The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Chapter XVI. Powers--Old and New
The time wore away, wondrous slowly in some ways, wonderfully quickly in others. Today, in the new-found joyous certainty of the return of my love, I should have liked to have had Margaret all to myself. But this day was not for love or for lovemaking. The shadow of fearful expectation was over it. The more I thought over the coming experiment, the more strange it all seemed; and the more foolish were we who were deliberately entering upon it. It was all so stupendous, so mysterious, so unnecessary! The issues were so vast; the danger so strange, so unknown. Even if it should be successful, what new difficulties would it not raise. What changes might happen, did men know that the portals of the House of Death were not in very truth eternally fixed; and that the Dead could come forth again! Could we realize what it was for us modern mortals to be arrayed against the Gods of Old, with their mysterious powers gotten from natural forces, or begotten of them when the world was young. When land and water were forming themselves from out the primeval slime. When the very air was purifying itself from elemental dross. When the 'dragons of the prime' were changing their forms and their powers, made only to combat with geologic forces, to grow in accord with the new vegetable life which was springing up around them. When animals, when even man himself and man's advance were growths as natural as the" planetary movements, or the shining of the stars. Ay! and further back still, when as yet the Spirit which moved on the face of the waters had not spoken the words commanding to come into existence Light and the Life which followed it.
Nay, even beyond this was a still more overwhelming conjecture. The whole possibility of the Great Experiment to which we were now pledged was based on the reality of the existence of the Old Forces which seemed to be coming in contact with the New Civilization. That there were, and are, such cosmic forces we cannot doubt, and that the Intelligence, which is behind them, was and is. Were those primal and elemental forces controlled at any time by other than that Final Cause which Christendom holds as its very essence? If there were truth at all in the belief of Ancient Egypt then their Gods had real existence, real power, real force. Godhead is not a quality subject to the ills of mortals: as in its essence it is creative and recreative, it cannot die. Any belief to the contrary would be antagonistic to reason; for it would hold that a part is greater than the whole. If then the Old Gods held their forces, wherein was the supremacy of the new? Of course, if the Old Gods had lost their power, or if they never had any, the Experiment could not succeed. But if it should indeed succeed, or if there were a possibility of success, then we should be face to face with an inference so overwhelming that one hardly dared to follow it to its conclusion. This would be: that the struggle between Life and Death would no longer be a matter of the earth, earthy; that the war of supra-elemental forces would be moved from the tangible world of facts to the Mid-Region, wherever it may be, which is the home of the Gods. Did such a region exist? What was it that Milton saw with his blind eyes in the rays of poetic light falling between him and Heaven? Whence came that stupendous vision of the Evangelist which has for eighteen centuries held spellbound the intelligence of Christendom. Was there room in the Universe for opposing Gods; or if such there were, would the stronger allow manifestations of power on the part of the opposing Force which would tend to the weakening of His own teaching and designs? Surely, surely if this supposition were correct there would be some strange and awful development--something unexpected and unpredictable--before the end should be allowed to come!
The subject was too vast and, under the present conditions, too full of strange surmises. I dared not follow it! I set myself to wait in patience till the time should come.
Margaret remained divinely calm. I think I envied her, even whilst I admired and loved her for it. Mr. Trelawny was nervously anxious, as indeed were the other men. With him it took the form of movement; movement both of body and mind. In both respects he was restless, going from one place to another with or without a cause, or even a pretext; and changing from one subject of thought to another. Now and again he would show glimpses of the harrowing anxiety which filled him, by his manifest expectation of finding a similar condition in myself. He would be ever explaining things. And in his explanations I could see the way. in which he was turning over in his mind all the phenomena; all the possible causes; all the possible results. Once, in the midst of a most learned dissertation on the growth of Egyptian Astrology, he broke put on a different subject, or rather a branch or corollary of the same:
'I do not see why starlight may not have some subtle quality of its own! We know that other lights have special forces. The Rontgen Ray is not the only discovery to be made in the world of light. Sunlight has its own forces, that are not given to other lights. It warms wine; it quickens fungoid growth. Men are often moonstruck. Why not, then, a more subtle, if less active or powerful, force in the light of the stars. It should be a pure light coming through such vastness of space, and may have a quality which a pure, unimpulsive force may have. The time may not be far off when Astrology shall be accepted on a scientific basis. In the recrudescence of the art, many new experiences will be brought to bear; many new phases of old wisdom will appear in the light of fresh discovery, and afford bases for new reasoning. Men may find that what seemed empiric deductions were in reality the results of a loftier intelligence and a learning greater than our own. We know already that the whole of the living world is full of microbes of varying powers and of methods of working quite antagonistic. We do not know yet whether they can lie latent until quickened by some ray of light as yet unidentified as a separate and peculiar force. As yet we know nothing of what goes to create or evoke the active spark of life. We have no knowledge of the methods of conception; of the laws which govern molecular or foetal growth, of the final influences which attend birth. Year by year, day by day, hour by hour, we are learning; but the end is far, far off. It seems to me that we are now in that stage of intellectual progress in which the rough machinery for making discovery is being invented. Later on, we shall have enough of first principles to help us in the development of equipment for the true study of the inwardness of things. Then we may perhaps arrive at the perfection of means to an end which the scholars of Old Nile achieved at a time when Methuselah was beginning to brag about the number of his years, perhaps even when the great-grandchildren of Adam were coming to regard the old man as what our Transatlantic friends call a "back number". Is it possible, for instance, that the people who invented Astronomy did not finally use instruments of extraordinary precision; that applied optics was not a cult of some of the specialists in the Colleges of the Theban priesthood. The Egyptians were essentially specialists. It is true that, in so far as we can judge, the range of their study was limited to subjects connected with their aims of government on earth by controlling all that bore on the life to follow it. But can anyone imagine that by the eyes of men, unaided by lenses of wondrous excellence, Astronomy was brought to such a pitch that the true orientation of temples and pyramids and tombs followed for four thousand years the wanderings of the planetary systems in space. If an instance of their knowledge of microscopy is wanted let me hazard a conjecture. How was it that in their hieroglyphic writing they took as the symbol or determinative of "flesh" the very form which the science of today, relying on the revelations of a microscope of a thousand powers, gives to protoplasm--that unit of living organism which has been differentiated as Flagellula. If they could make analysis like this, why may they not have gone further? In that wonderful atmosphere of theirs, where sunlight fierce and clear is perpetually coexistent with day, where the dryness of earth and air gives perfect refraction, why may they not have learned secrets of light hidden from us in the density of our northern mists? May it not have been possible that they learned to store light, just as we have learned to store electricity. Nay more, is it not even possible that they did so: They must have had some form of artificial light which they used in the construction and adornment of those vast caverns hewn in the solid rock which became whole cemeteries of the dead. Why, some of these caverns, with their labyrinthine windings and endless passages and chambers, all sculptured and graven and painted with an elaboration of detail which absolutely bewilders one, must have taken years and years to complete. And yet in them is no mark of smoke, such as lamps or torches would have left behind them. Again, if they knew how to store light, is it not possible that they had learned to understand and separate its component elements? And if these men of old arrived at such a point, may not we too in the fullness of time? We shall see! We shall see!
'There is another matter, too, on which recent discoveries in science throw a light. It is only a glimmer at present; a glimmer sufficient to illuminate probabilities, rather than actualities, or even possibilities. The discoveries of the Curies and Laborde, of Sir William Crookes and Becquerel, may have far-reaching results on Egyptian investigation. This new metal, radium--or rather this old metal of which our knowledge is new--may have been known to the ancients. Indeed it may have been used thousands of years ago in greater degree than seems possible today. As yet Egypt has not been named as a place where the discovery of pitchblende, in which only as far as is known yet radium is contained, may be made. And yet-it is more than probable that radium exists in Egypt. That country has perhaps the greatest masses of granite to be found in the world; and pitchblende is found as a vein in granitic rocks. In no place, at no time, has granite ever been quarried in such proportions as in Egypt during the earlier dynasties. Who may say what great' veins of pitchblende may not have been found in the gigantic operations of hewing out columns for the temples, or great stones for the pyramids. Why, veins of pitchblende, of a richness unknown in our recent mines in Cornwall, or Bohemia, or Saxony, or Hungary, or Turkey, or Colorado, may have been found by these old quarrymen of Aswan, or Turra, or Mokattam, or Elephantine.
'Beyond this again, it is possible that here and there amongst these vast granite quarries may have been found not merely veins but masses or pockets of pitchblende. In such case the power at the disposal of those who knew how to use it must have been wonderful. The learning of Egypt was kept amongst its priests, and in their vast colleges must have been men of great learning, men who knew well how to exercise to the best advantage, and in the direction they wished, the terrific forces at their command. And if pitchblende did and does exist in Egypt, do you not think that much of it must have been freed by the gradual attrition and wearing down of the granitic rocks? Time and weather bring in time all rocks to dust; the very sands of the desert, which in centuries have buried in this very land some of the greatest monuments of man's achievement, are the evidences of the fact. If, then, radium is divisible into such minute particles as the scientists tell us, it too must have been freed in time from its granite prison and left to work in the air. One might almost hazard a suggestion that the taking the scarab as the symbol of life may not have been without an empiric basis. Might it not be possible that Co-prophagi have power or instinct to seize upon the minute particles of heat-giving, light-giving--perhaps life-giving-- radium, and enclosing them with their ova in those globes of matter which they roll so assiduously, and from which they take their early name, Pilulariae. In the billions of tons of the desert waste there is surely mingled some proportion of each of the earths and rocks and metals of their zone; and, each to each, nature forms her living entities to flourish on those without life.
'Travellers tell us that glass left in tropic deserts changes colour, and darkens in the fierce sunlight, just as it does under the influence of the rays of radium. Does not this imply some sort of similarity between the two forces yet to be identified!'
These scientific, or quasi-scientific discussions soothed me. They took my mind from brooding on the mysteries of the occult, by attracting it to the wonders of nature.