The Jewel of Seven Stars - Page 36

We were silent for a while. Doctor Winchester was the first to speak:

"What is the proper time? Have you any approximation, even if you arenot satisfied as to the exact day?" He answered at once:

"After the most anxious thought I have fixed on July 31!"

"May I ask why that date?" He spoke his answer slowly:

"Queen Tera was ruled in great degree by mysticism, and there are somany evidences that she looked for resurrection that naturally shewould choose a period ruled over by a God specialised to such apurpose. Now, the fourth month of the season of Inundation was ruledby Harmachis, this being the name for 'Ra', the Sun-God, at his risingin the morning, and therefore typifying the awakening or arising. Thisarising is manifestly to physical life, since it is of the mid-world ofhuman daily life. Now as this month begins on our 25th July, theseventh day would be July 31st, for you may be sure that the mysticQueen would not have chosen any day but the seventh or some power ofseven.

"I dare say that some of you have wondered why our preparations havebeen so deliberately undertaken. This is why! We must be ready inevery possible way when the time comes; but there was no use in havingto wait round for a needless number of days."

And so we waited only for the 31st of July, the next day but one, whenthe Great Experiment would be made.

Chapter XVII

Doubts and Fears

We learn of great things by little experiences. The history of ages isbut an indefinite repetition of the history of hours. The record of asoul is but a multiple of the story of a moment. The Recording Angelwrites in the Great Book in no rainbow tints; his pen is dipped in nocolours but light and darkness. For the eye of infinite wisdom thereis no need of shading. All things, all thoughts, all emotions, allexperiences, all doubts and hopes and fears, all intentions, all wishesseen down to the lower strata of their concrete and multitudinouselements, are finally resolved into direct opposites.

Did any human being wish for the epitome of a life wherein weregathered and grouped all the experiences that a child of Adam couldhave, the history, fully and frankly written, of my own mind during thenext forty-eight hours would afford him all that could be wanted. Andthe Recorder could have wrought as usual in sunlight and shadow, whichmay be taken to represent the final expressions of Heaven and Hell.For in the highest Heaven is Faith; and Doubt hangs over the yawningblackness of Hell.

There were of course times of sunshine in those two days; moments when,in the realisation of Margaret's sweetness and her love for me, alldoubts were dissipated like morning mist before the sun. But thebalance of the time--and an overwhelming balance it was--gloom hungover me like a pall. The hour, in whose coming I had acquiesced, wasapproaching so quickly and was already so near that the sense offinality was bearing upon me! The issue was perhaps life or death toany of us; but for this we were all prepared. Margaret and I were oneas to the risk. The question of the moral aspect of the case, whichinvolved the religious belief in which I had been reared, was not oneto trouble me; for the issues, and the causes that lay behind them,were not within my power even to comprehend. The doubt of the successof the Great Experiment was such a doubt as exists in all enterpriseswhich have great possibilities. To me, whose life was passed in aseries of intellectual struggles, this form of doubt was a stimulus,rather than deterrent. What then was it that made for me a trouble,which became an anguish when my thoughts dwelt long on it?

I was beginning to doubt Margaret!

What it was that I doubted I knew not. It was not her love, or herhonour, or her truth, or her kindness, or her zeal. What then was it?

It was herself!

Margaret was changing! At times during the past few days I had hardlyknown her as the same girl whom I had met at the picnic, and whosevigils I had shared in the sick-room of her father. Then, even in hermoments of greatest sorrow or fright or anxiety, she was all life andthought and keenness. Now she was generally distraite, and at times ina sort of negative condition as though her mind--her very being--wasnot present. At such moments she would have full possession ofobservation and memory. She would know and remember all that was goingon, and had gone on around her; but her coming back to her old self hadto me something the sensation of a new person coming into the room. Upto the time of leaving London I had been content whenever she waspresent. I had over me that delicious sense of security which comeswith the consciousness that love is mutual. But now doubt had takenits place. I never knew whether the personality present was myMargaret--the old Margaret whom I had loved at the first glance--or theother new Margaret, whom I hardly understood, and whose intellectualaloofness made an impalpable barrier between us. Sometimes she wouldbecome, as it were, awake all at once. At such times, though she wouldsay to me sweet and pleasant things which she had often said before,she would seem most unlike herself. It was almost as if she wasspeaking parrot-like or at dictation of one who could read words oracts, but not thoughts. After one or two experiences of this kind, myown doubting began to make a barrier; for I could not speak with theease and freedom which were usual to me. And so hour by hour wedrifted apart. Were it not for the few odd moments when the oldMargaret was back with me full of her charm I do not know what wouldhave happened. As it was, each such moment gave me a fresh start andkept my love from changing.

I would have given the world for a confidant; but this was impossible.How could I speak a doubt of Margaret to anyone, even her father! Howcould I speak a doubt to Margaret, when Margaret herself was the theme!I could only endure--and hope. And of the two the endurance was thelesser pain.

I think that Margaret must have at times felt that there was some cloudbetween us, for towards the end of the first day she began to shun me alittle; or perhaps it was that she had become more diffident that usualabout me. Hitherto she had sought every opportunity of being with me,just as I had tried to be with her; so that now any avoidance, one ofthe other, made a new pain to us both.

On this day the household seemed very still. Each one of us was abouthis own work, or occupied with his own thoughts. We only met at mealtimes; and then, though we talked, all seemed more or less preoccupied.There was not in the house even the stir of the routine of service.The precaution of Mr. Trelawny in having three rooms prepared for eachof us had rendered servants unnecessary. The dining-room was solidlyprepared with cooked provisions for several days. Towards evening Iwent out by myself for a stroll. I had looked for Margaret to ask herto come with me; but when I found her, she was in one of her apatheticmoods, and the charm of her presence seemed lost to me. Angry withmyself, but unable to quell my own spirit of discontent, I went outalone over the rocky headland.

On the cliff, with the wide expanse of wonderful sea before me, and nosound but the dash of waves below and the harsh screams of the seagullsabove, my thoughts ran free. Do what I would, they returnedcontinuously to one subject, the solving of the doubt that was upon me.Here in the solitude, amid the wide circle of Nature's force andstrife, my mind began to work truly. Unconsciously I found myselfasking a question which I would not allow myself to answer. At lastthe persistence of a mind working truly prevailed; I found myself faceto face with my doubt. The habit of my life began to assert itself,and I analysed the evidence before me.

It was so startling that I had to force myself into obedience tological effort. My starting-place was this: Margaret was changed--inwhat way, and by what means? Was it her character, or her mind, or hernature? for her physical appearance remained the same. I began togroup all that I had ever heard of her, beginning at her birth.

It was strange at the very first. She had been, according to Corbeck'sstatement, born of a dead mother during the time that her father andhis friend were in a trance in the tomb at Aswan. That trance waspresumably effected by a woman; a woman mummied, yet preserving as wehad every reason to believe from after experience, an astral bodysubject to a free will and an active intelligence. With that astralbody, space ceased to exist. The vast distance between London andAswan became as naught; and whatever power of necromancy the Sorceresshad might have been exercised over the dead mother, and possibly thedead child.

The dead child! Was it possible that the child was dead and was madealive again? Whence then came the animating spirit--the soul? Logicwas pointing the way to me now with a vengeance!

If the Egyptian belief was true for Egyptians, then the "Ka" of thedead Queen and her "Khu" could animate what she might choose. In suchcase Margaret would not be an individual at all, but simply a phase ofQueen Tera herself; an astral body obedient to her will!

Here I revolted against logic. Every fibre of my being resented such aconclusion. How could I believe that there was no Margaret at all; butjust an animated image, used by the Double of a woman of fortycenturies ago to its own ends...! Somehow, the outlook was brighter tome now, despite the new doubts.

At least I had Margaret!

Back swung the logical pendulum again. The child then was not dead.If so, had the Sorceress had anything to do with her birth at all? Itwas evident--so I took it again from Corbeck--that there was a strangelikeness between Margaret and the pictures of Queen Tera. How couldthis be? It could not be any birth-mark reproducing what had been inthe mother's mind; for Mrs. Trelawny had never seen the pictures. Nay,even her father had no

t seen them till he had found his way into thetomb only a few days before her birth. This phase I could not get ridof so easily as the last; the fibres of my being remained quiet. Thereremained to me the horror of doubt. And even then, so strange is themind of man, Doubt itself took a concrete image; a vast andimpenetrable gloom, through which flickered irregularly andspasmodically tiny points of evanescent light, which seemed to quickenthe darkness into a positive existence.

The remaining possibility of relations between Margaret and the mummiedQueen was, that in some occult way the Sorceress had power to changeplaces with the other. This view of things could not be so lightlythrown aside. There were too many suspicious circumstances to warrantthis, now that my attention was fixed on it and my intelligencerecognised the possibility. Hereupon there began to come into my mindall the strange incomprehensible matters which had whirled through ourlives in the last few days. At first they all crowded in upon me in ajumbled mass; but again the habit of mind of my working life prevailed,and they took order. I found it now easier to control myself; forthere was something to grasp, some work to be done; though it was of asorry kind, for it was or might be antagonistic to Margaret. ButMargaret was herself at stake! I was thinking of her and fighting forher; and yet if I were to work in the dark, I might be even harmful toher. My first weapon in her defence was truth. I must know andunderstand; I might then be able to act. Certainly, I could not actbeneficently without a just conception and recognition of the facts.Arranged in order these were as follows:

Firstly: the strange likeness of Queen Tera to Margaret who had beenborn in another country a thousand miles away, where her mother couldnot possibly have had even a passing knowledge of her appearance.

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