All this had taken time, and we were I think all surprised when as weemerged from the cave we heard the great clock in the hall chime four.
We had a late lunch, a thing possible without trouble in the presentstate of our commissariat arrangements. After it, by Mr. Trelawny'sadvice, we separated; each to prepare in our own way for the strain ofthe coming night. Margaret looked pale and somewhat overwrought, so Iadvised her to lie down and try to sleep. She promised that she would.The abstraction which had been upon her fitfully all day lifted for thetime; with all her old sweetness and loving delicacy she kissed megood-bye for the present! With the sense of happiness which this gaveme I went out for a walk on the cliffs. I did not want to think; and Ihad an instinctive feeling that fresh air and God's sunlight, and themyriad beauties of the works of His hand would be the best preparationof fortitude for what was to come.
When I got back, all the party were assembling for a late tea. Comingfresh from the exhilaration of nature, it struck me as almost comicthat we, who were nearing the end of so strange--almost monstrous--anundertaking, should be yet bound by the needs and habits of our lives.
All the men of the party were grave; the time of seclusion, even if ithad given them rest, had also given opportunity for thought. Margaretwas bright, almost buoyant; but I missed about her something of herusual spontaneity. Towards myself there was a shadowy air of reserve,which brought back something of my suspicion. When tea was over, shewent out of the room; but returned in a minute with the roll of drawingwhich she had taken with her earlier in the day. Coming close to Mr.Trelawny, she said:
"Father, I have been carefully considering what you said today aboutthe hidden meaning of those suns and hearts and 'Ka's', and I have beenexamining the drawings again."
"And with what result, my child?" asked Mr. Trelawny eagerly.
"There is another reading possible!"
"And that?" His voice was now tremulous with anxiety. Margaret spokewith a strange ring in her voice; a ring that cannot be, unless thereis the consciousness of truth behind it:
"It means that at the sunset the 'Ka' is to enter the 'Ab'; and it isonly at the sunrise that it will leave it!"
"Go on!" said her father hoarsely.
"It means that for this night the Queen's Double, which is otherwisefree, will remain in her heart, which is mortal and cannot leave itsprison-place in the mummy-shrouding. It means that when the sun hasdropped into the sea, Queen Tera will cease to exist as a consciouspower, till sunrise; unless the Great Experiment can recall her towaking life. It means that there will be nothing whatever for you orothers to fear from her in such way as we have all cause to remember.Whatever change may come from the working of the Great Experiment,there can come none from the poor, helpless, dead woman who has waitedall those centuries for this night; who has given up to the coming hourall the freedom of ete
rnity, won in the old way, in hope of a new lifein a new world such as she longed for...!" She stopped suddenly. Asshe had gone on speaking there had come with her words a strangepathetic, almost pleading, tone which touched me to the quick. As shestopped, I could see, before she turned away her head, that her eyeswere full of tears.
For once the heart of her father did not respond to her feeling. Helooked exultant, but with a grim masterfulness which reminded me of theset look of his stern face as he had lain in the trance. He did notoffer any consolation to his daughter in her sympathetic pain. He onlysaid:
"We may test the accuracy of your surmise, and of her feeling, when thetime comes!" Having said so, he went up the stone stairway and into hisown room. Margaret's face had a troubled look as she gazed after him.
Strangely enough her trouble did not as usual touch me to the quick.
When Mr. Trelawny had gone, silence reigned. I do not think that anyof us wanted to talk. Presently Margaret went to her room, and I wentout on the terrace over the sea. The fresh air and the beauty of allbefore helped to restore the good spirits which I had known earlier inthe day. Presently I felt myself actually rejoicing in the belief thatthe danger which I had feared from the Queen's violence on the comingnight was obviated. I believed in Margaret's belief so thoroughly thatit did not occur to me to dispute her reasoning. In a lofty frame ofmind, and with less anxiety than I had felt for days, I went to my roomand lay down on the sofa.
I was awaked by Corbeck calling to me, hurriedly:
"Come down to the cave as quickly as you can. Mr. Trelawny wants tosee us all there at once. Hurry!"
I jumped up and ran down to the cave. All were there except Margaret,who came immediately after me carrying Silvio in her arms. When thecat saw his old enemy he struggled to get down; but Margaret held himfast and soothed him. I looked at my watch. It was close to eight.
When Margaret was with us her father said directly, with a quietinsistence which was new to me:
"You believe, Margaret, that Queen Tera has voluntarily undertaken togive up her freedom for this night? To become a mummy and nothingmore, till the Experiment has been completed? To be content that sheshall be powerless under all and any circumstances until after all isover and the act of resurrection has been accomplished, or the efforthas failed?" After a pause Margaret answered in a low voice:
In the pause her whole being, appearance, expression, voice, manner hadchanged. Even Silvio noticed it, and with a violent effort wriggledaway from her arms; she did not seem to notice the act. I expectedthat the cat, when he had achieved his freedom, would have attacked themummy; but on this occasion he did not. He seemed too cowed toapproach it. He shrunk away, and with a piteous "miaou" came over andrubbed himself against my ankles. I took him up in my arms, and henestled there content. Mr. Trelawny spoke again:
"You are sure of what you say! You believe it with all your soul?"Margaret's face had lost the abstracted look; it now seemed illuminatedwith the devotion of one to whom is given to speak of great things.She answered in a voice which, though quiet, vibrated with conviction:
"I know it! My knowledge is beyond belief!" Mr. Trelawny spoke again:
"Then you are so sure, that were you Queen Tera herself, you would bewilling to prove it in any way that I might suggest?"
"Yes, any way!" the answer rang out fearlessly. He spoke again, in avoice in which was no note of doubt:
"Even in the abandonment of your Familiar to death--to annihilation."
She paused, and I could see that she suffered--suffered horribly.There was in her eyes a hunted look, which no man can, unmoved, see inthe eyes of his beloved. I was about to interrupt, when her father'seyes, glancing round with a fierce determination, met mine. I stoodsilent, almost spellbound; so also the other men. Something was goingon before us which we did not understand!
With a few long strides Mr. Trelawny went to the west side of the caveand tore back the shutter which obscured the window. The cool air blewin, and the sunlight streamed over them both, for Margaret was now byhis side. He pointed to where the sun was sinking into the sea in ahalo of golden fire, and his face was as set as flint. In a voicewhose absolute uncompromising hardness I shall hear in my ears at timestill my dying day, he said: