And there, in the centre of the inmost court, that might have been some fifty yards square, or a little more, we stood face to face with what is perhaps the grandest allegorical work of Art that the genius of her children has ever given to the world. For in the exact centre of the court, placed upon a thick square slab of rock, was a huge round ball of dark stone, some twenty feet in diameter, and standing on the ball was a colossal winged figure of a beauty so entrancing and divine that when I first gazed upon it, illuminated and shadowed as it was by the soft light of the moon, my breath stood still, and for an instant my heart ceased its beating.
The statue was hewn from marble so pure and white that even now, after all those ages, it shone as the moonbeams danced upon it, and its height, I should say, was a trifle over twenty feet. It was the winged figure of a woman of such marvellous loveliness and delicacy of form that the size seemed rather to add to than to detract from its so human and yet more spiritual beauty. She stood bending forward and poising herself upon her half-spread wings as though to preserve her balance as she leant. Her arms were outstretched like those of some woman about to embrace one she dearly loved, while her whole attitude gave an impression of the tenderest beseeching. Her perfect and most gracious form was naked save – here came the extraordinary thing – the face, which was thinly veiled, so that we could only trace the marking of her features. A gauzy veil was thrown round and about the head, and its two ends one fell down across her left breast, which was outlined beneath it, and one, now broken, streamed away upon the air behind her.
‘Who is she?’ I asked, as soon as I could take my eyes off the statue.
‘Canst thou not guess, O Holly?’ answered Ayesha. ‘Where then is thy imagination? It is Truth standing on the World, and calling to its children to unveil her face. See what is writ upon the pedestal. Without doubt it is taken from the book of the Scriptures of these men of Kôr,’ and she led the way to the foot of the statue, where an inscription of the usual Chinese-looking hieroglyphics was so deeply graven as to be still quite legible, at least to Ayesha. According to her translation it ran thus:
‘Is there no man that will draw my veil and look upon my face, for it is very fair? Unto him who draws my veil shall I be, and I will give him peace, and sweet children of knowledge and good works.’
And a voice cried, ‘Though all those who seek after thee desire thee, behold! Virgin art thou, and Virgin thou shalt go till Time be done. There is no man born of woman who may draw thy veil and live, nor shall be. By Death only can thy veil be drawn, O Truth!’
And Truth stretched out her arms and wept, because those who wooed her might not win her, nor look upon her face to face.
‘Thou seest,’ said Ayesha, when she had finished translating, ‘Truth was the Goddess of these people of old Kôr, and to her they built their shrines, and her they sought; knowing that they should never find, still they sought.’
‘And so,’ I added sadly, ‘do men seek to this very hour, but they find it not; and, as this Scripture saith, nor shall they; for in Death only is Truth found.’