I answered in the affirmative, and further added that I had a husband and a son.
The effect of a confession so simple, and so natural, wounded and amazed me.
The Preceptress started back with a look of loathing and abhorrence; but it was almost instantly succeeded by one of compassion.
“You have much to learn,” she said gently, “and I desire not to judge you harshly. You are the product of a people far back in the darkness of civilization. We are a people who have passed beyond the boundary of what was once called Natural Law. But, more correctly, we have become mistresses of Nature’s peculiar processes. We influence or control them at will. But before giving you any further explanation I will show you the gallery containing the portraits of our very ancient ancestors.”
She then conducted me into a remote part of the National College, and sliding back a panel containing a magnificent painting, she disclosed a long gallery, the existence of which I had never suspected, although I knew their custom of using ornamented sliding panels instead of doors. Into this I followed her with wonder and increasing surprise. Paintings on canvas, old and dim with age; paintings on porcelain, and a peculiar transparent material, of which I have previously spoken, hung so thick upon the wall you could not have placed a hand between them. They were all portraits of men. Some were represented in the ancient or mediaeval costumes of my own ancestry, and some in garbs resembling our modern styles.
Some had noble countenances, and some bore on their painted visages the unmistakable stamp of passion and vice. It is not complimentary to myself to confess it, but I began to feel an odd kind of companionship in this assembly of good and evil looking men, such as I had not felt since entering this land of pre-eminently noble and lovely women.
As I gazed upon them, arrayed in the armor of some stern warrior, or the velvet doublet of some gay cavalier, the dark eyes of a debonair knight looked down upon me with familiar fellowship. There was pride of birth, and the passion of conquest in every line of his haughty, sensuous face. I seemed to breathe the same moral atmosphere that had surrounded me in the outer world.
They had lived among noble and ignoble deeds I felt sure. They had been swayed by conflicting desires. They had known temptation and resistance, and reluctant compliance. They had experienced the treachery and ingratitude of humanity, and had dealt in it themselves. They had known joy as I had known it, and their sorrow had been as my sorrows. They had loved as I had loved, and sinned as I had sinned, and suffered as I had suffered.
I wept for the first time since my entrance into Mizora, the bitter tears of actual experience, and endeavored to convey to the Preceptress some idea of the painful emotion that possessed me.
“I have noticed,” she said, “in your own person and the descriptions you have given of your native country, a close resemblance to the people and history of our nation in ages far remote. These portraits are very old. The majority of them were painted many thousands of years ago. It is only by our perfect knowledge of color that we are enabled to preserve them. Some have been copied by expert artists upon a material manufactured by us for that purpose. It is a transparent adamant that possesses no refractive power, consequently the picture has all the advantage of a painting on canvas, with the addition of perpetuity. They can never fade nor decay.”
“I am astonished at the existence of this gallery,” I exclaimed. “I have observed a preference for sliding panels instead of doors, and that they were often decorated with paintings of rare excellence, but I had never suspected the existence of this gallery behind one of them.”
“Any student,” said the Preceptress, “who desires to become conversant with our earliest history, can use this gallery. It is not a secret, for nothing in Mizora is concealed; but we do not parade its existence, nor urge upon students an investigation of its history. They are so far removed from the moral imbecility that dwarfed the nature of these people, that no lesson can be learned from their lives; and their time can be so much more profitably spent in scientific research and study.”
“You have not, then, reached the limits of scientific knowledge?” I wonderingly inquired, for, to me, they had already overstepped its imaginary pale.
“When we do we shall be able to create intellect at will. We govern to a certain extent the development of physical life; but the formation of the brain — its intellectual force, or capacity I should say — is beyond our immediate skill. Genius is yet the product of long cultivation.”
I had observed that dark hair and eyes were as indiscriminately mingled in these portraits as I had been accustomed to find them in the living people of my own and other countries. I drew the Preceptress’ attention to it.
“We believe that the highest excellence of moral and mental character is alone attainable by a fair race. The elements of evil belong to the dark race.”
“And were the people of this country once of mixed complexions?”
“As you see in the portraits? Yes,” was the reply.
“And what became of the dark complexions?”
“We eliminated them.”
I was too astonished to speak and stood gazing upon the handsome face of a young man in a plumed hat and lace-frilled doublet. The dark eyes had a haughty look, like a man proud of his lineage and his sex.
“Let us leave this place,” said the Preceptress presently. “It always has a depressing effect upon me.”
“In what way?” I asked.
“By the degradation of the human race that they force me to recall.”
I followed her out to a seat on one of the small porticoes.
In candidly expressing herself about the dark complexions, my companion had no intention or thought of wounding my feelings. So rigidly do they adhere to the truth in Mizora that it is of all other things pre-eminent, and is never supposed to give offense. The Preceptress but gave expression to the belief inculcated by centuries of the teachings and practices of her ancestors. I was not offended. It was her conviction. Besides, I had the consolation of secretly disagreeing with her. I am still of the opinion that their admirable system of government, social and political, and their encouragement and provision for universal culture of so high an order, had more to do with the formation of superlative character than the elimination of the dark complexion.
The Preceptress remained silent a long time, apparently absorbed in the beauty of the landscape that stretched before us. The falling waters of a fountain was all the sound we heard. The hour was auspicious. I was so eager to develop a revelation of the mystery about these people that I became nervous over my companion’s protracted silence. I felt a delicacy in pressing inquiries concerning information that I thought ought to be voluntarily given. Inquisitiveness was regarded as a gross rudeness by them, and I could frame no question that I did not fear would sound impertinent. But at last patience gave way and, at the risk of increasing her commiseration for my barbarous mental condition, I asked:
“Are you conversant with the history of the times occupied by the originals of the portraits we have just seen?”
“I am,” she replied.
“And would you object to giving me a condensed recital of it?”
“Not if it can do you any good?”
“What has become of their descendants — of those portraits?”
“They became extinct thousands of years ago.”
She became silent again, lost in reverie. The agitation of my mind was not longer endurable. I was too near the acme of curiosity to longer delay. I threw reserve aside and not without fear and trembling faltered out:
“Where are the men of this country? Where do they stay?”
“There are none,” was the startling reply. “The race became extinct three thousand years ago.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57