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