May Day Eve





It was in the spring when I at last found time from the hospital work

to visit my friend, the old folk-lorist, in his country isolation, and

I rather chuckled to myself, because in my bag I was taking down a book

that utterly refuted all his tiresome pet theories of magic and the

powers of the soul.



These theories were many and various, and had often troubled me. In the

first place, I scorned them for professional reasons, and, in the

second, because I had never been able to argue quite well enough to

convince or to shake his faith, in even the smallest details, and any

scientific knowledge I brought to bear only fed him with confirmatory

data. To find such a book, therefore, and to know that it was safely in

my bag, wrapped up in brown paper and addressed to him, was a deep and

satisfactory joy, and I speculated a good deal during the journey how

he would deal with the overwhelming arguments it contained against the

existence of any important region outside the world of sensory

perceptions.



Speculative, too, I was whether his visionary habits and absorbing

experiments would permit him to remember my arrival at all, and I was

accordingly relieved to hear from the solitary porter that the

"professor" had sent a "veeckle" to meet me, and that I was thus free

to send my bag and walk the four miles to the house across the hills.



It was a calm, windless evening, just after sunset, the air warm and

scented, and delightfully still. The train, already sinking into

distance, carried away with it the noise of crowds and cities and the

last suggestions of the stressful life behind me, and from the little

station on the moorland I stepped at once into the world of silent,

growing things, tinkling sheep-bells, shepherds, and wild, desolate

spaces.



My path lay diagonally across the turfy hills. It slanted a mile or so

to the summit, wandered vaguely another two miles among gorse-bushes

along the crest, passed Tom Bassett's cottage by the pines, and then

dropped sharply down on the other side through rather thin woods to the

ancient house where the old folk-lorist lived and dreamed himself into

his impossible world of theory and fantasy. I fell to thinking busily

about him during the first part of the ascent, and convinced myself, as

usual, that, but for his generosity to the poor, and his benign aspect,

the peasantry must undoubtedly have regarded him as a wizard who

speculated in souls and had dark dealings with the world of faery.



The path I knew tolerably well. I had already walked it once before--a

winter's day some years ago--and from the cottage onward felt sure of

my way; but for the first mile or so there were so many cross

cattle-tracks, and the light had become so dim that I felt it wise to

inquire more particularly. And this I was fortunately able to do of a

man who with astonishing suddenness rose from the grass where he had

been lying behind a clump of bushes, and passed a few yards in front of

me at a high pace downhill toward the darkening valley.



He was in such a state of hurry that I called out loudly to him,

fearing to be too late, but on hearing my voice he turned sharply, and

seemed to arrive almost at once beside me. In a single instant he was

standing there, quite close, looking, with a smile and a certain

expression of curiosity, I thought, into my face. I remember thinking

that his features, pale and wholly untanned, were rather wonderful for

a countryman, and that the eyes were those of a foreigner; his great

swiftness, too, gave me a distinct sensation--something almost of a

start--though I knew my vision was at fault at the best of times, and

of course especially so in the deceptive twilight of the open hillside.



Moreover--as the way often is with such instructions--the words did not

stay in my mind very clearly after he had uttered them, and the rapid,

panther-like movements of the man as he quickly vanished down the hill

again left me with little more than a sweeping gesture indicating the

line I was to follow. No doubt his sudden rising from behind the

gorse-bush, his curious swiftness, and the way he peered into my face,

and even touched me on the shoulder, all combined to distract my

attention somewhat from the actual words he used; and the fact that I

was travelling at a wrong angle, and should have come out a mile too

far to the right, helped to complete my feeling that his gesture,

pointing the way, was sufficient.



On the crest of the ridge, panting a little with the unwonted exertion,

I lay down to rest a moment on the grass beside a flaming yellow

gorse-bush. There was still a good hour before I should be looked for

at the house; the grass was very soft, the peace and silence soothing.

I lingered, and lit a cigarette. And it was just then, I think, that my

subconscious memory gave back the words, the actual words, the man had

spoken, and the heavy significance of the personal pronoun, as he had

emphasised it in his odd foreign voice, touched me with a sense of

vague amusement: "The safest way for you now," he had said, as though

I was so obviously a townsman and might be in danger on the lonely

hills after dark. And the quick way he had reached my side, and then

slipped off again like a shadow down the steep slope, completed a

definite little picture in my mind. Then other thoughts and memories

rose up and formed a series of pictures, following each other in rapid

succession, and forming a chain of reflections undirected by the will

and without purpose or meaning. I fell, that is, into a pleasant

reverie.



Below me, and infinitely far away, it seemed, the valley lay silent

under a veil of blue evening haze, the lower end losing itself among

darkening hills whose peaks rose here and there like giant plumes that

would surely nod their great heads and call to one another once the

final shadows were down. The village lay, a misty patch, in which

lights already twinkled. A sound of rooks faintly cawing, of sea-gulls

crying far up in the sky, and of dogs barking at a great distance rose

up out of the general murmur of evening voices. Odours of farm and

field and open spaces stole to my nostrils, and everything contributed

to the feeling that I lay on the top of the world, nothing between me

and the stars, and that all the huge, free things of the earth--hills,

valleys, woods, and sloping fields--lay breathing deeply about me.



A few sea-gulls--in daytime hereabouts they fill the air--still circled

and wheeled within range of sight, uttering from time to time sharp,

petulant cries; and far in the distance there was just visible a

shadowy line that showed where the sea lay.



Then, as I lay gazing dreamily into this still pool of shadows at my

feet, something rose up, something sheet-like, vast, imponderable, off

the whole surface of the mapped-out country, moved with incredible

swiftness down the valley, and in a single instant climbed the hill

where I lay and swept by me, yet without hurry, and in a sense without

speed. Veils in this way rose one after another, filling the cups

between the hills, shrouding alike fields, village, and hillside as

they passed, and settled down somewhere into the gloom behind me over

the ridge, or slipped off like vapour into the sky.



Whether it was actually mist rising from the surface of the

fast-cooling ground, or merely the earth giving up her heat to the

night, I could not determine. The coming of the darkness is ever a

series of mysteries. I only know that this indescribable vast stirring

of the landscape seemed to me as though the earth were unfolding

immense sable wings from her sides, and lifting them for silent,

gigantic strokes so that she might fly more swiftly from the sun into

the night. The darkness, at any rate, did drop down over everything

very soon afterward, and I rose up hastily to follow my pathway,

realising with a degree of wonder strangely new to me the magic of

twilight, the blue open depths into the valley below, and the pale

yellow heights of the watery sky above.



I walked rapidly, a sense of chilliness about me, and soon lost sight

of the valley altogether as I got upon the ridge proper of these lonely

and desolate hills.



It could not have been more than fifteen minutes that I lay there in

reverie, yet the weather, I at once noticed, had changed very abruptly,

for mist was seething here and there about me, rising somewhere from

smaller valleys in the hills beyond, and obscuring the path, while

overhead there was plainly a sound of wind tearing past, far up, with a

sound of high shouting. A moment before it had been the stillness of a

warm spring night, yet now everything had changed; wet mist coated me,

raindrops smartly stung my face, and a gusty wind, descending out of

cool heights, began to strike and buffet me, so that I buttoned my coat

and pressed my hat more firmly upon my head.



The change was really this--and it came to me for the first time in my

life with the power of a real conviction--that everything about me

seemed to have become suddenly alive.



It came oddly upon me--prosaic, matter-of-fact, materialistic doctor

that I was--this realisation that the world about me had somehow

stirred into life; oddly, I say, because Nature to me had always been

merely a more or less definite arrangement of measurement, weight, and

colour, and this new presentation of it was utterly foreign to my

temperament. A valley to me was always a valley; a hill, merely a hill;

a field, so many acres of flat surface, grass or ploughed, drained well

or drained ill; whereas now, with startling vividness, came the

strange, haunting idea that after all they could be something more than

valley, hill, and field; that what I had hitherto perceived by these

names were only the veils of something that lay concealed within,

something alive. In a word, that the poetic sense I had always rather

sneered at, in others, or explained away with some shallow

physiological label, had apparently suddenly opened up in myself

without any obvious cause.



And, the more I puzzled over it, the more I began to realise that its

genesis dated from those few minutes of reverie lying under the

gorse-bush (reverie, a thing I had never before in all my life indulged

in!), or, now that I came to reflect more accurately, from my brief

interview with that wild-eyed, swift-moving, shadowy man of whom I had

first inquired the way.



I recalled my singular fancy that veils were lifting off the surface of

the hills and fields, and a tremor of excitement accompanied the

memory. Such a thing had never before been possible to my practical

intelligence, and it made me feel suspicious--suspicious about myself.

I stood still a moment--I looked about me into the gathering mist,

above me to the vanishing stars, below me to the hidden valley, and

then sent an urgent summons to my individuality, as I had always known

it, to arrest and chase these undesirable fancies.



But I called in vain. No answer came. Anxiously, hurriedly, confusedly,

too, I searched for my normal self, but could not find it; and this

failure to respond induced in me a sense of uneasiness that touched

very nearly upon the borders of alarm.



I pushed on faster and faster along the turfy track among the

gorse-bushes with a dread that I might lose the way altogether, and a

sudden desire to reach home as soon as might be. Then, without warning,

I emerged unexpectedly into clear air again, and the vapour swept past

me in a rushing wall and rose into the sky. Anew I saw the lights of

the village behind me in the depths, here and there a line of smoke

rising against the pale yellow sky, and stars overhead peering down

through thin wispy clouds that stretched their wind-signs across the

night.



After all, it had been nothing but a stray bit of sea-fog driving up

from the coast, for the other side of the hills, I remembered, dipped

their chalk cliffs straight into the sea, and strange lost winds must

often come a-wandering this way with the sharp changes of temperature

about sunset. None the less, it was disconcerting to know that mist and

storm lay hiding within possible reach, and I walked on smartly for a

sight of Tom Bassett's cottage and the lights of the Manor House in the

valley a short mile beyond.



The clearing of the air, however, lasted but a very brief while, and

vapour was soon rising about me as before, hiding the path and making

bushes and stone walls look like running shadows. It came, driven

apparently, by little independent winds up the many side gullies, and

it was very cold, touching my skin like a wet sheet. Curious great

shapes, too, it assumed as the wind worked to and fro through it: forms

of men and animals; grotesque, giant outlines; ever shifting and

running along the ground with silent feet, or leaping into the air with

sharp cries as the gusts twisted them inwardly and lent them voice.

More and more I pushed my pace, and more and more darkness and vapour

obliterated the landscape. The going was not otherwise difficult, and

here and there cowslips glimmered in patches of dancing yellow, while

the springy turf made it easy to keep up speed; yet in the gloom I

frequently tripped and plunged into prickly gorse near the ground, so

that from shin to knee was soon a-tingle with sharp pain. Odd puffs and

spits of rain stung my face, and the periods of utter stillness were

always followed by little shouting gusts of wind, each time from a new

direction. Troubled is perhaps too strong a word, but flustered I

certainly was; and though I recognised that it was due to my being in

an environment so remote from the town life I was accustomed to, I

found it impossible to stifle altogether the feeling of malaise that

had crept into my heart, and I looked about with increasing eagerness

for the lighted windows of Bassett's cottage.



More and more, little pin-pricks of distress and confusion accumulated,

adding to my realisation of being away from streets and shop-windows,

and things I could classify and deal with. The mist, too, distorted as

well as concealed, played tricks with sounds as well as with sights.

And, once or twice, when I stumbled upon some crouching sheep, they got

up without the customary alarm and hurry of sheep, and moved off slowly

into the darkness, but in such a singular way that I could almost have

sworn they were not sheep at all, but human beings crawling on

all-fours, looking back and grimacing at me over their shoulders as

they went. On these occasions--for there were more than one--I never

could get close enough to feel their woolly wet backs, as I should have

liked to do; and the sound of their tinkling bells came faintly through

the mist, sometimes from one direction, sometimes from another,

sometimes all round me as though a whole flock surrounded me; and I

found it impossible to analyse or explain the idea I received that they

were not sheep-bells at all, but something quite different.



But mist and darkness, and a certain confusion of the senses caused by

the excitement of an utterly strange environment, can account for a

great deal. I pushed on quickly. The conviction that I had strayed from

the route grew, nevertheless, for occasionally there was a great

commotion of seagulls about me, as though I had disturbed them in their

sleeping-places. The air filled with their plaintive cries, and I heard

the rushing of multitudinous wings, sometimes very close to my head,

but always invisible owing to the mist. And once, above the swishing of

the wet wind through the gorse-bushes, I was sure I caught the faint

thunder of the sea and the distant crashing of waves rolling up some

steep-throated gully in the cliffs. I went cautiously after this, and

altered my course a little away from the direction of the sound.



Yet, increasingly all the time, it came to me how the cries of the

sea-birds sounded like laughter, and how the everlasting wind blew and

drove about me with a purpose, and how the low bushes persistently took

the shape of stooping people, moving stealthily past me, and how the

mist more and more resembled huge protean figures escorting me across

the desolate hills, silently, with immense footsteps. For the inanimate

world now touched my awakened poetic sense in a manner hitherto

unguided, and became fraught with the pregnant messages of a dimly

concealed life. I readily understood, for the first time, how easily a

superstitious peasantry might people their world, and how even an

educated mind might favour an atmosphere of legend. I stumbled along,

looking anxiously for the lights of the cottage.



Suddenly, as a shape of writhing mist whirled past, I received so

direct a stroke of wind that it was palpably a blow in the face.

Something swept by with a shrill cry into the darkness. It was

impossible to prevent jumping to one side and raising an arm by way of

protection, and I was only just quick enough to catch a glimpse of the

sea-gull as it raced past, with suddenly altered flight, beating its

powerful wings over my head. Its white body looked enormous as the mist

swallowed it. At the same moment a gust tore my hat from my head and

flung the flap of my coat across my eyes. But I was well-trained by

this time, and made a quick dash after the retreating black object,

only to find on overtaking it that I held a prickly branch of gorse.

The wind combed my hair viciously. Then, out of a corner of my eye, I

saw my hat still rolling, and grabbed swiftly at it; but just as I

closed on it, the real hat passed in front of me, turning over in the

wind like a ball, and I instantly released my first capture to chase

it. Before it was within reach, another one shot between my feet so

that I stepped on it. The grass seemed covered with moving hats, yet

each one, when I seized it, turned into a piece of wood, or a tiny

gorse-bush, or a black rabbit hole, till my hands were scored with

prickles and running blood. In the darkness, I reflected, all objects

looked alike, as though by general conspiracy. I straightened up and

took a long breath, mopping the blood with my handkerchief. Then

something tapped at my feet, and on looking down, there was the hat

within easy reach, and I stooped down and put it on my head again. Of

course, there were a dozen ways of explaining my confusion and

stupidity, and I walked along wondering which to select. My eyesight,

for one thing--and under such conditions why seek further? It was

nothing, after all, and the dizziness was a momentary effect caused by

the effort and stooping.



But for all that, I shouted aloud, on the chance that a wandering

shepherd might hear me; and of course no answer came, for it was like

calling in a padded room, and the mist suffocated my voice and killed

its resonance.



It was really very discouraging: I was cold and wet and hungry; my legs

and clothes torn by the gorse, my hands scratched and bleeding; the

wind brought water to my eyes by its constant buffeting, and my skin

was numb from contact with the chill mist. Fortunately I had matches,

and after some difficulty, by crouching under a wall, I caught a swift

glimpse of my watch, and saw that it was but little after eight

o'clock. Supper I knew was at nine, and I was surely over half-way by

this time. But here again was another instance of the way everything

seemed in a conspiracy against me to appear otherwise than ordinary,

for in the gleam of the match my watch-glass showed as the face of a

little old gray man, uncommonly like the folk-lorist himself, peering

up at me with an expression of whimsical laughter. My own reflection it

could not possibly have been, for I am clean-shaven, and this face

looked up at me through a running tangle of gray hair. Yet a second and

third match revealed only the white surface with the thin black hands

moving across it.








And it was at this point, I well remember, that I reached what was for

me the true heart of the adventure, the little fragment of real

experience I learned from it and took back with me to my doctor's life

in London, and that has remained with me ever since, and helped me to a

new sympathetic insight into the intricacies of certain curious mental

cases I had never before really understood.



For it was sufficiently obvious by now that a curious change had been

going forward in me for some time, dating, so far as I could focus my

thoughts sufficiently to analyse, from the moment of my speech with

that hurrying man of shadow on the hillside. And the first deliberate

manifestation of the change, now that I looked back, was surely the

awakening in my prosaic being of the "poetic thrill"; my sudden amazing

appreciation of the world around me as something alive. From that

moment the change in me had worked ahead subtly, swiftly. Yet, so

natural had been the beginning of it, that although it was a radically

new departure for my temperament, I was hardly aware at first of what

had actually come about; and it was only now, after so many encounters,

that I was forced at length to acknowledge it.



It came the more forcibly too, because my very commonplace ideas of

beauty had hitherto always been associated with sunshine and crude

effects; yet here this new revelation leaped to me out of wind and mist

and desolation on a lonely hillside, out of night, darkness, and

discomfort. New values rushed upon me from all sides. Everything had

changed, and the very simplicity with which the new values presented

themselves proved to me how profound the change, the readjustment, had

been. In such trivial things the evidence had come that I was not aware

of it until repetition forced my attention: the veils rising from

valley and hill; the mountain tops as personalities that shout or

murmur in the darkness; the crying of the sea birds and of the living,

purposeful wind; above all, the feeling that Nature about me was

instinct with a life differing from my own in degree rather than in

kind; everything, from the conspiracy of the gorse-bushes to the

disappearing hat, showed that a fundamental attitude of mind in me had

changed--and changed, too, without my knowledge or consent.



Moreover, at the same time the deep sadness of beauty had entered my

heart like a stroke; for all this mystery and loveliness, I realized

poignantly was utterly independent and careless of me, as me; and

that while I must pass, decay, grow old, these manifestations would

remain for ever young and unalterably potent. And thus gradually had I

become permeated with the recognition of a region hitherto unknown to

me, and that I had always depreciated in others and especially, it now

occurred to me, in my friend the old folk-lorist.



Here surely, I thought, was the beginning of conditions which, carried

a little further, must become pathogenic. That the change was real and

pregnant I had no doubt whatever. My consciousness was expanding and I

had caught it in the very act. I had of course read much concerning the

changes of personality, swift, kaleidoscopic--had come across something

of it in my practice--and had listened to the folk-lorist holding forth

like a man inspired upon ways and means of reaching concealed regions

of the human consciousness, and opening it to the knowledge of things

called magical, so that one became free of a larger universe. But it

was only now for the first time, on these bare hills, in touch with the

wind and the rain, that I realized in how simple a fashion the

frontiers of consciousness could shift this way and that, or with what

touch of genuine awe the certainty might come that one stood on the

borderland of new, untried, perhaps dangerous, experiences.



At any rate, it did now come to me that my consciousness had shifted

its frontiers very considerably, and that whatever might happen must

seem not abnormal, but quite simple and inevitable, and of course

utterly true. This very simplicity, however, doing no violence to my

being, brought with it none the less a sense of dread and discomfort;

and my dim awareness that unknown possibilities were about me in the

night puzzled and distressed me perhaps more than I cared to admit.








All this that takes so long to describe became apparent to me in a few

seconds. What I had always despised ascended the throne.



But with the finding of Bassett's cottage, as a sign-post close to

home, my former sang-froid, my stupidity, would doubtless return, and

my relief was therefore considerable when at length a faint gleam of

light appeared through the mist, against which the square dark shadow

of the chimney-line pointed upwards. After all, I had not strayed so

very far out of the way. Now I could definitely ascertain where I was

wrong.



Quickening my pace, I scrambled over a broken stone wall, and almost

ran across the open bit of grass to the door. One moment the black

outline of the cottage was there in front of me, and the next, when I

stood actually against it--there was nothing! I laughed to think how

utterly I had been deceived. Yet not utterly, for as I groped back

again over the wall, the cottage loomed up a little to the left, with

its windows lighted and friendly, and I had only been mistaken in my

angle of approach after all. Yet again, as I hurried to the door, the

mist drove past and thickened a second time--and the cottage was not

where I had seen it!



My confusion increased a lot after that. I scrambled about in all

directions, rather foolishly hurried, and over countless stone walls it

seemed, and completely dazed as to the true points of the compass. Then

suddenly, just when a kind of despair came over me, the cottage stood

there solidly before my eyes, and I found myself not two feet from the

door. Was ever mist before so deceptive? And there, just behind it, I

made out the row of pines like a dark wave breaking through the night.

I sniffed the wet resinous odour with joy, and a genuine thrill ran

through me as I saw the unmistakable yellow light of the windows. At

last I was near home and my troubles would soon be over.



A cloud of birds rose with shrill cries off the roof and whirled into

the darkness when I knocked with my stick on the door, and human

voices, I was almost certain, mingled somewhere with them, though it

was impossible to tell whether they were within the cottage or outside.

It all sounded confusedly with a rush of air like a little whirlwind,

and I stood there rather alarmed at the clamour of my knocking. By way,

too, of further proof that my imagination had awakened, the

significance of that knocking at the door set something vibrating

within me that most surely had never vibrated before, so that I

suddenly realized with what atmosphere of mystical suggestion is the

mere act of knocking surrounded--knocking at a door--both for him who

knocks, wondering what shall be revealed on opening, and for him who

stands within, waiting for the summons of the knocker. I only know that

I hesitated a lot before making up my mind to knock a second time.



And, anyhow, what happened subsequently came in a sort of haze. Words

and memory both failed me when I try to record it truthfully, so that

even the faces are difficult to visualise again, the words almost

impossible to hear.



Before I knew it the door was open and before I could frame the words

of my first brief question, I was within the threshold, and the door

was shut behind me.



I had expected the little dark and narrow hallway of a cottage,

oppressive of air and odour, but instead I came straight into a room

that was full of light and full of--people. And the air tasted like the

air about a mountain-top.



To the end I never saw what produced the light, nor understood how so

many men and women found space to move comfortably to and fro, and pass

each other as they did, within the confines of those four walls. An

uncomfortable sense of having intruded upon some private gathering was,

I think, my first emotion; though how the poverty-stricken country-side

could have produced such an assemblage puzzled me beyond belief. And my

second emotion--if there was any division at all in the wave of wonder

that fairly drenched me--was feeling a sort of glory in the presence of

such an atmosphere of splendid and vital youth. Everything vibrated,

quivered, shook about me, and I almost felt myself as an aged and

decrepit man by comparison.



I know my heart gave a great fiery leap as I saw them, for the faces

that met me were fine, vigourous, and comely, while burning everywhere

through their ripe maturity shone the ardours of youth and a kind of

deathless enthusiasm. Old, yet eternally young they were, as rivers and

mountains count their years by thousands, yet remain ever youthful; and

the first effect of all those pairs of eyes lifted to meet my own was

to send a whirlwind of unknown thrills about my heart and make me catch

my breath with mingled terror and delight. A fear of death, and at the

same time a sensation of touching something vast and eternal that could

never die, surged through me.



A deep hush followed my entrance as all turned to look at me. They

stood, men and women, grouped about a table, and something about

them--not their size alone--conveyed the impression of being

gigantic, giving me strangely novel realisations of freedom, power,

and immense existence more or less than human.



I can only record my thoughts and impressions as they came to me and as

I dimly now remember them. I had expected to see old Tom Bassett

crouching half asleep over a peat fire, a dim lamp on the table beside

him, and instead this assembly of tall and splendid men and women stood

there to greet me, and stood in silence. It was little wonder that at

first the ready question died upon my lips, and I almost forgot the

words of my own language.



"I thought this was Tom Bassett's cottage!" I managed to ask at length,

and looked straight at the man nearest me across the table. He had wild

hair falling about his shoulders and a face of clear beauty. His eyes,

too, like all the rest, seemed shrouded by something veil-like that

reminded me of the shadowy man of whom I had first inquired the way.

They were shaded--and for some reason I was glad they were.



At the sound of my voice, unreal and thin, there was a general movement

throughout the room, as though everyone changed places, passing each

other like those shapes of fluid sort I had seen outside in the mist.

But no answer came. It seemed to me that the mist even penetrated into

the room about me and spread inwardly over my thoughts.



"Is this the way to the Manor House?" I asked again, louder, fighting

my inward confusion and weakness. "Can no one tell me?"



Then apparently everyone began to answer at once, or rather, not to

answer directly, but to speak to each other in such a way that I could

easily overhear. The voices of the men were deep, and of the women

wonderfully musical, with a slow rhythm like that of the sea, or of the

wind through the pine-trees outside. But the unsatisfactory nature of

what they said only helped to increase my sense of confusion and

dismay.



"Yes," said one; "Tom Bassett was here for a while with the sheep,

but his home was not here."



"He asks the way to a house when he does not even know the way to his

own mind!" another voice said, sounding overhead it seemed.



"And could he recognise the signs if we told him?" came in the singing

tones of a woman's voice close behind me.



And then, with a noise more like running water, or wind in the wings of

birds, than anything else I could liken it to, came several voices

together:



"And what sort of way does he seek? The splendid way, or merely the

easy?"



"Or the short way of fools!"



"But he must have some credentials, or he never could have got as far

as this," came from another.



A laugh ran round the room at this, though what there was to laugh at I

could not imagine. It sounded like wind rushing about the hills. I got

the impression too that the roof was somehow open to the sky, for their

laughter had such a spacious quality in it, and the air was so cool and

fresh, and moving about in currents and waves.



"It was I who showed him the way," cried a voice belonging to someone

who was looking straight into my face over the table. "It was the

safest way for him once he had got so far----"



I looked up and met his eye, and the sentence remained unfinished. It

was the hurrying, shadowy man of the hillside. He had the same shifting

outline as the others now, and the same veiled and shaded eyes, and as

I looked the sense of terror stirred and grew in me. I had come in to

ask for help, but now I was only anxious to be free of them all and out

again in the rain and darkness on the moor. Thoughts of escape filled

my brain, and I searched quickly for the door through which I had

entered. But nowhere could I discover it again. The walls were bare;

not even the windows were visible. And the room seemed to fill and

empty of these figures as the waves of the sea fill and empty a cavern,

crowding one upon another, yet never occupying more space, or less. So

the coming and going of these men and women always evaded me.



And my terror became simply a terror that the veils of their eyes might

lift, and that they would look at me with their clear, naked sight. I

became horribly aware of their eyes. It was not that I felt them evil,

but that I feared the new depths in me their merciless and terrible

insight would stir into life. My consciousness had expanded quite

enough for one night! I must escape at all costs and claim my own self

again, however limited. I must have sanity, even if with limitations,

but sanity at any price.



But meanwhile, though I tried hard to find my voice again, there came

nothing but a thin piping sound that was like reeds whistling where

winds meet about a corner. My throat was contracted, and I could only

produce the smallest and most ridiculous of noises. The power of

movement, too, was far less than when I first came in, and every moment

it became more difficult to use my muscles, so that I stood there,

stiff and awkward, face to face with this assemblage of shifting,

wonderful people.



"And now," continued the voice of the man who had last spoken, "and now

the safest way for him will be through the other door, where he shall

see that which he may more easily understand."



With a great effort I regained the power of movement, while at the same

time a burst of anger and a determination to be done with it all and to

overcome my dreadful confusion drove me forward.



He saw me coming, of course, and the others indeed opened up and made a

way for me, shifting to one side or the other whenever I came too near

them, and never allowing me to touch them. But at last, when I was

close in front of the man, ready both to speak and act, he was no

longer there. I never saw the actual change--but instead of a man it

was a woman! And when I turned with amazement, I saw that the other

occupants walking like figures in some ancient ceremony, were moving

slowly toward the far end of the room. One by one, as they filed past,

they raised their calm, passionless faces to mine, immensely vital,

proud, austere, and then, without further word or gesture, they opened

the door I had lost and disappeared through it one by one into the

darkness of the night beyond. And as they went it seemed that the mist

swallowed them up and a gust of wind caught them away, and the light

also went with them, leaving me alone with the figure who had last

spoken.



Moreover it was just here that a most disquieting thought flashed

through my brain with unreasoning conviction, shaking my personality,

as it were, to the foundations: viz., that I had hitherto been spending

my life in the pursuit of false knowledge, in the mere classifying and

labelling of effects, the analysis of results, scientific so called;

whereas it was the folk-lorist, and such like, who with their dreams

and prayers were all the time on the path of real knowledge, the trail

of causes; that the one was merely adding to the mechanical comfort and

safety of the body, ultimately degrading the highest part of man, and

never advancing the type, while the other--but then I had never yet

believed in a soul--and now was no time to begin, terror or no terror.

Clearly, my thoughts were wandering.








It was at this moment the sound of the purring first reached me--deep,

guttural purring--that made me think at once of some large concealed

animal. It was precisely what I had heard many a time at the Zoological

Gardens, and I had visions of cows chewing the cud, or horses munching

hay in a stall outside the cottage. It was certainly an animal sound,

and one of pleasure and contentment.



Semi-darkness filled the room. Only a very faint moonlight, struggling

through the mist, came through the window, and I moved back

instinctively toward the support of the wall against my back.

Somewhere, through openings, came the sound of the night driving over

the roof, and far above I had visions of those everlasting winds

streaming by with clouds as large as continents on their wings.

Something in me wanted to sing and shout, but something else in me at

the same time was in a very vivid state of unreasoning terror. I felt

immense, yet tiny, confident, yet timid; a part of huge, universal

forces, yet an utterly small, personal, and very limited being.



In the corner of the room on my right stood the woman. Her face was hid

by a mass of tumbling hair, that made me think of living grasses on a

field in June. Thus her head was partially turned from me, and the

moonlight, catching her outline, just revealed it against the wall like

an impressionist picture. Strange hidden memories stirred in the depths

of me, and for a moment I felt that I knew all about her. I stared

about me quickly, nervously, trying to take in everything at once. Then

the purring sound grew much louder and closer, and I forgot my notion

that this woman was no stranger to me and that I knew her as well as I

knew myself. That purring thing was in the room close beside me.

Between us two, indeed, it was, for I now saw that her arm nearest to

me was raised, and that she was pointing to the wall in front of us.



Following the direction of her hand, I saw that the wall was

transparent, and that I could see through a portion of it into a small

square space beyond, as though I was looking through gauze instead of

bricks. This small inner space was lighted, and on stooping down I saw

that it was a sort of cupboard or cell-like cage let into the wall. The

thing that purred was there in the centre of it.



I looked closer. It was a being, apparently a human being, crouched

down in its narrow cage, feeding. I saw the body stooping over a

quantity of coarse-looking, piled-up substance that was evidently food.

It was like a man huddled up. There it squatted, happy and contented,

with the minimum of air, light, and space, dully satisfied with its

prisoned cage behind the bars, utterly unconscious of the vast world

about it, grunting with pleasure, purring like a great cat, scornfully

ignorant of what might lie beyond. The cell, moreover, I saw was a

perfect masterpiece of mechanical contrivance and inventive

ingenuity--the very last word in comfort, safety and scientific skill.

I was in the act of trying to fit in my memory some of the details of

its construction and arrangement, when I made a chance noise, and at

once became too agitated to note carefully what I saw. For at the noise

the creature turned, and I saw that it was a human being--a man. I

was aware of a face close against my own as it pressed forward, but a

face with embryonic features impossible to describe and utterly

loathsome, with eyes, ears, nose and skin, only just sufficiently alive

and developed to transfer the minimum of gross sensation to the brain.

The mouth, however, was large and thick-lipped, and the jaws were still

moving in the act of slow mastication.



I shrank back, shuddering with mingled pity and disgust, and at the

same moment the woman beside me called me softly by my own name. She

had moved forward a little so that she stood quite close to me, full in

the thin stream of moonlight that fell across the floor, and I was

conscious of a swift transition from hell to heaven as my gaze passed

from that embryonic visage to a countenance so refined, so majestic, so

divinely sensitive in its strength, that it was like turning from the

face of a devil to look upon the features of a goddess.



At the same instant I was aware that both beings--the creature and the

woman--were moving rapidly toward me.



A pain like a sharp sword dived deep down into me and twisted horribly

through my heart, for as I saw them coming I realized in one swift

moment of terrible intuition that they had their life in me, that they

were born of my own being, and were indeed projections of myself.

They were portions of my consciousness projected outwardly into

objectivity, and their degree of reality was just as great as that of

any other part of me.



With a dreadful swiftness they rushed toward me, and in a single second

had merged themselves into my own being; and I understood in some

marvellous manner beyond the possibility of doubt that they were

symbolic of my own soul: the dull animal part of me that had hitherto

acknowledged nothing beyond its cage of minute sensations, and the

higher part, almost out of reach, and in touch with the stars, that for

the first time had feebly awakened into life during my journey over the

hill.








I forget altogether how it was that I escaped, whether by the window or

the door. I only know I found myself a moment later making great speed

over the moor, followed by screaming birds and shouting winds, straight

on the track downhill toward the Manor House. Something must have

guided me, for I went with the instinct of an animal, having no

uncertainties as to turnings, and saw the welcome lights of windows

before I had covered another mile. And all the way I felt as though a

great sluice gate had been opened to let a flood of new perceptions

rush like a sea over my inner being, so that I was half ashamed and

half delighted, partly angry, yet partly happy.



Servants met me at the door, several of them, and I was aware at once

of an atmosphere of commotion in the house. I arrived breathless and

hatless, wet to the skin, my hands scratched and my boots caked with

mud.



"We made sure you were lost, sir," I heard the old butler say, and I

heard my own reply, faintly, like the voice of someone else:



"I thought so too."



A minute later I found myself in the study, with the old folk-lorist

standing opposite. In his hands he held the book I had brought down for

him in my bag, ready addressed. There was a curious smile on his face.



"It never occurred to me that you would dare to walk--to-night of all

nights," he was saying.



I stared without a word. I was bursting with the desire to tell him

something of what had happened and try to be patient with his

explanations, but when I sought for words and sentences my story seemed

suddenly flat and pointless, and the details of my adventure began to

evaporate and melt away, and seemed hard to remember.



"I had an exciting walk," I stammered, still a little breathless from

running. "The weather was all right when I started from the station."



"The weather is all right still," he said, "though you may have found

some evening mist on the top of the hills. But it's not that I meant."



"What then?"



"I meant," he said, still laughing quizzically, "that you were a very

brave man to walk to-night over the enchanted hills, because this is

May Day eve, and on May Day eve, you know, They have power over the

minds of men, and can put glamour upon the imagination----"



"Who--'they?' What do you mean?"



He put my book down on the table beside him and looked quietly for a

moment into my eyes, and as he did so the memory of my adventure began

to revive in detail, and I thought quickly of the shadowy man who had

shown me the way first. What could it have been in the face of the old

folk-lorist that made me think of this man? A dozen things ran like

flashes through my excited mind, and while I attempted to seize them I

heard the old man's voice continue. He seemed to be talking to himself

as much as to me.



"The elemental beings you have always scoffed at, of course; they who

operate ceaselessly behind the screen of appearances, and who fashion

and mould the moods of the mind. And an extremist like you--for

extremes are always dangerously weak--is their legitimate prey."



"Pshaw!" I interrupted him, knowing that my manner betrayed me

hopelessly, and that he had guessed much. "Any man may have subjective

experiences, I suppose----"



Then I broke off suddenly. The change in his face made me start; it had

taken on for the moment so exactly the look of the man on the hillside.

The eyes gazing so steadily into mine had shadows in them, I thought.



"Glamour!" he was saying, "all glamour! One of them must have come

very close to you, or perhaps touched you." Then he asked sharply, "Did

you meet anyone? Did you speak with anyone?"



"I came by Tom Bassett's cottage," I said. "I didn't feel quite sure of

my way and I went in and asked."



"All glamour," he repeated to himself, and then aloud to me, "and as

for Bassett's cottage, it was burnt down three years ago, and nothing

stands there now but broken, roofless walls----"



He stopped because I had seized him by the arm. In the shadows of the

lamp-lit room behind him I thought I caught sight of dim forms moving

past the book-shelves. But when my eye tried to focus them they faded

and slipped away again into ceiling and walls. The details of the

hill-top cottage, however, started into life again at the sight, and I

seized my friend's arm to tell him. But instantly, when I tried, it all

faded away again as though it had been a dream, and I could recall

nothing intelligible to repeat to him.



He looked at me and laughed.



"They always obliterate the memory afterward," he said gently, "so that

little remains beyond a mood, or an emotion, to show how profoundly

deep their touch has been. Though sometimes part of the change remains

and becomes permanent--as I hope in your case it may."



Then, before I had time to answer, to swear, or to remonstrate, he

stepped briskly past me and closed the door into the hall, and then

drew me aside farther into the room. The change that I could not

understand was still working in his face and eyes.



"If you have courage enough left to come with me," he said, speaking

very seriously, "we will go out again and see more. Up till midnight,

you know, there is still the opportunity, and with me perhaps you won't

feel so--so----"



It was impossible somehow to refuse; everything combined to make me go.

We had a little food and then went out into the hall, and he clapped a

wide-awake on his gray hairs. I took a cloak and seized a walking-stick

from the stand. I really hardly knew what I was doing. The new world I

had awakened to seemed still a-quiver about me.



As we passed out on to the gravel drive the light from the hall windows

fell upon his face, and I saw that the change I had been so long

observing was nearing its completeness, for there breathed about him

that keen, wonderful atmosphere of eternal youth I had felt upon the

inmates of the cottage. He seemed to have gone back forty years; a veil

was gathering over his eyes; and I could have sworn that somehow his

stature had increased, and that he moved beside me with a vigour and

power I had never seen in him before.



And as we began to climb the hill together in silence I saw that the

stars were clear overhead and there was no mist, that the trees stood

motionless without wind, and that beyond us on the summit of the hills

there were lights dancing to and fro, appearing and disappearing like

the inflection of stars in water.





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