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Title: Lilith: A Romance
Author: MacDonald, George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LILITH

By George MacDonald



I took a walk on Spaulding’s Farm the other afternoon. I saw the setting
sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood. Its golden
rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. I
was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining
family had settled there in that part of the land called Concord,
unknown to me,--to whom the sun was servant,--who had not gone into
society in the village,--who had not been called on. I saw their
park, their pleasure-ground, beyond through the wood, in Spaulding’s
cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them with gables as they grew.
Their house was not obvious to vision; their trees grew through it. I
do not know whether I heard the sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not.
They seemed to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and daughters.
They are quite well. The farmer’s cart-path, which leads directly
through their hall, does not in the least put them out,--as the muddy
bottom of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected skies.
They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know that he is their
neighbor,--notwithstanding I heard him whistle as he drove his team
through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their
coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the pines and oaks.
Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are of no politics.
There was no noise of labor. I did not perceive that they were weaving
or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done
away, the finest imaginable sweet musical hum,--as of a distant hive in
May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle
thoughts, and no one without could see their work, for their industry
was not as in knots and excrescences embayed.

But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably out
of my mind even now while I speak and endeavor to recall them, and
recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious effort to
recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their
cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this, I think I should
move out of Concord.

Thoreau: “WALKING.”



CHAPTER I. THE LIBRARY

I had just finished my studies at Oxford, and was taking a brief holiday
from work before assuming definitely the management of the estate. My
father died when I was yet a child; my mother followed him within a
year; and I was nearly as much alone in the world as a man might find
himself.

I had made little acquaintance with the history of my ancestors. Almost
the only thing I knew concerning them was, that a notable number of them
had been given to study. I had myself so far inherited the tendency as
to devote a good deal of my time, though, I confess, after a somewhat
desultory fashion, to the physical sciences. It was chiefly the wonder
they woke that drew me. I was constantly seeing, and on the outlook to
see, strange analogies, not only between the facts of different sciences
of the same order, or between physical and metaphysical facts, but
between physical hypotheses and suggestions glimmering out of the
metaphysical dreams into which I was in the habit of falling. I was at
the same time much given to a premature indulgence of the impulse to
turn hypothesis into theory. Of my mental peculiarities there is no
occasion to say more.

The house as well as the family was of some antiquity, but no
description of it is necessary to the understanding of my narrative.
It contained a fine library, whose growth began before the invention
of printing, and had continued to my own time, greatly influenced, of
course, by changes of taste and pursuit. Nothing surely can more impress
upon a man the transitory nature of possession than his succeeding to
an ancient property! Like a moving panorama mine has passed from before
many eyes, and is now slowly flitting from before my own.

The library, although duly considered in many alterations of the house
and additions to it, had nevertheless, like an encroaching state,
absorbed one room after another until it occupied the greater part of
the ground floor. Its chief room was large, and the walls of it were
covered with books almost to the ceiling; the rooms into which it
overflowed were of various sizes and shapes, and communicated in modes
as various--by doors, by open arches, by short passages, by steps up and
steps down.

In the great room I mainly spent my time, reading books of science,
old as well as new; for the history of the human mind in relation to
supposed knowledge was what most of all interested me. Ptolemy, Dante,
the two Bacons, and Boyle were even more to me than Darwin or Maxwell,
as so much nearer the vanished van breaking into the dark of ignorance.

In the evening of a gloomy day of August I was sitting in my usual
place, my back to one of the windows, reading. It had rained the greater
part of the morning and afternoon, but just as the sun was setting, the
clouds parted in front of him, and he shone into the room. I rose and
looked out of the window. In the centre of the great lawn the feathering
top of the fountain column was filled with his red glory. I turned to
resume my seat, when my eye was caught by the same glory on the one
picture in the room--a portrait, in a sort of niche or little shrine
sunk for it in the expanse of book-filled shelves. I knew it as the
likeness of one of my ancestors, but had never even wondered why it hung
there alone, and not in the gallery, or one of the great rooms, among
the other family portraits. The direct sunlight brought out the painting
wonderfully; for the first time I seemed to see it, and for the first
time it seemed to respond to my look. With my eyes full of the light
reflected from it, something, I cannot tell what, made me turn and cast
a glance to the farther end of the room, when I saw, or seemed to see,
a tall figure reaching up a hand to a bookshelf. The next instant, my
vision apparently rectified by the comparative dusk, I saw no one,
and concluded that my optic nerves had been momentarily affected from
within.

I resumed my reading, and would doubtless have forgotten the vague,
evanescent impression, had it not been that, having occasion a moment
after to consult a certain volume, I found but a gap in the row where it
ought to have stood, and the same instant remembered that just there I
had seen, or fancied I saw, the old man in search of a book. I looked
all about the spot but in vain. The next morning, however, there it
was, just where I had thought to find it! I knew of no one in the house
likely to be interested in such a book.

Three days after, another and yet odder thing took place.

In one of the walls was the low, narrow door of a closet, containing
some of the oldest and rarest of the books. It was a very thick door,
with a projecting frame, and it had been the fancy of some ancestor to
cross it with shallow shelves, filled with book-backs only. The harmless
trick may be excused by the fact that the titles on the sham backs
were either humorously original, or those of books lost beyond hope of
recovery. I had a great liking for the masked door.

To complete the illusion of it, some inventive workman apparently had
shoved in, on the top of one of the rows, a part of a volume thin enough
to lie between it and the bottom of the next shelf: he had cut away
diagonally a considerable portion, and fixed the remnant with one of
its open corners projecting beyond the book-backs. The binding of the
mutilated volume was limp vellum, and one could open the corner far
enough to see that it was manuscript upon parchment.

Happening, as I sat reading, to raise my eyes from the page, my glance
fell upon this door, and at once I saw that the book described, if
book it may be called, was gone. Angrier than any worth I knew in it
justified, I rang the bell, and the butler appeared. When I asked him if
he knew what had befallen it, he turned pale, and assured me he did not.
I could less easily doubt his word than my own eyes, for he had been all
his life in the family, and a more faithful servant never lived. He left
on me the impression, nevertheless, that he could have said something
more.

In the afternoon I was again reading in the library, and coming to a
point which demanded reflection, I lowered the book and let my eyes go
wandering. The same moment I saw the back of a slender old man, in a
long, dark coat, shiny as from much wear, in the act of disappearing
through the masked door into the closet beyond. I darted across the
room, found the door shut, pulled it open, looked into the closet,
which had no other issue, and, seeing nobody, concluded, not without
uneasiness, that I had had a recurrence of my former illusion, and sat
down again to my reading.

Naturally, however, I could not help feeling a little nervous, and
presently glancing up to assure myself that I was indeed alone,
started again to my feet, and ran to the masked door--for there was
the mutilated volume in its place! I laid hold of it and pulled: it was
firmly fixed as usual!

I was now utterly bewildered. I rang the bell; the butler came; I told
him all I had seen, and he told me all he knew.

He had hoped, he said, that the old gentleman was going to be forgotten;
it was well no one but myself had seen him. He had heard a good deal
about him when first he served in the house, but by degrees he had
ceased to be mentioned, and he had been very careful not to allude to
him.

“The place was haunted by an old gentleman, was it?” I said.

He answered that at one time everybody believed it, but the fact that I
had never heard of it seemed to imply that the thing had come to an end
and was forgotten.

I questioned him as to what he had seen of the old gentleman.

He had never seen him, he said, although he had been in the house from
the day my father was eight years old. My grandfather would never hear
a word on the matter, declaring that whoever alluded to it should be
dismissed without a moment’s warning: it was nothing but a pretext of
the maids, he said, for running into the arms of the men! but old Sir
Ralph believed in nothing he could not see or lay hold of. Not one of
the maids ever said she had seen the apparition, but a footman had left
the place because of it.

An ancient woman in the village had told him a legend concerning a Mr.
Raven, long time librarian to “that Sir Upward whose portrait hangs
there among the books.” Sir Upward was a great reader, she said--not
of such books only as were wholesome for men to read, but of strange,
forbidden, and evil books; and in so doing, Mr. Raven, who was probably
the devil himself, encouraged him. Suddenly they both disappeared, and
Sir Upward was never after seen or heard of, but Mr. Raven continued to
show himself at uncertain intervals in the library. There were some who
believed he was not dead; but both he and the old woman held it easier
to believe that a dead man might revisit the world he had left, than
that one who went on living for hundreds of years should be a man at
all.

He had never heard that Mr. Raven meddled with anything in the house,
but he might perhaps consider himself privileged in regard to the books.
How the old woman had learned so much about him he could not tell; but
the description she gave of him corresponded exactly with the figure I
had just seen.

“I hope it was but a friendly call on the part of the old gentleman!” he
concluded, with a troubled smile.

I told him I had no objection to any number of visits from Mr. Raven,
but it would be well he should keep to his resolution of saying nothing
about him to the servants. Then I asked him if he had ever seen the
mutilated volume out of its place; he answered that he never had, and
had always thought it a fixture. With that he went to it, and gave it a
pull: it seemed immovable.



CHAPTER II. THE MIRROR

Nothing more happened for some days. I think it was about a week after,
when what I have now to tell took place.

I had often thought of the manuscript fragment, and repeatedly tried
to discover some way of releasing it, but in vain: I could not find out
what held it fast.

But I had for some time intended a thorough overhauling of the books in
the closet, its atmosphere causing me uneasiness as to their condition.
One day the intention suddenly became a resolve, and I was in the act of
rising from my chair to make a beginning, when I saw the old librarian
moving from the door of the closet toward the farther end of the room.
I ought rather to say only that I caught sight of something shadowy from
which I received the impression of a slight, stooping man, in a shabby
dress-coat reaching almost to his heels, the tails of which, disparting
a little as he walked, revealed thin legs in black stockings, and large
feet in wide, slipper-like shoes.

At once I followed him: I might be following a shadow, but I never
doubted I was following something. He went out of the library into the
hall, and across to the foot of the great staircase, then up the stairs
to the first floor, where lay the chief rooms. Past these rooms, I
following close, he continued his way, through a wide corridor, to the
foot of a narrower stair leading to the second floor. Up that he went
also, and when I reached the top, strange as it may seem, I found myself
in a region almost unknown to me. I never had brother or sister to
incite to such romps as make children familiar with nook and cranny; I
was a mere child when my guardian took me away; and I had never seen the
house again until, about a month before, I returned to take possession.

Through passage after passage we came to a door at the bottom of a
winding wooden stair, which we ascended. Every step creaked under my
foot, but I heard no sound from that of my guide. Somewhere in the
middle of the stair I lost sight of him, and from the top of it the
shadowy shape was nowhere visible. I could not even imagine I saw him.
The place was full of shadows, but he was not one of them.

I was in the main garret, with huge beams and rafters over my head,
great spaces around me, a door here and there in sight, and long vistas
whose gloom was thinned by a few lurking cobwebbed windows and small
dusky skylights. I gazed with a strange mingling of awe and pleasure:
the wide expanse of garret was my own, and unexplored!

In the middle of it stood an unpainted inclosure of rough planks, the
door of which was ajar. Thinking Mr. Raven might be there, I pushed the
door, and entered.

The small chamber was full of light, but such as dwells in places
deserted: it had a dull, disconsolate look, as if it found itself of no
use, and regretted having come. A few rather dim sunrays, marking their
track through the cloud of motes that had just been stirred up,
fell upon a tall mirror with a dusty face, old-fashioned and rather
narrow--in appearance an ordinary glass. It had an ebony frame, on the
top of which stood a black eagle, with outstretched wings, in his beak a
golden chain, from whose end hung a black ball.

I had been looking at rather than into the mirror, when suddenly I
became aware that it reflected neither the chamber nor my own person. I
have an impression of having seen the wall melt away, but what followed
is enough to account for any uncertainty:--could I have mistaken for a
mirror the glass that protected a wonderful picture?

I saw before me a wild country, broken and heathy. Desolate hills of
no great height, but somehow of strange appearance, occupied the middle
distance; along the horizon stretched the tops of a far-off mountain
range; nearest me lay a tract of moorland, flat and melancholy.

Being short-sighted, I stepped closer to examine the texture of a stone
in the immediate foreground, and in the act espied, hopping toward me
with solemnity, a large and ancient raven, whose purply black was here
and there softened with gray. He seemed looking for worms as he came.
Nowise astonished at the appearance of a live creature in a picture,
I took another step forward to see him better, stumbled over
something--doubtless the frame of the mirror--and stood nose to beak
with the bird: I was in the open air, on a houseless heath!



CHAPTER III. THE RAVEN

I turned and looked behind me: all was vague and uncertain, as when
one cannot distinguish between fog and field, between cloud and
mountain-side. One fact only was plain--that I saw nothing I knew.
Imagining myself involved in a visual illusion, and that touch would
correct sight, I stretched my arms and felt about me, walking in this
direction and that, if haply, where I could see nothing, I might yet
come in contact with something; but my search was vain. Instinctively
then, as to the only living thing near me, I turned to the raven,
which stood a little way off, regarding me with an expression at once
respectful and quizzical. Then the absurdity of seeking counsel from
such a one struck me, and I turned again, overwhelmed with bewilderment,
not unmingled with fear. Had I wandered into a region where both the
material and psychical relations of our world had ceased to hold? Might
a man at any moment step beyond the realm of order, and become the sport
of the lawless? Yet I saw the raven, felt the ground under my feet, and
heard a sound as of wind in the lowly plants around me!

“How DID I get here?” I said--apparently aloud, for the question was
immediately answered.

“You came through the door,” replied an odd, rather harsh voice.

I looked behind, then all about me, but saw no human shape. The terror
that madness might be at hand laid hold upon me: must I henceforth place
no confidence either in my senses or my consciousness? The same instant
I knew it was the raven that had spoken, for he stood looking up at me
with an air of waiting. The sun was not shining, yet the bird seemed to
cast a shadow, and the shadow seemed part of himself.

I beg my reader to aid me in the endeavour to make myself
intelligible--if here understanding be indeed possible between us. I was
in a world, or call it a state of things, an economy of conditions, an
idea of existence, so little correspondent with the ways and modes of
this world--which we are apt to think the only world, that the best
choice I can make of word or phrase is but an adumbration of what
I would convey. I begin indeed to fear that I have undertaken an
impossibility, undertaken to tell what I cannot tell because no speech
at my command will fit the forms in my mind. Already I have set down
statements I would gladly change did I know how to substitute a truer
utterance; but as often as I try to fit the reality with nearer words, I
find myself in danger of losing the things themselves, and feel like one
in process of awaking from a dream, with the thing that seemed familiar
gradually yet swiftly changing through a succession of forms until its
very nature is no longer recognisable.

I bethought me that a bird capable of addressing a man must have the
right of a man to a civil answer; perhaps, as a bird, even a greater
claim.

A tendency to croak caused a certain roughness in his speech, but his
voice was not disagreeable, and what he said, although conveying little
enlightenment, did not sound rude.

“I did not come through any door,” I rejoined.

“I saw you come through it!--saw you with my own ancient eyes!” asserted
the raven, positively but not disrespectfully.

“I never saw any door!” I persisted.

“Of course not!” he returned; “all the doors you had yet seen--and you
haven’t seen many--were doors in; here you came upon a door out! The
strange thing to you,” he went on thoughtfully, “will be, that the more
doors you go out of, the farther you get in!”

“Oblige me by telling me where I am.”

“That is impossible. You know nothing about whereness. The only way to
come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at home.”

“How am I to begin that where everything is so strange?”

“By doing something.”

“What?”

“Anything; and the sooner you begin the better! for until you are at
home, you will find it as difficult to get out as it is to get in.”

“I have, unfortunately, found it too easy to get in; once out I shall
not try again!”

“You have stumbled in, and may, possibly, stumble out again. Whether you
have got in UNFORTUNATELY remains to be seen.”

“Do you never go out, sir?”

“When I please I do, but not often, or for long. Your world is such
a half-baked sort of place, it is at once so childish and so
self-satisfied--in fact, it is not sufficiently developed for an old
raven--at your service!”

“Am I wrong, then, in presuming that a man is superior to a bird?”

“That is as it may be. We do not waste our intellects in generalising,
but take man or bird as we find him.--I think it is now my turn to ask
you a question!”

“You have the best of rights,” I replied, “in the fact that you CAN do
so!”

“Well answered!” he rejoined. “Tell me, then, who you are--if you happen
to know.”

“How should I help knowing? I am myself, and must know!”

“If you know you are yourself, you know that you are not somebody else;
but do you know that you are yourself? Are you sure you are not your own
father?--or, excuse me, your own fool?--Who are you, pray?”

I became at once aware that I could give him no notion of who I was.
Indeed, who was I? It would be no answer to say I was who! Then I
understood that I did not know myself, did not know what I was, had no
grounds on which to determine that I was one and not another. As for the
name I went by in my own world, I had forgotten it, and did not care to
recall it, for it meant nothing, and what it might be was plainly of
no consequence here. I had indeed almost forgotten that there it was a
custom for everybody to have a name! So I held my peace, and it was my
wisdom; for what should I say to a creature such as this raven, who saw
through accident into entity?

“Look at me,” he said, “and tell me who I am.”

As he spoke, he turned his back, and instantly I knew him. He was no
longer a raven, but a man above the middle height with a stoop, very
thin, and wearing a long black tail-coat. Again he turned, and I saw him
a raven.

“I have seen you before, sir,” I said, feeling foolish rather than
surprised.

“How can you say so from seeing me behind?” he rejoined. “Did you ever
see yourself behind? You have never seen yourself at all!--Tell me now,
then, who I am.”

“I humbly beg your pardon,” I answered: “I believe you were once the
librarian of our house, but more WHO I do not know.”

“Why do you beg my pardon?”

“Because I took you for a raven,” I said--seeing him before me as
plainly a raven as bird or man could look.

“You did me no wrong,” he returned. “Calling me a raven, or thinking me
one, you allowed me existence, which is the sum of what one can
demand of his fellow-beings. Therefore, in return, I will give you a
lesson:--No one can say he is himself, until first he knows that he IS,
and then what HIMSELF is. In fact, nobody is himself, and himself is
nobody. There is more in it than you can see now, but not more than you
need to see. You have, I fear, got into this region too soon, but none
the less you must get to be at home in it; for home, as you may or
may not know, is the only place where you can go out and in. There are
places you can go into, and places you can go out of; but the one place,
if you do but find it, where you may go out and in both, is home.”

He turned to walk away, and again I saw the librarian. He did not appear
to have changed, only to have taken up his shadow. I know this seems
nonsense, but I cannot help it.

I gazed after him until I saw him no more; but whether distance hid him,
or he disappeared among the heather, I cannot tell.

Could it be that I was dead, I thought, and did not know it? Was I in
what we used to call the world beyond the grave? and must I wander about
seeking my place in it? How was I to find myself at home? The raven
said I must do something: what could I do here?--And would that make me
somebody? for now, alas, I was nobody!

I took the way Mr. Raven had gone, and went slowly after him. Presently
I saw a wood of tall slender pine-trees, and turned toward it. The odour
of it met me on my way, and I made haste to bury myself in it.

Plunged at length in its twilight glooms, I spied before me something
with a shine, standing between two of the stems. It had no colour,
but was like the translucent trembling of the hot air that rises, in a
radiant summer noon, from the sun-baked ground, vibrant like the smitten
chords of a musical instrument. What it was grew no plainer as I went
nearer, and when I came close up, I ceased to see it, only the form
and colour of the trees beyond seemed strangely uncertain. I would have
passed between the stems, but received a slight shock, stumbled,
and fell. When I rose, I saw before me the wooden wall of the garret
chamber. I turned, and there was the mirror, on whose top the black
eagle seemed but that moment to have perched.

Terror seized me, and I fled. Outside the chamber the wide garret
spaces had an UNCANNY look. They seemed to have long been waiting for
something; it had come, and they were waiting again! A shudder went
through me on the winding stair: the house had grown strange to me!
something was about to leap upon me from behind! I darted down the
spiral, struck against the wall and fell, rose and ran. On the next
floor I lost my way, and had gone through several passages a second time
ere I found the head of the stair. At the top of the great stair I had
come to myself a little, and in a few moments I sat recovering my breath
in the library.

Nothing should ever again make me go up that last terrible stair!
The garret at the top of it pervaded the whole house! It sat upon it,
threatening to crush me out of it! The brooding brain of the building,
it was full of mysterious dwellers, one or other of whom might any
moment appear in the library where I sat! I was nowhere safe! I would
let, I would sell the dreadful place, in which an aërial portal stood
ever open to creatures whose life was other than human! I would purchase
a crag in Switzerland, and thereon build a wooden nest of one story with
never a garret above it, guarded by some grand old peak that would send
down nothing worse than a few tons of whelming rock!

I knew all the time that my thinking was foolish, and was even aware of
a certain undertone of contemptuous humour in it; but suddenly it was
checked, and I seemed again to hear the croak of the raven.

“If I know nothing of my own garret,” I thought, “what is there
to secure me against my own brain? Can I tell what it is even now
generating?--what thought it may present me the next moment, the next
month, or a year away? What is at the heart of my brain? What is behind
my THINK? Am I there at all?--Who, what am I?”

I could no more answer the question now than when the raven put it to
me in--at--“Where in?--where at?” I said, and gave myself up as knowing
anything of myself or the universe.

I started to my feet, hurried across the room to the masked door, where
the mutilated volume, sticking out from the flat of soulless, bodiless,
non-existent books, appeared to beckon me, went down on my knees, and
opened it as far as its position would permit, but could see nothing. I
got up again, lighted a taper, and peeping as into a pair of reluctant
jaws, perceived that the manuscript was verse. Further I could not carry
discovery. Beginnings of lines were visible on the left-hand page,
and ends of lines on the other; but I could not, of course, get at the
beginning and end of a single line, and was unable, in what I could
read, to make any guess at the sense. The mere words, however, woke in
me feelings which to describe was, from their strangeness, impossible.
Some dreams, some poems, some musical phrases, some pictures, wake
feelings such as one never had before, new in colour and form--spiritual
sensations, as it were, hitherto unproved: here, some of the phrases,
some of the senseless half-lines, some even of the individual words
affected me in similar fashion--as with the aroma of an idea, rousing
in me a great longing to know what the poem or poems might, even yet in
their mutilation, hold or suggest.

I copied out a few of the larger shreds attainable, and tried hard to
complete some of the lines, but without the least success. The only
thing I gained in the effort was so much weariness that, when I went to
bed, I fell asleep at once and slept soundly.

In the morning all that horror of the empty garret spaces had left me.



CHAPTER IV. SOMEWHERE OR NOWHERE?

The sun was very bright, but I doubted if the day would long be fine,
and looked into the milky sapphire I wore, to see whether the star in it
was clear. It was even less defined than I had expected. I rose from the
breakfast-table, and went to the window to glance at the stone again.
There had been heavy rain in the night, and on the lawn was a thrush
breaking his way into the shell of a snail.

As I was turning my ring about to catch the response of the star to the
sun, I spied a keen black eye gazing at me out of the milky misty blue.
The sight startled me so that I dropped the ring, and when I picked it
up the eye was gone from it. The same moment the sun was obscured;
a dark vapour covered him, and in a minute or two the whole sky was
clouded. The air had grown sultry, and a gust of wind came suddenly.
A moment more and there was a flash of lightning, with a single sharp
thunder-clap. Then the rain fell in torrents.

I had opened the window, and stood there looking out at the precipitous
rain, when I descried a raven walking toward me over the grass, with
solemn gait, and utter disregard of the falling deluge. Suspecting who
he was, I congratulated myself that I was safe on the ground-floor. At
the same time I had a conviction that, if I were not careful, something
would happen.

He came nearer and nearer, made a profound bow, and with a sudden winged
leap stood on the window-sill. Then he stepped over the ledge, jumped
down into the room, and walked to the door. I thought he was on his way
to the library, and followed him, determined, if he went up the stair,
not to take one step after him. He turned, however, neither toward the
library nor the stair, but to a little door that gave upon a grass-patch
in a nook between two portions of the rambling old house. I made haste
to open it for him. He stepped out into its creeper-covered porch, and
stood looking at the rain, which fell like a huge thin cataract; I stood
in the door behind him. The second flash came, and was followed by a
lengthened roll of more distant thunder. He turned his head over his
shoulder and looked at me, as much as to say, “You hear that?” then
swivelled it round again, and anew contemplated the weather, apparently
with approbation. So human were his pose and carriage and the way he
kept turning his head, that I remarked almost involuntarily,

“Fine weather for the worms, Mr. Raven!”

“Yes,” he answered, in the rather croaky voice I had learned to know,
“the ground will be nice for them to get out and in!--It must be a
grand time on the steppes of Uranus!” he added, with a glance upward; “I
believe it is raining there too; it was, all the last week!”

“Why should that make it a grand time?” I asked.

“Because the animals there are all burrowers,” he answered, “--like the
field-mice and the moles here.--They will be, for ages to come.”

“How do you know that, if I may be so bold?” I rejoined.

“As any one would who had been there to see,” he replied. “It is a great
sight, until you get used to it, when the earth gives a heave, and
out comes a beast. You might think it a hairy elephant or a
deinotherium--but none of the animals are the same as we have ever
had here. I was almost frightened myself the first time I saw the
dry-bog-serpent come wallowing out--such a head and mane! and SUCH
eyes!--but the shower is nearly over. It will stop directly after the
next thunder-clap. There it is!”

A flash came with the words, and in about half a minute the thunder.
Then the rain ceased.

“Now we should be going!” said the raven, and stepped to the front of
the porch.

“Going where?” I asked.

“Going where we have to go,” he answered. “You did not surely think you
had got home? I told you there was no going out and in at pleasure until
you were at home!”

“I do not want to go,” I said.

“That does not make any difference--at least not much,” he answered.
“This is the way!”

“I am quite content where I am.”

“You think so, but you are not. Come along.”

He hopped from the porch onto the grass, and turned, waiting.

“I will not leave the house to-day,” I said with obstinacy.

“You will come into the garden!” rejoined the raven.

“I give in so far,” I replied, and stepped from the porch.

The sun broke through the clouds, and the raindrops flashed and sparkled
on the grass. The raven was walking over it.

“You will wet your feet!” I cried.

“And mire my beak,” he answered, immediately plunging it deep in the
sod, and drawing out a great wriggling red worm. He threw back his head,
and tossed it in the air. It spread great wings, gorgeous in red and
black, and soared aloft.

“Tut! tut!” I exclaimed; “you mistake, Mr. Raven: worms are not the
larvæ of butterflies!”

“Never mind,” he croaked; “it will do for once! I’m not a reading man
at present, but sexton at the--at a certain graveyard--cemetery, more
properly--in--at--no matter where!”

“I see! you can’t keep your spade still: and when you have nothing to
bury, you must dig something up! Only you should mind what it is before
you make it fly! No creature should be allowed to forget what and where
it came from!”

“Why?” said the raven.

“Because it will grow proud, and cease to recognise its superiors.”

No man knows it when he is making an idiot of himself.

“Where DO the worms come from?” said the raven, as if suddenly grown
curious to know.

“Why, from the earth, as you have just seen!” I answered.

“Yes, last!” he replied. “But they can’t have come from it first--for
that will never go back to it!” he added, looking up.

I looked up also, but could see nothing save a little dark cloud, the
edges of which were red, as if with the light of the sunset.

“Surely the sun is not going down!” I exclaimed, struck with amazement.

“Oh, no!” returned the raven. “That red belongs to the worm.”

“You see what comes of making creatures forget their origin!” I cried
with some warmth.

“It is well, surely, if it be to rise higher and grow larger!” he
returned. “But indeed I only teach them to find it!”

“Would you have the air full of worms?”

“That is the business of a sexton. If only the rest of the clergy
understood it as well!”

In went his beak again through the soft turf, and out came the wriggling
worm. He tossed it in the air, and away it flew.

I looked behind me, and gave a cry of dismay: I had but that moment
declared I would not leave the house, and already I was a stranger in
the strange land!

“What right have you to treat me so, Mr. Raven?” I said with deep
offence. “Am I, or am I not, a free agent?”

“A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom freer,”
 answered the raven.

“You have no right to make me do things against my will!”

“When you have a will, you will find that no one can.”

“You wrong me in the very essence of my individuality!” I persisted.

“If you were an individual I could not, therefore now I do not. You are
but beginning to become an individual.”

All about me was a pine-forest, in which my eyes were already searching
deep, in the hope of discovering an unaccountable glimmer, and so
finding my way home. But, alas! how could I any longer call that house
HOME, where every door, every window opened into OUT, and even the
garden I could not keep inside!

I suppose I looked discomfited.

“Perhaps it may comfort you,” said the raven, “to be told that you have
not yet left your house, neither has your house left you. At the same
time it cannot contain you, or you inhabit it!”

“I do not understand you,” I replied. “Where am I?”

“In the region of the seven dimensions,” he answered, with a curious
noise in his throat, and a flutter of his tail. “You had better follow
me carefully now for a moment, lest you should hurt some one!”

“There is nobody to hurt but yourself, Mr. Raven! I confess I should
rather like to hurt you!”

“That you see nobody is where the danger lies. But you see that large
tree to your left, about thirty yards away?”

“Of course I do: why should I not?” I answered testily.

“Ten minutes ago you did not see it, and now you do not know where it
stands!”

“I do.”

“Where do you think it stands?”

“Why THERE, where you know it is!”

“Where is THERE?”

“You bother me with your silly questions!” I cried. “I am growing tired
of you!”

“That tree stands on the hearth of your kitchen, and grows nearly
straight up its chimney,” he said.

“Now I KNOW you are making game of me!” I answered, with a laugh of
scorn.

“Was I making game of you when you discovered me looking out of your
star-sapphire yesterday?”

“That was this morning--not an hour ago!”

“I have been widening your horizon longer than that, Mr. Vane; but never
mind!”

“You mean you have been making a fool of me!” I said, turning from him.

“Excuse me: no one can do that but yourself!”

“And I decline to do it.”

“You mistake.”

“How?”

“In declining to acknowledge yourself one already. You make yourself
such by refusing what is true, and for that you will sorely punish
yourself.”

“How, again?”

“By believing what is not true.”

“Then, if I walk to the other side of that tree, I shall walk through
the kitchen fire?”

“Certainly. You would first, however, walk through the lady at the piano
in the breakfast-room. That rosebush is close by her. You would give her
a terrible start!”

“There is no lady in the house!”

“Indeed! Is not your housekeeper a lady? She is counted such in a
certain country where all are servants, and the liveries one and
multitudinous!”

“She cannot use the piano, anyhow!”

“Her niece can: she is there--a well-educated girl and a capital
musician.”

“Excuse me; I cannot help it: you seem to me to be talking sheer
nonsense!”

“If you could but hear the music! Those great long heads of wild
hyacinth are inside the piano, among the strings of it, and give that
peculiar sweetness to her playing!--Pardon me: I forgot your deafness!”

“Two objects,” I said, “cannot exist in the same place at the same
time!”

“Can they not? I did not know!--I remember now they do teach that with
you. It is a great mistake--one of the greatest ever wiseacre made! No
man of the universe, only a man of the world could have said so!”

“You a librarian, and talk such rubbish!” I cried. “Plainly, you did not
read many of the books in your charge!”

“Oh, yes! I went through all in your library--at the time, and came out
at the other side not much the wiser. I was a bookworm then, but when I
came to know it, I woke among the butterflies. To be sure I have given
up reading for a good many years--ever since I was made sexton.--There!
I smell Grieg’s Wedding March in the quiver of those rose-petals!”

I went to the rose-bush and listened hard, but could not hear the
thinnest ghost of a sound; I only smelt something I had never before
smelt in any rose. It was still rose-odour, but with a difference,
caused, I suppose, by the Wedding March.

When I looked up, there was the bird by my side.

“Mr. Raven,” I said, “forgive me for being so rude: I was irritated.
Will you kindly show me my way home? I must go, for I have an
appointment with my bailiff. One must not break faith with his
servants!”

“You cannot break what was broken days ago!” he answered.

“Do show me the way,” I pleaded.

“I cannot,” he returned. “To go back, you must go through yourself, and
that way no man can show another.”

Entreaty was vain. I must accept my fate! But how was life to be lived
in a world of which I had all the laws to learn? There would, however,
be adventure! that held consolation; and whether I found my way home or
not, I should at least have the rare advantage of knowing two worlds!

I had never yet done anything to justify my existence; my former world
was nothing the better for my sojourn in it: here, however, I must earn,
or in some way find, my bread! But I reasoned that, as I was not to
blame in being here, I might expect to be taken care of here as well as
there! I had had nothing to do with getting into the world I had just
left, and in it I had found myself heir to a large property! If that
world, as I now saw, had a claim upon me because I had eaten, and could
eat again, upon this world I had a claim because I must eat--when it
would in return have a claim on me!

“There is no hurry,” said the raven, who stood regarding me; “we do not
go much by the clock here. Still, the sooner one begins to do what has
to be done, the better! I will take you to my wife.”

“Thank you. Let us go!” I answered, and immediately he led the way.



CHAPTER V. THE OLD CHURCH

I followed him deep into the pine-forest. Neither of us said much while
yet the sacred gloom of it closed us round. We came to larger and yet
larger trees--older, and more individual, some of them grotesque with
age. Then the forest grew thinner.

“You see that hawthorn?” said my guide at length, pointing with his
beak.

I looked where the wood melted away on the edge of an open heath.

“I see a gnarled old man, with a great white head,” I answered.

“Look again,” he rejoined: “it is a hawthorn.”

“It seems indeed an ancient hawthorn; but this is not the season for the
hawthorn to blossom!” I objected.

“The season for the hawthorn to blossom,” he replied, “is when the
hawthorn blossoms. That tree is in the ruins of the church on your
home-farm. You were going to give some directions to the bailiff about
its churchyard, were you not, the morning of the thunder?”

“I was going to tell him I wanted it turned into a wilderness of
rose-trees, and that the plough must never come within three yards of
it.”

“Listen!” said the raven, seeming to hold his breath.

I listened, and heard--was it the sighing of a far-off musical wind--or
the ghost of a music that had once been glad? Or did I indeed hear
anything?

“They go there still,” said the raven.

“Who goes there? and where do they go?” I asked.

“Some of the people who used to pray there, go to the ruins still,” he
replied. “But they will not go much longer, I think.”

“What makes them go now?”

“They need help from each other to get their thinking done, and their
feelings hatched, so they talk and sing together; and then, they say,
the big thought floats out of their hearts like a great ship out of the
river at high water.”

“Do they pray as well as sing?”

“No; they have found that each can best pray in his own silent
heart.--Some people are always at their prayers.--Look! look! There goes
one!”

He pointed right up into the air. A snow-white pigeon was mounting, with
quick and yet quicker wing-flap, the unseen spiral of an ethereal stair.
The sunshine flashed quivering from its wings.

“I see a pigeon!” I said.

“Of course you see a pigeon,” rejoined the raven, “for there is the
pigeon! I see a prayer on its way.--I wonder now what heart is that
dove’s mother! Some one may have come awake in my cemetery!”

“How can a pigeon be a prayer?” I said. “I understand, of course, how
it should be a fit symbol or likeness for one; but a live pigeon to come
out of a heart!”

“It MUST puzzle you! It cannot fail to do so!”

“A prayer is a thought, a thing spiritual!” I pursued.

“Very true! But if you understood any world besides your own, you would
understand your own much better.--When a heart is really alive, then it
is able to think live things. There is one heart all whose thoughts
are strong, happy creatures, and whose very dreams are lives. When some
pray, they lift heavy thoughts from the ground, only to drop them on it
again; others send up their prayers in living shapes, this or that, the
nearest likeness to each. All live things were thoughts to begin with,
and are fit therefore to be used by those that think. When one says to
the great Thinker:--‘Here is one of thy thoughts: I am thinking it now!’
that is a prayer--a word to the big heart from one of its own little
hearts.--Look, there is another!”

This time the raven pointed his beak downward--to something at the foot
of a block of granite. I looked, and saw a little flower. I had never
seen one like it before, and cannot utter the feeling it woke in me by
its gracious, trusting form, its colour, and its odour as of a new world
that was yet the old. I can only say that it suggested an anemone, was
of a pale rose-hue, and had a golden heart.

“That is a prayer-flower,” said the raven.

“I never saw such a flower before!” I rejoined.

“There is no other such. Not one prayer-flower is ever quite like
another,” he returned.

“How do you know it a prayer-flower?” I asked.

“By the expression of it,” he answered. “More than that I cannot tell
you. If you know it, you know it; if you do not, you do not.”

“Could you not teach me to know a prayer-flower when I see it?” I said.

“I could not. But if I could, what better would you be? you would not
know it of YOURSELF and ITself! Why know the name of a thing when the
thing itself you do not know? Whose work is it but your own to open your
eyes? But indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of
you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise!”

But I did see that the flower was different from any flower I had ever
seen before; therefore I knew that I must be seeing a shadow of the
prayer in it; and a great awe came over me to think of the heart
listening to the flower.



CHAPTER VI. THE SEXTON’S COTTAGE

We had been for some time walking over a rocky moorland covered with
dry plants and mosses, when I descried a little cottage in the farthest
distance. The sun was not yet down, but he was wrapt in a gray cloud.
The heath looked as if it had never been warm, and the wind blew
strangely cold, as if from some region where it was always night.

“Here we are at last!” said the raven. “What a long way it is! In half
the time I could have gone to Paradise and seen my cousin--him, you
remember, who never came back to Noah! Dear! dear! it is almost winter!”

“Winter!” I cried; “it seems but half a day since we left home!”

“That is because we have travelled so fast,” answered the raven. “In
your world you cannot pull up the plumb-line you call gravitation, and
let the world spin round under your feet! But here is my wife’s house!
She is very good to let me live with her, and call it the sexton’s
cottage!”

“But where is your churchyard--your cemetery--where you make your
graves, I mean?” said I, seeing nothing but the flat heath.

The raven stretched his neck, held out his beak horizontally, turned it
slowly round to all the points of the compass, and said nothing.

I followed the beak with my eyes, and lo, without church or graves, all
was a churchyard! Wherever the dreary wind swept, there was the raven’s
cemetery! He was sexton of all he surveyed! lord of all that was laid
aside! I stood in the burial-ground of the universe; its compass the
unenclosed heath, its wall the gray horizon, low and starless! I had
left spring and summer, autumn and sunshine behind me, and come to the
winter that waited for me! I had set out in the prime of my youth, and
here I was already!--But I mistook. The day might well be long in that
region, for it contained the seasons. Winter slept there, the night
through, in his winding-sheet of ice; with childlike smile, Spring came
awake in the dawn; at noon, Summer blazed abroad in her gorgeous beauty;
with the slow-changing afternoon, old Autumn crept in, and died at the
first breath of the vaporous, ghosty night.

As we drew near the cottage, the clouded sun was rushing down the
steepest slope of the west, and he sank while we were yet a few yards
from the door. The same instant I was assailed by a cold that seemed
almost a material presence, and I struggled across the threshold as if
from the clutches of an icy death. A wind swelled up on the moor, and
rushed at the door as with difficulty I closed it behind me. Then all
was still, and I looked about me.

A candle burned on a deal table in the middle of the room, and the first
thing I saw was the lid of a coffin, as I thought, set up against the
wall; but it opened, for it was a door, and a woman entered. She was all
in white--as white as new-fallen snow; and her face was as white as her
dress, but not like snow, for at once it suggested warmth. I thought her
features were perfect, but her eyes made me forget them. The life of
her face and her whole person was gathered and concentrated in her eyes,
where it became light. It might have been coming death that made her
face luminous, but the eyes had life in them for a nation--large, and
dark with a darkness ever deepening as I gazed. A whole night-heaven
lay condensed in each pupil; all the stars were in its blackness, and
flashed; while round it for a horizon lay coiled an iris of the eternal
twilight. What any eye IS, God only knows: her eyes must have been
coming direct out of his own! the still face might be a primeval
perfection; the live eyes were a continuous creation.

“Here is Mr. Vane, wife!” said the raven.

“He is welcome,” she answered, in a low, rich, gentle voice. Treasures
of immortal sound seemed to be buried in it.

I gazed, and could not speak.

“I knew you would be glad to see him!” added the raven.

She stood in front of the door by which she had entered, and did not
come nearer.

“Will he sleep?” she asked.

“I fear not,” he replied; “he is neither weary nor heavy laden.”

“Why then have you brought him?”

“I have my fears it may prove precipitate.”

“I do not quite understand you,” I said, with an uneasy foreboding as to
what she meant, but a vague hope of some escape. “Surely a man must do a
day’s work first!”

I gazed into the white face of the woman, and my heart fluttered. She
returned my gaze in silence.

“Let me first go home,” I resumed, “and come again after I have found or
made, invented, or at least discovered something!”

“He has not yet learned that the day begins with sleep!” said the
woman, turning to her husband. “Tell him he must rest before he can do
anything!”

“Men,” he answered, “think so much of having done, that they fall asleep
upon it. They cannot empty an egg but they turn into the shell, and lie
down!”

The words drew my eyes from the woman to the raven.

I saw no raven, but the librarian--the same slender elderly man, in a
rusty black coat, large in the body and long in the tails. I had seen
only his back before; now for the first time I saw his face. It was
so thin that it showed the shape of the bones under it, suggesting the
skulls his last-claimed profession must have made him familiar with. But
in truth I had never before seen a face so alive, or a look so keen or
so friendly as that in his pale blue eyes, which yet had a haze about
them as if they had done much weeping.

“You knew I was not a raven!” he said with a smile.

“I knew you were Mr. Raven,” I replied; “but somehow I thought you a
bird too!”

“What made you think me a bird?”

“You looked a raven, and I saw you dig worms out of the earth with your
beak.”

“And then?”

“Toss them in the air.” “And then?”

“They grew butterflies, and flew away.”

“Did you ever see a raven do that? I told you I was a sexton!”

“Does a sexton toss worms in the air, and turn them into butterflies?”

“Yes.”

“I never saw one do it!”

“You saw me do it!--But I am still librarian in your house, for I never
was dismissed, and never gave up the office. Now I am librarian here as
well.”

“But you have just told me you were sexton here!”

“So I am. It is much the same profession. Except you are a true sexton,
books are but dead bodies to you, and a library nothing but a catacomb!”

“You bewilder me!”

“That’s all right!”

A few moments he stood silent. The woman, moveless as a statue, stood
silent also by the coffin-door.

“Upon occasion,” said the sexton at length, “it is more convenient to
put one’s bird-self in front. Every one, as you ought to know, has a
beast-self--and a bird-self, and a stupid fish-self, ay, and a creeping
serpent-self too--which it takes a deal of crushing to kill! In truth
he has also a tree-self and a crystal-self, and I don’t know how many
selves more--all to get into harmony. You can tell what sort a man is by
his creature that comes oftenest to the front.”

He turned to his wife, and I considered him more closely. He was above
the ordinary height, and stood more erect than when last I saw him. His
face was, like his wife’s, very pale; its nose handsomely encased the
beak that had retired within it; its lips were very thin, and even they
had no colour, but their curves were beautiful, and about them quivered
a shadowy smile that had humour in it as well as love and pity.

“We are in want of something to eat and drink, wife,” he said; “we have
come a long way!”

“You know, husband,” she answered, “we can give only to him that asks.”

She turned her unchanging face and radiant eyes upon mine.

“Please give me something to eat, Mrs. Raven,” I said, “and
something--what you will--to quench my thirst.”

“Your thirst must be greater before you can have what will quench it,”
 she replied; “but what I can give you, I will gladly.”

She went to a cupboard in the wall, brought from it bread and wine, and
set them on the table.

We sat down to the perfect meal; and as I ate, the bread and wine
seemed to go deeper than the hunger and thirst. Anxiety and discomfort
vanished; expectation took their place.

I grew very sleepy, and now first felt weary.

“I have earned neither food nor sleep, Mrs. Raven,” I said, “but you
have given me the one freely, and now I hope you will give me the other,
for I sorely need it.”

“Sleep is too fine a thing ever to be earned,” said the sexton; “it must
be given and accepted, for it is a necessity. But it would be perilous
to use this house as a half-way hostelry--for the repose of a night,
that is, merely.”

A wild-looking little black cat jumped on his knee as he spoke. He
patted it as one pats a child to make it go to sleep: he seemed to me
patting down the sod upon a grave--patting it lovingly, with an inward
lullaby.

“Here is one of Mara’s kittens!” he said to his wife: “will you give it
something and put it out? she may want it!”

The woman took it from him gently, gave it a little piece of bread, and
went out with it, closing the door behind her.

“How then am I to make use of your hospitality?” I asked.

“By accepting it to the full,” he answered.

“I do not understand.”

“In this house no one wakes of himself.”

“Why?”

“Because no one anywhere ever wakes of himself. You can wake yourself no
more than you can make yourself.”

“Then perhaps you or Mrs. Raven would kindly call me!” I said, still
nowise understanding, but feeling afresh that vague foreboding.

“We cannot.”

“How dare I then go to sleep?” I cried.

“If you would have the rest of this house, you must not trouble yourself
about waking. You must go to sleep heartily, altogether and outright.”
 My soul sank within me.

The sexton sat looking me in the face. His eyes seemed to say, “Will you
not trust me?” I returned his gaze, and answered,

“I will.”

“Then come,” he said; “I will show you your couch.”

As we rose, the woman came in. She took up the candle, turned to the
inner door, and led the way. I went close behind her, and the sexton
followed.



CHAPTER VII. THE CEMETERY

The air as of an ice-house met me crossing the threshold. The door
fell-to behind us. The sexton said something to his wife that made her
turn toward us.--What a change had passed upon her! It was as if the
splendour of her eyes had grown too much for them to hold, and, sinking
into her countenance, made it flash with a loveliness like that of
Beatrice in the white rose of the redeemed. Life itself, life eternal,
immortal, streamed from it, an unbroken lightning. Even her hands
shone with a white radiance, every “pearl-shell helmet” gleaming like
a moonstone. Her beauty was overpowering; I was glad when she turned it
from me.

But the light of the candle reached such a little way, that at first I
could see nothing of the place. Presently, however, it fell on something
that glimmered, a little raised from the floor. Was it a bed? Could
live thing sleep in such a mortal cold? Then surely it was no wonder
it should not wake of itself! Beyond that appeared a fainter shine; and
then I thought I descried uncertain gleams on every side.

A few paces brought us to the first; it was a human form under a sheet,
straight and still--whether of man or woman I could not tell, for the
light seemed to avoid the face as we passed.

I soon perceived that we were walking along an aisle of couches, on
almost every one of which, with its head to the passage, lay something
asleep or dead, covered with a sheet white as snow. My soul grew
silent with dread. Through aisle after aisle we went, among couches
innumerable. I could see only a few of them at once, but they were on
all sides, vanishing, as it seemed, in the infinite.--Was it here lay my
choice of a bed? Must I go to sleep among the unwaking, with no one to
rouse me? Was this the sexton’s library? were these his books? Truly it
was no half-way house, this chamber of the dead!

“One of the cellars I am placed to watch!” remarked Mr. Raven--in a low
voice, as if fearing to disturb his silent guests. “Much wine is set
here to ripen!--But it is dark for a stranger!” he added.

“The moon is rising; she will soon be here,” said his wife, and her
clear voice, low and sweet, sounded of ancient sorrow long bidden adieu.

Even as she spoke the moon looked in at an opening in the wall, and a
thousand gleams of white responded to her shine. But not yet could I
descry beginning or end of the couches. They stretched away and away, as
if for all the disparted world to sleep upon. For along the far receding
narrow ways, every couch stood by itself, and on each slept a lonely
sleeper. I thought at first their sleep was death, but I soon saw it was
something deeper still--a something I did not know.

The moon rose higher, and shone through other openings, but I could
never see enough of the place at once to know its shape or character;
now it would resemble a long cathedral nave, now a huge barn made into
a dwelling of tombs. She looked colder than any moon in the frostiest
night of the world, and where she shone direct upon them, cast a bluish,
icy gleam on the white sheets and the pallid countenances--but it might
be the faces that made the moon so cold!

Of such as I could see, all were alike in the brotherhood of death, all
unlike in the character and history recorded upon them. Here lay a man
who had died--for although this was not death, I have no other name to
give it--in the prime of manly strength; his dark beard seemed to flow
like a liberated stream from the glacier of his frozen countenance; his
forehead was smooth as polished marble; a shadow of pain lingered about
his lips, but only a shadow. On the next couch lay the form of a girl,
passing lovely to behold. The sadness left on her face by parting was
not yet absorbed in perfect peace, but absolute submission possessed the
placid features, which bore no sign of wasting disease, of “killing care
or grief of heart”: if pain had been there, it was long charmed asleep,
never again to wake. Many were the beautiful that there lay very
still--some of them mere children; but I did not see one infant. The
most beautiful of all was a lady whose white hair, and that alone,
suggested her old when first she fell asleep. On her stately countenance
rested--not submission, but a right noble acquiescence, an assurance,
firm as the foundations of the universe, that all was as it should
be. On some faces lingered the almost obliterated scars of strife, the
marrings of hopeless loss, the fading shadows of sorrows that had seemed
inconsolable: the aurora of the great morning had not yet quite melted
them away; but those faces were few, and every one that bore such brand
of pain seemed to plead, “Pardon me: I died only yesterday!” or, “Pardon
me: I died but a century ago!” That some had been dead for ages I knew,
not merely by their unutterable repose, but by something for which I
have neither word nor symbol.

We came at last to three empty couches, immediately beyond which lay the
form of a beautiful woman, a little past the prime of life. One of her
arms was outside the sheet, and her hand lay with the palm upward, in
its centre a dark spot. Next to her was the stalwart figure of a man of
middle age. His arm too was outside the sheet, the strong hand almost
closed, as if clenched on the grip of a sword. I thought he must be a
king who had died fighting for the truth.

“Will you hold the candle nearer, wife?” whispered the sexton, bending
down to examine the woman’s hand.

“It heals well,” he murmured to himself: “the nail found in her nothing
to hurt!”

At last I ventured to speak.

“Are they not dead?” I asked softly.

“I cannot answer you,” he replied in a subdued voice. “I almost forget
what they mean by DEAD in the old world. If I said a person was dead, my
wife would understand one thing, and you would imagine another.--This is
but one of my treasure vaults,” he went on, “and all my guests are not
laid in vaults: out there on the moor they lie thick as the leaves of a
forest after the first blast of your winter--thick, let me say rather,
as if the great white rose of heaven had shed its petals over it. All
night the moon reads their faces, and smiles.”

“But why leave them in the corrupting moonlight?” I asked.

“Our moon,” he answered, “is not like yours--the old cinder of a
burnt-out world; her beams embalm the dead, not corrupt them. You
observe that here the sexton lays his dead on the earth; he buries very
few under it! In your world he lays huge stones on them, as if to keep
them down; I watch for the hour to ring the resurrection-bell, and wake
those that are still asleep. Your sexton looks at the clock to know when
to ring the dead-alive to church; I hearken for the cock on the spire to
crow; ‘AWAKE, THOU THAT SLEEPEST, AND ARISE FROM THE DEAD!’”

I began to conclude that the self-styled sexton was in truth an insane
parson: the whole thing was too mad! But how was I to get away from it?
I was helpless! In this world of the dead, the raven and his wife were
the only living I had yet seen: whither should I turn for help? I was
lost in a space larger than imagination; for if here two things, or
any parts of them, could occupy the same space, why not twenty or ten
thousand?--But I dared not think further in that direction.

“You seem in your dead to see differences beyond my perception!” I
ventured to remark.

“None of those you see,” he answered, “are in truth quite dead yet, and
some have but just begun to come alive and die. Others had begun to die,
that is to come alive, long before they came to us; and when such are
indeed dead, that instant they will wake and leave us. Almost every
night some rise and go. But I will not say more, for I find my words
only mislead you!--This is the couch that has been waiting for you,” he
ended, pointing to one of the three.

“Why just this?” I said, beginning to tremble, and anxious by parley to
delay.

“For reasons which one day you will be glad to know,” he answered.

“Why not know them now?”

“That also you will know when you wake.”

“But these are all dead, and I am alive!” I objected, shuddering.

“Not much,” rejoined the sexton with a smile, “--not nearly enough!
Blessed be the true life that the pauses between its throbs are not
death!”

“The place is too cold to let one sleep!” I said.

“Do these find it so?” he returned. “They sleep well--or will soon. Of
cold they feel not a breath: it heals their wounds.--Do not be a coward,
Mr. Vane. Turn your back on fear, and your face to whatever may come.
Give yourself up to the night, and you will rest indeed. Harm will not
come to you, but a good you cannot foreknow.”

The sexton and I stood by the side of the couch, his wife, with the
candle in her hand, at the foot of it. Her eyes were full of light, but
her face was again of a still whiteness; it was no longer radiant.

“Would they have me make of a charnel-house my bed-chamber?” I cried
aloud. “I will not. I will lie abroad on the heath; it cannot be colder
there!”

“I have just told you that the dead are there also,

     ‘Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
      In Vallombrosa,’”

said the librarian.

“I will NOT,” I cried again; and in the compassing dark, the two gleamed
out like spectres that waited on the dead; neither answered me; each
stood still and sad, and looked at the other.

“Be of good comfort; we watch the flock of the great shepherd,” said the
sexton to his wife.

Then he turned to me.

“Didst thou not find the air of the place pure and sweet when thou
enteredst it?” he asked.

“Yes; but oh, so cold!” I answered.

“Then know,” he returned, and his voice was stern, “that thou who
callest thyself alive, hast brought into this chamber the odours of
death, and its air will not be wholesome for the sleepers until thou art
gone from it!”

They went farther into the great chamber, and I was left alone in the
moonlight with the dead.

I turned to escape.

What a long way I found it back through the dead! At first I was too
angry to be afraid, but as I grew calm, the still shapes grew terrible.
At last, with loud offence to the gracious silence, I ran, I fled
wildly, and, bursting out, flung-to the door behind me. It closed with
an awful silence.

I stood in pitch-darkness. Feeling about me, I found a door, opened it,
and was aware of the dim light of a lamp. I stood in my library, with
the handle of the masked door in my hand.

Had I come to myself out of a vision?--or lost myself by going back to
one? Which was the real--what I now saw, or what I had just ceased to
see? Could both be real, interpenetrating yet unmingling?

I threw myself on a couch, and fell asleep.

In the library was one small window to the east, through which, at this
time of the year, the first rays of the sun shone upon a mirror whence
they were reflected on the masked door: when I woke, there they shone,
and thither they drew my eyes. With the feeling that behind it must lie
the boundless chamber I had left by that door, I sprang to my feet,
and opened it. The light, like an eager hound, shot before me into the
closet, and pounced upon the gilded edges of a large book.

“What idiot,” I cried, “has put that book in the shelf the wrong way?”

But the gilded edges, reflecting the light a second time, flung it on
a nest of drawers in a dark corner, and I saw that one of them was half
open.

“More meddling!” I cried, and went to close the drawer.

It contained old papers, and seemed more than full, for it would
not close. Taking the topmost one out, I perceived that it was in my
father’s writing and of some length. The words on which first my eyes
fell, at once made me eager to learn what it contained. I carried it
to the library, sat down in one of the western windows, and read what
follows.



CHAPTER VIII. MY FATHER’S MANUSCRIPT

I am filled with awe of what I have to write. The sun is shining golden
above me; the sea lies blue beneath his gaze; the same world sends its
growing things up to the sun, and its flying things into the air which
I have breathed from my infancy; but I know the outspread splendour a
passing show, and that at any moment it may, like the drop-scene of a
stage, be lifted to reveal more wonderful things.

Shortly after my father’s death, I was seated one morning in the
library. I had been, somewhat listlessly, regarding the portrait that
hangs among the books, which I knew only as that of a distant ancestor,
and wishing I could learn something of its original. Then I had taken a
book from the shelves and begun to read.

Glancing up from it, I saw coming toward me--not between me and the
door, but between me and the portrait--a thin pale man in rusty black.
He looked sharp and eager, and had a notable nose, at once reminding me
of a certain jug my sisters used to call Mr. Crow.

“Finding myself in your vicinity, Mr. Vane, I have given myself the
pleasure of calling,” he said, in a peculiar but not disagreeable
voice. “Your honoured grandfather treated me--I may say it without
presumption--as a friend, having known me from childhood as his father’s
librarian.”

It did not strike me at the time how old the man must be.

“May I ask where you live now, Mr. Crow?” I said.

He smiled an amused smile.

“You nearly hit my name,” he rejoined, “which shows the family insight.
You have seen me before, but only once, and could not then have heard
it!”

“Where was that?”

“In this very room. You were quite a child, however!”

I could not be sure that I remembered him, but for a moment I fancied I
did, and I begged him to set me right as to his name.

“There is such a thing as remembering without recognising the memory in
it,” he remarked. “For my name--which you have near enough--it used to
be Raven.”

I had heard the name, for marvellous tales had brought it me.

“It is very kind of you to come and see me,” I said. “Will you not sit
down?”

He seated himself at once.

“You knew my father, then, I presume?”

“I knew him,” he answered with a curious smile, “but he did not care
about my acquaintance, and we never met.--That gentleman, however,” he
added, pointing to the portrait,--“old Sir Up’ard, his people called
him,--was in his day a friend of mine yet more intimate than ever your
grandfather became.”

Then at length I began to think the interview a strange one. But in
truth it was hardly stranger that my visitor should remember Sir Upward,
than that he should have been my great-grandfather’s librarian!

“I owe him much,” he continued; “for, although I had read many more
books than he, yet, through the special direction of his studies, he was
able to inform me of a certain relation of modes which I should never
have discovered of myself, and could hardly have learned from any one
else.”

“Would you mind telling me all about that?” I said.

“By no means--as much at least as I am able: there are not such things
as wilful secrets,” he answered--and went on.

“That closet held his library--a hundred manuscripts or so, for printing
was not then invented. One morning I sat there, working at a catalogue
of them, when he looked in at the door, and said, ‘Come.’ I laid down my
pen and followed him--across the great hall, down a steep rough descent,
and along an underground passage to a tower he had lately built,
consisting of a stair and a room at the top of it. The door of this room
had a tremendous lock, which he undid with the smallest key I ever saw.
I had scarcely crossed the threshold after him, when, to my eyes, he
began to dwindle, and grew less and less. All at once my vision seemed
to come right, and I saw that he was moving swiftly away from me. In a
minute more he was the merest speck in the distance, with the tops
of blue mountains beyond him, clear against a sky of paler blue. I
recognised the country, for I had gone there and come again many a time,
although I had never known this way to it.

“Many years after, when the tower had long disappeared, I taught one of
his descendants what Sir Upward had taught me; and now and then to this
day I use your house when I want to go the nearest way home. I must
indeed--without your leave, for which I ask your pardon--have by this
time well established a right of way through it--not from front to back,
but from bottom to top!”

“You would have me then understand, Mr. Raven,” I said, “that you go
through my house into another world, heedless of disparting space?”

“That I go through it is an incontrovertible acknowledgement of space,”
 returned the old librarian.

“Please do not quibble, Mr. Raven,” I rejoined. “Please to take my
question as you know I mean it.”

“There is in your house a door, one step through which carries me into a
world very much another than this.”

“A better?”

“Not throughout; but so much another that most of its physical, and many
of its mental laws are different from those of this world. As for moral
laws, they must everywhere be fundamentally the same.”

“You try my power of belief!” I said.

“You take me for a madman, probably?”

“You do not look like one.”

“A liar then?”

“You give me no ground to think you such.”

“Only you do not believe me?”

“I will go out of that door with you if you like: I believe in you
enough to risk the attempt.”

“The blunder all my children make!” he murmured. “The only door out is
the door in!”

I began to think he must be crazy. He sat silent for a moment, his head
resting on his hand, his elbow on the table, and his eyes on the books
before him.

“A book,” he said louder, “is a door in, and therefore a door out.--I
see old Sir Up’ard,” he went on, closing his eyes, “and my heart swells
with love to him:--what world is he in?”

“The world of your heart!” I replied; “--that is, the idea of him is
there.”

“There is one world then at least on which your hall-door does not
open?”

“I grant you so much; but the things in that world are not things to
have and to hold.”

“Think a little farther,” he rejoined: “did anything ever become yours,
except by getting into that world?--The thought is beyond you, however,
at present!--I tell you there are more worlds, and more doors to them,
than you will think of in many years!”

He rose, left the library, crossed the hall, and went straight up to
the garret, familiar evidently with every turn. I followed, studying his
back. His hair hung down long and dark, straight and glossy. His coat
was wide and reached to his heels. His shoes seemed too large for him.

In the garret a light came through at the edges of the great roofing
slabs, and showed us parts where was no flooring, and we must step from
joist to joist: in the middle of one of these spaces rose a partition,
with a door: through it I followed Mr. Raven into a small, obscure
chamber, whose top contracted as it rose, and went slanting through the
roof.

“That is the door I spoke of,” he said, pointing to an oblong mirror
that stood on the floor and leaned against the wall. I went in front
of it, and saw our figures dimly reflected in its dusty face. There
was something about it that made me uneasy. It looked old-fashioned and
neglected, but, notwithstanding its ordinary seeming, the eagle, perched
with outstretched wings on the top, appeared threatful.

“As a mirror,” said the librarian, “it has grown dingy with age; but
that is no matter: its clearness depends on the light.”

“Light!” I rejoined; “there is no light here!”

He did not answer me, but began to pull at a little chain on the
opposite wall. I heard a creaking: the top of the chamber was turning
slowly round. He ceased pulling, looked at his watch, and began to pull
again.

“We arrive almost to the moment!” he said; “it is on the very stroke of
noon!”

The top went creaking and revolving for a minute or so. Then he pulled
two other chains, now this, now that, and returned to the first. A
moment more and the chamber grew much clearer: a patch of sunlight had
fallen upon a mirror on the wall opposite that against which the other
leaned, and on the dust I saw the path of the reflected rays to the
mirror on the ground. But from the latter none were returned; they
seemed to go clean through; there was nowhere in the chamber a second
patch of light!

“Where are the sunrays gone?” I cried.

“That I cannot tell,” returned Mr. Raven; “--back, perhaps, to where
they came from first. They now belong, I fancy, to a sense not yet
developed in us.”

He then talked of the relations of mind to matter, and of senses to
qualities, in a way I could only a little understand, whence he went
on to yet stranger things which I could not at all comprehend. He spoke
much about dimensions, telling me that there were many more than three,
some of them concerned with powers which were indeed in us, but of which
as yet we knew absolutely nothing. His words, however, I confess, took
little more hold of me than the light did of the mirror, for I thought
he hardly knew what he was saying.

Suddenly I was aware that our forms had gone from the mirror, which
seemed full of a white mist. As I gazed I saw, growing gradually visible
beyond the mist, the tops of a range of mountains, which became clearer
and clearer. Soon the mist vanished entirely, uncovering the face of a
wide heath, on which, at some distance, was the figure of a man moving
swiftly away. I turned to address my companion; he was no longer by my
side. I looked again at the form in the mirror, and recognised the wide
coat flying, the black hair lifting in a wind that did not touch me. I
rushed in terror from the place.



CHAPTER IX. I REPENT

I laid the manuscript down, consoled to find that my father had had a
peep into that mysterious world, and that he knew Mr. Raven.

Then I remembered that I had never heard the cause or any circumstance
of my father’s death, and began to believe that he must at last have
followed Mr. Raven, and not come back; whereupon I speedily grew ashamed
of my flight. What wondrous facts might I not by this time have gathered
concerning life and death, and wide regions beyond ordinary perception!
Assuredly the Ravens were good people, and a night in their house would
nowise have hurt me! They were doubtless strange, but it was faculty
in which the one was peculiar, and beauty in which the other was
marvellous! And I had not believed in them! had treated them as unworthy
of my confidence, as harbouring a design against me! The more I thought
of my behaviour to them, the more disgusted I became with myself. Why
should I have feared such dead? To share their holy rest was an honour
of which I had proved myself unworthy! What harm could that sleeping
king, that lady with the wound in her palm, have done me? I fell a
longing after the sweet and stately stillness of their two countenances,
and wept. Weeping I threw myself on a couch, and suddenly fell asleep.

As suddenly I woke, feeling as if some one had called me. The house was
still as an empty church. A blackbird was singing on the lawn. I said to
myself, “I will go and tell them I am ashamed, and will do whatever
they would have me do!” I rose, and went straight up the stairs to the
garret.

The wooden chamber was just as when first I saw it, the mirror dimly
reflecting everything before it. It was nearly noon, and the sun would
be a little higher than when first I came: I must raise the hood a
little, and adjust the mirrors accordingly! If I had but been in time to
see Mr. Raven do it!

I pulled the chains, and let the light fall on the first mirror.
I turned then to the other: there were the shapes of the former
vision--distinguishable indeed, but tremulous like a landscape in a
pool ruffled by “a small pipling wind!” I touched the glass; it was
impermeable.

Suspecting polarisation as the thing required, I shifted and shifted the
mirrors, changing their relation, until at last, in a great degree, so
far as I was concerned, by chance, things came right between them, and
I saw the mountains blue and steady and clear. I stepped forward, and my
feet were among the heather.

All I knew of the way to the cottage was that we had gone through a
pine-forest. I passed through many thickets and several small fir-woods,
continually fancying afresh that I recognised something of the country;
but I had come upon no forest, and now the sun was near the horizon,
and the air had begun to grow chill with the coming winter, when, to my
delight, I saw a little black object coming toward me: it was indeed the
raven!

I hastened to meet him.

“I beg your pardon, sir, for my rudeness last night,” I said. “Will you
take me with you now? I heartily confess I do not deserve it.”

“Ah!” he returned, and looked up. Then, after a brief pause, “My wife
does not expect you to-night,” he said. “She regrets that we at all
encouraged your staying last week.”

“Take me to her that I may tell her how sorry I am,” I begged humbly.

“It is of no use,” he answered. “Your night was not come then, or you
would not have left us. It is not come now, and I cannot show you the
way. The dead were rejoicing under their daisies--they all lie among the
roots of the flowers of heaven--at the thought of your delight when the
winter should be past, and the morning with its birds come: ere you
left them, they shivered in their beds. When the spring of the universe
arrives,--but that cannot be for ages yet! how many, I do not know--and
do not care to know.”

“Tell me one thing, I beg of you, Mr. Raven: is my father with you? Have
you seen him since he left the world?”

“Yes; he is with us, fast asleep. That was he you saw with his arm on
the coverlet, his hand half closed.”

“Why did you not tell me? That I should have been so near him, and not
know!”

“And turn your back on him!” corrected the raven.

“I would have lain down at once had I known!”

“I doubt it. Had you been ready to lie down, you would have known
him!--Old Sir Up’ard,” he went on, “and your twice great-grandfather,
both are up and away long ago. Your great-grandfather has been with us
for many a year; I think he will soon begin to stir. You saw him last
night, though of course you did not know him.”

“Why OF COURSE?”

“Because he is so much nearer waking than you. No one who will not sleep
can ever wake.”

“I do not at all understand you!”

“You turned away, and would not understand!” I held my peace.--But if I
did not say something, he would go!

“And my grandfather--is he also with you?” I asked.

“No; he is still in the Evil Wood, fighting the dead.”

“Where is the Evil Wood, that I may find him?”

“You will not find him; but you will hardly miss the wood. It is the
place where those who will not sleep, wake up at night, to kill their
dead and bury them.”

“I cannot understand you!”

“Naturally not. Neither do I understand you; I can read neither your
heart nor your face. When my wife and I do not understand our children,
it is because there is not enough of them to be understood. God alone
can understand foolishness.”

“Then,” I said, feeling naked and very worthless, “will you be so good
as show me the nearest way home? There are more ways than one, I know,
for I have gone by two already.”

“There are indeed many ways.”

“Tell me, please, how to recognise the nearest.”

“I cannot,” answered the raven; “you and I use the same words with
different meanings. We are often unable to tell people what they NEED to
know, because they WANT to know something else, and would therefore only
misunderstand what we said. Home is ever so far away in the palm of your
hand, and how to get there it is of no use to tell you. But you will get
there; you must get there; you have to get there. Everybody who is not
at home, has to go home. You thought you were at home where I found you:
if that had been your home, you could not have left it. Nobody can leave
home. And nobody ever was or ever will be at home without having gone
there.”

“Enigma treading on enigma!” I exclaimed. “I did not come here to be
asked riddles.”

“No; but you came, and found the riddles waiting for you! Indeed you
are yourself the only riddle. What you call riddles are truths, and seem
riddles because you are not true.”

“Worse and worse!” I cried.

“And you MUST answer the riddles!” he continued. “They will go on asking
themselves until you understand yourself. The universe is a riddle
trying to get out, and you are holding your door hard against it.”

“Will you not in pity tell me what I am to do--where I must go?”

“How should I tell YOUR to-do, or the way to it?”

“If I am not to go home, at least direct me to some of my kind.”

“I do not know of any. The beings most like you are in that direction.”

He pointed with his beak. I could see nothing but the setting sun, which
blinded me.

“Well,” I said bitterly, “I cannot help feeling hardly treated--taken
from my home, abandoned in a strange world, and refused instruction as
to where I am to go or what I am to do!”

“You forget,” said the raven, “that, when I brought you and you declined
my hospitality, you reached what you call home in safety: now you are
come of yourself! Good night.”

He turned and walked slowly away, with his beak toward the ground. I
stood dazed. It was true I had come of myself, but had I not come with
intent of atonement? My heart was sore, and in my brain was neither
quest nor purpose, hope nor desire. I gazed after the raven, and would
have followed him, but felt it useless.

All at once he pounced on a spot, throwing the whole weight of his body
on his bill, and for some moments dug vigorously. Then with a flutter of
his wings he threw back his head, and something shot from his bill, cast
high in the air. That moment the sun set, and the air at once grew very
dusk, but the something opened into a soft radiance, and came pulsing
toward me like a fire-fly, but with a much larger and a yellower light.
It flew over my head. I turned and followed it.

Here I interrupt my narrative to remark that it involves a constant
struggle to say what cannot be said with even an approach to precision,
the things recorded being, in their nature and in that of the creatures
concerned in them, so inexpressibly different from any possible events
of this economy, that I can present them only by giving, in the forms
and language of life in this world, the modes in which they affected
me--not the things themselves, but the feelings they woke in me. Even
this much, however, I do with a continuous and abiding sense of
failure, finding it impossible to present more than one phase of a
multitudinously complicated significance, or one concentric sphere of a
graduated embodiment. A single thing would sometimes seem to be and mean
many things, with an uncertain identity at the heart of them, which kept
constantly altering their look. I am indeed often driven to set down
what I know to be but a clumsy and doubtful representation of the mere
feeling aimed at, none of the communicating media of this world being
fit to convey it, in its peculiar strangeness, with even an approach
to clearness or certainty. Even to one who knew the region better than
myself, I should have no assurance of transmitting the reality of
my experience in it. While without a doubt, for instance, that I was
actually regarding a scene of activity, I might be, at the same moment,
in my consciousness aware that I was perusing a metaphysical argument.



CHAPTER X. THE BAD BURROW

As the air grew black and the winter closed swiftly around me, the
fluttering fire blazed out more luminous, and arresting its flight,
hovered waiting. So soon as I came under its radiance, it flew slowly
on, lingering now and then above spots where the ground was rocky. Every
time I looked up, it seemed to have grown larger, and at length gave me
an attendant shadow. Plainly a bird-butterfly, it flew with a certain
swallowy double. Its wings were very large, nearly square, and flashed
all the colours of the rainbow. Wondering at their splendour, I became
so absorbed in their beauty that I stumbled over a low rock, and lay
stunned. When I came to myself, the creature was hovering over my head,
radiating the whole chord of light, with multitudinous gradations and
some kinds of colour I had never before seen. I rose and went on, but,
unable to take my eyes off the shining thing to look to my steps, I
struck my foot against a stone. Fearing then another fall, I sat down to
watch the little glory, and a great longing awoke in me to have it in my
hand. To my unspeakable delight, it began to sink toward me. Slowly at
first, then swiftly it sank, growing larger as it came nearer. I felt
as if the treasure of the universe were giving itself to me--put out my
hand, and had it. But the instant I took it, its light went out; all was
dark as pitch; a dead book with boards outspread lay cold and heavy in
my hand. I threw it in the air--only to hear it fall among the heather.
Burying my face in my hands, I sat in motionless misery.

But the cold grew so bitter that, fearing to be frozen, I got up. The
moment I was on my feet, a faint sense of light awoke in me. “Is it
coming to life?” I cried, and a great pang of hope shot through me.
Alas, no! it was the edge of a moon peering up keen and sharp over a
level horizon! She brought me light--but no guidance! SHE would not
hover over me, would not wait on my faltering steps! She could but offer
me an ignorant choice!

With a full face she rose, and I began to see a little about me.
Westward of her, and not far from me, a range of low hills broke the
horizon-line: I set out for it.

But what a night I had to pass ere I reached it! The moon seemed to know
something, for she stared at me oddly. Her look was indeed icy-cold, but
full of interest, or at least curiosity. She was not the same moon I
had known on the earth; her face was strange to me, and her light yet
stranger. Perhaps it came from an unknown sun! Every time I looked up,
I found her staring at me with all her might! At first I was annoyed,
as at the rudeness of a fellow creature; but soon I saw or fancied a
certain wondering pity in her gaze: why was I out in her night? Then
first I knew what an awful thing it was to be awake in the universe: I
WAS, and could not help it!

As I walked, my feet lost the heather, and trod a bare spongy soil,
something like dry, powdery peat. To my dismay it gave a momentary heave
under me; then presently I saw what seemed the ripple of an earthquake
running on before me, shadowy in the low moon. It passed into the
distance; but, while yet I stared after it, a single wave rose up, and
came slowly toward me. A yard or two away it burst, and from it, with a
scramble and a bound, issued an animal like a tiger. About his mouth and
ears hung clots of mould, and his eyes winked and flamed as he rushed
at me, showing his white teeth in a soundless snarl. I stood fascinated,
unconscious of either courage or fear. He turned his head to the ground,
and plunged into it.

“That moon is affecting my brain,” I said as I resumed my journey. “What
life can be here but the phantasmic--the stuff of which dreams are made?
I am indeed walking in a vain show!”

Thus I strove to keep my heart above the waters of fear, nor knew that
she whom I distrusted was indeed my defence from the realities I took
for phantoms: her light controlled the monsters, else had I scarce taken
a second step on the hideous ground. “I will not be appalled by that
which only seems!” I said to myself, yet felt it a terrible thing to
walk on a sea where such fishes disported themselves below. With that, a
step or two from me, the head of a worm began to come slowly out of the
earth, as big as that of a polar bear and much resembling it, with a
white mane to its red neck. The drawing wriggles with which its huge
length extricated itself were horrible, yet I dared not turn my eyes
from them. The moment its tail was free, it lay as if exhausted,
wallowing in feeble effort to burrow again.

“Does it live on the dead,” I wondered, “and is it unable to hurt the
living? If they scent their prey and come out, why do they leave me
unharmed?”

I know now it was that the moon paralysed them.

All the night through as I walked, hideous creatures, no two alike,
threatened me. In some of them, beauty of colour enhanced loathliness
of shape: one large serpent was covered from head to distant tail with
feathers of glorious hues.

I became at length so accustomed to their hurtless menaces that I
fell to beguiling the way with the invention of monstrosities, never
suspecting that I owed each moment of life to the staring moon. Though
hers was no primal radiance, it so hampered the evil things, that I
walked in safety. For light is yet light, if but the last of a countless
series of reflections! How swiftly would not my feet have carried me
over the restless soil, had I known that, if still within their range
when her lamp ceased to shine on the cursed spot, I should that moment
be at the mercy of such as had no mercy, the centre of a writhing heap
of hideousness, every individual of it as terrible as before it had but
seemed! Fool of ignorance, I watched the descent of the weary, solemn,
anxious moon down the widening vault above me, with no worse uneasiness
than the dread of losing my way--where as yet I had indeed no way to
lose.

I was drawing near the hills I had made my goal, and she was now not far
from their sky-line, when the soundless wallowing ceased, and the burrow
lay motionless and bare. Then I saw, slowly walking over the light soil,
the form of a woman. A white mist floated about her, now assuming, now
losing to reassume the shape of a garment, as it gathered to her or was
blown from her by a wind that dogged her steps.

She was beautiful, but with such a pride at once and misery on her
countenance that I could hardly believe what yet I saw. Up and down she
walked, vainly endeavouring to lay hold of the mist and wrap it around
her. The eyes in the beautiful face were dead, and on her left side was
a dark spot, against which she would now and then press her hand, as
if to stifle pain or sickness. Her hair hung nearly to her feet, and
sometimes the wind would so mix it with the mist that I could not
distinguish the one from the other; but when it fell gathering together
again, it shone a pale gold in the moonlight.

Suddenly pressing both hands on her heart, she fell to the ground, and
the mist rose from her and melted in the air. I ran to her. But she
began to writhe in such torture that I stood aghast. A moment more
and her legs, hurrying from her body, sped away serpents. From her
shoulders fled her arms as in terror, serpents also. Then something
flew up from her like a bat, and when I looked again, she was gone. The
ground rose like the sea in a storm; terror laid hold upon me; I turned
to the hills and ran.

I was already on the slope of their base, when the moon sank behind one
of their summits, leaving me in its shadow. Behind me rose a waste and
sickening cry, as of frustrate desire--the only sound I had heard since
the fall of the dead butterfly; it made my heart shake like a flag in
the wind. I turned, saw many dark objects bounding after me, and made
for the crest of a ridge on which the moon still shone. She seemed to
linger there that I might see to defend myself. Soon I came in sight of
her, and climbed the faster.

Crossing the shadow of a rock, I heard the creatures panting at my
heels. But just as the foremost threw himself upon me with a snarl of
greedy hate, we rushed into the moon together. She flashed out an angry
light, and he fell from me a bodiless blotch. Strength came to me, and
I turned on the rest. But one by one as they darted into the light, they
dropped with a howl; and I saw or fancied a strange smile on the round
face above me.

I climbed to the top of the ridge: far away shone the moon, sinking to
a low horizon. The air was pure and strong. I descended a little way,
found it warmer, and sat down to wait the dawn.

The moon went below, and the world again was dark.



CHAPTER XI. THE EVIL WOOD

I fell fast asleep, and when I woke the sun was rising. I went to the
top again, and looked back: the hollow I had crossed in the moonlight
lay without sign of life. Could it be that the calm expanse before me
swarmed with creatures of devouring greed?

I turned and looked over the land through which my way must lie. It
seemed a wide desert, with a patch of a different colour in the
distance that might be a forest. Sign of presence, human or animal, was
none--smoke or dust or shadow of cultivation. Not a cloud floated in
the clear heaven; no thinnest haze curtained any segment of its circling
rim.

I descended, and set out for the imaginable forest: something alive
might be there; on this side of it could not well be anything!

When I reached the plain, I found it, as far as my sight could go, of
rock, here flat and channeled, there humped and pinnacled--evidently the
wide bed of a vanished river, scored by innumerable water-runs, without
a trace of moisture in them. Some of the channels bore a dry moss, and
some of the rocks a few lichens almost as hard as themselves. The air,
once “filled with pleasant noise of waters,” was silent as death.
It took me the whole day to reach the patch,--which I found indeed a
forest--but not a rudiment of brook or runnel had I crossed! Yet through
the glowing noon I seemed haunted by an aural mirage, hearing so plainly
the voice of many waters that I could hardly believe the opposing
testimony of my eyes.

The sun was approaching the horizon when I left the river-bed, and
entered the forest. Sunk below the tree-tops, and sending his rays
between their pillar-like boles, he revealed a world of blessed shadows
waiting to receive me. I had expected a pine-wood, but here were trees
of many sorts, some with strong resemblances to trees I knew, others
with marvellous differences from any I had ever seen. I threw myself
beneath the boughs of what seemed a eucalyptus in blossom: its flowers
had a hard calyx much resembling a skull, the top of which rose like a
lid to let the froth-like bloom-brain overfoam its cup. From beneath
the shadow of its falchion-leaves my eyes went wandering into deep after
deep of the forest.

Soon, however, its doors and windows began to close, shutting up aisle
and corridor and roomier glade. The night was about me, and instant
and sharp the cold. Again what a night I found it! How shall I make my
reader share with me its wild ghostiness?

The tree under which I lay rose high before it branched, but the boughs
of it bent so low that they seemed ready to shut me in as I leaned
against the smooth stem, and let my eyes wander through the brief
twilight of the vanishing forest. Presently, to my listless roving
gaze, the varied outlines of the clumpy foliage began to assume or
imitate--say rather SUGGEST other shapes than their own. A light wind
began to blow; it set the boughs of a neighbour tree rocking, and all
their branches aswing, every twig and every leaf blending its individual
motion with the sway of its branch and the rock of its bough. Among
its leafy shapes was a pack of wolves that struggled to break from
a wizard’s leash: greyhounds would not have strained so savagely! I
watched them with an interest that grew as the wind gathered force, and
their motions life.

Another mass of foliage, larger and more compact, presented my fancy
with a group of horses’ heads and forequarters projecting caparisoned
from their stalls. Their necks kept moving up and down, with an
impatience that augmented as the growing wind broke their vertical
rhythm with a wilder swaying from side to side. What heads they were!
how gaunt, how strange!--several of them bare skulls--one with the skin
tight on its bones! One had lost the under jaw and hung low, looking
unutterably weary--but now and then hove high as if to ease the bit.
Above them, at the end of a branch, floated erect the form of a woman,
waving her arms in imperious gesture. The definiteness of these and
other leaf masses first surprised and then discomposed me: what if they
should overpower my brain with seeming reality? But the twilight became
darkness; the wind ceased; every shape was shut up in the night; I fell
asleep.

It was still dark when I began to be aware of a far-off, confused,
rushing noise, mingled with faint cries. It grew and grew until a tumult
as of gathering multitudes filled the wood. On all sides at once
the sounds drew nearer; the spot where I lay seemed the centre of a
commotion that extended throughout the forest. I scarce moved hand or
foot lest I should betray my presence to hostile things.

The moon at length approached the forest, and came slowly into it: with
her first gleam the noises increased to a deafening uproar, and I began
to see dim shapes about me. As she ascended and grew brighter, the
noises became yet louder, and the shapes clearer. A furious battle was
raging around me. Wild cries and roars of rage, shock of onset, struggle
prolonged, all mingled with words articulate, surged in my ears. Curses
and credos, snarls and sneers, laughter and mockery, sacred names and
howls of hate, came huddling in chaotic interpenetration. Skeletons and
phantoms fought in maddest confusion. Swords swept through the phantoms:
they only shivered. Maces crashed on the skeletons, shattering them
hideously: not one fell or ceased to fight, so long as a single joint
held two bones together. Bones of men and horses lay scattered and
heaped; grinding and crunching them under foot fought the skeletons.
Everywhere charged the bone-gaunt white steeds; everywhere on foot or
on wind-blown misty battle-horses, raged and ravened and raved the
indestructible spectres; weapons and hoofs clashed and crushed; while
skeleton jaws and phantom-throats swelled the deafening tumult with the
war-cry of every opinion, bad or good, that had bred strife, injustice,
cruelty in any world. The holiest words went with the most hating blow.
Lie-distorted truths flew hurtling in the wind of javelins and bones.
Every moment some one would turn against his comrades, and fight more
wildly than before, THE TRUTH! THE TRUTH! still his cry. One I noted who
wheeled ever in a circle, and smote on all sides. Wearied out, a pair
would sit for a minute side by side, then rise and renew the fierce
combat. None stooped to comfort the fallen, or stepped wide to spare
him.

The moon shone till the sun rose, and all the night long I had glimpses
of a woman moving at her will above the strife-tormented multitude, now
on this front now on that, one outstretched arm urging the fight, the
other pressed against her side. “Ye are men: slay one another!” she
shouted. I saw her dead eyes and her dark spot, and recalled what I had
seen the night before.

Such was the battle of the dead, which I saw and heard as I lay under
the tree.

Just before sunrise, a breeze went through the forest, and a voice
cried, “Let the dead bury their dead!” At the word the contending
thousands dropped noiseless, and when the sun looked in, he saw never a
bone, but here and there a withered branch.

I rose and resumed my journey, through as quiet a wood as ever grew out
of the quiet earth. For the wind of the morning had ceased when the sun
appeared, and the trees were silent. Not a bird sang, not a squirrel,
mouse, or weasel showed itself, not a belated moth flew athwart my path.
But as I went I kept watch over myself, nor dared let my eyes rest on
any forest-shape. All the time I seemed to hear faint sounds of mattock
and spade and hurtling bones: any moment my eyes might open on things I
would not see! Daylight prudence muttered that perhaps, to appear, ten
thousand phantoms awaited only my consenting fancy.

In the middle of the afternoon I came out of the wood--to find before
me a second net of dry water-courses. I thought at first that I had
wandered from my attempted line, and reversed my direction; but I soon
saw it was not so, and concluded presently that I had come to another
branch of the same river-bed. I began at once to cross it, and was in
the bottom of a wide channel when the sun set.

I sat down to await the moon, and growing sleepy, stretched myself on
the moss. The moment my head was down, I heard the sounds of rushing
streams--all sorts of sweet watery noises. The veiled melody of the
molten music sang me into a dreamless sleep, and when I woke the sun
was already up, and the wrinkled country widely visible. Covered with
shadows it lay striped and mottled like the skin of some wild animal. As
the sun rose the shadows diminished, and it seemed as if the rocks were
re-absorbing the darkness that had oozed out of them during the night.

Hitherto I had loved my Arab mare and my books more, I fear, than live
man or woman; now at length my soul was athirst for a human presence,
and I longed even after those inhabitants of this alien world whom the
raven had so vaguely described as nearest my sort. With heavy yet hoping
heart, and mind haunted by a doubt whether I was going in any direction
at all, I kept wearily travelling “north-west and by south.”



CHAPTER XII. FRIENDS AND FOES

Coming, in one of the channels, upon what seemed a little shrub, the
outlying picket, I trusted, of an army behind it, I knelt to look at
it closer. It bore a small fruit, which, as I did not recognise it,
I feared to gather and eat. Little I thought that I was watched from
behind the rocks by hundreds of eyes eager with the question whether I
would or would not take it.

I came to another plant somewhat bigger, then to another larger still,
and at length to clumps of a like sort; by which time I saw that they
were not shrubs but dwarf-trees. Before I reached the bank of this
second branch of the river-bed, I found the channels so full of them
that it was with difficulty I crossed such as I could not jump. In one
I heard a great rush, as of a multitude of birds from an ivied wall, but
saw nothing.

I came next to some large fruit-bearing trees, but what they bore looked
coarse. They stood on the edge of a hollow, which evidently had once
been the basin of a lake. From the left a forest seemed to flow into
and fill it; but while the trees above were of many sorts, those in the
hollow were almost entirely fruit-bearing.

I went a few yards down the slope of grass mingled with moss, and
stretched myself upon it weary. A little farther down stood a tiny tree
full of rosiest apples no bigger than small cherries, its top close to
my hand; I pulled and ate one of them. Finding it delicious, I was in
the act of taking another, when a sudden shouting of children, mingled
with laughter clear and sweet as the music of a brook, startled me with
delight.

“He likes our apples! He likes our apples! He’s a good giant! He’s a
good giant!” cried many little voices.

“He’s a giant!” objected one.

“He IS rather big,” assented another, “but littleness isn’t everything!
It won’t keep you from growing big and stupid except you take care!”

I rose on my elbow and stared. Above and about and below me stood a
multitude of children, apparently of all ages, some just able to run
alone, and some about twelve or thirteen. Three or four seemed older.
They stood in a small knot, a little apart, and were less excited
than the rest. The many were chattering in groups, declaiming and
contradicting, like a crowd of grown people in a city, only with greater
merriment, better manners, and more sense.

I gathered that, by the approach of my hand to a second apple, they knew
that I liked the first; but how from that they argued me good, I did not
see, nor wondered that one of them at least should suggest caution. I
did not open my mouth, for I was afraid of frightening them, and sure
I should learn more by listening than by asking questions. For I
understood nearly all they said--at which I was not surprised: to
understand is not more wonderful than to love.

There came a movement and slight dispersion among them, and presently a
sweet, innocent-looking, lovingly roguish little fellow handed me a huge
green apple. Silence fell on the noisy throng; all waited expectant.

“Eat, good giant,” he said.

I sat up, took the apple, smiled thanks, and would have eaten; but the
moment I bit into it, I flung it far away.

Again rose a shout of delight; they flung themselves upon me, so as
nearly to smother me; they kissed my face and hands; they laid hold of
my legs; they clambered about my arms and shoulders, embracing my head
and neck. I came to the ground at last, overwhelmed with the lovely
little goblins.

“Good, good giant!” they cried. “We knew you would come! Oh you dear,
good, strong giant!”

The babble of their talk sprang up afresh, and ever the jubilant shout
would rise anew from hundreds of clear little throats.

Again came a sudden silence. Those around me drew back; those atop of me
got off and began trying to set me on my feet. Upon their sweet faces,
concern had taken the place of merriment.

“Get up, good giant!” said a little girl. “Make haste! much haste! He
saw you throw his apple away!”

Before she ended, I was on my feet. She stood pointing up the slope. On
the brow of it was a clownish, bad-looking fellow, a few inches taller
than myself. He looked hostile, but I saw no reason to fear him, for he
had no weapon, and my little friends had vanished every one.

He began to descend, and I, in the hope of better footing and position,
to go up. He growled like a beast as he turned toward me.

Reaching a more level spot, I stood and waited for him. As he came near,
he held out his hand. I would have taken it in friendly fashion, but
he drew it back, threatened a blow, and held it out again. Then I
understood him to claim the apple I had flung away, whereupon I made a
grimace of dislike and a gesture of rejection.

He answered with a howl of rage that seemed to say, “Do you dare tell me
my apple was not fit to eat?”

“One bad apple may grow on the best tree,” I said.

Whether he perceived my meaning I cannot tell, but he made a stride
nearer, and I stood on my guard. He delayed his assault, however, until
a second giant, much like him, who had been stealing up behind me, was
close enough, when he rushed upon me. I met him with a good blow in the
face, but the other struck me on the back of the head, and between them
I was soon overpowered.

They dragged me into the wood above the valley, where their tribe
lived--in wretched huts, built of fallen branches and a few stones. Into
one of these they pushed me, there threw me on the ground, and kicked
me. A woman was present, who looked on with indifference.

I may here mention that during my captivity I hardly learned to
distinguish the women from the men, they differed so little. Often I
wondered whether I had not come upon a sort of fungoid people, with just
enough mind to give them motion and the expressions of anger and greed.
Their food, which consisted of tubers, bulbs, and fruits, was to me
inexpressibly disagreeable, but nothing offended them so much as to show
dislike to it. I was cuffed by the women and kicked by the men because I
would not swallow it.

I lay on the floor that night hardly able to move, but I slept a good
deal, and woke a little refreshed. In the morning they dragged me to the
valley, and tying my feet, with a long rope, to a tree, put a flat stone
with a saw-like edge in my left hand. I shifted it to the right; they
kicked me, and put it again in the left; gave me to understand that I
was to scrape the bark off every branch that had no fruit on it; kicked
me once more, and left me.

I set about the dreary work in the hope that by satisfying them I should
be left very much to myself--to make my observations and choose my time
for escape. Happily one of the dwarf-trees grew close by me, and
every other minute I plucked and ate a small fruit, which wonderfully
refreshed and strengthened me.



CHAPTER XIII. THE LITTLE ONES

I had been at work but a few moments, when I heard small voices near me,
and presently the Little Ones, as I soon found they called themselves,
came creeping out from among the tiny trees that like brushwood filled
the spaces between the big ones. In a minute there were scores and
scores about me. I made signs that the giants had but just left me,
and were not far off; but they laughed, and told me the wind was quite
clean.

“They are too blind to see us,” they said, and laughed like a multitude
of sheep-bells.

“Do you like that rope about your ankles?” asked one.

“I want them to think I cannot take it off,” I replied.

“They can scarcely see their own feet!” he rejoined. “Walk with short
steps and they will think the rope is all right.”

As he spoke, he danced with merriment.

One of the bigger girls got down on her knees to untie the clumsy knot.
I smiled, thinking those pretty fingers could do nothing with it, but in
a moment it was loose.

They then made me sit down, and fed me with delicious little fruits;
after which the smaller of them began to play with me in the wildest
fashion, so that it was impossible for me to resume my work. When the
first grew tired, others took their places, and this went on until the
sun was setting, and heavy steps were heard approaching. The little
people started from me, and I made haste to put the rope round my
ankles.

“We must have a care,” said the girl who had freed me; “a crush of one
of their horrid stumpy feet might kill a very little one!”

“Can they not perceive you at all then?”

“They might see something move; and if the children were in a heap on
the top of you, as they were a moment ago, it would be terrible; for
they hate every live thing but themselves.--Not that they are much alive
either!”

She whistled like a bird. The next instant not one of them was to be
seen or heard, and the girl herself had disappeared.

It was my master, as doubtless he counted himself, come to take me home.
He freed my ankles, and dragged me to the door of his hut; there he
threw me on the ground, again tied my feet, gave me a kick, and left me.

Now I might at once have made my escape; but at length I had friends,
and could not think of leaving them. They were so charming, so full of
winsome ways, that I must see more of them! I must know them better!
“To-morrow,” I said to myself with delight, “I shall see them again!”
 But from the moment there was silence in the huts until I fell asleep, I
heard them whispering all about me, and knew that I was lovingly watched
by a multitude. After that, I think they hardly ever left me quite
alone.

I did not come to know the giants at all, and I believe there was
scarcely anything in them to know. They never became in the least
friendly, but they were much too stupid to invent cruelties. Often I
avoided a bad kick by catching the foot and giving its owner a fall,
upon which he never, on that occasion, renewed his attempt.

But the little people were constantly doing and saying things that
pleased, often things that surprised me. Every day I grew more loath
to leave them. While I was at work, they would keep coming and going,
amusing and delighting me, and taking all the misery, and much of the
weariness out of my monotonous toil. Very soon I loved them more than
I can tell. They did not know much, but they were very wise, and seemed
capable of learning anything. I had no bed save the bare ground, but
almost as often as I woke, it was in a nest of children--one or other of
them in my arms, though which I seldom could tell until the light came,
for they ordered the succession among themselves. When one crept into my
bosom, unconsciously I clasped him there, and the rest lay close around
me, the smaller nearer. It is hardly necessary to say that I did not
suffer much from the nightly cold! The first thing they did in the
morning, and the last before sunset, was to bring the good giant plenty
to eat.

One morning I was surprised on waking to find myself alone. As I came
to my senses, however, I heard subdued sounds of approach, and presently
the girl already mentioned, the tallest and gravest of the community,
and regarded by all as their mother, appeared from the wood, followed by
the multitude in jubilation manifest--but silent lest they should rouse
the sleeping giant at whose door I lay. She carried a boy-baby in her
arms: hitherto a girl-baby, apparently about a year old, had been the
youngest. Three of the bigger girls were her nurses, but they shared
their treasure with all the rest. Among the Little Ones, dolls were
unknown; the bigger had the smaller, and the smaller the still less, to
tend and play with.

Lona came to me and laid the infant in my arms. The baby opened his eyes
and looked at me, closed them again, and fell asleep.

“He loves you already!” said the girl.

“Where did you find him?” I asked.

“In the wood, of course,” she answered, her eyes beaming with delight,
“--where we always find them. Isn’t he a beauty? We’ve been out all
night looking for him. Sometimes it is not easy to find!”

“How do you know when there is one to find?” I asked.

“I cannot tell,” she replied. “Every one makes haste to tell the other,
but we never find out who told first. Sometimes I think one must have
said it asleep, and another heard it half-awake. When there is a baby in
the wood, no one can stop to ask questions; and when we have found it,
then it is too late.”

“Do more boy or girl babies come to the wood?”

“They don’t come to the wood; we go to the wood and find them.”

“Are there more boys or girls of you now?”

I had found that to ask precisely the same question twice, made them
knit their brows.

“I do not know,” she answered.

“You can count them, surely!”

“We never do that. We shouldn’t like to be counted.”

“Why?”

“It wouldn’t be smooth. We would rather not know.”

“Where do the babies come from first?”

“From the wood--always. There is no other place they can come from.”

She knew where they came from last, and thought nothing else was to be
known about their advent.

“How often do you find one?”

“Such a happy thing takes all the glad we’ve got, and we forget the last
time. You too are glad to have him--are you not, good giant?”

“Yes, indeed, I am!” I answered. “But how do you feed him?”

“I will show you,” she rejoined, and went away--to return directly with
two or three ripe little plums. She put one to the baby’s lips.

“He would open his mouth if he were awake,” she said, and took him in
her arms.

She squeezed a drop to the surface, and again held the fruit to the
baby’s lips. Without waking he began at once to suck it, and she went on
slowly squeezing until nothing but skin and stone were left.

“There!” she cried, in a tone of gentle triumph. “A big-apple world it
would be with nothing for the babies! We wouldn’t stop in it--would we,
darling? We would leave it to the bad giants!”

“But what if you let the stone into the baby’s mouth when you were
feeding him?” I said.

“No mother would do that,” she replied. “I shouldn’t be fit to have a
baby!”

I thought what a lovely woman she would grow. But what became of them
when they grew up? Where did they go? That brought me again to the
question--where did they come from first?

“Will you tell me where you lived before?” I said.

“Here,” she replied.

“Have you NEVER lived anywhere else?” I ventured.

“Never. We all came from the wood. Some think we dropped out of the
trees.”

“How is it there are so many of you quite little?”

“I don’t understand. Some are less and some are bigger. I am very big.”

“Baby will grow bigger, won’t he?”

“Of course he will!”

“And will you grow bigger?”

“I don’t think so. I hope not. I am the biggest. It frightens me
sometimes.”

“Why should it frighten you?”

She gave me no answer.

“How old are you?” I resumed.

“I do not know what you mean. We are all just that.”

“How big will the baby grow?”

“I cannot tell.--Some,” she added, with a trouble in her voice, “begin
to grow after we think they have stopped.--That is a frightful thing. We
don’t talk about it!”

“What makes it frightful?”

She was silent for a moment, then answered,

“We fear they may be beginning to grow giants.”

“Why should you fear that?”

“Because it is so terrible.--I don’t want to talk about it!”

She pressed the baby to her bosom with such an anxious look that I dared
not further question her.

Before long I began to perceive in two or three of the smaller children
some traces of greed and selfishness, and noted that the bigger girls
cast on these a not infrequent glance of anxiety.

None of them put a hand to my work: they would do nothing for the
giants! But they never relaxed their loving ministrations to me. They
would sing to me, one after another, for hours; climb the tree to reach
my mouth and pop fruit into it with their dainty little fingers; and
they kept constant watch against the approach of a giant.

Sometimes they would sit and tell me stories--mostly very childish, and
often seeming to mean hardly anything. Now and then they would call a
general assembly to amuse me. On one such occasion a moody little
fellow sang me a strange crooning song, with a refrain so pathetic that,
although unintelligible to me, it caused the tears to run down my face.
This phenomenon made those who saw it regard me with much perplexity.
Then first I bethought myself that I had not once, in that world, looked
on water, falling or lying or running. Plenty there had been in some
long vanished age--that was plain enough--but the Little Ones had never
seen any before they saw my tears! They had, nevertheless, it seemed,
some dim, instinctive perception of their origin; for a very small child
went up to the singer, shook his clenched pud in his face, and said
something like this: “‘Ou skeeze ze juice out of ze good giant’s
seeberries! Bad giant!”

“How is it,” I said one day to Lona, as she sat with the baby in her
arms at the foot of my tree, “that I never see any children among the
giants?”

She stared a little, as if looking in vain for some sense in the
question, then replied,

“They are giants; there are no little ones.”

“Have they never any children?” I asked.

“No; there are never any in the wood for them. They do not love them. If
they saw ours, they would stamp them.”

“Is there always the same number of the giants then? I thought, before I
had time to know better, that they were your fathers and mothers.”

She burst into the merriest laughter, and said,

“No, good giant; WE are THEIR firsters.”

But as she said it, the merriment died out of her, and she looked
scared.

I stopped working, and gazed at her, bewildered.

“How CAN that be?” I exclaimed.

“I do not say; I do not understand,” she answered. “But we were here and
they not. They go from us. I am sorry, but we cannot help it. THEY could
have helped it.”

“How long have you been here?” I asked, more and more puzzled--in the
hope of some side-light on the matter.

“Always, I think,” she replied. “I think somebody made us always.”

I turned to my scraping.

She saw I did not understand.

“The giants were not made always,” she resumed. “If a Little One doesn’t
care, he grows greedy, and then lazy, and then big, and then stupid, and
then bad. The dull creatures don’t know that they come from us. Very
few of them believe we are anywhere. They say NONSENSE!--Look at little
Blunty: he is eating one of their apples! He will be the next! Oh! oh!
he will soon be big and bad and ugly, and not know it!”

The child stood by himself a little way off, eating an apple nearly
as big as his head. I had often thought he did not look so good as the
rest; now he looked disgusting.

“I will take the horrid thing from him!” I cried.

“It is no use,” she answered sadly. “We have done all we can, and it
is too late! We were afraid he was growing, for he would not believe
anything told him; but when he refused to share his berries, and said
he had gathered them for himself, then we knew it! He is a glutton, and
there is no hope of him.--It makes me sick to see him eat!”

“Could not some of the boys watch him, and not let him touch the
poisonous things?”

“He may have them if he will: it is all one--to eat the apples, and to
be a boy that would eat them if he could. No; he must go to the giants!
He belongs to them. You can see how much bigger he is than when first
you came! He is bigger since yesterday.”

“He is as like that hideous green lump in his hand as boy could look!”

“It suits what he is making himself.”

“His head and it might change places!”

“Perhaps they do!”

“Does he want to be a giant?”

“He hates the giants, but he is making himself one all the same: he
likes their apples! Oh baby, baby, he was just such a darling as you
when we found him!”

“He will be very miserable when he finds himself a giant!”

“Oh, no; he will like it well enough! That is the worst of it.”

“Will he hate the Little Ones?”

“He will be like the rest; he will not remember us--most likely will
not believe there are Little Ones. He will not care; he will eat his
apples.”

“Do tell me how it will come about. I understand your world so little! I
come from a world where everything is different.”

“I do not know about WORLD. What is it? What more but a word in your
beautiful big mouth?--That makes it something!”

“Never mind about the word; tell me what next will happen to Blunty.”

“He will wake one morning and find himself a giant--not like you, good
giant, but like any other bad giant. You will hardly know him, but I
will tell you which. He will think he has been a giant always, and will
not know you, or any of us. The giants have lost themselves, Peony says,
and that is why they never smile. I wonder whether they are not glad
because they are bad, or bad because they are not glad. But they can’t
be glad when they have no babies! I wonder what BAD means, good giant!”

“I wish I knew no more about it than you!” I returned. “But I try to be
good, and mean to keep on trying.”

“So do I--and that is how I know you are good.”

A long pause followed.

“Then you do not know where the babies come from into the wood?” I said,
making one attempt more.

“There is nothing to know there,” she answered. “They are in the wood;
they grow there.”

“Then how is it you never find one before it is quite grown?” I asked.

She knitted her brows and was silent a moment:

“They’re not there till they’re finished,” she said.

“It is a pity the little sillies can’t speak till they’ve forgotten
everything they had to tell!” I remarked.

“Little Tolma, the last before this baby, looked as if she had something
to tell, when I found her under a beech-tree, sucking her thumb, but she
hadn’t. She only looked up at me--oh, so sweetly! SHE will never go
bad and grow big! When they begin to grow big they care for nothing but
bigness; and when they cannot grow any bigger, they try to grow fatter.
The bad giants are very proud of being fat.”

“So they are in my world,” I said; “only they do not say FAT there, they
say RICH.”

“In one of their houses,” continued Lona, “sits the biggest and fattest
of them--so proud that nobody can see him; and the giants go to his
house at certain times, and call out to him, and tell him how fat he is,
and beg him to make them strong to eat more and grow fat like him.”

The rumour at length reached my ears that Blunty had vanished. I saw a
few grave faces among the bigger ones, but he did not seem to be much
missed.

The next morning Lona came to me and whispered,

“Look! look there--by that quince-tree: that is the giant that was
Blunty!--Would you have known him?”

“Never,” I answered. “--But now you tell me, I could fancy it might be
Blunty staring through a fog! He DOES look stupid!”

“He is for ever eating those apples now!” she said. “That is what comes
of Little Ones that WON’T be little!”

“They call it growing-up in my world!” I said to myself. “If only she
would teach me to grow the other way, and become a Little One!--Shall I
ever be able to laugh like them?”

I had had the chance, and had flung it from me! Blunty and I were alike!
He did not know his loss, and I had to be taught mine!



CHAPTER XIV. A CRISIS

For a time I had no desire save to spend my life with the Little Ones.
But soon other thoughts and feelings began to influence me. First awoke
the vague sense that I ought to be doing something; that I was not
meant for the fattening of boors! Then it came to me that I was in a
marvellous world, of which it was assuredly my business to discover
the ways and laws; and that, if I would do anything in return for the
children’s goodness, I must learn more about them than they could tell
me, and to that end must be free. Surely, I thought, no suppression of
their growth can be essential to their loveliness and truth and purity!
Not in any world could the possibility exist of such a discord between
constitution and its natural outcome! Life and law cannot be so at
variance that perfection must be gained by thwarting development! But
the growth of the Little Ones WAS arrested! something interfered with
it: what was it? Lona seemed the eldest of them, yet not more than
fifteen, and had been long in charge of a multitude, in semblance and
mostly in behaviour merest children, who regarded her as their mother!
Were they growing at all? I doubted it. Of time they had scarcely the
idea; of their own age they knew nothing! Lona herself thought she had
lived always! Full of wisdom and empty of knowledge, she was at once
their Love and their Law! But what seemed to me her ignorance might in
truth be my own lack of insight! Her one anxiety plainly was, that her
Little Ones should not grow, and change into bad giants! Their “good
giant” was bound to do his best for them: without more knowledge of
their nature, and some knowledge of their history, he could do nothing,
and must therefore leave them! They would only be as they were
before; they had in no way become dependent on me; they were still
my protectors, I was not theirs; my presence but brought them more in
danger of their idiotic neighbours! I longed to teach them many things:
I must first understand more of those I would teach! Knowledge no
doubt made bad people worse, but it must make good people better! I was
convinced they would learn mathematics; and might they not be taught to
write down the dainty melodies they murmured and forgot?

The conclusion was, that I must rise and continue my travels, in the
hope of coming upon some elucidation of the fortunes and destiny of the
bewitching little creatures.

My design, however, would not so soon have passed into action, but for
what now occurred.

To prepare them for my temporary absence, I was one day telling them
while at work that I would long ago have left the bad giants, but that I
loved the Little Ones so much--when, as by one accord, they came rushing
and crowding upon me; they scrambled over each other and up the tree and
dropped on my head, until I was nearly smothered. With three very little
ones in my arms, one on each shoulder clinging to my neck, one standing
straight up on my head, four or five holding me fast by the legs, others
grappling my body and arms, and a multitude climbing and descending upon
these, I was helpless as one overwhelmed by lava. Absorbed in the merry
struggle, not one of them saw my tyrant coming until he was almost upon
me. With just one cry of “Take care, good giant!” they ran from me like
mice, they dropped from me like hedgehogs, they flew from me up the tree
like squirrels, and the same moment, sharp round the stem came the bad
giant, and dealt me such a blow on the head with a stick that I fell to
the ground. The children told me afterwards that they sent him “such
a many bumps of big apples and stones” that he was frightened, and ran
blundering home.

When I came to myself it was night. Above me were a few pale stars that
expected the moon. I thought I was alone. My head ached badly, and I was
terribly athirst.

I turned wearily on my side. The moment my ear touched the ground, I
heard the gushing and gurgling of water, and the soft noises made me
groan with longing. At once I was amid a multitude of silent children,
and delicious little fruits began to visit my lips. They came and came
until my thirst was gone.

Then I was aware of sounds I had never heard there before; the air was
full of little sobs.

I tried to sit up. A pile of small bodies instantly heaped itself at my
back. Then I struggled to my feet, with much pushing and pulling from
the Little Ones, who were wonderfully strong for their size.

“You must go away, good giant,” they said. “When the bad giants see you
hurt, they will all trample on you.”

“I think I must,” I answered.

“Go and grow strong, and come again,” they said.

“I will,” I replied--and sat down.

“Indeed you must go at once!” whispered Lona, who had been supporting
me, and now knelt beside me.

“I listened at his door,” said one of the bigger boys, “and heard the
bad giant say to his wife that he had found you idle, talking to a lot
of moles and squirrels, and when he beat you, they tried to kill him. He
said you were a wizard, and they must knock you, or they would have no
peace.”

“I will go at once,” I said, “and come back as soon as I have found out
what is wanted to make you bigger and stronger.”

“We don’t want to be bigger,” they answered, looking very serious.
“We WON’T grow bad giants!--We are strong now; you don’t know how much
strong!”

It was no use holding them out a prospect that had not any attraction
for them! I said nothing more, but rose and moved slowly up the slope of
the valley. At once they formed themselves into a long procession; some
led the way, some walked with me helping me, and the rest followed. They
kept feeding me as we went.

“You are broken,” they said, “and much red juice has run out of you: put
some in.”

When we reached the edge of the valley, there was the moon just lifting
her forehead over the rim of the horizon.

“She has come to take care of you, and show you the way,” said Lona.

I questioned those about me as we walked, and learned there was a great
place with a giant-girl for queen. When I asked if it was a city, they
said they did not know. Neither could they tell how far off, or in what
direction it was, or what was the giant-girl’s name; all they knew was,
that she hated the Little Ones, and would like to kill them, only she
could not find them. I asked how they knew that; Lona answered that she
had always known it. If the giant-girl came to look for them, they must
hide hard, she said. When I told them I should go and ask her why she
hated them, they cried out,

“No, no! she will kill you, good giant; she will kill you! She is an
awful bad-giant witch!”

I asked them where I was to go then. They told me that, beyond the
baby-forest, away where the moon came from, lay a smooth green country,
pleasant to the feet, without rocks or trees. But when I asked how I was
to set out for it.

“The moon will tell you, we think,” they said.

They were taking me up the second branch of the river bed: when they saw
that the moon had reached her height, they stopped to return.

“We have never gone so far from our trees before,” they said. “Now mind
you watch how you go, that you may see inside your eyes how to come back
to us.”

“And beware of the giant-woman that lives in the desert,” said one of
the bigger girls as they were turning, “I suppose you have heard of
her!”

“No,” I answered.

“Then take care not to go near her. She is called the Cat-woman. She is
awfully ugly--AND SCRATCHES.”

As soon as the bigger ones stopped, the smaller had begun to run back.
The others now looked at me gravely for a moment, and then walked slowly
away. Last to leave me, Lona held up the baby to be kissed, gazed in
my eyes, whispered, “The Cat-woman will not hurt YOU,” and went without
another word. I stood a while, gazing after them through the moonlight,
then turned and, with a heavy heart, began my solitary journey. Soon the
laughter of the Little Ones overtook me, like sheep-bells innumerable,
rippling the air, and echoing in the rocks about me. I turned again, and
again gazed after them: they went gamboling along, with never a care in
their sweet souls. But Lona walked apart with her baby.

Pondering as I went, I recalled many traits of my little friends.

Once when I suggested that they should leave the country of the bad
giants, and go with me to find another, they answered, “But that would
be to NOT ourselves!”--so strong in them was the love of place that
their country seemed essential to their very being! Without ambition or
fear, discomfort or greed, they had no motive to desire any change; they
knew of nothing amiss; and, except their babies, they had never had a
chance of helping any one but myself:--How were they to grow? But again,
Why should they grow? In seeking to improve their conditions, might
I not do them harm, and only harm? To enlarge their minds after the
notions of my world--might it not be to distort and weaken them? Their
fear of growth as a possible start for gianthood might be instinctive!

The part of philanthropist is indeed a dangerous one; and the man who
would do his neighbour good must first study how not to do him evil, and
must begin by pulling the beam out of his own eye.



CHAPTER XV. A STRANGE HOSTESS

I travelled on attended by the moon. As usual she was full--I had never
seen her other--and to-night as she sank I thought I perceived something
like a smile on her countenance.

When her under edge was a little below the horizon, there appeared in
the middle of her disc, as if it had been painted upon it, a cottage,
through the open door and window of which she shone; and with the sight
came the conviction that I was expected there. Almost immediately the
moon was gone, and the cottage had vanished; the night was rapidly
growing dark, and my way being across a close succession of small
ravines, I resolved to remain where I was and expect the morning. I
stretched myself, therefore, in a sandy hollow, made my supper off the
fruits the children had given me at parting, and was soon asleep.

I woke suddenly, saw above me constellations unknown to my former world,
and had lain for a while gazing at them, when I became aware of a figure
seated on the ground a little way from and above me. I was startled, as
one is on discovering all at once that he is not alone. The figure was
between me and the sky, so that I saw its outline well. From where I lay
low in the hollow, it seemed larger than human.

It moved its head, and then first I saw that its back was toward me.

“Will you not come with me?” said a sweet, mellow voice, unmistakably a
woman’s.

Wishing to learn more of my hostess,

“I thank you,” I replied, “but I am not uncomfortable here. Where would
you have me go? I like sleeping in the open air.”

“There is no hurt in the air,” she returned; “but the creatures that
roam the night in these parts are not such as a man would willingly have
about him while he sleeps.”

“I have not been disturbed,” I said.

“No; I have been sitting by you ever since you lay down.”

“That is very kind of you! How came you to know I was here? Why do you
show me such favour?”

“I saw you,” she answered, still with her back to me, “in the light of
the moon, just as she went down. I see badly in the day, but at night
perfectly. The shadow of my house would have hidden you, but both
its doors were open. I was out on the waste, and saw you go into this
hollow. You were asleep, however, before I could reach you, and I was
not willing to disturb you. People are frightened if I come on them
suddenly. They call me the Cat-woman. It is not my name.”

I remembered what the children had told me--that she was very ugly, and
scratched. But her voice was gentle, and its tone a little apologetic:
she could not be a bad giantess!

“You shall not hear it from me,” I answered, “Please tell me what I MAY
call you!”

“When you know me, call me by the name that seems to you to fit me,” she
replied: “that will tell me what sort you are. People do not often give
me the right one. It is well when they do.”

“I suppose, madam, you live in the cottage I saw in the heart of the
moon?”

“I do. I live there alone, except when I have visitors. It is a poor
place, but I do what I can for my guests, and sometimes their sleep is
sweet to them.”

Her voice entered into me, and made me feel strangely still.

“I will go with you, madam,” I said, rising.

She rose at once, and without a glance behind her led the way. I could
see her just well enough to follow. She was taller than myself, but not
so tall as I had thought her. That she never turned her face to me made
me curious--nowise apprehensive, her voice rang so true. But how was I
to fit her with a name who could not see her? I strove to get alongside
of her, but failed: when I quickened my pace she quickened hers, and
kept easily ahead of me. At length I did begin to grow a little afraid.
Why was she so careful not to be seen? Extraordinary ugliness would
account for it: she might fear terrifying me! Horror of an inconceivable
monstrosity began to assail me: was I following through the dark
an unheard of hideousness? Almost I repented of having accepted her
hospitality.

Neither spoke, and the silence grew unbearable. I MUST break it!

“I want to find my way,” I said, “to a place I have heard of, but whose
name I have not yet learned. Perhaps you can tell it me!”

“Describe it, then, and I will direct you. The stupid Bags know nothing,
and the careless little Lovers forget almost everything.”

“Where do those live?”

“You are just come from them!”

“I never heard those names before!”

“You would not hear them. Neither people knows its own name!”

“Strange!”

“Perhaps so! but hardly any one anywhere knows his own name! It would
make many a fine gentleman stare to hear himself addressed by what is
really his name!”

I held my peace, beginning to wonder what my name might be.

“What now do you fancy yours?” she went on, as if aware of my thought.
“But, pardon me, it is a matter of no consequence.”

I had actually opened my mouth to answer her, when I discovered that my
name was gone from me. I could not even recall the first letter of it!
This was the second time I had been asked my name and could not tell it!

“Never mind,” she said; “it is not wanted. Your real name, indeed, is
written on your forehead, but at present it whirls about so irregularly
that nobody can read it. I will do my part to steady it. Soon it will go
slower, and, I hope, settle at last.”

This startled me, and I was silent.

We had left the channels and walked a long time, but no sign of the
cottage yet appeared.

“The Little Ones told me,” I said at length, “of a smooth green country,
pleasant to the feet!”

“Yes?” she returned.

“They told me too of a girl giantess that was queen somewhere: is that
her country?”

“There is a city in that grassy land,” she replied, “where a woman is
princess. The city is called Bulika. But certainly the princess is not
a girl! She is older than this world, and came to it from yours--with
a terrible history, which is not over yet. She is an evil person, and
prevails much with the Prince of the Power of the Air. The people of
Bulika were formerly simple folk, tilling the ground and pasturing
sheep. She came among them, and they received her hospitably. She taught
them to dig for diamonds and opals and sell them to strangers, and made
them give up tillage and pasturage and build a city. One day they found
a huge snake and killed it; which so enraged her that she declared
herself their princess, and became terrible to them. The name of the
country at that time was THE LAND OF WATERS; for the dry channels,
of which you have crossed so many, were then overflowing with live
torrents; and the valley, where now the Bags and the Lovers have their
fruit-trees, was a lake that received a great part of them. But the
wicked princess gathered up in her lap what she could of the water over
the whole country, closed it in an egg, and carried it away. Her lap,
however, would not hold more than half of it; and the instant she was
gone, what she had not yet taken fled away underground, leaving the
country as dry and dusty as her own heart. Were it not for the waters
under it, every living thing would long ago have perished from it. For
where no water is, no rain falls; and where no rain falls, no springs
rise. Ever since then, the princess has lived in Bulika, holding the
inhabitants in constant terror, and doing what she can to keep them from
multiplying. Yet they boast and believe themselves a prosperous, and
certainly are a self-satisfied people--good at bargaining and buying,
good at selling and cheating; holding well together for a common
interest, and utterly treacherous where interests clash; proud of their
princess and her power, and despising every one they get the better of;
never doubting themselves the most honourable of all the nations, and
each man counting himself better than any other. The depth of their
worthlessness and height of their vainglory no one can understand who
has not been there to see, who has not learned to know the miserable
misgoverned and self-deceived creatures.”

“I thank you, madam. And now, if you please, will you tell me something
about the Little Ones--the Lovers? I long heartily to serve them. Who
and what are they? and how do they come to be there? Those children are
the greatest wonder I have found in this world of wonders.”

“In Bulika you may, perhaps, get some light on those matters. There is
an ancient poem in the library of the palace, I am told, which of course
no one there can read, but in which it is plainly written that after the
Lovers have gone through great troubles and learned their own name, they
will fill the land, and make the giants their slaves.”

“By that time they will have grown a little, will they not?” I said.

“Yes, they will have grown; yet I think too they will not have grown.
It is possible to grow and not to grow, to grow less and to grow bigger,
both at once--yes, even to grow by means of not growing!”

“Your words are strange, madam!” I rejoined. “But I have heard it said
that some words, because they mean more, appear to mean less!”

“That is true, and such words HAVE to be understood. It were well for
the princess of Bulika if she heard what the very silence of the land
is shouting in her ears all day long! But she is far too clever to
understand anything.”

“Then I suppose, when the little Lovers are grown, their land will have
water again?”

“Not exactly so: when they are thirsty enough, they will have water,
and when they have water, they will grow. To grow, they must have water.
And, beneath, it is flowing still.”

“I have heard that water twice,” I said; “--once when I lay down to wait
for the moon--and when I woke the sun was shining! and once when I
fell, all but killed by the bad giant. Both times came the voices of the
water, and healed me.”

The woman never turned her head, and kept always a little before me, but
I could hear every word that left her lips, and her voice much reminded
me of the woman’s in the house of death. Much of what she said, I did
not understand, and therefore cannot remember. But I forgot that I had
ever been afraid of her.

We went on and on, and crossed yet a wide tract of sand before reaching
the cottage. Its foundation stood in deep sand, but I could see that
it was a rock. In character the cottage resembled the sexton’s, but had
thicker walls. The door, which was heavy and strong, opened immediately
into a large bare room, which had two little windows opposite each
other, without glass. My hostess walked in at the open door out of which
the moon had looked, and going straight to the farthest corner, took a
long white cloth from the floor, and wound it about her head and face.
Then she closed the other door, in at which the moon had looked, trimmed
a small horn lantern that stood on the hearth, and turned to receive me.

“You are very welcome, Mr. Vane!” she said, calling me by the name I had
forgotten. “Your entertainment will be scanty, but, as the night is not
far spent, and the day not at hand, it is better you should be indoors.
Here you will be safe, and a little lack is not a great misery.”

“I thank you heartily, madam,” I replied. “But, seeing you know the name
I could not tell you, may I not now know yours?”

“My name is Mara,” she answered.

Then I remembered the sexton and the little black cat.

“Some people,” she went on, “take me for Lot’s wife, lamenting over
Sodom; and some think I am Rachel, weeping for her children; but I am
neither of those.”

“I thank you again, Mara,” I said. “--May I lie here on your floor till
the morning?”

“At the top of that stair,” she answered, “you will find a bed--on which
some have slept better than they expected, and some have waked all the
night and slept all the next day. It is not a very soft one, but it is
better than the sand--and there are no hyenas sniffing about it!”

The stair, narrow and steep, led straight up from the room to an
unceiled and unpartitioned garret, with one wide, low dormer window.
Close under the sloping roof stood a narrow bed, the sight of which with
its white coverlet made me shiver, so vividly it recalled the couches in
the chamber of death. On the table was a dry loaf, and beside it a cup
of cold water. To me, who had tasted nothing but fruit for months, they
were a feast.

“I must leave you in the dark,” my hostess called from the bottom of the
stair. “This lantern is all the light I have, and there are things to do
to-night.”

“It is of no consequence, thank you, madam,” I returned. “To eat and
drink, to lie down and sleep, are things that can be done in the dark.”

“Rest in peace,” she said.

I ate up the loaf, drank the water every drop, and laid myself down.
The bed was hard, the covering thin and scanty, and the night cold: I
dreamed that I lay in the chamber of death, between the warrior and the
lady with the healing wound.

I woke in the middle of the night, thinking I heard low noises of wild
animals.

“Creatures of the desert scenting after me, I suppose!” I said to
myself, and, knowing I was safe, would have gone to sleep again. But
that instant a rough purring rose to a howl under my window, and I
sprang from my bed to see what sort of beast uttered it.

Before the door of the cottage, in the full radiance of the moon, a tall
woman stood, clothed in white, with her back toward me. She was stooping
over a large white animal like a panther, patting and stroking it with
one hand, while with the other she pointed to the moon half-way up the
heaven, then drew a perpendicular line to the horizon. Instantly the
creature darted off with amazing swiftness in the direction indicated.
For a moment my eyes followed it, then sought the woman; but she was
gone, and not yet had I seen her face! Again I looked after the animal,
but whether I saw or only fancied a white speck in the distance, I could
not tell.--What did it mean? What was the monster-cat sent off to do? I
shuddered, and went back to my bed. Then I remembered that, when I lay
down in the sandy hollow outside, the moon was setting; yet here
she was, a few hours after, shining in all her glory! “Everything is
uncertain here,” I said to myself, “--even the motions of the heavenly
bodies!”

I learned afterward that there were several moons in the service of this
world, but the laws that ruled their times and different orbits I failed
to discover.

Again I fell asleep, and slept undisturbed.

When I went down in the morning, I found bread and water waiting me, the
loaf so large that I ate only half of it. My hostess sat muffled beside
me while I broke my fast, and except to greet me when I entered, never
opened her mouth until I asked her to instruct me how to arrive at
Bulika. She then told me to go up the bank of the river-bed until it
disappeared; then verge to the right until I came to a forest--in which
I might spend a night, but which I must leave with my face to the rising
moon. Keeping in the same direction, she said, until I reached a running
stream, I must cross that at right angles, and go straight on until I
saw the city on the horizon.

I thanked her, and ventured the remark that, looking out of the window
in the night, I was astonished to see her messenger understand her so
well, and go so straight and so fast in the direction she had indicated.

“If I had but that animal of yours to guide me--” I went on, hoping to
learn something of its mission, but she interrupted me, saying,

“It was to Bulika she went--the shortest way.”

“How wonderfully intelligent she looked!”

“Astarte knows her work well enough to be sent to do it,” she answered.

“Have you many messengers like her?”

“As many as I require.”

“Are they hard to teach?”

“They need no teaching. They are all of a certain breed, but not one of
the breed is like another. Their origin is so natural it would seem to
you incredible.”

“May I not know it?”

“A new one came to me last night--from your head while you slept.”

I laughed.

“All in this world seem to love mystery!” I said to myself. “Some chance
word of mine suggested an idea--and in this form she embodies the small
fact!”

“Then the creature is mine!” I cried.

“Not at all!” she answered. “That only can be ours in whose existence
our will is a factor.”

“Ha! a metaphysician too!” I remarked inside, and was silent.

“May I take what is left of the loaf?” I asked presently.

“You will want no more to-day,” she replied.

“To-morrow I may!” I rejoined.

She rose and went to the door, saying as she went,

“It has nothing to do with to-morrow--but you may take it if you will.”

She opened the door, and stood holding it. I rose, taking up the
bread--but lingered, much desiring to see her face.

“Must I go, then?” I asked.

“No one sleeps in my house two nights together!” she answered.

“I thank you, then, for your hospitality, and bid you farewell!” I said,
and turned to go.

“The time will come when you must house with me many days and many
nights,” she murmured sadly through her muffling.

“Willingly,” I replied.

“Nay, NOT willingly!” she answered.

I said to myself that she was right--I would not willingly be her guest
a second time! but immediately my heart rebuked me, and I had scarce
crossed the threshold when I turned again.

She stood in the middle of the room; her white garments lay like foamy
waves at her feet, and among them the swathings of her face: it was
lovely as a night of stars. Her great gray eyes looked up to heaven;
tears were flowing down her pale cheeks. She reminded me not a little
of the sexton’s wife, although the one looked as if she had not wept for
thousands of years, and the other as if she wept constantly behind the
wrappings of her beautiful head. Yet something in the very eyes that
wept seemed to say, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in
the morning.”

I had bowed my head for a moment, about to kneel and beg her
forgiveness, when, looking up in the act, I found myself outside a
doorless house. I went round and round it, but could find no entrance.

I had stopped under one of the windows, on the point of calling aloud my
repentant confession, when a sudden wailing, howling scream invaded my
ears, and my heart stood still. Something sprang from the window above
my head, and lighted beyond me. I turned, and saw a large gray cat, its
hair on end, shooting toward the river-bed. I fell with my face in the
sand, and seemed to hear within the house the gentle sobbing of one who
suffered but did not repent.



CHAPTER XVI. A GRUESOME DANCE

I rose to resume my journey, and walked many a desert mile. How I longed
for a mountain, or even a tall rock, from whose summit I might see
across the dismal plain or the dried-up channels to some bordering hope!
Yet what could such foresight have availed me? That which is within a
man, not that which lies beyond his vision, is the main factor in what
is about to befall him: the operation upon him is the event. Foreseeing
is not understanding, else surely the prophecy latent in man would come
oftener to the surface!

The sun was half-way to the horizon when I saw before me a rugged rocky
ascent; but ere I reached it my desire to climb was over, and I longed
to lie down. By that time the sun was almost set, and the air had begun
to grow dark. At my feet lay a carpet of softest, greenest moss, couch
for a king: I threw myself upon it, and weariness at once began to ebb,
for, the moment my head was down, the third time I heard below me many
waters, playing broken airs and ethereal harmonies with the stones of
their buried channels. Loveliest chaos of music-stuff the harp aquarian
kept sending up to my ears! What might not a Händel have done with that
ever-recurring gurgle and bell-like drip, to the mingling and mutually
destructive melodies their common refrain!

As I lay listening, my eyes went wandering up and down the rocky slope
abrupt above me, reading on its face the record that down there, ages
ago, rushed a cataract, filling the channels that had led me to its
foot. My heart swelled at the thought of the splendid tumult, where
the waves danced revelling in helpless fall, to mass their music in one
organ-roar below. But soon the hidden brooks lulled me to sleep, and
their lullabies mingled with my dreams.

I woke before the sun, and eagerly climbed to see what lay beyond. Alas,
nothing but a desert of finest sand! Not a trace was left of the river
that had plunged adown the rocks! The powdery drift had filled its
course to the level of the dreary expanse! As I looked back I saw that
the river had divided into two branches as it fell, that whose bank I
had now followed to the foot of the rocky scaur, and that which first I
crossed to the Evil Wood. The wood I descried between the two on the
far horizon. Before me and to the left, the desert stretched beyond my
vision, but far to the right I could see a lift in the sky-line, giving
hope of the forest to which my hostess had directed me.

I sat down, and sought in my pocket the half-loaf I had brought with
me--then first to understand what my hostess had meant concerning it.
Verily the bread was not for the morrow: it had shrunk and hardened to a
stone! I threw it away, and set out again.

About noon I came to a few tamarisk and juniper trees, and then to a few
stunted firs. As I went on, closer thickets and larger firs met me, and
at length I was in just such a forest of pines and other trees as that
in which the Little Ones found their babies, and believed I had returned
upon a farther portion of the same. But what mattered WHERE while
EVERYWHERE was the same as NOWHERE! I had not yet, by doing something in
it, made ANYWHERE into a place! I was not yet alive; I was only dreaming
I lived! I was but a consciousness with an outlook! Truly I had been
nothing else in the world I had left, but now I knew the fact! I said
to myself that if in this forest I should catch the faint gleam of the
mirror, I would turn far aside lest it should entrap me unawares, and
give me back to my old existence: here I might learn to be something by
doing something! I could not endure the thought of going back, with so
many beginnings and not an end achieved. The Little Ones would meet what
fate was appointed them; the awful witch I should never meet; the dead
would ripen and arise without me; I should but wake to know that I had
dreamed, and that all my going was nowhither! I would rather go on and
on than come to such a close!

I went deeper into the wood: I was weary, and would rest in it.

The trees were now large, and stood in regular, almost geometric,
fashion, with roomy spaces between. There was little undergrowth, and
I could see a long way in every direction. The forest was like a great
church, solemn and silent and empty, for I met nothing on two feet or
four that day. Now and then, it is true, some swift thing, and again
some slow thing, would cross the space on which my eye happened that
moment to settle; but it was always at some distance, and only enhanced
the sense of wideness and vacancy. I heard a few birds, and saw plenty
of butterflies, some of marvellously gorgeous colouring and combinations
of colour, some of a pure and dazzling whiteness.

Coming to a spot where the pines stood farther apart and gave room for
flowering shrubs, and hoping it a sign of some dwelling near, I took the
direction where yet more and more roses grew, for I was hungry after the
voice and face of my kind--after any live soul, indeed, human or not,
which I might in some measure understand. What a hell of horror, I
thought, to wander alone, a bare existence never going out of itself,
never widening its life in another life, but, bound with the cords of
its poor peculiarities, lying an eternal prisoner in the dungeon of its
own being! I began to learn that it was impossible to live for oneself
even, save in the presence of others--then, alas, fearfully possible!
evil was only through good! selfishness but a parasite on the tree
of life! In my own world I had the habit of solitary song; here not a
crooning murmur ever parted my lips! There I sang without thinking; here
I thought without singing! there I had never had a bosom-friend; here
the affection of an idiot would be divinely welcome! “If only I had a
dog to love!” I sighed--and regarded with wonder my past self, which
preferred the company of book or pen to that of man or woman; which, if
the author of a tale I was enjoying appeared, would wish him away that I
might return to his story. I had chosen the dead rather than the living,
the thing thought rather than the thing thinking! “Any man,” I said
now, “is more than the greatest of books!” I had not cared for my
live brothers and sisters, and now I was left without even the dead to
comfort me!

The wood thinned yet more, and the pines grew yet larger, sending up
huge stems, like columns eager to support the heavens. More trees of
other kinds appeared; the forest was growing richer! The roses wore now
trees, and their flowers of astonishing splendour.

Suddenly I spied what seemed a great house or castle; but its forms were
so strangely indistinct, that I could not be certain it was more than a
chance combination of tree-shapes. As I drew nearer, its lines yet held
together, but neither they nor the body of it grew at all more definite;
and when at length I stood in front of it, I remained as doubtful of its
nature as before. House or castle habitable, it certainly was not; it
might be a ruin overgrown with ivy and roses! Yet of building hid in the
foliage, not the poorest wall-remnant could I discern. Again and again
I seemed to descry what must be building, but it always vanished before
closer inspection. Could it be, I pondered, that the ivy had embraced a
huge edifice and consumed it, and its interlaced branches retained the
shapes of the walls it had assimilated?--I could be sure of nothing
concerning the appearance.

Before me was a rectangular vacancy--the ghost of a doorway without a
door: I stepped through it, and found myself in an open space like a
great hall, its floor covered with grass and flowers, its walls and roof
of ivy and vine, mingled with roses.

There could be no better place in which to pass the night! I gathered
a quantity of withered leaves, laid them in a corner, and threw myself
upon them. A red sunset filled the hall, the night was warm, and my
couch restful; I lay gazing up at the live ceiling, with its tracery
of branches and twigs, its clouds of foliage, and peeping patches of
loftier roof. My eyes went wading about as if tangled in it, until the
sun was down, and the sky beginning to grow dark. Then the red roses
turned black, and soon the yellow and white alone were visible. When
they vanished, the stars came instead, hanging in the leaves like
live topazes, throbbing and sparkling and flashing many colours: I was
canopied with a tree from Aladdin’s cave!

Then I discovered that it was full of nests, whence tiny heads,
nearly indistinguishable, kept popping out with a chirp or two, and
disappearing again. For a while there were rustlings and stirrings and
little prayers; but as the darkness grew, the small heads became still,
and at last every feathered mother had her brood quiet under her wings,
the talk in the little beds was over, and God’s bird-nursery at rest
beneath the waves of sleep. Once more a few flutterings made me look
up: an owl went sailing across. I had only a glimpse of him, but several
times felt the cool wafture of his silent wings. The mother birds did
not move again; they saw that he was looking for mice, not children.

About midnight I came wide awake, roused by a revelry, whose noises
were yet not loud. Neither were they distant; they were close to me, but
attenuate. My eyes were so dazzled, however, that for a while I could
see nothing; at last they came to themselves.

I was lying on my withered leaves in the corner of a splendid hall.
Before me was a crowd of gorgeously dressed men and gracefully robed
women, none of whom seemed to see me. In dance after dance they vaguely
embodied the story of life, its meetings, its passions, its partings. A
student of Shakspere, I had learned something of every dance alluded
to in his plays, and hence partially understood several of those I
now saw--the minuet, the pavin, the hey, the coranto, the lavolta. The
dancers were attired in fashion as ancient as their dances.

A moon had risen while I slept, and was shining through the
countless-windowed roof; but her light was crossed by so many shadows
that at first I could distinguish almost nothing of the faces of
the multitude; I could not fail, however, to perceive that there was
something odd about them: I sat up to see them better.--Heavens! could
I call them faces? They were skull fronts!--hard, gleaming bone, bare
jaws, truncated noses, lipless teeth which could no more take part in
any smile! Of these, some flashed set and white and murderous; others
were clouded with decay, broken and gapped, coloured of the earth in
which they seemed so long to have lain! Fearfuller yet, the eye-sockets
were not empty; in each was a lidless living eye! In those wrecks of
faces, glowed or flashed or sparkled eyes of every colour, shape, and
expression. The beautiful, proud eye, dark and lustrous, condescending
to whatever it rested upon, was the more terrible; the lovely,
languishing eye, the more repulsive; while the dim, sad eyes, less at
variance with their setting, were sad exceedingly, and drew the heart in
spite of the horror out of which they gazed.

I rose and went among the apparitions, eager to understand something
of their being and belongings. Were they souls, or were they and their
rhythmic motions but phantasms of what had been? By look nor by gesture,
not by slightest break in the measure, did they show themselves aware
of me; I was not present to them: how much were they in relation to each
other? Surely they saw their companions as I saw them! Or was each only
dreaming itself and the rest? Did they know each how they appeared to
the others--a death with living eyes? Had they used their faces, not for
communication, not to utter thought and feeling, not to share existence
with their neighbours, but to appear what they wished to appear, and
conceal what they were? and, having made their faces masks, were they
therefore deprived of those masks, and condemned to go without faces
until they repented?

“How long must they flaunt their facelessness in faceless eyes?” I
wondered. “How long will the frightful punition endure? Have they at
length begun to love and be wise? Have they yet yielded to the shame
that has found them?”

I heard not a word, saw not a movement of one naked mouth. Were they
because of lying bereft of speech? With their eyes they spoke as if
longing to be understood: was it truth or was it falsehood that spoke
in their eyes? They seemed to know one another: did they see one skull
beautiful, and another plain? Difference must be there, and they had had
long study of skulls!

My body was to theirs no obstacle: was I a body, and were they but
forms? or was I but a form, and were they bodies? The moment one of the
dancers came close against me, that moment he or she was on the other
side of me, and I could tell, without seeing, which, whether man or
woman, had passed through my house.

On many of the skulls the hair held its place, and however dressed, or
in itself however beautiful, to my eyes looked frightful on the bones
of the forehead and temples. In such case, the outer ear often remained
also, and at its tip, the jewel of the ear as Sidney calls it,
would hang, glimmering, gleaming, or sparkling, pearl or opal or
diamond--under the night of brown or of raven locks, the sunrise
of golden ripples, or the moonshine of pale, interclouded, fluffy
cirri--lichenous all on the ivory-white or damp-yellow naked bone. I
looked down and saw the daintily domed instep; I looked up and saw the
plump shoulders basing the spring of the round full neck--which withered
at half-height to the fluted shaft of a gibbose cranium.

The music became wilder, the dance faster and faster; eyes flared and
flashed, jewels twinkled and glittered, casting colour and fire on the
pallid grins that glode through the hall, weaving a ghastly rhythmic
woof in intricate maze of multitudinous motion, when sudden came a
pause, and every eye turned to the same spot:--in the doorway stood a
woman, perfect in form, in holding, and in hue, regarding the company
as from the pedestal of a goddess, while the dancers stood “like one
forbid,” frozen to a new death by the vision of a life that killed.
“Dead things, I live!” said her scornful glance. Then, at once, like
leaves in which an instant wind awakes, they turned each to another, and
broke afresh into melodious consorted motion, a new expression in
their eyes, late solitary, now filled with the interchange of a common
triumph. “Thou also,” they seemed to say, “wilt soon become weak as
we! thou wilt soon become like unto us!” I turned mine again to the
woman--and saw upon her side a small dark shadow.

She had seen the change in the dead stare; she looked down; she
understood the talking eyes; she pressed both her lovely hands on the
shadow, gave a smothered cry, and fled. The birds moved rustling in
their nests, and a flash of joy lit up the eyes of the dancers, when
suddenly a warm wind, growing in strength as it swept through the place,
blew out every light. But the low moon yet glimmered on the horizon with
“sick assay” to shine, and a turbid radiance yet gleamed from so many
eyes, that I saw well enough what followed. As if each shape had been
but a snow-image, it began to fall to pieces, ruining in the warm wind.
In papery flakes the flesh peeled from its bones, dropping like soiled
snow from under its garments; these fell fluttering in rags and strips,
and the whole white skeleton, emerging from garment and flesh together,
stood bare and lank amid the decay that littered the floor. A faint
rattling shiver went through the naked company; pair after pair
the lamping eyes went out; and the darkness grew round me with the
loneliness. For a moment the leaves were still swept fluttering all one
way; then the wind ceased, and the owl floated silent through the silent
night.

Not for a moment had I been afraid. It is true that whoever would cross
the threshold of any world, must leave fear behind him; but, for myself,
I could claim no part in its absence. No conscious courage was operant
in me; simply, I was not afraid. I neither knew why I was not afraid,
nor wherefore I might have been afraid. I feared not even fear--which of
all dangers is the most dangerous.

I went out into the wood, at once to resume my journey. Another moon was
rising, and I turned my face toward it.



CHAPTER XVII. A GROTESQUE TRAGEDY

I had not gone ten paces when I caught sight of a strange-looking
object, and went nearer to know what it might be. I found it a
mouldering carriage of ancient form, ruinous but still upright on its
heavy wheels. On each side of the pole, still in its place, lay the
skeleton of a horse; from their two grim white heads ascended the
shrivelled reins to the hand of the skeleton-coachman seated on his
tattered hammer-cloth; both doors had fallen away; within sat two
skeletons, each leaning back in its corner.

Even as I looked, they started awake, and with a cracking rattle of
bones, each leaped from the door next it. One fell and lay; the other
stood a moment, its structure shaking perilously; then with difficulty,
for its joints were stiff, crept, holding by the back of the carriage,
to the opposite side, the thin leg-bones seeming hardly strong enough to
carry its weight, where, kneeling by the other, it sought to raise it,
almost falling itself again in the endeavour.

The prostrate one rose at length, as by a sudden effort, to the sitting
posture. For a few moments it turned its yellowish skull to this side
and that; then, heedless of its neighbour, got upon its feet by grasping
the spokes of the hind wheel. Half erected thus, it stood with its back
to the other, both hands holding one of its knee-joints. With little
less difficulty and not a few contortions, the kneeling one rose next,
and addressed its companion.

“Have you hurt yourself, my lord?” it said, in a voice that sounded
far-off, and ill-articulated as if blown aside by some spectral wind.

“Yes, I have,” answered the other, in like but rougher tone. “You would
do nothing to help me, and this cursed knee is out!”

“I did my best, my lord.”

“No doubt, my lady, for it was bad! I thought I should never find my
feet again!--But, bless my soul, madam! are you out in your bones?”

She cast a look at herself.

“I have nothing else to be out in,” she returned; “--and YOU at least
cannot complain! But what on earth does it mean? Am I dreaming?”

“YOU may be dreaming, madam--I cannot tell; but this knee of mine
forbids me the grateful illusion.--Ha! I too, I perceive, have nothing
to walk in but bones!--Not so unbecoming to a man, however! I trust to
goodness they are not MY bones! every one aches worse than another, and
this loose knee worst of all! The bed must have been damp--and I too
drunk to know it!”

“Probably, my lord of Cokayne!”

“What! what!--You make me think I too am dreaming--aches and all! How
do YOU know the title my roistering bullies give me? I don’t remember
you!--Anyhow, you have no right to take liberties! My name is--I am
lord----tut, tut! What do you call me when I’m--I mean when you are
sober? I cannot--at the moment,--Why, what IS my name?--I must have been
VERY drunk when I went to bed! I often am!”

“You come so seldom to mine, that I do not know, my lord; but I may take
your word for THAT!”

“I hope so!”

“--if for nothing else!” “Hoity toity! I never told you a lie in my
life!”

“You never told me anything but lies.”

“Upon my honour!--Why, I never saw the woman before!”

“You knew me well enough to lie to, my lord!”

“I do seem to begin to dream I have met you before, but, upon my oath,
there is nothing to know you by! Out of your clothes, who is to tell
who you may not be?--One thing I MAY swear--that I never saw you so much
undressed before!--By heaven, I have no recollection of you!”

“I am glad to hear it: my recollections of you are the less
distasteful!--Good morning, my lord!”

She turned away, hobbled, clacking, a few paces, and stood again.

“You are just as heartless as--as--any other woman, madam!--Where in
this hell of a place shall I find my valet?--What was the cursed name I
used to call the fool?”

He turned his bare noddle this way and that on its creaking pivot, still
holding his knee with both hands.

“I will be your valet for once, my lord,” said the lady, turning once
more to him. “--What can I do for you? It is not easy to tell!”

“Tie my leg on, of course, you fool! Can’t you see it is all but off?
Heigho, my dancing days!”

She looked about with her eyeless sockets and found a piece of fibrous
grass, with which she proceeded to bind together the adjoining parts
that had formed the knee. When she had done, he gave one or two
carefully tentative stamps.

“You used to stamp rather differently, my lord!” she said, as she rose
from her knees.

“Eh? what!--Now I look at you again, it seems to me I used to hate
you!--Eh?”

“Naturally, my lord! You hated a good many people!--your wife, of
course, among the rest!”

“Ah, I begin, I be-gin---- But--I must have been a long time
somewhere!--I really forget!--There! your damned, miserable bit of grass
is breaking!--We used to get on PRETTY well together--eh?”

“Not that I remember, my lord. The only happy moments I had in your
company were scattered over the first week of our marriage.”

“Was that the way of it? Ha! ha!--Well, it’s over now, thank goodness!”

“I wish I could believe it! Why were we sitting there in that carriage
together? It wakes apprehension!”

“I think we were divorced, my lady!”

“Hardly enough: we are still together!”

“A sad truth, but capable of remedy: the forest seems of some extent!”

“I doubt! I doubt!”

“I am sorry I cannot think of a compliment to pay you--without lying,
that is. To judge by your figure and complexion you have lived hard
since I saw you last! I cannot surely be QUITE so naked as your
ladyship!--I beg your pardon, madam! I trust you will take it I am
but jesting in a dream! It is of no consequence, however; dreaming
or waking, all’s one--all merest appearance! You can’t be certain of
anything, and that’s as good as knowing there is nothing! Life may teach
any fool that!”

“It has taught me the fool I was to love you!”

“You were not the only fool to do that! Women had a trick of falling in
love with me:--I had forgotten that you were one of them!” “I did love
you, my lord--a little--at one time!”

“Ah, there was your mistake, my lady! You should have loved me much,
loved me devotedly, loved me savagely--loved me eternally! Then I should
have tired of you the sooner, and not hated you so much afterward!--But
let bygones be bygones!--WHERE are we? Locality is the question! To be
or not to be, is NOT the question!”

“We are in the other world, I presume!”

“Granted!--but in which or what sort of other world? This can’t be
hell!”

“It must: there’s marriage in it! You and I are damned in each other.”

“Then I’m not like Othello, damned in a fair wife!--Oh, I remember my
Shakspeare, madam!”

She picked up a broken branch that had fallen into a bush, and steadying
herself with it, walked away, tossing her little skull.

“Give that stick to me,” cried her late husband; “I want it more than
you.”

She returned him no answer.

“You mean to make me beg for it?”

“Not at all, my lord. I mean to keep it,” she replied, continuing her
slow departure.

“Give it me at once; I mean to have it! I require it.”

“Unfortunately, I think I require it myself!” returned the lady, walking
a little quicker, with a sharper cracking of her joints and clinking of
her bones.

He started to follow her, but nearly fell: his knee-grass had burst, and
with an oath he stopped, grasping his leg again.

“Come and tie it up properly!” he would have thundered, but he only
piped and whistled!

She turned and looked at him.

“Come and tie it up instantly!” he repeated.

She walked a step or two farther from him.

“I swear I will not touch you!” he cried.

“Swear on, my lord! there is no one here to believe you. But, pray, do
not lose your temper, or you will shake yourself to pieces, and where to
find string enough to tie up all your crazy joints, is more than I can
tell.”

She came back, and knelt once more at his side--first, however, laying
the stick in dispute beyond his reach and within her own.

The instant she had finished retying the joint, he made a grab at her,
thinking, apparently, to seize her by the hair; but his hard fingers
slipped on the smooth poll.

“Disgusting!” he muttered, and laid hold of her upper arm-bone.

“You will break it!” she said, looking up from her knees.

“I will, then!” he answered, and began to strain at it.

“I shall not tie your leg again the next time it comes loose!” she
threatened.

He gave her arm a vicious twist, but happily her bones were in better
condition than his. She stretched her other hand toward the broken
branch.

“That’s right: reach me the stick!” he grinned.

She brought it round with such a swing that one of the bones of the
sounder leg snapped. He fell, choking with curses. The lady laughed.

“Now you will have to wear splints always!” she said; “such dry bones
never mend!”

“You devil!” he cried.

“At your service, my lord! Shall I fetch you a couple of wheel-spokes?
Neat--but heavy, I fear!”

He turned his bone-face aside, and did not answer, but lay and groaned.
I marvelled he had not gone to pieces when he fell. The lady rose and
walked away--not all ungracefully, I thought.

“What can come of it?” I said to myself. “These are too wretched for any
world, and this cannot be hell, for the Little Ones are in it, and
the sleepers too! What can it all mean? Can things ever come right for
skeletons?”

“There are words too big for you and me: ALL is one of them, and EVER is
another,” said a voice near me which I knew.

I looked about, but could not see the speaker.

“You are not in hell,” it resumed. “Neither am I in hell. But those
skeletons are in hell!”

Ere he ended I caught sight of the raven on the bough of a beech, right
over my head. The same moment he left it, and alighting on the ground,
stood there, the thin old man of the library, with long nose and long
coat.

“The male was never a gentleman,” he went on, “and in the bony stage
of retrogression, with his skeleton through his skin, and his character
outside his manners, does not look like one. The female is less vulgar,
and has a little heart. But, the restraints of society removed, you see
them now just as they are and always were!”

“Tell me, Mr. Raven, what will become of them,” I said.

“We shall see,” he replied. “In their day they were the handsomest
couple at court; and now, even in their dry bones, they seem to regard
their former repute as an inalienable possession; to see their faces,
however, may yet do something for them! They felt themselves rich too
while they had pockets, but they have already begun to feel rather
pinched! My lord used to regard my lady as a worthless encumbrance, for
he was tired of her beauty and had spent her money; now he needs her
to cobble his joints for him! These changes have roots of hope in them.
Besides, they cannot now get far away from each other, and they see none
else of their own kind: they must at last grow weary of their mutual
repugnance, and begin to love one another! for love, not hate, is
deepest in what Love ‘loved into being.’”

“I saw many more of their kind an hour ago, in the hall close by!” I
said.

“Of their kind, but not of their sort,” he answered. “For many years
these will see none such as you saw last night. Those are centuries
in advance of these. You saw that those could even dress themselves a
little! It is true they cannot yet retain their clothes so long as they
would--only, at present, for a part of the night; but they are pretty
steadily growing more capable, and will by and by develop faces; for
every grain of truthfulness adds a fibre to the show of their humanity.
Nothing but truth can appear; and whatever is must seem.”

“Are they upheld by this hope?” I asked.

“They are upheld by hope, but they do not in the least know their hope;
to understand it, is yet immeasurably beyond them,” answered Mr. Raven.

His unexpected appearance had caused me no astonishment. I was like a
child, constantly wondering, and surprised at nothing.

“Did you come to find me, sir?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he replied. “I have no anxiety about you. Such as you
always come back to us.”

“Tell me, please, who am I such as?” I said.

“I cannot make my friend the subject of conversation,” he answered, with
a smile.

“But when that friend is present!” I urged.

“I decline the more strongly,” he rejoined.

“But when that friend asks you!” I persisted.

“Then most positively I refuse,” he returned.

“Why?”

“Because he and I would be talking of two persons as if they were one
and the same. Your consciousness of yourself and my knowledge of you are
far apart!”

The lapels of his coat flew out, and the lappets lifted, and I thought
the metamorphosis of HOMO to CORVUS was about to take place before my
eyes. But the coat closed again in front of him, and he added, with
seeming inconsequence,

“In this world never trust a person who has once deceived you. Above
all, never do anything such a one may ask you to do.”

“I will try to remember,” I answered; “--but I may forget!”

“Then some evil that is good for you will follow.”

“And if I remember?”

“Some evil that is not good for you, will not follow.”

The old man seemed to sink to the ground, and immediately I saw the
raven several yards from me, flying low and fast.



CHAPTER XVIII. DEAD OR ALIVE?

I went walking on, still facing the moon, who, not yet high, was staring
straight into the forest. I did not know what ailed her, but she
was dark and dented, like a battered disc of old copper, and looked
dispirited and weary. Not a cloud was nigh to keep her company, and the
stars were too bright for her. “Is this going to last for ever?” she
seemed to say. She was going one way and I was going the other, yet
through the wood we went a long way together. We did not commune much,
for my eyes were on the ground; but her disconsolate look was fixed on
me: I felt without seeing it. A long time we were together, I and the
moon, walking side by side, she the dull shine, and I the live shadow.

Something on the ground, under a spreading tree, caught my eye with its
whiteness, and I turned toward it. Vague as it was in the shadow of
the foliage, it suggested, as I drew nearer, a human body. “Another
skeleton!” I said to myself, kneeling and laying my hand upon it. A body
it was, however, and no skeleton, though as nearly one as body could
well be. It lay on its side, and was very cold--not cold like a stone,
but cold like that which was once alive, and is alive no more. The
closer I looked at it, the oftener I touched it, the less it seemed
possible it should be other than dead. For one bewildered moment, I
fancied it one of the wild dancers, a ghostly Cinderella, perhaps,
that had lost her way home, and perished in the strange night of an
out-of-door world! It was quite naked, and so worn that, even in the
shadow, I could, peering close, have counted without touching them,
every rib in its side. All its bones, indeed, were as visible as if
tight-covered with only a thin elastic leather. Its beautiful yet
terrible teeth, unseemly disclosed by the retracted lips, gleamed
ghastly through the dark. Its hair was longer than itself, thick and
very fine to the touch, and black as night.

It was the body of a tall, probably graceful woman.--How had she come
there? Not of herself, and already in such wasted condition, surely! Her
strength must have failed her; she had fallen, and lain there until she
died of hunger! But how, even so, could she be thus emaciated? And how
came she to be naked? Where were the savages to strip and leave her?
or what wild beasts would have taken her garments? That her body should
have been left was not wonderful!

I rose to my feet, stood, and considered. I must not, could not let her
lie exposed and forsaken! Natural reverence forbade it. Even the
garment of a woman claims respect; her body it were impossible to leave
uncovered! Irreverent eyes might look on it! Brutal claws might toss
it about! Years would pass ere the friendly rains washed it into the
soil!--But the ground was hard, almost solid with interlacing roots, and
I had but my bare hands!

At first it seemed plain that she had not long been dead: there was not
a sign of decay about her! But then what had the slow wasting of life
left of her to decay?

Could she be still alive? Might she not? What if she were! Things went
very strangely in this strange world! Even then there would be little
chance of bringing her back, but I must know she was dead before I
buried her!

As I left the forest-hall, I had spied in the doorway a bunch of ripe
grapes, and brought it with me, eating as I came: a few were yet left on
the stalk, and their juice might possibly revive her! Anyhow it was all
I had with which to attempt her rescue! The mouth was happily a little
open; but the head was in such an awkward position that, to move the
body, I passed my arm under the shoulder on which it lay, when I found
the pine-needles beneath it warm: she could not have been any time dead,
and MIGHT still be alive, though I could discern no motion of the heart,
or any indication that she breathed! One of her hands was clenched hard,
apparently inclosing something small. I squeezed a grape into her mouth,
but no swallowing followed.

To do for her all I could, I spread a thick layer of pine-needles and
dry leaves, laid one of my garments over it, warm from my body, lifted
her upon it, and covered her with my clothes and a great heap of leaves:
I would save the little warmth left in her, hoping an increase to it
when the sun came back. Then I tried another grape, but could perceive
no slightest movement of mouth or throat.

“Doubt,” I said to myself, “may be a poor encouragement to do anything,
but it is a bad reason for doing nothing.” So tight was the skin upon
her bones that I dared not use friction.

I crept into the heap of leaves, got as close to her as I could, and
took her in my arms. I had not much heat left in me, but what I had
I would share with her! Thus I spent what remained of the night,
sleepless, and longing for the sun. Her cold seemed to radiate into me,
but no heat to pass from me to her.

Had I fled from the beautiful sleepers, I thought, each on her “dim,
straight” silver couch, to lie alone with such a bedfellow! I had
refused a lovely privilege: I was given over to an awful duty! Beneath
the sad, slow-setting moon, I lay with the dead, and watched for the
dawn.

The darkness had given way, and the eastern horizon was growing dimly
clearer, when I caught sight of a motion rather than of anything
that moved--not far from me, and close to the ground. It was the low
undulating of a large snake, which passed me in an unswerving line.
Presently appeared, making as it seemed for the same point, what I took
for a roebuck-doe and her calf. Again a while, and two creatures like
bear-cubs came, with three or four smaller ones behind them. The light
was now growing so rapidly that when, a few minutes after, a troop of
horses went trotting past, I could see that, although the largest of
them were no bigger than the smallest Shetland pony, they must yet be
full-grown, so perfect were they in form, and so much had they all the
ways and action of great horses. They were of many breeds. Some seemed
models of cart-horses, others of chargers, hunters, racers. Dwarf cattle
and small elephants followed.

“Why are the children not here!” I said to myself. “The moment I am free
of this poor woman, I must go back and fetch them!”

Where were the creatures going? What drew them? Was this an exodus, or
a morning habit? I must wait for the sun! Till he came I must not leave
the woman! I laid my hand on the body, and could not help thinking it
felt a trifle warmer. It might have gained a little of the heat I had
lost! it could hardly have generated any! What reason for hope there was
had not grown less!

The forehead of the day began to glow, and soon the sun came peering up,
as if to see for the first time what all this stir of a new world was
about. At sight of his great innocent splendour, I rose full of life,
strong against death. Removing the handkerchief I had put to protect the
mouth and eyes from the pine-needles, I looked anxiously to see whether
I had found a priceless jewel, or but its empty case.

The body lay motionless as when I found it. Then first, in the morning
light, I saw how drawn and hollow was the face, how sharp were the bones
under the skin, how every tooth shaped itself through the lips. The
human garment was indeed worn to its threads, but the bird of heaven
might yet be nestling within, might yet awake to motion and song!

But the sun was shining on her face! I re-arranged the handkerchief,
laid a few leaves lightly over it, and set out to follow the creatures.
Their main track was well beaten, and must have long been used--likewise
many of the tracks that, joining it from both sides, merged in, and
broadened it. The trees retreated as I went, and the grass grew thicker.
Presently the forest was gone, and a wide expanse of loveliest green
stretched away to the horizon. Through it, along the edge of the forest,
flowed a small river, and to this the track led. At sight of the water a
new though undefined hope sprang up in me. The stream looked everywhere
deep, and was full to the brim, but nowhere more than a few yards wide.
A bluish mist rose from it, vanishing as it rose. On the opposite side,
in the plentiful grass, many small animals were feeding. Apparently they
slept in the forest, and in the morning sought the plain, swimming the
river to reach it. I knelt and would have drunk, but the water was hot,
and had a strange metallic taste.

I leapt to my feet: here was the warmth I sought--the first necessity of
life! I sped back to my helpless charge.

Without well considering my solitude, no one will understand what seemed
to lie for me in the redemption of this woman from death. “Prove what
she may,” I thought with myself, “I shall at least be lonely no more!” I
had found myself such poor company that now first I seemed to know what
hope was. This blessed water would expel the cold death, and drown my
desolation!

I bore her to the stream. Tall as she was, I found her marvellously
light, her bones were so delicate, and so little covered them. I grew
yet more hopeful when I found her so far from stiff that I could carry
her on one arm, like a sleeping child, leaning against my shoulder. I
went softly, dreading even the wind of my motion, and glad there was no
other.

The water was too hot to lay her at once in it: the shock might scare
from her the yet fluttering life! I laid her on the bank, and dipping
one of my garments, began to bathe the pitiful form. So wasted was it
that, save from the plentifulness and blackness of the hair, it was
impossible even to conjecture whether she was young or old. Her eyelids
were just not shut, which made her look dead the more: there was a crack
in the clouds of her night, at which no sun shone through!

The longer I went on bathing the poor bones, the less grew my hope that
they would ever again be clothed with strength, that ever those eyelids
would lift, and a soul look out; still I kept bathing continuously,
allowing no part time to grow cold while I bathed another; and gradually
the body became so much warmer, that at last I ventured to submerge it:
I got into the stream and drew it in, holding the face above the water,
and letting the swift, steady current flow all about the rest. I noted,
but was able to conclude nothing from the fact, that, for all the heat,
the shut hand never relaxed its hold.

After about ten minutes, I lifted it out and laid it again on the bank,
dried it, and covered it as well as I could, then ran to the forest for
leaves.

The grass and soil were dry and warm; and when I returned I thought it
had scarcely lost any of the heat the water had given it. I spread the
leaves upon it, and ran for more--then for a third and a fourth freight.

I could now leave it and go to explore, in the hope of discovering
some shelter. I ran up the stream toward some rocky hills I saw in that
direction, which were not far off.

When I reached them, I found the river issuing full grown from a rock
at the bottom of one of them. To my fancy it seemed to have run down a
stair inside, an eager cataract, at every landing wild to get out, but
only at the foot finding a door of escape.

It did not fill the opening whence it rushed, and I crept through into a
little cave, where I learned that, instead of hurrying tumultuously down
a stair, it rose quietly from the ground at the back like the base of
a large column, and ran along one side, nearly filling a deep, rather
narrow channel. I considered the place, and saw that, if I could find
a few fallen boughs long enough to lie across the channel, and large
enough to bear a little weight without bending much, I might, with
smaller branches and plenty of leaves, make upon them a comfortable
couch, which the stream under would keep constantly warm. Then I ran
back to see how my charge fared.

She was lying as I had left her. The heat had not brought her to life,
but neither had it developed anything to check farther hope. I got a few
boulders out of the channel, and arranged them at her feet and on both
sides of her.

Running again to the wood, I had not to search long ere I found some
small boughs fit for my purpose--mostly of beech, their dry yellow
leaves yet clinging to them. With these I had soon laid the floor of a
bridge-bed over the torrent. I crossed the boughs with smaller branches,
interlaced these with twigs, and buried all deep in leaves and dry moss.

When thus at length, after not a few journeys to the forest, I had
completed a warm, dry, soft couch, I took the body once more, and set
out with it for the cave. It was so light that now and then as I went
I almost feared lest, when I laid it down, I should find it a skeleton
after all; and when at last I did lay it gently on the pathless bridge,
it was a greater relief to part with that fancy than with the weight.
Once more I covered the body with a thick layer of leaves; and trying
again to feed her with a grape, found to my joy that I could open the
mouth a little farther. The grape, indeed, lay in it unheeded, but I
hoped some of the juice might find its way down.

After an hour or two on the couch, she was no longer cold. The warmth of
the brook had interpenetrated her frame--truly it was but a frame!--and
she was warm to the touch;--not, probably, with the warmth of life, but
with a warmth which rendered it more possible, if she were alive, that
she might live. I had read of one in a trance lying motionless for
weeks!

In that cave, day after day, night after night, seven long days and
nights, I sat or lay, now waking now sleeping, but always watching.
Every morning I went out and bathed in the hot stream, and every morning
felt thereupon as if I had eaten and drunk--which experience gave me
courage to lay her in it also every day.  Once as I did so, a shadow of
discoloration on her left side gave me a terrible shock, but the next
morning it had vanished, and I continued the treatment--every morning,
after her bath, putting a fresh grape in her mouth.

I too ate of the grapes and other berries I found in the forest; but I
believed that, with my daily bath in that river, I could have done very
well without eating at all.

Every time I slept, I dreamed of finding a wounded angel, who, unable to
fly, remained with me until at last she loved me and would not leave me;
and every time I woke, it was to see, instead of an angel-visage with
lustrous eyes, the white, motionless, wasted face upon the couch. But
Adam himself, when first he saw her asleep, could not have looked more
anxiously for Eve’s awaking than I watched for this woman’s. Adam knew
nothing of himself, perhaps nothing of his need of another self; I, an
alien from my fellows, had learned to love what I had lost! Were this
one wasted shred of womanhood to disappear, I should have nothing in me
but a consuming hunger after life! I forgot even the Little Ones: things
were not amiss with them! here lay what might wake and be a woman! might
actually open eyes, and look out of them upon me!

Now first I knew what solitude meant--now that I gazed on one who
neither saw nor heard, neither moved nor spoke. I saw now that a man
alone is but a being that may become a man--that he is but a need, and
therefore a possibility. To be enough for himself, a being must be
an eternal, self-existent worm! So superbly constituted, so simply
complicate is man; he rises from and stands upon such a pedestal of
lower physical organisms and spiritual structures, that no atmosphere
will comfort or nourish his life, less divine than that offered by other
souls; nowhere but in other lives can he breathe. Only by the reflex of
other lives can he ripen his specialty, develop the idea of himself,
the individuality that distinguishes him from every other. Were all men
alike, each would still have an individuality, secured by his personal
consciousness, but there would be small reason why there should be more
than two or three such; while, for the development of the differences
which make a large and lofty unity possible, and which alone can
make millions into a church, an endless and measureless influence and
reaction are indispensable. A man to be perfect--complete, that is,
in having reached the spiritual condition of persistent and universal
growth, which is the mode wherein he inherits the infinitude of his
Father--must have the education of a world of fellow-men. Save for the
hope of the dawn of life in the form beside me, I should have fled for
fellowship to the beasts that grazed and did not speak. Better to go
about with them--infinitely better--than to live alone! But with the
faintest prospect of a woman to my friend, I, poorest of creatures, was
yet a possible man!



CHAPTER XIX. THE WHITE LEECH

I woke one morning from a profound sleep, with one of my hands very
painful. The back of it was much swollen, and in the centre of the
swelling was a triangular wound, like the bite of a leech. As the day
went on, the swelling subsided, and by the evening the hurt was all but
healed. I searched the cave, turning over every stone of any size, but
discovered nothing I could imagine capable of injuring me.

Slowly the days passed, and still the body never moved, never opened
its eyes. It could not be dead, for assuredly it manifested no sign of
decay, and the air about it was quite pure. Moreover, I could imagine
that the sharpest angles of the bones had begun to disappear, that
the form was everywhere a little rounder, and the skin had less of the
parchment-look: if such change was indeed there, life must be there! the
tide which had ebbed so far toward the infinite, must have begun again
to flow! Oh joy to me, if the rising ripples of life’s ocean were indeed
burying under lovely shape the bones it had all but forsaken! Twenty
times a day I looked for evidence of progress, and twenty times a day I
doubted--sometimes even despaired; but the moment I recalled the mental
picture of her as I found her, hope revived.

Several weeks had passed thus, when one night, after lying a long time
awake, I rose, thinking to go out and breathe the cooler air; for,
although from the running of the stream it was always fresh in the cave,
the heat was not seldom a little oppressive. The moon outside was full,
the air within shadowy clear, and naturally I cast a lingering look on
my treasure ere I went. “Bliss eternal!” I cried aloud, “do I see her
eyes?” Great orbs, dark as if cut from the sphere of a starless night,
and luminous by excess of darkness, seemed to shine amid the glimmering
whiteness of her face. I stole nearer, my heart beating so that I feared
the noise of it startling her. I bent over her. Alas, her eyelids were
close shut! Hope and Imagination had wrought mutual illusion! my heart’s
desire would never be! I turned away, threw myself on the floor of the
cave, and wept. Then I bethought me that her eyes had been a little
open, and that now the awful chink out of which nothingness had peered,
was gone: it might be that she had opened them for a moment, and was
again asleep!--it might be she was awake and holding them close! In
either case, life, less or more, must have shut them! I was comforted,
and fell fast asleep.

That night I was again bitten, and awoke with a burning thirst.

In the morning I searched yet more thoroughly, but again in vain. The
wound was of the same character, and, as before, was nearly well by the
evening. I concluded that some large creature of the leech kind came
occasionally from the hot stream. “But, if blood be its object,” I said
to myself, “so long as I am there, I need hardly fear for my treasure!”

That same morning, when, having peeled a grape as usual and taken away
the seeds, I put it in her mouth, her lips made a slight movement of
reception, and I KNEW she lived!

My hope was now so much stronger that I began to think of some attire
for her: she must be able to rise the moment she wished! I betook myself
therefore to the forest, to investigate what material it might afford,
and had hardly begun to look when fibrous skeletons, like those of the
leaves of the prickly pear, suggested themselves as fit for the purpose.
I gathered a stock of them, laid them to dry in the sun, pulled apart
the reticulated layers, and of these had soon begun to fashion two loose
garments, one to hang from her waist, the other from her shoulders.
With the stiletto-point of an aloe-leaf and various filaments, I sewed
together three thicknesses of the tissue.

During the week that followed, there was no farther sign except that she
more evidently took the grapes. But indeed all the signs became surer:
plainly she was growing plumper, and her skin fairer. Still she did not
open her eyes; and the horrid fear would at times invade me, that her
growth was of some hideous fungoid nature, the few grapes being nowise
sufficient to account for it.

Again I was bitten; and now the thing, whatever it was, began to pay me
regular visits at intervals of three days. It now generally bit me in
the neck or the arm, invariably with but one bite, always while I slept,
and never, even when I slept, in the daytime. Hour after hour would I
lie awake on the watch, but never heard it coming, or saw sign of its
approach. Neither, I believe, did I ever feel it bite me. At length
I became so hopeless of catching it, that I no longer troubled myself
either to look for it by day, or lie in wait for it at night. I knew
from my growing weakness that I was losing blood at a dangerous rate,
but I cared little for that: in sight of my eyes death was yielding to
life; a soul was gathering strength to save me from loneliness; we would
go away together, and I should speedily recover!

The garments were at length finished, and, contemplating my handiwork
with no small satisfaction, I proceeded to mat layers of the fibre into
sandals.

One night I woke suddenly, breathless and faint, and longing after air,
and had risen to crawl from the cave, when a slight rustle in the leaves
of the couch set me listening motionless.

“I caught the vile thing,” said a feeble voice, in my mother-tongue; “I
caught it in the very act!”

She was alive! she spoke! I dared not yield to my transport lest I
should terrify her.

“What creature?” I breathed, rather than said.

“The creature,” she answered, “that was biting you.”

“What was it?”

“A great white leech.”

“How big?” I pursued, forcing myself to be calm.

“Not far from six feet long, I should think,” she answered.

“You have saved my life, perhaps!--But how could you touch the horrid
thing! How brave of you!” I cried.

“I did!” was all her answer, and I thought she shuddered.

“Where is it? What could you do with such a monster?”

“I threw it in the river.”

“Then it will come again, I fear!”

“I do not think I could have killed it, even had I known how!--I heard
you moaning, and got up to see what disturbed you; saw the frightful
thing at your neck, and pulled it away. But I could not hold it, and was
hardly able to throw it from me. I only heard it splash in the water!”

“We’ll kill it next time!” I said; but with that I turned faint, sought
the open air, but fell.

When I came to myself the sun was up. The lady stood a little way off,
looking, even in the clumsy attire I had fashioned for her, at once
grand and graceful. I HAD seen those glorious eyes! Through the night
they had shone! Dark as the darkness primeval, they now outshone the
day! She stood erect as a column, regarding me. Her pale cheek indicated
no emotion, only question. I rose.

“We must be going!” I said. “The white leech----”

I stopped: a strange smile had flickered over her beautiful face.

“Did you find me there?” she asked, pointing to the cave.

“No; I brought you there,” I replied.

“You brought me?”

“Yes.”

“From where?”

“From the forest.”

“What have you done with my clothes--and my jewels?”

“You had none when I found you.”

“Then why did you not leave me?”

“Because I hoped you were not dead.”

“Why should you have cared?”

“Because I was very lonely, and wanted you to live.”

“You would have kept me enchanted for my beauty!” she said, with proud
scorn.

Her words and her look roused my indignation.

“There was no beauty left in you,” I said.

“Why, then, again, did you not let me alone?”

“Because you were of my own kind.”

“Of YOUR kind?” she cried, in a tone of utter contempt.

“I thought so, but find I was mistaken!”

“Doubtless you pitied me!”

“Never had woman more claim on pity, or less on any other feeling!”

With an expression of pain, mortification, and anger unutterable, she
turned from me and stood silent. Starless night lay profound in the
gulfs of her eyes: hate of him who brought it back had slain their
splendour. The light of life was gone from them.

“Had you failed to rouse me, what would you have done?” she asked
suddenly without moving.

“I would have buried it.”

“It! What?--You would have buried THIS?” she exclaimed, flashing round
upon me in a white fury, her arms thrown out, and her eyes darting forks
of cold lightning.

“Nay; that I saw not! That, weary weeks of watching and tending have
brought back to you,” I answered--for with such a woman I must be plain!
“Had I seen the smallest sign of decay, I would at once have buried
you.”

“Dog of a fool!” she cried, “I was but in a trance--Samoil! what a
fate!--Go and fetch the she-savage from whom you borrowed this hideous
disguise.”

“I made it for you. It is hideous, but I did my best.”

She drew herself up to her tall height.

“How long have I been insensible?” she demanded. “A woman could not have
made that dress in a day!”

“Not in twenty days,” I rejoined, “hardly in thirty!”

“Ha! How long do you pretend I have lain unconscious?--Answer me at
once.”

“I cannot tell how long you had lain when I found you, but there was
nothing left of you save skin and bone: that is more than three months
ago.--Your hair was beautiful, nothing else! I have done for it what I
could.”

“My poor hair!” she said, and brought a great armful of it round from
behind her; “--it will be more than a three-months’ care to bring YOU
to life again!--I suppose I must thank you, although I cannot say I am
grateful!”

“There is no need, madam: I would have done the same for any woman--yes,
or for any man either!”

“How is it my hair is not tangled?” she said, fondling it.

“It always drifted in the current.”

“How?--What do you mean?”

“I could not have brought you to life but by bathing you in the hot
river every morning.”

She gave a shudder of disgust, and stood for a while with her gaze fixed
on the hurrying water. Then she turned to me:

“We must understand each other!” she said. “--You have done me the two
worst of wrongs--compelled me to live, and put me to shame: neither of
them can I pardon!”

She raised her left hand, and flung it out as if repelling me. Something
ice-cold struck me on the forehead. When I came to myself, I was on the
ground, wet and shivering.



CHAPTER XX. GONE!--BUT HOW?

I rose, and looked around me, dazed at heart. For a moment I could not
see her: she was gone, and loneliness had returned like the cloud after
the rain! She whom I brought back from the brink of the grave, had fled
from me, and left me with desolation! I dared not one moment remain thus
hideously alone. Had I indeed done her a wrong? I must devote my life to
sharing the burden I had compelled her to resume!

I descried her walking swiftly over the grass, away from the river, took
one plunge for a farewell restorative, and set out to follow her. The
last visit of the white leech, and the blow of the woman, had enfeebled
me, but already my strength was reviving, and I kept her in sight
without difficulty.

“Is this, then, the end?” I said as I went, and my heart brooded a
sad song. Her angry, hating eyes haunted me. I could understand her
resentment at my having forced life upon her, but how had I further
injured her? Why should she loathe me? Could modesty itself be indignant
with true service? How should the proudest woman, conscious of my every
action, cherish against me the least sense of disgracing wrong? How
reverently had I not touched her! As a father his motherless child, I
had borne and tended her! Had all my labour, all my despairing hope gone
to redeem only ingratitude? “No,” I answered myself; “beauty must have
a heart! However profoundly hidden, it must be there! The deeper buried,
the stronger and truer will it wake at last in its beautiful grave! To
rouse that heart were a better gift to her than the happiest life! It
would be to give her a nobler, a higher life!”

She was ascending a gentle slope before me, walking straight and steady
as one that knew whither, when I became aware that she was increasing
the distance between us. I summoned my strength, and it came in
full tide. My veins filled with fresh life! My body seemed to become
ethereal, and, following like an easy wind, I rapidly overtook her.

Not once had she looked behind. Swiftly she moved, like a Greek goddess
to rescue, but without haste. I was within three yards of her, when she
turned sharply, yet with grace unbroken, and stood. Fatigue or heat she
showed none. Her paleness was not a pallor, but a pure whiteness; her
breathing was slow and deep. Her eyes seemed to fill the heavens, and
give light to the world. It was nearly noon, but the sense was upon
me as of a great night in which an invisible dew makes the stars look
large.

“Why do you follow me?” she asked, quietly but rather sternly, as if she
had never before seen me.

“I have lived so long,” I answered, “on the mere hope of your eyes, that
I must want to see them again!”

“You WILL not be spared!” she said coldly. “I command you to stop where
you stand.”

“Not until I see you in a place of safety will I leave you,” I replied.

“Then take the consequences,” she said, and resumed her swift-gliding
walk.

But as she turned she cast on me a glance, and I stood as if run through
with a spear. Her scorn had failed: she would kill me with her beauty!

Despair restored my volition; the spell broke; I ran, and overtook her.

“Have pity upon me!” I cried.

She gave no heed. I followed her like a child whose mother pretends to
abandon him. “I will be your slave!” I said, and laid my hand on her
arm.

She turned as if a serpent had bit her. I cowered before the blaze of
her eyes, but could not avert my own.

“Pity me,” I cried again.

She resumed her walking.

The whole day I followed her. The sun climbed the sky, seemed to pause
on its summit, went down the other side. Not a moment did she pause, not
a moment did I cease to follow. She never turned her head, never relaxed
her pace.

The sun went below, and the night came up. I kept close to her: if I
lost sight of her for a moment, it would be for ever!

All day long we had been walking over thick soft grass: abruptly she
stopped, and threw herself upon it. There was yet light enough to show
that she was utterly weary. I stood behind her, and gazed down on her
for a moment.

Did I love her? I knew she was not good! Did I hate her? I could not
leave her! I knelt beside her.

“Begone! Do not dare touch me,” she cried.

Her arms lay on the grass by her sides as if paralyzed.

Suddenly they closed about my neck, rigid as those of the
torture-maiden. She drew down my face to hers, and her lips clung to my
cheek. A sting of pain shot somewhere through me, and pulsed. I could
not stir a hair’s breadth. Gradually the pain ceased. A slumberous
weariness, a dreamy pleasure stole over me, and then I knew nothing.

All at once I came to myself. The moon was a little way above the
horizon, but spread no radiance; she was but a bright thing set in
blackness. My cheek smarted; I put my hand to it, and found a wet spot.
My neck ached: there again was a wet spot! I sighed heavily, and felt
very tired. I turned my eyes listlessly around me--and saw what had
become of the light of the moon: it was gathered about the lady! she
stood in a shimmering nimbus! I rose and staggered toward her.

“Down!” she cried imperiously, as to a rebellious dog. “Follow me a step
if you dare!”

“I will!” I murmured, with an agonised effort.

“Set foot within the gates of my city, and my people will stone you:
they do not love beggars!”

I was deaf to her words. Weak as water, and half awake, I did not know
that I moved, but the distance grew less between us. She took one step
back, raised her left arm, and with the clenched hand seemed to strike
me on the forehead. I received as it were a blow from an iron hammer,
and fell.

I sprang to my feet, cold and wet, but clear-headed and strong. Had the
blow revived me? it had left neither wound nor pain!--But how came I
wet?--I could not have lain long, for the moon was no higher!

The lady stood some yards away, her back toward me. She was doing
something, I could not distinguish what. Then by her sudden gleam I knew
she had thrown off her garments, and stood white in the dazed moon. One
moment she stood--and fell forward.

A streak of white shot away in a swift-drawn line. The same instant the
moon recovered herself, shining out with a full flash, and I saw that
the streak was a long-bodied thing, rushing in great, low-curved bounds
over the grass. Dark spots seemed to run like a stream adown its back,
as if it had been fleeting along under the edge of a wood, and catching
the shadows of the leaves.

“God of mercy!” I cried, “is the terrible creature speeding to the
night-infolded city?” and I seemed to hear from afar the sudden burst
and spread of outcrying terror, as the pale savage bounded from house to
house, rending and slaying.

While I gazed after it fear-stricken, past me from behind, like a swift,
all but noiseless arrow, shot a second large creature, pure white. Its
path was straight for the spot where the lady had fallen, and, as I
thought, lay. My tongue clave to the roof of my mouth. I sprang forward
pursuing the beast. But in a moment the spot I made for was far behind
it.

“It was well,” I thought, “that I could not cry out: if she had risen,
the monster would have been upon her!”

But when I reached the place, no lady was there; only the garments she
had dropped lay dusk in the moonlight.

I stood staring after the second beast. It tore over the ground with yet
greater swiftness than the former--in long, level, skimming leaps, the
very embodiment of wasteless speed. It followed the line the other had
taken, and I watched it grow smaller and smaller, until it disappeared
in the uncertain distance.

But where was the lady? Had the first beast surprised her, creeping upon
her noiselessly? I had heard no shriek! and there had not been time to
devour her! Could it have caught her up as it ran, and borne her away to
its den? So laden it could not have run so fast! and I should have seen
that it carried something!

Horrible doubts began to wake in me. After a thorough but fruitless
search, I set out in the track of the two animals.



CHAPTER XXI. THE FUGITIVE MOTHER

As I hastened along, a cloud came over the moon, and from the gray dark
suddenly emerged a white figure, clasping a child to her bosom, and
stooping as she ran. She was on a line parallel with my own, but did not
perceive me as she hurried along, terror and anxiety in every movement
of her driven speed.

“She is chased!” I said to myself. “Some prowler of this terrible night
is after her!”

To follow would have added to her fright: I stepped into her track to
stop her pursuer.

As I stood for a moment looking after her through the dusk, behind me
came a swift, soft-footed rush, and ere I could turn, something sprang
over my head, struck me sharply on the forehead, and knocked me down.
I was up in an instant, but all I saw of my assailant was a vanishing
whiteness. I ran after the beast, with the blood trickling from my
forehead; but had run only a few steps, when a shriek of despair tore
the quivering night. I ran the faster, though I could not but fear it
must already be too late.

In a minute or two I spied a low white shape approaching me through the
vapour-dusted moonlight. It must be another beast, I thought at first,
for it came slowly, almost crawling, with strange, floundering leaps,
as of a creature in agony! I drew aside from its path, and waited. As it
neared me, I saw it was going on three legs, carrying its left fore-paw
high from the ground. It had many dark, oval spots on a shining white
skin, and was attended by a low rushing sound, as of water falling upon
grass. As it went by me, I saw something streaming from the lifted paw.

“It is blood!” I said to myself, “some readier champion than I has
wounded the beast!” But, strange to tell, such a pity seized me at sight
of the suffering creature, that, though an axe had been in my hand I
could not have struck at it. In a broken succession of hobbling leaps
it went out of sight, its blood, as it seemed, still issuing in a small
torrent, which kept flowing back softly through the grass beside me. “If
it go on bleeding like that,” I thought, “it will soon be hurtless!”

I went on, for I might yet be useful to the woman, and hoped also to see
her deliverer.

I descried her a little way off, seated on the grass, with her child in
her lap.

“Can I do anything for you?” I asked.

At the sound of my voice she started violently, and would have risen. I
threw myself on the ground.

“You need not be frightened,” I said. “I was following the beast when
happily you found a nearer protector! It passed me now with its foot
bleeding so much that by this time it must be all but dead!”

“There is little hope of that!” she answered, trembling. “Do you not
know whose beast she is?”

Now I had certain strange suspicions, but I answered that I knew nothing
of the brute, and asked what had become of her champion.

“What champion?” she rejoined. “I have seen no one.”

“Then how came the monster to grief?”

“I pounded her foot with a stone--as hard as I could strike. Did you not
hear her cry?”

“Well, you are a brave woman!” I answered. “I thought it was you gave
the cry!”

“It was the leopardess.”

“I never heard such a sound from the throat of an animal! it was like
the scream of a woman in torture!”

“My voice was gone; I could not have shrieked to save my baby! When I
saw the horrid mouth at my darling’s little white neck, I caught up a
stone and mashed her lame foot.”

“Tell me about the creature,” I said; “I am a stranger in these parts.”

“You will soon know about her if you are going to Bulika!” she answered.
“Now, I must never go back there!”

“Yes, I am going to Bulika,” I said, “--to see the princess.”

“Have a care; you had better not go!--But perhaps you are--! The
princess is a very good, kind woman!”

I heard a little movement. Clouds had by this time gathered so thick
over the moon that I could scarcely see my companion: I feared she was
rising to run from me.

“You are in no danger of any sort from me,” I said. “What oath would you
like me to take?”

“I know by your speech that you are not of the people of Bulika,” she
replied; “I will trust you!--I am not of them, either, else I should not
be able: they never trust any one--If only I could see you! But I like
your voice!--There, my darling is asleep! The foul beast has not hurt
her!--Yes: it was my baby she was after!” she went on, caressing the
child. “And then she would have torn her mother to pieces for carrying
her off!--Some say the princess has two white leopardesses,” she
continued: “I know only one--with spots. Everybody knows HER! If the
princess hear of a baby, she sends her immediately to suck its blood,
and then it either dies or grows up an idiot. I would have gone away
with my baby, but the princess was from home, and I thought I might wait
until I was a little stronger. But she must have taken the beast with
her, and been on her way home when I left, and come across my track. I
heard the SNIFF-SNUFF of the leopardess behind me, and ran;--oh, how I
ran!--But my darling will not die! There is no mark on her!”

“Where are you taking her?”

“Where no one ever tells!”

“Why is the princess so cruel?”

“There is an old prophecy that a child will be the death of her. That is
why she will listen to no offer of marriage, they say.”

“But what will become of her country if she kill all the babies?”

“She does not care about her country. She sends witches around to teach
the women spells that keep babies away, and give them horrible things
to eat. Some say she is in league with the Shadows to put an end to the
race. At night we hear the questing beast, and lie awake and shiver. She
can tell at once the house where a baby is coming, and lies down at the
door, watching to get in. There are words that have power to shoo her
away, only they do not always work--But here I sit talking, and the
beast may by this time have got home, and her mistress be sending the
other after us!”

As thus she ended, she rose in haste.

“I do not think she will ever get home.--Let me carry the baby for you!”
 I said, as I rose also.

She returned me no answer, and when I would have taken it, only clasped
it the closer.

“I cannot think,” I said, walking by her side, “how the brute could be
bleeding so much!”

“Take my advice, and don’t go near the palace,” she answered. “There are
sounds in it at night as if the dead were trying to shriek, but could
not open their mouths!”

She bade me an abrupt farewell. Plainly she did not want more of my
company; so I stood still, and heard her footsteps die away on the
grass.



CHAPTER XXII. BULIKA

I had lost all notion of my position, and was walking about in pure,
helpless impatience, when suddenly I found myself in the path of the
leopardess, wading in the blood from her paw. It ran against my ankles
with the force of a small brook, and I got out of it the more quickly
because of an unshaped suspicion in my mind as to whose blood it might
be. But I kept close to the sound of it, walking up the side of the
stream, for it would guide me in the direction of Bulika.

I soon began to reflect, however, that no leopardess, no elephant, no
hugest animal that in our world preceded man, could keep such a torrent
flowing, except every artery in its body were open, and its huge system
went on filling its vessels from fields and lakes and forests as fast as
they emptied themselves: it could not be blood! I dipped a finger in it,
and at once satisfied myself that it was not. In truth, however it might
have come there, it was a softly murmuring rivulet of water that ran,
without channel, over the grass! But sweet as was its song, I dared not
drink of it; I kept walking on, hoping after the light, and listening to
the familiar sound so long unheard--for that of the hot stream was very
different. The mere wetting of my feet in it, however, had so refreshed
me, that I went on without fatigue till the darkness began to grow
thinner, and I knew the sun was drawing nigh. A few minutes more, and
I could discern, against the pale aurora, the wall-towers of a
city--seemingly old as time itself. Then I looked down to get a sight of
the brook.

It was gone. I had indeed for a long time noted its sound growing
fainter, but at last had ceased to attend to it. I looked back: the
grass in its course lay bent as it had flowed, and here and there
glimmered a small pool. Toward the city, there was no trace of it. Near
where I stood, the flow of its fountain must at least have paused!

Around the city were gardens, growing many sorts of vegetables, hardly
one of which I recognised. I saw no water, no flowers, no sign of
animals. The gardens came very near the walls, but were separated from
them by huge heaps of gravel and refuse thrown from the battlements.

I went up to the nearest gate, and found it but half-closed, nowise
secured, and without guard or sentinel. To judge by its hinges, it could
not be farther opened or shut closer. Passing through, I looked down
a long ancient street. It was utterly silent, and with scarce an
indication in it of life present. Had I come upon a dead city? I turned
and went out again, toiled a long way over the dust-heaps, and crossed
several roads, each leading up to a gate: I would not re-enter until
some of the inhabitants should be stirring.

What was I there for? what did I expect or hope to find? what did I mean
to do?

I must see, if but once more, the woman I had brought to life! I did
not desire her society: she had waked in me frightful suspicions; and
friendship, not to say love, was wildly impossible between us! But her
presence had had a strange influence upon me, and in her presence I
must resist, and at the same time analyse that influence! The seemingly
inscrutable in her I would fain penetrate: to understand something of
her mode of being would be to look into marvels such as imagination
could never have suggested! In this I was too daring: a man must not,
for knowledge, of his own will encounter temptation! On the other hand,
I had reinstated an evil force about to perish, and was, to the extent
of my opposing faculty, accountable for what mischief might ensue! I had
learned that she was the enemy of children: the Little Ones might be in
her danger! It was in the hope of finding out something of their history
that I had left them; on that I had received a little light: I must have
more; I must learn how to protect them!

Hearing at length a little stir in the place, I walked through the
next gate, and thence along a narrow street of tall houses to a little
square, where I sat down on the base of a pillar with a hideous bat-like
creature atop. Ere long, several of the inhabitants came sauntering
past. I spoke to one: he gave me a rude stare and ruder word, and went
on.

I got up and went through one narrow street after another, gradually
filling with idlers, and was not surprised to see no children. By
and by, near one of the gates, I encountered a group of young men who
reminded me not a little of the bad giants. They came about me staring,
and presently began to push and hustle me, then to throw things at me.
I bore it as well as I could, wishing not to provoke enmity where
wanted to remain for a while. Oftener than once or twice I appealed to
passers-by whom I fancied more benevolent-looking, but none would halt
a moment to listen to me. I looked poor, and that was enough: to the
citizens of Bulika, as to house-dogs, poverty was an offence! Deformity
and sickness were taxed; and no legislation of their princess was more
heartily approved of than what tended to make poverty subserve wealth.

I took to my heels at last, and no one followed me beyond the gate. A
lumbering fellow, however, who sat by it eating a hunch of bread, picked
up a stone to throw after me, and happily, in his stupid eagerness,
threw, not the stone but the bread. I took it, and he did not dare
follow to reclaim it: beyond the walls they were cowards every one. I
went off a few hundred yards, threw myself down, ate the bread, fell
asleep, and slept soundly in the grass, where the hot sunlight renewed
my strength.

It was night when I woke. The moon looked down on me in friendly
fashion, seeming to claim with me old acquaintance. She was very bright,
and the same moon, I thought, that saw me through the terrors of my
first night in that strange world. A cold wind blew from the gate,
bringing with it an evil odour; but it did not chill me, for the sun had
plenished me with warmth. I crept again into the city. There I found the
few that were still in the open air crouched in corners to escape the
shivering blast.

I was walking slowly through the long narrow street, when, just before
me, a huge white thing bounded across it, with a single flash in the
moonlight, and disappeared. I turned down the next opening, eager to get
sight of it again.

It was a narrow lane, almost too narrow to pass through, but it led
me into a wider street. The moment I entered the latter, I saw on
the opposite side, in the shadow, the creature I had followed, itself
following like a dog what I took for a man. Over his shoulder, every
other moment, he glanced at the animal behind him, but neither spoke to
it, nor attempted to drive it away. At a place where he had to cross a
patch of moonlight, I saw that he cast no shadow, and was himself but
a flat superficial shadow, of two dimensions. He was, nevertheless, an
opaque shadow, for he not merely darkened any object on the other
side of him, but rendered it, in fact, invisible. In the shadow he was
blacker than the shadow; in the moonlight he looked like one who had
drawn his shadow up about him, for not a suspicion of it moved beside
or under him; while the gleaming animal, which followed so close at his
heels as to seem the white shadow of his blackness, and which I now saw
to be a leopardess, drew her own gliding shadow black over the ground by
her side. When they passed together from the shadow into the moonlight,
the Shadow deepened in blackness, the animal flashed into radiance. I
was at the moment walking abreast of them on the opposite side, my bare
feet sounding on the flat stones: the leopardess never turned head
or twitched ear; the shadow seemed once to look at me, for I lost his
profile, and saw for a second only a sharp upright line. That instant
the wind found me and blew through me: I shuddered from head to foot,
and my heart went from wall to wall of my bosom, like a pebble in a
child’s rattle.



CHAPTER XXIII. A WOMAN OF BULIKA

I turned aside into an alley, and sought shelter in a small archway. In
the mouth of it I stopped, and looked out at the moonlight which filled
the alley. The same instant a woman came gliding in after me, turned,
trembling, and looked out also. A few seconds passed; then a huge
leopard, its white skin dappled with many blots, darted across the
archway. The woman pressed close to me, and my heart filled with pity. I
put my arm round her.

“If the brute come here, I will lay hold of it,” I said, “and you must
run.”

“Thank you!” she murmured.

“Have you ever seen it before?” I asked.

“Several times,” she answered, still trembling. “She is a pet of the
princess’s. You are a stranger, or you would know her!”

“I am a stranger,” I answered. “But is she, then, allowed to run loose?”

“She is kept in a cage, her mouth muzzled, and her feet in gloves of
crocodile leather. Chained she is too; but she gets out often, and sucks
the blood of any child she can lay hold of. Happily there are not many
mothers in Bulika!”

Here she burst into tears.

“I wish I were at home!” she sobbed. “The princess returned only last
night, and there is the leopardess out already! How am I to get into the
house? It is me she is after, I know! She will be lying at my own door,
watching for me!--But I am a fool to talk to a stranger!”

“All strangers are not bad!” I said. “The beast shall not touch you till
she has done with me, and by that time you will be in. You are happy to
have a house to go to! What a terrible wind it is!”

“Take me home safe, and I will give you shelter from it,” she rejoined.
“But we must wait a little!”

I asked her many questions. She told me the people never did anything
except dig for precious stones in their cellars. They were rich, and had
everything made for them in other towns.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it is a disgrace to work,” she answered. “Everybody in Bulika
knows that!”

I asked how they were rich if none of them earned money. She replied
that their ancestors had saved for them, and they never spent. When they
wanted money they sold a few of their gems.

“But there must be some poor!” I said.

“I suppose there must be, but we never think of such people. When one
goes poor, we forget him. That is how we keep rich. We mean to be rich
always.”

“But when you have dug up all your precious stones and sold them, you
will have to spend your money, and one day you will have none left!”

“We have so many, and there are so many still in the ground, that that
day will never come,” she replied.

“Suppose a strange people were to fall upon you, and take everything you
have!”

“No strange people will dare; they are all horribly afraid of our
princess. She it is who keeps us safe and free and rich!”

Every now and then as she spoke, she would stop and look behind her.

I asked why her people had such a hatred of strangers. She answered that
the presence of a stranger defiled the city.

“How is that?” I said.

“Because we are more ancient and noble than any other
nation.--Therefore,” she added, “we always turn strangers out before
night.”

“How, then, can you take me into your house?” I asked.

“I will make an exception of you,” she replied.

“Is there no place in the city for the taking in of strangers?”

“Such a place would be pulled down, and its owner burned. How is purity
to be preserved except by keeping low people at a proper distance?
Dignity is such a delicate thing!”

She told me that their princess had reigned for thousands of years; that
she had power over the air and the water as well as the earth--and, she
believed, over the fire too; that she could do what she pleased, and was
answerable to nobody.

When at length she was willing to risk the attempt, we took our way
through lanes and narrow passages, and reached her door without having
met a single live creature. It was in a wider street, between two
tall houses, at the top of a narrow, steep stair, up which she climbed
slowly, and I followed. Ere we reached the top, however, she seemed to
take fright, and darted up the rest of the steps: I arrived just in time
to have the door closed in my face, and stood confounded on the landing,
where was about length enough, between the opposite doors of the two
houses, for a man to lie down.

Weary, and not scrupling to defile Bulika with my presence, I took
advantage of the shelter, poor as it was.



CHAPTER XXIV. THE WHITE LEOPARDESS

At the foot of the stair lay the moonlit street, and I could hear the
unwholesome, inhospitable wind blowing about below. But not a breath of
it entered my retreat, and I was composing myself to rest, when suddenly
my eyes opened, and there was the head of the shining creature I had
seen following the Shadow, just rising above the uppermost step! The
moment she caught sight of my eyes, she stopped and began to retire,
tail foremost. I sprang up; whereupon, having no room to turn, she threw
herself backward, head over tail, scrambled to her feet, and in a moment
was down the stair and gone. I followed her to the bottom, and looked
all up and down the street. Not seeing her, I went back to my hard
couch.

There were, then, two evil creatures prowling about the city, one with,
and one without spots! I was not inclined to risk much for man or woman
in Bulika, but the life of a child might well be worth such a poor
one as mine, and I resolved to keep watch at that door the rest of the
night.

Presently I heard the latch move, slow, slow: I looked up, and seeing
the door half-open, rose and slid softly in. Behind it stood, not the
woman I had befriended, but the muffled woman of the desert. Without a
word she led me a few steps to an empty stone-paved chamber, and pointed
to a rug on the floor. I wrapped myself in it, and once more lay down.
She shut the door of the room, and I heard the outer door open and close
again. There was no light save what came from the moonlit air.

As I lay sleepless, I began to hear a stifled moaning. It went on for
a good while, and then came the cry of a child, followed by a terrible
shriek. I sprang up and darted into the passage: from another door in it
came the white leopardess with a new-born baby in her mouth, carrying
it like a cub of her own. I threw myself upon her, and compelled her to
drop the infant, which fell on the stone slabs with a piteous wail.

At the cry appeared the muffled woman. She stepped over us, the beast
and myself, where we lay struggling in the narrow passage, took up the
child, and carried it away. Returning, she lifted me off the animal,
opened the door, and pushed me gently out. At my heels followed the
leopardess.

“She too has failed me!” thought I; “--given me up to the beast to be
settled with at her leisure! But we shall have a tussle for it!”

I ran down the stair, fearing she would spring on my back, but she
followed me quietly. At the foot I turned to lay hold of her, but
she sprang over my head; and when again I turned to face her, she was
crouching at my feet! I stooped and stroked her lovely white skin;
she responded by licking my bare feet with her hard dry tongue. Then I
patted and fondled her, a well of tenderness overflowing in my heart:
she might be treacherous too, but if I turned from every show of love
lest it should be feigned, how was I ever to find the real love which
must be somewhere in every world?

I stood up; she rose, and stood beside me.

A bulky object fell with a heavy squelch in the middle of the street, a
few yards from us. I ran to it, and found a pulpy mass, with just form
enough left to show it the body of a woman. It must have been thrown
from some neighbouring window! I looked around me: the Shadow was
walking along the other side of the way, with the white leopardess again
at his heel!

I followed and gained upon them, urging in my heart for the leopardess
that probably she was not a free agent. When I got near them, however,
she turned and flew at me with such a hideous snarl, that instinctively
I drew back: instantly she resumed her place behind the Shadow. Again
I drew near; again she flew at me, her eyes flaming like live emeralds.
Once more I made the experiment: she snapped at me like a dog, and
bit me. My heart gave way, and I uttered a cry; whereupon the creature
looked round with a glance that plainly meant--“Why WOULD you make me do
it?”

I turned away angry with myself: I had been losing my time ever since
I entered the place! night as it was I would go straight to the palace!
From the square I had seen it--high above the heart of the city,
compassed with many defences, more a fortress than a palace!

But I found its fortifications, like those of the city, much neglected,
and partly ruinous. For centuries, clearly, they had been of no account!
It had great and strong gates, with something like a drawbridge to them
over a rocky chasm; but they stood open, and it was hard to believe that
water had ever occupied the hollow before them. All was so still that
sleep seemed to interpenetrate the structure, causing the very moonlight
to look discordantly awake. I must either enter like a thief, or break a
silence that rendered frightful the mere thought of a sound!

Like an outcast dog I was walking about the walls, when I came to a
little recess with a stone bench: I took refuge in it from the wind, lay
down, and in spite of the cold fell fast asleep.

I was wakened by something leaping upon me, and licking my face with
the rough tongue of a feline animal. “It is the white leopardess!” I
thought. “She is come to suck my blood!--and why should she not have
it?--it would cost me more to defend than to yield it!” So I lay still,
expecting a shoot of pain. But the pang did not arrive; a pleasant
warmth instead began to diffuse itself through me. Stretched at my back,
she lay as close to me as she could lie, the heat of her body slowly
penetrating mine, and her breath, which had nothing of the wild beast in
it, swathing my head and face in a genial atmosphere. A full conviction
that her intention toward me was good, gained possession of me. I
turned like a sleepy boy, threw my arm over her, and sank into profound
unconsciousness.

When I began to come to myself, I fancied I lay warm and soft in my own
bed. “Is it possible I am at home?” I thought. The well-known scents of
the garden seemed to come crowding in. I rubbed my eyes, and looked out:
I lay on a bare stone, in the heart of a hateful city!

I sprang from the bench. Had I indeed had a leopardess for my bedfellow,
or had I but dreamed it? She had but just left me, for the warmth of her
body was with me yet!

I left the recess with a new hope, as strong as it was shapeless. One
thing only was clear to me: I must find the princess! Surely I had some
power with her, if not over her! Had I not saved her life, and had she
not prolonged it at the expense of my vitality? The reflection gave me
courage to encounter her, be she what she might.



CHAPTER XXV. THE PRINCESS

Making a circuit of the castle, I came again to the open gates, crossed
the ravine-like moat, and found myself in a paved court, planted at
regular intervals with towering trees like poplars. In the centre was
one taller than the rest, whose branches, near the top, spread a little
and gave it some resemblance to a palm. Between their great stems I
got glimpses of the palace, which was of a style strange to me, but
suggested Indian origin. It was long and low, with lofty towers at the
corners, and one huge dome in the middle, rising from the roof to half
the height of the towers. The main entrance was in the centre of the
front--a low arch that seemed half an ellipse. No one was visible, the
doors stood wide open, and I went unchallenged into a large hall, in
the form of a longish ellipse. Toward one side stood a cage, in which
couched, its head on its paws, a huge leopardess, chained by a steel
collar, with its mouth muzzled and its paws muffled. It was white
with dark oval spots, and lay staring out of wide-open eyes, with
canoe-shaped pupils, and great green irids. It appeared to watch me, but
not an eyeball, not a foot, not a whisker moved, and its tail stretched
out behind it rigid as an iron bar. I could not tell whether it was a
live thing or not.

From this vestibule two low passages led; I took one of them, and
found it branch into many, all narrow and irregular. At a spot where was
scarce room for two to pass, a page ran against me. He started back in
terror, but having scanned me, gathered impudence, puffed himself out,
and asked my business.

“To see the princess,” I answered.

“A likely thing!” he returned. “I have not seen her highness this
morning myself!”

I caught him by the back of the neck, shook him, and said, “Take me to
her at once, or I will drag you with me till I find her. She shall know
how her servants receive her visitors.”

He gave a look at me, and began to pull like a blind man’s dog, leading
me thus to a large kitchen, where were many servants, feebly busy, and
hardly awake. I expected them to fall upon me and drive me out, but they
stared instead, with wide eyes--not at me, but at something behind me,
and grew more ghastly as they stared. I turned my head, and saw the
white leopardess, regarding them in a way that might have feared stouter
hearts.

Presently, however, one of them, seeing, I suppose, that attack was not
imminent, began to recover himself; I turned to him, and let the boy go.

“Take me to the princess,” I said.

“She has not yet left her room, your lordship,” he replied.

“Let her know that I am here, waiting audience of her.”

“Will your lordship please to give me your name?”

“Tell her that one who knows the white leech desires to see her.”

“She will kill me if I take such a message: I must not. I dare not.”

“You refuse?”

He cast a glance at my attendant, and went.

The others continued staring--too much afraid of her to take their eyes
off her. I turned to the graceful creature, where she stood, her muzzle
dropped to my heel, white as milk, a warm splendour in the gloomy place,
and stooped and patted her. She looked up at me; the mere movement of
her head was enough to scatter them in all directions. She rose on her
hind legs, and put her paws on my shoulders; I threw my arms round her.
She pricked her ears, broke from me, and was out of sight in a moment.

The man I had sent to the princess entered.

“Please to come this way, my lord,” he said.

My heart gave a throb, as if bracing itself to the encounter. I followed
him through many passages, and was at last shown into a room so large
and so dark that its walls were invisible. A single spot on the floor
reflected a little light, but around that spot all was black. I looked
up, and saw at a great height an oval aperture in the roof, on the
periphery of which appeared the joints between blocks of black marble.
The light on the floor showed close fitting slabs of the same material.
I found afterward that the elliptical wall as well was of black marble,
absorbing the little light that reached it. The roof was the long half
of an ellipsoid, and the opening in it was over one of the foci of the
ellipse of the floor. I fancied I caught sight of reddish lines, but
when I would have examined them, they were gone.

All at once, a radiant form stood in the centre of the darkness,
flashing a splendour on every side. Over a robe of soft white, her hair
streamed in a cataract, black as the marble on which it fell. Her
eyes were a luminous blackness; her arms and feet like warm ivory. She
greeted me with the innocent smile of a girl--and in face, figure, and
motion seemed but now to have stepped over the threshold of womanhood.
“Alas,” thought I, “ill did I reckon my danger! Can this be the woman I
rescued--she who struck me, scorned me, left me?” I stood gazing at her
out of the darkness; she stood gazing into it, as if searching for me.

She disappeared. “She will not acknowledge me!” I thought. But the next
instant her eyes flashed out of the dark straight into mine. She had
descried me and come to me!

“You have found me at last!” she said, laying her hand on my shoulder.
“I knew you would!”

My frame quivered with conflicting consciousnesses, to analyse which
I had no power. I was simultaneously attracted and repelled: each
sensation seemed either.

“You shiver!” she said. “This place is cold for you! Come.”

I stood silent: she had struck me dumb with beauty; she held me dumb
with sweetness.

Taking me by the hand, she drew me to the spot of light, and again
flashed upon me. An instant she stood there.

“You have grown brown since last I saw you,” she said.

“This is almost the first roof I have been under since you left me,” I
replied.

“Whose was the other?” she rejoined.

“I do not know the woman’s name.”

“I would gladly learn it! The instinct of hospitality is not strong
in my people!” She took me again by the hand, and led me through the
darkness many steps to a curtain of black. Beyond it was a white stair,
up which she conducted me to a beautiful chamber.

“How you must miss the hot flowing river!” she said. “But there is a
bath in the corner with no white leeches in it! At the foot of your
couch you will find a garment. When you come down, I shall be in the
room to your left at the foot of the stair.”

I stood as she left me, accusing my presumption: how was I to treat
this lovely woman as a thing of evil, who behaved to me like a
sister?--Whence the marvellous change in her? She left me with a blow;
she received me almost with an embrace! She had reviled me; she said
she knew I would follow and find her! Did she know my doubts concerning
her--how much I should want explained? COULD she explain all? Could I
believe her if she did? As to her hospitality, I had surely earned
and might accept that--at least until I came to a definite judgment
concerning her!

Could such beauty as I saw, and such wickedness as I suspected, exist
in the same person? If they could, HOW was it possible? Unable to answer
the former question, I must let the latter wait!

Clear as crystal, the water in the great white bath sent a sparkling
flash from the corner where it lay sunk in the marble floor, and seemed
to invite me to its embrace. Except the hot stream, two draughts in the
cottage of the veiled woman, and the pools in the track of the wounded
leopardess, I had not seen water since leaving home: it looked a thing
celestial. I plunged in.

Immediately my brain was filled with an odour strange and delicate,
which yet I did not altogether like. It made me doubt the princess
afresh: had she medicated it? had she enchanted it? was she in any way
working on me unlawfully? And how was there water in the palace, and not
a drop in the city? I remembered the crushed paw of the leopardess, and
sprang from the bath.

What had I been bathing in? Again I saw the fleeing mother, again I
heard the howl, again I saw the limping beast. But what matter whence it
flowed? was not the water sweet? Was it not very water the pitcher-plant
secreted from its heart, and stored for the weary traveller? Water came
from heaven: what mattered the well where it gathered, or the spring
whence it burst? But I did not re-enter the bath.

I put on the robe of white wool, embroidered on the neck and hem, that
lay ready for me, and went down the stair to the room whither my hostess
had directed me. It was round, all of alabaster, and without a single
window: the light came through everywhere, a soft, pearly shimmer rather
than shine. Vague shadowy forms went flitting about over the walls and
low dome, like loose rain-clouds over a grey-blue sky.

The princess stood waiting me, in a robe embroidered with argentine
rings and discs, rectangles and lozenges, close together--a silver
mail. It fell unbroken from her neck and hid her feet, but its long open
sleeves left her arms bare.

In the room was a table of ivory, bearing cakes and fruit, an ivory jug
of milk, a crystal jug of wine of a pale rose-colour, and a white loaf.

“Here we do not kill to eat,” she said; “but I think you will like what
I can give you.”

I told her I could desire nothing better than what I saw. She seated
herself on a couch by the table, and made me a sign to sit by her.

She poured me out a bowlful of milk, and, handing me the loaf, begged
me to break from it such a piece as I liked. Then she filled from the
wine-jug two silver goblets of grotesquely graceful workmanship.

“You have never drunk wine like this!” she said.

I drank, and wondered: every flower of Hybla and Hymettus must have sent
its ghost to swell the soul of that wine!

“And now that you will be able to listen,” she went on, “I must do what
I can to make myself intelligible to you. Our natures, however, are so
different, that this may not be easy. Men and women live but to die; we,
that is such as I--we are but a few--live to live on. Old age is to you
a horror; to me it is a dear desire: the older we grow, the nearer we
are to our perfection. Your perfection is a poor thing, comes soon, and
lasts but a little while; ours is a ceaseless ripening. I am not yet
ripe, and have lived thousands of your years--how many, I never cared to
note. The everlasting will not be measured.

“Many lovers have sought me; I have loved none of them: they sought but
to enslave me; they sought me but as the men of my city seek gems of
price.--When you found me, I found a man! I put you to the test; you
stood it; your love was genuine!--It was, however, far from ideal--far
from such love as I would have. You loved me truly, but not with true
love. Pity has, but is not love. What woman of any world would return
love for pity? Such love as yours was then, is hateful to me. I knew
that, if you saw me as I am, you would love me--like the rest of
them--to have and to hold: I would none of that either! I would be
otherwise loved! I would have a love that outlived hopelessness,
outmeasured indifference, hate, scorn! Therefore did I put on cruelty,
despite, ingratitude. When I left you, I had shown myself such as you
could at least no longer follow from pity: I was no longer in need
of you! But you must satisfy my desire or set me free--prove yourself
priceless or worthless! To satisfy the hunger of my love, you must
follow me, looking for nothing, not gratitude, not even pity in
return!--follow and find me, and be content with merest presence, with
scantest forbearance!--I, not you, have failed; I yield the contest.”

She looked at me tenderly, and hid her face in her hands. But I had
caught a flash and a sparkle behind the tenderness, and did not believe
her. She laid herself out to secure and enslave me; she only fascinated
me!

“Beautiful princess,” I said, “let me understand how you came to be
found in such evil plight.”

“There are things I cannot explain,” she replied, “until you have become
capable of understanding them--which can only be when love is grown
perfect. There are many things so hidden from you that you cannot even
wish to know them; but any question you can put, I can in some measure
answer.

“I had set out to visit a part of my dominions occupied by a savage
dwarf-people, strong and fierce, enemies to law and order, opposed to
every kind of progress--an evil race. I went alone, fearing nothing,
unaware of the least necessity for precaution. I did not know that upon
the hot stream beside which you found me, a certain woman, by no means
so powerful as myself, not being immortal, had cast what you call a
spell--which is merely the setting in motion of a force as natural as
any other, but operating primarily in a region beyond the ken of the
mortal who makes use of the force.

“I set out on my journey, reached the stream, bounded across it,----”

A shadow of embarrassment darkened her cheek: I understood it, but
showed no sign. Checked for the merest moment, she went on:

“--you know what a step it is in parts!--But in the very act, an
indescribable cold invaded me. I recognised at once the nature of the
assault, and knew it could affect me but temporarily. By sheer force of
will I dragged myself to the wood--nor knew anything more until I saw
you asleep, and the horrible worm at your neck. I crept out, dragged the
monster from you, and laid my lips to the wound. You began to wake; I
buried myself among the leaves.”

She rose, her eyes flashing as never human eyes flashed, and threw her
arms high over her head.

“What you have made me is yours!” she cried. “I will repay you as never
yet did woman! My power, my beauty, my love are your own: take them.”

She dropt kneeling beside me, laid her arms across my knees, and looked
up in my face.

Then first I noted on her left hand a large clumsy glove. In my mind’s
eye I saw hair and claws under it, but I knew it was a hand shut
hard--perhaps badly bruised. I glanced at the other: it was lovely as
hand could be, and I felt that, if I did less than loathe her, I should
love her. Not to dally with usurping emotions, I turned my eyes aside.

She started to her feet. I sat motionless, looking down.

“To me she may be true!” said my vanity. For a moment I was tempted to
love a lie.

An odour, rather than the gentlest of airy pulses, was fanning me.
I glanced up. She stood erect before me, waving her lovely arms in
seemingly mystic fashion.

A frightful roar made my heart rebound against the walls of its cage.
The alabaster trembled as if it would shake into shivers. The princess
shuddered visibly.

“My wine was too strong for you!” she said, in a quavering voice; “I
ought not to have let you take a full draught! Go and sleep now, and
when you wake ask me what you please.--I will go with you: come.”

As she preceded me up the stair,--

“I do not wonder that roar startled you!” she said. “It startled me, I
confess: for a moment I feared she had escaped. But that is impossible.”

The roar seemed to me, however--I could not tell why--to come from the
WHITE leopardess, and to be meant for me, not the princess.

With a smile she left me at the door of my room, but as she turned I
read anxiety on her beautiful face.



CHAPTER XXVI. A BATTLE ROYAL

I threw myself on the bed, and began to turn over in my mind the tale
she had told me. She had forgotten herself, and, by a single incautious
word, removed one perplexity as to the condition in which I found her in
the forest! The leopardess BOUNDED over; the princess lay prostrate on
the bank: the running stream had dissolved her self-enchantment! Her own
account of the object of her journey revealed the danger of the Little
Ones then imminent: I had saved the life of their one fearful enemy!

I had but reached this conclusion when I fell asleep. The lovely wine
may not have been quite innocent.

When I opened my eyes, it was night. A lamp, suspended from the ceiling,
cast a clear, although soft light through the chamber. A delicious
languor infolded me. I seemed floating, far from land, upon the bosom of
a twilight sea. Existence was in itself pleasure. I had no pain. Surely
I was dying!

No pain!--ah, what a shoot of mortal pain was that! what a sickening
sting! It went right through my heart! Again! That was sharpness
itself!--and so sickening! I could not move my hand to lay it on my
heart; something kept it down!

The pain was dying away, but my whole body seemed paralysed. Some evil
thing was upon me!--something hateful! I would have struggled, but could
not reach a struggle. My will agonised, but in vain, to assert itself.
I desisted, and lay passive. Then I became aware of a soft hand on my
face, pressing my head into the pillow, and of a heavy weight lying
across me.

I began to breathe more freely; the weight was gone from my chest; I
opened my eyes.

The princess was standing above me on the bed, looking out into the
room, with the air of one who dreamed. Her great eyes were clear and
calm. Her mouth wore a look of satisfied passion; she wiped from it a
streak of red.

She caught my gaze, bent down, and struck me on the eyes with the
handkerchief in her hand: it was like drawing the edge of a knife across
them, and for a moment or two I was blind.

I heard a dull heavy sound, as of a large soft-footed animal alighting
from a little jump. I opened my eyes, and saw the great swing of a long
tail as it disappeared through the half-open doorway. I sprang after it.

The creature had vanished quite. I shot down the stair, and into the
hall of alabaster. The moon was high, and the place like the inside of
a faint, sun-blanched moon. The princess was not there. I must find her:
in her presence I might protect myself; out of it I could not! I was
a tame animal for her to feed upon; a human fountain for a thirst
demoniac! She showed me favour the more easily to use me! My waking eyes
did not fear her, but they would close, and she would come! Not seeing
her, I felt her everywhere, for she might be anywhere--might even now
be waiting me in some secret cavern of sleep! Only with my eyes upon her
could I feel safe from her!

Outside the alabaster hall it was pitch-dark, and I had to grope my way
along with hands and feet. At last I felt a curtain, put it aside, and
entered the black hall. There I found a great silent assembly. How it
was visible I neither saw nor could imagine, for the walls, the floor,
the roof, were shrouded in what seemed an infinite blackness, blacker
than the blackest of moonless, starless nights; yet my eyes could
separate, although vaguely, not a few of the individuals in the mass
interpenetrated and divided, as well as surrounded, by the darkness.
It seemed as if my eyes would never come quite to themselves. I pressed
their balls and looked and looked again, but what I saw would not grow
distinct. Blackness mingled with form, silence and undefined motion
possessed the wide space. All was a dim, confused dance, filled with
recurrent glimpses of shapes not unknown to me. Now appeared a woman,
with glorious eyes looking out of a skull; now an armed figure on a
skeleton horse; now one now another of the hideous burrowing phantasms.
I could trace no order and little relation in the mingling and crossing
currents and eddies. If I seemed to catch the shape and rhythm of a
dance, it was but to see it break, and confusion prevail. With the
shifting colours of the seemingly more solid shapes, mingled a multitude
of shadows, independent apparently of originals, each moving after
its own free shadow-will. I looked everywhere for the princess, but
throughout the wildly changing kaleidoscopic scene, could not see her
nor discover indication of her presence. Where was she? What might she
not be doing? No one took the least notice of me as I wandered hither
and thither seeking her. At length losing hope, I turned away to look
elsewhere. Finding the wall, and keeping to it with my hand, for even
then I could not see it, I came, groping along, to a curtained opening
into the vestibule.

Dimly moonlighted, the cage of the leopardess was the arena of what
seemed a desperate although silent struggle. Two vastly differing forms,
human and bestial, with entangled confusion of mingling bodies and
limbs, writhed and wrestled in closest embrace. It had lasted but an
instant when I saw the leopardess out of the cage, walking quietly to
the open door. As I hastened after her I threw a glance behind me: there
was the leopardess in the cage, couching motionless as when I saw her
first.

The moon, half-way up the sky, was shining round and clear; the bodiless
shadow I had seen the night before, was walking through the trees
toward the gate; and after him went the leopardess, swinging her tail.
I followed, a little way off, as silently as they, and neither of them
once looked round. Through the open gate we went down to the city, lying
quiet as the moonshine upon it. The face of the moon was very still, and
its stillness looked like that of expectation.

The Shadow took his way straight to the stair at the top of which I had
lain the night before. Without a pause he went up, and the leopardess
followed. I quickened my pace, but, a moment after, heard a cry of
horror. Then came the fall of something soft and heavy between me and
the stair, and at my feet lay a body, frightfully blackened and crushed,
but still recognisable as that of the woman who had led me home and shut
me out. As I stood petrified, the spotted leopardess came bounding down
the stair with a baby in her mouth. I darted to seize her ere she
could turn at the foot; but that instant, from behind me, the white
leopardess, like a great bar of glowing silver, shot through the
moonlight, and had her by the neck. She dropped the child; I caught it
up, and stood to watch the battle between them.

What a sight it was--now the one, now the other uppermost, both too
intent for any noise beyond a low growl, a whimpered cry, or a snarl of
hate--followed by a quicker scrambling of claws, as each, worrying
and pushing and dragging, struggled for foothold on the pavement! The
spotted leopardess was larger than the white, and I was anxious for my
friend; but I soon saw that, though neither stronger nor more active,
the white leopardess had the greater endurance. Not once did she lose
her hold on the neck of the other. From the spotted throat at length
issued a howl of agony, changing, by swift-crowded gradations, into the
long-drawn CRESCENDO of a woman’s uttermost wail. The white one relaxed
her jaws; the spotted one drew herself away, and rose on her hind legs.
Erect in the moonlight stood the princess, a confused rush of shadows
careering over her whiteness--the spots of the leopard crowding,
hurrying, fleeing to the refuge of her eyes, where merging they
vanished. The last few, outsped and belated, mingled with the cloud
of her streamy hair, leaving her radiant as the moon when a legion of
little vapours has flown, wind-hunted, off her silvery disc--save that,
adown the white column of her throat, a thread of blood still trickled
from every wound of her adversary’s terrible teeth. She turned away,
took a few steps with the gait of a Hecate, fell, covered afresh with
her spots, and fled at a long, stretching gallop.

The white leopardess turned also, sprang upon me, pulled my arms
asunder, caught the baby as it fell, and flew with it along the street
toward the gate.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE SILENT FOUNTAIN

I turned and followed the spotted leopardess, catching but one glimpse
of her as she tore up the brow of the hill to the gate of the palace.
When I reached the entrance-hall, the princess was just throwing the
robe around her which she had left on the floor. The blood had ceased to
flow from her wounds, and had dried in the wind of her flight.

When she saw me, a flash of anger crossed her face, and she turned her
head aside. Then, with an attempted smile, she looked at me, and said,

“I have met with a small accident! Happening to hear that the cat-woman
was again in the city, I went down to send her away. But she had one of
her horrid creatures with her: it sprang upon me, and had its claws in
my neck before I could strike it!”

She gave a shiver, and I could not help pitying her, although I knew
she lied, for her wounds were real, and her face reminded me of how she
looked in the cave. My heart began to reproach me that I had let her
fight unaided, and I suppose I looked the compassion I felt.

“Child of folly!” she said, with another attempted smile, “--not crying,
surely!--Wait for me here; I am going into the black hall for a moment.
I want you to get me something for my scratches.”

But I followed her close. Out of my sight I feared her.

The instant the princess entered, I heard a buzzing sound as of many
low voices, and, one portion after another, the assembly began to be
shiftingly illuminated, as by a ray that went travelling from spot to
spot. Group after group would shine out for a space, then sink back into
the general vagueness, while another part of the vast company would grow
momently bright.

Some of the actions going on when thus illuminated, were not unknown to
me; I had been in them, or had looked on them, and so had the princess:
present with every one of them I now saw her. The skull-headed dancers
footed the grass in the forest-hall: there was the princess looking in
at the door! The fight went on in the Evil Wood: there was the princess
urging it! Yet I was close behind her all the time, she standing
motionless, her head sunk on her bosom. The confused murmur continued,
the confused commotion of colours and shapes; and still the ray went
shifting and showing. It settled at last on the hollow in the heath, and
there was the princess, walking up and down, and trying in vain to wrap
the vapour around her! Then first I was startled at what I saw: the old
librarian walked up to her, and stood for a moment regarding her; she
fell; her limbs forsook her and fled; her body vanished.

A wild shriek rang through the echoing place, and with the fall of her
eidolon, the princess herself, till then standing like a statue in front
of me, fell heavily, and lay still. I turned at once and went out: not
again would I seek to restore her! As I stood trembling beside the
cage, I knew that in the black ellipsoid I had been in the brain of the
princess!--I saw the tail of the leopardess quiver once.

While still endeavouring to compose myself, I heard the voice of the
princess beside me.

“Come now,” she said; “I will show you what I want you to do for me.”

She led the way into the court. I followed in dazed compliance.

The moon was near the zenith, and her present silver seemed brighter
than the gold of the absent sun. She brought me through the trees to the
tallest of them, the one in the centre. It was not quite like the rest,
for its branches, drawing their ends together at the top, made a clump
that looked from beneath like a fir-cone. The princess stood close under
it, gazing up, and said, as if talking to herself,

“On the summit of that tree grows a tiny blossom which would at once
heal my scratches! I might be a dove for a moment and fetch it, but I
see a little snake in the leaves whose bite would be worse to a dove
than the bite of a tiger to me!--How I hate that cat-woman!”

She turned to me quickly, saying with one of her sweetest smiles,

“Can you climb?”

The smile vanished with the brief question, and her face changed to a
look of sadness and suffering. I ought to have left her to suffer, but
the way she put her hand to her wounded neck went to my heart.

I considered the tree. All the way up to the branches, were projections
on the stem like the remnants on a palm of its fallen leaves.

“I can climb that tree,” I answered.

“Not with bare feet!” she returned.

In my haste to follow the leopardess disappearing, I had left my sandals
in my room.

“It is no matter,” I said; “I have long gone barefoot!”

Again I looked at the tree, and my eyes went wandering up the stem until
my sight lost itself in the branches. The moon shone like silvery
foam here and there on the rugged bole, and a little rush of wind went
through the top with a murmurous sound as of water falling softly into
water. I approached the tree to begin my ascent of it. The princess
stopped me.

“I cannot let you attempt it with your feet bare!” she insisted. “A fall
from the top would kill you!”

“So would a bite from the snake!” I answered--not believing, I confess,
that there was any snake.

“It would not hurt YOU!” she replied. “--Wait a moment.”

She tore from her garment the two wide borders that met in front, and
kneeling on one knee, made me put first my left foot, then my right on
the other, and bound them about with the thick embroidered strips.

“You have left the ends hanging, princess!” I said.

“I have nothing to cut them off with; but they are not long enough to
get entangled,” she replied.

I turned to the tree, and began to climb.

Now in Bulika the cold after sundown was not so great as in certain
other parts of the country--especially about the sexton’s cottage; yet
when I had climbed a little way, I began to feel very cold, grew still
colder as I ascended, and became coldest of all when I got among the
branches. Then I shivered, and seemed to have lost my hands and feet.

There was hardly any wind, and the branches did not sway in the
least, yet, as I approached the summit, I became aware of a peculiar
unsteadiness: every branch on which I placed foot or laid hold, seemed
on the point of giving way. When my head rose above the branches
near the top, and in the open moonlight I began to look about for the
blossom, that instant I found myself drenched from head to foot. The
next, as if plunged in a stormy water, I was flung about wildly, and
felt myself sinking. Tossed up and down, tossed this way and tossed that
way, rolled over and over, checked, rolled the other way and tossed up
again, I was sinking lower and lower. Gasping and gurgling and choking,
I fell at last upon a solid bottom.

“I told you so!” croaked a voice in my ear.



CHAPTER XXVIII. I AM SILENCED

I rubbed the water out of my eyes, and saw the raven on the edge of a
huge stone basin. With the cold light of the dawn reflected from his
glossy plumage, he stood calmly looking down upon me. I lay on my back
in water, above which, leaning on my elbows, I just lifted my face. I
was in the basin of the large fountain constructed by my father in the
middle of the lawn. High over me glimmered the thick, steel-shiny stalk,
shooting, with a torrent uprush, a hundred feet into the air, to spread
in a blossom of foam.

Nettled at the coolness of the raven’s remark,

“You told me nothing!” I said.

“I told you to do nothing any one you distrusted asked you!”

“Tut! how was mortal to remember that?”

“You will not forget the consequences of having forgotten it!” replied
Mr. Raven, who stood leaning over the margin of the basin, and stretched
his hand across to me.

I took it, and was immediately beside him on the lawn, dripping and
streaming.

“You must change your clothes at once!” he said. “A wetting does not
signify where you come from--though at present such an accident is
unusual; here it has its inconveniences!”

He was again a raven, walking, with something stately in his step,
toward the house, the door of which stood open.

“I have not much to change!” I laughed; for I had flung aside my robe to
climb the tree.

“It is a long time since I moulted a feather!” said the raven.

In the house no one seemed awake. I went to my room, found a
dressing-gown, and descended to the library.

As I entered, the librarian came from the closet. I threw myself on a
couch. Mr. Raven drew a chair to my side and sat down. For a minute or
two neither spoke. I was the first to break the silence.

“What does it all mean?” I said.

“A good question!” he rejoined: “nobody knows what anything is; a man
can learn only what a thing means! Whether he do, depends on the use he
is making of it.”

“I have made no use of anything yet!”

“Not much; but you know the fact, and that is something! Most people
take more than a lifetime to learn that they have learned nothing, and
done less! At least you have not been without the desire to be of use!”

“I did want to do something for the children--the precious Little Ones,
I mean.”

“I know you did--and started the wrong way!”

“I did not know the right way.”

“That is true also--but you are to blame that you did not.”

“I am ready to believe whatever you tell me--as soon as I understand
what it means.”

“Had you accepted our invitation, you would have known the right way.
When a man will not act where he is, he must go far to find his work.”

“Indeed I have gone far, and got nowhere, for I have not found my work!
I left the children to learn how to serve them, and have only learned
the danger they are in.”

“When you were with them, you were where you could help them: you left
your work to look for it! It takes a wise man to know when to go away; a
fool may learn to go back at once!”

“Do you mean, sir, I could have done something for the Little Ones by
staying with them?”

“Could you teach them anything by leaving them?”

“No; but how could I teach them? I did not know how to begin. Besides,
they were far ahead of me!”

“That is true. But you were not a rod to measure them with! Certainly,
if they knew what you know, not to say what you might have known, they
would be ahead of you--out of sight ahead! but you saw they were not
growing--or growing so slowly that they had not yet developed the
idea of growing! they were even afraid of growing!--You had never seen
children remain children!”

“But surely I had no power to make them grow!”

“You might have removed some of the hindrances to their growing!”

“What are they? I do not know them. I did think perhaps it was the want
of water!”

“Of course it is! they have none to cry with!”

“I would gladly have kept them from requiring any for that purpose!”

“No doubt you would--the aim of all stupid philanthropists! Why, Mr.
Vane, but for the weeping in it, your world would never have become
worth saving! You confess you thought it might be water they wanted: why
did not you dig them a well or two?”

“That never entered my mind!”

“Not when the sounds of the waters under the earth entered your ears?”

“I believe it did once. But I was afraid of the giants for them. That
was what made me bear so much from the brutes myself!”

“Indeed you almost taught the noble little creatures to be afraid of the
stupid Bags! While they fed and comforted and worshipped you, all the
time you submitted to be the slave of bestial men! You gave the darlings
a seeming coward for their hero! A worse wrong you could hardly have
done them. They gave you their hearts; you owed them your soul!--You
might by this time have made the Bags hewers of wood and drawers of
water to the Little Ones!”

“I fear what you say is true, Mr. Raven! But indeed I was afraid that
more knowledge might prove an injury to them--render them less innocent,
less lovely.”

“They had given you no reason to harbour such a fear!”

“Is not a little knowledge a dangerous thing?”

“That is one of the pet falsehoods of your world! Is man’s greatest
knowledge more than a little? or is it therefore dangerous? The fancy
that knowledge is in itself a great thing, would make any degree of
knowledge more dangerous than any amount of ignorance. To know all
things would not be greatness.”

“At least it was for love of them, not from cowardice that I served the
giants!”

“Granted. But you ought to have served the Little Ones, not the giants!
You ought to have given the Little Ones water; then they would soon
have taught the giants their true position. In the meantime you could
yourself have made the giants cut down two-thirds of their coarse
fruit-trees to give room to the little delicate ones! You lost your
chance with the Lovers, Mr. Vane! You speculated about them instead of
helping them!”



CHAPTER XXIX. THE PERSIAN CAT

I sat in silence and shame. What he said was true: I had not been a wise
neighbour to the Little Ones!

Mr. Raven resumed:

“You wronged at the same time the stupid creatures themselves. For them
slavery would have been progress. To them a few such lessons as you
could have given them with a stick from one of their own trees, would
have been invaluable.”

“I did not know they were cowards!”

“What difference does that make? The man who grounds his action on
another’s cowardice, is essentially a coward himself.--I fear worse will
come of it! By this time the Little Ones might have been able to protect
themselves from the princess, not to say the giants--they were always
fit enough for that; as it was they laughed at them! but now, through
your relations with her,----”

“I hate her!” I cried.

“Did you let her know you hated her?”

Again I was silent.

“Not even to her have you been faithful!--But hush! we were followed
from the fountain, I fear!”

“No living creature did I see!--except a disreputable-looking cat that
bolted into the shrubbery.”

“It was a magnificent Persian--so wet and draggled, though, as to look
what she was--worse than disreputable!”

“What do you mean, Mr. Raven?” I cried, a fresh horror taking me by the
throat. “--There was a beautiful blue Persian about the house, but
she fled at the very sound of water!--Could she have been after the
goldfish?”

“We shall see!” returned the librarian. “I know a little about cats of
several sorts, and there is that in the room which will unmask this one,
or I am mistaken in her.”

He rose, went to the door of the closet, brought from it the mutilated
volume, and sat down again beside me. I stared at the book in his hand:
it was a whole book, entire and sound!

“Where was the other half of it?” I gasped.

“Sticking through into my library,” he answered.

I held my peace. A single question more would have been a plunge into a
bottomless sea, and there might be no time!

“Listen,” he said: “I am going to read a stanza or two. There is one
present who, I imagine, will hardly enjoy the reading!”

He opened the vellum cover, and turned a leaf or two. The parchment was
discoloured with age, and one leaf showed a dark stain over two-thirds
of it. He slowly turned this also, and seemed looking for a certain
passage in what appeared a continuous poem. Somewhere about the middle
of the book he began to read.

But what follows represents--not what he read, only the impression it
made upon me. The poem seemed in a language I had never before heard,
which yet I understood perfectly, although I could not write the words,
or give their meaning save in poor approximation. These fragments, then,
are the shapes which those he read have finally taken in passing again
through my brain:--

     “But if I found a man that could believe
        In what he saw not, felt not, and yet knew,
      From him I should take substance, and receive
        Firmness and form relate to touch and view;
        Then should I clothe me in the likeness true
      Of that idea where his soul did cleave!”

He turned a leaf and read again:--

     “In me was every woman.  I had power
        Over the soul of every living man,
      Such as no woman ever had in dower--
        Could what no woman ever could, or can;
        All women, I, the woman, still outran,
      Outsoared, outsank, outreigned, in hall or bower.

     “For I, though me he neither saw nor heard,
        Nor with his hand could touch finger of mine,
      Although not once my breath had ever stirred
        A hair of him, could trammel brain and spine
        With rooted bonds which Death could not untwine--
      Or life, though hope were evermore deferred.”

Again he paused, again turned a leaf, and again began:--

     “For by his side I lay, a bodiless thing;
        I breathed not, saw not, felt not, only thought,
      And made him love me--with a hungering
        After he knew not what--if it was aught
        Or but a nameless something that was wrought
      By him out of himself; for I did sing

     “A song that had no sound into his soul;
        I lay a heartless thing against his heart,
      Giving him nothing where he gave his whole
        Being to clothe me human, every part:
        That I at last into his sense might dart,
      Thus first into his living mind I stole.

     “Ah, who was ever conquering Love but I!
        Who else did ever throne in heart of man!
      To visible being, with a gladsome cry
        Waking, life’s tremor through me throbbing ran!”

A strange, repulsive feline wail arose somewhere in the room. I started
up on my elbow and stared about me, but could see nothing.

Mr. Raven turned several leaves, and went on:--

     “Sudden I woke, nor knew the ghastly fear
        That held me--not like serpent coiled about,
      But like a vapour moist, corrupt, and drear,
        Filling heart, soul, and breast and brain throughout;
        My being lay motionless in sickening doubt,
      Nor dared to ask how came the horror here.

     “My past entire I knew, but not my now;
        I understood nor what I was, nor where;
      I knew what I had been: still on my brow
        I felt the touch of what no more was there!
        I was a fainting, dead, yet live Despair;
      A life that flouted life with mop and mow!

     “That I was a queen I knew right well,
        And sometimes wore a splendour on my head
      Whose flashing even dead darkness could not quell--
        The like on neck and arms and girdle-stead;
        And men declared a light my closed eyes shed
      That killed the diamond in its silver cell.”

Again I heard the ugly cry of feline pain. Again I looked, but saw
neither shape nor motion. Mr. Raven seemed to listen a moment, but again
turned several pages, and resumed:--

     “Hideously wet, my hair of golden hue
        Fouled my fair hands: to have it swiftly shorn
      I had given my rubies, all for me dug new--
        No eyes had seen, and such no waist had worn!
        For a draught of water from a drinking horn,
      For one blue breath, I had given my sapphires blue!

     “Nay, I had given my opals for a smock,
        A peasant-maiden’s garment, coarse and clean:
      My shroud was rotting!  Once I heard a cock
        Lustily crow upon the hillock green
        Over my coffin.  Dulled by space between,
      Came back an answer like a ghostly mock.”

Once more arose the bestial wail.

“I thought some foul thing was in the room!” said the librarian, casting
a glance around him; but instantly he turned a leaf or two, and again
read:--

     “For I had bathed in milk and honey-dew,
        In rain from roses shook, that ne’er touched earth,
      And ointed me with nard of amber hue;
        Never had spot me spotted from my birth,
        Or mole, or scar of hurt, or fret of dearth;
      Never one hair superfluous on me grew.

     “Fleeing cold whiteness, I would sit alone--
        Not in the sun--I feared his bronzing light,
      But in his radiance back around me thrown
        By fulgent mirrors tempering his might;
        Thus bathing in a moon-bath not too bright,
      My skin I tinted slow to ivory tone.

     “But now, all round was dark, dark all within!
        My eyes not even gave out a phantom-flash;
      My fingers sank in pulp through pulpy skin;
        My body lay death-weltered in a mash
        Of slimy horrors----”

With a fearsome yell, her clammy fur staring in clumps, her tail thick
as a cable, her eyes flashing green as a chrysoprase, her distended
claws entangling themselves so that she floundered across the carpet, a
huge white cat rushed from somewhere, and made for the chimney. Quick as
thought the librarian threw the manuscript between her and the hearth.
She crouched instantly, her eyes fixed on the book. But his voice went
on as if still he read, and his eyes seemed also fixed on the book:--

     “Ah, the two worlds! so strangely are they one,
        And yet so measurelessly wide apart!
      Oh, had I lived the bodiless alone
        And from defiling sense held safe my heart,
        Then had I scaped the canker and the smart,
      Scaped life-in-death, scaped misery’s endless moan!”

At these words such a howling, such a prolonged yell of agony burst from
the cat, that we both stopped our ears. When it ceased, Mr. Raven walked
to the fire-place, took up the book, and, standing between the creature
and the chimney, pointed his finger at her for a moment. She lay
perfectly still. He took a half-burnt stick from the hearth, drew with
it some sign on the floor, put the manuscript back in its place, with a
look that seemed to say, “Now we have her, I think!” and, returning to
the cat, stood over her and said, in a still, solemn voice:--

“Lilith, when you came here on the way to your evil will, you little
thought into whose hands you were delivering yourself!--Mr. Vane, when
God created me,--not out of Nothing, as say the unwise, but out of His
own endless glory--He brought me an angelic splendour to be my wife:
there she lies! For her first thought was POWER; she counted it slavery
to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being. One
child, indeed, she bore; then, puffed with the fancy that she had
created her, would have me fall down and worship her! Finding, however,
that I would but love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured
out her blood to escape me, fled to the army of the aliens, and soon
had so ensnared the heart of the great Shadow, that he became her slave,
wrought her will, and made her queen of Hell. How it is with her now,
she best knows, but I know also. The one child of her body she fears and
hates, and would kill, asserting a right, which is a lie, over what God
sent through her into His new world. Of creating, she knows no more than
the crystal that takes its allotted shape, or the worm that makes two
worms when it is cloven asunder. Vilest of God’s creatures, she lives
by the blood and lives and souls of men. She consumes and slays, but is
powerless to destroy as to create.”

The animal lay motionless, its beryl eyes fixed flaming on the man: his
eyes on hers held them fixed that they could not move from his.

“Then God gave me another wife--not an angel but a woman--who is to this
as light is to darkness.”

The cat gave a horrible screech, and began to grow bigger. She went on
growing and growing. At last the spotted leopardess uttered a roar that
made the house tremble. I sprang to my feet. I do not think Mr. Raven
started even with his eyelids.

“It is but her jealousy that speaks,” he said, “jealousy self-kindled,
foiled and fruitless; for here I am, her master now whom she, would
not have for her husband! while my beautiful Eve yet lives, hoping
immortally! Her hated daughter lives also, but beyond her evil ken,
one day to be what she counts her destruction--for even Lilith shall
be saved by her childbearing. Meanwhile she exults that my human wife
plunged herself and me in despair, and has borne me a countless race of
miserables; but my Eve repented, and is now beautiful as never was woman
or angel, while her groaning, travailing world is the nursery of our
Father’s children. I too have repented, and am blessed.--Thou, Lilith,
hast not yet repented; but thou must.--Tell me, is the great
Shadow beautiful? Knowest thou how long thou wilt thyself remain
beautiful?--Answer me, if thou knowest.”

Then at last I understood that Mr. Raven was indeed Adam, the old and
the new man; and that his wife, ministering in the house of the dead,
was Eve, the mother of us all, the lady of the New Jerusalem.

The leopardess reared; the flickering and fleeing of her spots began;
the princess at length stood radiant in her perfect shape.

“I AM beautiful--and immortal!” she said--and she looked the goddess she
would be.

“As a bush that burns, and is consumed,” answered he who had been her
husband. “--What is that under thy right hand?”

For her arm lay across her bosom, and her hand was pressed to her side.

A swift pang contorted her beautiful face, and passed.

“It is but a leopard-spot that lingers! it will quickly follow those I
have dismissed,” she answered.

“Thou art beautiful because God created thee, but thou art the slave of
sin: take thy hand from thy side.”

Her hand sank away, and as it dropt she looked him in the eyes with a
quailing fierceness that had in it no surrender.

He gazed a moment at the spot.

“It is not on the leopard; it is in the woman!” he said. “Nor will it
leave thee until it hath eaten to thy heart, and thy beauty hath flowed
from thee through the open wound!”

She gave a glance downward, and shivered.

“Lilith,” said Adam, and his tone had changed to a tender beseeching,
“hear me, and repent, and He who made thee will cleanse thee!”

Her hand returned quivering to her side. Her face grew dark. She gave
the cry of one from whom hope is vanishing. The cry passed into a howl.
She lay writhing on the floor, a leopardess covered with spots.

“The evil thou meditatest,” Adam resumed, “thou shalt never compass,
Lilith, for Good and not Evil is the Universe. The battle between them
may last for countless ages, but it must end: how will it fare with
thee when Time hath vanished in the dawn of the eternal morn? Repent, I
beseech thee; repent, and be again an angel of God!”

She rose, she stood upright, a woman once more, and said,

“I will not repent. I will drink the blood of thy child.” My eyes were
fastened on the princess; but when Adam spoke, I turned to him: he stood
towering above her; the form of his visage was altered, and his voice
was terrible.

“Down!” he cried; “or by the power given me I will melt thy very bones.”

She flung herself on the floor, dwindled and dwindled, and was again a
gray cat. Adam caught her up by the skin of her neck, bore her to
the closet, and threw her in. He described a strange figure on the
threshold, and closing the door, locked it.

Then he returned to my side the old librarian, looking sad and worn, and
furtively wiping tears from his eyes.



CHAPTER XXX. ADAM EXPLAINS

“We must be on our guard,” he said, “or she will again outwit us. She
would befool the very elect!”

“How are we to be on our guard?” I asked.

“Every way,” he answered. “She fears, therefore hates her child, and is
in this house on her way to destroy her. The birth of children is in her
eyes the death of their parents, and every new generation the enemy of
the last. Her daughter appears to her an open channel through which her
immortality--which yet she counts self-inherent--is flowing fast away:
to fill it up, almost from her birth she has pursued her with an utter
enmity. But the result of her machinations hitherto is, that in the
region she claims as her own, has appeared a colony of children, to
which that daughter is heart and head and sheltering wings. My Eve
longed after the child, and would have been to her as a mother to her
first-born, but we were then unfit to train her: she was carried into
the wilderness, and for ages we knew nothing of her fate. But she was
divinely fostered, and had young angels for her playmates; nor did she
ever know care until she found a baby in the wood, and the mother-heart
in her awoke. One by one she has found many children since, and that
heart is not yet full. Her family is her absorbing charge, and never
children were better mothered. Her authority over them is without
appeal, but it is unknown to herself, and never comes to the surface
except in watchfulness and service. She has forgotten the time when she
lived without them, and thinks she came herself from the wood, the first
of the family.

“You have saved the life of her and their enemy; therefore your life
belongs to her and them. The princess was on her way to destroy them,
but as she crossed that stream, vengeance overtook her, and she would
have died had you not come to her aid. You did; and ere now she would
have been raging among the Little Ones, had she dared again cross the
stream. But there was yet a way to the blessed little colony through the
world of the three dimensions; only, from that, by the slaying of her
former body, she had excluded herself, and except in personal contact
with one belonging to it, could not re-enter it. You provided the
opportunity: never, in all her long years, had she had one before. Her
hand, with lightest touch, was on one or other of your muffled feet,
every step as you climbed. In that little chamber, she is now watching
to leave it as soon as ever she may.”

“She cannot know anything about the door!--she cannot at least know how
to open it!” I said; but my heart was not so confident as my words.

“Hush, hush!” whispered the librarian, with uplifted hand; “she can hear
through anything!--You must go at once, and make your way to my wife’s
cottage. I will remain to keep guard over her.”

“Let me go to the Little Ones!” I cried.

“Beware of that, Mr. Vane. Go to my wife, and do as she tells you.”

His advice did not recommend itself: why haste to encounter measureless
delay? If not to protect the children, why go at all? Alas, even now I
believed him only enough to ask him questions, not to obey him!

“Tell me first, Mr. Raven,” I said, “why, of all places, you have shut
her up there! The night I ran from your house, it was immediately into
that closet!”

“The closet is no nearer our cottage, and no farther from it, than any
or every other place.”

“But,” I returned, hard to persuade where I could not understand, “how
is it then that, when you please, you take from that same door a whole
book where I saw and felt only a part of one? The other part, you have
just told me, stuck through into your library: when you put it again on
the shelf, will it not again stick through into that? Must not then the
two places, in which parts of the same volume can at the same moment
exist, lie close together? Or can one part of the book be in space, or
SOMEWHERE, and the other out of space, or NOWHERE?”

“I am sorry I cannot explain the thing to you,” he answered; “but there
is no provision in you for understanding it. Not merely, therefore,
is the phenomenon inexplicable to you, but the very nature of it is
inapprehensible by you. Indeed I but partially apprehend it myself. At
the same time you are constantly experiencing things which you not only
do not, but cannot understand. You think you understand them, but your
understanding of them is only your being used to them, and therefore not
surprised at them. You accept them, not because you understand them,
but because you must accept them: they are there, and have unavoidable
relations with you! The fact is, no man understands anything; when he
knows he does not understand, that is his first tottering step--not
toward understanding, but toward the capability of one day
understanding. To such things as these you are not used, therefore you
do not fancy you understand them. Neither I nor any man can here help
you to understand; but I may, perhaps, help you a little to believe!”

He went to the door of the closet, gave a low whistle, and stood
listening. A moment after, I heard, or seemed to hear, a soft whir of
wings, and, looking up, saw a white dove perch for an instant on the top
of the shelves over the portrait, thence drop to Mr. Raven’s shoulder,
and lay her head against his cheek. Only by the motions of their two
heads could I tell that they were talking together; I heard nothing.
Neither had I moved my eyes from them, when suddenly she was not there,
and Mr. Raven came back to his seat.

“Why did you whistle?” I asked. “Surely sound here is not sound there!”

“You are right,” he answered. “I whistled that you might know I called
her. Not the whistle, but what the whistle meant reached her.--There is
not a minute to lose: you must go!”

“I will at once!” I replied, and moved for the door.

“You will sleep to-night at my hostelry!” he said--not as a question,
but in a tone of mild authority.

“My heart is with the children,” I replied. “But if you insist----”

“I do insist. You can otherwise effect nothing.--I will go with you as
far as the mirror, and see you off.”

He rose. There came a sudden shock in the closet. Apparently the
leopardess had flung herself against the heavy door. I looked at my
companion.

“Come; come!” he said.

Ere we reached the door of the library, a howling yell came after
us, mingled with the noise of claws that scored at the hard oak. I
hesitated, and half turned.

“To think of her lying there alone,” I murmured, “--with that terrible
wound!”

“Nothing will ever close that wound,” he answered, with a sigh. “It must
eat into her heart! Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good
where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil
until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.”

I held my peace until a sound I did not understand overtook us.

“If she should break loose!” I cried.

“Make haste!” he rejoined. “I shall hurry down the moment you are gone,
and I have disarranged the mirrors.”

We ran, and reached the wooden chamber breathless. Mr. Raven seized the
chains and adjusted the hood. Then he set the mirrors in their proper
relation, and came beside me in front of the standing one. Already I saw
the mountain range emerging from the mist.

Between us, wedging us asunder, darted, with the yell of a demon, the
huge bulk of the spotted leopardess. She leaped through the mirror as
through an open window, and settled at once into a low, even, swift
gallop.

I cast a look of dismay at my companion, and sprang through to follow
her. He came after me leisurely.

“You need not run,” he called; “you cannot overtake her. This is our
way.”

As he spoke he turned in the opposite direction.

“She has more magic at her finger-tips than I care to know!” he added
quietly.

“We must do what we can!” I said, and ran on, but sickening as I saw her
dwindle in the distance, stopped, and went back to him.

“Doubtless we must,” he answered. “But my wife has warned Mara, and she
will do her part; you must sleep first: you have given me your word!”

“Nor do I mean to break it. But surely sleep is not the first thing!
Surely, surely, action takes precedence of repose!”

“A man can do nothing he is not fit to do.--See! did I not tell you Mara
would do her part?”

I looked whither he pointed, and saw a white spot moving at an acute
angle with the line taken by the leopardess.

“There she is!” he cried. “The spotted leopardess is strong, but the
white is stronger!”

“I have seen them fight: the combat did not appear decisive as to that.”

“How should such eyes tell which have never slept? The princess did
not confess herself beaten--that she never does--but she fled! When she
confesses her last hope gone, that it is indeed hard to kick against
the goad, then will her day begin to dawn! Come; come! He who cannot act
must make haste to sleep!”



CHAPTER XXXI. THE SEXTON’S OLD HORSE

I stood and watched the last gleam of the white leopardess melt away,
then turned to follow my guide--but reluctantly. What had I to do with
sleep? Surely reason was the same in every world, and what reason could
there be in going to sleep with the dead, when the hour was calling the
live man? Besides, no one would wake me, and how could I be certain of
waking early--of waking at all?--the sleepers in that house let morning
glide into noon, and noon into night, nor ever stirred! I murmured, but
followed, for I knew not what else to do.

The librarian walked on in silence, and I walked silent as he. Time and
space glided past us. The sun set; it began to grow dark, and I felt in
the air the spreading cold of the chamber of death. My heart sank lower
and lower. I began to lose sight of the lean, long-coated figure, and at
length could no more hear his swishing stride through the heather.
But then I heard instead the slow-flapping wings of the raven; and, at
intervals, now a firefly, now a gleaming butterfly rose into the rayless
air.

By and by the moon appeared, slow crossing the far horizon.

“You are tired, are you not, Mr. Vane?” said the raven, alighting on a
stone. “You must make acquaintance with the horse that will carry you in
the morning!”

He gave a strange whistle through his long black beak. A spot appeared
on the face of the half-risen moon. To my ears came presently the
drumming of swift, soft-galloping hoofs, and in a minute or two, out of
the very disc of the moon, low-thundered the terrible horse. His mane
flowed away behind him like the crest of a wind-fighting wave, torn
seaward in hoary spray, and the whisk of his tail kept blinding the eye
of the moon. Nineteen hands he seemed, huge of bone, tight of skin, hard
of muscle--a steed the holy Death himself might choose on which to ride
abroad and slay! The moon seemed to regard him with awe; in her scary
light he looked a very skeleton, loosely roped together. Terrifically
large, he moved with the lightness of a winged insect. As he drew near,
his speed slackened, and his mane and tail drifted about him settling.

Now I was not merely a lover of horses, but I loved every horse I saw.
I had never spent money except upon horses, and had never sold a horse.
The sight of this mighty one, terrible to look at, woke in me longing to
possess him. It was pure greed, nay, rank covetousness, an evil thing
in all the worlds. I do not mean that I could have stolen him, but that,
regardless of his proper place, I would have bought him if I could. I
laid my hands on him, and stroked the protuberant bones that humped a
hide smooth and thin, and shiny as satin--so shiny that the very shape
of the moon was reflected in it; I fondled his sharp-pointed ears,
whispered words in them, and breathed into his red nostrils the breath
of a man’s life. He in return breathed into mine the breath of a horse’s
life, and we loved one another. What eyes he had! Blue-filmy like the
eyes of the dead, behind each was a glowing coal! The raven, with wings
half extended, looked on pleased at my love-making to his magnificent
horse.

“That is well! be friends with him,” he said: “he will carry you all the
better to-morrow!--Now we must hurry home!”

My desire to ride the horse had grown passionate.

“May I not mount him at once, Mr. Raven?” I cried.

“By all means!” he answered. “Mount, and ride him home.”

The horse bent his head over my shoulder lovingly. I twisted my hands
in his mane and scrambled onto his back, not without aid from certain
protuberant bones.

“He would outspeed any leopard in creation!” I cried.

“Not that way at night,” answered the raven; “the road is
difficult.--But come; loss now will be gain then! To wait is harder
than to run, and its meed is the fuller. Go on, my son--straight to
the cottage. I shall be there as soon as you. It will rejoice my wife’s
heart to see son of hers on that horse!”

I sat silent. The horse stood like a block of marble.

“Why do you linger?” asked the raven.

“I long so much to ride after the leopardess,” I answered, “that I can
scarce restrain myself!”

“You have promised!”

“My debt to the Little Ones appears, I confess, a greater thing than my
bond to you.”

“Yield to the temptation and you will bring mischief upon them--and on
yourself also.”

“What matters it for me? I love them; and love works no evil. I will
go.”

But the truth was, I forgot the children, infatuate with the horse.

Eyes flashed through the darkness, and I knew that Adam stood in his
own shape beside me. I knew also by his voice that he repressed an
indignation almost too strong for him.

“Mr. Vane,” he said, “do you not know why you have not yet done anything
worth doing?”

“Because I have been a fool,” I answered.

“Wherein?”

“In everything.”

“Which do you count your most indiscreet action?”

“Bringing the princess to life: I ought to have left her to her just
fate.”

“Nay, now you talk foolishly! You could not have done otherwise than you
did, not knowing she was evil!--But you never brought any one to life!
How could you, yourself dead?”

“I dead?” I cried.

“Yes,” he answered; “and you will be dead, so long as you refuse to
die.”

“Back to the old riddling!” I returned scornfully.

“Be persuaded, and go home with me,” he continued gently. “The
most--nearly the only foolish thing you ever did, was to run from our
dead.”

I pressed the horse’s ribs, and he was off like a sudden wind. I gave
him a pat on the side of the neck, and he went about in a sharp-driven
curve, “close to the ground, like a cat when scratchingly she wheels
about after a mouse,” leaning sideways till his mane swept the tops of
the heather.

Through the dark I heard the wings of the raven. Five quick flaps I
heard, and he perched on the horse’s head. The horse checked himself
instantly, ploughing up the ground with his feet.

“Mr. Vane,” croaked the raven, “think what you are doing! Twice already
has evil befallen you--once from fear, and once from heedlessness:
breach of word is far worse; it is a crime.”

“The Little Ones are in frightful peril, and I brought it upon them!” I
cried. “--But indeed I will not break my word to you. I will return, and
spend in your house what nights--what days--what years you please.”

“I tell you once more you will do them other than good if you go
to-night,” he insisted.

But a false sense of power, a sense which had no root and was merely
vibrated into me from the strength of the horse, had, alas, rendered me
too stupid to listen to anything he said!

“Would you take from me my last chance of reparation?” I cried. “This
time there shall be no shirking! It is my duty, and I will go--if I
perish for it!”

“Go, then, foolish boy!” he returned, with anger in his croak. “Take the
horse, and ride to failure! May it be to humility!”

He spread his wings and flew. Again I pressed the lean ribs under me.

“After the spotted leopardess!” I whispered in his ear.

He turned his head this way and that, snuffing the air; then started,
and went a few paces in a slow, undecided walk. Suddenly he quickened
his walk; broke into a trot; began to gallop, and in a few moments his
speed was tremendous. He seemed to see in the dark; never stumbled, not
once faltered, not once hesitated. I sat as on the ridge of a wave. I
felt under me the play of each individual muscle: his joints were so
elastic, and his every movement glided so into the next, that not once
did he jar me. His growing swiftness bore him along until he flew rather
than ran. The wind met and passed us like a tornado.

Across the evil hollow we sped like a bolt from an arblast. No monster
lifted its neck; all knew the hoofs that thundered over their heads! We
rushed up the hills, we shot down their farther slopes; from the rocky
chasms of the river-bed he did not swerve; he held on over them his
fierce, terrible gallop. The moon, half-way up the heaven, gazed with
a solemn trouble in her pale countenance. Rejoicing in the power of my
steed and in the pride of my life, I sat like a king and rode.

We were near the middle of the many channels, my horse every other
moment clearing one, sometimes two in his stride, and now and then
gathering himself for a great bounding leap, when the moon reached the
key-stone of her arch. Then came a wonder and a terror: she began to
descend rolling like the nave of Fortune’s wheel bowled by the gods, and
went faster and faster. Like our own moon, this one had a human face,
and now the broad forehead now the chin was uppermost as she rolled. I
gazed aghast.

Across the ravines came the howling of wolves. An ugly fear began to
invade the hollow places of my heart; my confidence was on the wane! The
horse maintained his headlong swiftness, with ears pricked forward, and
thirsty nostrils exulting in the wind his career created. But there was
the moon jolting like an old chariot-wheel down the hill of heaven, with
awful boding! She rolled at last over the horizon-edge and disappeared,
carrying all her light with her.

The mighty steed was in the act of clearing a wide shallow channel when
we were caught in the net of the darkness. His head dropped; its impetus
carried his helpless bulk across, but he fell in a heap on the margin,
and where he fell he lay. I got up, kneeled beside him, and felt him all
over. Not a bone could I find broken, but he was a horse no more. I sat
down on the body, and buried my face in my hands.



CHAPTER XXXII. THE LOVERS AND THE BAGS

Bitterly cold grew the night. The body froze under me. The cry of the
wolves came nearer; I heard their feet soft-padding on the rocky ground;
their quick panting filled the air. Through the darkness I saw the many
glowing eyes; their half-circle contracted around me. My time was come!
I sprang to my feet.--Alas, I had not even a stick!

They came in a rush, their eyes flashing with fury of greed, their black
throats agape to devour me. I stood hopelessly waiting them. One moment
they halted over the horse--then came at me.

With a sound of swiftness all but silence, a cloud of green eyes came
down on their flank. The heads that bore them flew at the wolves with a
cry feebler yet fiercer than their howling snarl, and by the cry I knew
them: they were cats, led by a huge gray one. I could see nothing of
him but his eyes, yet I knew him--and so knew his colour and bigness. A
terrific battle followed, whose tale alone came to me through the night.
I would have fled, for surely it was but a fight which should have
me!--only where was the use? my first step would be a fall! and my foes
of either kind could both see and scent me in the dark!

All at once I missed the howling, and the caterwauling grew wilder. Then
came the soft padding, and I knew it meant flight: the cats had defeated
the wolves! In a moment the sharpest of sharp teeth were in my legs;
a moment more and the cats were all over me in a live cataract,
biting wherever they could bite, furiously scratching me anywhere and
everywhere. A multitude clung to my body; I could not flee. Madly I fell
on the hateful swarm, every finger instinct with destruction. I tore
them off me, I throttled at them in vain: when I would have flung them
from me, they clung to my hands like limpets. I trampled them under my
feet, thrust my fingers in their eyes, caught them in jaws stronger
than theirs, but could not rid myself of one. Without cease they kept
discovering upon me space for fresh mouthfuls; they hauled at my skin
with the widespread, horribly curved pincers of clutching claws; they
hissed and spat in my face--but never touched it until, in my despair, I
threw myself on the ground, when they forsook my body, and darted at
my face. I rose, and immediately they left it, the more to occupy
themselves with my legs. In an agony I broke from them and ran, careless
whither, cleaving the solid dark. They accompanied me in a surrounding
torrent, now rubbing, now leaping up against me, but tormenting me no
more. When I fell, which was often, they gave me time to rise; when from
fear of falling I slackened my pace, they flew afresh at my legs.
All that miserable night they kept me running--but they drove me by a
comparatively smooth path, for I tumbled into no gully, and passing the
Evil Wood without seeing it, left it behind in the dark. When at length
the morning appeared, I was beyond the channels, and on the verge of the
orchard valley. In my joy I would have made friends with my persecutors,
but not a cat was to be seen. I threw myself on the moss, and fell fast
asleep.

I was waked by a kick, to find myself bound hand and foot, once more the
thrall of the giants!

“What fitter?” I said to myself; “to whom else should I belong?” and I
laughed in the triumph of self-disgust. A second kick stopped my false
merriment; and thus recurrently assisted by my captors, I succeeded at
length in rising to my feet.

Six of them were about me. They undid the rope that tied my legs
together, attached a rope to each of them, and dragged me away. I walked
as well as I could, but, as they frequently pulled both ropes at once,
I fell repeatedly, whereupon they always kicked me up again. Straight to
my old labour they took me, tied my leg-ropes to a tree, undid my arms,
and put the hateful flint in my left hand. Then they lay down and pelted
me with fallen fruit and stones, but seldom hit me. If I could have
freed my legs, and got hold of a stick I spied a couple of yards from
me, I would have fallen upon all six of them! “But the Little Ones will
come at night!” I said to myself, and was comforted.

All day I worked hard. When the darkness came, they tied my hands, and
left me fast to the tree. I slept a good deal, but woke often, and every
time from a dream of lying in the heart of a heap of children. With the
morning my enemies reappeared, bringing their kicks and their bestial
company.

It was about noon, and I was nearly failing from fatigue and hunger,
when I heard a sudden commotion in the brushwood, followed by a burst of
the bell-like laughter so dear to my heart. I gave a loud cry of delight
and welcome. Immediately rose a trumpeting as of baby-elephants, a
neighing as of foals, and a bellowing as of calves, and through the
bushes came a crowd of Little Ones, on diminutive horses, on small
elephants, on little bears; but the noises came from the riders, not the
animals. Mingled with the mounted ones walked the bigger of the boys
and girls, among the latter a woman with a baby crowing in her arms. The
giants sprang to their lumbering feet, but were instantly saluted with a
storm of sharp stones; the horses charged their legs; the bears rose and
hugged them at the waist; the elephants threw their trunks round their
necks, pulled them down, and gave them such a trampling as they had
sometimes given, but never received before. In a moment my ropes were
undone, and I was in the arms, seemingly innumerable, of the Little
Ones. For some time I saw no more of the giants.

They made me sit down, and my Lona came, and without a word began to
feed me with the loveliest red and yellow fruits. I sat and ate, the
whole colony mounting guard until I had done. Then they brought up two
of the largest of their elephants, and having placed them side by side,
hooked their trunks and tied their tails together. The docile creatures
could have untied their tails with a single shake, and unhooked their
trunks by forgetting them; but tails and trunks remained as their little
masters had arranged them, and it was clear the elephants understood
that they must keep their bodies parallel. I got up, and laid myself in
the hollow between their two backs; when the wise animals, counteracting
the weight that pushed them apart, leaned against each other, and made
for me a most comfortable litter. My feet, it is true, projected beyond
their tails, but my head lay pillowed on an ear of each. Then some of
the smaller children, mounting for a bodyguard, ranged themselves in
a row along the back of each of my bearers; the whole assembly formed
itself in train; and the procession began to move.

Whither they were carrying me, I did not try to conjecture; I yielded
myself to their pleasure, almost as happy as they. Chattering and
laughing and playing glad tricks innumerable at first, the moment they
saw I was going to sleep, they became still as judges.

I woke: a sudden musical uproar greeted the opening of my eyes.

We were travelling through the forest in which they found the babies,
and which, as I had suspected, stretched all the way from the valley to
the hot stream.

A tiny girl sat with her little feet close to my face, and looked down
at me coaxingly for a while, then spoke, the rest seeming to hang on her
words.

“We make a petisson to king,” she said.

“What is it, my darling?” I asked.

“Shut eyes one minute,” she answered.

“Certainly I will! Here goes!” I replied, and shut my eyes close.

“No, no! not fore I tell oo!” she cried.

I opened them again, and we talked and laughed together for quite
another hour.

“Close eyes!” she said suddenly.

I closed my eyes, and kept them close. The elephants stood still. I
heard a soft scurry, a little rustle, and then a silence--for in that
world SOME silences ARE heard.

“Open eyes!” twenty voices a little way off shouted at once; but when I
obeyed, not a creature was visible except the elephants that bore me.
I knew the children marvellously quick in getting out of the way--the
giants had taught them that; but when I raised myself, and looking about
in the open shrubless forest, could descry neither hand nor heel, I
stared in “blank astonishment.”

The sun was set, and it was fast getting dark, yet presently a multitude
of birds began to sing. I lay down to listen, pretty sure that, if I
left them alone, the hiders would soon come out again.

The singing grew to a little storm of bird-voices. “Surely the children
must have something to do with it!--And yet how could they set the
birds singing?” I said to myself as I lay and listened. Soon, however,
happening to look up into the tree under which my elephants stood,
I thought I spied a little motion among the leaves, and looked more
keenly. Sudden white spots appeared in the dark foliage, the music died
down, a gale of childish laughter rippled the air, and white spots came
out in every direction: the trees were full of children! In the wildest
merriment they began to descend, some dropping from bough to bough
so rapidly that I could scarce believe they had not fallen. I left my
litter, and was instantly surrounded--a mark for all the artillery of
their jubilant fun. With stately composure the elephants walked away to
bed.

“But,” said I, when their uproarious gladness had had scope for a while,
“how is it that I never before heard you sing like the birds? Even when
I thought it must be you, I could hardly believe it!”

“Ah,” said one of the wildest, “but we were not birds then! We were
run-creatures, not fly-creatures! We had our hide-places in the bushes
then; but when we came to no-bushes, only trees, we had to build nests!
When we built nests, we grew birds, and when we were birds, we had to do
birds! We asked them to teach us their noises, and they taught us, and
now we are real birds!--Come and see my nest. It’s not big enough for
king, but it’s big enough for king to see me in it!”

I told him I could not get up a tree without the sun to show me the way;
when he came, I would try.

“Kings seldom have wings!” I added.

“King! king!” cried one, “oo knows none of us hasn’t no wings--foolis
feddery tings! Arms and legs is better.”

“That is true. I can get up without wings--and carry straws in my mouth
too, to build my nest with!”

“Oo knows!” he answered, and went away sucking his thumb.

A moment after, I heard him calling out of his nest, a great way up a
walnut tree of enormous size,

“Up adain, king! Dood night! I seepy!”

And I heard no more of him till he woke me in the morning.



CHAPTER XXXIII. LONA’S NARRATIVE

I lay down by a tree, and one and one or in little groups, the children
left me and climbed to their nests. They were always so tired at night
and so rested in the morning, that they were equally glad to go to sleep
and to get up again. I, although tired also, lay awake: Lona had not bid
me good night, and I was sure she would come.

I had been struck, the moment I saw her again, with her resemblance to
the princess, and could not doubt her the daughter of whom Adam had
told me; but in Lona the dazzling beauty of Lilith was softened by
childlikeness, and deepened by the sense of motherhood. “She is
occupied probably,” I said to myself, “with the child of the woman I met
fleeing!” who, she had already told me, was not half mother enough.

She came at length, sat down beside me, and after a few moments of
silent delight, expressed mainly by stroking my face and hands, began to
tell me everything that had befallen since I went. The moon appeared as
we talked, and now and then, through the leaves, lighted for a quivering
moment her beautiful face--full of thought, and a care whose love
redeemed and glorified it. How such a child should have been born of
such a mother--such a woman of such a princess, was hard to understand;
but then, happily, she had two parents--say rather, three! She drew my
heart by what in me was likest herself, and I loved her as one who, grow
to what perfection she might, could only become the more a child. I knew
now that I loved her when I left her, and that the hope of seeing
her again had been my main comfort. Every word she spoke seemed to go
straight to my heart, and, like the truth itself, make it purer.

She told me that after I left the orchard valley, the giants began to
believe a little more in the actual existence of their neighbours, and
became in consequence more hostile to them. Sometimes the Little
Ones would see them trampling furiously, perceiving or imagining some
indication of their presence, while they indeed stood beside, and
laughed at their foolish rage. By and by, however, their animosity
assumed a more practical shape: they began to destroy the trees on
whose fruit the Little Ones lived. This drove the mother of them all to
meditate counteraction. Setting the sharpest of them to listen at
night, she learned that the giants thought I was hidden somewhere near,
intending, as soon as I recovered my strength, to come in the dark and
kill them sleeping. Thereupon she concluded that the only way to stop
the destruction was to give them ground for believing that they had
abandoned the place. The Little Ones must remove into the forest--beyond
the range of the giants, but within reach of their own trees, which they
must visit by night! The main objection to the plan was, that the forest
had little or no undergrowth to shelter--or conceal them if necessary.

But she reflected that where birds, there the Little Ones could find
habitation. They had eager sympathies with all modes of life, and could
learn of the wildest creatures: why should they not take refuge from the
cold and their enemies in the tree-tops? why not, having lain in the
low brushwood, seek now the lofty foliage? why not build nests where
it would not serve to scoop hollows? All that the birds could do, the
Little Ones could learn--except, indeed, to fly!

She spoke to them on the subject, and they heard with approval. They
could already climb the trees, and they had often watched the birds
building their nests! The trees of the forest, although large, did not
look bad! They went up much nearer the sky than those of the giants,
and spread out their arms--some even stretched them down--as if inviting
them to come and live with them! Perhaps, in the top of the tallest,
they might find that bird that laid the baby-eggs, and sat upon them
till they were ripe, then tumbled them down to let the little ones out!
Yes; they would build sleep-houses in the trees, where no giant would
see them, for never by any chance did one throw back his dull head to
look up! Then the bad giants would be sure they had left the country,
and the Little Ones would gather their own apples and pears and figs and
mesples and peaches when they were asleep!

Thus reasoned the Lovers, and eagerly adopted Lona’s suggestion--with
the result that they were soon as much at home in the tree-tops as the
birds themselves, and that the giants came ere long to the conclusion
that they had frightened them out of the country--whereupon they forgot
their trees, and again almost ceased to believe in the existence of
their small neighbours.

Lona asked me whether I had not observed that many of the children were
grown. I answered I had not, but could readily believe it. She assured
me it was so, but said the certain evidence that their minds too had
grown since their migration upward, had gone far in mitigation of the
alarm the discovery had occasioned her.

In the last of the short twilight, and later when the moon was shining,
they went down to the valley, and gathered fruit enough to serve them
the next day; for the giants never went out in the twilight: that to
them was darkness; and they hated the moon: had they been able, they
would have extinguished her. But soon the Little Ones found that fruit
gathered in the night was not altogether good the next day; so the
question arose whether it would not be better, instead of pretending to
have left the country, to make the bad giants themselves leave it.

They had already, she said, in exploring the forest, made acquaintance
with the animals in it, and with most of them personally. Knowing
therefore how strong as well as wise and docile some of them were, and
how swift as well as manageable many others, they now set themselves
to secure their aid against the giants, and with loving, playful
approaches, had soon made more than friends of most of them, from
the first addressing horse or elephant as Brother or Sister Elephant,
Brother or Sister Horse, until before long they had an individual name
for each. It was some little time longer before they said Brother or
Sister Bear, but that came next, and the other day she had heard one
little fellow cry, “Ah, Sister Serpent!” to a snake that bit him as he
played with it too roughly. Most of them would have nothing to do with a
caterpillar, except watch it through its changes; but when at length it
came from its retirement with wings, all would immediately address it as
Sister Butterfly, congratulating it on its metamorphosis--for which
they used a word that meant something like REPENTANCE--and evidently
regarding it as something sacred.

One moonlit evening, as they were going to gather their fruit, they came
upon a woman seated on the ground with a baby in her lap--the woman
I had met on my way to Bulika. They took her for a giantess that had
stolen one of their babies, for they regarded all babies as their
property. Filled with anger they fell upon her multitudinously, beating
her after a childish, yet sufficiently bewildering fashion. She would
have fled, but a boy threw himself down and held her by the feet.
Recovering her wits, she recognised in her assailants the children whose
hospitality she sought, and at once yielded the baby. Lona appeared, and
carried it away in her bosom.

But while the woman noted that in striking her they were careful not to
hurt the child, the Little Ones noted that, as she surrendered her,
she hugged and kissed her just as they wanted to do, and came to the
conclusion that she must be a giantess of the same kind as the good
giant. The moment Lona had the baby, therefore, they brought the mother
fruit, and began to show her every sort of childish attention.

Now the woman had been in perplexity whither to betake herself, not
daring to go back to the city, because the princess was certain to find
out who had lamed her leopardess: delighted with the friendliness of
the little people, she resolved to remain with them for the present:
she would have no trouble with her infant, and might find some way
of returning to her husband, who was rich in money and gems, and very
seldom unkind to her.

Here I must supplement, partly from conjecture, what Lona told me about
the woman. With the rest of the inhabitants of Bulika, she was aware
of the tradition that the princess lived in terror of the birth of an
infant destined to her destruction. They were all unacquainted, however,
with the frightful means by which she preserved her youth and beauty;
and her deteriorating physical condition requiring a larger use of those
means, they took the apparent increase of her hostility to children for
a sign that she saw her doom approaching. This, although no one dreamed
of any attempt against her, nourished in them hopes of change.

Now arose in the mind of the woman the idea of furthering the fulfilment
of the shadowy prediction, or of using the myth at least for her own
restoration to her husband. For what seemed more probable than that
the fate foretold lay with these very children? They were marvellously
brave, and the Bulikans cowards, in abject terror of animals! If she
could rouse in the Little Ones the ambition of taking the city, then
in the confusion of the attack, she would escape from the little army,
reach her house unrecognised, and there lying hidden, await the result!

Should the children now succeed in expelling the giants, she would
begin at once, while they were yet flushed with victory, to suggest the
loftier aim! By disposition, indeed, they were unfit for warfare; they
hardly ever quarrelled, and never fought; loved every live thing, and
hated either to hurt or to suffer. Still, they were easily influenced,
and could certainly be taught any exercise within their strength!--At
once she set some of the smaller ones throwing stones at a mark; and
soon they were all engrossed with the new game, and growing skilful in
it.

The first practical result was their use of stones in my rescue. While
gathering fruit, they found me asleep, went home, held a council, came
the next day with their elephants and horses, overwhelmed the few
giants watching me, and carried me off. Jubilant over their victory,
the smaller boys were childishly boastful, the bigger boys less
ostentatious, while the girls, although their eyes flashed more, were
not so talkative as usual. The woman of Bulika no doubt felt encouraged.

We talked the greater part of the night, chiefly about the growth of the
children, and what it might indicate. With Lona’s power of recognising
truth I had long been familiar; now I began to be astonished at her
practical wisdom. Probably, had I been more of a child myself, I should
have wondered less.

It was yet far from morning when I became aware of a slight fluttering
and scrambling. I rose on my elbow, and looking about me, saw many
Little Ones descend from their nests. They disappeared, and in a few
moments all was again still.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“They think,” answered Lona, “that, stupid as they are, the giants
will search the wood, and they are gone to gather stones with which to
receive them. Stones are not plentiful in the forest, and they have to
scatter far to find enow. They will carry them to their nests, and from
the trees attack the giants as they come within reach. Knowing their
habits, they do not expect them before the morning. If they do come, it
will be the opening of a war of expulsion: one or the other people must
go. The result, however, is hardly doubtful. We do not mean to
kill them; indeed, their skulls are so thick that I do not think we
could!--not that killing would do them much harm; they are so little
alive! If one were killed, his giantess would not remember him beyond
three days!”

“Do the children then throw so well that the thing MIGHT happen?” I
asked.

“Wait till you see them!” she answered, with a touch of pride. “--But I
have not yet told you,” she went on, “of a strange thing that happened
the night before last!--We had come home from gathering our fruit, and
were asleep in our nests, when we were roused by the horrid noises
of beasts fighting. The moon was bright, and in a moment our trees
glittered with staring little eyes, watching two huge leopardesses, one
perfectly white, the other covered with black spots, which worried and
tore each other with I do not know how many teeth and claws. To judge by
her back, the spotted creature must have been climbing a tree when the
other sprang upon her. When first I saw them, they were just under my
own tree, rolling over and over each other. I got down on the lowest
branch, and saw them perfectly. The children enjoyed the spectacle,
siding some with this one, some with that, for we had never seen such
beasts before, and thought they were only at play. But by degrees their
roaring and growling almost ceased, and I saw that they were in deadly
earnest, and heartily wished neither might be left able to climb a
tree. But when the children saw the blood pouring from their flanks and
throats, what do you think they did? They scurried down to comfort them,
and gathering in a great crowd about the terrible creatures, began to
pat and stroke them. Then I got down as well, for they were much too
absorbed to heed my calling to them; but before I could reach them, the
white one stopped fighting, and sprang among them with such a hideous
yell that they flew up into the trees like birds. Before I got back into
mine, the wicked beasts were at it again tooth and claw. Then Whitey
had the best of it; Spotty ran away as fast as she could run, and Whitey
came and lay down at the foot of my tree. But in a minute or two she was
up again, and walking about as if she thought Spotty might be lurking
somewhere. I waked often, and every time I looked out, I saw her. In the
morning she went away.”

“I know both the beasts,” I said. “Spotty is a bad beast. She hates the
children, and would kill every one of them. But Whitey loves them. She
ran at them only to frighten them away, lest Spotty should get hold of
any of them. No one needs be afraid of Whitey!”

By this time the Little Ones were coming back, and with much noise, for
they had no care to keep quiet now that they were at open war with the
giants, and laden with good stones. They mounted to their nests again,
though with difficulty because of their burdens, and in a minute were
fast asleep. Lona retired to her tree. I lay where I was, and slept
the better that I thought most likely the white leopardess was still
somewhere in the wood.

I woke soon after the sun, and lay pondering. Two hours passed, and then
in truth the giants began to appear, in straggling companies of three
and four, until I counted over a hundred of them. The children were
still asleep, and to call them would draw the attention of the giants: I
would keep quiet so long as they did not discover me. But by and by one
came blundering upon me, stumbled, fell, and rose again. I thought he
would pass heedless, but he began to search about. I sprang to my feet,
and struck him in the middle of his huge body. The roar he gave roused
the children, and a storm as of hail instantly came on, of which not a
stone struck me, and not one missed the giant. He fell and lay. Others
drew near, and the storm extended, each purblind creature becoming,
as he entered the range of a garrisoned tree, a target for converging
stones. In a short time almost every giant was prostrate, and a jubilant
pæan of bird-song rose from the tops of fifty trees.

Many elephants came hurrying up, and the children descending the trees
like monkeys, in a moment every elephant had three or four of them on
his back, and thus loaded, began to walk over the giants, who lay and
roared. Losing patience at length with their noise, the elephants gave
them a few blows of their trunks, and left them.

Until night the bad giants remained where they had fallen, silent and
motionless. The next morning they had disappeared every one, and the
children saw no more of them. They removed to the other end of the
orchard valley, and never after ventured into the forest.



CHAPTER XXXIV. PREPARATION

Victory thus gained, the woman of Bulika began to speak about the city,
and talked much of its defenceless condition, of the wickedness of
its princess, of the cowardice of its inhabitants. In a few days the
children chattered of nothing but Bulika, although indeed they had not
the least notion of what a city was. Then first I became aware of the
design of the woman, although not yet of its motive.

The idea of taking possession of the place, recommended itself greatly
to Lona--and to me also. The children were now so rapidly developing
faculty, that I could see no serious obstacle to the success of the
enterprise. For the terrible Lilith--woman or leopardess, I knew her one
vulnerable point, her doom through her daughter, and the influence
the ancient prophecy had upon the citizens: surely whatever in the
enterprise could be called risk, was worth taking! Successful,--and who
could doubt their success?--must not the Little Ones, from a crowd
of children, speedily become a youthful people, whose government and
influence would be all for righteousness? Ruling the wicked with a rod
of iron, would they not be the redemption of the nation?

At the same time, I have to confess that I was not without views of
personal advantage, not without ambition in the undertaking. It was
just, it seemed to me, that Lona should take her seat on the throne
that had been her mother’s, and natural that she should make of me her
consort and minister. For me, I would spend my life in her service; and
between us, what might we not do, with such a core to it as the Little
Ones, for the development of a noble state?

I confess also to an altogether foolish dream of opening a commerce in
gems between the two worlds--happily impossible, for it could have done
nothing but harm to both.

Calling to mind the appeal of Adam, I suggested to Lona that to find
them water might perhaps expedite the growth of the Little Ones. She
judged it prudent, however, to leave that alone for the present, as we
did not know what its first consequences might be; while, in the course
of time, it would almost certainly subject them to a new necessity.

“They are what they are without it!” she said: “when we have the city,
we will search for water!”

We began, therefore, and pushed forward our preparations, constantly
reviewing the merry troops and companies. Lona gave her attention
chiefly to the commissariat, while I drilled the little soldiers,
exercised them in stone-throwing, taught them the use of some other
weapons, and did all I could to make warriors of them. The main
difficulty was to get them to rally to their flag the instant the call
was sounded. Most of them were armed with slings, some of the bigger
boys with bows and arrows. The bigger girls carried aloe-spikes,
strong as steel and sharp as needles, fitted to longish shafts--rather
formidable weapons. Their sole duty was the charge of such as were too
small to fight.

Lona had herself grown a good deal, but did not seem aware of it:
she had always been, as she still was, the tallest! Her hair was
much longer, and she was become almost a woman, but not one beauty of
childhood had she outgrown. When first we met after our long separation,
she laid down her infant, put her arms round my neck, and clung to me
silent, her face glowing with gladness: the child whimpered; she
sprang to him, and had him in her bosom instantly. To see her with
any thoughtless, obstinate, or irritable little one, was to think of
a tender grandmother. I seemed to have known her for ages--for
always--from before time began! I hardly remembered my mother, but in my
mind’s eye she now looked like Lona; and if I imagined sister or child,
invariably she had the face of Lona! My every imagination flew to her;
she was my heart’s wife! She hardly ever sought me, but was almost
always within sound of my voice. What I did or thought, I referred
constantly to her, and rejoiced to believe that, while doing her work in
absolute independence, she was most at home by my side. Never for me did
she neglect the smallest child, and my love only quickened my sense
of duty. To love her and to do my duty, seemed, not indeed one, but
inseparable. She might suggest something I should do; she might ask me
what she ought to do; but she never seemed to suppose that I, any more
than she, would like to do, or could care about anything except what
must be done. Her love overflowed upon me--not in caresses, but in a
closeness of recognition which I can compare to nothing but the devotion
of a divine animal.

I never told her anything about her mother.

The wood was full of birds, the splendour of whose plumage, while it
took nothing from their song, seemed almost to make up for the lack of
flowers--which, apparently, could not grow without water. Their glorious
feathers being everywhere about in the forest, it came into my heart to
make from them a garment for Lona. While I gathered, and bound them in
overlapping rows, she watched me with evident appreciation of my choice
and arrangement, never asking what I was fashioning, but evidently
waiting expectant the result of my work. In a week or two it was
finished--a long loose mantle, to fasten at the throat and waist, with
openings for the arms.

I rose and put it on her. She rose, took it off, and laid it at my
feet--I imagine from a sense of propriety. I put it again on her
shoulders, and showed her where to put her arms through. She smiled,
looked at the feathers a little and stroked them--again took it off and
laid it down, this time by her side. When she left me, she carried it
with her, and I saw no more of it for some days. At length she came to
me one morning wearing it, and carrying another garment which she had
fashioned similarly, but of the dried leaves of a tough evergreen. It
had the strength almost of leather, and the appearance of scale-armour.
I put it on at once, and we always thereafter wore those garments when
on horseback.

For, on the outskirts of the forest, had appeared one day a troop of
full-grown horses, with which, as they were nowise alarmed at creatures
of a shape so different from their own, I had soon made friends, and two
of the finest I had trained for Lona and myself. Already accustomed to
ride a small one, her delight was great when first she looked down from
the back of an animal of the giant kind; and the horse showed himself
proud of the burden he bore. We exercised them every day until they had
such confidence in us as to obey instantly and fear nothing; after which
we always rode them at parade and on the march.

The undertaking did indeed at times appear to me a foolhardy one,
but the confidence of the woman of Bulika, real or simulated, always
overcame my hesitancy. The princess’s magic, she insisted, would prove
powerless against the children; and as to any force she might muster,
our animal-allies alone would assure our superiority: she was herself,
she said, ready, with a good stick, to encounter any two men of Bulika.
She confessed to not a little fear of the leopardess, but I was myself
ready for her. I shrank, however, from carrying ALL the children with
us.

“Would it not be better,” I said, “that you remained in the forest with
your baby and the smallest of the Little Ones?”

She answered that she greatly relied on the impression the sight of them
would make on the women, especially the mothers.

“When they see the darlings,” she said, “their hearts will be taken by
storm; and I must be there encouraging them to make a stand! If there be
a remnant of hardihood in the place, it will be found among the women!”

“YOU must not encumber yourself,” I said to Lona, “with any of the
children; you will be wanted everywhere!”

For there were two babies besides the woman’s, and even on horseback she
had almost always one in her arms.

“I do not remember ever being without a child to take care of,” she
answered; “but when we reach the city, it shall be as you wish!”

Her confidence in one who had failed so unworthily, shamed me. But
neither had I initiated the movement, nor had I any ground for opposing
it; I had no choice, but must give it the best help I could! For myself,
I was ready to live or die with Lona. Her humility as well as her trust
humbled me, and I gave myself heartily to her purposes.

Our way lying across a grassy plain, there was no need to take food for
the horses, or the two cows which would accompany us for the infants;
but the elephants had to be provided for. True, the grass was as good
for them as for those other animals, but it was short, and with their
one-fingered long noses, they could not pick enough for a single meal.
We had, therefore, set the whole colony to gather grass and make hay, of
which the elephants themselves could carry a quantity sufficient to last
them several days, with the supplement of what we would gather fresh
every time we halted. For the bears we stored nuts, and for ourselves
dried plenty of fruits. We had caught and tamed several more of the
big horses, and now having loaded them and the elephants with these
provisions, we were prepared to set out.

Then Lona and I held a general review, and I made them a little speech.
I began by telling them that I had learned a good deal about them, and
knew now where they came from. “We did not come from anywhere,” they
cried, interrupting me; “we are here!”

I told them that every one of them had a mother of his own, like the
mother of the last baby; that I believed they had all been brought from
Bulika when they were so small that they could not now remember it; that
the wicked princess there was so afraid of babies, and so determined to
destroy them, that their mothers had to carry them away and leave them
where she could not find them; and that now we were going to Bulika, to
find their mothers, and deliver them from the bad giantess.

“But I must tell you,” I continued, “that there is danger before us,
for, as you know, we may have to fight hard to take the city.”

“We can fight! we are ready!” cried the boys.

“Yes, you can,” I returned, “and I know you will: mothers are worth
fighting for! Only mind, you must all keep together.”

“Yes, yes; we’ll take care of each other,” they answered. “Nobody shall
touch one of us but his own mother!”

“You must mind, every one, to do immediately what your officers tell
you!”

“We will, we will!--Now we’re quite ready! Let us go!”

“Another thing you must not forget,” I went on: “when you strike, be
sure you make it a downright swinging blow; when you shoot an arrow,
draw it to the head; when you sling a stone, sling it strong and
straight.”

“That we will!” they cried with jubilant, fearless shout.

“Perhaps you will be hurt!”

“We don’t mind that!--Do we, boys?”

“Not a bit!”

“Some of you may very possibly be killed!” I said.

“I don’t mind being killed!” cried one of the finest of the smaller
boys: he rode a beautiful little bull, which galloped and jumped like a
horse.

“I don’t either! I don’t either!” came from all sides.

Then Lona, queen and mother and sister of them all, spoke from her big
horse by my side:

“I would give my life,” she said, “to have my mother! She might kill me
if she liked! I should just kiss her and die!”

“Come along, boys!” cried a girl. “We’re going to our mothers!”

A pang went through my heart.--But I could not draw back; it would be
moral ruin to the Little Ones!



Chapter XXXV. THE LITTLE ONES IN BULIKA

It was early in the morning when we set out, making, between the blue
sky and the green grass, a gallant show on the wide plain. We would
travel all the morning, and rest the afternoon; then go on at night,
rest the next day, and start again in the short twilight. The latter
part of our journey we would endeavour so to divide as to arrive at the
city with the first of the morning, and be already inside the gates when
discovered.

It seemed as if all the inhabitants of the forest would migrate with us.
A multitude of birds flew in front, imagining themselves, no doubt,
the leading division; great companies of butterflies and other insects
played about our heads; and a crowd of four-footed creatures followed
us. These last, when night came, left us almost all; but the birds and
the butterflies, the wasps and the dragon-flies, went with us to the
very gates of the city.

We halted and slept soundly through the afternoon: it was our first real
march, but none were tired. In the night we went faster, because it was
cold. Many fell asleep on the backs of their beasts, and woke in the
morning quite fresh. None tumbled off. Some rode shaggy, shambling
bears, which yet made speed enough, going as fast as the elephants.
Others were mounted on different kinds of deer, and would have been
racing all the way had I not prevented it. Those atop of the hay on the
elephants, unable to see the animals below them, would keep talking to
them as long as they were awake. Once, when we had halted to feed, I
heard a little fellow, as he drew out the hay to give him, commune thus
with his “darling beast”:

“Nosy dear, I am digging you out of the mountain, and shall soon get
down to you: be patient; I’m a coming! Very soon now you’ll send up your
nose to look for me, and then we’ll kiss like good elephants, we will!”

The same night there burst out such a tumult of elephant-trumpeting,
horse-neighing, and child-imitation, ringing far over the silent levels,
that, uncertain how near the city might not be, I quickly stilled the
uproar lest it should give warning of our approach.

Suddenly, one morning, the sun and the city rose, as it seemed,
together. To the children the walls appeared only a great mass of
rock, but when I told them the inside was full of nests of stone, I saw
apprehension and dislike at once invade their hearts: for the first time
in their lives, I believe--many of them long little lives--they knew
fear. The place looked to them bad: how were they to find mothers in
such a place? But they went on bravely, for they had confidence in
Lona--and in me too, little as I deserved it.

We rode through the sounding archway. Sure never had such a drumming of
hoofs, such a padding of paws and feet been heard on its old pavement!
The horses started and looked scared at the echo of their own steps;
some halted a moment, some plunged wildly and wheeled about; but they
were soon quieted, and went on. Some of the Little Ones shivered, and
all were still as death. The three girls held closer the infants they
carried. All except the bears and butterflies manifested fear.

On the countenance of the woman lay a dark anxiety; nor was I myself
unaffected by the general dread, for the whole army was on my hands and
on my conscience: I had brought it up to the danger whose shadow was
now making itself felt! But I was supported by the thought of the coming
kingdom of the Little Ones, with the bad giants its slaves, and the
animals its loving, obedient friends! Alas, I who dreamed thus, had not
myself learned to obey! Untrusting, unfaithful obstinacy had set me at
the head of that army of innocents! I was myself but a slave, like any
king in the world I had left who does or would do only what pleases him!
But Lona rode beside me a child indeed, therefore a free woman--calm,
silent, watchful, not a whit afraid!

We were nearly in the heart of the city before any of its inhabitants
became aware of our presence. But now windows began to open, and sleepy
heads to look out. Every face wore at first a dull stare of wonderless
astonishment, which, as soon as the starers perceived the animals,
changed to one of consternation. In spite of their fear, however, when
they saw that their invaders were almost all children, the women came
running into the streets, and the men followed. But for a time all of
them kept close to the houses, leaving open the middle of the way, for
they durst not approach the animals.

At length a boy, who looked about five years old, and was full of the
idea of his mother, spying in the crowd a woman whose face attracted
him, threw himself upon her from his antelope, and clung about her neck;
nor was she slow to return his embrace and kisses. But the hand of a man
came over her shoulder, and seized him by the neck. Instantly a girl ran
her sharp spear into the fellow’s arm. He sent forth a savage howl, and
immediately stabbed by two or three more, fled yelling.

“They are just bad giants!” said Lona, her eyes flashing as she drove
her horse against one of unusual height who, having stirred up the
little manhood in him, stood barring her way with a club. He dared not
abide the shock, but slunk aside, and the next moment went down, struck
by several stones. Another huge fellow, avoiding my charger, stepped
suddenly, with a speech whose rudeness alone was intelligible, between
me and the boy who rode behind me. The boy told him to address the king;
the giant struck his little horse on the head with a hammer, and he
fell. Before the brute could strike again, however, one of the elephants
behind laid him prostrate, and trampled on him so that he did not
attempt to get up until hundreds of feet had walked over him, and the
army was gone by.

But at sight of the women what a dismay clouded the face of Lona! Hardly
one of them was even pleasant to look upon! Were her darlings to find
mothers among such as these?

Hardly had we halted in the central square, when two girls rode up in
anxious haste, with the tidings that two of the boys had been hurried
away by some women. We turned at once, and then first discovered that
the woman we befriended had disappeared with her baby.

But at the same moment we descried a white leopardess come bounding
toward us down a narrow lane that led from the square to the palace. The
Little Ones had not forgotten the fight of the two leopardesses in the
forest: some of them looked terrified, and their ranks began to waver;
but they remembered the order I had just given them, and stood fast.

We stopped to see the result; when suddenly a small boy, called Odu,
remarkable for his speed and courage, who had heard me speak of the
goodness of the white leopardess, leaped from the back of his bear,
which went shambling after him, and ran to meet her. The leopardess,
to avoid knocking him down, pulled herself up so suddenly that she went
rolling over and over: when she recovered her feet she found the child
on her back. Who could doubt the subjugation of a people which saw an
urchin of the enemy bestride an animal of which they lived in daily
terror? Confident of the effect on the whole army, we rode on.

As we stopped at the house to which our guides led us, we heard a
scream; I sprang down, and thundered at the door. My horse came and
pushed me away with his nose, turned about, and had begun to batter the
door with his heels, when up came little Odu on the leopardess, and at
sight of her he stood still, trembling. But she too had heard the cry,
and forgetting the child on her back, threw herself at the door; the
boy was dashed against it, and fell senseless. Before I could reach him,
Lona had him in her arms, and as soon as he came to himself, set him on
the back of his bear, which had still followed him.

When the leopardess threw herself the third time against the door, it
gave way, and she darted in. We followed, but she had already vanished.
We sprang up a stair, and went all over the house, to find no one.
Darting down again, we spied a door under the stair, and got into a
labyrinth of excavations. We had not gone far, however, when we met the
leopardess with the child we sought across her back.

He told us that the woman he took for his mother threw him into a hole,
saying she would give him to the leopardess. But the leopardess was a
good one, and took him out.

Following in search of the other boy, we got into the next house more
easily, but to find, alas, that we were too late: one of the savages
had just killed the little captive! It consoled Lona, however, to learn
which he was, for she had been expecting him to grow a bad giant, from
which worst of fates death had saved him. The leopardess sprang upon
his murderer, took him by the throat, dragged him into the street, and
followed Lona with him, like a cat with a great rat in her jaws.

“Let us leave the horrible place,” said Lona; “there are no mothers
here! This people is not worth delivering.”

The leopardess dropped her burden, and charged into the crowd, this
way and that, wherever it was thickest. The slaves cried out and ran,
tumbling over each other in heaps.

When we got back to the army, we found it as we had left it, standing in
order and ready.

But I was far from easy: the princess gave no sign, and what she might
be plotting we did not know! Watch and ward must be kept the night
through!

The Little Ones were such hardy creatures that they could repose
anywhere: we told them to lie down with their animals where they were,
and sleep till they were called. In one moment they were down, and
in another lapt in the music of their sleep, a sound as of water over
grass, or a soft wind among leaves. Their animals slept more lightly,
ever on the edge of waking. The bigger boys and girls walked softly
hither and thither among the dreaming multitude. All was still; the
whole wicked place appeared at rest.



CHAPTER XXXVI. MOTHER AND DAUGHTER

Lona was so disgusted with the people, and especially with the women,
that she wished to abandon the place as soon as possible; I, on the
contrary, felt very strongly that to do so would be to fail wilfully
where success was possible; and, far worse, to weaken the hearts of
the Little Ones, and so bring them into much greater danger. If we
retreated, it was certain the princess would not leave us unassailed!
if we encountered her, the hope of the prophecy went with us! Mother
and daughter must meet: it might be that Lona’s loveliness would take
Lilith’s heart by storm! if she threatened violence, I should be there
between them! If I found that I had no other power over her, I was
ready, for the sake of my Lona, to strike her pitilessly on the closed
hand! I knew she was doomed: most likely it was decreed that her doom
should now be brought to pass through us!

Still without hint of the relation in which she stood to the princess,
I stated the case to Lona as it appeared to me. At once she agreed to
accompany me to the palace.

From the top of one of its great towers, the princess had, in the early
morning, while the city yet slept, descried the approach of the army of
the Little Ones. The sight awoke in her an over-mastering terror: she
had failed in her endeavour to destroy them, and they were upon her! The
prophecy was about to be fulfilled!

When she came to herself, she descended to the black hall, and seated
herself in the north focus of the ellipse, under the opening in the
roof.

For she must think! Now what she called THINKING required a clear
consciousness of herself, not as she was, but as she chose to believe
herself; and to aid her in the realisation of this consciousness, she
had suspended, a little way from and above her, itself invisible in the
darkness of the hall, a mirror to receive the full sunlight reflected
from her person. For the resulting vision of herself in the splendour of
her beauty, she sat waiting the meridional sun.

Many a shadow moved about her in the darkness, but as often as, with a
certain inner eye which she had, she caught sight of one, she refused
to regard it. Close under the mirror stood the Shadow which attended her
walks, but, self-occupied, him she did not see.

The city was taken; the inhabitants were cowering in terror; the Little
Ones and their strange cavalry were encamped in the square; the sun
shone upon the princess, and for a few minutes she saw herself glorious.
The vision passed, but she sat on. The night was now come, and darkness
clothed and filled the glass, yet she did not move. A gloom that swarmed
with shadows, wallowed in the palace; the servants shivered and shook,
but dared not leave it because of the beasts of the Little Ones; all
night long the princess sat motionless: she must see her beauty again!
she must try again to think! But courage and will had grown weary of
her, and would dwell with her no more!

In the morning we chose twelve of the tallest and bravest of the boys
to go with us to the palace. We rode our great horses, and they small
horses and elephants.

The princess sat waiting the sun to give her the joy of her own
presence. The tide of the light was creeping up the shore of the sky,
but until the sun stood overhead, not a ray could enter the black hall.

He rose to our eyes, and swiftly ascended. As we climbed the steep way
to the palace, he climbed the dome of its great hall. He looked in at
the eye of it--and with sudden radiance the princess flashed upon her
own sight. But she sprang to her feet with a cry of despair: alas her
whiteness! the spot covered half her side, and was black as the marble
around her! She clutched her robe, and fell back in her chair. The
Shadow glided out, and she saw him go.

We found the gate open as usual, passed through the paved grove up to
the palace door, and entered the vestibule. There in her cage lay the
spotted leopardess, apparently asleep or lifeless. The Little Ones
paused a moment to look at her. She leaped up rampant against the cage.
The horses reared and plunged; the elephants retreated a step. The
next instant she fell supine, writhed in quivering spasms, and lay
motionless. We rode into the great hall.

The princess yet leaned back in her chair in the shaft of sunlight, when
from the stones of the court came to her ears the noise of the horses’
hoofs. She started, listened, and shook: never had such sound been
heard in her palace! She pressed her hand to her side, and gasped. The
trampling came nearer and nearer; it entered the hall itself; moving
figures that were not shadows approached her through the darkness!

For us, we saw a splendour, a glorious woman centring the dark. Lona
sprang from her horse, and bounded to her. I sprang from mine, and
followed Lona.

“Mother! mother!” she cried, and her clear, lovely voice echoed in the
dome.

The princess shivered; her face grew almost black with hate, her
eyebrows met on her forehead. She rose to her feet, and stood.

“Mother! mother!” cried Lona again, as she leaped on the daïs, and flung
her arms around the princess.

An instant more and I should have reached them!--in that instant I saw
Lona lifted high, and dashed on the marble floor. Oh, the horrible sound
of her fall! At my feet she fell, and lay still. The princess sat down
with the smile of a demoness.

I dropped on my knees beside Lona, raised her from the stones, and
pressed her to my bosom. With indignant hate I glanced at the princess;
she answered me with her sweetest smile. I would have sprung upon her,
taken her by the throat, and strangled her, but love of the child was
stronger than hate of the mother, and I clasped closer my precious
burden. Her arms hung helpless; her blood trickled over my hands, and
fell on the floor with soft, slow little plashes.

The horses scented it--mine first, then the small ones. Mine reared,
shivering and wild-eyed, went about, and thundered blindly down the dark
hall, with the little horses after him. Lona’s stood gazing down at his
mistress, and trembling all over. The boys flung themselves from their
horses’ backs, and they, not seeing the black wall before them, dashed
themselves, with mine, to pieces against it. The elephants came on to
the foot of the daïs, and stopped, wildly trumpeting; the Little Ones
sprang upon it, and stood horrified; the princess lay back in her seat,
her face that of a corpse, her eyes alone alive, wickedly flaming. She
was again withered and wasted to what I found in the wood, and her side
was as if a great branding hand had been laid upon it. But Lona saw
nothing, and I saw but Lona.

“Mother! mother!” she sighed, and her breathing ceased.

I carried her into the court: the sun shone upon a white face, and the
pitiful shadow of a ghostly smile. Her head hung back. She was “dead as
earth.”

I forgot the Little Ones, forgot the murdering princess, forgot the
body in my arms, and wandered away, looking for my Lona. The doors and
windows were crowded with brute-faces jeering at me, but not daring to
speak, for they saw the white leopardess behind me, hanging her head
close at my heel. I spurned her with my foot. She held back a moment,
and followed me again.

I reached the square: the little army was gone! Its emptiness roused me.
Where were the Little Ones, HER Little Ones? I had lost her children!
I stared helpless about me, staggered to the pillar, and sank upon its
base.

But as I sat gazing on the still countenance, it seemed to smile a live
momentary smile. I never doubted it an illusion, yet believed what it
said: I should yet see her alive! It was not she, it was I who was lost,
and she would find me!

I rose to go after the Little Ones, and instinctively sought the gate
by which we had entered. I looked around me, but saw nothing of the
leopardess.

The street was rapidly filling with a fierce crowd. They saw me
encumbered with my dead, but for a time dared not assail me. Ere I
reached the gate, however, they had gathered courage. The women began
to hustle me; I held on heedless. A man pushed against my sacred burden:
with a kick I sent him away howling. But the crowd pressed upon me, and
fearing for the dead that was beyond hurt, I clasped my treasure closer,
and freed my right arm. That instant, however, a commotion arose in the
street behind me; the crowd broke; and through it came the Little Ones I
had left in the palace. Ten of them were upon four of the elephants; on
the two other elephants lay the princess, bound hand and foot, and quite
still, save that her eyes rolled in their ghastly sockets. The two other
Little Ones rode behind her on Lona’s horse. Every now and then the wise
creatures that bore her threw their trunks behind and felt her cords.

I walked on in front, and out of the city. What an end to the hopes with
which I entered the evil place! We had captured the bad princess, and
lost our all-beloved queen! My life was bare! my heart was empty!



CHAPTER XXXVII. THE SHADOW

A murmur of pleasure from my companions roused me: they had caught sight
of their fellows in the distance! The two on Lona’s horse rode on to
join them. They were greeted with a wavering shout--which immediately
died away. As we drew near, the sound of their sobs reached us like the
breaking of tiny billows.

When I came among them, I saw that something dire had befallen them: on
their childish faces was the haggard look left by some strange terror.
No possible grief could have wrought the change. A few of them came
slowly round me, and held out their arms to take my burden. I yielded
it; the tender hopelessness of the smile with which they received it,
made my heart swell with pity in the midst of its own desolation. In
vain were their sobs over their mother-queen; in vain they sought to
entice from her some recognition of their love; in vain they kissed and
fondled her as they bore her away: she would not wake! On each side one
carried an arm, gently stroking it; as many as could get near, put their
arms under her body; those who could not, crowded around the bearers. On
a spot where the grass grew thicker and softer they laid her down, and
there all the Little Ones gathered sobbing.

Outside the crowd stood the elephants, and I near them, gazing at my
Lona over the many little heads between. Those next me caught sight of
the princess, and stared trembling. Odu was the first to speak.

“I have seen that woman before!” he whispered to his next neighbour.
“It was she who fought the white leopardess, the night they woke us with
their yelling!”

“Silly!” returned his companion. “That was a wild beast, with spots!”

“Look at her eyes!” insisted Odu. “I know she is a bad giantess, but she
is a wild beast all the same. I know she is the spotted one!”

The other took a step nearer; Odu drew him back with a sharp pull.

“Don’t look at her!” he cried, shrinking away, yet fascinated by the
hate-filled longing in her eyes. “She would eat you up in a moment! It
was HER shadow! She is the wicked princess!”

“That cannot be! they said she was beautiful!”

“Indeed it is the princess!” I interposed. “Wickedness has made her
ugly!”

She heard, and what a look was hers!

“It was very wrong of me to run away!” said Odu thoughtfully.

“What made you run away?” I asked. “I expected to find you where I left
you!”

He did not reply at once.

“I don’t know what made me run,” answered another. “I was frightened!”

“It was a man that came down the hill from the palace,” said a third.

“How did he frighten you?”

“I don’t know.”

“He wasn’t a man,” said Odu; “he was a shadow; he had no thick to him!”

“Tell me more about him.”

“He came down the hill very black, walking like a bad giant, but spread
flat. He was nothing but blackness. We were frightened the moment we saw
him, but we did not run away; we stood and watched him. He came on as if
he would walk over us. But before he reached us, he began to spread and
spread, and grew bigger end bigger, till at last he was so big that he
went out of our sight, and we saw him no more, and then he was upon us!”

“What do you mean by that?”

“He was all black through between us, and we could not see one another;
and then he was inside us.”

“How did you know he was inside you?”

“He did me quite different. I felt like bad. I was not Odu any more--not
the Odu I knew. I wanted to tear Sozo to pieces--not really, but like!”

He turned and hugged Sozo.

“It wasn’t me, Sozo,” he sobbed. “Really, deep down, it was Odu, loving
you always! And Odu came up, and knocked Naughty away. I grew sick, and
thought I must kill myself to get out of the black. Then came a horrible
laugh that had heard my think, and it set the air trembling about me.
And then I suppose I ran away, but I did not know I had run away until
I found myself running, fast as could, and all the rest running too.
I would have stopped, but I never thought of it until I was out of the
gate among the grass. Then I knew that I had run away from a shadow that
wanted to be me and wasn’t, and that I was the Odu that loved Sozo. It
was the shadow that got into me, and hated him from inside me; it was
not my own self me! And now I know that I ought not to have run away!
But indeed I did not quite know what I was doing until it was done! My
legs did it, I think: they grew frightened, and forgot me, and ran away!
Naughty legs! There! and there!”

Thus ended Odu, with a kick to each of his naughty legs.

“What became of the shadow?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he answered. “I suppose he went home into the night
where there is no moon.”

I fell a wondering where Lona was gone, and dropping on the grass, took
the dead thing in my lap, and whispered in its ear, “Where are you,
Lona? I love you!” But its lips gave no answer. I kissed them, not quite
cold, laid the body down again, and appointing a guard over it, rose to
provide for the safety of Lona’s people during the night.

Before the sun went down, I had set a watch over the princess outside
the camp, and sentinels round it: intending to walk about it myself
all night long, I told the rest of the army to go to sleep. They threw
themselves on the grass and were asleep in a moment.

When the moon rose I caught a glimpse of something white; it was the
leopardess. She swept silently round the sleeping camp, and I saw her
pass three times between the princess and the Little Ones. Thereupon I
made the watch lie down with the others, and stretched myself beside the
body of Lona.



CHAPTER XXXVIII. TO THE HOUSE OF BITTERNESS

In the morning we set out, and made for the forest as fast as we could.
I rode Lona’s horse, and carried her body. I would take it to her
father: he would give it a couch in the chamber of his dead! or, if he
would not, seeing she had not come of herself, I would watch it in the
desert until it mouldered away! But I believed he would, for surely she
had died long ago! Alas, how bitterly must I not humble myself before
him!

To Adam I must take Lilith also. I had no power to make her repent! I
had hardly a right to slay her--much less a right to let her loose in
the world! and surely I scarce merited being made for ever her gaoler!

Again and again, on the way, I offered her food; but she answered only
with a look of hungering hate. Her fiery eyes kept rolling to and fro,
nor ever closed, I believe, until we reached the other side of the
hot stream. After that they never opened until we came to the House of
Bitterness.

One evening, as we were camping for the night, I saw a little girl go
up to her, and ran to prevent mischief. But ere I could reach them, the
child had put something to the lips of the princess, and given a scream
of pain.

“Please, king,” she whimpered, “suck finger. Bad giantess make hole in
it!”

I sucked the tiny finger.

“Well now!” she cried, and a minute after was holding a second fruit
to a mouth greedy of other fare. But this time she snatched her hand
quickly away, and the fruit fell to the ground. The child’s name was
Luva.

The next day we crossed the hot stream. Again on their own ground,
the Little Ones were jubilant. But their nests were still at a great
distance, and that day we went no farther than the ivy-hall, where,
because of its grapes, I had resolved to spend the night. When they saw
the great clusters, at once they knew them good, rushed upon them, ate
eagerly, and in a few minutes were all fast asleep on the green floor
and in the forest around the hall. Hoping again to see the dance, and
expecting the Little Ones to sleep through it, I had made them leave a
wide space in the middle. I lay down among them, with Lona by my side,
but did not sleep.

The night came, and suddenly the company was there. I was wondering with
myself whether, night after night, they would thus go on dancing to all
eternity, and whether I should not one day have to join them because of
my stiff-neckedness, when the eyes of the children came open, and they
sprang to their feet, wide awake. Immediately every one caught hold of
a dancer, and away they went, bounding and skipping. The spectres seemed
to see and welcome them: perhaps they knew all about the Little Ones,
for they had themselves long been on their way back to childhood!
Anyhow, their innocent gambols must, I thought, bring refreshment to
weary souls who, their present taken from them and their future dark,
had no life save the shadow of their vanished past. Many a merry but
never a rude prank did the children play; and if they did at times cause
a momentary jar in the rhythm of the dance, the poor spectres, who had
nothing to smile withal, at least manifested no annoyance.

Just ere the morning began to break, I started to see the
skeleton-princess in the doorway, her eyes open and glowing, the fearful
spot black on her side. She stood for a moment, then came gliding in,
as if she would join the dance. I sprang to my feet. A cry of repugnant
fear broke from the children, and the lights vanished. But the low
moon looked in, and I saw them clinging to each other. The ghosts
were gone--at least they were no longer visible. The princess too had
disappeared. I darted to the spot where I had left her: she lay with
her eyes closed, as if she had never moved. I returned to the hall. The
Little Ones were already on the floor, composing themselves to sleep.

The next morning, as we started, we spied, a little way from us, two
skeletons moving about in a thicket. The Little Ones broke their ranks,
and ran to them. I followed; and, although now walking at ease, without
splint or ligature, I was able to recognise the pair I had before seen
in that neighbourhood. The children at once made friends with them,
laying hold of their arms, and stroking the bones of their long fingers;
and it was plain the poor creatures took their attentions kindly. The
two seemed on excellent terms with each other. Their common deprivation
had drawn them together! the loss of everything had been the beginning
of a new life to them!

Perceiving that they had gathered handfuls of herbs, and were looking
for more--presumably to rub their bones with, for in what other way
could nourishment reach their system so rudimentary?--the Little Ones,
having keenly examined those they held, gathered of the same sorts, and
filled the hands the skeletons held out to receive them. Then they bid
them goodbye, promising to come and see them again, and resumed their
journey, saying to each other they had not known there were such nice
people living in the same forest.

When we came to the nest-village, I remained there a night with them, to
see them resettled; for Lona still looked like one just dead, and there
seemed no need of haste.

The princess had eaten nothing, and her eyes remained shut: fearing she
might die ere we reached the end of our journey, I went to her in the
night, and laid my bare arm upon her lips. She bit into it so fiercely
that I cried out. How I got away from her I do not know, but I came to
myself lying beyond her reach. It was then morning, and immediately I
set about our departure.

Choosing twelve Little Ones, not of the biggest and strongest, but of
the sweetest and merriest, I mounted them on six elephants, and took
two more of the wise CLUMSIES, as the children called them, to bear the
princess. I still rode Lona’s horse, and carried her body wrapt in
her cloak before me. As nearly as I could judge I took the direct way,
across the left branch of the river-bed, to the House of Bitterness,
where I hoped to learn how best to cross the broader and rougher branch,
and how to avoid the basin of monsters: I dreaded the former for the
elephants, the latter for the children.

I had one terrible night on the way--the third, passed in the desert
between the two branches of the dead river.

We had stopped the elephants in a sheltered place, and there let the
princess slip down between them, to lie on the sand until the morning.
She seemed quite dead, but I did not think she was. I laid myself a
little way from her, with the body of Lona by my other side, thus
to keep watch at once over the dead and the dangerous. The moon was
half-way down the west, a pale, thoughtful moon, mottling the desert
with shadows. Of a sudden she was eclipsed, remaining visible, but
sending forth no light: a thick, diaphanous film covered her patient
beauty, and she looked troubled. The film swept a little aside, and
I saw the edge of it against her clearness--the jagged outline of
a bat-like wing, torn and hooked. Came a cold wind with a burning
sting--and Lilith was upon me. Her hands were still bound, but with her
teeth she pulled from my shoulder the cloak Lona made for me, and fixed
them in my flesh. I lay as one paralysed.

Already the very life seemed flowing from me into her, when I
remembered, and struck her on the hand. She raised her head with a
gurgling shriek, and I felt her shiver. I flung her from me, and sprang
to my feet.

She was on her knees, and rocked herself to and fro. A second blast of
hot-stinging cold enveloped us; the moon shone out clear, and I saw her
face--gaunt and ghastly, besmeared with red.

“Down, devil!” I cried.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked, with the voice of a dull echo from
a sepulchre.

“To your first husband,” I answered.

“He will kill me!” she moaned.

“At least he will take you off my hands!”

“Give me my daughter,” she suddenly screamed, grinding her teeth.

“Never! Your doom is upon you at last!”

“Loose my hands for pity’s sake!” she groaned. “I am in torture. The
cords are sunk in my flesh.”

“I dare not. Lie down!” I said.

She threw herself on the ground like a log.

The rest of the night passed in peace, and in the morning she again
seemed dead.

Before evening we came in sight of the House of Bitterness, and the next
moment one of the elephants came alongside of my horse.

“Please, king, you are not going to that place?” whispered the Little
One who rode on his neck.

“Indeed I am! We are going to stay the night there,” I answered.

“Oh, please, don’t! That must be where the cat-woman lives!”

“If you had ever seen her, you would not call her by that name!”

“Nobody ever sees her: she has lost her face! Her head is back and side
all round.”

“She hides her face from dull, discontented people!--Who taught you to
call her the cat-woman?”

“I heard the bad giants call her so.”

“What did they say about her?”

“That she had claws to her toes.”

“It is not true. I know the lady. I spent a night at her house.”

“But she MAY have claws to her toes! You might see her feet, and her
claws be folded up inside their cushions!”

“Then perhaps you think that I have claws to my toes?”

“Oh, no; that can’t be! you are good!”

“The giants might have told you so!” I pursued.

“We shouldn’t believe them about you!”

“Are the giants good?”

“No; they love lying.”

“Then why do you believe them about her? I know the lady is good; she
cannot have claws.”

“Please how do you know she is good?”

“How do you know I am good?”

I rode on, while he waited for his companions, and told them what I had
said.

They hastened after me, and when they came up,--

“I would not take you to her house if I did not believe her good,” I
said.

“We know you would not,” they answered.

“If I were to do something that frightened you--what would you say?”

“The beasts frightened us sometimes at first, but they never hurt us!”
 answered one.

“That was before we knew them!” added another.

“Just so!” I answered. “When you see the woman in that cottage, you will
know that she is good. You may wonder at what she does, but she will
always be good. I know her better than you know me. She will not hurt
you,--or if she does,----”

“Ah, you are not sure about it, king dear! You think she MAY hurt us!”

“I am sure she will never be unkind to you, even if she do hurt you!”

They were silent for a while.

“I’m not afraid of being hurt--a little!--a good deal!” cried Odu. “But
I should not like scratches in the dark! The giants say the cat-woman
has claw-feet all over her house!”

“I am taking the princess to her,” I said.

“Why?”

“Because she is her friend.”

“How can she be good then?”

“Little Tumbledown is a friend of the princess,” I answered; “so is
Luva: I saw them both, more than once, trying to feed her with grapes!”

“Little Tumbledown is good! Luva is very good!”

“That is why they are her friends.”

“Will the cat-woman--I mean the woman that isn’t the cat-woman, and has
no claws to her toes--give her grapes?”

“She is more likely to give her scratches!”

“Why?--You say she is her friend!”

“That is just why.--A friend is one who gives us what we need, and the
princess is sorely in need of a terrible scratching.”

They were silent again.

“If any of you are afraid,” I said, “you may go home; I shall not
prevent you. But I cannot take one with me who believes the giants
rather than me, or one who will call a good lady the cat-woman!”

“Please, king,” said one, “I’m so afraid of being afraid!”

“My boy,” I answered, “there is no harm in being afraid. The only harm
is in doing what Fear tells you. Fear is not your master! Laugh in his
face and he will run away.”

“There she is--in the door waiting for us!” cried one, and put his hands
over his eyes.

“How ugly she is!” cried another, and did the same.

“You do not see her,” I said; “her face is covered!”

“She has no face!” they answered.

“She has a very beautiful face. I saw it once.--It is indeed as
beautiful as Lona’s!” I added with a sigh.

“Then what makes her hide it?”

“I think I know:--anyhow, she has some good reason for it!”

“I don’t like the cat-woman! she is frightful!”

“You cannot like, and you ought not to dislike what you have never
seen.--Once more, you must not call her the cat-woman!”

“What are we to call her then, please?”

“Lady Mara.”

“That is a pretty name!” said a girl; “I will call her ‘lady Mara’; then
perhaps she will show me her beautiful face!”

Mara, drest and muffled in white, was indeed standing in the doorway to
receive us.

“At last!” she said. “Lilith’s hour has been long on the way, but it
is come! Everything comes. Thousands of years have I waited--and not in
vain!”

She came to me, took my treasure from my arms, carried it into the
house, and returning, took the princess. Lilith shuddered, but made no
resistance. The beasts lay down by the door. We followed our hostess,
the Little Ones looking very grave. She laid the princess on a rough
settle at one side of the room, unbound her, and turned to us.

“Mr. Vane,” she said, “and you, Little Ones, I thank you! This woman
would not yield to gentler measures; harder must have their turn. I must
do what I can to make her repent!”

The pitiful-hearted Little Ones began to sob sorely.

“Will you hurt her very much, lady Mara?” said the girl I have just
mentioned, putting her warm little hand in mine.

“Yes; I am afraid I must; I fear she will make me!” answered Mara. “It
would be cruel to hurt her too little. It would have all to be done
again, only worse.”

“May I stop with her?”

“No, my child. She loves no one, therefore she cannot be WITH any one.
There is One who will be with her, but she will not be with Him.”

“Will the shadow that came down the hill be with her?”

“The great Shadow will be in her, I fear, but he cannot be WITH her, or
with any one. She will know I am beside her, but that will not comfort
her.”

“Will you scratch her very deep?” asked Odu, going near, and putting his
hand in hers. “Please, don’t make the red juice come!”

She caught him up, turned her back to the rest of us, drew the muffling
down from her face, and held him at arms’ length that he might see her.

As if his face had been a mirror, I saw in it what he saw. For one
moment he stared, his little mouth open; then a divine wonder arose in
his countenance, and swiftly changed to intense delight. For a minute he
gazed entranced, then she set him down. Yet a moment he stood looking up
at her, lost in contemplation--then ran to us with the face of a prophet
that knows a bliss he cannot tell. Mara rearranged her mufflings, and
turned to the other children.

“You must eat and drink before you go to sleep,” she said; “you have had
a long journey!”

She set the bread of her house before them, and a jug of cold water.
They had never seen bread before, and this was hard and dry, but they
ate it without sign of distaste. They had never seen water before,
but they drank without demur, one after the other looking up from
the draught with a face of glad astonishment. Then she led away the
smallest, and the rest went trooping after her. With her own gentle
hands, they told me, she put them to bed on the floor of the garret.



CHAPTER XXXIX. THAT NIGHT

Their night was a troubled one, and they brought a strange report of
it into the day. Whether the fear of their sleep came out into their
waking, or their waking fear sank with them into their dreams, awake or
asleep they were never at rest from it. All night something seemed going
on in the house--something silent, something terrible, something they
were not to know. Never a sound awoke; the darkness was one with the
silence, and the silence was the terror.

Once, a frightful wind filled the house, and shook its inside, they
said, so that it quivered and trembled like a horse shaking himself;
but it was a silent wind that made not even a moan in their chamber, and
passed away like a soundless sob.

They fell asleep. But they woke again with a great start. They thought
the house was filling with water such as they had been drinking. It came
from below, and swelled up until the garret was full of it to the very
roof. But it made no more sound than the wind, and when it sank away,
they fell asleep dry and warm.

The next time they woke, all the air, they said, inside and out, was
full of cats. They swarmed--up and down, along and across, everywhere
about the room. They felt their claws trying to get through the
night-gowns lady Mara had put on them, but they could not; and in the
morning not one of them had a scratch. Through the dark suddenly, came
the only sound they heard the night long--the far-off howl of the huge
great-grandmother-cat in the desert: she must have been calling her
little ones, they thought, for that instant the cats stopped, and all
was still. Once more they fell fast asleep, and did not wake till the
sun was rising.

Such was the account the children gave of their experiences. But I was
with the veiled woman and the princess all through the night: something
of what took place I saw; much I only felt; and there was more which eye
could not see, and heart only could in a measure understand.

As soon as Mara left the room with the children, my eyes fell on the
white leopardess: I thought we had left her behind us, but there she
was, cowering in a corner. Apparently she was in mortal terror of what
she might see. A lamp stood on the high chimney-piece, and sometimes
the room seemed full of lamp-shadows, sometimes of cloudy forms. The
princess lay on the settle by the wall, and seemed never to have moved
hand or foot. It was a fearsome waiting.

When Mara returned, she drew the settle with Lilith upon it to the
middle of the room, then sat down opposite me, at the other side of the
hearth. Between us burned a small fire.

Something terrible was on its way! The cloudy presences flickered and
shook. A silvery creature like a slowworm came crawling out from among
them, slowly crossed the clay floor, and crept into the fire. We sat
motionless. The something came nearer.

But the hours passed, midnight drew nigh, and there was no change. The
night was very still. Not a sound broke the silence, not a rustle from
the fire, not a crack from board or beam. Now and again I felt a sort of
heave, but whether in the earth or in the air or in the waters under the
earth, whether in my own body or in my soul--whether it was anywhere,
I could not tell. A dread sense of judgment was upon me. But I was not
afraid, for I had ceased to care for aught save the thing that must be
done.

Suddenly it was midnight. The muffled woman rose, turned toward the
settle, and slowly unwound the long swathes that hid her face: they
dropped on the ground, and she stepped over them. The feet of the
princess were toward the hearth; Mara went to her head, and turning,
stood behind it. Then I saw her face. It was lovely beyond speech--white
and sad, heart-and-soul sad, but not unhappy, and I knew it never could
be unhappy. Great tears were running down her cheeks: she wiped them
away with her robe; her countenance grew very still, and she wept no
more. But for the pity in every line of her expression, she would have
seemed severe. She laid her hand on the head of the princess--on the
hair that grew low on the forehead, and stooping, breathed on the sallow
brow. The body shuddered.

“Will you turn away from the wicked things you have been doing so long?”
 said Mara gently.

The princess did not answer. Mara put the question again, in the same
soft, inviting tone.

Still there was no sign of hearing. She spoke the words a third time.

Then the seeming corpse opened its mouth and answered, its words
appearing to frame themselves of something else than sound.--I cannot
shape the thing further: sounds they were not, yet they were words to
me.

“I will not,” she said. “I will be myself and not another!”

“Alas, you are another now, not yourself! Will you not be your real
self?”

“I will be what I mean myself now.”

“If you were restored, would you not make what amends you could for the
misery you have caused?”

“I would do after my nature.”

“You do not know it: your nature is good, and you do evil!”

“I will do as my Self pleases--as my Self desires.”

“You will do as the Shadow, overshadowing your Self inclines you?”

“I will do what I will to do.”

“You have killed your daughter, Lilith!”

“I have killed thousands. She is my own!”

“She was never yours as you are another’s.”

“I am not another’s; I am my own, and my daughter is mine.”

“Then, alas, your hour is come!”

“I care not. I am what I am; no one can take from me myself!”

“You are not the Self you imagine.”

“So long as I feel myself what it pleases me to think myself, I care
not. I am content to be to myself what I would be. What I choose to seem
to myself makes me what I am. My own thought makes me me; my own thought
of myself is me. Another shall not make me!”

“But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made
yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything
but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the
thought of yourself. At this moment you are aware of the coming change!”

“No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman!
You are his slave, and I defy you! You may be able to torture me--I do
not know, but you shall not compel me to anything against my will!”

“Such a compulsion would be without value. But there is a light that
goes deeper than the will, a light that lights up the darkness behind
it: that light can change your will, can make it truly yours and not
another’s--not the Shadow’s. Into the created can pour itself the
creating will, and so redeem it!”

“That light shall not enter me: I hate it!--Begone, slave!”

“I am no slave, for I love that light, and will with the deeper will
which created mine. There is no slave but the creature that wills
against its creator. Who is a slave but her who cries, ‘I am free,’ yet
cannot cease to exist!”

“You speak foolishness from a cowering heart! You imagine me given over
to you: I defy you! I hold myself against you! What I choose to be, you
cannot change. I will not be what you think me--what you say I am!”

“I am sorry: you must suffer!”

“But be free!”

“She alone is free who would make free; she loves not freedom who would
enslave: she is herself a slave. Every life, every will, every heart
that came within your ken, you have sought to subdue: you are the slave
of every slave you have made--such a slave that you do not know it!--See
your own self!”

She took her hand from the head of the princess, and went two backward
paces from her.

A soundless presence as of roaring flame possessed the house--the same,
I presume, that was to the children a silent wind. Involuntarily I
turned to the hearth: its fire was a still small moveless glow. But I
saw the worm-thing come creeping out, white-hot, vivid as incandescent
silver, the live heart of essential fire. Along the floor it crawled
toward the settle, going very slow. Yet more slowly it crept up on
it, and laid itself, as unwilling to go further, at the feet of the
princess. I rose and stole nearer. Mara stood motionless, as one that
waits an event foreknown. The shining thing crawled on to a bare bony
foot: it showed no suffering, neither was the settle scorched where the
worm had lain. Slowly, very slowly, it crept along her robe until it
reached her bosom, where it disappeared among the folds.

The face of the princess lay stonily calm, the eyelids closed as over
dead eyes; and for some minutes nothing followed. At length, on the dry,
parchment-like skin, began to appear drops as of the finest dew: in a
moment they were as large as seed-pearls, ran together, and began to
pour down in streams. I darted forward to snatch the worm from the poor
withered bosom, and crush it with my foot. But Mara, Mother of Sorrow,
stepped between, and drew aside the closed edges of the robe: no serpent
was there--no searing trail; the creature had passed in by the centre
of the black spot, and was piercing through the joints and marrow to
the thoughts and intents of the heart. The princess gave one writhing,
contorted shudder, and I knew the worm was in her secret chamber.

“She is seeing herself!” said Mara; and laying her hand on my arm, she
drew me three paces from the settle.

Of a sudden the princess bent her body upward in an arch, then sprang to
the floor, and stood erect. The horror in her face made me tremble lest
her eyes should open, and the sight of them overwhelm me. Her bosom
heaved and sank, but no breath issued. Her hair hung and dripped; then
it stood out from her head and emitted sparks; again hung down, and
poured the sweat of her torture on the floor.

I would have thrown my arms about her, but Mara stopped me.

“You cannot go near her,” she said. “She is far away from us, afar in
the hell of her self-consciousness. The central fire of the universe is
radiating into her the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of what
she is. She sees at last the good she is not, the evil she is. She knows
that she is herself the fire in which she is burning, but she does not
know that the Light of Life is the heart of that fire. Her torment is
that she is what she is. Do not fear for her; she is not forsaken. No
gentler way to help her was left. Wait and watch.”

It may have been five minutes or five years that she stood thus--I
cannot tell; but at last she flung herself on her face.

Mara went to her, and stood looking down upon her. Large tears fell from
her eyes on the woman who had never wept, and would not weep.

“Will you change your way?” she said at length.

“Why did he make me such?” gasped Lilith. “I would have made myself--oh,
so different! I am glad it was he that made me and not I myself!
He alone is to blame for what I am! Never would I have made such a
worthless thing! He meant me such that I might know it and be miserable!
I will not be made any longer!”

“Unmake yourself, then,” said Mara.

“Alas, I cannot! You know it, and mock me! How often have I not agonised
to cease, but the tyrant keeps me being! I curse him!--Now let him kill
me!”

The words came in jets as from a dying fountain.

“Had he not made you,” said Mara, gently and slowly, “you could not even
hate him. But he did not make you such. You have made yourself what you
are.--Be of better cheer: he can remake you.”

“I will not be remade!”

“He will not change you; he will only restore you to what you were.”

“I will not be aught of his making.”

“Are you not willing to have that set right which you have set wrong?”

She lay silent; her suffering seemed abated.

“If you are willing, put yourself again on the settle.”

“I will not,” she answered, forcing the words through her clenched
teeth.

A wind seemed to wake inside the house, blowing without sound or impact;
and a water began to rise that had no lap in its ripples, no sob in its
swell. It was cold, but it did not benumb. Unseen and noiseless it came.
It smote no sense in me, yet I knew it rising. I saw it lift at last and
float her. Gently it bore her, unable to resist, and left rather than
laid her on the settle. Then it sank swiftly away.

The strife of thought, accusing and excusing, began afresh, and
gathered fierceness. The soul of Lilith lay naked to the torture of pure
interpenetrating inward light. She began to moan, and sigh deep sighs,
then murmur as holding colloquy with a dividual self: her queendom was
no longer whole; it was divided against itself. One moment she would
exult as over her worst enemy, and weep; the next she would writhe as in
the embrace of a friend whom her soul hated, and laugh like a demon.
At length she began what seemed a tale about herself, in a language
so strange, and in forms so shadowy, that I could but here and there
understand a little. Yet the language seemed the primeval shape of one
I knew well, and the forms to belong to dreams which had once been mine,
but refused to be recalled. The tale appeared now and then to touch upon
things that Adam had read from the disparted manuscript, and often to
make allusion to influences and forces--vices too, I could not help
suspecting--with which I was unacquainted.

She ceased, and again came the horror in her hair, the sparkling and
flowing alternate. I sent a beseeching look to Mara.

“Those, alas, are not the tears of repentance!” she said. “The true
tears gather in the eyes. Those are far more bitter, and not so good.
Self-loathing is not sorrow. Yet it is good, for it marks a step in
the way home, and in the father’s arms the prodigal forgets the self he
abominates. Once with his father, he is to himself of no more account.
It will be so with her.”

She went nearer and said,

“Will you restore that which you have wrongfully taken?”

“I have taken nothing,” answered the princess, forcing out the words
in spite of pain, “that I had not the right to take. My power to take
manifested my right.”

Mara left her.

Gradually my soul grew aware of an invisible darkness, a something
more terrible than aught that had yet made itself felt. A horrible
Nothingness, a Negation positive infolded her; the border of its being
that was yet no being, touched me, and for one ghastly instant I seemed
alone with Death Absolute! It was not the absence of everything I felt,
but the presence of Nothing. The princess dashed herself from the settle
to the floor with an exceeding great and bitter cry. It was the recoil
of Being from Annihilation.

“For pity’s sake,” she shrieked, “tear my heart out, but let me live!”

With that there fell upon her, and upon us also who watched with her,
the perfect calm as of a summer night. Suffering had all but reached the
brim of her life’s cup, and a hand had emptied it! She raised her head,
half rose, and looked around her. A moment more, and she stood erect,
with the air of a conqueror: she had won the battle! Dareful she had met
her spiritual foes; they had withdrawn defeated! She raised her withered
arm above her head, a pæan of unholy triumph in her throat--when
suddenly her eyes fixed in a ghastly stare.--What was she seeing?

I looked, and saw: before her, cast from unseen heavenly mirror, stood
the reflection of herself, and beside it a form of splendent beauty, She
trembled, and sank again on the floor helpless. She knew the one what
God had intended her to be, the other what she had made herself.

The rest of the night she lay motionless altogether.

With the gray dawn growing in the room, she rose, turned to Mara, and
said, in prideful humility, “You have conquered. Let me go into the
wilderness and bewail myself.”

Mara saw that her submission was not feigned, neither was it real. She
looked at her a moment, and returned:

“Begin, then, and set right in the place of wrong.”

“I know not how,” she replied--with the look of one who foresaw and
feared the answer.

“Open thy hand, and let that which is in it go.”

A fierce refusal seemed to struggle for passage, but she kept it
prisoned.

“I cannot,” she said. “I have no longer the power. Open it for me.”

She held out the offending hand. It was more a paw than a hand. It
seemed to me plain that she could not open it.

Mara did not even look at it.

“You must open it yourself,” she said quietly.

“I have told you I cannot!”

“You can if you will--not indeed at once, but by persistent effort. What
you have done, you do not yet wish undone--do not yet intend to undo!”

“You think so, I dare say,” rejoined the princess with a flash of
insolence, “but I KNOW that I cannot open my hand!”

“I know you better than you know yourself, and I know you can. You have
often opened it a little way. Without trouble and pain you cannot open
it quite, but you CAN open it. At worst you could beat it open! I pray
you, gather your strength, and open it wide.”

“I will not try what I know impossible. It would be the part of a fool!”

“Which you have been playing all your life! Oh, you are hard to teach!”

Defiance reappeared on the face of the princess. She turned her back on
Mara, saying, “I know what you have been tormenting me for! You have not
succeeded, nor shall you succeed! You shall yet find me stronger than
you think! I will yet be mistress of myself! I am still what I have
always known myself--queen of Hell, and mistress of the worlds!”

Then came the most fearful thing of all. I did not know what it was; I
knew myself unable to imagine it; I knew only that if it came near me I
should die of terror! I now know that it was LIFE IN DEATH--life dead,
yet existent; and I knew that Lilith had had glimpses, but only glimpses
of it before: it had never been with her until now.

She stood as she had turned. Mara went and sat down by the fire. Fearing
to stand alone with the princess, I went also and sat again by the
hearth. Something began to depart from me. A sense of cold, yet not what
we call cold, crept, not into, but out of my being, and pervaded it. The
lamp of life and the eternal fire seemed dying together, and I about
to be left with naught but the consciousness that I had been alive.
Mercifully, bereavement did not go so far, and my thought went back to
Lilith.

Something was taking place in her which we did not know. We knew we did
not feel what she felt, but we knew we felt something of the misery
it caused her. The thing itself was in her, not in us; its reflex, her
misery, reached us, and was again reflected in us: she was in the outer
darkness, we present with her who was in it! We were not in the outer
darkness; had we been, we could not have been WITH her; we should have
been timelessly, spacelessly, absolutely apart. The darkness knows
neither the light nor itself; only the light knows itself and the
darkness also. None but God hates evil and understands it.

Something was gone from her, which then first, by its absence, she knew
to have been with her every moment of her wicked years. The source of
life had withdrawn itself; all that was left her of conscious being was
the dregs of her dead and corrupted life.

She stood rigid. Mara buried her head in her hands. I gazed on the face
of one who knew existence but not love--knew nor life, nor joy, nor
good; with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to
know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived. It was not merely
that life had ceased in her, but that she was consciously a dead thing.
She had killed her life, and was dead--and knew it. She must DEATH IT
for ever and ever! She had tried her hardest to unmake herself, and
could not! she was a dead life! she could not cease! she must BE! In her
face I saw and read beyond its misery--saw in its dismay that the dismay
behind it was more than it could manifest. It sent out a livid gloom;
the light that was in her was darkness, and after its kind it shone. She
was what God could not have created. She had usurped beyond her share
in self-creation, and her part had undone His! She saw now what she had
made, and behold, it was not good! She was as a conscious corpse, whose
coffin would never come to pieces, never set her free! Her bodily eyes
stood wide open, as if gazing into the heart of horror essential--her
own indestructible evil. Her right hand also was now clenched--upon
existent Nothing--her inheritance!

But with God all things are possible: He can save even the rich!

Without change of look, without sign of purpose, Lilith walked toward
Mara. She felt her coming, and rose to meet her.

“I yield,” said the princess. “I cannot hold out. I am defeated.--Not
the less, I cannot open my hand.”

“Have you tried?”

“I am trying now with all my might.”

“I will take you to my father. You have wronged him worst of the
created, therefore he best of the created can help you.”

“How can HE help me?”

“He will forgive you.”

“Ah, if he would but help me to cease! Not even that am I capable of! I
have no power over myself; I am a slave! I acknowledge it. Let me die.”

“A slave thou art that shall one day be a child!” answered
Mara.--“Verily, thou shalt die, but not as thou thinkest. Thou shalt
die out of death into life. Now is the Life for, that never was against
thee!”

Like her mother, in whom lay the motherhood of all the world, Mara put
her arms around Lilith, and kissed her on the forehead. The fiery-cold
misery went out of her eyes, and their fountains filled. She lifted, and
bore her to her own bed in a corner of the room, laid her softly upon
it, and closed her eyes with caressing hands.

Lilith lay and wept. The Lady of Sorrow went to the door and opened it.

Morn, with the Spring in her arms, waited outside. Softly they stole in
at the opened door, with a gentle wind in the skirts of their garments.
It flowed and flowed about Lilith, rippling the unknown, upwaking sea of
her life eternal; rippling and to ripple it, until at length she who had
been but as a weed cast on the dry sandy shore to wither, should know
herself an inlet of the everlasting ocean, henceforth to flow into her
for ever, and ebb no more. She answered the morning wind with reviving
breath, and began to listen. For in the skirts of the wind had come
the rain--the soft rain that heals the mown, the many-wounded
grass--soothing it with the sweetness of all music, the hush that lives
between music and silence. It bedewed the desert places around the
cottage, and the sands of Lilith’s heart heard it, and drank it in. When
Mara returned to sit by her bed, her tears were flowing softer than the
rain, and soon she was fast asleep.



CHAPTER XL. THE HOUSE OF DEATH

The Mother of Sorrows rose, muffled her face, and went to call the
Little Ones. They slept as if all the night they had not moved, but
the moment she spoke they sprang to their feet, fresh as if new-made.
Merrily down the stair they followed her, and she brought them where the
princess lay, her tears yet flowing as she slept. Their glad faces grew
grave. They looked from the princess out on the rain, then back at the
princess.

“The sky is falling!” said one.

“The white juice is running out of the princess!” cried another, with an
awed look.

“Is it rivers?” asked Odu, gazing at the little streams that flowed
adown her hollow cheeks.

“Yes,” answered Mara, “--the most wonderful of all rivers.”

“I thought rivers was bigger, and rushed, like a lot of Little Ones,
making loud noises!” he returned, looking at me, from whom alone he had
heard of rivers.

“Look at the rivers of the sky!” said Mara. “See how they come down
to wake up the waters under the earth! Soon will the rivers be flowing
everywhere, merry and loud, like thousands and thousands of happy
children. Oh, how glad they will make you, Little Ones! You have never
seen any, and do not know how lovely is the water!”

“That will be the glad of the ground that the princess is grown good,”
 said Odu. “See the glad of the sky!”

“Are the rivers the glad of the princess?” asked Luva. “They are not her
juice, for they are not red!”

“They are the juice inside the juice,” answered Mara.

Odu put one finger to his eye, looked at it, and shook his head.

“Princess will not bite now!” said Luva.

“No; she will never do that again,” replied Mara. “--But now we must
take her nearer home.”

“Is that a nest?” asked Sozo.

“Yes; a very big nest. But we must take her to another place first.”

“What is that?”

“It is the biggest room in all this world.--But I think it is going to
be pulled down: it will soon be too full of little nests.--Go and get
your clumsies.”

“Please are there any cats in it?”

“Not one. The nests are too full of lovely dreams for one cat to get
in.”

“We shall be ready in a minute,” said Odu, and ran out, followed by all
except Luva.

Lilith was now awake, and listening with a sad smile.

“But her rivers are running so fast!” said Luva, who stood by her side
and seemed unable to take her eyes from her face. “Her robe is all--I
don’t know what. Clumsies won’t like it!”

“They won’t mind it,” answered Mara. “Those rivers are so clean that
they make the whole world clean.”

I had fallen asleep by the fire, but for some time had been awake and
listening, and now rose.

“It is time to mount, Mr. Vane,” said our hostess.

“Tell me, please,” I said, “is there not a way by which to avoid the
channels and the den of monsters?”

“There is an easy way across the river-bed, which I will show you,” she
answered; “but you must pass once more through the monsters.”

“I fear for the children,” I said.

“Fear will not once come nigh them,” she rejoined.

We left the cottage. The beasts stood waiting about the door. Odu was
already on the neck of one of the two that were to carry the princess. I
mounted Lona’s horse; Mara brought her body, and gave it me in my arms.
When she came out again with the princess, a cry of delight arose from
the children: she was no longer muffled! Gazing at her, and entranced
with her loveliness, the boys forgot to receive the princess from her;
but the elephants took Lilith tenderly with their trunks, one round her
body and one round her knees, and, Mara helping, laid her along between
them.

“Why does the princess want to go?” asked a small boy. “She would keep
good if she staid here!”

“She wants to go, and she does not want to go: we are helping her,”
 answered Mara. “She will not keep good here.”

“What are you helping her to do?” he went on.

“To go where she will get more help--help to open her hand, which has
been closed for a thousand years.”

“So long? Then she has learned to do without it: why should she open it
now?”

“Because it is shut upon something that is not hers.”

“Please, lady Mara, may we have some of your very dry bread before we
go?” said Luva.

Mara smiled, and brought them four loaves and a great jug of water.

“We will eat as we go,” they said. But they drank the water with
delight.

“I think,” remarked one of them, “it must be elephant-juice! It makes me
so strong!”

We set out, the Lady of Sorrow walking with us, more beautiful than the
sun, and the white leopardess following her. I thought she meant but to
put us in the path across the channels, but I soon found she was going
with us all the way. Then I would have dismounted that she might ride,
but she would not let me.

“I have no burden to carry,” she said. “The children and I will walk
together.”

It was the loveliest of mornings; the sun shone his brightest, and the
wind blew his sweetest, but they did not comfort the desert, for it had
no water.

We crossed the channels without difficulty, the children gamboling about
Mara all the way, but did not reach the top of the ridge over the bad
burrow until the sun was already in the act of disappearing. Then I made
the Little Ones mount their elephants, for the moon might be late, and I
could not help some anxiety about them.

The Lady of Sorrow now led the way by my side; the elephants
followed--the two that bore the princess in the centre; the leopardess
brought up the rear; and just as we reached the frightful margin, the
moon looked up and showed the shallow basin lying before us untroubled.
Mara stepped into it; not a movement answered her tread or the feet
of my horse. But the moment that the elephants carrying the princess
touched it, the seemingly solid earth began to heave and boil, and the
whole dread brood of the hellish nest was commoved. Monsters uprose on
all sides, every neck at full length, every beak and claw outstretched,
every mouth agape. Long-billed heads, horribly jawed faces, knotty
tentacles innumerable, went out after Lilith. She lay in an agony of
fear, nor dared stir a finger. Whether the hideous things even saw the
children, I doubt; certainly not one of them touched a child; not one
loathly member passed the live rampart of her body-guard, to lay hold of
her.

“Little Ones,” I cried, “keep your elephants close about the princess.
Be brave; they will not touch you.”

“What will not touch us? We don’t know what to be brave at!” they
answered; and I perceived they were unaware of one of the deformities
around them.

“Never mind then,” I returned; “only keep close.”

They were panoplied in their blindness! Incapacity to see was their
safety. What they could nowise be aware of, could not hurt them.

But the hideous forms I saw that night! Mara was a few paces in front
of me when a solitary, bodiless head bounced on the path between us. The
leopardess came rushing under the elephants from behind, and would have
seized it, but, with frightful contortions of visage and a loathsome
howl, it gave itself a rapid rotatory twist, sprang from her, and buried
itself in the ground. The death in my arms assoiling me from fear, I
regarded them all unmoved, although never, sure, was elsewhere beheld
such a crew accursed!

Mara still went in front of me, and the leopardess now walked close
behind her, shivering often, for it was very cold, when suddenly the
ground before me to my left began to heave, and a low wave of earth came
slinking toward us. It rose higher as it drew hear; out of it slouched
a dreadful head with fleshy tubes for hair, and opening a great oval
mouth, snapped at me. The leopardess sprang, but fell baffled beyond it.

Almost under our feet, shot up the head of an enormous snake, with a
lamping wallowing glare in its eyes. Again the leopardess rushed to the
attack, but found nothing. At a third monster she darted with like fury,
and like failure--then sullenly ceased to heed the phantom-horde. But I
understood the peril and hastened the crossing--the rather that the moon
was carrying herself strangely. Even as she rose she seemed ready to
drop and give up the attempt as hopeless; and since, I saw her sink back
once fully her own breadth. The arc she made was very low, and now she
had begun to descend rapidly.

We were almost over, when, between us and the border of the basin, arose
a long neck, on the top of which, like the blossom of some Stygian lily,
sat what seemed the head of a corpse, its mouth half open, and full of
canine teeth. I went on; it retreated, then drew aside. The lady stepped
on the firm land, but the leopardess between us, roused once more,
turned, and flew at the throat of the terror. I remained where I was to
see the elephants, with the princess and the children, safe on the bank.
Then I turned to look after the leopardess. That moment the moon
went down, For an instant I saw the leopardess and the snake-monster
convolved in a cloud of dust; then darkness hid them. Trembling with
fright, my horse wheeled, and in three bounds overtook the elephants.

As we came up with them, a shapeless jelly dropped on the princess. A
white dove dropped immediately on the jelly, stabbing it with its beak.
It made a squelching, sucking sound, and fell off. Then I heard the
voice of a woman talking with Mara, and I knew the voice.

“I fear she is dead!” said Mara.

“I will send and find her,” answered the mother. “But why, Mara,
shouldst thou at all fear for her or for any one? Death cannot hurt her
who dies doing the work given her to do.”

“I shall miss her sorely; she is good and wise. Yet I would not have her
live beyond her hour!”

“She has gone down with the wicked; she will rise with the righteous. We
shall see her again ere very long.”

“Mother,” I said, although I did not see her, “we come to you many, but
most of us are Little Ones. Will you be able to receive us all?”

“You are welcome every one,” she answered. “Sooner or later all will be
little ones, for all must sleep in my house! It is well with those that
go to sleep young and willing!--My husband is even now preparing her
couch for Lilith. She is neither young nor quite willing, but it is well
indeed that she is come.”

I heard no more. Mother and daughter had gone away together through
the dark. But we saw a light in the distance, and toward it we went
stumbling over the moor.

Adam stood in the door, holding the candle to guide us, and talking with
his wife, who, behind him, laid bread and wine on the table within.

“Happy children,” I heard her say, “to have looked already on the face
of my daughter! Surely it is the loveliest in the great world!”

When we reached the door, Adam welcomed us almost merrily. He set the
candle on the threshold, and going to the elephants, would have taken
the princess to carry her in; but she repulsed him, and pushing her
elephants asunder, stood erect between them. They walked from beside
her, and left her with him who had been her husband--ashamed indeed of
her gaunt uncomeliness, but unsubmissive. He stood with a welcome in his
eyes that shone through their severity.

“We have long waited for thee, Lilith!” he said.

She returned him no answer.

Eve and her daughter came to the door.

“The mortal foe of my children!” murmured Eve, standing radiant in her
beauty.

“Your children are no longer in her danger,” said Mara; “she has turned
from evil.”

“Trust her not hastily, Mara,” answered her mother; “she has deceived a
multitude!”

“But you will open to her the mirror of the Law of Liberty, mother, that
she may go into it, and abide in it! She consents to open her hand and
restore: will not the great Father restore her to inheritance with His
other children?”

“I do not know Him!” murmured Lilith, in a voice of fear and doubt.

“Therefore it is that thou art miserable,” said Adam.

“I will go back whence I came!” she cried, and turned, wringing her
hands, to depart.

“That is indeed what I would have thee do, where I would have thee
go--to Him from whom thou camest! In thy agony didst thou not cry out
for Him?”

“I cried out for Death--to escape Him and thee!”

“Death is even now on his way to lead thee to Him. Thou knowest neither
Death nor the Life that dwells in Death! Both befriend thee. I am dead,
and would see thee dead, for I live and love thee. Thou art weary and
heavy-laden: art thou not ashamed? Is not the being thou hast corrupted
become to thee at length an evil thing? Wouldst thou yet live on in
disgrace eternal? Cease thou canst not: wilt thou not be restored and
BE?”

She stood silent with bowed head.

“Father,” said Mara, “take her in thine arms, and carry her to her
couch. There she will open her hand, and die into life.”

“I will walk,” said the princess.

Adam turned and led the way. The princess walked feebly after him into
the cottage.

Then Eve came out to me where I sat with Lona in my bosom. She reached
up her arms, took her from me, and carried her in. I dismounted, and the
children also. The horse and the elephants stood shivering; Mara patted
and stroked them every one; they lay down and fell asleep. She led us
into the cottage, and gave the Little Ones of the bread and wine on the
table. Adam and Lilith were standing there together, but silent both.

Eve came from the chamber of death, where she had laid Lona down, and
offered of the bread and wine to the princess.

“Thy beauty slays me! It is death I would have, not food!” said Lilith,
and turned from her.

“This food will help thee to die,” answered Eve.

But Lilith would not taste of it.

“If thou wilt nor eat nor drink, Lilith,” said Adam, “come and see the
place where thou shalt lie in peace.”

He led the way through the door of death, and she followed submissive.
But when her foot crossed the threshold she drew it back, and pressed
her hand to her bosom, struck through with the cold immortal.

A wild blast fell roaring on the roof, and died away in a moan. She
stood ghastly with terror.

“It is he!” said her voiceless lips: I read their motion.

“Who, princess!” I whispered.

“The great Shadow,” she murmured.

“Here he cannot enter,” said Adam. “Here he can hurt no one. Over him
also is power given me.”

“Are the children in the house?” asked Lilith, and at the word the heart
of Eve began to love her.

“He never dared touch a child,” she said. “Nor have you either ever hurt
a child. Your own daughter you have but sent into the loveliest sleep,
for she was already a long time dead when you slew her. And now Death
shall be the atonemaker; you shall sleep together.”

“Wife,” said Adam, “let us first put the children to bed, that she may
see them safe!”

He came back to fetch them. As soon as he was gone, the princess knelt
to Eve, clasped her knees, and said,

“Beautiful Eve, persuade your husband to kill me: to you he will listen!
Indeed I would but cannot open my hand.”

“You cannot die without opening it. To kill you would not serve you,”
 answered Eve. “But indeed he cannot! no one can kill you but the Shadow;
and whom he kills never knows she is dead, but lives to do his will, and
thinks she is doing her own.”

“Show me then to my grave; I am so weary I can live no longer. I must go
to the Shadow--yet I would not!”

She did not, could not understand!

She struggled to rise, but fell at the feet of Eve. The Mother lifted,
and carried her inward.

I followed Adam and Mara and the children into the chamber of death. We
passed Eve with Lilith in her arms, and went farther in.

“You shall not go to the Shadow,” I heard Eve say, as we passed them.
“Even now is his head under my heel!”

The dim light in Adam’s hand glimmered on the sleeping faces, and as he
went on, the darkness closed over them. The very air seemed dead: was it
because none of the sleepers breathed it? Profoundest sleep filled the
wide place. It was as if not one had waked since last I was there, for
the forms I had then noted lay there still. My father was just as I had
left him, save that he seemed yet nearer to a perfect peace. The woman
beside him looked younger.

The darkness, the cold, the silence, the still air, the faces of the
lovely dead, made the hearts of the children beat softly, but their
little tongues would talk--with low, hushed voices.

“What a curious place to sleep in!” said one, “I would rather be in my
nest!” “It is SO cold!” said another.

“Yes, it is cold,” answered our host; “but you will not be cold in your
sleep.”

“Where are our nests?” asked more than one, looking round and seeing no
couch unoccupied.

“Find places, and sleep where you choose,” replied Adam.

Instantly they scattered, advancing fearlessly beyond the light, but we
still heard their gentle voices, and it was plain they saw where I could
not.

“Oh,” cried one, “here is such a beautiful lady!--may I sleep beside
her? I will creep in quietly, and not wake her.”

“Yes, you may,” answered the voice of Eve behind us; and we came to the
couch while the little fellow was yet creeping slowly and softly under
the sheet. He laid his head beside the lady’s, looked up at us, and was
still. His eyelids fell; he was asleep.

We went a little farther, and there was another who had climbed up on
the couch of a woman.

“Mother! mother!” he cried, kneeling over her, his face close to hers.
“--She’s so cold she can’t speak,” he said, looking up to us; “but I
will soon make her warm!”

He lay down, and pressing close to her, put his little arm over her. In
an instant he too was asleep, smiling an absolute content.

We came to a third Little One; it was Luva. She stood on tiptoe, leaning
over the edge of a couch.

“My own mother wouldn’t have me,” she said softly: “will you?”

Receiving no reply, she looked up at Eve. The great mother lifted her to
the couch, and she got at once under the snowy covering.

Each of the Little Ones had by this time, except three of the boys,
found at least an unobjecting bedfellow, and lay still and white beside
a still, white woman. The little orphans had adopted mothers! One tiny
girl had chosen a father to sleep with, and that was mine. A boy lay
by the side of the beautiful matron with the slow-healing hand. On the
middle one of the three couches hitherto unoccupied, lay Lona.

Eve set Lilith down beside it. Adam pointed to the vacant couch on
Lona’s right hand, and said,

“There, Lilith, is the bed I have prepared for you!”

She glanced at her daughter lying before her like a statue carved in
semi-transparent alabaster, and shuddered from head to foot. “How cold
it is!” she murmured.

“You will soon begin to find comfort in the cold,” answered Adam.

“Promises to the dying are easy!” she said.

“But I know it: I too have slept. I am dead!”

“I believed you dead long ago; but I see you alive!”

“More alive than you know, or are able to understand. I was scarce alive
when first you knew me. Now I have slept, and am awake; I am dead, and
live indeed!”

“I fear that child,” she said, pointing to Lona: “she will rise and
terrify me!”

“She is dreaming love to you.”

“But the Shadow!” she moaned; “I fear the Shadow! he will be wroth with
me!”

“He at sight of whom the horses of heaven start and rear, dares not
disturb one dream in this quiet chamber!”

“I shall dream then?”

“You will dream.”

“What dreams?”

“That I cannot tell, but none HE can enter into. When the Shadow comes
here, it will be to lie down and sleep also.--His hour will come, and he
knows it will.”

“How long shall I sleep?”

“You and he will be the last to wake in the morning of the universe.”

The princess lay down, drew the sheet over her, stretched herself out
straight, and lay still with open eyes.

Adam turned to his daughter. She drew near.

“Lilith,” said Mara, “you will not sleep, if you lie there a thousand
years, until you have opened your hand, and yielded that which is not
yours to give or to withhold.”

“I cannot,” she answered. “I would if I could, and gladly, for I am
weary, and the shadows of death are gathering about me.”

“They will gather and gather, but they cannot infold you while yet your
hand remains unopened. You may think you are dead, but it will be only
a dream; you may think you have come awake, but it will still be only a
dream. Open your hand, and you will sleep indeed--then wake indeed.”

“I am trying hard, but the fingers have grown together and into the
palm.”

“I pray you put forth the strength of your will. For the love of life,
draw together your forces and break its bonds!”

“I have struggled in vain; I can do no more. I am very weary, and sleep
lies heavy upon my lids.”

“The moment you open your hand, you will sleep. Open it, and make an
end.”

A tinge of colour arose in the parchment-like face; the contorted hand
trembled with agonised effort. Mara took it, and sought to aid her.

“Hold, Mara!” cried her father. “There is danger!”

The princess turned her eyes upon Eve, beseechingly.

“There was a sword I once saw in your husband’s hands,” she murmured. “I
fled when I saw it. I heard him who bore it say it would divide whatever
was not one and indivisible!”

“I have the sword,” said Adam. “The angel gave it me when he left the
gate.”

“Bring it, Adam,” pleaded Lilith, “and cut me off this hand that I may
sleep.”

“I will,” he answered.

He gave the candle to Eve, and went. The princess closed her eyes.

In a few minutes Adam returned with an ancient weapon in his hand. The
scabbard looked like vellum grown dark with years, but the hilt shone
like gold that nothing could tarnish. He drew out the blade. It flashed
like a pale blue northern streamer, and the light of it made the
princess open her eyes. She saw the sword, shuddered, and held out her
hand. Adam took it. The sword gleamed once, there was one little gush of
blood, and he laid the severed hand in Mara’s lap. Lilith had given one
moan, and was already fast asleep. Mara covered the arm with the sheet,
and the three turned away.

“Will you not dress the wound?” I said.

“A wound from that sword,” answered Adam, “needs no dressing. It is
healing and not hurt.”

“Poor lady!” I said, “she will wake with but one hand!”

“Where the dead deformity clung,” replied Mara, “the true, lovely hand
is already growing.”

We heard a childish voice behind us, and turned again. The candle in
Eve’s hand shone on the sleeping face of Lilith, and the waking faces
of the three Little Ones, grouped on the other side of her couch. “How
beautiful she is grown!” said one of them.

“Poor princess!” said another; “I will sleep with her. She will not bite
any more!”

As he spoke he climbed into her bed, and was immediately fast asleep.
Eve covered him with the sheet.

“I will go on her other side,” said the third. “She shall have two to
kiss her when she wakes!”

“And I am left alone!” said the first mournfully.

“I will put you to bed,” said Eve.

She gave the candle to her husband, and led the child away.

We turned once more to go back to the cottage. I was very sad, for no
one had offered me a place in the house of the dead. Eve joined us as we
went, and walked on before with her husband. Mara by my side carried the
hand of Lilith in the lap of her robe.

“Ah, you have found her!” we heard Eve say as we stepped into the
cottage.

The door stood open; two elephant-trunks came through it out of the
night beyond.

“I sent them with the lantern,” she went on to her husband, “to look for
Mara’s leopardess: they have brought her.”

I followed Adam to the door, and between us we took the white creature
from the elephants, and carried her to the chamber we had just left,
the women preceding us, Eve with the light, and Mara still carrying
the hand. There we laid the beauty across the feet of the princess, her
fore-paws outstretched, and her head couching between them.



CHAPTER XLI. I AM SENT

Then I turned and said to Eve,

“Mother, one couch next to Lona is empty: I know I am unworthy, but may
I not sleep this night in your chamber with my dead? Will you not pardon
both my cowardice and my self-confidence, and take me in? I give me up.
I am sick of myself, and would fain sleep the sleep!”

“The couch next to Lona is the one already prepared for you,” she
answered; “but something waits to be done ere you sleep.”

“I am ready,” I replied.

“How do you know you can do it?” she asked with a smile.

“Because you require it,” I answered. “What is it?”

She turned to Adam:

“Is he forgiven, husband?”

“From my heart.”

“Then tell him what he has to do.”

Adam turned to his daughter.

“Give me that hand, Mara, my child.”

She held it out to him in her lap. He took it tenderly.

“Let us go to the cottage,” he said to me; “there I will instruct you.”

As we went, again arose a sudden stormful blast, mingled with a great
flapping on the roof, but it died away as before in a deep moan.

When the door of the death-chamber was closed behind us, Adam seated
himself, and I stood before him.

“You will remember,” he said, “how, after leaving my daughter’s house,
you came to a dry rock, bearing the marks of an ancient cataract; you
climbed that rock, and found a sandy desert: go to that rock now, and
from its summit walk deep into the desert. But go not many steps ere you
lie down, and listen with your head on the sand. If you hear the murmur
of water beneath, go a little farther, and listen again. If you still
hear the sound, you are in the right direction. Every few yards you must
stop, lie down, and hearken. If, listening thus, at any time you hear
no sound of water, you are out of the way, and must hearken in every
direction until you hear it again. Keeping with the sound, and careful
not to retrace your steps, you will soon hear it louder, and the growing
sound will lead you to where it is loudest: that is the spot you seek.
There dig with the spade I will give you, and dig until you come to
moisture: in it lay the hand, cover it to the level of the desert, and
come home.--But give good heed, and carry the hand with care. Never lay
it down, in what place of seeming safety soever; let nothing touch it;
stop nor turn aside for any attempt to bar your way; never look behind
you; speak to no one, answer no one, walk straight on.--It is yet dark,
and the morning is far distant, but you must set out at once.”

He gave me the hand, and brought me a spade.

“This is my gardening spade,” he said; “with it I have brought many a
lovely thing to the sun.”

I took it, and went out into the night.

It was very cold, and pitch-dark. To fall would be a dread thing, and
the way I had to go was a difficult one even in the broad sunlight! But
I had not set myself the task, and the minute I started I learned that I
was left to no chance: a pale light broke from the ground at every step,
and showed me where next to set my foot. Through the heather and the low
rocks I walked without once even stumbling. I found the bad burrow quite
still; not a wave arose, not a head appeared as I crossed it.

A moon came, and herself showed me the easy way: toward morning I was
almost over the dry channels of the first branch of the river-bed, and
not far, I judged, from Mara’s cottage.

The moon was very low, and the sun not yet up, when I saw before me in
the path, here narrowed by rocks, a figure covered from head to foot as
with a veil of moonlit mist. I kept on my way as if I saw nothing. The
figure threw aside its veil.

“Have you forgotten me already?” said the princess--or what seemed she.

I neither hesitated nor answered; I walked straight on.

“You meant then to leave me in that horrible sepulchre! Do you not yet
understand that where I please to be, there I am? Take my hand: I am
alive as you!”

I was on the point of saying, “Give me your left hand,” but bethought
myself, held my peace, and steadily advanced.

“Give me my hand,” she suddenly shrieked, “or I will tear you in pieces:
you are mine!”

She flung herself upon me. I shuddered, but did not falter. Nothing
touched me, and I saw her no more.

With measured tread along the path, filling it for some distance, came a
body of armed men. I walked through them--nor know whether they gave way
to me, or were bodiless things. But they turned and followed me; I heard
and felt their march at my very heels; but I cast no look behind, and
the sound of their steps and the clash of their armour died away.

A little farther on, the moon being now close to the horizon and the way
in deep shadow, I descried, seated where the path was so narrow that I
could not pass her, a woman with muffled face.

“Ah,” she said, “you are come at last! I have waited here for you an
hour or more! You have done well! Your trial is over. My father sent me
to meet you that you might have a little rest on the way. Give me your
charge, and lay your head in my lap; I will take good care of both until
the sun is well risen. I am not bitterness always, neither to all men!”

Her words were terrible with temptation, for I was very weary. And what
more likely to be true! If I were, through slavish obedience to the
letter of the command and lack of pure insight, to trample under my
feet the very person of the Lady of Sorrow! My heart grew faint at the
thought, then beat as if it would burst my bosom.

Nevertheless my will hardened itself against my heart, and my step did
not falter. I took my tongue between my teeth lest I should unawares
answer, and kept on my way. If Adam had sent her, he could not complain
that I would not heed her! Nor would the Lady of Sorrow love me the less
that even she had not been able to turn me aside!

Just ere I reached the phantom, she pulled the covering from her face:
great indeed was her loveliness, but those were not Mara’s eyes! no lie
could truly or for long imitate them! I advanced as if the thing were
not there, and my foot found empty room.

I had almost reached the other side when a Shadow--I think it was The
Shadow, barred my way. He seemed to have a helmet upon his head, but as
I drew closer I perceived it was the head itself I saw--so distorted as
to bear but a doubtful resemblance to the human. A cold wind smote me,
dank and sickening--repulsive as the air of a charnel-house; firmness
forsook my joints, and my limbs trembled as if they would drop in a
helpless heap. I seemed to pass through him, but I think now that he
passed through me: for a moment I was as one of the damned. Then a soft
wind like the first breath of a new-born spring greeted me, and before
me arose the dawn.

My way now led me past the door of Mara’s cottage. It stood wide open,
and upon the table I saw a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. In or
around the cottage was neither howl nor wail.

I came to the precipice that testified to the vanished river. I climbed
its worn face, and went on into the desert. There at last, after much
listening to and fro, I determined the spot where the hidden water was
loudest, hung Lilith’s hand about my neck, and began to dig. It was a
long labour, for I had to make a large hole because of the looseness
of the sand; but at length I threw up a damp spadeful. I flung the
sexton-tool on the verge, and laid down the hand. A little water was
already oozing from under its fingers. I sprang out, and made haste to
fill the grave. Then, utterly fatigued, I dropped beside it, and fell
asleep.



CHAPTER XLII. I SLEEP THE SLEEP

When I woke, the ground was moist about me, and my track to the grave
was growing a quicksand. In its ancient course the river was swelling,
and had begun to shove at its burden. Soon it would be roaring down
the precipice, and, divided in its fall, rushing with one branch to
resubmerge the orchard valley, with the other to drown perhaps the
monster horde, and between them to isle the Evil Wood. I set out at once
on my return to those who sent me.

When I came to the precipice, I took my way betwixt the branches, for I
would pass again by the cottage of Mara, lest she should have returned:
I longed to see her once more ere I went to sleep; and now I knew where
to cross the channels, even if the river should have overtaken me and
filled them. But when I reached it, the door stood open still; the bread
and the water were still on the table; and deep silence was within and
around it. I stopped and called aloud at the door, but no voice replied,
and I went my way.

A little farther, I came where sat a grayheaded man on the sand,
weeping.

“What ails you, sir?” I asked. “Are you forsaken?”

“I weep,” he answered, “because they will not let me die. I have been to
the house of death, and its mistress, notwithstanding my years, refuses
me. Intercede for me, sir, if you know her, I pray you.”

“Nay, sir,” I replied, “that I cannot; for she refuses none whom it is
lawful for her to receive.”

“How know you this of her? You have never sought death! you are much too
young to desire it!”

“I fear your words may indicate that, were you young again, neither
would you desire it.”

“Indeed, young sir, I would not! and certain I am that you cannot.”

“I may not be old enough to desire to die, but I am young enough to
desire to live indeed! Therefore I go now to learn if she will at length
take me in. You wish to die because you do not care to live: she will
not open her door to you, for no one can die who does not long to live.”

“It ill becomes your youth to mock a friendless old man. Pray, cease
your riddles!”

“Did not then the Mother tell you something of the same sort?”

“In truth I believe she did; but I gave little heed to her excuses.”

“Ah, then, sir,” I rejoined, “it is but too plain you have not yet
learned to die, and I am heartily grieved for you. Such had I too been
but for the Lady of Sorrow. I am indeed young, but I have wept many
tears; pardon me, therefore, if I presume to offer counsel:--Go to the
Lady of Sorrow, and ‘take with both hands’ * what she will give you.
Yonder lies her cottage. She is not in it now, but her door stands open,
and there is bread and water on her table. Go in; sit down; eat of the
bread; drink of the water; and wait there until she appear. Then ask
counsel of her, for she is true, and her wisdom is great.”

He fell to weeping afresh, and I left him weeping. What I said, I fear
he did not heed. But Mara would find him!

The sun was down, and the moon unrisen, when I reached the abode of the
monsters, but it was still as a stone till I passed over. Then I heard
a noise of many waters, and a great cry behind me, but I did not turn my
head.

Ere I reached the house of death, the cold was bitter and the darkness
dense; and the cold and the darkness were one, and entered into my bones
together. But the candle of Eve, shining from the window, guided me, and
kept both frost and murk from my heart.

The door stood open, and the cottage lay empty. I sat down disconsolate.

And as I sat, there grew in me such a sense of loneliness as never yet
in my wanderings had I felt. Thousands were near me, not one was with
me! True, it was I who was dead, not they; but, whether by their life or
by my death, we were divided! They were alive, but I was not dead enough
even to know them alive: doubt WOULD come. They were, at best, far from
me, and helpers I had none to lay me beside them!

Never before had I known, or truly imagined desolation! In vain I took
myself to task, saying the solitude was but a seeming: I was awake, and
they slept--that was all! it was only that they lay so still and did not
speak! they were with me now, and soon, soon I should be with them!

I dropped Adam’s old spade, and the dull sound of its fall on the clay
floor seemed reverberated from the chamber beyond: a childish terror
seized me; I sat and stared at the coffin-door.--But father Adam, mother
Eve, sister Mara would soon come to me, and then--welcome the cold world
and the white neighbours! I forgot my fears, lived a little, and loved
my dead.

Something did move in the chamber of the dead! There came from it what
was LIKE a dim, far-off sound, yet was not what I knew as sound. My soul
sprang into my ears. Was it a mere thrill of the dead air, too slight
to be heard, but quivering in every spiritual sense? I KNEW without
hearing, without feeling it!

The something was coming! it drew nearer! In the bosom of my
desertion awoke an infant hope. The noiseless thrill reached the
coffin-door--became sound, and smote on my ear.

The door began to move--with a low, soft creaking of its hinges. It was
opening! I ceased to listen, and stared expectant.

It opened a little way, and a face came into the opening. It was Lona’s.
Its eyes were closed, but the face itself was upon me, and seemed to see
me. It was white as Eve’s, white as Mara’s, but did not shine like their
faces. She spoke, and her voice was like a sleepy night-wind in the
grass.

“Are you coming, king?” it said. “I cannot rest until you are with me,
gliding down the river to the great sea, and the beautiful dream-land.
The sleepiness is full of lovely things: come and see them.”

“Ah, my darling!” I cried. “Had I but known!--I thought you were dead!”

She lay on my bosom--cold as ice frozen to marble. She threw her arms,
so white, feebly about me, and sighed--

“Carry me back to my bed, king. I want to sleep.”

I bore her to the death-chamber, holding her tight lest she should
dissolve out of my arms. Unaware that I saw, I carried her straight to
her couch.

“Lay me down,” she said, “and cover me from the warm air; it hurts--a
little. Your bed is there, next to mine. I shall see you when I wake.”

She was already asleep. I threw myself on my couch--blessed as never was
man on the eve of his wedding.

“Come, sweet cold,” I said, “and still my heart speedily.”

But there came instead a glimmer of light in the chamber, and I saw the
face of Adam approaching. He had not the candle, yet I saw him. At the
side of Lona’s couch, he looked down on her with a questioning smile,
and then greeted me across it.

“We have been to the top of the hill to hear the waters on their way,”
 he said. “They will be in the den of the monsters to-night.--But why did
you not await our return?”

“My child could not sleep,” I answered.

“She is fast asleep!” he rejoined.

“Yes, now!” I said; “but she was awake when I laid her down.”

“She was asleep all the time!” he insisted. “She was perhaps dreaming
about you--and came to you?”

“She did.”

“And did you not see that her eyes were closed?”

“Now I think of it, I did.”

“If you had looked ere you laid her down, you would have seen her asleep
on the couch.”

“That would have been terrible!”

“You would only have found that she was no longer in your arms.”

“That would have been worse!”

“It is, perhaps, to think of; but to see it would not have troubled
you.”

“Dear father,” I said, “how is it that I am not sleepy? I thought I
should go to sleep like the Little Ones the moment I laid my head down!”

“Your hour is not quite come. You must have food ere you sleep.”

“Ah, I ought not to have lain down without your leave, for I cannot
sleep without your help! I will get up at once!”

But I found my own weight more than I could move.

“There is no need: we will serve you here,” he answered. “--You do not
feel cold, do you?”

“Not too cold to lie still, but perhaps too cold to eat!”

He came to the side of my couch, bent over me, and breathed on my heart.
At once I was warm.

As he left me, I heard a voice, and knew it was the Mother’s. She was
singing, and her song was sweet and soft and low, and I thought she sat
by my bed in the dark; but ere it ceased, her song soared aloft, and
seemed to come from the throat of a woman-angel, high above all the
region of larks, higher than man had ever yet lifted up his heart. I
heard every word she sang, but could keep only this:--

     “Many a wrong, and its curing song;
        Many a road, and many an inn;
      Room to roam, but only one home
        For all the world to win!”

and I thought I had heard the song before.

Then the three came to my couch together, bringing me bread and wine,
and I sat up to partake of it. Adam stood on one side of me, Eve and
Mara on the other.

“You are good indeed, father Adam, mother Eve, sister Mara,” I said, “to
receive me! In my soul I am ashamed and sorry!”

“We knew you would come again!” answered Eve.

“How could you know it?” I returned.

“Because here was I, born to look after my brothers and sisters!”
 answered Mara with a smile.

“Every creature must one night yield himself and lie down,” answered
Adam: “he was made for liberty, and must not be left a slave!”

“It will be late, I fear, ere all have lain down!” I said.

“There is no early or late here,” he rejoined. “For him the true time
then first begins who lays himself down. Men are not coming home fast;
women are coming faster. A desert, wide and dreary, parts him who lies
down to die from him who lies down to live. The former may well make
haste, but here is no haste.”

“To our eyes,” said Eve, “you were coming all the time: we knew Mara
would find you, and you must come!”

“How long is it since my father lay down?” I asked.

“I have told you that years are of no consequence in this house,”
 answered Adam; “we do not heed them. Your father will wake when his
morning comes. Your mother, next to whom you are lying,----”

“Ah, then, it IS my mother!” I exclaimed.

“Yes--she with the wounded hand,” he assented; “--she will be up and
away long ere your morning is ripe.”

“I am sorry.”

“Rather be glad.”

“It must be a sight for God Himself to see such a woman come awake!”

“It is indeed a sight for God, a sight that makes her Maker glad! He
sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied!--Look at her once
more, and sleep.”

He let the rays of his candle fall on her beautiful face.

“She looks much younger!” I said.

“She IS much younger,” he replied. “Even Lilith already begins to look
younger!”

I lay down, blissfully drowsy.

“But when you see your mother again,” he continued, “you will not
at first know her. She will go on steadily growing younger until she
reaches the perfection of her womanhood--a splendour beyond foresight.
Then she will open her eyes, behold on one side her husband, on the
other her son--and rise and leave them to go to a father and a brother
more to her than they.”

I heard as one in a dream. I was very cold, but already the cold caused
me no suffering. I felt them put on me the white garment of the dead.
Then I forgot everything. The night about me was pale with sleeping
faces, but I was asleep also, nor knew that I slept.



CHAPTER XLIII. THE DREAMS THAT CAME

I grew aware of existence, aware also of the profound, the infinite
cold. I was intensely blessed--more blessed, I know, than my heart,
imagining, can now recall. I could not think of warmth with the least
suggestion of pleasure. I knew that I had enjoyed it, but could not
remember how. The cold had soothed every care, dissolved every pain,
comforted every sorrow. COMFORTED? Nay; sorrow was swallowed up in the
life drawing nigh to restore every good and lovely thing a hundredfold!
I lay at peace, full of the quietest expectation, breathing the damp
odours of Earth’s bountiful bosom, aware of the souls of primroses,
daisies and snowdrops, patiently waiting in it for the Spring.

How convey the delight of that frozen, yet conscious sleep! I had no
more to stand up! had only to lie stretched out and still! How cold I
was, words cannot tell; yet I grew colder and colder--and welcomed the
cold yet more and more. I grew continuously less conscious of myself,
continuously more conscious of bliss, unimaginable yet felt. I had
neither made it nor prayed for it: it was mine in virtue of existence!
and existence was mine in virtue of a Will that dwelt in mine.

Then the dreams began to arrive--and came crowding.--I lay naked on a
snowy peak. The white mist heaved below me like a billowy sea. The cold
moon was in the air with me, and above the moon and me the colder sky,
in which the moon and I dwelt. I was Adam, waiting for God to breathe
into my nostrils the breath of life.--I was not Adam, but a child in
the bosom of a mother white with a radiant whiteness. I was a youth on
a white horse, leaping from cloud to cloud of a blue heaven, hasting
calmly to some blessed goal. For centuries I dreamed--or was it
chiliads? or only one long night?--But why ask? for time had nothing to
do with me; I was in the land of thought--farther in, higher up than the
seven dimensions, the ten senses: I think I was where I am--in the heart
of God.--I dreamed away dim cycles in the centre of a melting glacier,
the spectral moon drawing nearer and nearer, the wind and the welter
of a torrent growing in my ears. I lay and heard them: the wind and
the water and the moon sang a peaceful waiting for a redemption drawing
nigh. I dreamed cycles, I say, but, for aught I knew or can tell, they
were the solemn, æonian march of a second, pregnant with eternity.

Then, of a sudden, but not once troubling my conscious bliss, all the
wrongs I had ever done, from far beyond my earthly memory down to the
present moment, were with me. Fully in every wrong lived the conscious
I, confessing, abjuring, lamenting the dead, making atonement with each
person I had injured, hurt, or offended. Every human soul to which I had
caused a troubled thought, was now grown unspeakably dear to me, and I
humbled myself before it, agonising to cast from between us the clinging
offence. I wept at the feet of the mother whose commands I had slighted;
with bitter shame I confessed to my father that I had told him two lies,
and long forgotten them: now for long had remembered them, and kept them
in memory to crush at last at his feet. I was the eager slave of all
whom I had thus or anyhow wronged. Countless services I devised to
render them! For this one I would build such a house as had never grown
from the ground! for that one I would train such horses as had never yet
been seen in any world! For a third I would make such a garden as had
never bloomed, haunted with still pools, and alive with running waters!
I would write songs to make their hearts swell, and tales to make
them glow! I would turn the forces of the world into such channels of
invention as to make them laugh with the joy of wonder! Love possessed
me! Love was my life! Love was to me, as to him that made me, all in
all!

Suddenly I found myself in a solid blackness, upon which the ghost of
light that dwells in the caverns of the eyes could not cast one fancied
glimmer. But my heart, which feared nothing and hoped infinitely, was
full of peace. I lay imagining what the light would be when it came,
and what new creation it would bring with it--when, suddenly, without
conscious volition, I sat up and stared about me.

The moon was looking in at the lowest, horizontal, crypt-like windows
of the death-chamber, her long light slanting, I thought, across
the fallen, but still ripening sheaves of the harvest of the great
husbandman.--But no; that harvest was gone! Gathered in, or swept away
by chaotic storm, not a sacred sheaf was there! My dead were gone! I was
alone!--In desolation dread lay depths yet deeper than I had hitherto
known!--Had there never been any ripening dead? Had I but dreamed them
and their loveliness? Why then these walls? why the empty couches? No;
they were all up! they were all abroad in the new eternal day, and had
forgotten me! They had left me behind, and alone! Tenfold more terrible
was the tomb its inhabitants away! The quiet ones had made me quiet with
their presence--had pervaded my mind with their blissful peace; now I
had no friend, and my lovers were far from me! A moment I sat and stared
horror-stricken. I had been alone with the moon on a mountain top in the
sky; now I was alone with her in a huge cenotaph: she too was staring
about, seeking her dead with ghastly gaze! I sprang to my feet, and
staggered from the fearful place.

The cottage was empty. I ran out into the night.

No moon was there! Even as I left the chamber, a cloudy rampart had
risen and covered her. But a broad shimmer came from far over the heath,
mingled with a ghostly murmuring music, as if the moon were raining
a light that plashed as it fell. I ran stumbling across the moor, and
found a lovely lake, margined with reeds and rushes: the moon behind
the cloud was gazing upon the monsters’ den, full of clearest, brightest
water, and very still.--But the musical murmur went on, filling the
quiet air, and drawing me after it.

I walked round the border of the little mere, and climbed the range of
hills. What a sight rose to my eyes! The whole expanse where, with hot,
aching feet, I had crossed and recrossed the deep-scored channels and
ravines of the dry river-bed, was alive with streams, with torrents,
with still pools--“a river deep and wide”! How the moon flashed on the
water! how the water answered the moon with flashes of its own--white
flashes breaking everywhere from its rock-encountered flow! And a great
jubilant song arose from its bosom, the song of new-born liberty. I
stood a moment gazing, and my heart also began to exult: my life was not
all a failure! I had helped to set this river free!--My dead were not
lost! I had but to go after and find them! I would follow and follow
until I came whither they had gone! Our meeting might be thousands of
years away, but at last--AT LAST I should hold them! Wherefore else did
the floods clap their hands?

I hurried down the hill: my pilgrimage was begun! In what direction to
turn my steps I knew not, but I must go and go till I found my living
dead! A torrent ran swift and wide at the foot of the range: I rushed
in, it laid no hold upon me; I waded through it. The next I sprang
across; the third I swam; the next I waded again.

I stopped to gaze on the wondrous loveliness of the ceaseless flash and
flow, and to hearken to the multitudinous broken music. Every now and
then some incipient air would seem about to draw itself clear of the
dulcet confusion, only to merge again in the consorted roar. At moments
the world of waters would invade as if to overwhelm me--not with the
force of its seaward rush, or the shouting of its liberated throng, but
with the greatness of the silence wandering into sound.

As I stood lost in delight, a hand was laid on my shoulder. I turned,
and saw a man in the prime of strength, beautiful as if fresh from the
heart of the glad creator, young like him who cannot grow old. I looked:
it was Adam. He stood large and grand, clothed in a white robe, with the
moon in his hair.

“Father,” I cried, “where is she? Where are the dead? Is the great
resurrection come and gone? The terror of my loneliness was upon me;
I could not sleep without my dead; I ran from the desolate
chamber.--Whither shall I go to find them?”

“You mistake, my son,” he answered, in a voice whose very breath was
consolation. “You are still in the chamber of death, still upon your
couch, asleep and dreaming, with the dead around you.”

“Alas! when I but dream how am I to know it? The dream best dreamed is
the likest to the waking truth!”

“When you are quite dead, you will dream no false dream. The soul that
is true can generate nothing that is not true, neither can the false
enter it.”

“But, sir,” I faltered, “how am I to distinguish betwixt the true and
the false where both alike seem real?”

“Do you not understand?” he returned, with a smile that might have slain
all the sorrows of all his children. “You CANNOT perfectly distinguish
between the true and the false while you are not yet quite dead; neither
indeed will you when you are quite dead--that is, quite alive, for then
the false will never present itself. At this moment, believe me, you are
on your bed in the house of death.”

“I am trying hard to believe you, father. I do indeed believe you,
although I can neither see nor feel the truth of what you say.”

“You are not to blame that you cannot. And because even in a dream you
believe me, I will help you.--Put forth your left hand open, and close
it gently: it will clasp the hand of your Lona, who lies asleep where
you lie dreaming you are awake.”

I put forth my hand: it closed on the hand of Lona, firm and soft and
deathless.

“But, father,” I cried, “she is warm!”

“Your hand is as warm to hers. Cold is a thing unknown in our country.
Neither she nor you are yet in the fields of home, but each to each is
alive and warm and healthful.”

Then my heart was glad. But immediately supervened a sharp-stinging
doubt.

“Father,” I said, “forgive me, but how am I to know surely that this
also is not a part of the lovely dream in which I am now walking with
thyself?”

“Thou doubtest because thou lovest the truth. Some would willingly
believe life but a phantasm, if only it might for ever afford them a
world of pleasant dreams: thou art not of such! Be content for a while
not to know surely. The hour will come, and that ere long, when, being
true, thou shalt behold the very truth, and doubt will be for ever dead.
Scarce, then, wilt thou be able to recall the features of the phantom.
Thou wilt then know that which thou canst not now dream. Thou hast
not yet looked the Truth in the face, hast as yet at best but seen him
through a cloud. That which thou seest not, and never didst see save
in a glass darkly--that which, indeed, never can be known save by its
innate splendour shining straight into pure eyes--that thou canst not
but doubt, and art blameless in doubting until thou seest it face to
face, when thou wilt no longer be able to doubt it. But to him who has
once seen even a shadow only of the truth, and, even but hoping he has
seen it when it is present no longer, tries to obey it--to him the real
vision, the Truth himself, will come, and depart no more, but abide with
him for ever.”

“I think I see, father,” I said; “I think I understand.”

“Then remember, and recall. Trials yet await thee, heavy, of a nature
thou knowest not now. Remember the things thou hast seen. Truly thou
knowest not those things, but thou knowest what they have seemed, what
they have meant to thee! Remember also the things thou shalt yet see.
Truth is all in all; and the truth of things lies, at once hid and
revealed, in their seeming.”

“How can that be, father?” I said, and raised my eyes with the question;
for I had been listening with downbent head, aware of nothing but the
voice of Adam.

He was gone; in my ears was nought but the sounding silence of the
swift-flowing waters. I stretched forth my hands to find him, but no
answering touch met their seeking. I was alone--alone in the land of
dreams! To myself I seemed wide awake, but I believed I was in a dream,
because he had told me so.

Even in a dream, however, the dreamer must do something! he cannot sit
down and refuse to stir until the dream grow weary of him and depart: I
took up my wandering, and went on.

Many channels I crossed, and came to a wider space of rock; there,
dreaming I was weary, I laid myself down, and longed to be awake.

I was about to rise and resume my journey, when I discovered that I lay
beside a pit in the rock, whose mouth was like that of a grave. It was
deep and dark; I could see no bottom.

Now in the dreams of my childhood I had found that a fall invariably
woke me, and would, therefore, when desiring to discontinue a dream,
seek some eminence whence to cast myself down that I might wake: with
one glance at the peaceful heavens, and one at the rushing waters, I
rolled myself over the edge of the pit.

For a moment consciousness left me. When it returned, I stood in the
garret of my own house, in the little wooden chamber of the cowl and the
mirror.

Unspeakable despair, hopelessness blank and dreary, invaded me with the
knowledge: between me and my Lona lay an abyss impassable! stretched a
distance no chain could measure! Space and Time and Mode of Being, as
with walls of adamant unscalable, impenetrable, shut me in from that
gulf! True, it might yet be in my power to pass again through the door
of light, and journey back to the chamber of the dead; and if so, I was
parted from that chamber only by a wide heath, and by the pale,
starry night betwixt me and the sun, which alone could open for me the
mirror-door, and was now far away on the other side of the world! but an
immeasurably wider gulf sank between us in this--that she was asleep and
I was awake! that I was no longer worthy to share with her that sleep,
and could no longer hope to awake from it with her! For truly I was much
to blame: I had fled from my dream! The dream was not of my making,
any more than was my life: I ought to have seen it to the end! and in
fleeing from it, I had left the holy sleep itself behind me!--I would go
back to Adam, tell him the truth, and bow to his decree!

I crept to my chamber, threw myself on my bed, and passed a dreamless
night.

I rose, and listlessly sought the library. On the way I met no one; the
house seemed dead. I sat down with a book to await the noontide: not
a sentence could I understand! The mutilated manuscript offered itself
from the masked door: the sight of it sickened me; what to me was the
princess with her devilry!

I rose and looked out of a window. It was a brilliant morning. With a
great rush the fountain shot high, and fell roaring back. The sun sat in
its feathery top. Not a bird sang, not a creature was to be seen. Raven
nor librarian came near me. The world was dead about me. I took another
book, sat down again, and went on waiting.

Noon was near. I went up the stairs to the dumb, shadowy roof. I closed
behind me the door into the wooden chamber, and turned to open the door
out of a dreary world.

I left the chamber with a heart of stone. Do what I might, all was
fruitless. I pulled the chains; adjusted and re-adjusted the hood;
arranged and re-arranged the mirrors; no result followed. I waited and
waited to give the vision time; it would not come; the mirror stood
blank; nothing lay in its dim old depth but the mirror opposite and my
haggard face.

I went back to the library. There the books were hateful to me--for I
had once loved them.

That night I lay awake from down-lying to uprising, and the next day
renewed my endeavours with the mystic door. But all was yet in vain. How
the hours went I cannot think. No one came nigh me; not a sound from the
house below entered my ears. Not once did I feel weary--only desolate,
drearily desolate.

I passed a second sleepless night. In the morning I went for the last
time to the chamber in the roof, and for the last time sought an open
door: there was none. My heart died within me. I had lost my Lona!

Was she anywhere? had she ever been, save in the mouldering cells of
my brain? “I must die one day,” I thought, “and then, straight from my
death-bed, I will set out to find her! If she is not, I will go to
the Father and say--‘Even thou canst not help me: let me cease, I pray
thee!’”



CHAPTER XLIV. THE WAKING

The fourth night I seemed to fall asleep, and that night woke indeed. I
opened my eyes and knew, although all was dark around me, that I lay in
the house of death, and that every moment since there I fell asleep
I had been dreaming, and now first was awake. “At last!” I said to my
heart, and it leaped for joy. I turned my eyes; Lona stood by my couch,
waiting for me! I had never lost her!--only for a little time lost the
sight of her! Truly I needed not have lamented her so sorely!

It was dark, as I say, but I saw her: SHE was not dark! Her eyes shone
with the radiance of the Mother’s, and the same light issued from her
face--nor from her face only, for her death-dress, filled with the light
of her body now tenfold awake in the power of its resurrection, was
white as snow and glistering. She fell asleep a girl; she awoke a woman,
ripe with the loveliness of the life essential. I folded her in my arms,
and knew that I lived indeed.

“I woke first!” she said, with a wondering smile.

“You did, my love, and woke me!”

“I only looked at you and waited,” she answered.

The candle came floating toward us through the dark, and in a few
moments Adam and Eve and Mara were with us. They greeted us with a quiet
good-morning and a smile: they were used to such wakings!

“I hope you have had a pleasant darkness!” said the Mother.

“Not very,” I answered, “but the waking from it is heavenly.”

“It is but begun,” she rejoined; “you are hardly yet awake!”

“He is at least clothed-upon with Death, which is the radiant garment of
Life,” said Adam.

He embraced Lona his child, put an arm around me, looked a moment or two
inquiringly at the princess, and patted the head of the leopardess.

“I think we shall meet you two again before long,” he said, looking
first at Lona, then at me.

“Have we to die again?” I asked.

“No,” he answered, with a smile like the Mother’s; “you have died into
life, and will die no more; you have only to keep dead. Once dying as we
die here, all the dying is over. Now you have only to live, and that you
must, with all your blessed might. The more you live, the stronger you
become to live.”

“But shall I not grow weary with living so strong?” I said. “What if I
cease to live with all my might?”

“It needs but the will, and the strength is there!” said the Mother.
“Pure life has no weakness to grow weary withal. THE Life keeps
generating ours.--Those who will not die, die many times, die
constantly, keep dying deeper, never have done dying; here all is
upwardness and love and gladness.”

She ceased with a smile and a look that seemed to say, “We are mother
and son; we understand each other! Between us no farewell is possible.”

Mara kissed me on the forehead, and said, gayly,

“I told you, brother, all would be well!--When next you would comfort,
say, ‘What will be well, is even now well.’”

She gave a little sigh, and I thought it meant, “But they will not
believe you!”

“--You know me now!” she ended, with a smile like her mother’s.

“I know you!” I answered: “you are the voice that cried in the
wilderness before ever the Baptist came! you are the shepherd whose
wolves hunt the wandering sheep home ere the shadow rise and the night
grow dark!”

“My work will one day be over,” she said, “and then I shall be glad with
the gladness of the great shepherd who sent me.”

“All the night long the morning is at hand,” said Adam.

“What is that flapping of wings I hear?” I asked.

“The Shadow is hovering,” replied Adam: “there is one here whom he
counts his own! But ours once, never more can she be his!”

I turned to look on the faces of my father and mother, and kiss them ere
we went: their couches were empty save of the Little Ones who had with
love’s boldness appropriated their hospitality! For an instant that
awful dream of desolation overshadowed me, and I turned aside.

“What is it, my heart?” said Lona.

“Their empty places frightened me,” I answered.

“They are up and away long ago,” said Adam. “They kissed you ere they
went, and whispered, ‘Come soon.’”

“And I neither to feel nor hear them!” I murmured.

“How could you--far away in your dreary old house! You thought the
dreadful place had you once more! Now go and find them.--Your parents,
my child,” he added, turning to Lona, “must come and find you!”

The hour of our departure was at hand. Lona went to the couch of the
mother who had slain her, and kissed her tenderly--then laid herself in
her father’s arms.

“That kiss will draw her homeward, my Lona!” said Adam.

“Who were her parents?” asked Lona.

“My father,” answered Adam, “is her father also.”

She turned and laid her hand in mine.

I kneeled and humbly thanked the three for helping me to die. Lona knelt
beside me, and they all breathed upon us.

“Hark! I hear the sun,” said Adam.

I listened: he was coming with the rush as of a thousand times ten
thousand far-off wings, with the roar of a molten and flaming world
millions upon millions of miles away. His approach was a crescendo chord
of a hundred harmonies.

The three looked at each other and smiled, and that smile went floating
heavenward a three-petaled flower, the family’s morning thanksgiving.
From their mouths and their faces it spread over their bodies and shone
through their garments. Ere I could say, “Lo, they change!” Adam and
Eve stood before me the angels of the resurrection, and Mara was the
Magdalene with them at the sepulchre. The countenance of Adam was like
lightning, and Eve held a napkin that flung flakes of splendour about
the place.

A wind began to moan in pulsing gusts.

“You hear his wings now!” said Adam; and I knew he did not mean the
wings of the morning.

“It is the great Shadow stirring to depart,” he went on. “Wretched
creature, he has himself within him, and cannot rest!”

“But is there not in him something deeper yet?” I asked.

“Without a substance,” he answered, “a shadow cannot be--yea, or without
a light behind the substance!”

He listened for a moment, then called out, with a glad smile, “Hark
to the golden cock! Silent and motionless for millions of years has
he stood on the clock of the universe; now at last he is flapping his
wings! now will he begin to crow! and at intervals will men hear him
until the dawn of the day eternal.”

I listened. Far away--as in the heart of an æonian silence, I heard the
clear jubilant outcry of the golden throat. It hurled defiance at
death and the dark; sang infinite hope, and coming calm. It was the
“expectation of the creature” finding at last a voice; the cry of a
chaos that would be a kingdom!

Then I heard a great flapping.

“The black bat is flown!” said Mara.

“Amen, golden cock, bird of God!” cried Adam, and the words rang through
the house of silence, and went up into the airy regions.

At his AMEN--like doves arising on wings of silver from among the
potsherds, up sprang the Little Ones to their knees on their beds,
calling aloud,

“Crow! crow again, golden cock!”--as if they had both seen and heard him
in their dreams.

Then each turned and looked at the sleeping bedfellow, gazed a moment
with loving eyes, kissed the silent companion of the night, and sprang
from the couch. The Little Ones who had lain down beside my father and
mother gazed blank and sad for a moment at their empty places, then slid
slowly to the floor. There they fell each into the other’s arms, as if
then first, each by the other’s eyes, assured they were alive and awake.
Suddenly spying Lona, they came running, radiant with bliss, to embrace
her. Odu, catching sight of the leopardess on the feet of the princess,
bounded to her next, and throwing an arm over the great sleeping head,
fondled and kissed it.

“Wake up, wake up, darling!” he cried; “it is time to wake!”

The leopardess did not move.

“She has slept herself cold!” he said to Mara, with an upcast look of
appealing consternation.

“She is waiting for the princess to wake, my child,” said Mara.

Odu looked at the princess, and saw beside her, still asleep, two of his
companions. He flew at them.

“Wake up! wake up!” he cried, and pushed and pulled, now this one, now
that.

But soon he began to look troubled, and turned to me with misty eyes.

“They will not wake!” he said. “And why are they so cold?”

“They too are waiting for the princess,” I answered.

He stretched across, and laid his hand on her face.

“She is cold too! What is it?” he cried--and looked round in wondering
dismay.

Adam went to him.

“Her wake is not ripe yet,” he said: “she is busy forgetting. When she
has forgotten enough to remember enough, then she will soon be ripe, and
wake.”

“And remember?”

“Yes--but not too much at once though.”

“But the golden cock has crown!” argued the child, and fell again upon
his companions.

“Peter! Peter! Crispy!” he cried. “Wake up, Peter! wake up, Crispy! We
are all awake but you two! The gold cock has crown SO loud! The sun is
awake and coming! Oh, why WON’T you wake?”

But Peter would not wake, neither would Crispy, and Odu wept outright at
last.

“Let them sleep, darling!” said Adam. “You would not like the princess
to wake and find nobody? They are quite happy. So is the leopardess.”

He was comforted, and wiped his eyes as if he had been all his life
used to weeping and wiping, though now first he had tears wherewith to
weep--soon to be wiped altogether away.

We followed Eve to the cottage. There she offered us neither bread nor
wine, but stood radiantly desiring our departure. So, with never a word
of farewell, we went out. The horse and the elephants were at the door,
waiting for us. We were too happy to mount them, and they followed us.



CHAPTER XLV. THE JOURNEY HOME

It had ceased to be dark; we walked in a dim twilight, breathing through
the dimness the breath of the spring. A wondrous change had passed upon
the world--or was it not rather that a change more marvellous had
taken place in us? Without light enough in the sky or the air to reveal
anything, every heather-bush, every small shrub, every blade of grass
was perfectly visible--either by light that went out from it, as fire
from the bush Moses saw in the desert, or by light that went out of our
eyes. Nothing cast a shadow; all things interchanged a little light.
Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling
idea--the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it
out. My bare feet seemed to love every plant they trod upon. The world
and my being, its life and mine, were one. The microcosm and macrocosm
were at length atoned, at length in harmony! I lived in everything;
everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know
its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at
home--was to know that we are all what we are, because Another is what
he is! Sense after sense, hitherto asleep, awoke in me--sense after
sense indescribable, because no correspondent words, no likenesses or
imaginations exist, wherewithal to describe them. Full indeed--yet ever
expanding, ever making room to receive--was the conscious being where
things kept entering by so many open doors! When a little breeze
brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself
in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which
responded their sweet TIN-TINNING**, myself in the joy of the sense, and
of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I
lent the hall of my being wherein to revel. I was a peaceful ocean
upon which the ground-swell of a living joy was continually lifting new
waves; yet was the joy ever the same joy, the eternal joy, with tens of
thousands of changing forms. Life was a cosmic holiday.

Now I knew that life and truth were one; that life mere and pure is
in itself bliss; that where being is not bliss, it is not life, but
life-in-death. Every inspiration of the dark wind that blew where it
listed, went out a sigh of thanksgiving. At last I was! I lived, and
nothing could touch my life! My darling walked beside me, and we were on
our way home to the Father!

So much was ours ere ever the first sun rose upon our freedom: what must
not the eternal day bring with it!

We came to the fearful hollow where once had wallowed the monsters of
the earth: it was indeed, as I had beheld it in my dream, a lovely lake.
I gazed into its pellucid depths. A whirlpool had swept out the soil in
which the abortions burrowed, and at the bottom lay visible the whole
horrid brood: a dim greenish light pervaded the crystalline water, and
revealed every hideous form beneath it. Coiled in spires, folded in
layers, knotted on themselves, or “extended long and large,” they
weltered in motionless heaps--shapes more fantastic in ghoulish,
blasting dismay, than ever wine-sodden brain of exhausted poet fevered
into misbeing. He who dived in the swirling Maelstrom saw none to
compare with them in horror: tentacular convolutions, tumid bulges,
glaring orbs of sepian deformity, would have looked to him innocence
beside such incarnations of hatefulness--every head the wicked
flower that, bursting from an abominable stalk, perfected its evil
significance.

Not one of them moved as we passed. But they were not dead. So long as
exist men and women of unwholesome mind, that lake will still be peopled
with loathsomenesses.

But hark the herald of the sun, the auroral wind, softly trumpeting
his approach! The master-minister of the human tabernacle is at hand!
Heaping before his prow a huge ripple-fretted wave of crimson and gold,
he rushes aloft, as if new launched from the urging hand of his maker
into the upper sea--pauses, and looks down on the world. White-raving
storm of molten metals, he is but a coal from the altar of the Father’s
never-ending sacrifice to his children. See every little flower
straighten its stalk, lift up its neck, and with outstretched head
stand expectant: something more than the sun, greater than the light, is
coming, is coming--none the less surely coming that it is long upon the
road! What matters to-day, or to-morrow, or ten thousand years to Life
himself, to Love himself! He is coming, is coming, and the necks of all
humanity are stretched out to see him come! Every morning will they thus
outstretch themselves, every evening will they droop and wait--until he
comes.--Is this but an air-drawn vision? When he comes, will he indeed
find them watching thus?

It was a glorious resurrection-morning. The night had been spent in
preparing it!

The children went gamboling before, and the beasts came after us.
Fluttering butterflies, darting dragon-flies hovered or shot hither and
thither about our heads, a cloud of colours and flashes, now descending
upon us like a snow-storm of rainbow flakes, now rising into the humid
air like a rolling vapour of embodied odours. It was a summer-day more
like itself, that is, more ideal, than ever man that had not died
found summer-day in any world. I walked on the new earth, under the new
heaven, and found them the same as the old, save that now they opened
their minds to me, and I saw into them. Now, the soul of everything I
met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came
from the same, and meant the same. I was going to him, they said, with
whom they always were, and whom they always meant; they were, they said,
lightnings that took shape as they flashed from him to his. The dark
rocks drank like sponges the rays that showered upon them; the great
world soaked up the light, and sent out the living. Two joy-fires were
Lona and I. Earth breathed heavenward her sweet-savoured smoke; we
breathed homeward our longing desires. For thanksgiving, our very
consciousness was that.

We came to the channels, once so dry and wearyful: they ran and flashed
and foamed with living water that shouted in its gladness! Far as the
eye could see, all was a rushing, roaring, dashing river of water made
vocal by its rocks.

We did not cross it, but “walked in glory and in joy” up its right bank,
until we reached the great cataract at the foot of the sandy desert,
where, roaring and swirling and dropping sheer, the river divided into
its two branches. There we climbed the height--and found no desert:
through grassy plains, between grassy banks, flowed the deep, wide,
silent river full to the brim. Then first to the Little Ones was
revealed the glory of God in the limpid flow of water. Instinctively
they plunged and swam, and the beasts followed them.

The desert rejoiced and blossomed as the rose. Wide forests had sprung
up, their whole undergrowth flowering shrubs peopled with song-birds.
Every thicket gave birth to a rivulet, and every rivulet to its
water-song.

The place of the buried hand gave no sign. Beyond and still beyond, the
river came in full volume from afar. Up and up we went, now along grassy
margin, and now through forest of gracious trees. The grass grew sweeter
and its flowers more lovely and various as we went; the trees grew
larger, and the wind fuller of messages.

We came at length to a forest whose trees were greater, grander, and
more beautiful than any we had yet seen. Their live pillars upheaved a
thick embowed roof, betwixt whose leaves and blossoms hardly a sunbeam
filtered. Into the rafters of this aerial vault the children climbed,
and through them went scrambling and leaping in a land of bloom,
shouting to the unseen elephants below, and hearing them trumpet their
replies. The conversations between them Lona understood while I but
guessed at them blunderingly. The Little Ones chased the squirrels,
and the squirrels, frolicking, drew them on--always at length allowing
themselves to be caught and petted. Often would some bird, lovely
in plumage and form, light upon one of them, sing a song of what was
coming, and fly away. Not one monkey of any sort could they see.



CHAPTER XLVI. THE CITY

Lona and I, who walked below, heard at last a great shout overhead, and
in a moment or two the Little Ones began to come dropping down from the
foliage with the news that, climbing to the top of a tree yet taller
than the rest, they had descried, far across the plain, a curious
something on the side of a solitary mountain--which mountain, they said,
rose and rose, until the sky gathered thick to keep it down, and knocked
its top off.

“It may be a city,” they said, “but it is not at all like Bulika.”

I went up to look, and saw a great city, ascending into blue clouds,
where I could not distinguish mountain from sky and cloud, or rocks from
dwellings. Cloud and mountain and sky, palace and precipice mingled in a
seeming chaos of broken shadow and shine.

I descended, the Little Ones came with me, and together we sped on
faster. They grew yet merrier as they went, leading the way, and never
looking behind them. The river grew lovelier and lovelier, until I knew
that never before had I seen real water. Nothing in this world is more
than LIKE it.

By and by we could from the plain see the city among the blue clouds.
But other clouds were gathering around a lofty tower--or was it a
rock?--that stood above the city, nearer the crest of the mountain.
Gray, and dark gray, and purple, they writhed in confused, contrariant
motions, and tossed up a vaporous foam, while spots in them gyrated like
whirlpools. At length issued a dazzling flash, which seemed for a
moment to play about the Little Ones in front of us. Blinding darkness
followed, but through it we heard their voices, low with delight.

“Did you see?”

“I saw.”

“What did you see?”

“The beautifullest man.”

“I heard him speak!”

“I didn’t: what did he say?”

Here answered the smallest and most childish of the voices--that of
Luva:--

“He said, ‘’Ou’s all mine’s, ‘ickle ones: come along!’”

I had seen the lightning, but heard no words; Lona saw and heard with
the children. A second flash came, and my eyes, though not my ears,
were opened. The great quivering light was compact of angel-faces. They
lamped themselves visible, and vanished.

A third flash came; its substance and radiance were human.

“I see my mother!” I cried.

“I see lots o’ mothers!” said Luva.

Once more the cloud flashed--all kinds of creatures--horses and
elephants, lions and dogs--oh, such beasts! And such birds!--great birds
whose wings gleamed singly every colour gathered in sunset or rainbow!
little birds whose feathers sparkled as with all the precious stones
of the hoarding earth!--silvery cranes; red flamingoes; opal pigeons;
peacocks gorgeous in gold and green and blue; jewelly humming
birds!--great-winged butterflies; lithe-volumed creeping things--all in
one heavenly flash!

“I see that serpents grow birds here, as caterpillars used to grow
butterflies!” remarked Lona.

“I saw my white pony, that died when I was a child.--I needn’t have been
so sorry; I should just have waited!” I said.

Thunder, clap or roll, there had been none. And now came a sweet rain,
filling the atmosphere with a caressing coolness. We breathed deep, and
stepped out with stronger strides. The falling drops flashed the colours
of all the waked up gems of the earth, and a mighty rainbow spanned the
city.

The blue clouds gathered thicker; the rain fell in torrents; the
children exulted and ran; it was all we could do to keep them in sight.

With silent, radiant roll, the river swept onward, filling to the margin
its smooth, soft, yielding channel. For, instead of rock or shingle or
sand, it flowed over grass in which grew primroses and daisies, crocuses
and narcissi, pimpernels and anemones, a starry multitude, large and
bright through the brilliant water. The river had gathered no turbid
cloudiness from the rain, not even a tinge of yellow or brown; the
delicate mass shone with the pale berylline gleam that ascended from its
deep, dainty bed.

Drawing nearer to the mountain, we saw that the river came from its very
peak, and rushed in full volume through the main street of the city.
It descended to the gate by a stair of deep and wide steps, mingled of
porphyry and serpentine, which continued to the foot of the mountain.
There arriving we found shallower steps on both banks, leading up to
the gate, and along the ascending street. Without the briefest halt, the
Little Ones ran straight up the stair to the gate, which stood open.

Outside, on the landing, sat the portress, a woman-angel of dark visage,
leaning her shadowed brow on her idle hand. The children rushed upon
her, covering her with caresses, and ere she understood, they had taken
heaven by surprise, and were already in the city, still mounting the
stair by the side of the descending torrent. A great angel, attended
by a company of shining ones, came down to meet and receive them, but
merrily evading them all, up still they ran. In merry dance, however,
a group of woman-angels descended upon them, and in a moment they were
fettered in heavenly arms. The radiants carried them away, and I saw
them no more.

“Ah!” said the mighty angel, continuing his descent to meet us who were
now almost at the gate and within hearing of his words, “this is well!
these are soldiers to take heaven itself by storm!--I hear of a horde of
black bats on the frontiers: these will make short work with such!”

Seeing the horse and the elephants clambering up behind us--

“Take those animals to the royal stables,” he added; “there tend them;
then turn them into the king’s forest.”

“Welcome home!” he said to us, bending low with the sweetest smile.

Immediately he turned and led the way higher. The scales of his armour
flashed like flakes of lightning.

Thought cannot form itself to tell what I felt, thus received by the
officers of heaven***. All I wanted and knew not, must be on its way to
me!

We stood for a moment at the gate whence issued roaring the radiant
river. I know not whence came the stones that fashioned it, but among
them I saw the prototypes of all the gems I had loved on earth--far more
beautiful than they, for these were living stones--such in which I saw,
not the intent alone, but the intender too; not the idea alone, but the
imbodier present, the operant outsender: nothing in this kingdom was
dead; nothing was mere; nothing only a thing.

We went up through the city and passed out. There was no wall on the
upper side, but a huge pile of broken rocks, upsloping like the moraine
of an eternal glacier; and through the openings between the rocks, the
river came billowing out. On their top I could dimly discern what seemed
three or four great steps of a stair, disappearing in a cloud white as
snow; and above the steps I saw, but with my mind’s eye only, as it were
a grand old chair, the throne of the Ancient of Days. Over and under and
between those steps issued, plenteously, unceasingly new-born, the river
of the water of life.

The great angel could guide us no farther: those rocks we must ascend
alone!

My heart beating with hope and desire, I held faster the hand of my
Lona, and we began to climb; but soon we let each other go, to use hands
as well as feet in the toilsome ascent of the huge stones. At length
we drew near the cloud, which hung down the steps like the borders of a
garment, passed through the fringe, and entered the deep folds. A hand,
warm and strong, laid hold of mine, and drew me to a little door with a
golden lock. The door opened; the hand let mine go, and pushed me gently
through. I turned quickly, and saw the board of a large book in the act
of closing behind me. I stood alone in my library.



CHAPTER XLVII. THE “ENDLESS ENDING”

As yet I have not found Lona, but Mara is much with me. She has taught
me many things, and is teaching me more.

Can it be that that last waking also was in the dream? that I am still
in the chamber of death, asleep and dreaming, not yet ripe enough to
wake? Or can it be that I did not go to sleep outright and heartily,
and so have come awake too soon? If that waking was itself but a dream,
surely it was a dream of a better waking yet to come, and I have not
been the sport of a false vision! Such a dream must have yet lovelier
truth at the heart of its dreaming!

In moments of doubt I cry,

“Could God Himself create such lovely things as I dreamed?”

“Whence then came thy dream?” answers Hope.

“Out of my dark self, into the light of my consciousness.”

“But whence first into thy dark self?” rejoins Hope.

“My brain was its mother, and the fever in my blood its father.”

“Say rather,” suggests Hope, “thy brain was the violin whence it issued,
and the fever in thy blood the bow that drew it forth.--But who made
the violin? and who guided the bow across its strings? Say rather,
again--who set the song birds each on its bough in the tree of life, and
startled each in its order from its perch? Whence came the fantasia? and
whence the life that danced thereto? Didst THOU say, in the dark of thy
own unconscious self, ‘Let beauty be; let truth seem!’ and straightway
beauty was, and truth but seemed?”

Man dreams and desires; God broods and wills and quickens.

When a man dreams his own dream, he is the sport of his dream; when
Another gives it him, that Other is able to fulfil it.

I have never again sought the mirror. The hand sent me back: I will not
go out again by that door! “All the days of my appointed time will I
wait till my change come.”

Now and then, when I look round on my books, they seem to waver as if
a wind rippled their solid mass, and another world were about to break
through. Sometimes when I am abroad, a like thing takes place; the
heavens and the earth, the trees and the grass appear for a moment to
shake as if about to pass away; then, lo, they have settled again into
the old familiar face! At times I seem to hear whisperings around me, as
if some that loved me were talking of me; but when I would distinguish
the words, they cease, and all is very still. I know not whether these
things rise in my brain, or enter it from without. I do not seek them;
they come, and I let them go.

Strange dim memories, which will not abide identification, often,
through misty windows of the past, look out upon me in the broad
daylight, but I never dream now. It may be, notwithstanding, that, when
most awake, I am only dreaming the more! But when I wake at last into
that life which, as a mother her child, carries this life in its bosom,
I shall know that I wake, and shall doubt no more.

I wait; asleep or awake, I wait.

Novalis says, “Our life is no dream, but it should and will perhaps
become one.”



     *Chapter 42: William Law.

     **Chapter 45: Tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota
                   Che ‘l ben disposto spirito d’ amor turge.
                                        DEL PARADISO, x. 142.

     ***Chapter 46: Oma’ vedrai di sì fatti uficiali.
                                        Del Purgatorio, ii. 30.





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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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