Infomotions, Inc.Lore of Proserpine / Hewlett, Maurice, 1861-1923



Author: Hewlett, Maurice, 1861-1923
Title: Lore of Proserpine
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): fairy; miranda king
Contributor(s): Robinson, Gordon [Illustrator]
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Title: Lore of Proserpine

Author: Maurice Hewlett

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Language: English

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                          LORE OF PROSERPINE



                                  BY

                           MAURICE HEWLETT



                           "Thus go the fairy kind,
                  Whither Fate driveth; not as we
                  Who fight with it, and deem us free
                  Therefore, and after pine, or strain
                  Against our prison bars in vain;
                  For to them Fate is Lord of Life
                  And Death, and idle is a strife
                  With such a master ..."

                                       _Hypsipyle_.



                       CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

                        NEW YORK : : : : 1913


                         COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY

                       CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS

       *       *       *       *       *

TO

DESPOINA

FROM WHOM, TO WHOM

ALL

       *       *       *       *       *




PREFACE


I hope nobody will ask me whether the things in this book are true,
for it will then be my humiliating duty to reply that I don't know.
They seem to be so to me writing them; they seemed to be so when they
occurred, and one of them occurred only two or three years ago. That
sort of answer satisfies me, and is the only one I can make. As I grow
older it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish one kind of
appearance from another, and to say, that is real, and again, that is
illusion. Honestly, I meet in my daily walks innumerable beings, to
all sensible signs male and female. Some of them I can touch, some
smell, some speak with, some see, some discern otherwise than by
sight. But if you cannot trust your eyes, why should you trust your
nose or your fingers? There's my difficulty in talking about reality.

There's another way of getting at the truth after all. If a thing is
not sensibly true it may be morally so. If it is not phenomenally true
it may be so substantially. And it is possible that one may see
substance in the idiom, so to speak, of the senses. That, I take it,
is how the Greeks saw thunder-storms and other huge convulsions; that
is how they saw meadow, grove and stream--in terms of their own fair
humanity. They saw such natural phenomena as shadows of spiritual
conflict or of spiritual calm, and within the appearance apprehended
the truth. So it may be that I have done. Some such may be the
explanation of all fairy experience. Let it be so. It is a fact, I
believe, that there is nothing revealed in this book which will not
bear a spiritual, and a moral, interpretation; and I venture to say of
some of it that the moral implications involved are exceedingly
momentous, and timely too. I need not refer to such matters any
further. If they don't speak for themselves they will get no help from
a preface.

The book assumes up to a certain point an autobiographical cast. This
is not because I deem my actual life of any interest to any one but
myself, but because things do occur to one "in time," and the
chronological sequence is as good as another, and much the most easy
of any. I had intended, but my heart failed me, to pursue experience
to the end. There was to have been a section, to be called "Despoina,"
dealing with my later life. But my heart failed me. The time is not
yet, though it is coming. I don't deny that there are some things here
which I learned from the being called Despoina and could have learned
from nobody else. There are some such things, but there is not very
much, and won't be any more just yet. Some of it there will never be
for the sorry reason that our race won't bear to be told fundamental
facts about itself, still less about other orders of creation which
are sufficiently like our own to bring self-consciousness into play.
To write of the sexes in English you must either be sentimental or a
satirist. You must set the emotions to work; otherwise you must be
quiet. Now the emotions have no business with knowledge; and there's a
reason why we have no fairy lore, because we can't keep our feelings
in hand. The Greeks had a mythology, the highest form of Art, and we
have none. Why is that? Because we can neither expound without wishing
to convert the soul, nor understand without self-experiment. We don't
want to know things, we want to feel them--and are ashamed of our
need. Mythology, therefore, we English must make for ourselves as we
can; and if we are wise we shall keep it to ourselves. It is a pity,
because since we alone of created things are not self-sufficient,
anything that seems to break down the walls of being behind which we
agonise would be a comfort to us; but there's a worse thing than being
in prison, and that is quarrelling with our own nature.

I shall have explained myself very badly if my reader leaves me with
the impression that I have been writing down marvels. The fact that a
thing occurs in nature takes it out of the portentous. There's nothing
either good or bad but thinking makes it so. With that I end.

       *       *       *       *       *




CONTENTS


PREFACE

THE WINDOWS

A BOY IN THE WOOD

HARKNESS'S FANCY

THE GODS IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE

THE SOUL AT THE WINDOW

QUIDNUNC

THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH

BECKWITH'S CASE

THE FAIRY WIFE

OREADS

A SUMMARY CHAPTER

       *       *       *       *       *




LORE OF PROSERPINE

THE WINDOWS


You will remember that Socrates considers every soul of us to be at
least three persons. He says, in a fine figure, that we are two horses
and a charioteer. "The right-hand horse is upright and cleanly made;
he has a lofty neck and an aquiline nose; his colour is white and his
eyes dark; he is a lover of honour and modesty and temperance, and the
follower of true glory; he needs no touch of the whip, but is guided
by word and admonition only. The other is a crooked lumbering animal,
put together anyhow; he has a short thick neck; he is flat-faced and
of a dark colour, with grey eyes of blood-red complexion; the mate of
insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and
spur." I need not go on to examine with the philosopher the acts of
this pair under the whip and spur of love, because I am not going to
talk about love. For my present purpose I shall suggest another
dichotomy. I will liken the soul itself of man to a house, divided
according to the modern fashion into three flats or apartments. Of
these the second floor is occupied by the landlord, who wishes to be
quiet, and is not, it seems, afraid of fire; the ground-floor by a
business man who would like to marry, but doubts if he can afford it,
goes to the city every day, looks in at his club of an afternoon,
dines out a good deal, and spends at least a month of the year at
Dieppe, Harrogate, or one of the German spas. He is a pleasant-faced
man, as I see him, neatly dressed, brushed, anointed, polished at the
extremities--for his boots vie with his hair in this particular. If he
has a fault it is that of jingling half-crowns in his trouser-pocket;
but he works hard for them, pays his rent with them, and gives one
occasionally to a nephew. That youth, at any rate, likes the cheerful
sound. He is rather fond, too, of monopolising the front of the fire
in company, and thinks more of what he is going to eat, some time
before he eats it, than a man should. But really I can't accuse him of
anything worse than such little weaknesses. The first floor is
occupied by a person of whom very little is known, who goes out
chiefly at night and is hardly ever seen during the day. Tradesmen,
and the crossing-sweeper at the corner, have caught a glimpse on rare
occasions of a white face at the window, the startled face of a queer
creature, who blinks and wrings at his nails with his teeth; who
peers at you, jerks and grins; who seems uncertain what to do; who
sometimes shoots out his hands as if he would drive them through the
glass: altogether a mischancy, unaccountable apparition, probably mad.
Nobody knows how long he has been here; for the landlord found him in
possession when he bought the lease, and the ground-floor, who was
here also, fancies that they came together, but can't be sure. There
he is, anyhow, and without an open scandal one doesn't like to give
him notice. A curious thing about the man is that neither landlord nor
ground-floor will admit acquaintance with him to each other, although,
if the truth were known, each of them knows something--for each of
them has been through his door; and I will answer for one of them, at
least, that he has accompanied the Undesirable upon more than one
midnight excursion, and has enjoyed himself enormously. If you could
get either of these two alone in a confidential mood you might learn
some curious particulars of their coy neighbour; and not the least
curious would be the effect of his changing the glass of the first
floor windows. It seems that he had that done directly he got into his
rooms, saying that it was impossible to see out of such windows, and
that a man must have light. Where he got his glass from, by whom it
was fitted, I can't tell you, but the effect of it is most
extraordinary. The only summary account I feel able to give of it at
the moment is that it transforms the world upon which it opens. You
look out upon a new earth, literally that. The trees are not trees at
all, but slim grey persons, young men, young women, who stand there
quivering with life, like a row of Caryatides--on duty, but tiptoe for
a flight, as Keats says. You see life, as it were, rippling up their
limbs; for though they appear to be clothed, their clothing is of so
thin a texture, and clings so closely that they might as well not be
clothed at all. They are eyed, they see intensely; they look at each
other so closely that you know what they would be doing. You can see
them love each other as you watch. As for the people in the street,
the real men and real women, as we say, I hardly know how to tell you
what they look like through the first floor's windows. They are
changed of everything but one thing. They occupy the places, fill the
standing-room of our neighbours and friends; there is a something
about them all by which you recognise them--a trick of the hand, a
motion of the body, a set of the head (God knows what it is, how
little and how much); but for all that--a new creature! A thing like
nothing that lives by bread! Now just look at that policeman at the
corner, for instance; not only is he stark naked--everybody is like
that--but he's perfectly different from the sturdy, good-humoured,
red-faced, puzzled man you and I know. He is thin, woefully thin, and
his ears are long and perpetually twitching. He pricks them up at the
least thing; or lays them suddenly back, and we see them trembling.
His eyes look all ways and sometimes nothing but the white is to be
seen. He has a tail, too, long and leathery, which is always curling
about to get hold of something. Now it will be the lamp-post, now the
square railings, now one of those breathing trees; but mostly it is
one of his own legs. Yet if you consider him carefully you will agree
with me that his tail is a more expressive remnant of the man you have
always seen there than any other part of him. You may say, and truly,
that it is the only recognisable thing left. What do you think of his
feet and hands? They startled me at first; they are so long and
narrow, so bony and pointed, covered with fine short hair which shines
like satin. That way he has of arching his feet and driving his toes
into the pavement delights me. And see, too, that his hands are
undistinguishable from feet: they are just as long and satiny. He is
fond of smoothing his face with them; he brings them both up to his
ears and works them forward like slow fans. Transformation indeed. I
defy you to recognise him for the same man--except for a faint
reminiscence about his tail.

But all's of a piece. The crossing-sweeper now has shaggy legs which
end in hoofs. His way of looking at young people is very
unpleasant;--and one had always thought him such a kindly old man. The
butcher's boy--what a torso!--is walking with his arm round the waist
of the young lady in Number seven. These are lovers, you see; but it's
mostly on her side. He tilts up her chin and gives her a kiss before
he goes; and she stands looking after him with shining eyes, hoping
that he will turn round before he gets to the corner. But he doesn't.

Wait, now, wait, wait--who is this lovely, straining, beating creature
darting here and there about the square, bruising herself, poor
beautiful thing, against the railings? A sylph, a caught fairy?
Surely, surely, I know somebody--is it?--It can't be. That careworn
lady? God in Heaven, is it she? Enough! Show me no more. I will show
you no more, my dear sir, if it agitates you; but I confess that I
have come to regard it as one of the most interesting spectacles in
London. The mere information--to say nothing of the amusement--which I
have derived from it would fill a volume; but if it did, I may add, I
myself should undoubtedly fill a cell in Holloway. I will therefore
spare you what I know about the Doctor's wife, and what happens to
Lieutenant-Colonel Storter when I see him through these windows--I
could never have believed it unless I had seen it. These things are
not done, I know; but observed in this medium they seem quite
ordinary. Lastly--for I can't go through the catalogue--I will speak
of the air as I see it from here. My dear sir, the air is alive,
thronged with life. Spirits, forms, lovely immaterial diaphanous
shapes, are weaving endless patterns over the face of the day. They
shine like salmon at a weir, or they darken the sky as redwings in the
autumn fields; they circle, shrieking as they flash, like swallows at
evening; they battle and wrangle together; or they join hands and
whirl about the square in an endless chain. Of their beauty, their
grace of form and movement, of the shifting filmy colour, hue blending
in hue, of their swiftness, their glancing eyes, their exuberant joy
or grief I cannot now speak. Beside them one man may well seem rat,
and another goat. Beside them, indeed, you look for nothing else. And
if I go on to hint that the owner of these windows is of them, though
imprisoned in my house; that he does at times join them in their
streaming flights beyond the housetops, and does at times carry with
him his half-bewildered, half-shocked and wholly delighted fellow
lodgers, I have come to the end of my tether and your credulity, and,
for the time at least, have flowered myself to death. The figure is as
good as Plato's though my Pegasus will never stable in his stall.

       *       *       *       *       *

We may believe ourselves to be two persons, at least, in one, and I
fancy that one at least of them is a constant. So far as my own pair
is concerned, either one of them has never grown up at all, or he was
born whole and in a flash, as the fairies are. Such as he was, at any
rate, when I was ten years old, such he is now when I am heavily more
than ten; and the other of us, very conscious of the flight of time
and of other things with it, is free to confess that he has little
more hold of his fellow with all this authority behind him than he had
when we commenced partnership. He has some, and thinks himself lucky,
since the bond between the pair is of such a nature as to involve a
real partnership--a partnership full of perplexity to the working
member of it, the ordinary forensic creature of senses, passions,
ambitions, and self-indulgences, the eating, sleeping, vainglorious,
assertive male of common experience--and it is not to be denied that
it has been fruitful, nor again that by some freak of fate or fortune
the house has kept a decent front to the world at large. It is still
solvent, still favourably regarded by the police. It is not, it never
will be, a mere cage of demons; its walls have not been fretted to
transparency; no passing eye can detect revelry behind its decent
stucco; no passing ear thrill to cries out of the dark. No, no.
Troubles we may have; but we keep up appearances. The heart knoweth
its own bitterness, and if it be a wise one, keepeth it to itself. I
am not going to be so foolish as to deny divergences of opinion, even
of practice, between the pair in me; but I flatter myself that I have
not allowed them to become a common nuisance, a cause of scandal, a
stumbling-block, a rock of offence, or anything of that kind. Uneasy
tenant, wayward partner as my recondite may be, he has had a
relationship with my forensic which at times has touched cordiality.
Influential he has not been, for his colleague has always had the
upper hand and been in the public eye. He may have instigated to
mischief, but has not often been allowed to complete his purpose. If I
am a respectable person it is not his fault. He seeks no man's
respect. If he has occasionally lent himself to moral ends, it has
been without enthusiasm, for he has no morals of his own, and never
did have any. On the other hand, he is by nature too indifferent to
temporal circumstances to go about to corrupt his partner. His main
desire has ever been to be let alone. Anything which tended to tighten
the bonds which held him to his co-tenant would have been a thing to
avoid. He desires liberty, and nothing less will content him. This he
will only have by inaction, by mewing his sempiternal youth in his
cage and on his perch.

But the tie uniting the pair of us is of such a nature that neither
can be uninfluenced by the other. It is just that you should hear both
sides of the case. My forensic, eating and arguing self has bullied my
other into hypocrisy over and over again. He has starved him, deprived
him of his holidays, ignored him, ridiculed him, snubbed him
mercilessly. This is severe treatment, you'll allow, and it's worse
even than it seems. For the unconscionable fellow, owing to this
coheirship which he pretends to disesteem, has been made privy to
experiences which must not only have been extraordinary to so plain
and humdrum a person, but which have been, as I happen to know, of
great importance to him, and which--to put the thing at its
highest--have lifted him, dull dog as he is, into regions where the
very dogs have wings. Out upon it! But he has been in and out with his
victim over leagues of space where not one man in ten thousand has
been privileged to fare. He has been familiar all his life with
scenes, with folk, with deeds undreamed of by thirty-nine and
three-quarters out of forty millions of people, and by that
quarter-million only known as nursery tales. Not only so, but he has
been awakened to the significance of common things, having at hand an
interpreter, and been enabled to be precise where Wordsworth was
vague. He has known Zeus in the thunder, in the lightning beheld the
shaking of the dread AEgis. In the river source he has seen the
breasted nymph; he has seen the Oreads stream over the bare hillside.
There are men who see these things and don't believe them, others who
believe but don't see. He has both seen and believed. The painted,
figured universe has for him a new shape; whispering winds and falling
rain speak plainly to his understanding. He has seen trees as men
walking. His helot has unlocked the world behind appearance and made
him free of the Spirits of Natural Fact who abide there. If he is not
the debtor of his comrade--and he protests the debt--he should be. But
the rascal laps it all up, as a cat porridge, without so much as a wag
of the tail for Thank-you. Such are the exorbitant overlords in mortal
men, who pass for reputable persons, with a chief seat at feasts.

Such things, you may say, read incredibly, but, _mutatis mutandis_, I
believe them to be common, though unrecorded, experience. I deprecate
in advance questions designed to test the accuracy of my eyesight or
the ingenuous habit of my pen. I have already declared that the
windows of my first-floor lodger are of such properties that they
show you, in Xenophon's phrase, [Greek: ta onta te os onta, kai ta me
onta os ouk onta]. Now consider it from his side. If I were to tell
the owner of those windows that I saw the policeman at the corner, a
helmeted, blue-tunicked, chin-scratching, ponderous man, some six foot
in his boots, how would he take it? Would he not mock me? What, that
rat? Ridiculous! And what on earth could I reply? I tell you, the
whole affair is one of windows, or, sometimes, of personally-conducted
travel; and who is Guide and who Guided, is one of those nice
questions in psychology which perhaps we are not yet ready to handle.
Of the many speculations as to the nature of the subliminal Self I
have never found one to be that he may be a fairy prisoner,
occasionally on parole. But I think that not at all unlikely. May not
metempsychosis be a scourge of two worlds? If the soul of my grandam
might fitly inhabit a bird, might not a Fairy ruefully inhabit the
person of my grandam? If Fairy Godmothers, perchance, were Fairy
Grandmothers! I have some evidence to place before the reader which
may induce him to consider this hypothesis. Who can doubt, at least,
that Shelley's was not a case where the not-human was a prisoner in
the human? Who can doubt that of Blake's? And what was the result,
forensically? Shelley was treated as a scoundrel and Blake as a
madman. Shelley, it was said, broke the moral law, and Blake
transcended common sense; but the first, I reply, was in the guidance
of a being to whom the laws of this world and the accidents of it
meant nothing at all; and to the second a wisdom stood revealed which
to human eyes was foolishness. Windows! In either case there was a
martyrdom, and human exasperation appeased by much broken glass. Let
us not, however, condemn the wreckers of windows. Who is to judge even
them? Who is to say even of their harsh and cruel reprisals that they
were not excusable? May not they too have been ridden by some wild
spirit within them, which goaded them to their beastly work? But if
the acceptance of the doctrine of multiple personality is going to
involve me in the reconsideration of criminal jurisprudence, I must
close this essay.

I will close it with the sentence of another philosopher who has
considered deeply of these questions. "It is to be observed," he says,
"that the laws of human conduct are precisely made for the conduct of
this world of Men, in which we live, breed, and pay rent. They do not
affect the Kingdom of the Dogs, nor that of the Fishes; by a parity of
reasoning they need not be supposed to obtain in the Kingdom of
Heaven, in which the schoolmen discovered the citizens dwelling in
nine spheres, apart from the blessed immigrants, whose privileges did
not extend so near to the Heart of the Presence. How many realms there
may be between mankind's and that ultimate object of pure desire
cannot at present be known, but it may be affirmed with confidence
that any denizen of any one of them, brought into relation with human
beings, would act, and reasonably act, in ways which to men might seem
harsh and unconscionable, without sanction or convenience. Such a
being might murder one of the ratepayers of London, compound a felony,
or enter into a conspiracy to depose the King himself, and, being
detected, very properly be put under restraint, or visited with
chastisement, either deterrent or vindictive, or both. But the true
inference from the premises would be that although duress or
banishment from the kingdom might be essential, yet punishment,
so-called, ought not to be visited upon the offender. For he or she
could not be _nostri juris_, and that which were abominable to us
might well be reasonable to him or her, and indeed a fulfilment of the
law of his being. Punishment, therefore, could not be exemplary, since
the person punished exemplified nothing to Mankind; and if vindictive,
then would be shocking, since that which is vindicated, in the mind
of the victim either did not exist, or ought not. The Ancient Greek
who withheld from the sacrifice to Showery Zeus because a thunder-bolt
destroyed his hayrick, or the Egyptian who manumitted his slaves
because a God took the life of his eldest son, was neither a pious,
nor a reasonable person."

There is much debatable matter in this considered opinion.




A BOY IN THE WOOD


I had many bad qualities as a child, of which I need mention only
three. I was moody, irresolute, and hatefully reserved. Fate had
already placed me the eldest by three years of a large family. Add to
the eminence thus attained intentions which varied from hour to hour,
a will so little in accordance with desire that I had rather give up a
cherished plan than fight for it, and a secretive faculty equalled
only by the magpie, and you will not wonder when I affirm that I lived
alone in a household of a dozen friendly persons. As a set-off and
consolation to myself I had very strongly the power of impersonation.
I could be within my own little entity a dozen different people in a
day, and live a life thronged with these companions or rivals; and yet
this set me more solitary than ever, for I could never appear in any
one of my characters to anybody else. But alone and apart, what worlds
I inhabited! Worlds of fact and worlds of fiction. At nine years old I
knew Nelson's ardour and Wellesley's phlegm; I had Napoleon's egotism,
Galahad's purity, Lancelot's passion, Tristram's melancholy. I
reasoned like Socrates and made Phaedo weep; I persuaded like Saint
Paul and saw the throng on Mars' Hill sway to my words. I was by turns
Don Juan and Don Quixote, Tom Jones and Mr. Allworthy, Hamlet and his
uncle, young Shandy and his. You will gather that I was a reader. I
was, and the people of my books stepped out of their pages and
inhabited me. Or, to change the figure, I found in every book an open
door, and went in and dwelt in its world. Thus I lived a thronged and
busy life, a secret life, full of terror, triumph, wonder, frantic
enterprise, a noble and gallant figure among my peers, while to my
parents, brothers and sisters I was an incalculable, fitful creature,
often lethargic and often in the sulks. They saw me mooning in
idleness and were revolted; or I walked dully the way I was bid and
they despaired of my parts. I could not explain myself to them, still
less justify, having that miserable veil of reserve close over my
mouth, like a yashmak. To my father I could not speak, to my mother I
did not; the others, being my juniors all, hardly existed. Who is to
declare the motives of a child's mind? What was the nature of this
reticence? Was it that my real habit was reverie? Was it, as I
suspect, that constitutional timidity made me diffident? I was a
coward, I am very sure, for I was always highly imaginative. Was it,
finally, that I was dimly conscious of matters which I despaired of
putting clearly? Who can say? And who can tell me now whether I was
cursed or blessed? Certainly, if it had been possible to any person my
senior to share with me my daily adventures, I might have conquered
the cowardice from which I suffered such terrible reverses. But it was
not. I was the eldest of a large family, and apparently the easiest to
deal with of any of it. I was what they call a tractable child, being,
in fact, too little interested in the world as it was to resent any
duties cast upon me. It was not so with the others. They were
high-spirited little creatures, as often in mischief as not, and
demanded much more pains then I ever did. What they demanded they got,
what I did not demand I got not: "Lo, here is alle! What shold I more
seye?"

How it was that, taking no interest in my actual surroundings, I
became aware of unusual things behind them I cannot understand. It is
very difficult to differentiate between what I imagined and what I
actually perceived. It was a favourite string of my poor father's
plaintive lyre that I had no eyes. He was a great walker, a poet, and
a student of nature. Every Sunday of his life he took me and my
brother for a long tramp over the country, the intense spiritual
fatigue of which exercise I should never be able to describe. I have a
sinking of the heart, even now, when I recall our setting out.
Intolerable labour! I saw nothing and said nothing. I did nothing but
plug one dull foot after the other. I felt like some chained slave
going to the hulks, and can well imagine that my companions must have
been very much aware of it. My brother, whose nature was much happier
than mine, who dreamed much less and observed much more, was the life
of these woeful excursions. Without him I don't think that my father
could have endured them. At any rate, he never did. I amazed,
irritated, and confounded him at most times, but in nothing more than
my apathy to what enchanted him.[1] The birds, the flowers, the trees,
the waters did not exist for me in my youth. The world for me was
uninhabited, a great empty cage. People passed us, or stood at their
doorways watching us, but I never saw them. If by chance I descried
somebody coming whom it would be necessary to salute, or to whom I
might have to speak, I turned aside to avoid them. I was not only shy
to a fault, as a diffident child must be, but the world of sense
either did not exist for me or was thrust upon me to my discomfort.
And yet all the while, as I moved or sat, I was surrounded by a stream
of being, of infinite constituents, aware of them to this extent that
I could converse with them without sight or speech. I knew they were
there, I knew them singing, whispering, screaming. They filled my
understanding not my senses. I did not see them but I felt them. I
knew not what they said or sang, but had always the general sense of
their thronging neighbourhood.

[Footnote 1: And me also when I was enabled at a later day to perceive
them. I am thankful to remember and record for my own comfort that
that day came not too late for my enchantment to overtake his and
proceed in company.]

I enlarge upon this because I think it justifies me in adding that,
observing so little, what I did observe with my bodily eyes must
almost certainly have been observable. But now let the reader judge.

The first time I ever saw a creature which was really outside ordinary
experience was in the late autumn of my twelfth year. My brother, next
in age to me, was nine, my eldest sister eight. We three had been out
walking with our mother, and were now returning at dusk to our tea
through a wood which covered the top of a chalk down. I remember
vividly the scene. The carpet of drenched leaves under bare branches,
the thin spear-like shafts of the underwood, the grey lights between,
the pale frosty sky overhead with the sickle moon low down in it. I
remember, too, various sensations, such as the sudden chill which
affected me as the crimson globe of the sun disappeared; and again
how, when we emerged from the wood, I was enheartened by the sight of
the village shrouded under chimney smoke and by the one or two
twinkling lights dotted here and there about the dim wolds.

In the wood it was already twilight and very damp. Perhaps I had been
tired, more likely bored--as I always was when I was not being
somebody else. I remember that I had found the path interminable. I
had been silent, as I mostly was, while the other two had chattered
and played about our mother; and when presently I stayed behind for a
purpose I remember that I made no effort to catch them up. I knew the
way perfectly, of course, and had no fear of the dark. Oddly enough I
had no fear of that. I was far less imaginative in the night than in
the day. Besides that, by the time I was ready to go after them I had
much else to think of.

I must have been looking at him for some time before I made out that
he was there. So you may peer into a thicket a hundred times and see
nothing, and then a trick of the light or a flutter of the mood and
you see creatures where you had been sure was nothing. As children
will, I had stayed longer than I need, looking and wondering into the
wood, not observing but yet absorbing the effects of the lights and
shades. The trees were sapling chestnuts if I am not mistaken, Spanish
chestnuts, and used for hop-poles in those parts. Their leaves decay
gradually, the fleshy part, so to speak, dropping away from the
articulation till at last bleached skeleton leaves remain and flicker
at every sigh of the wind. The ground was densely carpeted with other
leaves in the same state, or about to become so. The silver grey was
cross-hatched by the purple lines of the serried stems, and as the
view receded this dipped into blue and there lost itself. It was very
quiet--a windless fall of the light. To-day I should find it most
beautiful; and even then, I suspect, I felt its beauty without knowing
it to be so. Looking into it all without realising it, I presently and
gradually did realise something else: a shape, a creature, a thing of
form and pressure--not a wraith, not, I am quite certain, a trick of
the senses.

It was under a clump of the chestnut stems, kneeling and sitting on
its heels, and it was watching me with the bright, quick eyes of a
mouse. If I were to say that my first thought was of some peering and
waiting animal, I should go on to qualify the thought by reference to
the creature's eyes. They were eyes which, like all animals', could
only express one thing at a time. They expressed now attention, the
closest: not fear, not surprise, not apprehension of anything that I
might be meditating against their peace, but simply minute attention.
The absence of fear, no doubt, marked their owner off from the animals
of common acquaintance; but the fact that they did not at the same
time express the being itself showed him to be different from our
human breed. For whatever else the human pair of eyes may reveal, it
reveals the looker.

The eyes of this creature revealed nothing of itself except that it
was watching me narrowly. I could not even be sure of its sex, though
I believe it to have been a male, and shall hereafter treat of it as
such. I could see that he was young; I thought about my own age. He
was very pale, without being at all sickly--indeed, health and vigour
and extreme vivacity were implicit in every line and expressed in
every act; he was clear-skinned, but almost colourless. The shadow
under his chin, I remember, was bluish. His eyes were round, when not
narrowed by that closeness of his scrutiny of me, and though probably
brown, showed to be all black, with pupil indistinguishable from iris.
The effect upon me was of black, vivid black, unintelligent
eyes--which see intensely but cannot translate. His hair was dense and
rather long. It covered his ears and touched his shoulders. It was
pushed from his forehead sideways in a thick, in a solid fold, as if
it had been the corner of a frieze cape thrown back. It was dark hair,
but not black; his neck was very thin. I don't know how he was
dressed--I never noticed such things; but in colour he must have been
inconspicuous, since I had been looking at him for a good time without
seeing him at all. A sleeveless tunic, I think, which may have been
brown, or grey, or silver-white. I don't know. But his knees were
bare--that I remember; and his arms were bare from the shoulder.

I standing, he squatting on his heels, the pair of us looked full at
one another. I was not frightened, no more was he. I was excited, and
full of interest; so, I think, was he. My heart beat double time. Then
I saw, with a curious excitement, that between his knees he held a
rabbit, and that with his left hand he had it by the throat. Now, what
is extraordinary to me about this discovery is that there was nothing
shocking in it.

I saw the rabbit's wild and panic-blown eye, I saw the bright white
rim of it, and recognised its little added terror of me even in the
midst of its anguish. That must have been the conventional fright of a
beast of chase, an instinct to fear rather than an emotion; for of
emotions the poor thing must have been having its fill. It was not
till I saw its mouth horribly open, its lips curled back to show its
shelving teeth that I could have guessed at what it was suffering. But
gradually I apprehended what was being done. Its captor was squeezing
its throat. I saw what I had never seen before, and have never seen
since, I saw its tongue like a pale pink petal of a flower dart out as
the pressure drove it. Revolting sight as that would have been to me,
witnessed in the world, here, in this dark wood, in this outland
presence, it was nothing but curious. Now, as I watched and wondered,
the being, following my eyes' direction, looked down at the huddled
thing between his thighs, and just as children squeeze a snap-dragon
flower to make it open and shut its mouth, so precisely did he,
pressing or releasing the windpipe, cause that poor beast to throw
back its lips and dart its dry tongue. He did this many times while he
watched it; and when he looked up at me again, and while he continued
to look at me, I saw that his cruel fingers, as by habit, continued
the torture, and that in some way he derived pleasure from the
performance--as if it gratified him to be sure that effect was
following on cause inevitably.

I have never, I believe, been cruel to an animal in my life. I hated
cruelty then as I hate it now. I have always shirked the sight of
anything in pain from my childhood onwards. Yet the fact is that not
only did I nothing to interfere in what I saw going on, but that I
was deeply interested and absorbed in it. I can only explain that to
myself now, by supposing that I knew then, that the creature in front
of me was not of my own kind, and was not, in fact, outraging any law
of its own being. Is not that possible? May I not have collected
unawares so much out of created nature? I am unable to say: all I am
clear about is that here was a thing in the semblance of a boy doing
what I had never observed a boy do, and what if I ever had observed a
boy do, would have flung me into a transport of rage and grief. Here,
therefore, was a thing in the semblance of a boy who was no boy at
all. So much must have been as certain to me then as it is
indisputable now.

One doesn't, at that age, reason things out; one knows them, and is
dumb, though unconvinced, before powerful syllogisms to the contrary.
All children are so, confronted by strange phenomena. And yet I had
facts to go upon if, child as I was, I had been capable of inference.
I need only mention one. If this creature had been human, upon seeing
that I was conscious of its behaviour to the rabbit, it would either
have stopped the moment it perceived that I did not approve or was not
amused, or it would have continued deliberately out of bravado. But it
neither stopped nor hardily continued. It watched its experiment with
interest for a little, then, finding me more interesting, did not
discontinue it, but ceased to watch it. He went on with it
mechanically, dreamingly, as if to the excitation of some other sense
than sight, that of feeling, for instance. He went on lasciviously,
for the sake of the pleasure so to be had. In other words, being
without self-consciousness and ignorant of shame, he must have been
non-human.

After all, too, it must be owned that I cannot have been confronted by
the appearance for more than a few minutes. Allow me three to have been
spent before I was aware of him, three more will be the outside I can
have passed gazing at him. But I speak of "minutes," of course,
referring to my ostensible self, that inert, apathetic child who
followed its mother, that purblind creature through whose muddy lenses
the pent immortal had been forced to see his familiar in the wood, and
perchance to dress in form and body what, for him, needed neither to be
visible. It was this outward self which was now driven by circumstances
to resume command--the command which for "three minutes" by his
reckoning he had relinquished. Both of us, no doubt, had been much
longer there had we not been interrupted. A woodman, homing from his
work, came heavily up the path, and like a guilty detected rogue I
turned to run and took my incorruptible with me. Not until I had passed
the man did I think to look back. The partner of my secret was not then
to be seen. Out of sight out of mind is the way of children. Out of
mind, then, withdrew my incorruptible. I hurried on, ran, and overtook
my party half-way down the bare hillside. I still remember the feeling
of relief with which I swept into the light, felt the cold air on my
cheeks, and saw the intimacy of the village open out below me. I am
almost sure that my eyes held tears at the assurance of the sweet,
familiar things which I knew and could love. There, literally, were my
own people: that which I had left behind must be unlawful because it was
so strange. In the warmth and plenty of the lighted house, by the
schoolroom table, before the cosily covered teapot, amid the high talk,
the hot toast and the jam, my experience in the dusky wood seemed
unreal, lawless, almost too terrible to be remembered--never, never to
be named. It haunted me for many days, and gave rise to curious
wonderings now and then. As I passed the patient, humble beasts of
common experience--a carter's team nodding, jingling its brasses, a
donkey, patient, humble, hobbled in a paddock, dogs sniffing each other,
a cat tucked into a cottage window, I mused doubtfully and often whether
we had touched the threshold of the heart of their mystery. But for the
most part, being constitutionally timid, I was resolute to put the
experience out of mind. When next I chanced to go through the wood there
is no doubt I peered askance to right and left among the trees; but I
took good care not to desert my companions. That which I had seen was
unaccountable, therefore out of bounds. But though I never saw him there
again I have never forgotten him.




HARKNESS'S FANCY


I may have been a precocious child, but I cannot tell within a year or
two how soon it was that I attained manhood. There must have been a
moment of time when I clothed myself in skins, like Adam; when I knew
what this world calls good and evil--by which this world means nothing
more nor less than men and women, and chiefly women, I think. Savage
peoples initiate their young and teach them the taboos of society by
stripes. We allow our issue to gash themselves. By stripes, then, upon
my young flesh, I scored up this lesson for myself. Certain things were
never to be spoken of, certain things never to be looked at in certain
ways, certain things never to be done consciously, or for the pleasure
to be got out of them. One stepped out of childish conventions into
mannish conventions, and did so, certainly, without any instruction from
outside. I remember, for instance, that, as children, it was a rigid
part of our belief that our father was the handsomest man in the
world--handsome was the word. In the same way our mother was by
prerogative the most beautiful woman. If some hero flashed upon our
scene--Garibaldi, Lancelot of the Lake, or another--the greatest praise
we could possibly have given him for beauty, excellence, courage, or
manly worth would have put him second to our father. So also Helen of
Sparta and Beatrice of Florence gave way. That was the law of the
nursery, rigid and never to be questioned until unconsciously I grew out
of it, and becoming a man, put upon me the panoply of manly eyes. I now
accepted it that to kiss my sister was nothing, but that to kiss her
friend would be very wicked. I discovered that there were two ways of
looking at a young woman, and two ways of thinking about her. I
discovered that it was lawful to have some kinds of appetite, and to
take pleasure in food, exercise, sleep, warmth, cold water, hot water,
the smell of flowers, and quite unlawful so much as to think of, or to
admit to myself the existence of other kinds of appetite. I discovered,
in fact, that love was a shameful thing, that if one was in love one
concealed it from the world, and, above all the world, from the object
of one's love. The conviction was probably instinctive, for one is not
the descendant of puritans for nothing; but the discovery of it is
another matter. Attendance at school and the continuous reading of
romance were partly responsible for that; physical development clinched
the affair, I was in all respects mature at thirteen, though my courage
(to use the word in Chaucer's sense) was not equal to my ability. I had
more than usual diffidence against me, more than usual reserve; and
self-consciousness, from which I have only lately escaped, grew upon me
hand in hand with experience.

But being now become a day-scholar at the Grammar School, and thrown
whether I would or not among other boys of my own age, I sank my
recondite self deeply under the folds of my quickened senses. I became
aware of a world which was not his world at all. I watched, I heard, I
judged, I studied intently my comrades; and while in secret I shared
their own hardy lives, I was more than content to appear a cipher
among them. I had no friends and made none. All my comradeship with my
school-mates took place in my head, for however salient in mood or
inclination I may have been I was a laggard in action. In company I
was lower than the least of them; in my solitude, at their head I
captured the universe. Daily, to and fro, for two or three years I
journeyed between my home and this school, with a couple of two-mile
walks and a couple of train journeys to be got through in all weathers
and all conditions of light. I saw little or nothing of my
school-fellows out of hours, and lived all my play-time, if you can so
call it, intensely alone with the people of my imagination--to whose
number I could now add gleanings from the Grammar School.

I don't claim objective reality for any of these; I am sure that they
were of my own making. Though unseen beings throng round us all,
though as a child I had been conscious of them, though I had actually
seen one, in these first school years of mine the machinery I had for
seeing the usually unseen was eclipsed; my recondite self was fast in
his _cachot_--and I didn't know that he was there! But one may imagine
fairies enough out of one's reading, and going beyond that, using it
as a spring-board, advance in the work of creation from realising to
begetting. So it was with me. The _Faerie Queen_ was as familiar as
the Latin Primer ought to have been. I had much of Mallory by heart--a
book full of magic. Forth of his pages stepped men-at-arms and damsels
the moment I was alone, and held me company for as long as I would.
The persons of Homer's music came next to them. I was Hector and held
Andromache to my heart. I kissed her farewell when I went forth to
school, and hurried home at night from the station, impatient for her
arms. I was never Paris, and had only awe of Helen. Even then I dimly
guessed her divinity, that godhead which the supremest beauty really
is. But I was often Odysseus the much-enduring, and very well
acquainted with the wiles of Calypso. Next in power of enchantment
came certainly Don Quixote, in whose lank bones I was often encased.
Dulcinea's charm was very real to me. I revelled in her honeyed name.
I was Don Juan too, and I was Tom Jones; but my most natural
impersonation in those years was Tristram. The luxury of that
champion's sorrows had a swooning sweetness of their own of which I
never tired. Iseult meant nothing. I cared nothing for her. I was
enamoured of the hero, and saw myself drenched in his passion. Like
Narcissus in the fable, I loved myself, and saw myself, in Tristram's
form, the most beautiful and the most beloved of beings.

Chivalry and Romance chained me at that time and not the supernatural.
The fairy adventures of the heroes of my love swept by me untouched.
Morgan le Fay, Britomart, Vivien, Nimue, Merlin did not convince me;
they were picturesque conventions whose decorative quality I felt,
while so far as I was concerned they were garniture or apparatus. And
yet the fruitful meadows through which I took my daily way were as
forests to me; the grass-stems spired up to my fired fancy like great
trees. Among them I used to minish myself to the size of an ant and
become a pioneer hewing out a pathway through virgin thickets. I had
my ears alert for the sound of a horn, of a galloping horse, of the
Questing Beast and hounds in full cry. But I never looked to encounter
a fairy in these most fairy solitudes. Beleaguered ladies,
knights-errant, dwarfs, churls, fiends of hell, leaping like flames
out of pits in the ground: all these, but no fairies. It's very odd
that having seen the reality and devoured the fictitious, I should
have had zest for neither, but so it is.

As for my school-mates, though I had very little to say to them, or
they to me, I used to watch them very closely, and, as I have said,
came to weave them into my dreams. Some figured as heroes, some as
magnanimous allies, some as malignant enemies, some who struck me as
beautiful received of me the kind of idolatry, the insensate
self-surrender which creatures of my sort have always offered up to
beauty of any sort. I remember T----e, a very shapely and
distinguished youth. I worshipped him as a god, and have seen him
since--alas! I remember B---- also, a tall, lean, loose-limbed young
man. He was a great cricketer, a good-natured, sleepy giant, perfectly
stupid (I am sure) but with marks of breed about him which I could not
possibly mistake. Him, too, I enthroned upon my temple-frieze; he
would have figured there as Meleager had I been a few years older. As
it was, he rode a blazoned charger, all black, and feutred his lance
with the Knights of King Arthur's court. Then there was H----n, a
good-looking, good-natured boy, and T----r, another. Many and many a
day did they ride forth with me adventuring--that is, spiritually they
did so; physically speaking, I had no scot or lot with them. We were
in plate armour, visored and beplumed. We slung our storied shields
behind us; we had our spears at rest; we laughed, told tales, sang as
we went through the glades of the forest, down the rutted
charcoal-burner's track, and came to the black mere, where there lay a
barge with oars among the reeds. I can see, now, H----n throw up his
head, bared to the sky and slanting sun. He had thick and dark curly
hair and a very white neck. His name of chivalry was Sagramor. T----r
was of stouter build and less salient humour. He was Bors, a brother
of Lancelot's. I, who was moody, here as in waking life, was Tristram,
more often Tramtris.

Of other more sinister figures I remember two. R----s, who bullied me
until I was provoked at last into facing him; a greedy, pale,
lecherous boy, graceless, a liar, but extremely clever. I had a horror
of him which endures now. If he, as I have, had a dweller in the deeps
of him, his must have been a satyr. I cannot doubt it now. Disastrous
ally for mortal man! Vice sat upon his face like a grease; vice made
his fingers quick. He had a lickorous tongue and a taste for sweet
things which even then made me sick. So repulsive was he to me, so
impressed upon my fancy, that it was curious he did not haunt my inner
life. But I never met him there. No shape of his ever encountered me
in the wilds and solitary places. In the manifest world he afflicted
me to an extent which the rogue-fairy in the wood could never have
approached. Perhaps it was that all my being was forearmed against
him, and that I fought him off. At any rate he never trespassed in my
preserves.

The other was R----d, a bleared and diseased creature, a thing of pity
and terror to the wholesome, one of those outcasts of the world which
every school has to know and reckon with. A furtive, nail-bitten,
pick-nose wretch with an unholy hunger for ink, earth-worms and the
like. What terrible tenant do the likes of these carry about with
them! He, too, haunted me, but not fearfully; but he, too, I now
understand too well, was haunted and ridden to doom. I pitied him,
tried to be kind to him, tried to treat him as the human thing which
in some sort he was. I discovered that when he was interested he
forgot his loathsome cravings, and became almost lovable. I went home
with him once, to a mean house in ----. He took me into the backyard
and showed me his treasury--half a dozen rabbits, as many guinea-pigs,
and a raven with a bald head. He was all kindness to these prisoners,
fondled them with hands and voice, spoke a kind of inarticulate baby
language to them, and gave them pet names. He forgot his misery, his
poverty--I remember that he never had a handkerchief and always wanted
one, that his jacket-sleeves were near his elbow, and that his wrist
bones were red and broken. But now there shone a clear light in his
eye; he could face the world as he spoke to me of the habits of his
friends. We got upon some sort of terms by these means, and I always
had a kind of affection for poor R----d. In a sense we were both
outcasts, and might have warmed the world for each other. If I had not
been so entirely absorbed in my private life as to grudge any moment
of it unnecessarily spent I should have asked him home. But boys are
exorbitant in their own affairs, and I had no time to spare him.

I was a year at ---- before I got so far with any schoolfellow of mine
there; but just about the time of my visit to R----d I fell in with
another boy, called Harkness, who, for some reason of his own, desired
my closer acquaintance and got as much of it as I was able to give to
anybody, and a good deal more than he deserved or I was the better of.
He, too, was a day-boy, whose people lived in a suburb of the town
which lay upon my road. We scraped acquaintance by occasionally
travelling together so much of the way as he had to traverse; from
this point onward all the advances were his. I had no liking for him,
and, in fact, some of his customs shocked me. But he was older than I,
very friendly, and very interesting. He evidently liked me; he asked
me to tea with him; he used to wait for me, going and returning. I had
no means of refusing his acquaintance, and did not; but I got no good
out of him.

As he was older, so he was much more competent. Not so much vicious as
curious and enterprising, he knew a great many things which I only
guessed at, and could do much--or said that he could--which I only
dreamed about. He put a good deal of heart into my instruction, and
left me finally with my lesson learned. I never saw nor heard of him
after I left the school. We did not correspond, and he left no mark
upon me of any kind. The lesson learned, I used the knowledge
certainly; but it did not take me into the region which he knew best.
His grove of philosophy was close to the school, in K---- Park, which
is a fine enclosure of forest trees, glades, brake-fern and deer.
Here, in complete solitude, for we never saw a soul, my sentimental
education was begun by this self-appointed professor. As I remember,
he was a good-looking lad enough, with a round and merry face, high
colour, bright eyes, a moist and laughing mouth. Had he known the way
in he would have been at home in the Garden of Priapus, where perhaps
he is now. He was hardy in address, a ready speaker, rather eloquent
upon the theme that he loved, and I dare say he may have been as
fortunate as he said, or very nearly. Certainly what he had to tell me
of love and women opened my understanding. I believe that I envied him
his ease of attainment more than what he said he had attained. I might
have been stimulated by his adventures to be adventurous on my own
account, but I never was, neither at that time nor at any other. I am
quite certain that never in my life have I gone forth conquering and
to conquer in affairs of the heart. You need to be a Casanova--which
Harkness was in his little way--and I have had no aptitude for the
part. But as I said just now I absorbed his teachings and made use of
them. So far as he gave me food for reflection I ate it, and
assimilated it in my own manner. Neither by him nor by any person far
more considerable than himself has my imagination been moved in the
direction of the mover of it. Let great poet, great musician, great
painter stir me ever so deeply, I have never been able to follow him
an inch. I was excited by pictures to see new pictures of my own, by
poems to make poems--of my own, not of theirs. In these, no doubt,
were elements of theirs; there was a borrowed something, a quality, an
accent, a spirit of attack. But the forms were mine, and the setting
always so. All my life I have used other men's art and wisdom as a
spring-board. I suppose every poet can say the same. This was to be
the use to me of the lessons of the precocious, affectionate, and
philoprogenitive Harkness.

I remember very well one golden summer evening when he and I lay
talking under a great oak--he expounding and I plucking at the grass
as I listened, or let my mind go free--how, quite suddenly, the mesh
he was weaving about my groping mind parted in the midst and showed me
for an appreciable moment a possibility of something--it was no
more--which he could never have seen.

From the dense shade in which we lay there stretched out an avenue of
timber trees, whereunder the bracken, breast high, had been cut to
make a ride. Upon this bracken, and upon this smooth channel in the
midst the late sun streamed toward us, a soft wash of gold. Behind all
this the sky, pale to whiteness immediately overhead, deepened to the
splendid orange of the sunset. Each tree cast his shadow upon his
neighbour, so that only the topmost branches burned in the light.
Over and above us floated the drowsy hum of the insect world; rarely
we heard the moaning of a wood-dove, more rarely still the stirring of
deer hidden in the thicket shade. This was a magical evening, primed
with wonders, in the glamour of which Master Harkness could find
nothing better for him to rehearse than the progress of his amours
with his mother's housemaid. Yet something of the evening glow,
something of the opulence of summer smouldered in his words. He
painted his mistress with the colour of the sunset, he borrowed of it
burnt gold to deck her clay. He hymned the whiteness of her neck, her
slender waist, her whispers, the kisses of her mouth. The scamp was
luxuriating in his own imaginings or reminiscences, much less of a
lover and far more of a rhapsodist than he suspected. As such his paean
of precocious love stirred my senses and fired my imagination, but not
in the direction of his own. For the glow which he cast upon his
affair was a borrowed one. He had dipped without knowing into the
languid glory of the evening, which like a pool of wealth lay ready to
my hand also. I gave him faint attention from the first. After he had
started my thoughts he might sing rapture after rapture of his young
and ardent sense. For me the spirit of a world not his whispered, "_A
te convien tenere altro viaggio_," and little as I knew it, in my
vague exploration of that scene of beauty, of those scarcely stirring,
stilly burning trees, of that shimmering-fronded fern, of that misty
splendour, I was hunting for the soul of it all, for the informing
spirit of it all. Harkness's erotics gave ardour to my search, but no
clew. I lost him, left him behind, and never found him again. He fell
into the Garden of Priapus, I doubt. As for me, I believed that I was
now looking upon a Dryad. I was looking certainly at a spirit
informed. A being, irradiate and quivering with life and joy of life,
stood dipt to the breast in the brake; stood so, bathing in the light;
stood so, preening herself like a pigeon on the roof-edge, and saw me
and took no heed.

She had appeared, or had been manifest to me, quite suddenly. At one
moment I saw the avenue of lit green, at another she was dipt in it. I
could describe her now, at this distance of time--a radiant young
female thing, fiercely favoured, smiling with a fierce joy, with a
gleam of fierce light in her narrowed eyes. Upon her body and face was
the hue of the sun's red beam; her hair, loose and fanned out behind
her head, was of the colour of natural silk, but diaphanous as well as
burnished, so that while the surfaces glittered like spun glass the
deeps of it were translucent and showed the fire behind. Her garment
was thin and grey, and it clung to her like a bark, seemed to grow
upon her as a creeping stone-weed grows. Harkness would have admired
the audacity of her shape, as I did; but I found nothing provocative
in it. As well might a boy have enamoured himself of a slim tree as of
that unearthly shaft of beauty.

I said that she preened herself; the word is inexact. She rather stood
bathing in the light, motionless but for the lifting of her face into
it that she might dip, or for the bending of her head that the warmth
behind her might strike upon the nape of her neck. Those were all her
movements, slowly rehearsed, and again and again rehearsed. With each
of them she thrilled anew; she thrilled and glowed responsive to the
play of the light. I don't know whether she saw me, though it seemed
to me that our looks had encountered. If her eyes had taken me in I
should have known it, I think; and if I had known it I should have
quailed and looked at her no more. So shamefaced was I, so
self-conscious, that I can be positive about that; for far from
avoiding her I watched her intently, studied her in all her parts, and
found out some curious things.

Looking at her beside the oaks, for instance, whence she must have
emanated, I could judge why it was that I had not seen her come out.
Her colouring was precisely that of her background. Her garment, smock
or frock or vest as you will, was grey-green like the oak stems, her
whites were those of the sky-gleams, her roses those of the sun's
rays. The maze of her hair could hardly be told from the photosphere.
I tested this simply and summarily. Shutting my eyes for a second,
when I opened them she was gone. Shutting them again and opening,
there she was, sunning herself, breathing deep and long, watching her
own beauties as the light played with them. I tried this many times
and it did not fail me. I could, with her assistance, bring her upon
my retina or take her off it, as if I had worked a shutter across my
eyes. But as I watched her so I got very excited. Her business was so
mysterious, her pleasure in it so absorbing; she was visible and yet
secret; I was visible, and yet she could be ignorant of it. I got the
same throbbing sort of interest out of her as many and many a time I
have got since out of watching other wild creatures at their affairs,
crouching hidden where they could not discern me by any of their
senses. Few things enthral me more than that--and here I had my first
taste of it. I remember that my heart beat, I remember that I
trembled. Nothing could have torn me from the spot but what precisely
did, an alien intervention. The besotted Harkness stopped short in
his recital and asked me what I was staring at.

That was the end of it. I had rather have died than tell him. Perhaps
I was afraid of his mockery, perhaps I dared not risk his unbelief,
perhaps I felt ashamed that I had been prying, perhaps I grudged him
the sight of her moulded beauty and keen wild face. "What am I staring
at? Why, nothing," I said. I got up and put the strap of my school
satchel over my head. I never looked for her again before I walked
away. Whether she left when I left, whether she was really there or a
projection of my mind, whether my inner self, my prisoner, had seen
her, or my schoolboy self through his agency, whether it was a trick
of the senses, a dream, or the like I can't tell you. I only know that
I have now recalled exactly what I seemed to see, and that I have seen
her since--her or her co-mate--once or twice.

I can account for her now easily enough. I can assure myself that she
was really there, that she, or the like of her, pervades, haunts,
indwells all such places; but it seems that there must be a right
relation between the seer and the object before the unseen can become
the seen. Put it like this, that form is a necessary convention of our
being, a mode of consciousness just as space is, just as time, just
as rhythm are; then it is clear enough that the spirits of natural
fact must take on form and sensible body before we can apprehend them.
They take on such form for us or such body through our means; that is
what I mean by a right relation between them and ourselves. Now some
persons have the faculty of discerning spirits, that is, of clothing
them in bodily form, and others have not; but of those who have it all
do not discern them in the same form, or clothe them in the same body.
The form will be rhythmical to some, to other some audible, to others
yet again odorous, "aromatic pain," or bliss. These modes are no
matter, they are accidents of our state. They cause the form to be
relative, just as the conception of God is; but the substance is
constant. I have seen innumerable spirits, but always in bodily form.
I have never perceived them by means of any other sense, such as
hearing, though sight has occasionally been assisted by hearing. If
during an orchestral symphony you look steadily enough at one musician
or another you can always hear his instrument above the rest and
follow his part in the symphony. In the same way when I look at fairy
throngs I can hear them sing. If I single out one of them for
observation I hear him or her sing--not words, never words; they have
none. I saw once, like a driven cloud, the spirits of the North-west
wind sweep down the sky over the bare ridge of a chalk down, winged
and shrouded, eager creatures, embattled like a host. They were grey
and dun-coloured, pale in the face. Their hair swept forward, not
back; for it seemed as if the wind in gusts went faster than
themselves, and was driving them faster than they could go. Another
might well have heard these beings like a terrible, rushing music, as
cries of havoc or desolation, wild peals of laughter, fury and
exultation. But to me they were inaudible. I heard the volleying of
the wind, but them I saw. So in the still ecstasy of that Dryad
bathing in light I saw, beyond doubt, what the Greeks called by that
name, what some of them saw; and I saw it in their mode, although at
the time of seeing I knew nothing of them or their modes, because it
happened to be also my mode. But so far I did not more than see her,
for though I haunted the place where she had been she never came there
again, nor never showed herself. It became to me sacred ground, where
with awed breath I could say, "Here indeed she stood and bathed
herself. Here I really saw her, and she me;" and I encompassed it with
a fantastic cult of my own invention. It may have been very comic, or
very foolish, but I don't myself think it was either, because it was
so sincere, and because the impulse to do it came so naturally. I used
to bare my head; I made a point of saving some of my luncheon (which
I took with me to school) that I might leave it there. It was real
sacrifice that, because I had a fine appetite, and it was pure
worship. In my solitary hours, which were many, I walked with her of
course, talked and played with her. But that was another thing,
imagination, or fancy, and I don't remember anything of what we said
or did. It needs to be carefully distinguished from the first
apparition with which imagination, having nothing whatever to proceed
upon, had nothing whatever to do. One thing, however, I do remember,
that our relations were entirely sexless; and, as I write, another
comes into mind. I saw no affinity between her and the creature of my
first discovery. It never occurred to me to connect the two either
positively, as being inhabitants of a world of their own, or
negatively, as not being of my world. I was not a reflective boy, but
my mind proceeded upon flashes, by leaps of intuition. When I was
moved I could conceive anything, everything; when I was unmoved I was
as dull as a clod. It was idle to tell me to think. I could only think
when I was moved from within to think. That made me the despair of my
father and the vessel of my schoolmaster's wrath. So here I saw no
relationship whatsoever between the two appearances. Now, of course, I
do. I see now that both were fairies, informed spirits of certain
times or places. For time has a spirit as well as space. But more of
this in due season. I am not synthesising now but recording. One had
been merely curious, the other for a time enthralled me. The first had
been made when I was too young to be interested. The second found me
more prepared, and seeded in my brain for many a day. Gradually,
however, it too faded as fancy began to develop within me. I took to
writing, I began to fall in love; and at fifteen I went to a
boarding-school. Farewell, then, to rewards and fairies!




THE GODS IN THE SCHOOLHOUSE


Who am I to treat of the private affairs of my betters, to evoke your
fragrant names, Felicite, Perpetua, loves of my tender youth? Shall I
forget thee, Emilia, thy slow smile and peering brown eyes of mischief
or appeal? Rosy Lauretta, or thee, whom I wooed desperately from afar,
lured by thy buxom wellbeing, thy meek and schooled replies? And if I
forget you not, how shall I explore you as maladies, trace out the
stages of your conquest as if you were spores? Never, never. Worship
went up from me to you, and worship is religion, and religion is
sacred. So, my dears, were you, each of you in your turn, sacred in
your shrines. Before each of you in turn I fell down, suddenly, "_Come
corpo morto cadde_." And to each of you in turn I devoted those waking
hours which fancy had hitherto claimed of me. Yet this I do feel free
to say, by leave of you ladies, that calf-love has not the educative
value of the genuine passion. It is blind worship by instinct; it is a
sign of awakening sense, but it is not its awakener. It is a lovely
thing as all quick or burning growth is, but it has little relation
to the soul, and our Northern state is the more gracious that
consummation of it is not feasible. Apart from the very obvious
drawbacks there is one not quite so obvious: I mean the early
exhaustion of imaginative sympathy. Love, indeed, is an affair of
maturity. I don't believe that a man, in this country, can love before
forty or a woman before thirty-five. They may marry before that and
have children; and they will love their children, but very rarely each
other. I am thinking now of love at its highest rating, as that
passion which is able to lift a man to the highest flight of which the
soul is capable here on earth--a flight, mind you, which it may take
without love, as the poet's takes it, or the musician's, but which the
ordinary man's can only take by means of love. Calf-love is wholly a
sex matter, perfectly natural, mostly harmless, and nearly always a
beautiful thing, to be treated tenderly by the wise parent.

In my own case my mother treated it so, with a tact and a reverential
handling which only good women know, and I had it as I had mumps and
measles, badly, with a high temperature and some delirium but with no
aggravation from outside. It ran its course or its courses and left me
sane. One of its effects upon me was that it diverted the mind of my
forensic self from the proceedings or aptitudes of my recondite. I
neither knew nor cared what my wayward tenant might be doing; indeed,
so much was my natural force concerned in the heart-affair of the
moment that the other wretch within me lay as it were bound in a
dungeon. He never saw the light. The sun to him was dark and silent
was the moon. There, in fact, he remained for some five or six years,
while sex pricked its way into me intent upon the making of a man. He,
maybe, was to have something to say to that, something to do with
it--but not yet.

So much for calf-love; but now for a more important matter. I left the
Grammar School at S----, at the age when boys usually go to their
Harrow and Winchester, as well equipped, I daresay, as most boys of my
years; for with the rudiments I had been fairly diligent, and with
some of them even had become expert. I was well grounded in Latin and
French grammar, and in English literature was far ahead of boys much
older than myself. Looking back now upon the drilling I had at S----,
I consider it was well done; but I have to set against the benefits I
got from the system the fact that I had much privacy and all the
chance which that gives a boy to educate himself withal. My school
hours limited my intercourse with the school world. Before and after
them I could develop at my own pace and in my own way--and I did. I
believe that when I went to my great school I had the makings of an
interesting lad in me; but I declare upon my conscience that it was
that place only which checked the promise for ten years or more, and
might have withered it altogether.

My father was an idealist of 1851; he showed the enthusiasm and nursed
in his bosom the hopes and beliefs of the promoters of the
International Exhibition of that year. There was a plentiful planting
of foreign stock in England after that, and one of its weedy saplings
was an International Education Company, which out of a magniloquent
prospectus and some too-confident shareholders bore one fruit, the
London International College at Spring Grove. It never came to
maturity, and is now dropped and returned to the ground of all such
schemes. I suppose it had been on the stalk some fifteen years when I
went to feed of it.

The scheme, in fact, sprang out of enthusiasm and had no bottom in
experience. It may be true that all men are brothers, but it is not
logical to infer from that that all brothers are the better for each
other's society. The raw Brazilians, Chilians, Nicaraguans and what
not who were drawn from their native forests and plunged into the
company of blockish Yorkshire lads, or sharp-faced London boys, were
only scared into rebellion and to demonstration after their manner.
They used the knife sometimes; they hardly ever assimilated; and they
taught us nothing that we were the better of knowing. Quite the
contrary. We taught them football, I think, and I remember a negro
from Bermuda, a giant of a fellow who raged over the ground like a
goaded bull when that game was being played, to the consternation of
his opponents. He had a younger brother with inordinately long arms,
like a great lax ape, a cheerful, grinning, harmless creature as I
remember him. He was a football player too; his hug was that of an
octopus which swallowed you all. As for the English, in return for
their football lore they received the gift of tobacco. I learned to
smoke at fifteen from a Chilian called Perez, a wizened,
preternaturally wise, old youth. Nobody in the world could have been
wise as he looked, and nobody else in the school as dull as he really
was. Over this motley assembly was set as house-master a ferocious
Scotchman of great parts, but no discretion; and there were
assistants, too, of scholarship and refinement, who, if they had had
the genius for education, without which these things are nothing,
might have put humanity into some of us. When it was past the time I
discovered this, and one of them became my friend and helper. I then
discovered the tragedy of our system from the other side. For the
pain is a two-edged sword, and imbrues the breast of the pedagogue
even while it bleeds the pupil to inanition. That poor man, scholar,
gentleman, humourist, poet, as he was, held boys in terror. He
misdoubted them; they made him self-conscious, betrayed him into
strange hidden acts of violence, rendered him incapable of instruction
except of the most conventional kind. All his finer nature, his
humanism, was paralysed. We thought him a poor fool, and got a crude
entertainment out of his antics. Actually he was tormenting in a
flame; and we thought his contortions ridiculous. God help us all, how
are we to get at each other, caged creatures as we are! But this is
indeed a tragic business, and I don't want you to tear your hair.

I remained at Spring Grove, I think, four or five years, a barren,
profitless time. I remember scarcely one gleam of interest which
pierced for more than a few moments the thick gloom of it. The cruel,
dull, false gods of English convention (for thought it is not) held me
fast; masters and pupils alike were jailers to me. I ate and drank of
their provision and can recall still with nausea the sour, stale
taste, and still choke with the memory of the chaff and grit of its
quality. Accursed, perverse generation! God forbid that any child of
mine should suffer as I suffered, starve as I starved, stray where I
was driven to stray. The English boarding-school system is that of the
straw-yard where colts are broken by routine, and again of the
farmyard where pups are walked. Drill in school, _laissez-faire_ out
of it. It is at once too dull and too indolent to recognise character
or even to look for it; it recks nothing of early development or late;
it measures young humanity for its class-rooms like a tailor, with the
yard measure. The discipline of boy over boy is, as might be expected,
brutal or bestial. The school-yard is taken for the world in small,
and so allowed to be. There is no thought taken, or at least betrayed,
that it is nothing more than a preparation for the world at large.
There is no reason, however, to suppose that the International College
was worse than any other large boarding-school. I fancy, indeed, that
it was in all points like the rest. There were no traces in my time of
the Brotherhood of Man about it. A few Portuguese, a negro or two were
there, and a multitude of Jews. But I fancy I should have found the
same sort of thing at Eton.

I was not in any sense suited to such a place as this; if I had been
sent to travel it had been better for me. I was "difficult," not
because I was stiff but because I was lax. I resisted nothing except
by inertia. If my parents did not know me--and how should they?--if I
did not know myself, and I did not, my masters, for their part, made
no attempt to know me nor even inquired whether there might be
anything to know. I was unpopular, as might have been expected, made
no friends, did no good. My brother, on the other hand, was an ideal
schoolboy, diligent, brisk, lovable, abounding in friendships, good at
his work and excellent at his play. His career at Spring Grove was one
long happy triumph, and he deserved it. He has a charming nature, and
is one of the few naturally holy persons I know. Wholesome, thank God,
we all are, or could be; pious we nearly all are; but holiness is a
rare quality.

If I were to try and set down here the really happy memories which I
have of Spring Grove they would be three. The first was the revelation
of Greece which was afforded me by Homer and Plato. The surging music
and tremendous themes of the poet, the sweet persuasion of the sophist
were a wonder and delight. I remember even now the thrill with which I
heard my form-master translate for us the prayer with which the
_Phaedrus_ closes: "Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this
place...." Beloved Pan! My knowledge of Pan was of the vaguest, and
yet more than once or twice did I utter that prayer wandering alone
the playing field, or watching the evening mist roll down the Thames
Valley and blot up the elm trees, thick and white, clinging to the day
like a fleece. The third Iliad again I have never forgotten, nor the
twenty-fourth; nor the picture of the two gods, like vulture birds,
watching the battle from the dead tree. Nor, again, do I ever fail to
recapture the beat of the heart with which I apprehended some of
Homer's phrases: "Sandy Pylos," Argos "the pasture land of horses," or
"clear-seen" Ithaca. These things happened upon by chance in the dusty
class-room, in the close air of that terrible hour from two to three,
were as the opening of shutters to the soul, revealing blue distances,
dim fields, or the snowy peaks of mountains in the sun. One seemed to
lift, one could forget. It lasted but an instant; but time is of no
account to the inner soul, of no more account than it is to God. I
have never forgotten these moments of escape; nor can I leave Homer
without confessing that his books became my Bible. I accepted his
theology implicitly; I swallowed it whole. The Godhead of the
Olympians, the lesser divinity of Thetis and Alpheios and Xanthos were
indisputable. They were infinitely more real to me than the deities of
my own land; and though I have found room for these later on in life,
it has not been by displacing the others. Nor is there any need for
that, so far as I see. I say that out of Homer I took his Gods; I add
that I took them instantly. I seemed to breathe the air of their
breath; they appealed to my reason; I knew that they had existed and
did still exist. I was not shocked or shaken in my faith, either, by
anything I read about them. Young as I was and insipient, I was
prepared for what is called the burlesque Olympus of the Iliad, so
grievous to Professor Murray. I think I recognised then, what seems
perfectly plain to me now, that you might as well think meanly of a
God of Africa because the natives make him of a cocoanut on a stick,
as of Zeus and Hera because Homer says that they played peccant
husband and jealous wife. If Homer halted it is rash to assume that
Hephaistos did. The pathetic fallacy has crept in here. Mythology was
one of the few subjects I diligently read at school, and all I got out
of it was pure profit--for I realised that the Gods' world was not
ours, and that when their natures came in conflict with ours some such
interpretation must always be put upon their victory. We have a moral
law for our mutual wellbeing which they have not. We translate their
deeds in terms of that law of ours, and it certainly appears like a
standing fact of Nature that when the beings of one order come into
commerce with those of another the result will be tragic. There is
only a harmony in acquiescence, and the way to that is one of blood
and tears.

Brooding over all this I discerned dimly, even in that dusty, brawling
place, and time showed me more and more clearly, that I had always
been aware of the Gods and conscious of their omnipresence. It seemed
plain to me that Zeus, whose haunt is dark Dodona, lorded it over the
English skies and was to be heard in the thunder crashing over the
elms of Middlesex. I knew Athene in the shrill wind which battled
through the vanes and chimneys of our schoolhouse. Artemis was Lady of
my country. By Apollo's light might I too come to be led. Poseidon of
the dark locks girdled my native seas. I had had good reason to know
the awfulness of Pan, and guessed that some day I should couch with
Kore the pale Queen. I called them by these names, since these names
expressed to me their essence: you may call them what you will, and so
might I, for I had not then reasoned with myself about names. By their
names I knew them. The Gods were there, indeed, ignorantly worshipped
by all and sundry. Then the Dryad of my earlier experience came up
again, and I saw that she stood in such a relation to the Gods as I
did, perhaps, to the Queen of England; that she, no less than they,
was part of a wonderful order, and the visible expression of the
spirit of some Natural Fact. But whether above all the Gods and
nations of men and beasts there were one God and Father of us all,
whether all Nature were one vast synthesis of Spirit having
innumerable appearance but one soul, I did not then stay to inquire,
and am not now prepared to say. I don't mean by that at all that I
don't believe it. I do believe it, but by an act of religion; for
there are states of the individual mind, states of impersonal soul in
which this belief is a positive truth, in the which one exults madly,
or by it is humbled to the dust. Religion, to my mind, is the result
of this consciousness of kinship with the principle of Life; all the
emotion and moral uplifting involved in this tremendous certainty, and
all the lore gathered and massed about it--this is Religion. Young as
I was at the time I now speak of, ignorant and dumb as I was, I had my
moments of exultation and humility,--moments so wild that I was
transported out of myself. I left my body supine in its narrow bed and
soared above the stars. At such times, in an aether so deep that the
blue of it looked like water, I seemed to see the Gods themselves, a
shining row of them, upon the battlements of Heaven. I called Heaven
Olympus, and conceived of Olympus as a towered city upon a white hill.
Looming up out of the deep blue arch, it was vast and covered the
whole plateau: I saw the walls of it run up and down the ridges, in
and out of the gorges which cut into the mass. It had gates, but I
never saw forms of any who entered or left it. It was full of light,
and had the look of habitancy about it; but I saw no folk. Only at
rare moments of time while I hovered afar off looking at the wonder
and radiance of it, the Gods appeared above the battlements in a
shining row--still and awful, each of them ten feet high.

These were fine dreams for a boy of sixteen in a schoolhouse
dormitory. They were mine, though: but I dreamed them awake. I awoke
before they began, always, and used to sit up trembling and wait for
them.

An apologue, if you please. On the sacred road from Athens to Eleusis,
about midway of its course, and just beyond the pass, there is a fork
in it, and a stony path branches off and leads up into the hills.
There, in the rock, is a shallow cave, and before that, where once was
an altar of Aphrodite, the ruins of her shrine and precinct may be
seen. As I was going to Eleusis the other day, I stopped the carriage
to visit the place. Now, beside the cave is a niche, cut square in the
face of the rock, for offerings; and in that niche I found a fresh
bunch of field flowers, put there by I know not what dusty-foot
wayfarer. That was no longer ago than last May, and the man who did
the piety was a Christian, I suppose. So do I avow myself, without
derogation, I hope, to the profession; for no more than Mr. Robert
Kirk, a minister of religion in Scotland in the seventeenth century,
do I consider that a knowledge of the Gods is incompatible with belief
in God. There is a fine distinction for you: I believe that God
exists; I infer him by reason stimulated by desire. But I know that
the Gods exist by other means than those. If I could be as sure of God
as I am of the Gods, I might perhaps be a better Christian, but I
should not believe any less in the Gods.

       *       *       *       *       *

I found religion through Homer: I found poetry through Milton, whose
_Comus_ we had to read for examination by some learned Board. If any
one thing definitely committed me to poesy it was that poem; and as
has nearly always happened to me, the crisis of discovery came in a
flash. We were all there ranked at our inky desks on some drowsy
afternoon. The books lay open before us, the lesson, I suppose,
prepared. But what followed had not been prepared--that some one began
to read:

    "The star that bids the shepherd fold
    Now the top of Heav'n doth hold;
    And the gilded car of day
    His glowing axle doth allay
    In the steep Atlantic stream"--

and immediately, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, it was
changed--for me--from verse to poetry; that is, from a jingle to a
significant fact. It was more than it appeared; it was transfigured;
its implication was manifest. That's all I can say--except this, that,
untried as I was, I jumped into the poetic skin of the thing, and felt
as if I had written it. I knew all about it, "_e'l chi, e'l quale_"; I
was privy to its intricacy; I caught without instruction the
alternating beat in the second line, and savoured all the good words,
_gilded car_, _glowing axle_, _Star that bids the shepherd fold_.
_Allay_ ravished me, young as I was. I knew why he had called the
Atlantic stream _steep_, and remembered Homer's "[Greek: Stugos
hudatos aipa rheethra]." Good soul, our pedagogue suggested _deep_! I
remember to this hour the sinking of the heart with which I heard him.
But the flash passed and darkness again gathered about me, the normal
darkness of those hateful days. "Sabrina fair" lifted it; my sky
showed me an amber shaft. I am recording moments, the reader will
remember, the few gleams which visited me in youth. I was far from the
time when I could connect them, see that poetry was the vesture of
religion, the woven garment whereby we see God. Love had to teach me
that. I was not born until I loved.

My third happy memory is of a brief and idyllic attachment, very
fervent, very romantic, entirely my own, and as I remember it, now,
entirely beautiful. Nothing remains but the fragrance of it, and its
dream-like quality, the sense I have of straying with the beloved
through a fair country. Such things assure me that I was not wholly
dead during those crushing years of servitude.

But those are, as I say, gleams out of the dark. They comfort me with
the thought that the better part of me was not dead, but buried here
with the worse. They point also to the truth, as I take it to be, that
the lack of privacy is one of the most serious detriments of
public-school life. I don't say that privacy is good for all boys, or
that it is good for any unless they are provided with a pursuit. It is
true that many boys seek to be private that they may be vicious, and
that the having the opportunity for privacy leads to vice. But that is
nearly always the fault of the masters. Vice is due to the need for
mental or material excitement; it is a crude substitute for romance.
If a boy is debarred from good romance, because he doesn't feel it or
hasn't been taught to feel it, he will take to bad. It is nothing else
at all: he is bored. And remembering that a boy can only think of one
thing at a time, the single aim of the master should be to give every
boy in his charge some sane interest which he can pursue to the death,
as a terrier chases a smell, in and out, up and down, every nerve bent
and quivering. There is a problem of the teaching art which the
College at Spring Grove made no attempt to solve while I was there.
You either played football and cricket or you were negligible. I was
bad at both, was negligible, and neglected.

I suspect that my experiences are very much those of other people, and
that is why I have taken the trouble to articulate them, and perhaps
to make them out more coherent than they were. We don't feel in images
or think in words. The images are about us, the words may be at hand;
but it may well be that we are better without them. This world is a
tight fit, and life in it, as the Duke said of one day of his own
life, is "a devilish close-run thing." If the blessed Gods and the
legions of the half-gods in their habit as they live, were to be as
clear to us as our neighbour Tom or our chief at the office, what
might be the lot of Tom's wife, or what the security of our high stool
at the desk? As things are, our blank misgivings are put down to
nerves, our yearning for wings to original sin. The policeman at the
street corner sees to it, for our good, that we put out of sight these
things, and so we grow rich and make a good appearance. It is only
when we are well on in years that we can afford to be precise and,
looking back, to remember the celestial light, the glory and the
freshness of the dream in which we walked and bathed ourselves.




THE SOUL AT THE WINDOW


When I had been in London a year or two, and the place with its hordes
was become less strange and less formidable to me, I began to discover
it for myself. Gradually the towering cliffs resolved themselves into
houses, and the houses into shrouded holds, each with character and
each hiding a mystery. They now stood solitary which had before been
an agglutinated mass. Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.... I knew
one from the other by sight, and had for each a specific sensation of
attraction or repulsion, of affection or terror. I read through the
shut doors, I saw through the blank windows; not a house upon my daily
road but held a drama or promised a tragedy. I had no sense for comedy
in those days; life to me, waking life, was always a dreadful thing.
And sometimes my bodily eyes had glimpses which confirmed my
fancy--unexpected, sudden and vivid flashes behind curtained windows.
I once saw two men fighting, shadowed black upon a white blind. I once
looked out of a window at the Army and Navy Stores into a mean
bedroom across the way. There was a maidservant in there, making beds,
emptying slops, tidying this and that. Quite suddenly she threw her
head up with a real despair, and next moment she was on her knees by
the bed. Praying! I never saw prayer like that in this country. The
soul went streaming from her mouth like blown smoke. And again, one
night, very late, I was going to bed, and leaned out of my window for
air. Before me, across back yards, leafless trees, and a litter of
packing-cases and straw, rose up a dark rampart of houses, in the
midst of it a lit window. I saw a poorly furnished sitting-room--a
table with a sewing machine, a paraffin lamp, a chair with an
antimacassar. A man in his shirt sleeves sat there by the table,
smoking a pipe. Then the door opened and a tall, slim woman came in,
all in white, with loose dark hair floating about her shoulders. She
stood between door and table and rested her hand upon the edge of the
table. The man, after a while of continuing to read, quite suddenly
looked up and saw her. They looked at each other motionless. He cast
down his paper, sprang up and went to her. He fell to his knees before
her and clasped hers. She looked across, gravely considering, then
laid her hand upon his head. That was all. I saw no more. Husband and
wife? Mother and son? Sinner and Saviour? What do I know?

As with the houses, homes of mystery, so with the men and women one
passed; homes, they too, of things hidden yet more deep. The noise of
the streets, at first paralysing, died down to a familiar rumble, and
the ear began to distinguish voices in the tide. Sounds of crying,
calls for help, hailings, laughter, tears, separated themselves and
appealed. You heard them, like the cries of the drowning, drifting by
you upon a dark tide-way. You could do nothing; a word would have
broken the spell. The mask which is always over the face would have
covered the tongue or throttled the larynx. You could do nothing but
hear.

Finally, the passing faces became sometimes penetrable, betrayed by
some chance gleam of the eyes, some flicker of the lips, a secret to
be shared, or conveyed by a hint some stabbing message out of the deep
into the deep. That is what I mean by the soul at the window. Every
one of us lives in a guarded house; door shut, windows curtained. Now
and then, however, you look up above the street level and catch a
glimpse of the scared prisoner inside. He may be a satyr, a fairy, an
ape or an angel; he's a prisoner anyhow, who sometimes comes to the
window and looks strangely out. You may see him there by chance,
saying to himself like Chaucer's Creseyde in the temple, "Ascaunces,
What! May I not stonden here?" And I found out for myself that there
is scarcely a man or woman alive who does not hold such a tenant more
or less deeply within his house.

Sometimes the walls of the house are transparent, like a frog's foot,
and you see the prisoner throbbing and quivering inside. This is rare.
Shelley's house must have been a filmy tenement of the kind. With
children--if you catch them young enough--it is more common. I
remember one whom I used to see nearly every day, the child of poor
parents, who kept a green-grocer's shop in Judd Street, Saint Pancras,
a still little creature moving about in worlds not recognised. She was
slim and small, fair-haired, honey-coloured, her eyes wells of blue. I
used to see her standing at the door of the shop, amid baskets of
green stuff, crimsoned rhubarb, pyramided dates, and what not. I never
saw her dirty or untidy, nor heard her speak, nor saw her laugh. She
stood or leaned at the lintel, watching I know not what, but certainly
not anything really there, as we say. She appeared to be looking
through objects rather than at them. I can describe it no otherwise
than that I, or another, crossed her field of vision and was conscious
that her eyes met mine and yet did not see me. To me she was instantly
remarkable, not for this and not for any beauty she had--for she was
not at all extraordinary in that quality--but for this, that she was
not of our kind. Surrounded by other children, playing gaily, circling
about her, she was _sui generis_. She carried her own atmosphere,
whereby in the company of others she seemed unaccountable, by herself
only, normal. Nature she fitted perfectly, but us she did not fit.
Now, it is a curious thing, accepted by all visionaries, that a
supernatural being, a spirit, fairy, not-human creature, if you see it
among animals, beasts and birds, on hills or in the folds of hills,
among trees, by waters, in fields of flowers, _looks at home_ and
evidently is so. The beasts are conscious of it, know it and have no
fear of it; the hills and valleys are its familiar places in a way
which they will never be to the likes of us. But put a man beside it
and it becomes at once supernatural. I have seen spirits, beings,
whatever they may be, in empty space, and have observed them as part
of the landscape, no more extraordinary than grazing cattle or
wheeling plover. Again I have seen a place thick with them, as thick
as a London square in a snow-storm, and a man walk clean through them
unaware of their existence, and make them, by that act, a mockery of
the senses. So precisely it was with this strange child, unreal to me
when she was real to everybody else.

She had a name, a niche in the waking world. Marks, Greengrocer, was
the inscription of the shop. She was Elsie Marks. Her father was a
stout, florid man of maybe fifty years, with a chin-beard and
light-blue eyes. Good-humoured he seemed, and prosperous, something of
a ready wit, a respected and respectable man, who stamped his way
about the solid ground in a way which defied dreams.

If I had been experienced, I should have remarked the mother, but in
fact I barely remember her, though I spoke with her one day. She was
somewhat heavy and grave, I think, downcast and yet watchful. She did
her business efficiently, without enthusiasm, and did not enter into
general conversation with her customers. Her husband did that part of
the business. Marks was a merry Jew. I bought oranges of her once for
the sake of hearing her speak, and while she was serving me the child
came into the shop and stood by her. She leaned against her rather
than stood, took the woman's disengaged arm and put it round her neck.
Looks passed between them; the mother's sharply down, the child's
searchingly up. On either side there was pain, as if each tried to
read the other.

I was very shy with strangers. The more I wanted to get on terms with
them the less I was able to do it. I asked the child whether she liked
oranges.

I asked the child, but the mother answered me, measuring her words.

"She likes nothing of ours. It's we that like and she that takes."
That was her reply.

"I am sure that she likes you at any rate," I said. Her hold on the
child tightened, as if to prevent an escape.

"She should, since I bore her. But she has much to forgive me."

Such a word left me dumb. I was not then able to meet women on such
terms. Nor did I then understand her as I do now.

Here is another case. There was a slatternly young woman whom I
caught, or who caught me, unawares; who suddenly threw open the
windows and showed me things I had never dreamed.

Opposite the chambers in R---- Buildings where I worked, or was
intended to work, and across a wall, there was a row of tenements
called, if I remember, Gaylord's Rents. Part mews, part warehouses,
and all disreputable, the upper story of it, as it showed itself to me
over the wall, held some of the frowsiest of London's horde. Exactly
before my eyes was one of the lowest of these hovels, the upper part
of a stable, I imagine, since it had, instead of a window, a door, of
which half was always shut and half always open, so that light might
get in or the tenants lean out to take the air.

Here, and so leaning her bare elbows, I saw on most days of the week a
slim young woman airing herself--a pale-faced, curling-papered,
half-bodiced, unwashed drab of a girl, who would have had shame
written across her for any one to read if she had not seemed of all
women I have ever seen the least shamefaced. Her brows were as
unwritten as a child's, her smile as pure as a seraph's, and her eyes
blue, unfaltering and candid. She laughed a greeting, exchanged
gossip, did her sewing, watched events, as the case might be, was not
conscious of her servitude or anxious to market it. Sometimes she
shared her outlook with an old woman--a horrible, greasy go-between,
with straggling grey hair and a gin-inflamed face. She chatted with
this beldame happily, she cupped her vile old dewlap, or stroked her
dishonourable head; sometimes a man in shirt sleeves was with her,
treated her familiarly, with rude embraces, with kisses, nudges and
leers. She accepted all with good-humour and, really, complete good
breeding. She invited nothing, provoked nothing, but resented nothing.
It seemed to me as if all these things were indeed nothing to her;
that she hardly knew that they were done; as if her soul could render
them at their proper worth, transmute them, sherd them off, discard
them. It was, then, her surface which took them; what her soul
received was a distillation, an essence.

Then one night I had all made plain. She entranced me on a summer
night of stillness, under a full yellow moon. I was working late, till
past ten, past eleven o'clock, and looking out of my open window
suddenly was aware of her at hers. The shutter was down, both wings of
it, and she stood hovering, seen at full length, above the street.
She! Could this be she? It was so indeed--but she was transfigured,
illuminated from within; she rayed forth light. The moon shone full
upon her, and revealed her pure form from head to foot swathed in
filmy blue--a pale green-blue, the colour of ocean water seen from
below. Translucent webbery, whatever it was, it showed her beneath it
as bare as Venus was when she fared forth unblemished from the sea.
Her pale yellow hair was coiled above her head; her face looked mild
and radiant with a health few Londoners know. Her head was bent in a
considering way; she stood as one who is about to plunge into deep
water, and stands hesitating at the shock. Once or twice she turned
her face up, to bathe it in the light. I saw that in it which in human
faces I had never seen--communion with things hidden from men, secret
knowledge shared with secret beings, assurance of power above our
hopes.

Breathless I watched her, the drab of my daily observation, radiant
now; then as I watched she stretched out her arms and bent them
together like a shield so that her burning face was hidden from me,
and without falter or fury launched herself into the air, and dropt
slowly down out of my sight.

Exactly so she did it. As we may see a pigeon or chough high on the
verge of a sea-cliff float out into the blue leagues of the air, and
drift motionless and light--or descend to the sea less by gravity than
at will--so did she. There was nothing premeditated, there was nothing
determined on: mood was immediately translated into ability--she was
at will lighter or heavier than the air. It was so done that here was
no shock at all--she in herself foreshadowed the power she had.
Rather, it would have been strange to me if, irradiated, transplendent
as she was, she had not considered her freedom and on the instant
indulged it. I accepted her upon her face value without question--I
did not run out to spy upon her. _Ecce unus fortior me!_

In this case, being still new to the life into which I was gradually
being drawn, it did not for one moment occur to me to start an
adventure of my own. I might have accosted the woman, who was, as the
saying goes, anybody's familiar; or I might have spied for another
excursion of her spirit, and, with all preparation made, have followed
her. But I did neither of these things at the time. I saw her next
day leaning bare-elbowed on the ledge of her half-door, her hair in
curl-papers, her face the pale unwholesome pinched oval of most London
women of her class. Her bodice was pinned across her chest; she was
coarse-aproned, new from the wash-tub or the grate. Not a sign upon
her but told of her frowsy round. The stale air of foul lodgment was
upon her. I found out indeed this much about her ostensible state,
that she was the wife of a cab-driver whose name was Ventris. He was
an ill-conditioned, sottish fellow who treated her badly, but had
given her a child. But he was chiefly on night-work at Euston, and the
man whom I had seen familiar with her in the daytime was not he. Her
reputation among her neighbours was not good. She was, in fact, no
better than she should be--or, as I prefer to put it, no better than
she could be.

Yet I knew her, withal, as of the fairy-kind, bound to this
earth-bondage by some law of the Universe not yet explored; not
pitiable because not self-pitying, and (what is more important) not
reprehensible because impossible to be bound, as we are, soul to body.
I know that now, but did not know it then; and yet--extraordinary
thing--I was never shocked by the contrast between her two states of
being. This is to me a clear and certain evidence of their
reality--just as it is evidence to me that when, at ten years old, I
seemed to see the boy in the wood, I really did see him. An
hallucination or a dream upsets your moral balance. The things
impressed upon you are abnormal; and the abnormal disturbs you. Now
these apparitions did not seem abnormal. I saw nothing wonderful in
Mrs. Ventris's act. I was impressed by it, I was excited by it, as I
still am by a convulsion of nature--a thunder-storm in the Alps, for
instance, a water-spout at sea. Such things hold beauty and terror;
they entrance, they appal; but they never shock. They happen, and they
are right. I have not seen what people call a ghost, and I have often
been afraid lest I should see one. But I know very well that if ever I
did I should have no fear. I know very well that a natural fact
impresses its conformity with law upon you first and last. It becomes,
on the moment of its appearance, a part of the landscape. If it does
not, it is an hallucination, or a freak of the imagination, and will
shock you. I have much more extraordinary experiences than this to
relate, but there will be nothing shocking in these pages--at least
nothing which gave me the least sensation of shock. One of them--a
thing extraordinary to all--must occupy a chapter by itself. I cannot
precisely fit a date to it, though I shall try. And as it forms a
whole, having a beginning, a middle and an end, I shall want to
depart from my autobiographical plan and put it in as a whole. The
reader will please to recollect that it did not work itself out in my
consciousness by a flash. The first stages of it came so, in flashes
of revelation; but the conclusion was of some years later, when I was
older and more established in the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

But before I embark upon it I should like to make a large jump forward
and finish with the young woman of Gaylord's Rents. It was by accident
that I happened upon her at her mysteries, at a later day when I was
living in London, in Camden Town.

By that time I had developed from a lad of inarticulate mind and
unexpressed desires into a sentient and self-conscious being. I was
more or less of a man, not only adventurous but bold in the pursuit of
adventure. I lived for some two or three years in that sorry quarter
of London in complete solitude--"in poverty, total idleness and the
pride of literature," like Doctor Johnson, for though I wrote little I
read much, and though I wrote little I was most conscious that I was
about to write much. It was a period of brooding, of mewing my youth,
and whatever facility of imagination and expression I have since
attained I owe very much to my hermitage in Albert Street.

If I walked in those days it was by night. London at night is a very
different place from the town of business and pleasure of ordinary
acquaintance. During the day I fulfilled my allotted hours at the
desk; but immediately they were over I returned to my lodgings, got
out my books, and sat enthralled until somewhere near midnight. But
then, instead of going to bed, I was called by the night, and forth I
sallied all agog. I walked the city, the embankment, skirted the
parks, unless I were so fortunate as to slip in before gate-shutting.
Often I was able to remain in Kensington Gardens till the opening
hour. Highgate and its woods, Parliament Hill with its splendid
panorama of twinkling beacons and its noble tent of stars, were great
fields for me. Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon, even Richmond and Bushey
have known me at their most secret hour. Such experiences as I have
had of the preternatural will find their place in this book, but not
their chronological place, for the simple reason that, as I kept no
diary, I cannot remember in what order of time they befell me. But it
was on the southern slope of Parliament Hill that I came again upon
the fairy-woman of Gaylord's Rents.

I was there at midnight, a mild radiant night of late April. There
were sheep at graze there, for though it was darkish under the
three-quarter moon, I was used to the dark, and could see them, a
woolly mass, quietly feeding close together. I saw no shepherd
anywhere; but I remember that his dog sat on his haunches apart,
watching them. He was prick-eared, bright-eyed; he grinned and panted
intensely. I didn't then know why he was so excited, but very soon I
did.

I became aware, gradually, that a woman stood among the sheep. She had
not been there when I first saw them, I am sure; nor did I see her
approach them or enter their school. Yet there she was in the midst of
them, seen now by me as she had evidently been seen for some time by
the dog, seen, I suppose, by the sheep--at any rate she stood in the
midst of them, as I say, with her hand actually upon the shoulder of
one of them--but not feared or doubted by any soul of us. The dog was
vividly interested, but did not budge; the sheep went on feeding; I
stood bolt upright, watching.

I knew her the moment I saw her. She was the exquisitely formed, slim
and glowing creature I had seen before, when she launched herself into
the night as a God of Homer--Hermes or Thetis--launched out from
Olympus' top into the sea--"[Greek: ex aitheros empese ponto]," and
words fail me to describe the perfection of her being, a radiant
simulacrum of our own, the inconscient self-sufficiency, the buoyancy
and freedom which she showed me. You may sometimes see boys at their
maddest tip of expectation stand waiting as she now stood, quivering
on the extreme edge of adventure; yet even in their case there is a
consciousness of well being, a kind of rolling of anticipation upon
the palate, a getting of the flavours beforehand. That involves a
certain dissipation of activity; but here all was concentrated. The
whole nature of the creature was strung to one issue only, to that
point when she could fling headlong into activity--an activity in
which every fibre and faculty would be used. A comparison of the
fairy-kind with human beings is never successful, because into our
images of human beings we always import self-consciousness. They know
what they are doing. Fairies do not. But wait a moment; there is a
reason. Human creatures, I think, know what they are doing only too
well, because performance never agrees with desire. They know what
they are doing because it is never exactly what they meant to do, or
what they wanted to do. Now, with fairies, desire to do and
performance are instinctive and simultaneous. If they think, they
think in action. In this they are far more like animals than human
creatures, although the form in which they appear to us, their shape
and colouring are like ours, enhanced and refined. Here now stood this
creature in the semblance of a woman glorified, quivering; and so,
perched high on his haunches, sat the shepherd's dog, and no one could
look at the two and not see their kinship. _Arriere-pensee_ they had
none--and all's said in that. They were shameless, and we are full of
shame. There's the difference; and it is a gulf.

After a while of this quivering suspense she gave a low call, a long
mellow and tremulous cry which, gentle as it was, startled by its
suddenness, as the unexpected call of a water-fowl out of the reeds of
a pond makes the heart jump toward the throat. It was like some bird's
call, but I know of no bird's with which to get a close comparison. It
had the soft quality, soft yet piercing, of a redshank's, but it
shuddered like an owl's. And she held it on as an owl does. But it was
very musical, soft and open-throated, and carried far. It was answered
from a distance, first by a single voice; but then another took it up,
and another; and then another. Slowly so the soft night was filled
with musical cries which quavered about me as fitfully as fire-flies
gleam and glance in all quarters of a garden of olive-trees. It was
enchantment to the ear, a ravishing sound; but it was my eyes which
claimed me now, for soon I saw them coming from all quarters. Or
rather, I saw them there, for I can't say definitely that I saw any
one of them on the way. It is truer to say that I looked and they were
there. Where had been one were now two. Now two were five; now five
were a company; now the company was a host. I have no idea how many
there were of them at any time; but when they joined hands and set to
whirling in a ring they seemed to me to stretch round Parliament Hill
in an endless chain.

How can I be particular about them? They were of both sexes--that was
put beyond doubt; they were garbed as the first of them in something
translucent and grey. It had been quite easy in the lamplight to see
the bare form of the woman whom I first saw in Gaylord's Rents. It was
plain to me that her companions were in the same kind of dress. I
don't think they had girdles; I think their arms and legs were bare. I
should describe the garment as a sleeveless smock to the knees, or
perhaps, more justly, as a sack of silky gauze with a hole for the
head and two for the arms. That was the effect of it. It hung straight
and took the folds natural to it. It was so light that it clung
closely to the body where it met the air. What it was made of I have
no notion; but it was transparent or nearly so. I am pretty sure that
its own colour was grey.

They greeted each other; they flitted about from group to group
greeting; and they greeted by touching, sometimes with their hands,
sometimes with their cheeks. They neither kissed nor spoke. I never
saw them kiss even when they loved--which they rarely did. I saw one
greeting between two females. They ran together and stopped short
within touching distance. They looked brightly and intently at each
other, and leaning forward approached their cheeks till they
touched.[2] They touched by the right, they touched by the left. Then
they took hands and drew together. By a charming movement of
confidence one nestled to the side of the other and resting her head
looked up and laughed. The taller embraced her with her arm and held
her for a moment. The swiftness of the act and its grace were
beautiful to see. Then hand in hand they ran to others who were a
little further off. The elder and taller had a wild dark face with
stern lips, like a man's; the younger was a beautiful little creature
with quick, squirrel's motions. I remember her hair, which looked
white in that light, but was no doubt lint colour. It was extremely
long, and so fine that it clung to her shoulders and back like a web
of thin silk.

[Footnote 2: I argue from this peculiar manner of greeting, which I
have observed several times, that these beings converse by contact, as
dogs, cats, mice, and other creatures certainly do. I don't say that
they have no other means of converse; but I am sure I am exact in
saying that they have no articulate speech.]

They began to play very soon with a zest for mere irresponsible
movement which I have never seen in my own kind. I have seen young
foxes playing, and it was something like that, only incomparably more
graceful. Greyhounds give a better comparison where the rippling of
the body is more expressive of their speed than the flying of their
feet. These creatures must have touched the earth, but their bodies
also ran. And just as young dogs play for the sake of activity,
without method or purpose, so did these; and just as with young
animals the sexes mingle without any hint of sexuality, so did these.
If there was love-making I saw nothing of it there. They met on exact
equality so far as I could judge, the male not desirous, the female
not conscious of being desired.

But it was a mad business under the cloudy moon. It had a dream-like
element of riot and wild triumph. I suppose I must have been there for
two or three hours, during all which time their swift play was never
altogether stopped. There were interludes to be seen, when some three
or four grew suddenly tired and fell out. They threw themselves down
on the sward and lay panting, beaming, watching the others, or they
disappeared into the dark and were lost in the thickets which dot the
ground. Then finally I saw the great whirling ring of them form--under
what common impulse to frenzy I cannot divine. There was no signal,
no preparation, but as if fired in unison they joined hands, and
spreading out to a circumference so wide that I could distinguish
nothing but a ring of light, they whirled faster and faster till the
speed of them sang in my ears like harps, and whirling so, melted
away.

Later on and in wilder surroundings than this I saw, and shall relate
in its place, a dance of Oreads. It differed in detail from this one,
but not, I think, in any essential. This was my first experience of
the kind.




QUIDNUNC


I was so fired by that extraordinary adventure, that I think I could
have overcome my constitutional timidity and made myself acquainted
with the only actor in it who was accessible if I had not become
involved in another matter of the sort. But I don't know that I should
have helped myself thereby. To the night the things of the night
pertain. If I could have had speech with Mrs. Ventris in that season
of her radiancy there would have been no harm; but by day she was
another creature. Thereby contact was impossible because it would have
been horrible. It is true that a certain candour of conduct
distinguished her from the frowsy drabs with whom she must have
jostled in public-house bars or rubbed elbows at lodging-house doors,
a sort of unconsciousness of evil, which I take to have been due to an
entire absence of a moral sense. It is probable that she was not a
miserable sinner because she did not know what was miserable sin. Heat
and cold she knew, hunger and thirst, rage and kindness. She could not
be unwomanly because she was not woman, nor good because she could
not be bad. But I could have been very bad; and to me she was,
luckily, horrible. I could not divorce her two apparent natures, still
less my own. We are bound--all of us--by our natures, bound by them
and bounded. I could not have touched the pitch she lived with, the
pitch of which she was, without defilement. Let me hope that I
realised that much. I shall not say how my feet burned to enter that
slum of squalor where hovered this bird of the night, unless I add, as
I can do with truth, that I did not slake them there. I saw her on and
off afterward for a year, perhaps; but tenancies are short in London.
There was a flitting during one autumn when I was away on vacation,
and I came back to see new faces in the half-doorway and other elbows
on the familiar ledge.

But as I have said above, a new affair engrossed me shortly after my
night pageant on Parliament Hill. This was concerned with a famous
personage whom all knowing London (though I for one had not known it)
called Quidnunc.

But before I present to the curious reader the facts of a case which
caused so much commotion in distinguished bosoms of the late
"eighties," I think I should say that, while I have a strong
conviction as to the identity of the person himself, I shall not
express it. I accept the doctrine that there are some names not to be
uttered. Similarly I shall neither defend nor extenuate; if I throw it
out at all it will be as a hint to the judicious, or a clew, if you
like, to those who are groping a way in or out of the labyrinth of
Being. To me two things are especially absurd: one is that the
trousered, or skirted, forms we eat with, walk with, or pass unheeded,
are all the population of our world; the other, that these creatures,
ostensibly men or women with fancies, hopes, fears, appetites like our
own, are necessarily of the same nature as ourselves. If beings from
another sphere should, by intention or chance, meet and mingle with
us, I don't see how we could apprehend them at all except in our own
mode, or unless they were, so to speak, translated into our idiom. But
enough of that. The year in which I first met Quidnunc, so far as my
memory serves me, was 1886.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was in those days a student of the law, with chambers in Gray's Inn
which I daily attended; but being more interested in palaeography than
in modern practice, and intending to make that my particular branch of
effort, I spent much of my time at the Public Record Office; indeed, a
portion of every working day. The track between R---- Buildings and
Rolls Yard must have been sensibly thinned by my foot-soles; there
can have been few of the frequenters of Chancery Lane, Bedford Row and
the squares of Gray's Inn who were not known to me by sight or
concerning whom I had not imagined (or discerned) circumstances
invisible to their friends or themselves to account for their acts or
appearances. Among these innumerable personages--portly solicitors,
dashing clerks, scriveners, racing tipsters, match-sellers, postmen,
young ladies of business, young ladies of pleasure, clients descending
out of broughams, clients keeping rendezvous in public-houses, and
what not--Quidnunc's may well have been one; but I believe that it was
in Warwick Court (that passage from Holborn into the Inn) that, quite
suddenly, I first saw him, or became aware that I saw him; for being,
as he was, to all appearance an ordinary telegraphic messenger, I may
have passed him daily for a year without any kind of notice. But on a
day in the early spring of 1886--mid-April at a guess--I came upon him
in such a way as to remark him incurably. I saw before me on that
morning of tender leafage, of pale sunlight and blue mist contending
for the day, a strangely assorted pair proceeding slowly toward the
Inn. A telegraph boy was one; by his side walked, vehemently
explaining, a tall, elderly solicitor--white-whiskered, drab-spatted,
frock-coated, eye-glassed, silk-hatted--in every detail the trusted
family lawyer. I knew the man by sight, and I knew him by name and
repute. He was, let me say--for I withhold his real name--George
Lumley Fowkes, of Fowkes, Vizard and Fowkes, respectable head of a
more than respectable firm; and here he was, with his hat pushed back
from his dewy forehead, tip-toeing, protesting, extenuating to a slip
of a lad in uniform. The positions of the odd pair were unaccountably
reversed; Jack was better than his master, the deference was from the
elder to the brat. The stoop of Fowkes's shoulder, the anxious angle
of his head, his care to listen to the little he got--and how little
that was I could not but observe--his frequent ejaculations of "God
bless my soul!" his deep concern--and the boy's unconcern, curtly
expressed, if expressed at all--all this was singular. So much more
than singular was it to myself that it enthralled me.

They stopped at the gateway which admits you to Bedford Row to finish
their colloquy. The halt was made by Fowkes, barely acquiesced in by
his companion. Poor old Fowkes, what with his asthma, the mopping of
his head, the flacking of his long fingers, exhibited signals of the
highest distress. "I need hardly assure you, sir ..." I heard; and
then, "Believe me, sir, when I say...." He was marking time, unhappy
gentleman, for with such phrases does the orator eke out his waning
substance. The lad listened in a critical, staring mood, and once or
twice nodded. While I was wondering how long he was going to put up
with it, presently he jerked his head back and showed Fowkes, by the
look he gave him, that he had had enough of him. The old lawyer knew
it for final, for he straightened his back, then his hat, touched the
brim and made a formal bow. "I leave it so, sir," he said; "I am
content to leave it so;" and then, with every mark of respect, he went
his way into Bedford Row. I noticed that he walked on tiptoe for some
yards, and then more quickly, flapping his arms to his sides.

The boy stood thoughtful where he was, communing by the looks of him
quite otherwhere, and I had the opportunity to consider him. He
appeared to be a handsome, well-built lad of fifteen or so, big for
his age, and precocious. By that I mean that his scrutiny of life was
mature; that he looked capable, far beyond the warrant of his years.
He was ruddy of complexion, freckled, and had a square chin. His eyes
were light grey, with dark lashes to them; they were startlingly light
and bright for such a sunburnt face, and seemed to glow in it like
steady fires. It was in them that resided, that sat, as it were,
enthroned, that mature, masterful expression which I never saw before
or since in one so young. I have seen the eyes of children look as if
they were searching through our world into another; that is almost
habitual in children. But here was one, apparently a boy, who seemed
to read into our circumstances (as you or I into a well-studied book)
as though they held nothing inexplicable, nothing unaccounted for.
Beyond these singular two eyes of his, his smiling mouth, with its
reminder of archaic statuary, was perhaps his only noticeable feature.
He wore the ordinary uniform of a telegraphic messenger, which in
those days was grey, with a red line down the trousers and a belt for
the tunic. His boots were of the service pattern, so were his
ankle-jacks. His hands were not cleaner than they ought to have been,
his nails well bitten back. Such was he.

Studying him closely over the top of my newspaper, by-and-by he fixed
me with his intent, bright eyes. My heart beat quicker; but when he
smiled--like the Pallas of AEgina--I smiled too. Then, without varying
his expression, even while he smiled upon me, he vanished.

Vanished! There's no other word for it: he vanished; I did not see him
go; I don't know whether he went or where he went. At one moment he
was there, smiling at me, looking into my eyes; at the next moment he
was not there. That's all there is to say about it. I flashed a
glance through the gate into Bedford Row, another up to R----
Buildings, and even ran to the corner which showed me the length and
breadth of Field Place. He was not gone any of these ways. These
things are certain.

Now for the sequel. Mere fortune led me at four that afternoon into
Bedford Row. A note had been put into my hands at the Record Office
inviting me to call upon a client whose chambers were in that quarter,
and I complied with it directly my work was over. Now as I walked
along the Row, the boy of that morning's encounter was going into the
entry of the house in which Fowkes and Vizards have their offices. I
had just time to recognise him when the double knock announced his
errand. I stopped immediately; he delivered in a telegram and came
out. I was on the step. Whether he knew me or not he did not look his
knowledge. His eyes went through me, his smiling mouth did not smile
at me. My heart beat, I didn't know why; but I laughed and nodded. He
went his leisurely way and I watched him, this time, almost out of
sight. But while I stood so, watching, old Fowkes came bursting out of
his office, tears streaming down his face, the telegram in his hand.
"Where is he? Where is he?" This was addressed to me. I pointed the
way. Old Fowkes saw his benefactor (as I suppose him to have been)
and began to run. The lad turned round, saw him coming, waved him
away, and then--disappeared. Again he had done it; but old Fowkes, in
no way surprised, stood rooted to the pavement with his hands extended
so far toward the mystery that I could see two or three inches of bony
old wrist beyond his shirt-cuffs. After a while he turned and slowly
came back to his chambers. He seemed now not to see me; or he was
careless whether I saw him or not. As he entered the doorway he held
up the telegram, bent his head and laid a kiss upon the pink paper.

But that is by no means all. Now I come, to the Richborough story,
which all London that is as old as I am remembers. That part of
London, it may be, will not read this book; or if it does, will not
object to the recall of a case which absorbed it in 1886-87. I am not
going to be indiscreet. The lady married, and the lady left England.
Moreover, naturally, I give no names; but if I did I don't see that
there is anything to be ashamed of in what she was pleased to do with
her hand and person. It was startling to us of those days, it might be
startling in these; what was more than startling was the manner in
which the thing was done. That is known to very few persons indeed.

I had seen enough upon that April day, whose events form my prelude,
to give me remembrance of the handsome telegraph boy. The next time I
saw him, which was near midnight in July--the place Hyde Park--I knew
him at once.

I had been sharing in Prince's Gate, with a dull company, an
interminable dinner, one of those at which you eat twice as much as
you intend, or desire, because there is really nothing else to do. On
one side of me I had had a dowager whom I entirely failed to interest,
on the other, a young person who only cared to talk with her left-hand
neighbour. There was a reception afterward to which I had to stop, so
that I could not make my escape till eleven or more. The night was
very hot and it had been raining; but such air as there was was balm
after the still furnace of the rooms. I decided immediately to walk to
my lodging in Camden Town, entered by Prince's Gate, crossed the
Serpentine Bridge and took a bee-line for the Marble Arch. It was
cloudy, but not at all dark. I could see all the ankle-high railings
which beset the unwary passenger and may at any moment break his legs
and his nose, imperil his dignity and ruin his hat. Dimly ahead of me,
upon a broad stretch of grass, I presently became aware of a
concourse. There was no sound to go by, and the light afforded me no
definite forms; the luminous haze was blurred; but certainly people
were there, a multitude of people. I was surprised, but not alarmed.
Save for an occasional wastrel of civilisation, incapable of
degradation and concerned only for sleep, the park is wont to be a
desert at that hour; but the hum of the traffic, the flashing cab
lamps, never quite out of sight, prevent fear. Far from being afraid I
was highly interested, and hastening my steps was soon on the
outskirts of a throng.

A throng it certainly was, a large body of persons, male and female,
scattered yet held together by a common interest, loitering and
expectant, strangely silent, not concerned with each other, rarely in
couples, with all their faces turned one way--namely, to the
south-east, or (if you want precision) precisely to Hyde Park Corner.
I have remarked upon the silence: that was really surprising; so also
was the order observed, and what you may call decorum. There was no
ribaldry, no skylarking, no shrill discord of laughter without mirth
in it to break the solemnity of the gracious night. These people just
stood or squatted about; if any talked together it was in secret
whispers. It is true that they were under the watch of a tall
policeman; yet he too, I noticed, watched nobody, but looked steadily
to the south-east, with his lantern harmless at his belt. As my eyes
grew used to the gloom I observed that all ranks composed the
company. I made out the shell jacket, the waist and elongated limbs of
a life-guardsman, the open bosom of an able seaman. I happened upon a
young gentleman in the crush hat and Inverness of the current fashion;
I made certain of a woman of the pavement and of ladies of the
boudoir, of a hospital nurse, of a Greenwich pensioner, of two
flower-girls sitting on the edge of one basket, of a shoeblack (I
think), of a costermonger, and a nun. Others there were, and more than
one or two of most categories: in a word, there was an assembly.

I accosted the policeman, who heard me civilly but without committing
himself. To my first question, what was going to happen? he carefully
answered that he couldn't say, but to my second, with the
irrepressible scorn of one who knows for one who wants to know, he
answered more frankly, "Who are they waiting for? Why, Quidnunc.
Mister Quidnunc. That's who it is. Him they call Quidnunc. So now you
know." In fact, I did not know. He had told me nothing, would tell me
no more, and while I stood pondering the oracle I was sensible of some
common movement run through the company with a thrill, unite them,
intensify them, draw them together to be one people with one faith,
one hope, one assurance. And then the nun, who stood near me, fell to
her knees, crossed herself and began to pray; and not far off her a
slim girl in black turned aside and covered her face with her hands. A
perceptible shiver of emotion, a fluttering sigh such as steals over a
pine-wood toward dawn ran through all ranks. Far to the south-east a
speck of light now showed, which grew in intensity as it came swiftly
nearer, and seemed presently to be a ball of vivid fire surrounded by
a shroud of lit vapour. Again, as by a common consent, the crowd
parted, stood ranked, with an open lane between. The on-coming flare,
grown intolerably bright, now seemed to fade out as it resolved itself
into a human figure. A human figure at the entry of the lane of people
there undoubtedly was, a figure with so much light about him, raying
(I thought) from him, that it was easy to observe his form and
features. Out of the flame and radiant mist he grew, and showed
himself to me in the trim shape and semblance, with the small head and
alert air of a youth; and such as he was, in the belted tunic and
peaked cap of a telegraph messenger, he came smoothly down the lane
formed by the obsequious throng, and stood in the midst of it and
looked keenly, with his cold, clear eyes and fixed and inscrutable
smile, from one expectant face to another. There was no mistaking him
whom all those people so eagerly awaited; he was my former wonder of
Gray's Inn, the saviour of old Mr. Fowkes.

But all my former wonder paled before this my latter. For he stood
here like some young Eastern king among his slaves, one hand on his
hip, the other at his chin, his face expressionless, his eyes fixed
but unblinking. Meantime, the crowd, which had stretched out arms to
him as he came, was now seated quietly on the grass, intently waiting,
watching for a sign. They sat, all those people, in a wide ring about
him; he was in the midst, a hand to his chin.

Whether sign was made or not, I saw none; but after some moments of
pause a figure rose erect out of the ring and hobbled toward the boy.
I made out an old woman, an old wreck of womanhood, a scant-haired,
blue-lipped ruin of what had once been woman. I heard her snivel and
sniff and wheeze her "Lord ha' mercy" as she went by, slippering
forward on her miserable feet, hugging to her wasted sides what
remnant of gown she had, fawning before the boy, within the sphere of
light that came from him. If he loathed, or scorned, or pitied her, he
showed no sign; if he saw her at all his fixed eyes looked beyond her;
if he abhorred her, his nostrils did not betray him. He stood like
marble and suffered what followed. It was strange.

Enacting what seemed to be a proper rite, she put her shaking left
hand upon his right shoulder, her right hand under his chin, as if to
cup it; and then, with sniffs and wailings interspersed, came her
petition to his merciful ears.

What she precisely asked of him, muttering, wheezing, whining,
snivelling, as she did, repeating herself--with her burthen of "O
dear, O dear, O dear!"--I don't know. Her lost girl, her fine
up-standing girl, her Nance, her only one, figured in it as needing
mercy. Her "Oh, sir, I ask you kindly!" and "Oh, sir, for this once ...!"
made me sick: yet he bore with her as she ran on, dribbling
tears and gin in a mingled flood; he bore with her, heard her in
silence, and in the end, by a look which I was not able to discover,
quieted and sent her shuffling back to her place. So soon as she was
down, the life-guardsman was on his feet, a fine figure of a man. He
marched unfalteringly up, stiffened, saluted, and then, observing the
ritual of hand to shoulder, hand to chin, spoke out his piece like the
honest fellow he was; spoke it aloud and without fear, evenly and
plainly. I thought that he had got it by heart, as I thought also of
another person I was to hear by-and-by. He wanted, badly it seemed,
news of his sweetheart, whom he was careful to call Miss Dixon. She
had last been heard of outside the Brixton Bon Marche, where she had
been seen with a lady friend, talking to "two young chaps" in
Volunteer uniform. They went up the Brixton Road toward Acre Lane, and
Miss Dixon, at any rate, was never heard of again. It was wearing him
out; he wasn't the man he had been, and had no zest for his meals. She
had never written; his letters to her had come back through the "Dead
Office." He thought he should go out of his mind sometimes; was afraid
to shave, not knowing what he might be after with "them things." If
anything could be done for him he should be thankful. Miss Dixon was
very well connected, and sang in a choir. Here he stopped, saluted,
turned and marched away into the night. I heard him pass a word or two
to the policeman, who turned aside and blew his nose. The hospital
nurse, who spoke in a feverish whisper, then a young woman from the
Piccadilly gas-lamps, who cried and rocked herself about, followed;
and then, to my extreme amazement, two ladies with cloaks and hoods
over evening gowns--one of them a Mrs. Stanhope, who was known to me.
The taller and younger lady, chaperoned by my friend, I did not
recognise. Her face was hidden by her hood.

I was now more than interested, it seemed to me that I was, in a
sense, implicated. At any rate I felt very delicate about overhearing
what was to come. It is one thing to become absorbed in a ritual the
like of which, in mid-London, you can never have experienced before,
but quite another thing to listen to the secret desires of a friend in
whose house you may have dined within the month. However--by whatever
casuistries I might have compassed it--I did remain. Let me hope, nay,
let me believe of myself that if the postulant had proved to be my
friend, Mrs. Shrewton Stanhope, herself, I should either have stopped
my ears or immediately retired.

But Mrs. Stanhope, I saw at once, was no more than _dame de
compagnie_. She stood in mid-ring with bent head and hands clasped
before her while the graceful, hooded girl approached nearer to the
mysterious oracle and fulfilled the formal rites demanded of all who
sought his help. Her ringed left hand was laid upon his right
shoulder, her fair right hand upheld his chin. When she began to
speak, which she did immediately and without a tremor, again I had the
sensation of hearing one who had words by heart. This was her burden,
more or less. "I am very unhappy about a certain person. It is Captain
Maxfield. I am engaged to him, and want to break it off. I must do
that--I must indeed. If I don't I shall do a more dreadful thing. I do
hope you will help me. Mrs. ----, my friend, was sure that you would. I
do hope so. I am very unhappy." She had commanded her voice until the
very end; but as she pitied herself there came a break in it. I heard
her catch her breath; I thought she would fall,--and so did Mrs.
Stanhope, it was clear, for she went hurriedly forward and put an arm
round her waist. The younger lady drooped to her shoulder; Mrs.
Stanhope inclined her head to the person--not a sign from him, mind
you--and gently withdrew her charge from the ring. The pair then
hurried across the park in the direction of Knightsbridge, and left
me, I may admit, consuming in the fire of curiosity and excitement
which they had lit.

Petitions succeeded, of various interest, but they seemed pale and
ineffectual to me. Before all or nearly all of the waiting throng had
been heard I saw uneasiness spread about it. Face turned to face, head
to head; subtle but unmistakable movements indicated unrest. Then, of
the suddenest, amid lifted hands and sighed-forth prayers the youthful
object of so much entreaty, receiver of so many secret sorrows, seemed
to fade and, without effort, to recede. I know not how else to
describe his departure. He backed away, as it were, into the dark. The
people were on their feet ere this. Sighs, wailing, appeals, sobs,
adjurations broke the quietness of the night. Some ran stumbling after
him with extended arms; most of them stayed where they were, watching
him fade, hoping against hope. He emptied himself, so to speak, of
light; he faded backward, diminishing himself to a luminous glow, to a
blur, to a point of light. Thus he was gone. The disappointed crept
silently away, each into silence, solitude and the night, and I found
myself alone with the policeman.

Now, what in the name of God was all this? I asked him, and must have
it. He gave me some particulars, admitting at the outset that it was a
"go." "They seem to think," he said, "that they will get what they
want out of him--by wire. Let him bring them a wire in the morning;
that's the way of it. Anything in life, from sudden death to a
penn'orth of bird-seed. Death! Ah, I've heard 'em cringe to him for
death, times and again. They crawl for it--they must have it. Can't do
it theirselves, d'ye see? No, no. Let him do it--somehow. Once a week,
during the season--his season, I should say, because he ain't here
always, by no means--they gets about like this; and how they know
where to spot him is more than I can tell you. If I knew it, I
would--but I don't. Nobody knows that--and yet they know it. Sometimes
he's to be found here two weeks running; then it'll be the Regent's
Park, or the Knoll in the Green Park. He's had 'em all the way to
Hampstead before now, and Primrose Hill's a likely place, they tell
me. Telegrams: that's what he gives 'em--if he's got the mind. But
they don't get all they want, not by no means. And some of 'em gets
more than they want, by a lot." He thought, then chuckled at a rather
grim instance.

"Why, there was old Jack Withers, 'blue-nosed Jack' they calls him,
who works a Hammersmith 'bus! Did you ever hear of that? That was a
good one, if you like. Now you listen. This Jack was coming up the
Brompton Road on his 'bus--and I was on duty by the Boltons and see
him coming. There was that young feller there too--him we've just had
here--standing quiet by a pillar-box, reading a letter. One foot he
had in the roadway, and his back to the 'bus. Up comes old Jack,
pushing his horses, and sees the boy. Gives a great howl like a
tom-cat. 'Hi! you young frog-spawn,' he says, 'out of my road,' and
startled the lad. I see him look up at Jack very steady, and keep his
eye on him. I thought to myself, 'There's something to pay on
delivery, my boy, for this here.' Jack owned up to it afterwards that
he felt queer, but he forgot about it. Now, if you'll believe me, sir,
the very next morning Jack was at London Bridge after his second
journey, when up comes this boy, sauntering into the yard. Comes up to
Jack and nods. 'Name of Withers?' he says. 'That's me,' says old Jack.
'Thought so,' he says. 'Telegram for you.' Jack takes it, opens it,
goes all white. 'Good God!' he says; 'good God Almighty! My wife's
dead!' She'd been knocked down by a Pickford that morning, sure as a
gun. What do you think of that for a start?

"He served Spotty Smith the fried-eel man just the very same, and lots
more I could tell you about. They call him Quidnunc--Mister Quidnunc,
too, and don't you forget it. There's that about him I--well, sir, if
it was to come to it that I had to lay a hand on him for something out
of Queer Street I shouldn't know how to do it. Now I'm telling you a
fact. I shouldn't--know--how--to--do it."

He was not, obviously, telling me a fact, but certainly he was much in
earnest. I commented upon the diversity of the company, and so learned
the name of my friend Mrs. Stanhope's friend. He clacked his tongue.
"Bless you," he said, "I've seen better than to-night, though we did
have a slap-up ladyship and all. That was Lady Emily Rich, that young
thing was, Earl of Richborough's family--Grosvenor Place. But we had a
Duchess or something here one night--ah, and a Bishop another, a Lord
Bishop. You'd never believe the tales we hear. He's known to every
night-constable from Woolwich to Putney Bridge--and the company he
gets about him you'd never believe. High and low, and all huddled
together like so many babes in a nursing-home. No distinction. You saw
old Mother Misery get first look-in to-night? My lady waited her turn,
like a good girl!" His voice sank to a whisper. "They tell me he's the
only living soul--if he _is_ a living soul--that's ever been inside
the Stock Exchange and come out tidy. He goes and comes in as he
likes--quite the Little Stranger. They all know him in Throgmorton
Street. No, no. There's more in this than meets the eye, sir. He's not
like you and me. But it's no business of mine. He don't go down in my
pocket-book, I can tell you. I keep out of his way--and with reason.
He never did no harm to me, nor shan't if I can help it. Quidnunc!
Mister Quidnunc! He might be a herald angel for all I know."

I went my way home and to bed, but was not done with Quidnunc.

The next day, which was the first day of the Eton and Harrow Match, I
read a short paragraph in the _Echo_, headed "Painful Scene at
Lord's," to the effect that a lady lunching on Lord Richborough's drag
had fainted upon the receipt of a telegram, and would have fallen had
she not been caught by the messenger--"a strongly built youth," it
said, "who thus saved what might have been a serious accident." That
was all, but it gave me food for thought, and a suspicion which
Saturday confirmed in a sufficiently startling way. On that Saturday I
was at luncheon in the First Avenue Hotel in Holborn, when a man came
in--Tendring by name--whom I knew quite well. We exchanged greetings
and sat at our luncheon, talking desultorily. A clerk from his office
brought in a telegram for Tendring. He opened it and seemed
thunder-struck. "Good Lord!" I heard him say. "Good Lord, here's
trouble." I murmured sympathetically, and then he turned to me, quite
beyond the range where reticence avails. "Look here," he said, "this
is a shocking business. A man I know wires to me--from Bow Street.
He's been taken for forgery--that's the charge--and wants me to bail
him out." He got up as we finished and went to write his reply: I
turned immediately to the clerk. "Is the boy waiting?" I asked. He
was. I said "Excuse me, Tendring," and ran out of the restaurant to
the street door. There in the street, as I had suspected, stood my
inscrutable, steady-eyed, smiling Oracle of the night. I stood,
meeting his look as best I might. He showed no recognition of me
whatsoever. Then, as I stood there, Tendring came out. "Call me a
cab," he told the hall-porter; and to Quidnunc he said, "There's no
answer. I'm going at once." Quidnunc went away.

Now Tendring's friend, I learned by the evening paper, was one Captain
Maxfield of the Royal Engineers. He was committed for trial, bail
refused. I may add that he got seven years.

So much for Captain Maxfield! But much more for Lady Emily Rich, of
whose fate I have now to tell. My friend, Mrs. Shrewton Stanhope, was
very reserved, would tell me nothing, even when I roundly said that I
had fancied to see her in the park one evening. She had the hardihood
to meet my eyes with a blank denial, and very plainly there was
nothing to be learned from her. A visit, many visits to the London
parks at the hour between eleven and midnight taught me no more; but
being by now thoroughly interested in the affairs of Lady Emily Rich I
made it my business to get a glimpse of her. She was, it seemed, the
only unmarried daughter of the large Richborough family which had done
so well in that sex, and so badly in the other that there was not only
no son, but no male heir to the title. That, indeed, expired with Lady
Emily's father. I don't really know how many daughters there were, or
were not. Most of them married prosperously. One of them became a
Roman princess; one married a Mr. Walker, an American stock-jobber
(with a couple of millions of money); another was Baroness de
Grass--De Grass being a Jew; one became an Anglican nun to the
disgust (I was told) of her family. Lady Emily, whose engagement to
the wretched Maxfield was so dramatically terminated was, I think, the
youngest of them. I saw her one night toward the end of the season at
the Opera. Tendring, who was with me, pointed her out in a box. She
was dressed in black and looked very scared. She hardly moved once
throughout the evening, and when people spoke to her seemed not to
hear. She was certainly a very pretty girl. It may have been fancy, or
it may not, but I could have sworn to the corner of a pinky-brown
envelope sticking out of the bosom of her dress. I don't think I was
mistaken; I had a good look through the glasses. She touched it
shortly afterward and poked it down. At the end I saw her come out. A
tall girl, rather thin; very pretty certainly, but far from well. Her
eyes haunted me; they had what is called a hag-ridden look. And yet,
thought I, she had got her desire of Quidnunc. Ah, but had she? Hear
the end of the tale.

I say that I saw her come out, that's not quite true. I saw her come
down the staircase and stand with her party in the crowded lobby. She
stood in it, but not of it; for her vague and shadowed eyes sought
otherwhere than in those of the neat-haired young man who was
chattering in front of her. She scanned, rather, the throng of people
anxiously and guardedly at once, as if she was looking for somebody,
and must not be seen to look. As time wore on and the carriage
delayed, her nervousness increased. She seemed to get paler, she shut
her eyes once or twice as though to relieve the strain which watching
and waiting put upon them, and then, quite suddenly, I saw that she
had found what she expected; I saw that her empty eyes were now
filled, that they held something without which they had faded out. In
a word, I saw her look fixedly, fiercely and certainly at something
beyond the lobby. Following the direction she gave me, I looked also.
There, assuredly, in the portico, square, smiling and assured of his
will, I saw Quidnunc stand, and his light eyes upon hers. For quite a
space of time, such as that in which you might count fifteen
deliberately, those two looked at each other. Messages, I am sure,
sped to and fro between them. His seemed to say, "Come, I have
answered you. Now do you answer me." Hers cried her hurt, "Ah, but
what can I do?" His, with their cool mastery of time and occasion,
"You must do as I bid you. There's no other way." Hers pleaded, "Give
me time," and his told her sternly, "I am master of time--since I made
it." The throng of waiting people began to surge toward the door; out
there in the night link-boys yelled great names. I heard "Lord
Richborough's carriage," and saw Lady Emily clap her hand to her side.
I saw her reach the portico and stand there hastily covering her head
with a black scarf; I saw her sway alone there. I saw her party go
down the steps. The next moment Quidnunc flashed to her side. He said
nothing, he did not touch her. He simply looked at her--intently,
smiling, self-possessed, a master. Her face was averted; I could see
her tremble; she bowed her head. Another carriage was announced--the
Richborough coach then was gone. I saw Quidnunc now put his hand upon
her arm; she turned him her face, a faint and tender smile, very
beautiful and touching, met his own. He drew her with him out of the
press and into the burning dark. London never saw her again.

I don't attempt to explain what is to me inexplicable. Was my
policeman right when he called Quidnunc a herald angel? Is there any
substance behind the surmise that the ancient gods still sway the
souls and bodies of men? Was Quidnunc, that swift, remorseless,
smiling messenger, that god of the winged feet? The Argeiphont? Who
can answer these things? All I have to tell you by way of an epilogue
is this.

A curate of my acquaintance, a curate of St. Peter's, Eaton Square,
some few years after these events, took his holiday in Greece. He
went out as one of a tourist party, but having more time at his
disposal than was contemplated by the contracting agency, he stayed
on, chartered a dragoman and wandered far and wide. On his return he
told me that he had seen Lady Emily Rich at Pherae in Arcadia, and that
he had spoken to her. He had seen her sitting on the door-step of a
one-storied white house, spinning flax. She wore the costume of the
peasants, which he told me is very picturesque. Two or three
half-naked children tumbled about her. They were beautiful as angels,
he said, with curly golden hair and extremely light eyes. He noticed
that particularly, and recurred to it more than once. Now Lady Emily
was a dark girl, with eyes so deeply blue as to be almost black.

My friend spoke to her, he said. He had seen that she recognised him;
in fact, she bowed to him. He felt that he could not disregard her.
Mere commonplaces were exchanged. She told him that her husband was
away on a journey. She fancied that he had been in England; but she
explained half-laughingly that she knew very little about his affairs,
and was quite content to leave them to him. She had her children to
look after. My friend was surprised that she asked no question of
England or family matters; but, in the circumstances, he added, he
hardly liked to refer to them. She served him with bread and wine
before he left her. All he could say was that she appeared to be
perfectly happy.

It is odd, and perhaps it is more than odd, that there was a famous
temple of Hermes in Pherae in former times. Pindar, I believe,
acclaimed it in one of his Epinikean odes; but I have not been able to
verify the reference.




THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH


The interest of my matter has caused me to lose sight of myself and to
fail in my account of the flight of time over my head. That is,
however, comparable with the facts, which were that my attention was
then become solely objective. I had other things to think of than the
development of my own nature. I had other things to think of, indeed,
than those which surround us all, and press upon us until we become
permanently printed by their contact. Solitary as I had ever been in
mind, I now became literally so by choice. I became wholly absorbed in
that circumambient world of being which was graciously opening itself
to my perceptions--how I knew not. I was in a state of momentary
expectation of apparitions; as I went about my ostensible business I
had my ears quick and my eyes wide for signs and tokens that I was
surrounded by a seething and whirling invisible population of beings,
like ourselves, but glorified: yet unlike ourselves in this, that what
seemed entirely right, because natural, to them would have been in
ourselves horrible. The ruthlessness, for instance, of Quidnunc as he
pursued and obtained his desire, had Quidnunc been a human creature,
would have been revolting; the shamelessness of the fairy wife of
Ventris had she been capable of shame, how shameful had that been! But
I knew that these creatures were not human; I knew that they were not
under our law; and so I explained everything to myself. But to myself
only. It is not enough to explain a circumstance by negatives. If
Quidnunc and Mrs. Ventris were not under our law, neither are the sun,
moon and stars, neither are the apes and peacocks. But all these are
under some law, since law is the essence of the Kosmos. Under what law
then were Mrs. Ventris and Quidnunc? I burned to know that. For many
years of my life that knowledge was my steady desire; but I had no
means at hand of satisfying it. Reading? Well, I did read in a
fashion. I read, for example, Grimm's _Teutonic Mythology_, a stout
and exceedingly dull work in three volumes of a most unsatisfying
kind. I read other books of the same sort, chiefly German, dealing in
etymology, which I readily allow is a science of great value within
its proper sphere. But to Grimm and his colleagues etymology seemed to
me to be the contents of the casket rather than the key; for Grimm and
his colleagues started with a prejudice, that Gods, fairies and the
rest have never existed and don't exist. To them the interest of the
inquiry is not what is the nature, what are the laws of such beings,
but what is the nature of the primitive people who imagined the
existence of such beings? I very soon found out that Grimm and his
colleagues had nothing to tell me.

Then there was another class of book; that which dealt in demonology
and witchcraft, exemplified by a famous work called _Satan's Invisible
World Discovered_. Writers of these things may or may not have
believed in witches and fairies (which they classed together); but in
any event they believed them to be wicked, the abomination of
uncleanness. That made them false witnesses. My judgment revolted
against such ridiculous assumptions. Here was a case, you see, where
writers treated their subject too seriously, having the pulpit-cushion
ever below their hand, and the fear of the Ordinary before their
eyes.[3] Grimm and his friends, on the other hand, took it too
lightly, seeing in it matter for a treatise on language. I got no good
out of either school, and as time goes on I don't see a prospect of
any adequate handling of the theme. I should like to think that I
myself was to be the man to expound the fairy-kind candidly and
methodically--candidly, that is, without going to literature for my
data, and with the notion definitely out of mind that the fairy
God-mother ever existed. But I shall never be that man, for though I
am candid to the point of weakness, I am not to flatter myself that I
have method. But to whomsoever he may be that undertakes the subject I
can promise that the documents await their historian, and I will
furnish him with a title which will indicate at a glance both the
spirit of his attack and the nature of his treatise.

[Footnote 3: The Reverend Robert Kirk, author of the _Secret
Commonwealth_, was a clergyman and a believer in the beings of whom
his book professed to treat. He found them a place in his Pantheon;
but he knew very little about them. I shall have to speak of him again
I expect. He is himself an object-lesson, though his teachings are
naught.]

"The Natural History of the Praeternatural" it should be. I make him a
present of that--the only possible line for a sincere student. God go
with him whosoever he be, for he will have rare qualities and rare
need of them. He must be cheerful without assumption, respectful
without tragic airs, as respectable as he please in the eyes of his
own law, so that he finds respect in his heart also for the laws of
the realm in which he is privileged to trade. Let him not stand, as
the priest in the Orthodox Church, a looming hierophant. Let him avoid
any rhetorical pose, any hint of the grand manner. Above all, let him
not wear the smirk of the conjuror when he prepares with flourishes to
whip the handkerchief away from his guinea-pig. Here is one who
condescends to reader and subject alike. He would do harm all round:
moreover he would be a quack, for he is just as much of a quack who
makes little of much as he who makes much of little. No! Let his
attitude be that of the contadino in some vast church in Italy, who
walking into the cool dark gazes round-eyed at the twinkling candles
ahead of him in the vague, and that he may recover himself a little
leans against a pillar for a while, his hat against his heart and his
lips muttering an Ave. Reassured by his prayer, or the peace of the
great place, he presently espies the sacristan about to uncover a
picture not often shown. Here is an occasion! The tourists are
gathered, intent upon their Baedekers; he tiptoes up behind them and
kneels by another pillar--for the pillars of a church are his friendly
rocks, touching which he can face the unknown. The curtain is brailed
up, and the blue and crimson, the mournful eyes, the wimple, the
pointed chin, the long idle fingers are revealed upon their golden
background. While the girls flock about papa with his book, and mamma
wonders where we shall have luncheon, Annibale, assured familiar of
Heaven, beatified at no expense to himself, settles down to a quiet
talk with the Mother of God. His attitude is perfect, and so is hers.
The firmament is not to be shaken, but Annibale is not a _farceur_,
nor his Blessed One absurd. Mysteries are all about us. Some are for
the eschatologist and some for the shepherd; some for Patmos and some
for the _podere_. Let our historian remember, in fact, that the
natures into which he invites us to pry are those of the little
divinities of earth and he can't go very far wrong. Nor can we.

That, I am bold to confess, is my own attitude toward a lovely order
of creation. Perhaps I may go on to give him certain hints of
treatment. Nearly all of them, I think, tend to the same point--the
discarding of literature. Literature, being a man's art, is at its
best and also at its worst, in its dealing with women. No man,
perhaps, is capable of writing of women as they really are, though
every man thinks he is. A curious consequence to the history of
fairies has been that literature has recognised no males in that
community, and that of the females it has described it has selected
only those who are enamoured of men or disinclined to them. The fact,
of course, is that the fairy world is peopled very much as our own,
and that, with great respect to Shakespeare, an Ariel, a Puck, a
Titania, a Peas-blossom are abnormal. It is as rare to find a fairy
capable of discerning man as the converse is rare. I have known a
person intensely aware of the Spirits that reside, for instance, in
flowers, in the wind, in rivers and hills, none the less bereft of
any intercourse whatever with these interesting beings by the simple
fact that they themselves were perfectly unconscious of him. It is
greatly to be doubted whether Shakespeare ever saw a fairy, though his
age believed in fairies, but almost certain that Shelley must have
seen many, whose age did not believe. If our author is to have a
poetical guide at all it had better be Shelley.

Literature will tell him that fairies are benevolent or mischievous,
and tradition, borrowing from literature, will confirm it. The
proposition is ridiculous. It would be as wise to say that a gnat is
mischievous when it stings you, or a bee benevolent because he cannot
prevent you stealing his honey. There would be less talk of benevolent
bees if the gloves were off. That is the pathetic fallacy again; and
that is man all over. Will nothing, I wonder, convince him that he is
not the centre of the Universe? If Darwin, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus
and Sir Norman Lockyer have failed, is it my turn to try? Modesty
forbids. Besides, I am prejudiced. I think man, in the conduct of his
business, inferior to any vegetable. I am a tainted source. But such
talk is idle, and so is that which cries havoc upon fairy morality.
Heaven knows that it differs from our own; but Heaven also knows that
our own differs _inter nos_; and that to discuss the customs and
habits of the Japanese in British parlours is a vain thing. _The
Forsaken Merman_ is a beautiful poem, but not a safe guide to those
who would relate the ways of the spirits of the sea. But all this is
leading me too far from my present affair, which is to relate how the
knowledge of these things--of these beings and of their laws--came
upon me, and how their nature influenced mine. I have said enough, I
think, to establish the necessity of a good book upon the subject, and
I take leave to flatter myself that these pages of my own will be
indispensable Prolegomena to any such work, or to any research tending
to its compilation.

In the absence of books, in the situation in which I found myself of
reticence, I could do nothing but brood upon the things I had seen.
Insensibly my imagination (latent while I had been occupied with
observation) began to work. I did not write, but I pictured, and my
waking dreams became so vivid that I was in a fair way to treat them
as the only reality, and might have discarded the workaday world
altogether. Luckily for me, my disposition was tractable and
law-abiding. I fulfilled by habit the duties of the day; I toiled at
my dreary work, ate and slept, wrote to my parents, visited them,
having got those tasks as it were by heart, but I went through the
rites like an automaton; my mind was elsewhere, intensely dogging the
heels of that winged steed, my fancy, panting in its tracks, and
perfectly content so only that it did not come up too late to witness
the glories which its bold flights discovered. Thanks to it--all
thanks to it--I did not become a nympholept. I did not haunt
Parliament Hill o' nights. I did not spy upon the darkling motions of
Mrs. Ventris. Desire, appetite, sex were not involved at all in this
affair; nor yet was love. I was very prone to love, but I did not love
Mrs. Ventris. In whatsoever fairy being I had seen there had been
nothing which held physical attraction for me. There could be no
allure when there was no lure. So far as I could tell, not one of
these creatures--except Quidnunc, and possibly the Dryad, the sun-dyed
nymph I had seen long ago in K---- Park--had been aware of my
presence. I guessed, though I did not know (as I do now) that
manifestation is not always mutual, but that a man may see a fairy
without being seen, and conversely, a fairy may be fully aware of
mankind or of some man or men without any suspicion of theirs.
Moreover, though I saw them all extraordinarily beautiful, I had never
yet seen one supremely desirable. The instinct to possess, which is an
essential part of the love-passion of every man--had never stirred in
me in the presence of these creatures. If it had I should have
yielded to it, I doubt not, since there was no moral law to hold me
back. But it never had, so far, and I was safe from the wasting misery
of seeking that which could not, from its very nature (and mine) be
sought.

There was really nothing I could do, therefore, but wait, and that is
what I did. I waited intensely, very much as a terrier waits at the
hole of the bolting rabbit. By the merest accident I got a clew to a
very interesting case which added enormously to my knowledge. It was a
clear case of fairy child-theft, the clearest I ever met with. I shall
devote a chapter to it, having been at the pains to verify it in all
particulars. I did not succeed in meeting the hero, or victim of it,
because, though the events related took place in 1887, they were not
recorded until 1892, when the record came into my hands. By that time
the two persons concerned had left the country and were settled in
Florida. I did see Mr. Walsh, the Nonconformist Minister who
communicated the tale to his local society, but he was both a dull and
a cautious man, and had very little to tell me. He had himself seen
nothing, he only had Beckwith's word to go upon and did not feel
certain that the whole affair was not an hallucination on the young
man's part. That the child had disappeared was certain, that both
parents were equally distressed is certain. Not a shred of suspicion
attached to the unhappy Beckwith. But Mr. Walsh told me that he felt
the loss so keenly and blamed himself so severely, though
unreasonably, to my thinking, that it would have been impossible for
him to remain in England. He said that the full statement communicated
to the Field Club was considered by the young man in the light of a
confession of his share in the tragedy. It would, he said, have been
exorbitant to expect more of him. And I quite agree with him; and now
had better give the story as I found it.




BECKWITH'S CASE


The facts were as follows. Mr. Stephen Mortimer Beckwith was a young
man living at Wishford in the Amesbury district of Wiltshire. He was a
clerk in the Wilts and Dorset Bank at Salisbury, was married and had
one child. His age at the time of the experience here related was
twenty-eight. His health was excellent.

On the 30th November, 1887, at about ten o'clock at night, he was
returning home from Amesbury where he had been spending the evening at
a friend's house. The weather was mild, with a rain-bearing wind
blowing in squalls from the south-west. It was three-quarter moon that
night, and although the sky was frequently overcast it was at no time
dark. Mr. Beckwith, who was riding a bicycle and accompanied by his
fox-terrier Strap, states that he had no difficulty in seeing and
avoiding the stones cast down at intervals by the road-menders; that
flocks of sheep in the hollows were very visible, and that, passing
Wilsford House, he saw a barn owl quite plainly and remarked its
heavy, uneven flight.

A mile beyond Wilsford House, Strap, the dog, broke through the
quick-set hedge upon his right-hand side and ran yelping up the down,
which rises sharply just there. Mr. Beckwith, who imagined that he was
after a hare, whistled him in, presently calling him sharply, "Strap,
Strap, come out of it." The dog took no notice, but ran directly to a
clump of gorse and bramble half-way up the down, and stood there in
the attitude of a pointer, with uplifted paw, watching the gorse
intently, and whining. Mr. Beckwith was by this time dismounted,
observing the dog. He watched him for some minutes from the road. The
moon was bright, the sky at the moment free from cloud.

He himself could see nothing in the gorse, though the dog was
undoubtedly in a high state of excitement. It made frequent rushes
forward, but stopped short of the object that it saw and trembled. It
did not bark outright but rather whimpered--"a curious, shuddering,
crying noise," says Mr. Beckwith. Interested by the animal's
persistent and singular behaviour, he now sought a gap in the hedge,
went through on to the down, and approached the clumped bushes. Strap
was so much occupied that he barely noticed his master's coming; it
seemed as if he dared not take his eyes for one second from what he
saw in there.

Beckwith, standing behind the dog, looked into the gorse. From the
distance at which he still stood he could see nothing at all. His
belief then was that there was either a tramp in a drunken sleep,
possibly two tramps, or a hare caught in a wire, or possibly even a
fox. Having no stick with him he did not care, at first, to go any
nearer, and contented himself with urging on his terrier. This was not
very courageous of him, as he admits, and was quite unsuccessful. No
verbal excitations would draw Strap nearer to the furze-bush. Finally
the dog threw up his head, showed his master the white arcs of his
eyes and fairly howled at the moon. At this dismal sound Mr. Beckwith
owned himself alarmed. It was, as he describes it--though he is an
Englishman--"uncanny." The time, he owns, the aspect of the night,
loneliness of the spot (midway up the steep slope of a chalk down),
the mysterious shroud of darkness upon shadowed and distant objects
and flood of white light upon the foreground--all these circumstances
worked upon his imagination.

He was indeed for retreat; but here Strap was of a different mind.
Nothing would excite him to advance, but nothing either could induce
him to retire. Whatever he saw in the furze-bush Strap must continue
to observe. In the face of this Beckwith summoned up his courage, took
it in both hands and went much nearer to the furze-bushes, much
nearer, that is, than Strap the terrier could bring himself to go.
Then, he tells us, he did see a pair of bright eyes far in the
thicket, which seemed to be fixed upon his, and by degrees also a pale
and troubled face. Here, then, was neither fox nor drunken tramp, but
some human creature, man, woman, or child, fully aware of him and of
the dog.

Beckwith, who now had surer command of his feelings, spoke aloud
asking, "What are you doing there? What's the matter?" He had no
reply. He went one pace nearer, being still on his guard, and spoke
again. "I won't hurt you," he said. "Tell me what the matter is." The
eyes remained unwinkingly fixed upon his own. No movement of the
features could be discerned. The face, as he could now make it out,
was very small--"about as big as a big wax doll's," he says, "of a
longish oval, very pale." He adds, "I could see its neck now, no
thicker than my wrist; and where its clothes began. I couldn't see any
arms, for a good reason. I found out afterward that they had been
bound behind its back. I should have said immediately, 'That's a girl
in there,' if it had not been for one or two plain considerations. It
had not the size of what we call a girl, nor the face of what we mean
by a child. It was, in fact, neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. Strap had
known that from the beginning, and now I was of Strap's opinion
myself."

Advancing with care, a step at a time, Beckwith presently found
himself within touching distance of the creature. He was now standing
with furze half-way up his calves, right above it, stooping to look
closely at it; and as he stooped and moved, now this way, now that, to
get a clearer view, so the crouching thing's eyes gazed up to meet
his, and followed them about, as if safety lay only in that
never-shifting, fixed regard. He had noticed, and states in his
narrative, that Strap had seemed quite unable, in the same way, to
take his eyes off the creature for a single second.

He could now see that, of whatever nature it might be, it was, in form
and features, most exactly a young woman. The features, for instance,
were regular and fine. He remarks in particular upon the chin. All
about its face, narrowing the oval of it, fell dark glossy curtains of
hair, very straight and glistening with wet. Its garment was cut in a
plain circle round the neck, and short off at the shoulders, leaving
the arms entirely bare. This garment, shift, smock or gown, as he
indifferently calls it, appeared thin, and was found afterward to be
of a grey colour, soft and clinging to the shape. It was made loose,
however, and gathered in at the waist. He could not see the
creature's legs, as they were tucked under her. Her arms, it has been
related, were behind her back. The only other things to be remarked
upon were the strange stillness of one who was plainly suffering, and
might well be alarmed, and appearance of expectancy, a dumb appeal;
what he himself calls rather well "an ignorant sort of impatience,
like that of a sick animal."

"Come," Beckwith now said, "let me help you up. You will get cold if
you sit here. Give me your hand, will you?" She neither spoke nor
moved; simply continued to search his eyes. Strap, meantime, was still
trembling and whining. But now, when he stooped yet lower to take her
forcibly by the arms, she shrank back a little way and turned her
head, and he saw to his horror that she had a great open wound in the
side of her neck--from which, however, no blood was issuing. Yet it
was clearly a fresh wound, recently made.

He was greatly shocked. "Good God," he said, "there's been foul play
here," and whipped out his handkerchief. Kneeling, he wound it several
times round her slender throat and knotted it as tightly as he could;
then, without more ado, he took her up in his arms, under the knees
and round the middle, and carried her down the slope to the road. He
describes her as of no weight at all. He says it was "exactly like
carrying an armful of feathers about." "I took her down the hill and
through the hedge at the bottom as if she had been a pillow."

Here it was that he discovered that her wrists were bound together
behind her back with a kind of plait of thongs so intricate that he
was quite unable to release them. He felt his pockets for his knife,
but could not find it, and then recollected suddenly that he should
have a new one with him, the third prize in a whist tournament in
which he had taken part that evening. He found it wrapped in paper in
his overcoat pocket, with it cut the thongs and set the little
creature free. She immediately responded--the first sign of animation
which she had displayed--by throwing both her arms about his body and
clinging to him in an ecstasy. Holding him so that, as he says, he
felt the shuddering go all through her, she suddenly lowered her head
and touched his wrist with her cheek. He says that instead of being
cold to the touch, "like a fish," as she had seemed to be when he
first took her out of the furze, she was now "as warm as a toast, like
a child."

So far he had put her down for "a foreigner," convenient term for
defining something which you do not quite understand. She had none of
his language, evidently; she was undersized, some three feet six
inches by the look of her,[4] and yet perfectly proportioned. She was
most curiously dressed in a frock cut to the knee, and actually in
nothing else at all. It left her bare-legged and bare-armed, and was
made, as he puts it himself, of stuff like cobweb: "those dusty,
drooping kind which you put on your finger to stop bleeding." He could
not recognise the web, but was sure that it was neither linen nor
cotton. It seemed to stick to her body wherever it touched a prominent
part: "you could see very well, to say nothing of feeling, that she
was well made and well nourished." She ought, as he judged, to be a
child of five years old, "and a feather-weight at that"; but he felt
certain that she must be "much more like sixteen." It was that, I
gather, which made him suspect her of being something outside
experience. So far, then, it was safe to call her a foreigner: but he
was not yet at the end of his discoveries.

[Footnote 4: Her exact measurements are stated to have been as
follows: height from crown to sole, 3 feet 5 inches. Round waist, 15
inches; round bust, 21 inches; round wrist, 3-1/2 inches; round neck,
7-1/2 inches.]

Heavy footsteps, coming from the direction of Wishford, in due time
proved to be those of Police Constable Gulliver, a neighbour of
Beckwith's and guardian of the peace in his own village. He lifted his
lantern to flash it into the traveller's eyes, and dropped it again
with a pleasant "good evening."

He added that it was inclined to be showery, which was more than
true, as it was at the moment raining hard. With that, it seems, he
would have passed on.

But Beckwith, whether smitten by self-consciousness of having been
seen with a young woman in his arms at a suspicious hour of the night
by the village policeman, or bursting perhaps with the importance of
his affair, detained Gulliver. "Just look at this," he said boldly.
"Here's a pretty thing to have found on a lonely road. Foul play
somewhere, I'm afraid," he then exhibited his burden to the lantern
light.

To his extreme surprise, however, the constable, after exploring the
beam of light and all that it contained for some time in silence,
reached out his hand for the knife which Beckwith still held open. He
looked at it on both sides, examined the handle and gave it back.
"Foul play, Mr. Beckwith?" he said laughing. "Bless you, they use
bigger tools than that. That's just a toy, the like of that. Cut your
hand with it, though, already, I see." He must have noticed the
handkerchief, for as he spoke the light from his lantern shone full
upon the face and neck of the child, or creature, in the young man's
arms, so clearly that, looking down at it, Beckwith himself could see
the clear grey of its intensely watchful eyes, and the very pupils of
them, diminished to specks of black. It was now, therefore, plain to
him that what he held was a foreigner indeed, since the parish
constable was unable to see it. Strap had smelt it, then seen it, and
he, Beckwith, had seen it; but it was invisible to Gulliver. "I felt
now," he says in his narrative, "that something was wrong. I did not
like the idea of taking it into the house; but I intended to make one
more trial before I made up my mind about that. I said good night to
Gulliver, put her on my bicycle and pushed her home. But first of all
I took the handkerchief from her neck and put it in my pocket. There
was no blood upon it, that I could see."

His wife, as he had expected, was waiting at the gate for him. She
exclaimed, as he had expected, upon the lateness of the hour. Beckwith
stood for a little in the roadway before the house, explaining that
Strap had bolted up the hill and had had to be looked for and fetched
back. While speaking he noticed that Mrs. Beckwith was as insensible
to the creature on the bicycle as Gulliver the constable had been.
Indeed, she went much further to prove herself so than he, for she
actually put her hand upon the handle-bar of the machine, and in order
to do that drove it right through the centre of the girl crouching
there. Beckwith saw that done. "I declare solemnly upon my honour," he
writes, "that it was as if Mary had drilled a hole clean through the
middle of her back. Through gown and skin and bone and all her arm
went; and how it went I don't know. To me it seemed that her hand was
on the handle-bar, while her upper arm, to the elbow, was in between
the girl's shoulders. There was a gap from the elbow downwards where
Mary's arm was inside the body; then from the creature's diaphragm her
lower arm, wrist and hand came out. And all the time we were speaking
the girl's eyes were on my face. I was now quite determined that I
wouldn't have her in the house for a mint of money."

He put her, finally, in the dog-kennel. Strap, as a favourite, lived
in the house; but he kept a greyhound in the garden, in a kennel
surrounded by a sort of run made of iron poles and galvanised wire. It
was roofed in with wire also, for the convenience of stretching a
tarpaulin in wet weather. Here it was that he bestowed the strange
being rescued from the down.

It was clever, I think, of Beckwith to infer that what Strap had shown
respect for would be respected by the greyhound, and certainly bold of
him to act upon his inference. However, events proved that he had been
perfectly right. Bran, the greyhound, was interested, highly
interested in his guest. The moment he saw his master he saw what he
was carrying. "Quiet, Bran, quiet there," was a very unnecessary
adjuration. Bran stretched up his head and sniffed, but went no
further; and when Beckwith had placed his burden on the straw inside
the kennel, Bran lay down, as if on guard, outside the opening and put
his muzzle on his forepaws. Again Beckwith noticed that curious
appearance of the eyes which the fox-terrier's had made already.
Bran's eyes were turned upward to show the narrow arcs of white.

Before he went to bed, he tells us, but not before Mrs. Beckwith had
gone there, he took out a bowl of bread and milk to his patient. Bran
he found to be still stretched out before the entry; the girl was
nestled down in the straw, as if asleep or prepared to be so, with her
face upon her hand. Upon an after-thought he went back for a clean
pocket handkerchief, warm water and a sponge. With these, by the light
of a candle, he washed the wound, dipped the rag in hazeline, and
applied it. This done, he touched the creature's head, nodded a good
night and retired. "She smiled at me very prettily," he says. "That
was the first time she did it."

There was no blood on the handkerchief which he had removed.

Early in the morning following upon the adventure Beckwith was out and
about. He wished to verify the overnight experiences in the light of
refreshed intelligence. On approaching the kennel he saw at once that
it had been no dream. There, in fact, was the creature of his
discovery playing with Bran the greyhound, circling sedately about
him, weaving her arms, pointing her toes, arching her graceful neck,
stooping to him, as if inviting him to sport, darting away--"like a
fairy," says Beckwith, "at her magic, dancing in a ring." Bran, he
observed, made no effort to catch her, but crouched rather than sat,
as if ready to spring. He followed her about with his eyes as far as
he could; but when the course of her dance took her immediately behind
him he did not turn his head, but kept his eye fixed as far backward
as he could, against the moment when she should come again into the
scope of his vision. "It seemed as important to him as it had the day
before to Strap to keep her always in his eye. It seemed--and always
seemed so long as I could study them together--intensely important."
Bran's mouth was stretched to "a sort of grin"; occasionally he
panted. When Beckwith entered the kennel and touched the dog (which
took little notice of him) he found him trembling with excitement. His
heart was beating at a great rate. He also drank quantities of water.

Beckwith, whose narrative, hitherto summarised, I may now quote, tells
us that the creature was indescribably graceful and light-footed.
"You couldn't hear the fall of her foot: you never could. Her dancing
and circling about the cage seemed to be the most important business
of her life; she was always at it, especially in bright weather. I
shouldn't have called it restlessness so much as busyness. It really
seemed to mean more to her than exercise or irritation at confinement.
It was evident also that she was happy when so engaged. She used to
sing. She sang also when she was sitting still with Bran; but not with
such exhilaration.

"Her eyes were bright--when she was dancing about--with mischief and
devilry. I cannot avoid that word, though it does not describe what I
really mean. She looked wild and outlandish and full of fun, as if she
knew that she was teasing the dog, and yet couldn't help herself. When
you say of a child that he looks wicked, you don't mean it literally;
it is rather a compliment than not. So it was with her and her
wickedness. She did look wicked, there's no mistake--able and willing
to do wickedly; but I am sure she never meant to hurt Bran. They were
always firm friends, though the dog knew very well who was master.

"When you looked at her you did not think of her height. She was so
complete; as well made as a statuette. I could have spanned her waist
with my two thumbs and middle fingers, and her neck (very nearly)
with one hand. She was pale and inclined to be dusky in complexion,
but not so dark as a gipsy; she had grey eyes, and dark-brown hair,
which she could sit upon if she chose. Her gown you could have sworn
was made of cobweb; I don't know how else to describe it. As I had
suspected, she wore nothing else, for while I was there that first
morning, so soon as the sun came up over the hill she slipped it off
her and stood up dressed in nothing at all. She was a regular little
Venus--that's all I can say. I never could get accustomed to that
weakness of hers for slipping off her frock, though no doubt it was
very absurd. She had no sort of shame in it, so why on earth should I?

"The food, I ought to mention, had disappeared: the bowl was empty.
But I know now that Bran must have had it. So long as she remained in
the kennel or about my place she never ate anything, nor drank either.
If she had I must have known it, as I used to clean the run out every
morning. I was always particular about that. I used to say that you
couldn't keep dogs too clean. But I tried her, unsuccessfully, with
all sorts of things: flowers, honey, dew--for I had read somewhere
that fairies drink dew and suck honey out of flowers. She used to look
at the little messes I made for her, and when she knew me better
would grimace at them, and look up in my face and laugh at me.

"I have said that she used to sing sometimes. It was like nothing that
I can describe. Perhaps the wind in the telegraph wire comes nearest
to it, and yet that is an absurd comparison. I could never catch any
words; indeed I did not succeed in learning a single word of her
language. I doubt very much whether they have what we call a
language--I mean the people who are like her, her own people. They
communicate with each other, I fancy, as she did with my dogs,
inarticulately, but with perfect communication and understanding on
either side. When I began to teach her English I noticed that she had
a kind of pity for me, a kind of contempt perhaps is nearer the mark,
that I should be compelled to express myself in so clumsy a way. I am
no philosopher, but I imagine that our need of putting one word after
another may be due to our habit of thinking in sequence. If there is
no such thing as Time in the other world it should not be necessary
there to frame speech in sentences at all. I am sure that Thumbeline
(which was my name for her--I never learned her real name) spoke with
Bran and Strap in flashes which revealed her whole thought at once. So
also they answered her, there's no doubt. So also she contrived to
talk with my little girl, who, although she was four years old and a
great chatterbox, never attempted to say a single word of her own
language to Thumbeline, yet communicated with her by the hour
together. But I did not know anything of this for a month or more,
though it must have begun almost at once.

"I blame myself for it, myself only. I ought, of course, to have
remembered that children are more likely to see fairies than
grown-ups; but then--why did Florrie keep it all secret? Why did she
not tell her mother, or me, that she had seen a fairy in Bran's
kennel? The child was as open as the day, yet she concealed her
knowledge from both of us without the least difficulty. She seemed the
same careless, laughing child she had always been; one could not have
supposed her to have a care in the world, and yet, for nearly six
months she must have been full of care, having daily secret
intercourse with Thumbeline and keeping her eyes open all the time
lest her mother or I should find her out. Certainly she could have
taught me something in the way of keeping secrets. I know that I kept
mine very badly, and blame myself more than enough for keeping it at
all. God knows what we might have been spared if, on the night I
brought her home, I had told Mary the whole truth! And yet--how could
I have convinced her that she was impaling some one with her arm
while her hand rested on the bar of the bicycle? Is not that an
absurdity on the face of it? Yes, indeed; but the sequel is no
absurdity. That's the terrible fact.

"I kept Thumbeline in the kennel for the whole winter. She seemed
happy enough there with the dogs, and, of course, she had had Florrie,
too, though I did not find that out until the spring. I don't doubt,
now, that if I had kept her in there altogether she would have been
perfectly contented.

"The first time I saw Florrie with her I was amazed. It was a Sunday
morning. There was our four-year-old child standing at the wire,
pressing herself against it, and Thumbeline close to her. Their faces
almost touched; their fingers were interlaced; I am certain that they
were speaking to each other in their own fashion, by flashes, without
words. I watched them for a bit; I saw Bran come and sit up on his
haunches and join in. He looked from one to another, and all about;
and then he saw me.

"Now that is how I know that they were all three in communication;
because, the very next moment, Florrie turned round and ran to me, and
said in her pretty baby-talk, 'Talking to Bran. Florrie talking to
Bran.' If this was wilful deceit it was most accomplished. It could
not have been better done. 'And who else were you talking to,
Florrie?' I said. She fixed her round blue eyes upon me, as if in
wonder, then looked away and said shortly, 'No one else.' And I could
not get her to confess or admit then or at any time afterward that she
had any cognisance at all of the fairy in Bran's kennel, although
their communications were daily, and often lasted for hours at a time.
I don't know that it makes things any better, but I have thought
sometimes that the child believed me to be as insensible to Thumbeline
as her mother was. She can only have believed it at first, of course,
but that may have prompted her to a concealment which she did not
afterwards care to confess to.

"Be this as it may, Florrie, in fact, behaved with Thumbeline exactly
as the two dogs did. She made no attempt to catch her at her circlings
and wheelings about the kennel, nor to follow her wonderful dances,
nor (in her presence) to imitate them. But she was (like the dogs)
aware of nobody else when under the spell of Thumbeline's personality;
and when she had got to know her she seemed to care for nobody else at
all. I ought, no doubt, to have foreseen that and guarded against it.

"Thumbeline was extremely attractive. I never saw such eyes as hers,
such mysterious fascination. She was nearly always good-tempered,
nearly always happy; but sometimes she had fits of temper and kept
herself to herself. Nothing then would get her out of the kennel,
where she would lie curled up like an animal with her knees to her
chin and one arm thrown over her face. Bran was always wretched at
these times, and did all he knew to coax her out. He ceased to care
for me or my wife after she came to us, and instead of being wild at
the prospect of his Saturday and Sunday runs, it was hard to get him
along. I had to take him on a lead until we had turned to go home;
then he would set off by himself, in spite of hallooing and scolding,
at a long steady gallop and one would find him waiting crouched at the
gate of his run, and Thumbeline on the ground inside it, with her legs
crossed like a tailor, mocking and teasing him with her wonderful
shining eyes. Only once or twice did I see her worse than sick or
sorry; then she was transported with rage and another person
altogether. She never touched me--and why or how I had offended her I
have no notion[5]--but she buzzed and hovered about me like an angry
bee. She appeared to have wings, which hummed in their furious
movement; she was red in the face, her eyes burned; she grinned at me
and ground her little teeth together. A curious shrill noise came
from her, like the screaming of a gnat or hoverfly; but no words,
never any words. Bran showed me his teeth too, and would not look at
me. It was very odd.

[Footnote 5: "I have sometimes thought," he adds in a note, "that it
may have been jealousy. My wife had been with me in the garden and had
stuck a daffodil in my coat."]

"When I looked in, on my return home, she was as merry as usual, and
as affectionate. I think she had no memory.

"I am trying to give all the particulars I was able to gather from
observation. In some things she was difficult, in others very easy to
teach. For instance, I got her to learn in no time that she ought to
wear her clothes, such as they were, when I was with her. She
certainly preferred to go without them, especially in the sunshine;
but by leaving her the moment she slipped her frock off I soon made
her understand that if she wanted me she must behave herself according
to my notions of behaviour. She got that fixed in her little head, but
even so she used to do her best to hoodwink me. She would slip out one
shoulder when she thought I wasn't looking, and before I knew where I
was half of her would be gleaming in the sun like satin. Directly I
noticed it I used to frown, and then she would pretend to be ashamed
of herself, hang her head, and wriggle her frock up to its place
again. However, I never could teach her to keep her skirts about her
knees. She was as innocent as a baby about that sort of thing.

"I taught her some English words, and a sentence or two. That was
toward the end of her confinement to the kennel, about March. I used
to touch parts of her, or of myself, or Bran, and peg away at the
names of them. Mouth, eyes, ears, hands, chest, tail, back, front: she
learned all those and more. Eat, drink, laugh, cry, love, kiss, those
also. As for kissing (apart from the word) she proved herself to be an
expert. She kissed me, Florrie, Bran, Strap indifferently, one as soon
as another, and any rather than none, and all four for choice.

"I learned some things myself, more than a thing or two. I don't mind
owning that one thing was to value my wife's steady and tried
affection far above the wild love of this unbalanced, unearthly little
creature, who seemed to be like nothing so much as a woman with the
conscience left out. The conscience, we believe, is the still small
voice of the Deity crying to us in the dark recesses of the body;
pointing out the path of duty; teaching respect for the opinion of the
world, for tradition, decency and order. It is thanks to conscience
that a man is true and a woman modest. Not that Thumbeline could be
called immodest, unless a baby can be so described, or an animal. But
could I be called 'true'? I greatly fear that I could not--in fact, I
know it too well. I meant no harm; I was greatly interested; and
there was always before me the real difficulty of making Mary
understand that something was in the kennel which she couldn't see. It
would have led to great complications, even if I had persuaded her of
the fact. No doubt she would have insisted on my getting rid of
Thumbeline--but how on earth could I have done that if Thumbeline had
not chosen to go? But for all that I know very well that I ought to
have told her, cost what it might. If I had done it I should have
spared myself lifelong regret, and should only have gone without a few
weeks of extraordinary interest which I now see clearly could not have
been good for me, as not being founded upon any revealed Christian
principle, and most certainly were not worth the price I had to pay
for them.

"I learned one more curious fact which I must not forget. Nothing
would induce Thumbeline to touch or pass over anything made of
zinc.[6] I don't know the reason of it; but gardeners will tell you
that the way to keep a plant from slugs is to put a zinc collar round
it. It is due to that I was able to keep her in Bran's run without
difficulty. To have got out she would have had to pass zinc. The wire
was all galvanised.

[Footnote 6: This is a curious thing, unsupported by any other
evidence known to me. I asked Despoina about it, but she would not, or
she did not, answer. She appeared not to understand what zinc was, and
I had none handy.]

"She showed her dislike of it in numerous ways: one was her care to
avoid touching the sides or top of the enclosure when she was at her
gambols. At such times, when she was at her wildest, she was all over
the place, skipping high like a lamb, twisting like a leveret,
wheeling round and round in circles like a young dog, or skimming,
like a swallow on the wing, above ground. But she never made a
mistake; she turned in a moment or flung herself backward if there was
the least risk of contact. When Florrie used to converse with her from
outside, in that curious silent way the two had, it would always be
the child that put its hands through the wire, never Thumbeline. I
once tried to put her against the roof when I was playing with her.
She screamed like a shot hare and would not come out of the kennel all
day. There was no doubt at all about her feelings for zinc. All other
metals seemed indifferent to her.

"With the advent of spring weather Thumbeline became not only more
beautiful, but wilder, and exceedingly restless. She now coaxed me to
let her out, and against my judgment I did it; she had to be carried
over the entry; for when I had set the gate wide open and pointed her
the way into the garden she squatted down in her usual attitude of
attention, with her legs crossed, and watched me, waiting. I wanted to
see how she would get through the hateful wire, so went away and hid
myself, leaving her alone with Bran. I saw her creep to the entry and
peer at the wire. What followed was curious. Bran came up wagging his
tail and stood close to her, his side against her head; he looked
down, inviting her to go out with him. Long looks passed between them,
and then Bran stooped his head, she put her arms around his neck,
twined her feet about his foreleg, and was carried out. Then she
became a mad thing, now bird, now moth; high and low, round and round,
flashing about the place for all the world like a humming-bird moth,
perfectly beautiful in her motions (whose ease always surprised me),
and equally so in her colouring of soft grey and dusky-rose flesh.
Bran grew a puppy again and whipped about after her in great circles
round the meadow. But though he was famous at coursing, and has killed
his hares single-handed, he was never once near Thumbeline. It was a
wonderful sight and made me late for business.

"By degrees she got to be very bold, and taught me boldness too, and
(I am ashamed to say) greater degrees of deceit. She came freely into
the house and played with Florrie up and down stairs; she got on my
knee at meal-times, or evenings when my wife and I were together. Fine
tricks she played me, I must own. She spilled my tea for me, broke
cups and saucers, scattered my Patience cards, caught poor Mary's
knitting wool and rolled it about the room. The cunning little
creature knew that I dared not scold her or make any kind of fuss. She
used to beseech me for forgiveness occasionally when I looked very
glum, and would touch my cheek to make me look at her imploring eyes,
and keep me looking at her till I smiled. Then she would put her arms
round my neck and pull herself up to my level and kiss me, and then
nestle down in my arms and pretend to sleep. By-and-by, when my
attention was called off her, she would pinch me, or tweak my necktie,
and make me look again at her wicked eye peeping out from under my
arm. I had to kiss her again, of course, and at last she might go to
sleep in earnest. She seemed able to sleep at any hour or in any
place, just like an animal.

"I had some difficulty in arranging for the night when once she had
made herself free of the house. She saw no reason whatever for our
being separated; but I circumvented her by nailing a strip of zinc all
round the door; and I put one round Florrie's too. I pretended to my
wife that it was to keep out draughts. Thumbeline was furious when she
found out how she had been tricked. I think she never quite forgave me
for it. Where she hid herself at night I am not sure. I think on the
sitting-room sofa; but on mild mornings I used to find her out-doors,
playing round Bran's kennel.

"Strap, our fox-terrier, picked up some rat poison towards the end of
April and died in the night. Thumbeline's way of taking that was very
curious. It shocked me a good deal. She had never been so friendly
with him as with Bran, though certainly more at ease in his company
than in mine. The night before he died I remember that she and Bran
and he had been having high games in the meadow, which had ended by
their all lying down together in a heap, Thumbeline's head on Bran's
flank, and her legs between his. Her arm had been round Strap's neck
in a most loving way. They made quite a picture for a Royal
Academician; 'Tired of Play,' or 'The End of a Romp,' I can fancy he
would call it. Next morning I found poor old Strap stiff and staring,
and Thumbeline and Bran at their games just the same. She actually
jumped over him and all about him as if he had been a lump of earth or
a stone. Just some such thing he was to her; she did not seem able to
realise that there was the cold body of her friend. Bran just sniffed
him over and left him, but Thumbeline showed no consciousness that he
was there at all. I wondered, was this heartlessness or obliquity? But
I have never found the answer to my question.[7]

[Footnote 7: I have observed this frequently for myself, and can
answer Beckwith's question for him. I would refer the reader in the
first place to my early experience of the boy (to call him so) with
the rabbit in the wood. There was an act of shocking cruelty, done
idly, almost unconsciously. I was not shocked at all, child as I was,
and quickly moved to pity and terror, because I knew that the creature
was not to be judged by our standards. From this and other things of
the sort which I have observed, and from this tale of Beckwith's, I
judge, that, to the fairy kind, directly life ceases to be lived at
the full, the object, be it fairy, or animal, or vegetable, is not
perceived by the other to exist. Thus, if a fairy should die, the
others would not know that its accidents were there; if a rabbit (as
in the case cited) should be caught it would therefore cease to be
rabbit. We ourselves have very much the same habit of regard toward
plant life. Our attitude to a tree or a growing plant ceases the
moment that plant is out of the ground. It is then, as we say,
_dead_--that is, it ceases to be a plant. So also we never scruple to
pluck the flowers, or the whole flower-scape from a plant, to put it
in our buttonhole or in the bosom of our friend, and thereafter to
cease our interest in the plant as such. It now becomes a memory, a
_gage d'amour_, a token or a sudden glory--what you will. This is the
habit of mankind; but I know of rare ones, both men and women, who
never allow dead flowers to be thrown into the draught, but always
give them decent burial, either cremation or earth to earth. I find
that admirable, yet don't condemn their neighbours, nor consider
fairies cruel who torture the living and disregard the maimed or the
dead.]

"Now I come to the tragical part of my story, and wish with all my
heart that I could leave it out. But beyond the full confession I have
made to my wife, the County Police and the newspapers, I feel that I
should not shrink from any admission that may be called for of how
much I have been to blame. In May, on the 13th of May, Thumbeline,
Bran, and our only child, Florrie, disappeared.

"It was a day, I remember well, of wonderful beauty. I had left them
all three together in the water meadow, little thinking of what was in
store for us before many hours. Thumbeline had been crowning Florrie
with a wreath of flowers. She had gathered cuckoo-pint and marsh
marigolds and woven them together, far more deftly than any of us
could have done, into a chaplet. I remember the curious winding,
wandering air she had been singing (without any words, as usual) over
her business, and how she touched each flower first with her lips, and
then brushed it lightly across her bosom before she wove it in. She
had kept her eyes on me as she did it, looking up from under her
brows, as if to see whether I knew what she was about.

"I don't doubt now but that she was bewitching Florrie by this curious
performance, which every flower had to undergo separately; but, fool
that I was, I thought nothing of it at the time, and bicycled off to
Salisbury leaving them there.

"At noon my poor wife came to me at the Bank distracted with anxiety
and fatigue. She had run most of the way, she gave me to understand.
Her news was that Florrie and Bran could not be found anywhere. She
said that she had gone to the gate of the meadow to call the child in,
and not seeing her, or getting any answer, she had gone down to the
river at the bottom. Here she had found a few picked wild flowers, but
no other traces. There were no footprints in the mud, either of child
or dog. Having spent the morning with some of the neighbours in a
fruitless search, she had now come to me.

"My heart was like lead, and shame prevented me from telling her the
truth as I was sure it must be. But my own conviction of it clogged
all my efforts. Of what avail could it be to inform the police or
organise search-parties, knowing what I knew only too well? However, I
did put Gulliver in communication with the head-office in Sarum, and
everything possible was done. We explored a circuit of six miles about
Wishford; every fold of the hills, every spinney, every hedgerow was
thoroughly examined. But that first night of grief had broken down my
shame: I told my wife the whole truth in the presence of Reverend
Richard Walsh, the Congregational minister, and in spite of her
absolute incredulity, and, I may add, scorn, next morning I repeated
it to Chief Inspector Notcutt of Salisbury. Particulars got into the
local papers by the following Saturday; and next I had to face the
ordeal of the _Daily Chronicle_, _Daily News_, _Daily Graphic_,
_Star_, and other London journals. Most of these newspapers sent
representatives to lodge in the village, many of them with
photographic cameras. All this hateful notoriety I had brought upon
myself, and did my best to bear like the humble, contrite Christian
which I hope I may say I have become. We found no trace of our dear
one, and never have to this day. Bran, too, had completely vanished. I
have not cared to keep a dog since.

"Whether my dear wife ever believed my account I cannot be sure. She
has never reproached me for wicked thoughtlessness, that's certain.
Mr. Walsh, our respected pastor, who has been so kind as to read this
paper, told me more than once that he could hardly doubt it. The
Salisbury police made no comments upon it one way or another. My
colleagues at the Bank, out of respect for my grief and sincere
repentance, treated me with a forbearance for which I can never be too
grateful. I need not add that every word of this is absolutely true. I
made notes of the most remarkable characteristics of the being I
called Thumbeline _at the time of remarking them_, and those notes are
still in my possession."

       *       *       *       *       *

Here, with the exception of a few general reflections which are of
little value, Mr. Beckwith's paper ends. It was read, I ought to say,
by the Rev. Richard Walsh at the meeting of the South Wilts Folk-lore
Society and Field Club held at Amesbury in June 1892, and is to be
found in the published transactions of that body (Vol. IV. New Series,
pp. 305 _seq._).




THE FAIRY WIFE


There is nothing surprising in that story, to my mind, but the
reprobation with which Beckwith visits himself. What could he have
done that he did not? How could he have refrained from doing what he
did? Yet there are curious things about it, and one of those is the
partiality of the manifestation. The fairy was visible to him, his
child and his dogs but to no one else. So, in my own experience, had
she been whom I saw in K---- Park, whom Harkness, my companion, did
not see. My explanation of it does not carry me over all the
difficulties. I say, or will repeat if I have said it before, that the
fairy kind are really the spirit, essence, substance (what you will)
of certain sensible things, such as trees, flowers, wind, water,
hills, woods, marshes and the like, that their normal appearance to us
is that of these natural phenomena; but that in certain states of
mind, perhaps in certain conditions of body, there is a relation
established by which we are able to see them on our own terms, as it
were, or in our own idiom, and they also to treat with us to some
extent, to a large extent, on the same plane or standing-ground. That
there are limitations to this relationship is plain already; for
instance, Beckwith was not able to get his fairy prisoner to speak,
and I myself have never had speech with more than one in my life. But
as to that I shall have a very curious case to report shortly, where a
man taught his fairy-wife to speak.

The mentioning of that undoubted marriage brings me to the question of
sex. There is, of course, not the slightest doubt about it. Mrs.
Ventris was a fairy wife. Mrs. Ventris was a puzzle to me for a good
many years--in fact until Despoina explained to me many things. For
Mrs. Ventris had a permanent human shape, and spoke as freely as you
or I. I thought at one time that she might be the offspring of a mixed
marriage, like Elsie Marks (whose mother, by the way, was another case
of the sort); but in fact Mrs. Ventris and Mrs. Marks were both fairy
wives, and the wood-girl, Mabilla King, whose case I am going to deal
with was another. But this particular relationship is one which my
explanation of fairy apparitions does not really cover: for marriage
implies a permanent accessibility (to put it so) of two normally
inaccessible natures; and parentage implies very much more. That,
indeed, implies what the Christians call Miracle; but it is quite
beyond dispute. I have a great number of cases ready to my hand, and
shall deal at large with all of them in the course of this essay, in
which fairies have had intercourse with mortals. It is by no means the
fact that the wife is always of the fairy-kind. My own experience at
C---- shall prove that. But I must content myself with mentioning the
well-known case of Mary Wellwood who was wife to a carpenter near
Ashby de la Zouche, and was twice taken by a fairy and twice
recovered. She had children in each of her states of being, and on one
recorded occasion her two families met. It appears to be a law that
the wife takes the nature of the husband, or as much of it as she can,
and it is important to remark that _in all cases_ the children are of
the husband's nature, fairy or mortal as he may happen to be.
"Nature," Despoina told me, "follows the male." So far as fairies are
concerned it seems certain that union with mortals runs in families or
clans, if one may so describe their curious relationships to each
other. There were five sisters of the wood in one of the Western
departments of France (Lot-et-Garonne, I think), who all married men:
two of them married two brothers. Apart they led the decorous lives of
the French middle class, but when they were together it was a sight to
see! A curious one, and to us, with our strong associations of ideas,
that tremendous hand which memory has upon our heart-strings, a
poignant one. For they had lost their powers, but not their impulses.
It was a case of _si vieillesse pouvait_. I suppose they may have
appeared to some chance wayfarer, getting a glimpse of them at their
gambols between the poplar stems of the road, or in the vistas of the
hazel-brakes, as a company of sprightly matrons on a frolic. To the
Greeks foolishness! And be sure that such an observer would shrug them
out of mind. My own impression is that these ladies were perfectly
happy, that they had nothing of that _maggior' dolore_ which we
mortals know, and for which our joys have so often to pay. Let us hope
so at any rate, for about a fairy or a growing boy conscious of the
prison-shades could Poe have spun his horrors.

"To the Greeks foolishness," I said in my haste; but in very truth it
was far from being so. To the Greeks there was nothing extraordinary
in the parentage of a river or the love of a God for a mortal. Nor
should there be to a Christian who accepts the orthodox account of the
foundation of his faith. So far as we know, the generative process of
every created thing is the same; it is, therefore, an allowable
inference that the same process obtains with the created things which
are not sensible to ourselves. If flowers mate and beget as we do, why
not winds and waters, why not gods and nymphs, fauns and fairies? It
is the creative urgency that imports more than the creative matter. To
my mind, _magna componere parvis_, it is my fixed belief that all
created nature known to us is the issue of the mighty love of God for
his first-made creature the Earth. I accept the Greek mythology as the
nearest account of the truth we are likely to get. I have never had
the least difficulty in accepting it; and all I have since found out
of the relations of men with their fellow-creatures of other genera
confirms me in the belief that the urgency is the paramount necessity.

If I am to deal with a case of a mixed marriage, where the wife was a
fairy, the spirit of a tree, I shall ask leave to set down first a
plain proposition, which is that all Natural Facts (as wind, hills,
lakes, trees, animals, rain, rivers, flowers) have an underlying Idea
or Soul whereby they really are what they appear, to which they owe
the beauty, majesty, pity, terror, love, which they excite in us; and
that this Idea, or Soul, having a real existence of its own in
community with its companions of the same nature, can be discerned by
mortal men in forms which best explain to human intelligence the
passions which they excite in human breasts. This is how I explain the
fact, for instance, that the austerity of a lonely rock at sea will
take the form and semblance, and much more than that, assume the
prerogatives of a brooding man, or that the swift freedom of a river
will pass by, as in a flash, in the coursing limbs of a youth, or that
at dusk, out of a reed-encircled mountain-tarn, silvery under the hush
of the grey hour, there will rise, and gleam, and sink again, the pale
face, the shoulders and breast of the Spirit of the Pool; that,
finally, the grace of a tree, and its panic of fury when lashed by
storm, very capable in either case of inspiring love or horror, will
be revealed rarely in the form of a nymph. There may be a more
rational explanation of these curious things, but I don't know of one:

     _Fortunatus et ille, Deos qui novit agrestes!_

Happy may one be in the fairies of our own country. Happy, even yet,
are they who can find the Oreads of the hill, Dryads of the wood,
nymphs of river, marsh, plough-land, pasture, and heath. Now, leaving
to Greece the things that are Greek, here for an apologue follows a
plain recital of facts within the knowledge of every man of the
Cheviots.


I

There is in that country, not far from Otterburn--between Otterburn
and the Scottish border--a remote hamlet consisting of a few white
cottages, farm buildings and a shingle-spired church. It is called
Dryhope, and lies in a close valley, which is watered by a beck or
burn, known as the Dryhope Burn. It is deeply buried in the hills.
Spurs of the Cheviots as these are, they rise to a considerable
elevation, but are pasturable nearly to the top. There, however, where
the heather begins, peat-hags and morasses make dangerous provision,
from which the flocks are carefully guarded. It is the practice of the
country for the shepherds to be within touch of them all night, lest
some, feeding upward (as sheep always do) should reach the summits and
be lost or mired inextricably. These upland stretches, consequently,
are among the most desolate spots to be found in our islands. I have
walked over them myself within recent years and met not a human soul,
nor beast of man's taming. Ravens, curlews, peewits, a lagging fox or
limping hare; such, with the unsensed Spirits of the Earth, will be
your company. In particular I traversed (in 1902) the great upland
called Limmer Fell, and saw the tarn--Silent Water--and the trees
called The Seven Sisters. They are silver birches of remarkable size
and beauty. One of them is fallen. Standing there, looking north-west,
the Knapp may be seen easily, some five miles away; and the extent of
the forest with which it is covered can be estimated. A great and
solemn wood that is, which no borderer will ever enter if he can help
it.

There was--and may be still--a family of shepherds living in Dryhope
of the name of King. When these things occurred there were alive
George King, a patriarch of seventy-five years, Miranda King, his
daughter-in-law, widow of his son, who was supposed to be a
middle-aged woman, and a young man, Andrew King, her only son. That
was the family; and there was a girl, Bessie Prawle, daughter of a
neighbour, very much in and out of the house, and held by common
report to be betrothed to Andrew. She used to help the widow in
domestic matters, see to the poultry, milk the cow, churn the butter,
press the cheeses. The Kings were independent people, like the
dalesmen of Cumberland, and stood, as the saying is, upon their own
foot-soles. Old King had a tenant-right upon the fell, and owed no man
anything.

There was said to be a mystery connected with Miranda the widow, who
was a broad-browed, deep-breasted, handsome woman, very dark and
silent. She was not a native of Redesdale, not known to be of
Northumberland. Her husband, who had been a sailor, had brought her
back with him one day, saying that she was his wife and her name
Miranda. He had said no more about her, would say no more, and had
been drowned at sea before his son was born. She, for her part, had
been as uncommunicative as he. Such reticence breeds wonderment in the
minds of such a people as they of Dryhope, and out of wonderment arise
wonders. It was told that until Miranda King was brought in sea-birds
had never been seen in Dryhopedale. It was said that they came on that
very night when George King the younger came home, and she with him,
carrying his bundle and her own. It was said that they had never since
left the hamlet, and that when Miranda went out of doors, which was
seldom, she was followed by clouds of them whichever way she turned. I
have no means of testing the truth of these rumours, but, however it
may be, no scandal was ever brought against her. She was respectable
and respected. Old King, the grandfather, relied strongly upon her
judgment. She brought up her son in decent living and the fear of God.

In the year when Andrew was nineteen he was a tall, handsome lad, and
a shepherd, following the profession, as he was to inherit the estate,
of his forebears. One April night in that year he and his grandfather,
the pair of them with a collie, lay out on the fell-side together.
Lambing is late in Redesdale, the spring comes late; April is often a
month of snow.

They had a fire and their cloaks; the ground was dry, and they lay
upon it under a clear sky strewn with stars. At midnight George King,
the grandfather, was asleep, but Andrew was broad awake. He heard the
flock (which he could not see) sweep by him like a storm, the
bell-wether leading, and as they went up the hill the wind began to
blow, a long, steady, following blast. The collie on his feet, ears
set flat on his head, shuddering with excitement, whined for orders.
Andrew, after waking with difficulty his grandfather, was told to go
up and head them off. He sent the dog one way--off in a flash, he
never returned that night--and himself went another. He was not seen
again for two days. To be exact, he set out at midnight on Thursday
the 12th April, and did not return to Dryhope until eleven o'clock of
the morning of Saturday the 14th. The sheep, I may say here, came back
by themselves on the 13th, the intervening day.

That night of the 12th April is still commemorated in Dryhope as one
of unexampled spring storm, just as a certain October night of the
next year stands yet as the standard of comparison for all equinoctial
gales. The April storm, we hear, was very short and had several
peculiar features. It arose out of a clear sky, blew up a snow-cloud
which did no more than powder the hills, and then continued to blow
furiously out of a clear sky. It was steady but inconceivably strong
while it lasted; the force and pressure of the wind did not vary until
just the end. It came from the south-east, which is the rainy quarter
in Northumberland, but without rain. It blew hard from midnight, until
three o'clock in the morning, and then, for half an hour, a hurricane.
The valley and hamlet escaped as by a miracle. Mr. Robson, the vicar,
awakened by it, heard the wind like thunder overhead and went out of
doors to observe it. He went out into a still, mild air coming from
the north-west, and still heard it roaring like a mad thing high above
him. Its direction, as he judged by sound, was the precise contrary of
the ground current. In the morning, wreckage of all kinds, branches of
trees, roots, and whole clumps of heather strewn about the village and
meadows, while showing that a furious battle had been fought out on
the fells, confirmed this suspicion. A limb of a tree, draped in ivy,
was recognised as part of an old favourite of his walks. The ash from
which it had been torn stood to the south-east of the village. In the
course of the day (the 13th) news was brought in that one of the Seven
Sisters was fallen, and that a clean drive could be seen through the
forest on the top of Knapp. Coupled with these dreadful testimonies
you have the disappearance of Andrew King to help you form your
vision of a village in consternation.

Hear now what befell young Andrew King when he swiftly climbed the
fell, driven forward by the storm. The facts are that he was agog for
adventure, since, all unknown to any but himself, he had ventured to
the summits before, had stood by Silent Water, touched the Seven
Sisters one by one, and had even entered the dreadful, haunted, forest
of Knapp. He had had a fright, had been smitten by that sudden gripe
of fear which palsies limbs and freezes blood, which the ancients
called the Stroke of Pan, and we still call Panic after them. He had
never forgotten what he had seen, though he had lost the edge of the
fear he had. He was older now by some two years, and only waiting the
opportunity for renewed experience. He hoped to have it--and he had
it.

The streaming gale drove him forward as a ship at sea. He ran lightly,
without fatigue or troubled breath. Dimly above him he presently saw
the seven trees, dipping and louting to the weather; but as he neared
them they had no meaning for him, did not, indeed, exist. For now he
saw more than they, and otherwise than men see trees.


II

In a mild and steady light, which came from no illumination of moon or
stars, but seemed to be interfused with the air, in the strong warm
wind which wrapped the fell-top; upon a sward of bent-grass which ran
toward the tarn and ended in swept reeds he saw six young women
dancing in a ring. Not to any music that he could hear did they move,
nor was the rhythm of their movement either ordered or wild. It was
not formal dancing, and it was not at all a Bacchic rout: rather they
flitted hither and thither on the turf, now touching hands, now
straining heads to one another, crossing, meeting, parting, winding
about and about with the purposeless and untirable frivolity of moths.
They seemed neither happy nor unhappy, they made no sound; it looked
to the lad as if they had been so drifting from the beginning, and
would so drift to the end of things temporal. Their loose hair
streamed out in the wind, their light gossamer gowns streamed the same
way, whipped about their limbs as close as wet muslin. They were
bare-footed, bare-armed, and bare-headed. They all had beauty, but it
was not of earthly cast. He saw one with hair like pale silk, and one,
ruddy and fierce in the face, with snaky black hair which, he thought,
flew out beyond her for a full yard's measure. Another had
hazel-brown hair and a sharp little peering face; another's was colour
of ripe corn, and another's like a thunder-cloud, copper-tinged. About
and about they went, skimming the tops of the grasses, and Andrew
King, his heart hammering at his ribs, watched them at their play. So
by chance one saw him, and screamed shrilly, and pointed at him.

Then they came about him like a swarm of bees, angry at first, humming
a note like that of the telegraph wire on a mountain road, but, as he
stood his ground, curiosity prevailed among them and they pried
closely at him. They touched him, felt his arms, his knees, handled
his clothing, peered into his eyes. All this he endured, though he was
in a horrible fright. Then one, the black-haired girl with a bold,
proud face, came and stood closely before him and looked him full into
his eyes. He gave her look for look. She put a hand on each shoulder
and kissed him. After that there was a tussle among them, for each
must do what her sister had done. They took a kiss apiece, or maybe
more; then, circling round him, they swept him forward on the wind,
past Silent Water, over the Edge, out on the fells, on and on and on,
and never stopped till they reached Knapp Forest, that dreadful place.

There in the hushed aisles and glades they played with this new-found
creature, played with him, fought for him, and would have loved him if
he had been minded for such adventuring. Two in particular he marked
as desiring his closer company--the black-haired and bold was one, and
the other was the sharp-faced and slim with eyes of a mouse and
hazel-brown hair. He called her the laughing girl and thought her the
kindest of them all. But they were all his friends at this time.
Andrew King, like young Tamlane, might have sojourned with them for
ever and a day, but for one thing. He saw by chance a seventh
maiden--a white-faced, woe-begone, horror-struck Seventh Sister,
blenched and frozen under a great beech. She may have been there
throughout his commerce with the rest, or she may have been revealed
to him in a flash then and there. So as it was he saw her suddenly,
and thereafter saw no other at all. She held his eyes waking; he left
his playmates and went to her where she crouched. He stooped and took
her hand. It was as cold as a dead girl's and very heavy. Amid the
screaming of the others, undeterred by their whirling and battling, he
lifted up the frozen one. He lifted her bodily and carried her in his
arms. They swept all about him like infuriated birds. The sound of
their rage was like that of gulls about a fish in the tide-way; but
they laid no hands on him, and said nothing that he could understand,
and by this time his awe was gone, and his heart was on fire. Holding
fast to what he had and wanted, he pushed out of Knapp Forest and took
the lee-side of the Edge on his way to Dryhope. This must have been
about the time of the gale at its worst. The Seventh Sister by Silent
Water may have fallen at this time; for had not Andrew King the
Seventh Sister in his arms?

Anxiety as to the fate of Andrew King was spread over the village and
the greatest sympathy felt for the bereaved family. To have lost a
flock of sheep, a dog, and an only child at one blow is a terrible
misfortune. Old King, I am told, was prostrated, and the girl, Bessie
Prawle, violent in her lamentations over her "lad." The only person
unmoved was the youth's mother, Miranda King the widow. She, it seems,
had no doubts of his safety, and declared that he "would come in his
time, like his father before him"--a saying which, instead of
comforting the mourners, appears to have exasperated them. Probably
they did not at all understand it. Such consolations as Mr. Robson the
minister had to offer she received respectfully, but without comment.
All she had to say was that she could trust her son; and when he urged
that she had better by far trust in God, her reply, finally and
shortly, was that God was bound by His own laws and had not given us
heads and hearts for nothing. I am free to admit that her theology
upon this point seems to me remarkably sound.

In the course of the 13th, anxious day as it promised to be, old
George King, returning from a fruitless quest over the fells, came
upon his sheep within a few hundred yards of his own house, collected
together in a flock and under the watch of his dog. They were, in
fact, as nearly as possible where he had understood them to be before
their stampede of the previous night. He was greatly heartened by the
discovery, though unable to account for the facts of it. The dog was
excessively tired, and ate greedily. Next morning, when the family and
some neighbours were standing together on the fell-side looking up the
valley where the Dryhope burn comes down from the hills, they saw two
figures on the rough road which follows it. Mrs. King, the widow, I
believe, had seen them first, but she had said nothing. It was Bessie
Prawle who raised the first cry that "Andrew was coming, and his wife
with him." All looked in the direction she showed them and recognised
the young man. Behind him walked the figure of a woman. This is the
accustomed manner of a man and wife to walk in that country. It is
almost a proof of their relationship. Being satisfied of the identity
of their child the whole party returned to the homestead to await him
and what he was bringing with him. Speculation was rife and volubly
expressed, especially by Bessie Prawle. Miranda King, however, was
silent; but it was noticed that she kept her eyes fixed upon the woman
behind her son, and that her lips moved as if she was muttering to
herself.

The facts were as the expectations. Andrew King brought forward a
young, timid and unknown girl as his wife. By that name he led her up
to his grandfather, then to his mother; as such he explained her to
his neighbours, including (though not by name) Bessie Prawle, who had
undoubtedly hoped to occupy that position herself.

Old King, overcome with joy at seeing his boy alive and well, and
dazed, probably, by events, put his hands upon the girl's head and
blessed her after the patriarchal fashion there persisting. He seems
to have taken canonical marriage for granted, though nobody else did,
and though a moment's reflection, had he been capable of so much,
would have shown him that that could not be. The neighbours were too
well disposed to the family to raise any doubts or objections; Bessie
Prawle was sullen and quiet; only Miranda King seems to have been
equal to the occasion. She, as if in complete possession of facts
which satisfied every question, received the girl as an equal. She did
not kiss her or touch her, but looked deeply into her eyes for a long
space of time, and took from her again an equally searching regard;
then, turning to her father-in-law and the company at large, she said,
"This is begun, and will be done. He is like his father before him."
To that oracular utterance old King, catching probably but the last
sentence, replied, "And he couldn't do better, my child." He meant no
more than a testimony to his daughter-in-law. Mrs. King's
observations, coupled with that, nevertheless, went far to give credit
to the alleged marriage.

The girl, so far, had said nothing whatever, though she had been
addressed with more than one rough but kindly compliment on her youth
and good looks. And now Andrew King explained that she was dumb.
Consternation took the strange form of jocular approval of his
discretion in selecting a wife who could never nag him--but it was
consternation none the less. The mystery was felt to be deeper; there
was nothing for it now but to call in the aid of the parish
priest--"the minister," as they called him--and this was done. By the
time he had arrived, Miranda King had taken the girl into the cottage,
and the young husband and his grandfather had got the neighbours to
disperse. Bessie Prawle, breathing threatenings and slaughter, had
withdrawn herself.

Mr. Robson, a quiet sensible man of nearer sixty than fifty years,
sat in the cottage, hearing all that his parishioners could tell him
and using his eyes. He saw the centre-piece of all surmise, a
shrinking, pale slip of a girl, by the look of her not more than
fifteen or sixteen years old. She was not emaciated by any means,
seemed to be well nourished, and was quite as vigorous as any child of
that age who could have been pitted against her. Her surroundings
cowed her, he judged. To Dryhope she was a stranger, a foreigner; to
her Dryhope and the Dryhopedale folk were perilous matter. Her general
appearance was that of a child who had never had anything but
ill-usage; she flinched at every sudden movement, and followed one
about with her great unintelligent eyes, as if she was trying to
comprehend what they showed her. Her features were regular and
delicate; her brows broad and eyebrows finely arched, her chin full,
her neck slim, her hands and feet narrow and full of what fanciers
call "breed." Her hair was very long and fine, dark brown with gleams
of gold; her eyes were large, grey in colour, but, as I have said,
unintelligent, like an animal's, which to us always seem
unintelligent. I should have mentioned, for Mr. Robson noticed it at
once, that her hair was unconfined, and that, so far as he could make
out, she wore but a single garment--a sleeveless frock, confined at
the waist and reaching to her knees. It was of the colour of
unbleached flax and of a coarse web. Her form showed through, and the
faint flush of her skin. She was a finely made girl. Her legs and feet
were bare. Immodest as such an appearance would have been in one of
the village maids, he did not feel it to be so with her. Her look was
so entirely foreign to his experience that there was no standard of
comparison. Everything about her seemed to him to be quite what one
would have expected, until one came, so to speak, in touch with her
soul. That, if it lay behind her inscrutable, sightless and dumb eyes,
betrayed her. There was no hint of it. Human in form, visibly and
tangibly human, no soul sat in her great eyes that a man could
discern. That, however, is not now the point. Rather it is that, to
all appearance a modest and beautiful girl, she was remarkably
undressed. It was inconceivable that a modest and beautiful girl could
so present herself, and yet a modest and beautiful girl she was.

Mr. Robson put it to himself this way. There are birds--for instance,
jays, kingfishers, goldfinches--which are, taken absolutely, extremely
brilliant in colouring. Yet they do not jar, are not obtrusive. So it
was with her. Her dress was, perhaps, taken absolutely, indecorous.
Upon her it looked at once seemly and beautiful. Upon Bessie Prawle it
would have been glaring; but one had to dissect it before one could
discover any fault with it upon its wearer. She was very pale, even to
the lips, which were full and parted, as if she must breathe through
her mouth. He noticed immediately the shortness of her breath. It was
very distressing, and after a little while induced the same thing in
himself. And not in him only, but I can fancy that the whole group of
them sitting round her where she was crouched against Miranda King's
knees, were panting away like steam-engines before they had done with
her. While Mr. Robson was there Miranda never took her arm off her
shoulder for a moment; but the girl's eyes were always fixed upon
Andrew, who called himself her husband, unless her apprehensions were
directly called elsewhere. In that case she would look in the required
direction for the fraction of a second, terrified and ready, as you
may say, to die at a movement, and then, her fears at rest, back to
her husband's face.

Mr. Robson's first business was to examine Andrew King, a perfectly
honest, well-behaved lad, whom he had known from his cradle. He was
candid--up to a point. He had found her on the top of Knapp Fell, he
said; she had been with others, who ill-treated her. What others?
Others of her sort. Fairies, he said, who lived up there. He pressed
him about this. Fairies? Did he really believe in such beings? Like
all country people he spoke about these things with the utmost
difficulty, and when confronted by worldly wisdom, became dogged. He
said how could he help it when here was one? Mr. Robson told him that
he was begging the question, but he looked very blank. To the surprise
of the minister, old King--old George King, the grandfather--had no
objections to make to the suggestion of fairies on Knapp Fell. He
could not say, there was no telling; Knapp was a known place; strange
things were recorded of the forest. Miranda, his daughter-in-law, was
always a self-contained woman, with an air about her of being
forewarned. He instanced her, and the minister asked her several
questions. Being pressed, she finally said, "Sir, my son is as likely
right as wrong. We must all make up our own minds." There that matter
had to be left.

Andrew said that he had followed the fairies from the tarn on Lammer
Fell into Knapp Forest. They had run away from him, taking this girl
of his, as he supposed, with them. He had followed them because he
meant to have her. They knew that, so had run. Why did he want her? He
said that he had seen her before. When? Oh, long ago--when he had been
up there alone. He had seen her face among the trees for a moment.
They had been hurting her; she looked at him, she was frightened, but
couldn't cry out--only look and ask. He had never forgotten her; her
looks had called him often, and he had kept his eyes wide open. Now,
when he had found her again, he determined to have her. And at last,
he said, he had got her. He had had to fight for her, for they had
been about him like hell-cats and had jumped at him as if they would
tear him to pieces, and screamed and hissed like cats. But when he had
got her in his arms they had all screamed together, once--like a
howling wind--and had flown away.

What next? Here he became obstinate, as if foreseeing what was to be.
What next? He had married her. Married her! How could he marry a fairy
on the top of Knapp Fell? Was there a church there, by chance? Had a
licence been handy? "Let me see her lines, Andrew," Mr. Robson had
said somewhat sternly in conclusion. His answer had been to lift up
her left hand and show the thin third finger. It carried a ring, made
of plaited rush. "I put that on her," he said, "and said all the words
over her out of the book." "And you think you have married her,
Andrew?" It was put to him _ex cathedra_. He grew very red and was
silent; presently he said, "Well, sir, I do think so. But she's not my
wife yet, if that's what you mean." The good gentleman felt very much
relieved. It was satisfactory to him that he could still trust his
worthy young parishioner.

Entirely under the influence of Miranda King, he found the family
unanimous for a real wedding. To that there were two objections to
make. He could not put up the banns of a person without a name, and
would not marry a person unbaptised. Now, to baptise an adult
something more than sponsors are requisite; there must be voluntary
assent to the doctrines of religion by the postulant. In this case,
how to be obtained? He saw no way, since it was by no means plain to
him that the girl could understand a word that was said. He left the
family to talk it over among themselves, saying, as he went out of the
door, that his confidence in their principles was so strong that he
was sure they would sanction no step which would lead the two young
people away from the church door.

In the morning Miranda King came to him with a report that matters had
been arranged and only needed his sanction. "I can trust my son, and
see him take her with a good conscience," she told him. "She's not one
of his people, but she's one of mine; and what I have done she can do,
and is willing to do."

The clergyman was puzzled. "What do you mean by that, Mrs. King?" he
asked her. "What are _your people_? How do they differ from mine, or
your husband's?"

She hesitated. "Well, sir, in this way. She hasn't got your tongue,
nor my son's tongue."

"She has none at all," said the minister; but Miranda replied, "She
can talk without her tongue."

"Yes, my dear," he said, "but I cannot."

"But I can," was her answer; "she can talk to me--and will talk to
you; but not yet. She's dumb for a season, she's struck so. My son
will give her back her tongue--by-and-by."

He was much interested. He asked Miranda to tell him who had struck
her dumb. For a long time she would not answer. "We don't name
him--it's not lawful. He that has the power--the Master--I can go no
nearer." He urged her to openness, got her at last to mention "The
King of the Wood." The King of the Wood! There she stuck, and nothing
he could say could move her from that name, The King of the Wood.

He left it so, knowing his people, and having other things to ask
about. What tongue or speech had the respectable, the staid Miranda
King in common with the scared waif? To that she answered that she
could not tell him; but that it was certain they could understand each
other. How? "By looks," she said, and added scornfully, "she's not
the kind that has to clatter with her tongue to have speech with her
kindred."

Miranda, then, was a kinswoman! He showed his incredulity, and the
woman flushed. "See here, Mr. Robson," she said, "I am of the sea, and
she of the fell, but we are the same nation. We are not of yours, but
you can make us so. Directly I saw her I knew what she was; and so did
she know me. How? By the eyes and understanding. I felt who she was.
As she is now so was I once. As I am now so will she be. I'll answer
for her; I'm here to do it. When once I'd followed my man I never
looked back; no more will she. The woman obeys the man--that's the
law. If a girl of your people was taken with a man of mine she'd lose
her speech and forsake her home and ways. That's the law all the world
over. God Almighty's self, if He were a woman, would do the same. He
couldn't help it. The law is His; but He made it so sure that not
Himself could break it."

"What law do you mean?" she was asked. She said, "The law of life. The
woman follows the man."

This proposition he was not prepared to deny, and the end of it was
that Mr. Robson baptised the girl, taking Miranda for godmother.
Mabilla they called her by her sponsor's desire, "Mabilla
By-the-Wood," and as such she was published and married. You may be
disposed to blame him for lightness of conscience, but I take leave to
tell you that he had had the cure of souls in Dryhope for
five-and-thirty years. He claimed on that score to know his people.
The more he knew of them, the less he was able to question the lore of
such an one as Miranda King. And he might remind you that Mabilla King
is alive to this hour, a wife and mother of children. That is a fact,
and it is also a fact, as I am about to tell you, that she had a hard
fight to win such peace.

Married, made a woman, she lost her haunted look and gained some
colour in her cheeks. She lost her mortal chill. Her clothing, the
putting up of her hair made some difference, but loving entreaty all
the difference in the world. To a casual glance there was nothing but
refinement to distinguish her from her neighbours, to a closer one
there was more than that. Her eyes, they said, had the far, intent,
rapt gaze of a wild animal. They seemed to search minutely, reaching
beyond our power of vision, to find there things beyond our human ken.
But whereas the things which she looked at, invisible to us, caused
her no dismay, those within our range, the most ordinary and
commonplace, filled her with alarm. Her eyes, you may say, communed
with the unseen, and her soul followed their direction and dwelt
remote from her body. She was easily startled, not only by what she
saw but by what she heard. Nobody was ever more sensitive to sound.
They say that a piano-tuner goes not by sound, but by the vibrations
of the wire, which he is able to test without counting. It was so with
her. She seemed to feel the trembling of the circumambient air, and to
know by its greater or less intensity that something--and very often
what thing in particular--was affecting it. All her senses were
preternaturally acute--she could see incredible distances, hear,
smell, in a way that only wild nature can. Added to these, she had
another sense, whereby she could see what was hidden from us and
understand what we could not even perceive. One could guess as much,
on occasions, by the absorbed intensity of her gaze. But when she was
with her husband (which was whenever he would allow it) she had no
eyes, ears, senses or thoughts for any other living thing, seen or
unseen. She followed him about like a dog, and when that might not be
her eyes followed him. Sometimes, when he was afield with his sheep,
they saw her come out of the cottage and slink up the hedgerow to the
fell's foot. She would climb the brae, search him out, and then crouch
down and sit watching him, never taking her eyes off him. When he was
at home her favourite place was at his feet. She would sit huddled
there for hours, and his hand would fall upon her hair or rest on her
shoulder; and you could see the pleasure thrilling her, raying out
from her--just as you can see, as well as hear, a cat purring by the
fire. He used to whisper in her ear as if she was a child: like a
child she used to listen and wonder. Whether she understood him or no
it was sometimes the only way of soothing her. Her trembling stopped
at the sound of his voice, and her eyes left off staring and showed
the glow of peace. For whole long evenings they sat close together,
his hand upon her hair and his low voice murmuring in her ear.

This much the neighbours report and the clergyman confirms, as also
that all went well with the young couple for the better part of two
years. The girl grew swiftly towards womanhood, became sleek and
well-liking; had a glow and a promise of ripeness which bid fair to be
redeemed. A few omens, however, remained, disquieting when those who
loved her thought of them. One was that she got no human speech,
though she understood everything that was said to her; another that
she showed no signs of motherhood; a third that Bessie Prawle could
not abide her. She alone of all the little community avoided the King
household, and scowled whensoever she happened to cross the path of
this gentle outland girl. Jealousy was presumed the cause; but I
think there was more in it than that. I think that Bessie Prawle
believed her to be a witch.


III

To eyes prepared for coming disaster things small in themselves loom
out of a clear sky portentous. Such eyes had not young Andrew King the
bride-groom, a youth made man by love, secure in his treasure and
confident in his power of keeping what his confidence had won. Such
eyes may or may not have had Mabilla, though hers seemed to be centred
in her husband, where he was or where he might be. George King was old
and looked on nothing but his sheep, or the weather as it might affect
his sheep. Miranda King, the self-contained, stoic woman, had schooled
her eyes to see her common duties. Whatever else she may have seen she
kept within the door of her shut lips. She may have known what was
coming, she must have known that whatever came had to come. Bessie
Prawle, however, with hatred, bitter fear and jealousy to sharpen her,
saw much.

Bessie Prawle was a handsome, red-haired girl, deep in the breast,
full-eyed and of great colour. Her strength was remarkable. She could
lift a heifer into a cart, and had once, being dared to it, carried
Andrew King up the brae in her arms. The young man, she supposed,
owed her a grudge for that; she believed herself unforgiven, and saw
in this sudden marriage of his a long-meditated act of revenge. By
that in her eyes (and as she thought, in the eyes of all Dryhope) he
had ill-requited her, put her to unthinkable shame. She saw herself
with her favours of person and power passed over for a nameless,
haunted, dumb thing, a stray from some other world into a world of
men, women, and the children they rear to follow them. She scorned
Mabilla for flinching so much, she scorned her for not flinching more.
That Mabilla could be desirable to Andrew King made her scoff; that
Andrew King should not know her dangerous kept her awake at night.

For the world seemed to her a fearful place since Mabilla had been
brought into it. There were signs everywhere. That summer it thundered
out of a clear sky. Once in the early morning she had seen a bright
light above the sun--a mock sun which shone more fiercely than a fire
in daylight. She heard wild voices singing; on still days she saw the
trees in Knapp Forest bent to a furious wind. When Mabilla crept up
the fell on noiseless feet to spy for Andrew King, Bessie Prawle heard
the bents hiss and crackle under her, as if she set them afire.

Next summer, too, there were portents. There was a great drought, so
great that Dryhope burn ran dry, and water had to be fetched from a
distance for the sheep. There were heather fires in many places; smut
got into the oats, and a plague of caterpillars attacked the trees so
that in July they were leafless, and there was no shade. There was no
pasture for the kine, which grew lean and languid. Their bones stuck
out through their skin; they moaned as they lay on the parched earth,
and had not strength enough to swish at the clouds of flies. They had
sores upon them, which festered and spread. If Mabilla, the nameless
wife, was not responsible for this, who could be? Perhaps Heaven was
offended with Dryhope on account of Andrew King's impiety. Bessie
believed that Mabilla was a witch.

She followed the girl about, spying on everything she did. Once, at
least, she came upon her lying in the heather. She was plaiting rushes
together into a belt, and Bessie thought she was weaving a spell and
sprang upon her. The girl cowered, very white, and Bessie Prawle, her
heart on fire, gave tongue to all her bitter thoughts. The witch-wife,
fairy-wife, child or whatever she was seemed to wither as a flower in
a hot wind. Bessie Prawle towered above her in her strength, and
gained invective with every fierce breath she took. Her blue eyes
burned, her bosom heaved like the sea; her arm bared to the shoulder
could have struck a man down. Yet in the midst of her frenzied speech,
in full flow, she faltered. Her fists unclenched themselves, her arm
dropped nerveless, her eyes sought the ground. Andrew King, pale with
rage, sterner than she had ever seen him, stood before her.

He looked at her with deadly calm.

"Be out of this," he said; "you degrade yourself. Never let me see you
again." Before she had shrunk away he had stooped to the huddled
creature at his feet, had covered her with his arms and was whispering
urgent comfort in her ear, caressing her with voice and hands. Bessie
Prawle could not show herself to the neighbours for the rest of the
summer and early autumn. She became a solitary; the neighbours said
that she was in a decline.

The drought, with all the troubles it entailed of plague, pestilence
and famine, continued through August and September. It did not really
break till All-Hallow's, and then, indeed, it did.

The day had been overcast, with a sky of a coppery tinge, and
intensely dry heat; a chance puff of wind smote one in the face, hot
as the breath of a man in fever. The sheep panted on the ground, their
dry tongues far out of their mouths; the beasts lay as if dead, and
flies settled upon them in clouds. All the land was of one glaring
brown, where the bents were dry straw, and the heather first burnt
and then bleached pallid by the sun. The distance was blurred in a
reddish lurid haze; Knapp Fell and its forest were hidden.

Mabilla, the dumb girl, had been restless all day, following Andrew
about like a shadow. The heat had made him irritable; more than once
he had told her to go home and she had obeyed him for the time, but
had always come back. Her looks roamed wide; she seemed always
listening; sometimes it was clear that she heard something--for she
panted and moved her lips. There was deep trouble in her eyes too; she
seemed full of fear. At almost any other time her husband would have
noticed it and comforted her. But his nerves, fretted by the long
scorching summer, were on this day of fire stretched to the cracking
point. He saw nothing, and felt nothing, but his own discomfort.

Out on the parched fell-side Bessie Prawle sat like a bird of omen and
gloomed at the wrath to come.

Toward dusk a wind came moaning down the valley, raising little spires
of dust. It came now down, now up. Sometimes two currents met each
other and made momentary riot. But farm-work has to get itself done
through fair or foul. It grew dark, the sheep were folded and fed, the
cattle were got in, and the family sat together in the kitchen,
silent, preoccupied, the men oppressed and anxious over they knew not
what. As for those two aliens, Miranda King and Mabilla By-the-Wood,
whatever they knew, one of them made no sign at all, and the other,
though she was white, though she shivered and peered about, had no
means of voicing her thought.

They had their tea and settled to their evening tasks. The old
shepherd dozed over his pipe, Miranda knitted fast, Mabilla stared out
of the window into the dark, twisting her hands, and Andrew, with one
of his hands upon her shoulder, patted her gently, as if to soothe
her. She gave him a grateful look more than once, but did not cease to
shiver. Nobody spoke, and suddenly in the silence Mabilla gasped and
began to tremble. Then the dog growled under the table. All looked up
and about them.

A scattering, pattering sound lashed at the window. Andrew then
started up. "Rain!" he said; "that's what we're waiting for," and made
to go to the door. Miranda his mother, and Mabilla his young wife,
caught him by the frock and held him back. The dog, staring into the
window-pane, bristling and glaring, continued to growl. They waited in
silence, but with beating hearts.

A loud knock sounded suddenly on the door--a dull, heavy blow, as if
one had pounded it with a tree-stump. The dog burst into a panic of
barking, flew to the door and sniffed at the threshold. He whined and
scratched frantically with his forepaws. The wind began to blow,
coming quite suddenly down, solid upon the wall of the house, shaking
it upon its foundations. George King was now upon his feet. "Good God
Almighty!" he said, "this is the end of the world!"

The blast was not long-lived. It fell to a murmur. Andrew King, now at
the window, could see nothing of the rain. There were no drops upon
the glass, nor sound upon the sycamores outside. But even while he
looked, and his grandfather, all his senses alert, waited for what was
to come, and the two pale women clung together, knowing what was to
come, there grew gradually another sound which, because it was
familiar, brought their terrors sharply to a point.

It was the sound of sheep in a flock running. It came from afar and
grew in volume and distinctness; the innumerable small thudding of
sharp hoofs, the rustling of woolly bodies, the volleying of short
breath, and that indefinable sense of bustle which massed things
produce, passing swiftly.

The sheep came on, panic-driven, voiceless in their fear, but speaking
aloud in the wildly clanging bells; they swept by the door of the
house with a sound like the rush of water; they disappeared in that
flash of sound. Old King cried, "Man, 'tis the sheep!" and flew for
his staff and shoes. Miranda followed to fetch them; but Andrew went
to the door as he was, shaking off his clinging wife, unlatched it and
let in a gale of wind. The dog shot out like a flame of fire and was
gone.

It was as if the wind which was driving the sheep was going to scour
the house. It came madly, with indescribable force; it rushed into the
house, blew the window-curtains toward the middle of the room, drove
the fire outward and set the ashes whirling like snow all about.
Andrew King staggered before it a moment, then put his head down and
beat his way out. Mabilla shuddering shrank backward to the fireplace
and crouched there, waiting. Old King came out booted and cloaked, his
staff in his hand, battled to the door and was swept up the brae upon
the gale. Miranda did not appear; so Mabilla, white and rigid, was
alone in the whirling room.

Creeping to her through the open door, holding to whatever solid thing
she could come by, entered Bessie Prawle. In all that turmoil and
chill terror she alone was hot. Her grudge was burning in her. She
could have killed Mabilla with her eyes.

But she did not, for Mabilla was in the hands of greater and stronger
powers. Before Bessie Prawle's shocked eyes she was seen rigid and
awake. She was seen to cower as to some threatening shape, then to
stiffen, to mutter with her dry lips, and to grow still, to stare with
her wide eyes, and then to see nothing. A glaze swam over her eyes;
they were open, but as the eyes of the dead.

Bessie Prawle, horror-struck, stretched out her arms to give her
shelter. All her honest humanity was reborn in her in this dreadful
hour. "My poor lass, I'll not harm ye," she was saying; but Mabilla
had begun to move. She moved as a sleep-walker, seeing but not seeing
her way; she moved as one who must, not as one who would. She went
slowly as if drawn to the open door. Bessie never tried to stop her;
she could not though she would. Slowly as if drawn she went to the
door, staring before her, pale as a cloth, rigid as a frozen thing. At
the threshold she swayed for a moment in the power of the storm; then
she was sucked out like a dried leaf and was no more seen. Overhead,
all about the eaves of the house the great wind shrilled mockery and
despairing mirth. The fire leapt toward the middle of the room and
fell back so much white ash. Bessie Prawle plumped down to her knees,
huddled, and prayed.

Andrew King, coming back, found her there at it, alone. His eyes swept
the room. "Mabilla! Bessie Prawle, where is Mabilla?" The girl huddled
and prayed on. He took her by the shoulder and shook her to and fro.
"You foul wench, you piece, this is your doing." Bessie sobbed her
denials, but he would not hear her. Snatching up a staff, he turned,
threw her down in his fury. He left the house and followed the wind.

The wind caught him the moment he was outside, and swept him onward
whether he would or not. He ran down the bank of the beck which seemed
to be racing him for a prize, leaping and thundering level with its
banks; before he had time to wonder whether the bridge still stood he
was up with it, over it and on the edge of the brae. Up the moorland
road he went, carried rather than running, and where it loses itself
in the first enclosure, being hard up against the wall, over he
vaulted, across the field and over the further wall. Out then upon the
open fell, where the heather makes great cushions, and between all of
them are bogs or stones, he was swept by the wind. It shrieked about
him and carried him up and over as if he were a leaf of autumn. Beyond
that was dangerous ground, but there was no stopping; he was caught in
the flood of the gale. He knew very well, however, whither it was
carrying him: to Knapp, that place of dread, whither he was now sure
Mabilla had been carried, resumed by her own people. There was no
drawing back, there was no time for prayer. All he could do was to
keep his feet.

He was carried down the Dryhope fell, he said, into the next valley,
swept somehow over the roaring beck in the bottom, and up the rugged
side of Knapp, where the peat-hags are as high as rocks, and presently
knew without the help of his eyes that he was nearing the forest. He
heard the swishing of the trees, the cracking of the boughs, the sharp
crack and crash which told of some limb torn off and sent to ruin; and
he knew also by some hush not far off that the wind, great and furious
as it was, was to be quieted within that awful place. It was so. He
stood panting upon the edge of the wood, out of the wind, which roared
away overhead. He twittered with his foolish lips, not knowing what on
earth to do, nor daring to do anything had he known it; but all the
prayers he had ever learned were driven clean out of his head.

He could dimly make out the tree-trunks immediately before him, low
bushes, shelves of bracken-fern; he could pierce somewhat into the
gloom beyond and see the solemn trees ranked in their order, and above
them a great soft blackness rent here and there to show the sky. The
volleying of the storm sounded like the sea heard afar off: it was so
remote and steady a noise that lesser sounds were discernible--the
rustlings, squeakings, and snappings of small creatures moving over
small undergrowth. Every one of these sent his heart leaping to his
mouth; but all his fears were to be swallowed up in amazement, for as
he stood there distracted, without warning, without shock, there stood
one by him, within touching distance, a child, as he judged it, with
loose hair and bright eyes, prying into his face, smiling at him and
inviting him to come on.

"Who in God's name--?" cried Andrew King; but the child plucked him
by the coat and tried to draw him into the wood.

I understand that he did not hesitate. If he had forgotten his gods he
had not forgotten his fairy-wife. I suppose, too, that he knew where
to look for her; he may have supposed that she had been resumed into
her first state. At any rate, he made his way into the forest by
guess-work, aided by reminiscence. I believe he was accustomed to aver
that he "knew where she was very well," and that he took a straight
line to her. I have seen Knapp Forest and doubt it. He did, however,
find himself in the dark spaces of the wood and there, sure enough, he
did also see the women with whom his Mabilla had once been co-mate.
They came about him, he said, like angry cats, hissing and shooting
out their lips. They did not touch him; but if eyes and white hateful
faces could have killed him, dead he had been then and there.

He called upon God and Christ and made a way through them. His senses
had told him where Mabilla was. He found her pale and trembling in an
aisle of the trees. She leaned against a tall tree, perfectly rigid,
"as cold as a stone," staring across him with frozen eyes, her mouth
open like a round O. He took her in his arms and holding her close
turned and defied the "witches"--so he called them in his wrath. He
dared them in the name of God to touch him or his wife, and as he did
so he says that he felt the chill grow upon him. It took him, he said,
in the legs and ran up his body. It stiffened his arms till they felt
as if they must snap under the strain; it caught him in the neck and
fixed it. He felt his eyes grow stiff and hard; he felt himself sway.
"Then," he said, "the dark swam over me, the dark and the bitter cold,
and I knew nothing more." Questioned as he was by Mr. Robson and his
friends, he declared that it was at the name of God the cold got him
first. He saw the women hushed and scared, and at the same time one of
them looked over her shoulder, as if somebody was coming. Had he
called in the King of the Wood? That is what he himself thought. It
was the King of the Wood who had come in quest of Mabilla, had pulled
her out of the cottage in Dryhope and frozen her in the forest. It was
he, no doubt, said Andrew King, who had come to defy the Christian
and his God. I detect here the inspiration of his mother Miranda, the
strange sea-woman who knew Mabilla without mortal knowledge and spoke
to her in no mortal speech. But the sequel to the tale is a strange
one.

Andrew King awoke to find himself in Mabilla's arms, to hear for the
first time in his life Mabilla call him softly by his name. "Andrew,
my husband," she called him, and when he opened his eyes in wonder to
hear her she said, "Andrew, take me home now. It is all over," or
words to that effect. They went along the forest and up and down the
fells together. The wind had dropped, the stars shone. And together
they took up their life where they had dropped it, with one
significant omission in its circumstance. Bessie Prawle had
disappeared from Dryhope. She had followed him up the fell on the
night of the storm, but she came not back. And they say that she never
did. Nothing was found of her body, though search was made; but a comb
she used to wear was picked up, they say, by the tarn on Limmer Fell,
an imitation tortoise-shell comb which used to hold up her hair.
Miranda King, who knew more than she would ever tell, had a shrewd
suspicion of the truth of the case. But Andrew King knew nothing, and
I daresay cared very little. He had his wood-wife, and she had her
voice; and between them, I believe, they had a child within the year.

I ought to add that I have, with these eyes, seen Mabilla By-the-Wood
who became Mabilla King. When I went from Dryhopedale to Knapp Forest
she stood at the farmhouse door with a child in her arms. Two others
were tumbling about in the croft. She was a pretty, serious girl--for
she looked quite a girl--with a round face and large greyish-blue
eyes. She had a pink cotton dress on, and a good figure beneath it.
She was pale, but looked healthy and strong. Not a tall girl. I asked
her the best way to Knapp Forest and she came out to the gate to point
it to me. She talked simply, with a northern accent, and might have
been the child of generations of borderers. She pointed me the very
track by which Andrew King must have brought her home, by which the
King of the Wood swept her out on the wings of his wrath; she named
the tarn where once she dwelt as the spirit of a tree. All this
without a flush, a tremor or a sign in her blue eyes that she had ever
known the place. But these people are close, and seldom betray all
that they know or think.




OREADS


I end this little book with an experience of my own, or rather a
series of experiences, and will leave conclusions to a final chapter.
I don't say that I have no others which could have found a
place--indeed, there are many others. But they were fitful, momentary
things, unaccountable and unrelated to each other, without the main
clue which in itself is too intimate a thing to be revealed just yet,
and I am afraid of compiling a catalogue. I have travelled far and
wide across Europe in my day, not without spiritual experiences. If at
some future time these co-ordinate into a body of doctrine I will take
care to clothe that body in the vesture of print and paper. Here,
meantime, is something of recent years.

My house at Broad Chalke stands in a narrow valley, which a little
stream waters more than enough. This valley is barely a mile broad
throughout its length, and in my village scarcely half so much. I can
be in the hills in a quarter of an hour, and in five-and-twenty
minutes find myself deeply involved, out of sight of man or his
contrivances. The downs in South Wilts are nowhere lofty, and have
none of the abrupt grandeur of those which guard the Sussex coast and
weald; but they are of much larger extent, broader, longer, more
untrodden, made much more intricate by the numberless creeks and
friths which, through some dim cycle of antiquity, the sea, ebbing
gradually to the great Avon delta, must have graved. Beautiful, with
quiet and a solemn peacefulness of their own, they always are. They
endure enormously, _in saecula saeculorum_. Storms drive over them,
mists and rains blot them out; rarely they are shrouded in a fleece of
snow. In spring the clouds and the light hold races up their flanks;
in summer they seem to drowse like weary monsters in the still and
fervent heat. They are never profoundly affected by such changes of
Nature's face; grow not awful, sharing her wrath, nor dangerously fair
when she woos them with kisses to love. They are the quiet and sober
spokesmen of earth, clad in Quaker greys and drabs. They show no
crimson at sunset, no gilded livery at dawn. The grey deepens to cool
purple, the brown glows to russet at such festal times. Early in the
spring they may drape themselves in tender green, or show their sides
dappled with the white of sheep. Flowers they bear, but secretly;
little curious orchids, bodied like bees, eyed like spiders, flecked
with the blood-drops of Attis or Adonis or some murdered
shepherd-boy; pale scabious, pale cowslip, thyme that breathes sharp
fragrance, "aromatic pain," as you crush it, potentilla, lady's
slipper, cloudy blue milkwort, toad-flax that shows silver to the
wind. Such as these they flaunt not, but wear for choiceness. You
would not see them unless you knew them there. For denizens they have
the hare, the fox, and the badger. Redwings, wheatears, peewits, and
airy kestrels are the people of their skies.

I love above all the solitude they keep, and to feel the pulsing of
the untenanted air. The shepherd and his sheep, the limping hare,
lagging fox, wheeling, wailing plover; such will be your company: you
may dip deeply into valleys where no others will be by, hear the sound
of your own heart, or the shrilling of the wind in the upland bents. I
have heard, indeed, half a mile above me, the singing of the great
harps of wire which stretch from Sarum to Shaftesbury along the
highest ridge; but such a music is no disturbance of the peace;
rather, it assures you of solitude, for you wouldn't hear it were you
not ensphered with it alone. There's a valley in particular, lying
just under Chesilbury, where I choose most to be. Chesilbury, a huge
grass encampment, three hundred yards square, with fosse and rampart
still sharp, with a dozen gateways and three mist-pools within its
ambit, which stands upon the ancient road and dominates two valleys.
Below that, coming up from the south, is my charmed valley. There, I
know, the beings whom I call Oreads, for want of a homelier word,
haunt and are to be seen now and then. I know, because I myself have
seen them.

I must describe this Oread-Valley more particularly, I believe. East
and west, above it, runs the old road we call the Race-Plain--the
highest ground hereabouts, rising from Harnham by Salisbury to end at
Shaftesbury in Dorset. North of this ridge is Chesilbury Camp;
immediately south of that is the valley. Here the falling flood as it
drained away must have sucked the soil out sharply at two neighbouring
points, for this valley has two heads, and between them stands a
grass-grown bluff. The western vale-head is quite round but very
steep. It faces due south and has been found grateful by thorns,
elders, bracken and even heather. But the eastern head is sharper,
begins almost in a point. From that it sweeps out in a huge demi-lune
of cliff, the outer cord being the east, the inner hugging the bluff.
Facing north from the valley, facing these two heads, you see the
eastern of them like a great amphitheatre, its steep embayed side so
smooth as to seem the work of men's hands. It is too steep for turf;
it is grey with marl, and patchy where scree of flint and chalk has
run and found a lodgment. Ice-worn it may be, man-wrought it is not.
No red-deer picks have been at work there, no bright-eyed, scrambling
hordes have toiled their shifts or left traces through the centuries
as at the Devil's Dyke. This noble arena is Nature's. Here I saw her
people more than once. And the first sign I had of them was this.


I

I was here alone one summer's night; a night of stars, but without a
moon. I lay within the scrub of the western valley-head and looked
south. I could just see the profile of the enfolding hills, but only
just; could guess that in the soft blackness below me, filling up the
foreground like a lake, the valley was there indeed; realise that if I
stepped down, perhaps thirty yards or so, my feet would sink into the
pile of the turf-carpet, and feel the sharp benediction of the dew.
About me surged and beat an enormous silence. The only sound at
all--and that was fitful--came from a fern-owl which, from a
thorn-bush above me, churred softly and at intervals his content with
the night.

The stars were myriad, but sky-marks shone out; the Bear, the Belt,
the Chair, the dancing sister Pleiades. The Galaxy was like a
snow-cloud; startlingly, by one, by two, meteors flared a short
course and died. You never feel lonely when you have the stars; yet
they do not pry upon you. You can hide nothing from them, and need not
seek to hide. If they have foreknowledge, they nurse no after-thought.

Now, to-night, as I looked and wondered at their beauty, I became
aware of a phenomenon untold before. Yet so quietly did it come, and
so naturally, that it gave me no disturbance, nor forced itself upon
me. A luminous ring, a ring of pale fire, in shape a long, narrow, and
fluctuating oval, became discernible in the sky south of my
stand-point, midway (I thought) between me and the south.

It was diaphanous, or diaphanous to strong light behind it. At one
time I saw the great beacon of the south-west (Saturn, I think)
burning through it; not within the ring, but from behind the litten
vapour of which the ring was made. Lesser fires than his were put out
by it. It varied very much in shape as it spread or drew out, as a
smoker's blue rings are varied by puffs of wind. Now it was a perfect
round, now so long as to be less a hoop than a fine oblong. Sometimes
it was pear-shaped, sometimes amorphous; bulbous here, hollow there.
And there seemed movement; I thought now and again that it was spiral
as well as circular, that it might, under some stress of speed,
writhe upward like dust in a whirlwind. It wavered, certainly, in
elevation, lifting, sinking, wafted one way or another with the ease
of a cloud of gnats. It was extraordinarily beautiful and exciting. I
watched it for an hour.

At times I seemed to be conscious of more than appearance. I cannot
speak more definitely than that. Music was assuredly in my head, very
shrill, piercing, continuous music. No air, no melody, but the
expectancy of an air, preparation for it, a prelude to melodious
issues. You may say the overture to some vast aerial symphony; I know
not what else to call it. I was never more than alive to it, never
certain of it. It was as furtive, secret, and tremulous as the dawn
itself. Now, just as under that shivering and tentative opening of
great music you are conscious of the fierce energy of violins, so was
I aware, in this surmise of music, of wild forces which made it. I
thought not of voices but of wings. I was sure that this ring of flame
whirled as well as floated in the air; the motion and the sound, alike
indecipherable, were one and the same to me.

I watched it, I say, for an hour: it may have been for two hours.
By-and-by it came nearer, gradually very near. It was now dazzling,
not to be looked at full; but its rate of approach was inappreciable,
and as it came on I was able to peer into it and see nothing but its
beauty. There was a core of intensity, intolerably bright; about that,
lambency but no flame, in which I saw leaves and straws and fronds of
fern flickering, spiring, heeling over and over. That it whirled as
well as floated was now clear, for a strong wind blew before and after
it as it rushed by. This happened as I sat there. Blinding but not
burning, heralded by a keen wind, it came by me and passed; a swift
wind followed it as it went. It swept out toward the hollow of the
eastern valley-head, seemed to strike upon that and glance upward;
thence it swept gladly up, streaming to the zenith, grew thin, fine
and filmy, and seemed to melt into the utmost stars. I had seen
wonders and went home full of thought.


II

I first saw an Oread in this place in a snow-storm which, driven by a
north-westerly gale, did havoc to the lowlands, but not to the folded
hills. I had pushed up the valley in the teeth of the storm to see it
under the white stress. It was hard work for me and my dog; I had to
wade knee-deep, and he to jump, like a cat in long grass, through the
drifts. But we reached our haven and found shelter from the weather.
High above us where we stood the snow-flakes tossed and rioted, but
before they fell upon us being out of the wind, they drifted idly
down, _come ... in Alpe senza vento_. The whole valley was purely
white, its outlines blurred by the slant-driving snow. There was not a
living creature to be seen, and my dog, a little sharp-nosed black
beast, shivered as he looked about, with wide eyes and quick-set ears,
for a friendly sight, and held one paw tentatively in the air, as if
he feared the cold.

Suddenly he yelped once, and ran, limping on three legs or scuttling
on all four, over the snow toward the great eastern escarpment, but
midway stopped and looked with all his might into its smoothed hollow.
His jet-black ears stood sharp as a hare's; through the white scud I
was conscious that he trembled. He gazed into the sweep of the curving
hill, and following the direction he gave me, all my senses quick, I
gazed also, but for a while saw nothing.

Very gradually, without alarm on my part, a blur of colour seemed to
form itself and centre in one spot, half-way up the concave of the
down; very pale yellow, a soft, lemon colour. At first scarcely more
than a warm tinge to the snow, it took shape as I watched it, and then
body also. It was now opaque within semi-transparency; one could trace
an outline, a form. Then I made out of it a woman dressed in yellow; a
slim woman, tawny-haired, in a thin smock of lemon-yellow which
flacked and bellied in the gale. Her hair blew out to it in snaky
streamers, sideways. Her head was bent to meet the cold, her bare
white arms were crossed, and hugged her shoulders, as if to keep her
bosom warm. From mid-thigh downward she was bare and very white, yet
distinct upon the snow. That was the white of chilled flesh I could
see. Though she wore but a single garment, and that of the thinnest
and shortest, though she suffered cold, hugged herself and shivered,
she was not of our nature, to die of such exposure. Her eyes, as I
could guess, were long-enduring and steadfast. Her lips were not blue,
though her teeth seemed to chatter; she was not rigid with the
stiffening that precedes frozen death. Drawing near her by degrees,
coming within fifteen yards of where she stood and passioned, though
she saw me, waited for me, in a way expected me, she showed neither
fear nor embarrassment, nor appealed by looks for shelter. She was,
rather, like a bird made tame by winter, that finds the lesser fear
swallowed up in a greater. For myself, as when one finds one's self
before a new thing, one stands and gazes, so was I before this being
of the wild. I would go no nearer, speak I could not. But I had no
fear. She was new to me not strange. I felt that she and I belonged to
worlds apart; that as soon might I hope to be familiar with fox or
marten as with her. My little black dog was of the same mind. He was
glad when I joined him, and wagged his little body--tail he has
none--to say so. But he had no eyes for me, nor I for him. We stood
together for company, and filled our eyes with the tenant of the
waste. How long we watched her I have no notion, but the day fell
swiftly in and found us there.

She was, I take it, quite young, she was slim and of ordinary
proportions. When I say that I mean that she had nothing inhuman about
her stature, was neither giant nor pygmy. Whether she was what we call
good-looking or not I find it impossible to determine, for when
strangeness is so added to beauty as to absorb and transform it, our
standards are upset and balances thrown out. She was pale to the lips,
had large, fixed and patient eyes. Her arms and legs showed greyish in
the white storm, but where the smock was cut off the shadows it made
upon her were faintly warm. One of her knees was bent, the foot
supported only by the toes. The other was firm upon the ground: she
looked, to the casual eye, to be standing on one leg. Her eyes in a
stare covered me, but were not concerned to see me so near. They had
the undiscerning look of one whose mind is numbed, as hers might well
be. Shelter--a barn, a hayrick--lay within a mile of her; and yet she
chose to suffer the cold, and was able to endure it. She knew it, I
supposed, for a thing not to be avoided; she took it as it came--as
she would have taken the warmth and pleasure of the sun. We humankind
with our wits for ever turned inward to ourselves, grieve or exult as
we bid ourselves: she, like all other creatures else, was not in that
self-relation; her parts were closer-knit, and could not separate to
envisage each other. So, at least, I read her--that she lived as she
could and as she must, neither looked back with regret nor forward
with longing. Time present, the flashing moment, was all her being.
That state will never be ours again.

I discovered before nightfall what she waited for there alone in the
cruel weather. A moving thing emerged from the heart of the white
fury, came up the valley along the shelving down: a shape like hers,
free-moving, thinly clad, suffering yet not paralysed by the storm. It
shaped as a man, a young man, and her mate. Taller, darker, stoutlier
made, his hardy legs were browner, and so were his arms--crossed like
hers over his breast and clasping his shoulders. His head was bare,
dark and crisply covered with short hair. His smock whipped about him
before, as the wind drove it; behind him it flacked and fluttered like
a flag. Patiently forging his way, bowing his head to the gale, he
came into range; and she, aware of him, waited.

He came directly to her. They greeted by touchings. He stretched out
his hands to her, touched her shoulders and sides. He touched both her
cheeks, her chin, the top of her head, all with the flat of the palm.
He stroked her wet and streaming hair. He held her by the shoulders
and peered into her face, then put both arms about her and drew her to
him. She, who had so far made no motions of her own, now uncrossed her
arms and daintily touched him in turn. She put both her palms flat
upon his breast; next on his thighs, next, being within the circle of
his arms, she put up her hands and cupped his face. Then, with a
gesture like a sigh, she let them fall to his waist, fastened them
about him and let her head lie on his bosom. She shut her eyes, seemed
contented and appeased. He clasped her, with a fine, protecting air
upon him, looking down tenderly at her resting head. So they stood
together in the dusk, while the wind tore at their thin covering, and
the snow, lying, made a broad patch of white upon his shoulder.

Breathless I looked at them, and my dog forgot to be cold. High on his
haunches, with lifted forepaw and sharp-cocked ears, he watched,
trembled and whined.

After a while, impatient as it appeared of the ravaging storm, the
male drew the female to the ground. They used no language, as we
understand it, and made no sign that I could see, but rather sank
together to get the shelter of the drift. He lay upon the snow, upon
the weather side, she close beside him. They crouched like two birds
in a storm, and hid their heads under their interlacing arms. He gave
the weather his back, and raised himself on his elbow, the better to
shield her. Within his arm she lay and cuddled to him snugly. I can
describe his action no more closely than by saying that he covered her
as a hen her chick. As a partridge grouts with her wings in a dusty
furrow, so he worked in the powdered snow to make her a nest. When the
night fell upon them, with its promise of bitter frost in the
unrelenting wind, she lay screened against its rigours by the shelter
of him. They were very still. Their heads were together, their cheeks
touched. I believe that they slept.


III

In the autumn, in harvest-time, I saw her with a little one. She was
lying now, deeply at ease, in the copse wood of the valley-head,
within a nest of brake-fern, and her colouring was richer, more in
tune with the glory of the hour. She had a burnt glow in her cheeks;
her hair showed the hue of the corn which, not a mile away, our people
were reaping afield. From where we were, she and I, one could hear the
rattle of the machine as it swept down the tall and serried wheat. It
was the top of noon when I found her; the sun high in heaven, but so
fierce in his power that you saw him through a mist of his own making,
and the sky all about him white as a sea-fog. The Oread's body was
sanguine brown, only her breast, which I saw half-revealed through a
slit in her smock, was snowy white. It was the breast of a maiden, not
of a mother with a young child.

She leaned over it and watched it asleep. Once or twice she touched
its head in affection; then presently looked up and saw me. If I had
had no surprise coming upon her, neither now had she. Her eyes took me
in, as mine might take in a tree not noticed before, or a flowering
bush, or a finger-post. Such things might well be there, and might
well not be; I had no particular interest for her, and gave her no
alarm. Nothing assures me so certainly of her remoteness from myself,
and of my kinship with her too, as this absence of shock.

She allowed me to come nearer, and nearer still, to stand close over
her and examine the child. She did not lift her head, but I knew that
she was aware of me; for her eyelids lifted and fell quickly, and
showed me once or twice her watchful eyes. She was indeed a beautiful
creature, exquisite in make and finish. Her skin shone like the petals
of certain flowers. There is one especially, called _Sisyrinchium_,
whose common name of Satin-flower describes a surface almost metallic
in its lustre. I thought of that immediately: her skin drank in and
exhaled light. I could not hit upon the stuff of which her shift was
made. It looked like coarse silk, had a web, had fibres or threads. It
may have been flax, but that it was much too sinuous. It seemed to
stick to the body where it touched, even to seek the flesh where it
did not touch, that it might cling like gossamer with invisible
tentacles. In colour it was very pale yellow, not worn nor stained. It
was perfectly simple, sleeveless, and stopped half-way between the hip
and the knee. I looked for, but could not discover, either hem or
seam. Her feet and hands were very lovely, the toes and fingers long
and narrow, rosy-brown. I had full sight of her eyes for one throbbing
moment. Extraordinarily bright, quick and pulsing, waxing and waning
in intensity (as if an inner light beat in them), of the grey colour
of a chipped flint stone. The lashes were long, curving and very dark;
they were what you might call smut-colour and gave a blurred effect to
the eyes which was strange. This, among other things, was what set her
apart from us, this and the patient yet palpitating stare of her
regard. She looked at me suddenly, widely and full, taking in much
more than me, yet making me the centre of her vision. It gave me the
idea that she was surprised at my nearness and ready for any attack,
but did not seek to avoid it. There I was overstanding her and her
offspring; and what was must be.

Of the little one I could not see much. It was on its side in the
fern, fast asleep. Its arms were stretched up the slope, its face was
between them. Its knees were bent and a little foot tucked up to touch
its body. Quite naked, brown all over, it was as plump and smooth and
tender as a little pig. But it was not pink; it was very brown.

All nature seemed at the top of perfection that wonderful day. A hawk
soared high in the blue, bees murmured all about, the distance
quivered. I could see under the leaves of a great mullein the bright
eyes, then the round body of a mouse. Afar off the corn-cutter rattled
and whirred, and above us on the ridgeway some workmen sat at their
dinner under the telegraph wires. Men were all about us at their
affairs with Nature's face; and here stood I, a man of themselves, and
at my feet the Oread lay at ease and watched her young. There was food
for wonder in all this, but none for doubt. Who knows what his
neighbour sees? Who knows what his dog? Every species of us walks
secret from the others; every species of us the centre of his
universe, its staple of measure, and its final cause. And if at times
one is granted a peep into new heavens and a new earth, and can get no
more, perhaps the best thing we win from that is the conviction that
we must doubt nothing and wonder at everything. Here, now, was I,
common, blundering, trampling, make-shift man, peering upon my
Oread--fairy of the hill, whatever she was--and tempted to gauge her
by my man-taught balances of right and wrong, and use and wont. Was
that young male who had sheltered her in the snow her mate in truth,
the father of her young one? Or what sort of mating had been hers?
What wild love? What mysteries of the night? And where was he now? And
was he one, or were they many, who companioned this beautiful thing?
And would he come if I waited for him? And would he share her watch,
her quiet content, her still rapture?

Idle, man-made questions, custom-taught! I did wait. I sat by her
waiting. But he did not come.


IV

A month later, in October, I saw a great assembling of Oreads, by
which I was able to connect more than one experience. I could now
understand the phenomenon of the luminous ring.

I reached the valley by about six o'clock in the evening. It was
twilight, not yet dusk. The sun was off the hollow, which lay in blue
mist, but above the level of the surrounding hills the air was bathed
in the sunset glow. The hush of evening was over all, the great cup of
the down absolutely desert; there were no birds, nor voices of birds;
not a twig snapped, not a leaf rustled. Imperceptibly the shadows
lengthened, faded with the light; and again behind the silence I
guessed at, rather than discerned, a preparatory, gathering music. So
finally, by twos and threes, they came to their assembling.

Once more I never saw them come. Out of the mist they drifted
together. There had been a moment when they were not there; there was
a moment when I saw them. I saw three of them together, two females
and a male. They formed a circle, facing inwards, their arms
intertwined. The pale colour of their garments, the grey tones in
their flesh were so perfectly in tune with the hazy light, that it
would have been impossible, I am certain, to have seen them at all at
a hundred yards' distance. I could not determine whether they were
conversing or not: if they were, it was without speech. I have never
heard an articulate sound from any one of them, and have no provable
reason for connecting the unvoiced music I have sometimes discerned
with any act of theirs. It has accompanied them, and may have
proceeded from them--but I don't know that. Of these three linked
together I remember that one of them threw back her head till she
faced the sky. She did not laugh, or seem to be laughing: there was no
sound. It was rather as if she was bathing her face in the light. She
threw her head back so far that I could see the gleam in her wild
eyes; her hair streamed downward, straight as a fall of water. The
other two regarded her, and the male presently withdrew one of his
arms from the circle and laid his hand upon her. She let it be so;
seemed not to notice.

Imperceptibly others had come about these three. If I took my eyes off
a group for a moment they were attracted to other groups or single
shapes. Some lay at ease on the sward, resting on elbow; some prone,
on both elbows; some seemed asleep, their heads on molehill pillows;
some sat huddling together, with their chins upon their knees; some
knelt face to face and held each other fondly; some were teasing, some
chasing others, winding in and out of the scattered groups. But
everything was doing in complete silence.

Now and again one, flying from another, would rise in the air, the
pursuer following. They skimmed, soared, glided like swallows, in long
sweeping curves--there was no noise in their flight. They were quite
without reticence in their intercourse; desired or avoided, loved or
hated as the moment urged them; strove to win, struggled to escape,
achieved or surrendered without remark from their companions. They
were like children or animals. Desire was reason good; and if love was
soon over, hate lasted no longer. One passion or the other set them
scuffling: when it was spent they had no after-thought.

One pretty sight I saw. A hare came lolloping over the valley bottom,
quite at his ease. In the midst of the assembly he stopped to nibble,
then reared himself up and cleaned his face. He saw them and they him
without concern on either side.

The valley filled up; I could not count the shifting, crossing,
restless shapes I saw down there. Presently, without call or signal,
as if by one consent, the Oreads joined hands and enclosed the whole
circuit in their ring. The effect in the dusk was of a pale glow, as
of the softest fire, defining the contour of the valley; and soon they
were moving, circling round and round. Shriller and louder swelled the
hidden music, and faster span the ring. It whirled and wavered, lifted
and fell, but so smoothly, with such inherent power of motion, that it
was less like motion visible than motion heard. Nothing was
distinguishable but the belt of pale fire. That which I had seen
before they had now become--a ring of flame intensely swift. As if
sucked upward by a centripetal force it rose in the air. Wheeling
still with a sound incredibly shrill it rose to my level, swept by me
heralded by a keen wind, and was followed by a draught which caught
leaves and straws of grass and took them swirling along. Round and up,
and ever up it went, narrowing and spiring to the zenith. There,
looking long after it, I saw it diminish in size and brightness till
it became filmy as a cloud, then melted into the company of the
stars.




A SUMMARY CHAPTER


Now, it is the recent publication by Mr. Evans Wentz of a careful and
enthusiastic work upon _The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries_ which has
inspired me to put these pages before the public. Some of them have
appeared in the magazines as curious recitals and may have afforded
pastime to the idle-minded, but without the courageous initiative of
Mr. Wentz I don't know that I should have attempted to give them such
coherence as they may claim to possess. And that, I fear, will be very
little without this chapter in which I shall, if I can, clear the
ground for a systematic study of the whole subject. No candid reader
can, I hope, rise from the perusal of the book without the conviction
that behind the world of appearance lies another and a vaster with a
thronging population of its own--with many populations, indeed, each
absorbed in uttering its being according to its own laws. If I have
afforded nothing else I have afforded glimpses into that world; and
the question now is, What do we precisely gather, what can we be said
to know of the laws of that world in which these swift, beautiful and
apparently ruthless creatures live and move and utter themselves? I
shall have to draw upon more than I have recorded here: cases which I
have heard of, which I have read of in other men's books, as well as
those which are related here as personal revelation. If I speak
pragmatically, _ex cathedra_, it is not intentional. If I fail
sometimes to give chapter and verse it will be because I have never
taken any notes of what has gone into my memory, and have no documents
to hand. But I don't invent; I remember.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a chain of Being of whose top alike and bottom we know
nothing at all. What we do know is that our own is a link in it, and
cannot generally, can only fitfully and rarely, have intercourse with
any other. I am not prepared with any modern instances of intercourse
with the animal and vegetable world, even to such a limited extent,
for instance, as that of Balaam with his ass, or that of Achilles with
his horses; but I suspect that there are an enormous number
unrecorded. Speech, of course, is not necessary to such an
intercourse. Speech is a vehicle of human intercourse, but not of that
of any other created order so far as we know.[8] Birds and beasts do
not converse in speech, smell or touch seems to be the sense
employed; and though the vehicles of smell and touch are unknown to
us, in moments of high emotion we ourselves converse otherwise than by
speech. Indeed, seeing that all created things possess a spirit
whereby they are what they are, it does not seem necessary to suppose
intercourse impossible without speech, and I myself have never had any
difficulty in accepting the stories of much more vital mixed
intercourse which we read of in the Greek and other mythologies. If we
read, for instance, that such and such a man or woman was the
offspring of a woman and the spirit of a river, or of a man and the
spirit of a hill or oak-tree, it does not seem to me at all
extraordinary. The story of the wife who suffered a fairy union and
bore a fairy child which disappeared with her is a case in point. The
fairy father was, so far as I can make out, the indwelling spirit of a
rose, and the story is too painful and the detail in my possession too
exact for me to put it down here. I was myself actually present, and
in the house, when the child was born. I witnessed the anguish of the
unfortunate husband, who is now dead. Mr. Wentz has many instances of
the kind from Ireland and other Celtic countries; but fairies are by
no means confined to Celtic countries, though they are more easily
discerned by Celtic races.

[Footnote 8: The speech of Balaam's ass or of Balaam, of Achilles and
his horses are, of course, necessary conventions of the poet's and do
not imply that words passed between the parties.]

Of this chain of Being, then, of which our order is a member, the
fairy world is another and more subtle member, subtler in the right
sense of the word because it is not burdened with a material envelope.
Like man, like the wind, like the rose, it has spirit; but unlike any
of the lower orders, of which man is one, it has no sensible wrapping
unless deliberately it consents to inhabit one. This, as we know, it
frequently does. I have mentioned several cases of the kind; Mrs.
Ventris was one, Mabilla By-the-Wood was another. I have not
personally come across any other cases where a male fairy took upon
him the burden of a man than that of Quidnunc. Even there I have never
been satisfied that Quidnunc became man to the extent that Mrs.
Ventris did. Quidnunc, no doubt, was the father of Lady Emily's
children; but were those children human? There are some grounds for
thinking so, and in that case, if "the nature follows the male,"
Quidnunc must have doffed his immateriality and suffered real
incarnation. If they were fairy children the case is altered. Quidnunc
need not have had a body at all. Now since it is clear that the fairy
world is a real order of creation, with laws of its own every whit as
fixed and immutable as those of any other order known to naturalists,
it is very reasonable to inquire into the nature and scope of those
laws. I am not at all prepared at present to attempt anything like a
digest of them. That would require a lifetime; and no small part of
the task, after marshalling the evidence, would be to agree upon terms
which would be intelligible to ourselves and yet not misleading. To
take polity alone, are we to understand that any kind of Government
resembling that of human societies obtains among them? When we talk of
Queens or Kings of the Fairies, of Oberon and Titania, for example,
are we using a rough translation of a real something, or are we
telling the mere truth? Is there a fairy king? The King of the Wood,
for instance, who was he? Is there a fairy queen? Who is Queen Mab?
Who is Despoina? Who is the Lady of the Lake? Who is the "_[Greek:
Basilissa ton bounon]_," or "_[Greek: Megale Kura]_" of whom Mr.
Lawson tells us such suggestive things in his _Modern Greek
Folk-lore?_ Who is Despoina, with whom I myself have conversed, "a
dread goddess, not of human speech?" The truth, I suspect, is this.
There are, as we know, countless tribes, clans, or orders of fairies,
just as there are nations of men. They confess the power of some
greater Spirit among themselves, bow to it instantly and submit to its
decrees; but they do not, so far as I can understand, acknowledge a
monarchy in any sense of ours. If there is a Supreme Power over the
fairy creation it is Proserpine; but hers is too remote an empire to
be comparable to any of ours. Not even Caesar, not even the Great King,
could hope to rule such myriads as she. She may stand for the
invisible creation no doubt, but she would never have commerce with
it. No fairy hath seen her at any time; no sovereignty such as we are
now discussing would be applicable to her dominion. That of Artemis,
or that of Pan, is more comparable. Artemis is certainly ruler of the
spirits of the air and water, of the hills and shores of the sea, and
to some extent her power overlaps that of Pan who is potent in nearly
all land solitudes. But really the two lord-ships can be exactly
discriminated. They never conflict. The legions of Artemis are all
female, though on earth men as well as women worship her; the legions
of Pan are all male, though on earth he can chasten women as well as
men.[9] But Pan can do nothing against Artemis, nor she anything
against him or any of his. The decree or swift deed of either is
respected by the other. They are not, then, as earthly kings, leaders
of their hosts to battle against their neighbours. Fairies fight and
marshal themselves for war; Mr. Wentz has several cases of the kind.
But Pan and Artemis have no share in these warfares. Queen Mab is one
of the many names, and points to one of the many manifestations of
Artemis; the Lady of the Lake is another. Both of these have died out,
and in the country she is generally hinted at under the veil of
"Mistress of the Wood" or "Lady of the Hill." I heard the latter from
a Wiltshire shepherd; the former is used in Sussex, in the Cheviots,
and in Lincolnshire, and was introduced, I believe, by the Gipsies.
Titania was a name of romance, and so was Oberon, that of her husband
in romance. Queen Mab has no husband, nor will she ever have.

[Footnote 9: But if this is true, who is the King of the Wood? The
statement is too sweeping.]

But she is, of course, a goddess, and not a queen in our sense of the
word. The fairies, who partake of her nature just so far as we partake
of theirs, pray to her, invoke her, and make her offerings every day.
But a vital difference between their kind and ours is that they can
see her and live; and we never see the Gods until we die.

They have no other leaders, I believe, and certainly no royal houses.
Faculty is free in the fairy world to its utmost limit. A fairy's
power within his own order is limited only by the extent of his
personal faculty, and subject only to the Gods. There is no civil law
to restrain him, and no moral law; no law at all except the law of
being.[10]

[Footnote 10: Apparent eccentricities of this law, such as the
obedience to iron, or zinc (if we may believe Beckwith), should be
noted. I can't explain them. They seem arbitrary at first sight, but
nothing in Nature is arbitrary.]

We are contemplating, then, a realm, nay, a world, where anarchy is
the rule, and anarchy in the widest sense. The fairies are of a world
where Right and Wrong don't obtain, where Possible and Impossible are
the only finger-posts at cross-roads; for the Gods themselves give no
moral sanction to desire and hold up no moral check. The fairies love
and hate intensely; they crave and enjoy; they satisfy by kindness or
cruelty; they serve or enslave each other; they give life or take it
as their instinct, appetite or whim may be. But there is this
remarkable thing to be noted, that when a thing is dead they cannot be
aware of its existence. For them it is not, it is as if it had never
been. Ruth, therefore, is unknown, their emotions are maimed to that
serious extent that they cannot regret, cannot pity, cannot weep for
sorrow. They weep through rage, but sorrow they know not. Similarly,
they cannot laugh for joy. Laughing with them is an expression of
pleasure, but not of joy. Here then, at least, we have the better of
them. I for one would not exchange my privilege of pity or my
consolation of pure sorrow for all their transcendent faculty.

It is often said that fairies of both sexes seek our kind because we
know more of the pleasure of love than they do. Since we know more of
the griefs of it that is likely to be true; but it is a great mistake
to suppose that they are unsusceptible to the great heights and deeps
of the holy passion. It is to make the vulgar confusion between the
passion and the expression of it. They are capable of the greatest
devotion to the beloved, of the greatest sacrifice of all--the
sacrifice of their own nature. These fairy-wives of whom I have been
speaking--Miranda King, Mabilla By-the-Wood--when they took upon them
our nature, and with it our power of backward-looking and
forward-peering, was what they could remember, was what they must
dread, no sacrifice? They could have escaped at any moment, mind you,
and been free.[11] Resuming their first nature they would have lost
regret. But they did not. Love was their master. There are many cases
of the kind. With men it is otherwise. I have mentioned Mary Wellwood,
the carpenter's wife, twice taken by a fairy and twice recaptured. The
last time she was brought back to Ashby-de-la-Zouche she died there.
But there is reason for this. A woman marrying a male fairy gets
some, but not all, of the fairy attributes, while her children have
them in full at birth. She bears them with all the signs of human
motherhood, and directly they are born her earthly rights and duties
cease. She does not nurse them and she can only rise in the air when
they are with her. That means that she cannot go after them if they
are long away from her, unless she can get another fairy to keep her
company. By the same mysterious law she can only conceal herself, or
doff her appearance, with the aid of a fairy. For some time after her
abduction or surrender her husband has to nourish her by breathing
into her mouth; but with the birth of her first child she can support
herself in the fairy manner. It was owing to this imperfect state of
being that Mary Wellwood was resumed by her friends the first time.
The second time she went back of her own accord.

[Footnote 11: When a fairy marries a man she gradually loses her
fairy-power and her children have none of it or only vestiges--so much
as the children of a genius may perhaps exhibit. I am not able to say
how long the fairy-wife's ability to resume her own nature lasts. _The
Forsaken Merman_ occurs to one; but I doubt if Miranda King, at the
time, say, of her son's marriage with Mabilla, could have gone back to
the sea. Sometimes, as in Mrs. Ventris's case, fairy-wives play truant
for a night or for a season. I have reason to believe that not
uncommon. The number of fairy-wives in England alone is very
considerable--over a quarter of a million, I am told.]

But with regard to their love-business among themselves it is a very
different matter, so far as I can understand it. The fairy child is
initiated at the age of puberty and is then competent to pair. He is
not long in selecting his companion; nor does she often seem to refuse
him, though mating is done by liking in all cases and has nothing
whatever to do with the parents. It must be remembered, of course,
that they are subject to the primitive law from which man only has
freed himself. They frequently fight for the possession of the female,
or measure their powers against each other; and she goes with the
victor or the better man.[12] I don't know any case where the advance
has been made by the female. Pairing may be for a season or for a
period or for life. I don't think there is any rule; but in all cases
of separation the children are invariably divided--the males to the
father, the females to the mother. After initiation the children owe
no allegiance to their parents. Love with them is a wild and wonderful
rapture in all its manifestations, and without regard necessarily to
sex. I never, in my life, saw a more beautiful expression of it than
in the two females whom I saw greet and embrace on Parliament Hill.
Their motions to each other, their looks and their clinging were
beyond expression tender and swift. Nor shall I ever forget the pair
of Oreads in the snow, of whose meeting I have said as much as is
possible in a previous chapter. It must be remembered that I am
dealing with an order of Nature which knows nothing of our shames and
qualms, which is not only unconscious of itself but unconscious of
anything but its immediate desire; but I am dealing with it to the
understanding of a very different order, to whom it is not enough to
do a thing which seems good in its own eyes, but requisite also to be
sure of the approbation of its fellow-men. I should create a wrong
impression were I to enlarge upon this branch of my subject; I should
make my readers call fairies shameful when as a fact they know not the
meaning of shame, or reprove them for shamelessness when, indeed, they
are luckily without it. I shall make bold to say once for all that as
it is absurd to call the lightning cruel, so it is absurd to call
shameful those who know nothing about the deformity. No one can know
what love means who has not seen the fairies at their loving--and so
much for that.

[Footnote 12: I saw an extraordinary case of that, where a male came
suddenly before a mated pair, asserted himself and took her to himself
incontinent. There was no fighting. He stood and looked. The period of
suspense was breathless but not long.]

The laws which govern the appearance of fairies to mankind or their
commerce with men and women seem to be conditioned by the ability of
men to perceive them. The senses of men are figuratively speaking
lenses coloured or shaped by personality. How are we to know the form
and pressure of the great river Enipeus, whose shape, for the love of
Tyro, Poseidon took? And so the accounts of fairy appearance, of fairy
shape, size, vesture, will vary in the measure of the faculty of the
percipient. To me, personally, the fairies seem to go in gowns of
yellow, grey, russet or green, but mostly in yellow or grey. The
Oreads or Spirits of the hills vary. In winter their vesture is
yellow, in summer it is ash-green. The Dryad whom I saw was in grey,
the colour of the lichened oak-tree out of which she gleamed. The
fairies in a Norman forest had long brown garments, very close and
clinging, to the ankles. They were belted, and their hair was loose.
But that is invariable. I never saw a fairy with snooded or tied up
hair. They are always bare-footed. Despoina is the only fairy I ever
saw in any other colour than those I have named. She always wears
blue, of the colour of the shadows on a moonlight night, very
beautiful. She, too, wears sandals, which they say the Satyrs weave
for her as a tribute. They lay them down where she has been or is
likely to be; for they never see her.

But this matter of vesture is really a digression: I have more
important matter in hand, and that is to consider the intercourse
between fairy and mortal, as it is governed by appearance. How does a
man, for instance, gain a fairy-wife? How does a woman give herself to
a fairy-lover? I have given a careful account of a case of each sort
in answer. Young King gained his wife by capture; Lady Emily Rich
followed her lover at a look.

But this does not really touch the point, which is, rather, how was
Lady Emily Rich brought or put into such a relation with Quidnunc
that she could receive a look from him? How was King put into such a
relation with Mabilla that he could take her away from her own people?
There must have been an incarnation, you would say; and I should agree
with you. Now in Andrew King's case there was belief to go upon, the
belief common to all the Cheviot side, handed down to it from untold
generations and never lost; coupled with that, there was an intense
and probably long-standing desire in the young man himself to realise
and substantiate his belief. He had brooded over it, his fancy had
gone to work upon it; he loved his Mabilla before ever he saw her; his
love, it was, which evoked her. And I take it as proved--at any rate
it is proved to my own satisfaction--that faith coupled with desire
has power--the power of suggestion it is called--over Spirit as it
certainly has over Matter. If I say, then, that Andrew King evoked
Mabilla By-the-Wood, called her out of her own world into his, I
assert two things: the first, that she was really at one time in her
own world, the second, that she was afterward really in his. The
second my own senses can vouch for. That she was fetched back by the
King of the Wood and recaptured by Andrew are minor points. Grant the
first taking and there is no difficulty about them.

Mr. Lawson gives cases from Greece which point to certain ritual
performances on the part of the lover; the snatching, for instance, of
a handkerchief from the beloved, of which the preservation is
tantamount to the permanence of the subsequent union. He has a curious
case, too, of a peasant who married a nymph and gave her a child but
could not make her speak to him. He consulted a wise woman who advised
him to threaten her with the fire for the baby if she would not talk.
He did it and the charm worked. The Nymph spoke fiercely to him, "You
dog, leave my child alone," she said, and seized it from him, and with
it disappeared. That is parallel to my case where love made Mabilla
speak. It was love for her husband, to be sure; but she had then no
children.

Mr. Wentz gets no evidence of fairy-wives from Ireland, but a great
number out of Wales. One of them is the beautiful tale of Einion and
Olwen (p. 161) which has many points of resemblance with mine from the
Border. Einion also seems to have met the King of the Wood. Like
Andrew King he was kissed by the nymphs, but only by one of them; but
unlike him he stayed in their country for a year and a day, then went
back to his own people, and finally returned for his fairy-wife.
Taliesin was their son. No conditions seem to have been made.

So much for fairy brides, but now for fairy grooms. I have two cases
to add to that of Quidnunc, but before giving them, let me say of his
affair that since the suggestion there seems to have come from him to
the woman, the incarnation, if such there were, must have been
voluntary. Evocation was not instrumental in it. He appeared before
her, as she had appeared before others, many others, including myself,
and his subsequent commerce with her was achieved by his own personal
force. You may say that she had been prepared to see him by belief and
desire, by belief and desire acting upon a mind greatly distressed and
probably overwrought. You may say that she saw what she ardently
desired to see. It is quite true, I cannot deny it; but I point to his
previous manifestations, and leave it there.

Here is a tale to the purpose which I got out of Worcestershire. Two
girls, daughter and niece of a farmer, bosom friends and bed-fellows,
became involved in a love-affair and, desperate of a happy issue,
attempted a charm to win their lovers back. On All Hallow Eve, two
hours before the sun, they went into the garden, barefoot, in their
nightgowns and circled about a stone which was believed to be
bewitched.[13] They used certain words, the Lord's prayer backward or
what not, and had an apparition. A brown man came out of the bushes
and looked at them for some time. Then he came to them, paralysed as
they may have been, and peering closely into the face of one of them
gave her a flower and disappeared. That same evening they kept the
Hallow E'en with the usual play, half-earnest, half-game, and, among
other things which they did, "peascodded" the girls. The game is a
very old one, and consists in setting the victim in a chair with her
back to the door while her companions rub her down with handfuls of
pea-shucks. During this ceremony if any man enter the room he is her
lover, and she is handed over to him. This was done, then, to one of
the girls who had dared the dawn magic; and in the midst of it a brown
man, dressed in a smock-frock tied up with green ribbons, appeared,
standing in the door. He took the girl by the hand and led her out of
the house. She was seen no more that night, nor for many days
afterward, though her parents and neighbours hunted her far and wide.
By-and-by she was reported at a village some ten or twelve miles off
on the Shropshire border, where some shepherds had found her wandering
the hill. She was brought home but could give no good account of
herself, or would not. She said that she had followed her lover,
married him, and lost him. Nothing would comfort her, nothing could
keep her in the house. She was locked in, but made her way out; she
was presently sent to the lunatic asylum, but escaped from that. Then
she got away for good and all and never came back again. No trace of
her body could be found. What are you to make of a thing of the sort?
I give it for what it is worth, with this note only, that the
apparition was manifest to several persons, though not, I fancy, to
any but the girls concerned in the peascodding.

[Footnote 13: It is said to have been the base of a Roman terminal
statue, but I have not seen it.]

The Willow-lad's is another tale of the same kind. It was described in
1787 by the Reverend Samuel Jordan in the _Gentleman's Magazine_, if I
am not mistaken.

The Willow-lad was an apparition which was believed to appear in a
withy-bed on the banks of the Ouse near Huntingdon. He could only be
seen at dusk, and only by women. He had a sinister reputation, and to
say of a girl that she had been to the withy-bed was a broad hint that
she was no better than she should be. Yet, according to Mr. Jordan,
the girls did go there in numbers, and to such effect that by an order
of the Town Council the place was stubbed up. You had to go alone to
the withy-bed between sunset and sunrise of a moonless night, to lay
your hand upon a certain stump and say, and in a loud voice:--

    Willow-boy, Willow-boy, come to me soon,
    After the sun and before the moon.
    Hide the stars and cover my head;
    Let no man see me when I be wed.

One would like to know whether the Willow-lad's powers perished with
the withy-bed. They should not, but should have been turned to
malicious uses. There are many cases in Mr. Lawson's book of the
malefical effect upon the Dryads of cutting down the trees whose
spirit they are. And most people know Landor's idyll, or if they
don't, they should.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are queer doings under the sun as well as under the moon. A man
may travel far without leaving his arm-chair by the fire, in countries
where no tourist-tickets obtain, and see stranger things than are
recorded by Herr Baedeker.

    The waies through which my weary steps I guide
    In this delightful land of Faery
    Are so exceeding spacious and wyde,
    And sprinckled with such sweet variety
    Of all that pleasant is to eare or eye,
    That I, nigh ravisht with rare thoughts' delight,
    My tedious travele doe forget thereby;
    And when I gin to feele decay of might,
    It strength to me supplies, and chears my dulled spright.

THE END





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