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I think that both Bastin and Bickley, by instinct as it were, knew what had passed between Yva and myself and that she had promised herself to me. They showed this by the way in which they avoided any mention of her name. Also they began to talk of their own plans for the future as matters in which I had no part. Thus I heard them discussing the possibility of escape from the island whereof suddenly they seemed to have grown weary, and whether by any means two men (two, not three) could manage to sail and steer the lifeboat that remained upon the wreck. In short, as in all such cases, the woman had come between; also the pressure of a common loss caused them to forget their differences and to draw closer together. I who had succeeded where they both had failed, was, they seemed to think, out of their lives, so much that our ancient intimacy had ended.
This attitude hurt me, perhaps because in many respects the situation was awkward. They had, it is true, taken their failures extremely well, still the fact remained that both of them had fallen in love with the wonderful creature, woman and yet more than woman, who had bound herself to me. How then could we go on living together, I in prospective possession of the object that all had desired, and they without the pale?
Moreover, they were jealous in another and quite a different fashion because they both loved me in their own ways and were convinced that I who had hitherto loved them, henceforward should have no affection left to spare, since surely this Glittering Lady, this marvel of wisdom and physical perfections would take it all. Of course they were in error, since even if I could have been so base and selfish, this was no conduct that Yva would have wished or even suffered. Still that was their thought.
Mastering the situation I reflected a little while and then spoke straight out to them.
"My friends," I said, "as I see that you have guessed, Yva and I are affianced to each other and love each other perfectly."
"Yes, Arbuthnot," said Bastin, "we saw that in your face, and in hers as she bade us good night before she went into the cave, and we congratulate you and wish you every happiness."
"We wish you every happiness, old fellow," chimed in Bickley. He paused a while, then added, "But to be honest, I am not sure that I congratulate you."
"Why not, Bickley?"
"Not for the reason that you may suspect, Arbuthnot, I mean not because you have won where we have lost, as it was only to be expected that you would do, but on account of something totally different. I told you a while ago and repetition is useless and painful. I need only add therefore that since then my conviction has strengthened and I am sure, sorry as I am to say it, that in this matter you must prepare for disappointment and calamity. That woman, if woman she really is, will never be the wife of mortal man. Now be angry with me if you like, or laugh as you have the right to do, seeing that like Bastin and yourself, I also asked her to marry me, but something makes me speak what I believe to be the truth."
"Like Cassandra," I suggested.
"Yes, like Cassandra who was not a popular person." At first I was inclined to resent Bickley's words--who would not have been in the circumstances? Then of a sudden there rushed in upon my mind the conviction that he spoke the truth. In this world Yva was not for me or any man. Moreover she knew it, the knowledge peeped out of every word she spoke in our passionate love scene by the lake. She was aware, and subconsciously I was aware, that we were plighting our troth, not for time but for eternity. With time we had little left to do; not for long would she wear the ring I gave her on that holy night.
Even Bastin, whose perceptions normally were not acute, felt that the situation was strained and awkward and broke in with a curious air of forced satisfaction:
"It's uncommonly lucky for you, old boy, that you happen to have a clergyman in your party, as I shall be able to marry you in a respectable fashion. Of course I can't say that the Glittering Lady is as yet absolutely converted to our faith, but I am certain that she has absorbed enough of its principles to justify me in uniting her in Christian wedlock."
"Yes," I answered, "she has absorbed its principles; she told me as much herself. Sacrifice, for instance," and as I spoke the word my eyes filled with tears.
"Sacrifice!" broke in Bickley with an angry snort, for he needed a vent to his mental disturbance. "Rubbish. Why should every religion demand sacrifice as savages do? By it alone they stand condemned."
"Because as I think, sacrifice is the law of life, at least of all life that is worth the living," I answered sadly enough. "Anyhow I believe you are right, Bickley, and that Bastin will not be troubled to marry us."
"You don't mean," broke in Bastin with a horrified air, "that you propose to dispense--"
"No, Bastin, I don't mean that. What I mean is that it comes upon me that something will prevent this marriage. Sacrifice, perhaps, though in what shape I do not know. And now good night. I am tired."
That night in the chill dead hour before the dawn Oro came again. I woke up to see him seated by my bed, majestic, and, as it seemed to me, lambent, though this may have been my imagination.
"You take strange liberties with my daughter, Barbarian, or she takes strange liberties with you, it does not matter which," he said, regarding me with his calm and terrible eyes.
"Why do you presume to call me Barbarian?" I asked, avoiding the main issue.
"For this reason, Humphrey. All men are the same. They have the same organs, the same instincts, the same desires, which in essence are but two, food and rebirth that Nature commands; though it is true that millions of years before I was born, as I have learned from the records of the Sons of Wisdom, it was said that they were half ape. Yet being the same there is between them a whole sea of difference, since some have knowledge and others none, or little. Those who have none or little, among whom you must be numbered, are Barbarians. Those who have much, among whom my daughter and I are the sole survivors, are the Instructed."
"There are nearly two thousand millions of living people in this world," I said, "and you name all of them Barbarians?"
"All, Humphrey, excepting, of course, myself and my daughter who are not known to be alive. You think that you have learned much, whereas in truth you are most ignorant. The commonest of the outer nations, when I destroyed them, knew more than your wisest know today."
"You are mistaken, Oro; since then we have learned something of the soul."
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When the World Shook -by- H. Rider Haggard