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"Oh! thank you," said Bastin, "that fits in exactly. It was just the same in Noah's time."
"I pray that it is not just the same now," said Oro, rising. "To-morrow we will return, or if I do not who have much that I must do, the lady my daughter will return and speak with you further."
He departed into the cave, Yva following at a little distance.
I accompanied her as far as the mouth of the cave, as did Tommy, who all this time had been sitting contentedly upon the hem of her gorgeous robe, quite careless of its immemorial age, if it was immemorial and not woven yesterday, a point on which I had no information.
"Lady Yva," I said, "did I rightly understand the Lord Oro to say that he was a thousand years old?"
"Yes, O Humphrey, and really he is more, or so I think."
"Then are you a thousand years old also?" I asked, aghast.
"No, no," she replied, shaking her head, "I am young, quite young, for I do not count my time of sleep."
"Certainly you look it," I said. "But what, Lady Yva, do you mean by young?"
She answered my question by another.
"What age are your women when they are as I am?"
"None of our women were ever quite like you, Lady Yva. Yet, say from twenty-five to thirty years of age."
"Ah! I have been counting and now I remember. When my father sent me to sleep I was twenty-seven years old. No, I will not deceive you, I was twenty-seven years and three moons." Then, saying something to the effect that she would return, she departed, laughing a little in a mischievous way, and, although I did not observe this till afterwards, Tommy departed with her.
When I repeated what she had said to Bastin and Bickley, who were standing at a distance straining their ears and somewhat aggrieved, the former remarked:
"If she is twenty-seven her father must have married late in life, though of course it may have been a long while before he had children."
Then Bickley, who had been suppressing himself all this while, went off like a bomb.
"Do you tell us, Bastin," he asked, "that you believe one word of all this ghastly rubbish? I mean as to that antique charlatan being a thousand years old and having caused the Flood and the rest?"
"If you ask me, Bickley, I see no particular reason to doubt it at present. A person who can go to sleep in a glass coffin kept warm by a pocketful of radium together with very accurate maps of the constellations at the time he wakes up, can, I imagine, do most things."
"Even cause the Deluge," jeered Bickley.
"I don't know about the Deluge, but perhaps he may have been permitted to cause a deluge. Why not? You can't look at things from far enough off, Bickley. And if something seems big to you, you conclude that therefore it is impossible. The same Power which gives you skill to succeed in an operation, that hitherto was held impracticable, as I know you have done once or twice, may have given that old fellow power to cause a deluge. You should measure the universe and its possibilities by worlds and not by acres, Bickley."
"And believe, I suppose, that a man can live a thousand years, whereas we know well that he cannot live more than about a hundred."
"You don't know anything of the sort, Bickley. All you know is that over the brief period of history with which we are acquainted, say ten thousand years at most, men have only lived to about a hundred. But the very rocks which you are so fond of talking about, tell us that even this planet is millions upon millions of years of age. Who knows then but that at some time in its history, men did not live for a thousand years, and that lost civilisations did not exist of which this Oro and his daughter may be two survivors?"
"There is no proof of anything of the sort," said Bickley.
"I don't know about proof, as you understand it, though I have read in Plato of a continent called Atlantis that was submerged, according to the story of old Egyptian priests. But personally I have every proof, for it is all written down in the Bible at which you turn tip your nose, and I am very glad that I have been lucky enough to come across this unexpected confirmation of the story. Not that it matters much, since I should have learned all about it when it pleases Providence to remove me to a better world, which in our circumstances may happen any day. Now I must change my clothes before I see to the cooking and other things."
"I am bound to admit," said Bickley, looking after him, "that old Bastin is not so stupid as he seems. From his point of view the arguments he advances are quite logical. Moreover I think he is right when he says that we look at things through the wrong end of the telescope. After all the universe is very big and who knows what may happen there? Who knows even what may have happened on this little earth during the aeons of its existence, whenever its balance chanced to shift, as the Ice Ages show us it has often done? Still I believe that old Oro to be a Prince of Liars."
"That remains to be proved," I answered cautiously. "All I know is that he is a wonderfully learned person of most remarkable appearance, and that his daughter is the loveliest creature I ever saw."
"There I agree," said Bickley decidedly, "and as brilliant as she is lovely. If she belongs to a past civilisation, it is a pity that it ever became extinct. Now let's go and have a nap. Bastin will call us when supper is ready."
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When the World Shook -by- H. Rider Haggard