in the air and the boom of the bursting boilers. Lastly everything gone save a few boats floating on the quiet sea and around them dots that were the heads of struggling human beings.
"Let us go home," said Oro. "I grow tired of this war of your Christian peoples. It is no better than that of the barbarian nations of the early world. Indeed it is worse, since then we worshipped Fate and but a few of us had wisdom. Now you all claim wisdom and declare that you worship a God of Mercy."
With these words still ringing in my ears I woke up upon the Island of Orofena, filled with terror at the horrible possibilities of nightmare.
What else could it be? There was the brown and ancient cone of the extinct volcano. There were the tall palms of the main island and the lake glittering in the sunlight between. There was Bastin conducting a kind of Sunday school of Orofenans upon the point of the Rock of Offerings, as now he had obtained the leave of Oro to do. There was the mouth of the cave, and issuing from it Bickley, who by help of one of the hurricane lamps had been making an examination of the buried remains of what he supposed to be flying machines. Without doubt it was nightmare, and I would say nothing to them about it for fear of mockery.Yet two nights later Oro came again and after the usual preliminaries, said:
"Humphrey, this night we will visit that mighty American nation, of which you have told me so much, and the other Neutral Countries."
[At this point there is a gap in Mr. Arbuthnot's M.S., so Oro's reflections on the Neutral Nations, if any, remain unrecorded. It continues:]
On our homeward way we passed over Australia, making a detour to do so. Of the cities Oro took no account. He said that they were too large and too many, but the country interested him so much that I gathered he must have given great attention to agriculture at some time in the past. He pointed out to me that the climate was fine, and the land so fertile that with a proper system of irrigation and water-storage it could support tens of millions and feed not only itself but a great part of the outlying world.
"But where are the people?" he asked. "Outside of those huge hives," and he indicated the great cities, "I see few of them, though doubtless some of the men are fighting in this war. Well, in the days to come this must be remedied."Over New Zealand, which he found beautiful, he shook his head for the same reason.
On another night we visited the East. China with its teeming millions interested him extremely, partly because he declared these to be the descendants of one of the barbarian nations of his own day. He made a remark to the effect that this race had always possessed points and capacities, and that he thought that with proper government and instruction their Chinese offspring would be of use in a regenerated world.
For the Japanese and all that they had done in two short generations, he went so far as to express real admiration, a very rare thing with Oro, who was by nature critical. I could see that mentally he put a white mark against their name.
India, too, really moved him. He admired the ancient buildings at Delhi and Agra, especially the Taj Mahal. This, he declared, was reminiscent of some of the palaces that stood at Pani, the capital city of the Sons of Wisdom, before it was destroyed by the Barbarians.
The English administration of the country also attracted a word of praise from him, I think because of its rather autocratic character. Indeed he went so far as to declare that, with certain modifications, it should be continued in the future, and even to intimate that he would bear the matter in mind. Democratic forms of government had no charms for Oro.
Amongst other places, we stopped at Benares and watched the funeral rites in progress upon the banks of the holy Ganges. The bearers of the dead brought the body of a woman wrapped in a red shroud that glittered with tinsel ornaments. Coming forward at a run and chanting as they ran, they placed it upon the stones for a little while, then lifted it up again and carried it down the steps to the edge of the river. Here they took water and poured it over the corpse, thus performing the rite of the baptism of death. This done, they placed its feet in the water and left it looking very small and lonely. Presently appeared a tall, white-draped woman who took her stand by the body and wailed. It was the dead one's mother. Again the bearers approached and laid the corpse upon the flaming pyre.
"These rites are ancient," said Oro. "When I ruled as King of the World they were practised in this very place. It is pleasant to me to find something that has survived the changefulness of Time. Let it continue till the end."
Here I will cease. These experiences that I have recorded are but samples, for also we visited Russia and other countries. Perhaps, too, they were not experiences at all, but only dreams consequent on my state of health. I cannot say for certain, though much of what I seemed to see fitted in very well indeed with what I learned in after days, and certainly at the time they appeared as real as though Oro and I had stood together upon those various shores.Chapter XXI Love's Eternal Altar
Now of all these happenings I said very little to Bastin and Bickley. The former would not have understood them, and the latter attributed what I did tell him to mental delusions following on my illness. To Yva I did speak about them, however, imploring her to explain their origin and to tell me whether or not they were but visions of the night.
She listened to me, as I thought not without anxiety, from which I gathered that she too feared for my mind. It was not so, however, for she said:
"I am glad, O Humphrey, that your journeyings are done, since such things are not without danger. He who travels far out of the body may chance to return there no more.""But were they journeyings, or dreams?" I asked.
She evaded a direct answer. "I cannot say. My father has great powers. I do not know them all. It is possible that they were neither journeyings nor dreams. Mayhap he used you as the sorcerers in the old days used the magic glass, and after he had put his spell upon you, read in your mind that which passes elsewhere."
I understood her to refer to what we call clairvoyance, when the person entranced reveals secret or distant things to the entrancer. This is a more or less established phenomenon and much less marvelous than the actual transportation of the spiritual self through space. Only I never knew of an instance in which the seer, on awaking, remembered the things that he had seen, as in my case. There, however, the matter rested, or rests, for I could extract nothing more from Yva, who appeared to me to have her orders on the point.
Nor did Oro ever talk of what I had seemed to see in his company, although he continued from time to time to visit me at night. But now our conversation was of other matters. As Bastin had discovered, by some extraordinary gift he had soon learned how to read the English language, although he never spoke a single word in that tongue. Among our reference books that we brought from the yacht, was a thin paper edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which he borrowed when he discovered that it contained compressed information about the various countries of the world, also concerning almost every other matter. My belief is that within a month or so that marvelous old man not only read this stupendous work from end to end, but that he remembered everything of interest which it contained. At least, he would appear and show the fullest acquaintance with certain subjects or places, seeking further light from me concerning them, which very often I was quite unable to give him.
An accident, as it chanced, whereof I need not set out the details, caused me to discover that his remarkable knowledge was limited. Thus, at one period, he knew little about any modern topic which began with a letter later in the alphabet than, let us say, C. A few days afterwards he was acquainted with those up to F, or G; and so on till he reached Z, when he appeared to me to know everything, and returned the book. Now, indeed, he was a monument of learning, very ancient and very new, and with some Encyclopedia-garnered facts or deductions of what had happened between.
Moreover, he took to astronomical research, for more than once we saw him standing on the rock at night studying the heavens. On one of these occasions, when he had the two metal plates, of which I have spoken, in his hands, I ventured to approach and ask what he did. He replied that he was checking his calculations that he found to be quite correct, an exact period of two hundred and fifty thousand years having gone by since he laid himself down to sleep. Then, by aid of the plates, he pointed out to me certain alterations that had happened during that period in the positions of some of the stars.
For instance, he showed me one which, by help of my glasses, I recognised as Sirius, and remarked that two hundred and fifty thousand years ago it was further away and much smaller. Now it was precisely in the place and of the size which he had predicted, and he pointed to it on his prophetic map. Again he indicated a star that the night-glass told me was Capella, which, I suppose, is one of the most brilliant stars in the sky, and showed me that on the map he had made two hundred and fifty thousand years ago, it did not exist, as then it was too far north to appear thereon. Still, he observed, the passage of this vast period of time had produced but little effect upon the face of the heavens. To the human eye the majority of the stars had not moved so very far.
"And yet they travel fast, O Humphrey," he said. "Consider then how great is their journey between the time they gather and that day when, worn-out, once more they melt to vaporous gas. You think me long-lived who compared to them exist but a tiny fraction of a second, nearly all of which I have been doomed to pass in sleep. And, Humphrey, I desire to live--I, who have great plans and would shake the world. But my day draws in; a few brief centuries and I shall be gone, and--whither, whither?""If you lived as long as those stars, the end would be the same, Oro."
"Yes, but the life of the stars is very long, millions of
millions of years; also, after death, they reform, as other stars. But shall I reform as another Oro? With all my wisdom, I do not know. It is known to Fate only--Fate-the master of worlds and men and the gods they worship--Fate, whom it may please to spill my gathered knowledge, to be lost in the sands of Time."
"It seems that you are great," I said, "and have lived long and learned much. Yet the end of it is that your lot is neither worse nor better than that of us creatures of an hour."
"It is so, Humphrey. Presently you will die, and within a few centuries I shall die also and be as you are. You believe that you will live again eternally. It may be so because you do believe, since Fate allows Faith to shape the future, if only for a little while. But in me Wisdom has destroyed Faith and therefore I must die. Even if I sleep again for tens of thousands of years, what will it help me, seeing that sleep is
unconsciousness and that I shall only wake again to die, since sleep does not restore to us our youth?"
He ceased, and walked up and down the rock with a troubled mien. Then he stood in front of me and said in a triumphant voice:
"At least, while I live I will rule, and then let come what may come. I know that you do not believe, and the first victory of this new day of mine shall be to make you believe. I have great powers and you shall see them at work, and afterwards, if things go right, rule with me for a little while, perhaps, as the first of my subjects. Hearken now; in one small matter my calculations, made so long ago, have gone wrong. They showed me that at this time a day of earthquakes, such as those that again and again have rocked and split the world, would recur. But now it seems that there is an error, a tiny error of eleven hundred years, which must go by before those earthquakes come.""Are you sure," I suggested humbly, "that there is not also an error in those star-maps you hold?"
"I am sure, Humphrey. Some day, who knows? You may return to your world of modern men who, I gather, have knowledge of the great science of astronomy. Take now these maps with which I have done, and submit them to the most learned of those men, and let them tell you whether I was right or wrong in what I wrote upon this metal two hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Whatever else is false, at least the stars in their motions can never die."
Then he handed me the maps and was gone. I have them today, and if ever this book is published, they will appear with it, that those who are qualified may judge of them and of the truth or otherwise of Oro's words.
From that night forward for quite a long time I saw Oro no more. Nor indeed did any of us, since for some reason of his own he forbade us to visit the under ground city of Nyo. Oddly enough, however, he commanded Yva to bring down the spaniel, Tommy, to be with him from time to time. When I asked her why, she said it was because he was lonely and desired the dog's companionship. It seemed to us very strange that this super-man, who had the wisdom of ten Solomons gathered in one within his breast, should yet desire the company of a little dog. What then was the worth of learning and long life, or, indeed, of anything? Well, Solomon himself asked the question ages since, and could give no answer save that all is vanity.
I noted about this time that Yva began to grow very sad and troubled; indeed, looking at her suddenly on two or three occasions, I saw that her beautiful eyes were aswim with tears. Also, I noted that always as she grew sadder she became, in a sense, more human. In the beginning she was, as it were, far away. One could never forget that she was the child of some alien race whose eyes had looked upon the world when, by comparison, humanity was young; at times, indeed, she might have been the denizen of another planet, strayed to earth. Although she never flaunted it, one felt that her simplest word hid secret wisdom; that to her books were open in which we could not read. Moreover, as I have said, occasionally power flamed out of her, power that was beyond our ken and understanding.
Yet with all this there was nothing elfish about her, nothing uncanny. She was always kind, and, as we could feel, innately good and gentle-hearted, just a woman made half-divine by gifts and experience that others lack. She did not even make use of her wondrous beauty to madden men, as she might well have done had she been so minded. It is true that both Bastin and Bickley fell in love with her, but that was only because all with whom she had to do must love her, and then, when she told them that it might not be, it was in such a fashion that no soreness was left behind. They went on loving her, that was all, but as men love their sisters or their daughters; as we conceive that they may love in that land where there is no marrying or giving in marriage.
But now, in her sadness, she drew ever nearer to us, and especially to myself, more in tune with our age and thought. In truth, save for her royal and glittering loveliness in which there was some quality which proclaimed her of another blood, and for that reserve of hidden power which at times would look out of her eyes or break through her words, she might in most ways have been some singularly gifted and beautiful modern woman. The time has come when I must speak of my relations with Yva and of their climax. As may have been guessed, from the first I began to love her. While the weeks went on that love grew and grew, until it utterly possessed me, although for a certain reason connected with one dead, at first I fought against it. Yet it did not develop quite in the fashion that might have been expected. There was no blazing up of passion's fire; rather was there an ever-increasing glow of the holiest affection, till at last it became a lamp by which I must guide my feet through life and death. This love of mine seemed not of earth but from the stars. As yet I had said nothing to her of it because in some way I felt that she did not wish me to do so, felt also that she was well aware of all that passed within my heart, and desired, as it were, to give it time to ripen there. Then one day there came a change, and though no glance or touch of Yva's told me so, I knew that the bars were taken down and that I might speak.
It was a night of full moon. All that afternoon she had been talking to Bastin apart, I suppose about religion, for I saw that he had some books in his hand from which he was expounding something to her in his slow, earnest way. Then she came and sat with us while we took our evening meal. I remember that mine consisted of some of the Life-water which she had brought with her and fruit, for, as I think I have said, I had acquired her
dislike to meat, also that she ate some plantains, throwing the skins for Tommy to fetch and laughing at his play. When it was over, Bastin and Bickley went away together, whether by chance or design I do not know, and she said to me suddenly:
"Humphrey, you have often asked me about the city Pani, of which a little portion of the ruins remains upon this island, the rest being buried beneath the waters. If you wish I will show you where our royal palace was before the barbarians destroyed it with their airships. The moon is very bright, and by it we can see."
I nodded, for, knowing what she meant, somehow I could not answer her, and we began the ascent of the hill. She explained to me the plan of the palace when we reached the ruins, showing me where her own apartments had been, and the rest. It was very strange to hear her quietly telling of buildings which had stood and of things that had happened over two hundred and fifty thousand years before, much as any modern lady might do of a house that had been destroyed a month ago by an earthquake or a Zeppelin bomb, while she described the details of a disaster which now frightened her no more. I think it was then that for the first time I really began to believe that in fact Yva had lived all those aeons since and been as she still appeared.
We passed from the palace to the ruins of the temple, through what, as she said, had been a pleasure-garden, pointing out where a certain avenue of rare palms had grown, down which once it was her habit to walk in the cool of the day. Or, rather, there were two terraced temples, one dedicated to Fate like that in the underground city of Nyo, and the other to Love. Of the temple to Fate she told me her father had been the High Priest, and of the temple to Love she was the High Priestess.Then it was that I understood why she had brought me here.
She led the way to a marble block covered with worn-out carvings and almost buried in the debris. This, she said, was the altar of offerings. I asked her what offerings, and she replied with a smile:
"Only wine, to signify the spirit of life, and flowers to symbolise its fragrance," and she laid her finger on a cup-like depression, still apparent in the marble, into which the wine was poured.
Indeed, I gathered that there was nothing coarse or bacchanalian about this worship of a prototype of Aphrodite; on the contrary, that it was more or less spiritual and ethereal. We sat down on the altar stone. I wondered a little that she should have done so, but she read my thought, and answered:
"Sometimes we change our faiths, Humphrey, or perhaps they grow. Also, have I not told you that sacrifices were offered on this altar?" and she sighed and smiled.I do not know which was the sweeter, the smile or the sigh.
We looked at the water glimmering in the crater beneath us on the edge of which we sat. We looked at heaven above in which the great moon sailed royally. Then we looked into each other's eyes."I love you," I said.
"I know it," she answered gently. "You have loved me from the first, have you not? Even when I lay asleep in the coffin you began to love me, but until you dreamed a certain dream you would not admit it.""Yva, what was the meaning of that dream?"