Part 1 out of 6
Lilith was first published in 1895
This etext was compiled and prepared by John Bechard, an American
living in London, England (JaBBechard@aol.com)
by George MacDonald
I took a walk on Spaulding's Farm the other afternoon. I saw the
setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood.
Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some
noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether
admirable and shining family had settled there in that part of the
land called Concord, unknown to me,--to whom the sun was servant,--
who had not gone into society in the village,--who had not been
called on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground, beyond through
the wood, in Spaulding's cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them
with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious to vision;
their trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds
of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the
sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The
farmer's cart-path, which leads directly through their hall, does not
in the least put them out,--as the muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes
seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of Spaulding,
and do not know that he is their neighbor,--notwithstanding I heard
him whistle as he drove his team through the house. Nothing can equal
the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen.
I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops
of the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labor.
I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did
detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest
imaginable sweet musical hum,--as of a distant hive in May, which
perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts,
and no one without could see their work, for their industry was not
as in knots and excrescences embayed.
But I find it difficult to remember them. They fade irrevocably
out of my mind even now while I speak and endeavor to recall them,
and recollect myself. It is only after a long and serious effort
to recollect my best thoughts that I become again aware of their
cohabitancy. If it were not for such families as this, I think I
should move out of Concord.
I had just finished my studies at Oxford, and was taking a brief
holiday from work before assuming definitely the management of the
estate. My father died when I was yet a child; my mother followed
him within a year; and I was nearly as much alone in the world as a
man might find himself.
I had made little acquaintance with the history of my ancestors.
Almost the only thing I knew concerning them was, that a notable
number of them had been given to study. I had myself so far
inherited the tendency as to devote a good deal of my time, though,
I confess, after a somewhat desultory fashion, to the physical
sciences. It was chiefly the wonder they woke that drew me. I was
constantly seeing, and on the outlook to see, strange analogies, not
only between the facts of different sciences of the same order,
or between physical and metaphysical facts, but between physical
hypotheses and suggestions glimmering out of the metaphysical dreams
into which I was in the habit of falling. I was at the same time
much given to a premature indulgence of the impulse to turn
hypothesis into theory. Of my mental peculiarities there is no
occasion to say more.
The house as well as the family was of some antiquity, but no
description of it is necessary to the understanding of my narrative.
It contained a fine library, whose growth began before the invention
of printing, and had continued to my own time, greatly influenced,
of course, by changes of taste and pursuit. Nothing surely can more
impress upon a man the transitory nature of possession than his
succeeding to an ancient property! Like a moving panorama mine has
passed from before many eyes, and is now slowly flitting from before
The library, although duly considered in many alterations of the
house and additions to it, had nevertheless, like an encroaching
state, absorbed one room after another until it occupied the greater
part of the ground floor. Its chief room was large, and the walls
of it were covered with books almost to the ceiling; the rooms
into which it overflowed were of various sizes and shapes, and
communicated in modes as various--by doors, by open arches, by short
passages, by steps up and steps down.
In the great room I mainly spent my time, reading books of science,
old as well as new; for the history of the human mind in relation
to supposed knowledge was what most of all interested me. Ptolemy,
Dante, the two Bacons, and Boyle were even more to me than Darwin or
Maxwell, as so much nearer the vanished van breaking into the dark
In the evening of a gloomy day of August I was sitting in my usual
place, my back to one of the windows, reading. It had rained the
greater part of the morning and afternoon, but just as the sun was
setting, the clouds parted in front of him, and he shone into the
room. I rose and looked out of the window. In the centre of the
great lawn the feathering top of the fountain column was filled with
his red glory. I turned to resume my seat, when my eye was caught
by the same glory on the one picture in the room--a portrait, in a
sort of niche or little shrine sunk for it in the expanse of
book-filled shelves. I knew it as the likeness of one of my
ancestors, but had never even wondered why it hung there alone,
and not in the gallery, or one of the great rooms, among the other
family portraits. The direct sunlight brought out the painting
wonderfully; for the first time I seemed to see it, and for the
first time it seemed to respond to my look. With my eyes full of
the light reflected from it, something, I cannot tell what, made me
turn and cast a glance to the farther end of the room, when I saw,
or seemed to see, a tall figure reaching up a hand to a bookshelf.
The next instant, my vision apparently rectified by the comparative
dusk, I saw no one, and concluded that my optic nerves had been
momentarily affected from within.
I resumed my reading, and would doubtless have forgotten the vague,
evanescent impression, had it not been that, having occasion a
moment after to consult a certain volume, I found but a gap in the
row where it ought to have stood, and the same instant remembered
that just there I had seen, or fancied I saw, the old man in search
of a book. I looked all about the spot but in vain. The next
morning, however, there it was, just where I had thought to find it!
I knew of no one in the house likely to be interested in such a book.
Three days after, another and yet odder thing took place.
In one of the walls was the low, narrow door of a closet, containing
some of the oldest and rarest of the books. It was a very thick
door, with a projecting frame, and it had been the fancy of some
ancestor to cross it with shallow shelves, filled with book-backs
only. The harmless trick may be excused by the fact that the titles
on the sham backs were either humorously original, or those of books
lost beyond hope of recovery. I had a great liking for the masked
To complete the illusion of it, some inventive workman apparently
had shoved in, on the top of one of the rows, a part of a volume
thin enough to lie between it and the bottom of the next shelf:
he had cut away diagonally a considerable portion, and fixed
the remnant with one of its open corners projecting beyond the
book-backs. The binding of the mutilated volume was limp vellum,
and one could open the corner far enough to see that it was
manuscript upon parchment.
Happening, as I sat reading, to raise my eyes from the page, my
glance fell upon this door, and at once I saw that the book
described, if book it may be called, was gone. Angrier than any
worth I knew in it justified, I rang the bell, and the butler
appeared. When I asked him if he knew what had befallen it, he
turned pale, and assured me he did not. I could less easily doubt
his word than my own eyes, for he had been all his life in the
family, and a more faithful servant never lived. He left on me
the impression, nevertheless, that he could have said something more.
In the afternoon I was again reading in the library, and coming to
a point which demanded reflection, I lowered the book and let my
eyes go wandering. The same moment I saw the back of a slender
old man, in a long, dark coat, shiny as from much wear, in the act
of disappearing through the masked door into the closet beyond. I
darted across the room, found the door shut, pulled it open, looked
into the closet, which had no other issue, and, seeing nobody,
concluded, not without uneasiness, that I had had a recurrence of
my former illusion, and sat down again to my reading.
Naturally, however, I could not help feeling a little nervous, and
presently glancing up to assure myself that I was indeed alone,
started again to my feet, and ran to the masked door--for there was
the mutilated volume in its place! I laid hold of it and pulled: it
was firmly fixed as usual!
I was now utterly bewildered. I rang the bell; the butler came;
I told him all I had seen, and he told me all he knew.
He had hoped, he said, that the old gentleman was going to be
forgotten; it was well no one but myself had seen him. He had
heard a good deal about him when first he served in the house, but
by degrees he had ceased to be mentioned, and he had been very
careful not to allude to him.
"The place was haunted by an old gentleman, was it?" I said.
He answered that at one time everybody believed it, but the fact
that I had never heard of it seemed to imply that the thing had
come to an end and was forgotten.
I questioned him as to what he had seen of the old gentleman.
He had never seen him, he said, although he had been in the house
from the day my father was eight years old. My grandfather would
never hear a word on the matter, declaring that whoever alluded to
it should be dismissed without a moment's warning: it was nothing
but a pretext of the maids, he said, for running into the arms of
the men! but old Sir Ralph believed in nothing he could not see or
lay hold of. Not one of the maids ever said she had seen the
apparition, but a footman had left the place because of it.
An ancient woman in the village had told him a legend concerning a
Mr. Raven, long time librarian to "that Sir Upward whose portrait
hangs there among the books." Sir Upward was a great reader, she
said--not of such books only as were wholesome for men to read, but
of strange, forbidden, and evil books; and in so doing, Mr. Raven,
who was probably the devil himself, encouraged him. Suddenly they
both disappeared, and Sir Upward was never after seen or heard of,
but Mr. Raven continued to show himself at uncertain intervals in
the library. There were some who believed he was not dead; but both
he and the old woman held it easier to believe that a dead man might
revisit the world he had left, than that one who went on living for
hundreds of years should be a man at all.
He had never heard that Mr. Raven meddled with anything in the
house, but he might perhaps consider himself privileged in regard
to the books. How the old woman had learned so much about him he
could not tell; but the description she gave of him corresponded
exactly with the figure I had just seen.
"I hope it was but a friendly call on the part of the old gentleman!"
he concluded, with a troubled smile.
I told him I had no objection to any number of visits from
Mr. Raven, but it would be well he should keep to his resolution
of saying nothing about him to the servants. Then I asked him if
he had ever seen the mutilated volume out of its place; he answered
that he never had, and had always thought it a fixture. With that
he went to it, and gave it a pull: it seemed immovable.
Nothing more happened for some days. I think it was about a week
after, when what I have now to tell took place.
I had often thought of the manuscript fragment, and repeatedly
tried to discover some way of releasing it, but in vain: I could
not find out what held it fast.
But I had for some time intended a thorough overhauling of the books
in the closet, its atmosphere causing me uneasiness as to their
condition. One day the intention suddenly became a resolve, and
I was in the act of rising from my chair to make a beginning, when
I saw the old librarian moving from the door of the closet toward
the farther end of the room. I ought rather to say only that
I caught sight of something shadowy from which I received the
impression of a slight, stooping man, in a shabby dress-coat reaching
almost to his heels, the tails of which, disparting a little as he
walked, revealed thin legs in black stockings, and large feet in
wide, slipper-like shoes.
At once I followed him: I might be following a shadow, but I
never doubted I was following something. He went out of the
library into the hall, and across to the foot of the great
staircase, then up the stairs to the first floor, where lay the
chief rooms. Past these rooms, I following close, he continued
his way, through a wide corridor, to the foot of a narrower stair
leading to the second floor. Up that he went also, and when I
reached the top, strange as it may seem, I found myself in a region
almost unknown to me. I never had brother or sister to incite to
such romps as make children familiar with nook and cranny; I was a
mere child when my guardian took me away; and I had never seen the
house again until, about a month before, I returned to take
Through passage after passage we came to a door at the bottom of
a winding wooden stair, which we ascended. Every step creaked under
my foot, but I heard no sound from that of my guide. Somewhere in
the middle of the stair I lost sight of him, and from the top of it
the shadowy shape was nowhere visible. I could not even imagine I
saw him. The place was full of shadows, but he was not one of them.
I was in the main garret, with huge beams and rafters over my head,
great spaces around me, a door here and there in sight, and long
vistas whose gloom was thinned by a few lurking cobwebbed windows
and small dusky skylights. I gazed with a strange mingling of awe
and pleasure: the wide expanse of garret was my own, and unexplored!
In the middle of it stood an unpainted inclosure of rough planks,
the door of which was ajar. Thinking Mr. Raven might be there, I
pushed the door, and entered.
The small chamber was full of light, but such as dwells in places
deserted: it had a dull, disconsolate look, as if it found itself
of no use, and regretted having come. A few rather dim sunrays,
marking their track through the cloud of motes that had just been
stirred up, fell upon a tall mirror with a dusty face, old-fashioned
and rather narrow--in appearance an ordinary glass. It had an ebony
frame, on the top of which stood a black eagle, with outstretched
wings, in his beak a golden chain, from whose end hung a black ball.
I had been looking at rather than into the mirror, when suddenly
I became aware that it reflected neither the chamber nor my own
person. I have an impression of having seen the wall melt away,
but what followed is enough to account for any uncertainty:--could
I have mistaken for a mirror the glass that protected a wonderful
I saw before me a wild country, broken and heathy. Desolate hills
of no great height, but somehow of strange appearance, occupied
the middle distance; along the horizon stretched the tops of a
far-off mountain range; nearest me lay a tract of moorland, flat
Being short-sighted, I stepped closer to examine the texture of a
stone in the immediate foreground, and in the act espied, hopping
toward me with solemnity, a large and ancient raven, whose purply
black was here and there softened with gray. He seemed looking for
worms as he came. Nowise astonished at the appearance of a live
creature in a picture, I took another step forward to see him
better, stumbled over something--doubtless the frame of the mirror--
and stood nose to beak with the bird: I was in the open air, on a
I turned and looked behind me: all was vague and uncertain, as when
one cannot distinguish between fog and field, between cloud and
mountain-side. One fact only was plain--that I saw nothing I knew.
Imagining myself involved in a visual illusion, and that touch would
correct sight, I stretched my arms and felt about me, walking in
this direction and that, if haply, where I could see nothing, I
might yet come in contact with something; but my search was vain.
Instinctively then, as to the only living thing near me, I turned
to the raven, which stood a little way off, regarding me with an
expression at once respectful and quizzical. Then the absurdity
of seeking counsel from such a one struck me, and I turned again,
overwhelmed with bewilderment, not unmingled with fear. Had I
wandered into a region where both the material and psychical
relations of our world had ceased to hold? Might a man at any
moment step beyond the realm of order, and become the sport of the
lawless? Yet I saw the raven, felt the ground under my feet, and
heard a sound as of wind in the lowly plants around me!
"How DID I get here?" I said--apparently aloud, for the question
was immediately answered.
"You came through the door," replied an odd, rather harsh voice.
I looked behind, then all about me, but saw no human shape. The
terror that madness might be at hand laid hold upon me: must
I henceforth place no confidence either in my senses or my
consciousness? The same instant I knew it was the raven that had
spoken, for he stood looking up at me with an air of waiting. The
sun was not shining, yet the bird seemed to cast a shadow, and
the shadow seemed part of himself.
I beg my reader to aid me in the endeavour to make myself
intelligible--if here understanding be indeed possible between us.
I was in a world, or call it a state of things, an economy of
conditions, an idea of existence, so little correspondent with the
ways and modes of this world--which we are apt to think the only
world, that the best choice I can make of word or phrase is but
an adumbration of what I would convey. I begin indeed to fear that
I have undertaken an impossibility, undertaken to tell what I
cannot tell because no speech at my command will fit the forms in
my mind. Already I have set down statements I would gladly change
did I know how to substitute a truer utterance; but as often as I
try to fit the reality with nearer words, I find myself in danger
of losing the things themselves, and feel like one in process of
awaking from a dream, with the thing that seemed familiar gradually
yet swiftly changing through a succession of forms until its very
nature is no longer recognisable.
I bethought me that a bird capable of addressing a man must have
the right of a man to a civil answer; perhaps, as a bird, even a
A tendency to croak caused a certain roughness in his speech, but
his voice was not disagreeable, and what he said, although conveying
little enlightenment, did not sound rude.
"I did not come through any door," I rejoined.
"I saw you come through it!--saw you with my own ancient eyes!"
asserted the raven, positively but not disrespectfully.
"I never saw any door!" I persisted.
"Of course not!" he returned; "all the doors you had yet seen--and
you haven't seen many--were doors in; here you came upon a door out!
The strange thing to you," he went on thoughtfully, "will be, that
the more doors you go out of, the farther you get in!"
"Oblige me by telling me where I am."
"That is impossible. You know nothing about whereness. The only
way to come to know where you are is to begin to make yourself at
"How am I to begin that where everything is so strange?"
"By doing something."
"Anything; and the sooner you begin the better! for until you are
at home, you will find it as difficult to get out as it is to get
"I have, unfortunately, found it too easy to get in; once out I
shall not try again!"
"You have stumbled in, and may, possibly, stumble out again. Whether
you have got in UNFORTUNATELY remains to be seen."
"Do you never go out, sir?"
"When I please I do, but not often, or for long. Your world is
such a half-baked sort of place, it is at once so childish and so
self-satisfied--in fact, it is not sufficiently developed for an
old raven--at your service!"
"Am I wrong, then, in presuming that a man is superior to a bird?"
"That is as it may be. We do not waste our intellects in
generalising, but take man or bird as we find him.--I think it
is now my turn to ask you a question!"
"You have the best of rights," I replied, "in the fact that you
CAN do so!"
"Well answered!" he rejoined. "Tell me, then, who you are--if
you happen to know."
"How should I help knowing? I am myself, and must know!"
"If you know you are yourself, you know that you are not somebody
else; but do you know that you are yourself? Are you sure you
are not your own father?--or, excuse me, your own fool?--Who are
I became at once aware that I could give him no notion of who
I was. Indeed, who was I? It would be no answer to say I was who!
Then I understood that I did not know myself, did not know what I
was, had no grounds on which to determine that I was one and not
another. As for the name I went by in my own world, I had forgotten
it, and did not care to recall it, for it meant nothing, and what
it might be was plainly of no consequence here. I had indeed almost
forgotten that there it was a custom for everybody to have a name!
So I held my peace, and it was my wisdom; for what should I say to a
creature such as this raven, who saw through accident into entity?
"Look at me," he said, "and tell me who I am."
As he spoke, he turned his back, and instantly I knew him. He was
no longer a raven, but a man above the middle height with a stoop,
very thin, and wearing a long black tail-coat. Again he turned,
and I saw him a raven.
"I have seen you before, sir," I said, feeling foolish rather than
"How can you say so from seeing me behind?" he rejoined. "Did you
ever see yourself behind? You have never seen yourself at all!
--Tell me now, then, who I am."
"I humbly beg your pardon," I answered: "I believe you were once
the librarian of our house, but more WHO I do not know."
"Why do you beg my pardon?"
"Because I took you for a raven," I said--seeing him before me as
plainly a raven as bird or man could look.
"You did me no wrong," he returned. "Calling me a raven, or
thinking me one, you allowed me existence, which is the sum of what
one can demand of his fellow-beings. Therefore, in return, I will
give you a lesson:--No one can say he is himself, until first he
knows that he IS, and then what HIMSELF is. In fact, nobody is
himself, and himself is nobody. There is more in it than you can
see now, but not more than you need to see. You have, I fear, got
into this region too soon, but none the less you must get to be at
home in it; for home, as you may or may not know, is the only place
where you can go out and in. There are places you can go into, and
places you can go out of; but the one place, if you do but find it,
where you may go out and in both, is home."
He turned to walk away, and again I saw the librarian. He did not
appear to have changed, only to have taken up his shadow. I know
this seems nonsense, but I cannot help it.
I gazed after him until I saw him no more; but whether distance hid
him, or he disappeared among the heather, I cannot tell.
Could it be that I was dead, I thought, and did not know it? Was
I in what we used to call the world beyond the grave? and must I
wander about seeking my place in it? How was I to find myself at
home? The raven said I must do something: what could I do here?--
And would that make me somebody? for now, alas, I was nobody!
I took the way Mr. Raven had gone, and went slowly after him.
Presently I saw a wood of tall slender pine-trees, and turned toward
it. The odour of it met me on my way, and I made haste to bury
myself in it.
Plunged at length in its twilight glooms, I spied before me
something with a shine, standing between two of the stems. It
had no colour, but was like the translucent trembling of the hot
air that rises, in a radiant summer noon, from the sun-baked ground,
vibrant like the smitten chords of a musical instrument. What it
was grew no plainer as I went nearer, and when I came close up, I
ceased to see it, only the form and colour of the trees beyond
seemed strangely uncertain. I would have passed between the stems,
but received a slight shock, stumbled, and fell. When I rose, I
saw before me the wooden wall of the garret chamber. I turned, and
there was the mirror, on whose top the black eagle seemed but that
moment to have perched.
Terror seized me, and I fled. Outside the chamber the wide garret
spaces had an UNCANNY look. They seemed to have long been waiting
for something; it had come, and they were waiting again! A shudder
went through me on the winding stair: the house had grown strange
to me! something was about to leap upon me from behind! I darted
down the spiral, struck against the wall and fell, rose and ran. On
the next floor I lost my way, and had gone through several passages
a second time ere I found the head of the stair. At the top of the
great stair I had come to myself a little, and in a few moments I
sat recovering my breath in the library.
Nothing should ever again make me go up that last terrible stair!
The garret at the top of it pervaded the whole house! It sat upon
it, threatening to crush me out of it! The brooding brain of the
building, it was full of mysterious dwellers, one or other of whom
might any moment appear in the library where I sat! I was nowhere
safe! I would let, I would sell the dreadful place, in which an
aėrial portal stood ever open to creatures whose life was other than
human! I would purchase a crag in Switzerland, and thereon build a
wooden nest of one story with never a garret above it, guarded by
some grand old peak that would send down nothing worse than a few
tons of whelming rock!
I knew all the time that my thinking was foolish, and was even aware
of a certain undertone of contemptuous humour in it; but suddenly it
was checked, and I seemed again to hear the croak of the raven.
"If I know nothing of my own garret," I thought, "what is there to
secure me against my own brain? Can I tell what it is even now
generating?--what thought it may present me the next moment, the
next month, or a year away? What is at the heart of my brain? What
is behind my THINK? Am I there at all?--Who, what am I?"
I could no more answer the question now than when the raven put it
to me in--at--"Where in?--where at?" I said, and gave myself up as
knowing anything of myself or the universe.
I started to my feet, hurried across the room to the masked door,
where the mutilated volume, sticking out from the flat of soulless,
bodiless, non-existent books, appeared to beckon me, went down on
my knees, and opened it as far as its position would permit, but
could see nothing. I got up again, lighted a taper, and peeping as
into a pair of reluctant jaws, perceived that the manuscript was
verse. Further I could not carry discovery. Beginnings of lines
were visible on the left-hand page, and ends of lines on the other;
but I could not, of course, get at the beginning and end of a single
line, and was unable, in what I could read, to make any guess at
the sense. The mere words, however, woke in me feelings which to
describe was, from their strangeness, impossible. Some dreams, some
poems, some musical phrases, some pictures, wake feelings such as
one never had before, new in colour and form--spiritual sensations,
as it were, hitherto unproved: here, some of the phrases, some of
the senseless half-lines, some even of the individual words affected
me in similar fashion--as with the aroma of an idea, rousing in me
a great longing to know what the poem or poems might, even yet in
their mutilation, hold or suggest.
I copied out a few of the larger shreds attainable, and tried hard
to complete some of the lines, but without the least success. The
only thing I gained in the effort was so much weariness that, when
I went to bed, I fell asleep at once and slept soundly.
In the morning all that horror of the empty garret spaces had left
SOMEWHERE OR NOWHERE?
The sun was very bright, but I doubted if the day would long be
fine, and looked into the milky sapphire I wore, to see whether the
star in it was clear. It was even less defined than I had expected.
I rose from the breakfast-table, and went to the window to glance at
the stone again. There had been heavy rain in the night, and on the
lawn was a thrush breaking his way into the shell of a snail.
As I was turning my ring about to catch the response of the star
to the sun, I spied a keen black eye gazing at me out of the milky
misty blue. The sight startled me so that I dropped the ring, and
when I picked it up the eye was gone from it. The same moment the
sun was obscured; a dark vapour covered him, and in a minute or two
the whole sky was clouded. The air had grown sultry, and a gust
of wind came suddenly. A moment more and there was a flash of
lightning, with a single sharp thunder-clap. Then the rain fell
I had opened the window, and stood there looking out at the
precipitous rain, when I descried a raven walking toward me over
the grass, with solemn gait, and utter disregard of the falling
deluge. Suspecting who he was, I congratulated myself that I was
safe on the ground-floor. At the same time I had a conviction that,
if I were not careful, something would happen.
He came nearer and nearer, made a profound bow, and with a sudden
winged leap stood on the window-sill. Then he stepped over the
ledge, jumped down into the room, and walked to the door. I thought
he was on his way to the library, and followed him, determined, if
he went up the stair, not to take one step after him. He turned,
however, neither toward the library nor the stair, but to a little
door that gave upon a grass-patch in a nook between two portions
of the rambling old house. I made haste to open it for him. He
stepped out into its creeper-covered porch, and stood looking at
the rain, which fell like a huge thin cataract; I stood in the door
behind him. The second flash came, and was followed by a lengthened
roll of more distant thunder. He turned his head over his shoulder
and looked at me, as much as to say, "You hear that?" then swivelled
it round again, and anew contemplated the weather, apparently with
approbation. So human were his pose and carriage and the way he
kept turning his head, that I remarked almost involuntarily,
"Fine weather for the worms, Mr. Raven!"
"Yes," he answered, in the rather croaky voice I had learned to
know, "the ground will be nice for them to get out and in!--It must
be a grand time on the steppes of Uranus!" he added, with a glance
upward; "I believe it is raining there too; it was, all the last
"Why should that make it a grand time?" I asked.
"Because the animals there are all burrowers," he answered, "--like
the field-mice and the moles here.--They will be, for ages to come."
"How do you know that, if I may be so bold?" I rejoined.
"As any one would who had been there to see," he replied. "It is a
great sight, until you get used to it, when the earth gives a heave,
and out comes a beast. You might think it a hairy elephant or a
deinotherium--but none of the animals are the same as we have ever
had here. I was almost frightened myself the first time I saw the
dry-bog-serpent come wallowing out--such a head and mane! and SUCH
eyes!--but the shower is nearly over. It will stop directly after
the next thunder-clap. There it is!"
A flash came with the words, and in about half a minute the thunder.
Then the rain ceased.
"Now we should be going!" said the raven, and stepped to the front
of the porch.
"Going where?" I asked.
"Going where we have to go," he answered. "You did not surely think
you had got home? I told you there was no going out and in at
pleasure until you were at home!"
"I do not want to go," I said.
"That does not make any difference--at least not much," he answered.
"This is the way!"
"I am quite content where I am."
"You think so, but you are not. Come along."
He hopped from the porch onto the grass, and turned, waiting.
"I will not leave the house to-day," I said with obstinacy.
"You will come into the garden!" rejoined the raven.
"I give in so far," I replied, and stepped from the porch.
The sun broke through the clouds, and the raindrops flashed and
sparkled on the grass. The raven was walking over it.
"You will wet your feet!" I cried.
"And mire my beak," he answered, immediately plunging it deep in the
sod, and drawing out a great wriggling red worm. He threw back his
head, and tossed it in the air. It spread great wings, gorgeous in
red and black, and soared aloft.
"Tut! tut!" I exclaimed; "you mistake, Mr. Raven: worms are not the
larvę of butterflies!"
"Never mind," he croaked; "it will do for once! I'm not a reading
man at present, but sexton at the--at a certain graveyard--cemetery,
more properly--in--at--no matter where!"
"I see! you can't keep your spade still: and when you have nothing
to bury, you must dig something up! Only you should mind what it
is before you make it fly! No creature should be allowed to forget
what and where it came from!"
"Why?" said the raven.
"Because it will grow proud, and cease to recognise its superiors."
No man knows it when he is making an idiot of himself.
"Where DO the worms come from?" said the raven, as if suddenly grown
curious to know.
"Why, from the earth, as you have just seen!" I answered.
"Yes, last!" he replied. "But they can't have come from it first--
for that will never go back to it!" he added, looking up.
I looked up also, but could see nothing save a little dark cloud,
the edges of which were red, as if with the light of the sunset.
"Surely the sun is not going down!" I exclaimed, struck with
"Oh, no!" returned the raven. "That red belongs to the worm."
"You see what comes of making creatures forget their origin!" I
cried with some warmth.
"It is well, surely, if it be to rise higher and grow larger!" he
returned. "But indeed I only teach them to find it!"
"Would you have the air full of worms?"
"That is the business of a sexton. If only the rest of the clergy
understood it as well!"
In went his beak again through the soft turf, and out came the
wriggling worm. He tossed it in the air, and away it flew.
I looked behind me, and gave a cry of dismay: I had but that moment
declared I would not leave the house, and already I was a stranger
in the strange land!
"What right have you to treat me so, Mr. Raven?" I said with deep
offence. "Am I, or am I not, a free agent?"
"A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom
freer," answered the raven.
"You have no right to make me do things against my will!"
"When you have a will, you will find that no one can."
"You wrong me in the very essence of my individuality!" I persisted.
"If you were an individual I could not, therefore now I do not. You
are but beginning to become an individual."
All about me was a pine-forest, in which my eyes were already
searching deep, in the hope of discovering an unaccountable glimmer,
and so finding my way home. But, alas! how could I any longer call
that house HOME, where every door, every window opened into OUT, and
even the garden I could not keep inside!
I suppose I looked discomfited.
"Perhaps it may comfort you," said the raven, "to be told that you
have not yet left your house, neither has your house left you. At
the same time it cannot contain you, or you inhabit it!"
"I do not understand you," I replied. "Where am I?"
"In the region of the seven dimensions," he answered, with a curious
noise in his throat, and a flutter of his tail. "You had better
follow me carefully now for a moment, lest you should hurt some
"There is nobody to hurt but yourself, Mr. Raven! I confess I should
rather like to hurt you!"
"That you see nobody is where the danger lies. But you see that
large tree to your left, about thirty yards away?"
"Of course I do: why should I not?" I answered testily.
"Ten minutes ago you did not see it, and now you do not know where
"Where do you think it stands?"
"Why THERE, where you know it is!"
"Where is THERE?"
"You bother me with your silly questions!" I cried. "I am growing
tired of you!"
"That tree stands on the hearth of your kitchen, and grows nearly
straight up its chimney," he said.
"Now I KNOW you are making game of me!" I answered, with a laugh
"Was I making game of you when you discovered me looking out of your
"That was this morning--not an hour ago!"
"I have been widening your horizon longer than that, Mr. Vane; but
"You mean you have been making a fool of me!" I said, turning from
"Excuse me: no one can do that but yourself!"
"And I decline to do it."
"In declining to acknowledge yourself one already. You make yourself
such by refusing what is true, and for that you will sorely punish
"By believing what is not true."
"Then, if I walk to the other side of that tree, I shall walk
through the kitchen fire?"
"Certainly. You would first, however, walk through the lady at the
piano in the breakfast-room. That rosebush is close by her. You
would give her a terrible start!"
"There is no lady in the house!"
"Indeed! Is not your housekeeper a lady? She is counted such in
a certain country where all are servants, and the liveries one and
"She cannot use the piano, anyhow!"
"Her niece can: she is there--a well-educated girl and a capital
"Excuse me; I cannot help it: you seem to me to be talking sheer
"If you could but hear the music! Those great long heads of wild
hyacinth are inside the piano, among the strings of it, and give
that peculiar sweetness to her playing!--Pardon me: I forgot your
"Two objects," I said, "cannot exist in the same place at the same
"Can they not? I did not know!--I remember now they do teach that
with you. It is a great mistake--one of the greatest ever wiseacre
made! No man of the universe, only a man of the world could have
"You a librarian, and talk such rubbish!" I cried. "Plainly, you
did not read many of the books in your charge!"
"Oh, yes! I went through all in your library--at the time, and
came out at the other side not much the wiser. I was a bookworm
then, but when I came to know it, I woke among the butterflies. To
be sure I have given up reading for a good many years--ever since I
was made sexton.--There! I smell Grieg's Wedding March in the
quiver of those rose-petals!"
I went to the rose-bush and listened hard, but could not hear the
thinnest ghost of a sound; I only smelt something I had never before
smelt in any rose. It was still rose-odour, but with a difference,
caused, I suppose, by the Wedding March.
When I looked up, there was the bird by my side.
"Mr. Raven," I said, "forgive me for being so rude: I was irritated.
Will you kindly show me my way home? I must go, for I have an
appointment with my bailiff. One must not break faith with his
"You cannot break what was broken days ago!" he answered.
"Do show me the way," I pleaded.
"I cannot," he returned. "To go back, you must go through yourself,
and that way no man can show another."
Entreaty was vain. I must accept my fate! But how was life to be
lived in a world of which I had all the laws to learn? There would,
however, be adventure! that held consolation; and whether I found
my way home or not, I should at least have the rare advantage of
knowing two worlds!
I had never yet done anything to justify my existence; my former
world was nothing the better for my sojourn in it: here, however,
I must earn, or in some way find, my bread! But I reasoned that,
as I was not to blame in being here, I might expect to be taken care
of here as well as there! I had had nothing to do with getting into
the world I had just left, and in it I had found myself heir to a
large property! If that world, as I now saw, had a claim upon me
because I had eaten, and could eat again, upon this world I had a
claim because I must eat--when it would in return have a claim on
"There is no hurry," said the raven, who stood regarding me; "we do
not go much by the clock here. Still, the sooner one begins to do
what has to be done, the better! I will take you to my wife."
"Thank you. Let us go!" I answered, and immediately he led the way.
THE OLD CHURCH
I followed him deep into the pine-forest. Neither of us said much
while yet the sacred gloom of it closed us round. We came to larger
and yet larger trees--older, and more individual, some of them
grotesque with age. Then the forest grew thinner.
"You see that hawthorn?" said my guide at length, pointing with
I looked where the wood melted away on the edge of an open heath.
"I see a gnarled old man, with a great white head," I answered.
"Look again," he rejoined: "it is a hawthorn."
"It seems indeed an ancient hawthorn; but this is not the season
for the hawthorn to blossom!" I objected.
"The season for the hawthorn to blossom," he replied, "is when
the hawthorn blossoms. That tree is in the ruins of the church
on your home-farm. You were going to give some directions to the
bailiff about its churchyard, were you not, the morning of the
"I was going to tell him I wanted it turned into a wilderness of
rose-trees, and that the plough must never come within three yards
"Listen!" said the raven, seeming to hold his breath.
I listened, and heard--was it the sighing of a far-off musical
wind--or the ghost of a music that had once been glad? Or did I
indeed hear anything?
"They go there still," said the raven.
"Who goes there? and where do they go?" I asked.
"Some of the people who used to pray there, go to the ruins still,"
he replied. "But they will not go much longer, I think."
"What makes them go now?"
"They need help from each other to get their thinking done, and
their feelings hatched, so they talk and sing together; and then,
they say, the big thought floats out of their hearts like a great
ship out of the river at high water."
"Do they pray as well as sing?"
"No; they have found that each can best pray in his own silent
heart.--Some people are always at their prayers.--Look! look! There
He pointed right up into the air. A snow-white pigeon was mounting,
with quick and yet quicker wing-flap, the unseen spiral of an
ethereal stair. The sunshine flashed quivering from its wings.
"I see a pigeon!" I said.
"Of course you see a pigeon," rejoined the raven, "for there is the
pigeon! I see a prayer on its way.--I wonder now what heart is that
dove's mother! Some one may have come awake in my cemetery!"
"How can a pigeon be a prayer?" I said. "I understand, of course,
how it should be a fit symbol or likeness for one; but a live pigeon
to come out of a heart!"
"It MUST puzzle you! It cannot fail to do so!"
"A prayer is a thought, a thing spiritual!" I pursued.
"Very true! But if you understood any world besides your own, you
would understand your own much better.--When a heart is really
alive, then it is able to think live things. There is one heart all
whose thoughts are strong, happy creatures, and whose very dreams
are lives. When some pray, they lift heavy thoughts from the
ground, only to drop them on it again; others send up their prayers
in living shapes, this or that, the nearest likeness to each. All
live things were thoughts to begin with, and are fit therefore to
be used by those that think. When one says to the great Thinker:--
"Here is one of thy thoughts: I am thinking it now!" that is a
prayer--a word to the big heart from one of its own little hearts.--
Look, there is another!"
This time the raven pointed his beak downward--to something at the
foot of a block of granite. I looked, and saw a little flower. I
had never seen one like it before, and cannot utter the feeling it
woke in me by its gracious, trusting form, its colour, and its odour
as of a new world that was yet the old. I can only say that it
suggested an anemone, was of a pale rose-hue, and had a golden heart.
"That is a prayer-flower," said the raven.
"I never saw such a flower before!" I rejoined.
"There is no other such. Not one prayer-flower is ever quite like
another," he returned.
"How do you know it a prayer-flower?" I asked.
"By the expression of it," he answered. "More than that I cannot
tell you. If you know it, you know it; if you do not, you do not."
"Could you not teach me to know a prayer-flower when I see it?" I
"I could not. But if I could, what better would you be? you would
not know it of YOURSELF and ITself! Why know the name of a thing
when the thing itself you do not know? Whose work is it but your
own to open your eyes? But indeed the business of the universe is
to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and
so begin to be wise!"
But I did see that the flower was different from any flower I had
ever seen before; therefore I knew that I must be seeing a shadow
of the prayer in it; and a great awe came over me to think of the
heart listening to the flower.
THE SEXTON'S COTTAGE
We had been for some time walking over a rocky moorland covered
with dry plants and mosses, when I descried a little cottage in the
farthest distance. The sun was not yet down, but he was wrapt in a
gray cloud. The heath looked as if it had never been warm, and the
wind blew strangely cold, as if from some region where it was always
"Here we are at last!" said the raven. "What a long way it is! In
half the time I could have gone to Paradise and seen my cousin--him,
you remember, who never came back to Noah! Dear! dear! it is almost
"Winter!" I cried; "it seems but half a day since we left home!"
"That is because we have travelled so fast," answered the raven. "In
your world you cannot pull up the plumb-line you call gravitation,
and let the world spin round under your feet! But here is my wife's
house! She is very good to let me live with her, and call it the
"But where is your churchyard--your cemetery--where you make your
graves, I mean?" said I, seeing nothing but the flat heath.
The raven stretched his neck, held out his beak horizontally, turned
it slowly round to all the points of the compass, and said nothing.
I followed the beak with my eyes, and lo, without church or graves,
all was a churchyard! Wherever the dreary wind swept, there was
the raven's cemetery! He was sexton of all he surveyed! lord of all
that was laid aside! I stood in the burial-ground of the universe;
its compass the unenclosed heath, its wall the gray horizon, low
and starless! I had left spring and summer, autumn and sunshine
behind me, and come to the winter that waited for me! I had set
out in the prime of my youth, and here I was already!--But I mistook.
The day might well be long in that region, for it contained the
seasons. Winter slept there, the night through, in his winding-sheet
of ice; with childlike smile, Spring came awake in the dawn; at
noon, Summer blazed abroad in her gorgeous beauty; with the
slow-changing afternoon, old Autumn crept in, and died at the
first breath of the vaporous, ghosty night.
As we drew near the cottage, the clouded sun was rushing down the
steepest slope of the west, and he sank while we were yet a few
yards from the door. The same instant I was assailed by a cold
that seemed almost a material presence, and I struggled across the
threshold as if from the clutches of an icy death. A wind swelled
up on the moor, and rushed at the door as with difficulty I closed
it behind me. Then all was still, and I looked about me.
A candle burned on a deal table in the middle of the room, and the
first thing I saw was the lid of a coffin, as I thought, set up
against the wall; but it opened, for it was a door, and a woman
entered. She was all in white--as white as new-fallen snow; and
her face was as white as her dress, but not like snow, for at once
it suggested warmth. I thought her features were perfect, but her
eyes made me forget them. The life of her face and her whole person
was gathered and concentrated in her eyes, where it became light.
It might have been coming death that made her face luminous, but the
eyes had life in them for a nation--large, and dark with a darkness
ever deepening as I gazed. A whole night-heaven lay condensed in
each pupil; all the stars were in its blackness, and flashed; while
round it for a horizon lay coiled an iris of the eternal twilight.
What any eye IS, God only knows: her eyes must have been coming
direct out of his own! the still face might be a primeval perfection;
the live eyes were a continuous creation.
"Here is Mr. Vane, wife!" said the raven.
"He is welcome," she answered, in a low, rich, gentle voice.
Treasures of immortal sound seemed to he buried in it.
I gazed, and could not speak.
"I knew you would be glad to see him!" added the raven.
She stood in front of the door by which she had entered, and did
not come nearer.
"Will he sleep?" she asked.
"I fear not," he replied; "he is neither weary nor heavy laden."
"Why then have you brought him?"
"I have my fears it may prove precipitate."
"I do not quite understand you," I said, with an uneasy foreboding
as to what she meant, but a vague hope of some escape. "Surely a
man must do a day's work first!"
I gazed into the white face of the woman, and my heart fluttered.
She returned my gaze in silence.
"Let me first go home," I resumed, "and come again after I have
found or made, invented, or at least discovered something!"
"He has not yet learned that the day begins with sleep!" said the
woman, turning to her husband. "Tell him he must rest before he can
"Men," he answered, "think so much of having done, that they fall
asleep upon it. They cannot empty an egg but they turn into the
shell, and lie down!"
The words drew my eyes from the woman to the raven.
I saw no raven, but the librarian--the same slender elderly man,
in a rusty black coat, large in the body and long in the tails. I
had seen only his back before; now for the first time I saw his
face. It was so thin that it showed the shape of the bones under
it, suggesting the skulls his last-claimed profession must have made
him familiar with. But in truth I had never before seen a face so
alive, or a look so keen or so friendly as that in his pale blue
eyes, which yet had a haze about them as if they had done much
"You knew I was not a raven!" he said with a smile.
"I knew you were Mr. Raven," I replied; "but somehow I thought you
a bird too!"
"What made you think me a bird?"
"You looked a raven, and I saw you dig worms out of the earth with
"Toss them in the air."
"They grew butterflies, and flew away."
"Did you ever see a raven do that? I told you I was a sexton!"
"Does a sexton toss worms in the air, and turn them into butterflies?"
"I never saw one do it!"
"You saw me do it!--But I am still librarian in your house, for I
never was dismissed, and never gave up the office. Now I am
librarian here as well."
"But you have just told me you were sexton here!"
"So I am. It is much the same profession. Except you are a true
sexton, books are but dead bodies to you, and a library nothing but
"You bewilder me!"
"That's all right!"
A few moments he stood silent. The woman, moveless as a statue,
stood silent also by the coffin-door.
"Upon occasion," said the sexton at length, "it is more convenient
to put one's bird-self in front. Every one, as you ought to know,
has a beast-self--and a bird-self, and a stupid fish-self, ay, and
a creeping serpent-self too--which it takes a deal of crushing to
kill! In truth he has also a tree-self and a crystal-self, and I
don't know how many selves more--all to get into harmony. You can
tell what sort a man is by his creature that comes oftenest to the
He turned to his wife, and I considered him more closely. He was
above the ordinary height, and stood more erect than when last I saw
him. His face was, like his wife's, very pale; its nose handsomely
encased the beak that had retired within it; its lips were very
thin, and even they had no colour, but their curves were beautiful,
and about them quivered a shadowy smile that had humour in it as
well as love and pity.
"We are in want of something to eat and drink, wife," he said; "we
have come a long way!"
"You know, husband," she answered, "we can give only to him that
She turned her unchanging face and radiant eyes upon mine.
"Please give me something to eat, Mrs. Raven," I said, "and
something--what you will--to quench my thirst."
"Your thirst must be greater before you can have what will quench
it," she replied; "but what I can give you, I will gladly."
She went to a cupboard in the wall, brought from it bread and wine,
and set them on the table.
We sat down to the perfect meal; and as I ate, the bread and wine
seemed to go deeper than the hunger and thirst. Anxiety and
discomfort vanished; expectation took their place.
I grew very sleepy, and now first felt weary.
"I have earned neither food nor sleep, Mrs. Raven," I said, "but
you have given me the one freely, and now I hope you will give me
the other, for I sorely need it."
"Sleep is too fine a thing ever to be earned," said the sexton;
"it must be given and accepted, for it is a necessity. But it would
be perilous to use this house as a half-way hostelry--for the repose
of a night, that is, merely."
A wild-looking little black cat jumped on his knee as he spoke.
He patted it as one pats a child to make it go to sleep: he seemed
to me patting down the sod upon a grave--patting it lovingly, with
an inward lullaby.
"Here is one of Mara's kittens!" he said to his wife: "will you
give it something and put it out? she may want it!"
The woman took it from him gently, gave it a little piece of bread,
and went out with it, closing the door behind her.
"How then am I to make use of your hospitality?" I asked.
"By accepting it to the full," he answered.
"I do not understand."
"In this house no one wakes of himself."
"Because no one anywhere ever wakes of himself. You can wake
yourself no more than you can make yourself."
"Then perhaps you or Mrs. Raven would kindly call me!" I said, still
nowise understanding, but feeling afresh that vague foreboding.
"How dare I then go to sleep?" I cried.
"If you would have the rest of this house, you must not trouble
yourself about waking. You must go to sleep heartily, altogether
My soul sank within me.
The sexton sat looking me in the face. His eyes seemed to say,
"Will you not trust me?" I returned his gaze, and answered,
"Then come," he said; "I will show you your couch."
As we rose, the woman came in. She took up the candle, turned to
the inner door, and led the way. I went close behind her, and the
The air as of an ice-house met me crossing the threshold. The
door fell-to behind us. The sexton said something to his wife
that made her turn toward us.--What a change had passed upon her!
It was as if the splendour of her eyes had grown too much for them
to hold, and, sinking into her countenance, made it flash with a
loveliness like that of Beatrice in the white rose of the redeemed.
Life itself, life eternal, immortal, streamed from it, an unbroken
lightning. Even her hands shone with a white radiance, every
"pearl-shell helmet" gleaming like a moonstone. Her beauty was
overpowering; I was glad when she turned it from me.
But the light of the candle reached such a little way, that at first
I could see nothing of the place. Presently, however, it fell on
something that glimmered, a little raised from the floor. Was it
a bed? Could live thing sleep in such a mortal cold? Then surely
it was no wonder it should not wake of itself! Beyond that appeared
a fainter shine; and then I thought I descried uncertain gleams on
A few paces brought us to the first; it was a human form under a
sheet, straight and still--whether of man or woman I could not tell,
for the light seemed to avoid the face as we passed.
I soon perceived that we were walking along an aisle of couches,
on almost every one of which, with its head to the passage, lay
something asleep or dead, covered with a sheet white as snow. My
soul grew silent with dread. Through aisle after aisle we went,
among couches innumerable. I could see only a few of them at
once, but they were on all sides, vanishing, as it seemed, in the
infinite.--Was it here lay my choice of a bed? Must I go to sleep
among the unwaking, with no one to rouse me? Was this the sexton's
library? were these his books? Truly it was no half-way house, this
chamber of the dead!
"One of the cellars I am placed to watch!" remarked Mr. Raven--in
a low voice, as if fearing to disturb his silent guests. "Much
wine is set here to ripen!--But it is dark for a stranger!" he added.
"The moon is rising; she will soon be here," said his wife, and
her clear voice, low and sweet, sounded of ancient sorrow long
Even as she spoke the moon looked in at an opening in the wall, and
a thousand gleams of white responded to her shine. But not yet
could I descry beginning or end of the couches. They stretched away
and away, as if for all the disparted world to sleep upon. For
along the far receding narrow ways, every couch stood by itself, and
on each slept a lonely sleeper. I thought at first their sleep was
death, but I soon saw it was something deeper still--a something I
did not know.
The moon rose higher, and shone through other openings, but I
could never see enough of the place at once to know its shape or
character; now it would resemble a long cathedral nave, now a huge
barn made into a dwelling of tombs. She looked colder than any
moon in the frostiest night of the world, and where she shone direct
upon them, cast a bluish, icy gleam on the white sheets and the
pallid countenances--but it might be the faces that made the moon
Of such as I could see, all were alike in the brotherhood of death,
all unlike in the character and history recorded upon them. Here
lay a man who had died--for although this was not death, I have no
other name to give it--in the prime of manly strength; his dark
beard seemed to flow like a liberated stream from the glacier of
his frozen countenance; his forehead was smooth as polished marble;
a shadow of pain lingered about his lips, but only a shadow. On
the next couch lay the form of a girl, passing lovely to behold.
The sadness left on her face by parting was not yet absorbed in
perfect peace, but absolute submission possessed the placid features,
which bore no sign of wasting disease, of "killing care or grief
of heart": if pain had been there, it was long charmed asleep, never
again to wake. Many were the beautiful that there lay very still--
some of them mere children; but I did not see one infant. The
most beautiful of all was a lady whose white hair, and that alone,
suggested her old when first she fell asleep. On her stately
countenance rested--not submission, but a right noble acquiescence,
an assurance, firm as the foundations of the universe, that all was
as it should be. On some faces lingered the almost obliterated
scars of strife, the marrings of hopeless loss, the fading shadows
of sorrows that had seemed inconsolable: the aurora of the great
morning had not yet quite melted them away; but those faces were
few, and every one that bore such brand of pain seemed to plead,
"Pardon me: I died only yesterday!" or, "Pardon me: I died but a
century ago!" That some had been dead for ages I knew, not merely
by their unutterable repose, but by something for which I have
neither word nor symbol.
We came at last to three empty couches, immediately beyond which
lay the form of a beautiful woman, a little past the prime of life.
One of her arms was outside the sheet, and her hand lay with the
palm upward, in its centre a dark spot. Next to her was the
stalwart figure of a man of middle age. His arm too was outside
the sheet, the strong hand almost closed, as if clenched on the grip
of a sword. I thought he must be a king who had died fighting for
"Will you hold the candle nearer, wife?" whispered the sexton,
bending down to examine the woman's hand.
"It heals well," he murmured to himself: "the nail found in her
nothing to hurt!"
At last I ventured to speak.
"Are they not dead?" I asked softly.
"I cannot answer you," he replied in a subdued voice. "I almost
forget what they mean by DEAD in the old world. If I said a person
was dead, my wife would understand one thing, and you would imagine
another.--This is but one of my treasure vaults," he went on, "and
all my guests are not laid in vaults: out there on the moor they
lie thick as the leaves of a forest after the first blast of your
winter--thick, let me say rather, as if the great white rose of
heaven had shed its petals over it. All night the moon reads their
faces, and smiles."
"But why leave them in the corrupting moonlight?" I asked.
"Our moon," he answered, "is not like yours--the old cinder of a
burnt-out world; her beams embalm the dead, not corrupt them. You
observe that here the sexton lays his dead on the earth; be buries
very few under it! In your world he lays huge stones on them,
as if to keep them down; I watch for the hour to ring the
resurrection-bell, and wake those that are still asleep. Your
sexton looks at the clock to know when to ring the dead-alive to
church; I hearken for the cock on the spire to crow; `AWAKE, THOU
THAT SLEEPEST, AND ARISE FROM THE DEAD!'"
I began to conclude that the self-styled sexton was in truth an
insane parson: the whole thing was too mad! But how was I to get
away from it? I was helpless! In this world of the dead, the
raven and his wife were the only living I had yet seen: whither
should I turn for help? I was lost in a space larger than
imagination; for if here two things, or any parts of them, could
occupy the same space, why not twenty or ten thousand?--But I dared
not think further in that direction.
"You seem in your dead to see differences beyond my perception!" I
ventured to remark.
"None of those you see," he answered, "are in truth quite dead yet,
and some have but just begun to come alive and die. Others had
begun to die, that is to come alive, long before they came to us;
and when such are indeed dead, that instant they will wake and leave
us. Almost every night some rise and go. But I will not say more,
for I find my words only mislead you!--This is the couch that has
been waiting for you," he ended, pointing to one of the three.
"Why just this?" I said, beginning to tremble, and anxious by
parley to delay.
"For reasons which one day you will be glad to know," he answered.
"Why not know them now?"
"That also you will know when you wake."
"But these are all dead, and I am alive!" I objected, shuddering.
"Not much," rejoined the sexton with a smile, "--not nearly enough!
Blessed be the true life that the pauses between its throbs are not
"The place is too cold to let one sleep!" I said.
"Do these find it so?" he returned. "They sleep well--or will soon.
Of cold they feel not a breath: it heals their wounds.--Do not be a
coward, Mr. Vane. Turn your back on fear, and your face to whatever
may come. Give yourself up to the night, and you will rest indeed.
Harm will not come to you, but a good you cannot foreknow."
The sexton and I stood by the side of the couch, his wife, with the
candle in her hand, at the foot of it. Her eyes were full of light,
but her face was again of a still whiteness; it was no longer radiant.
"Would they have me make of a charnel-house my bed-chamber?" I
cried aloud. "I will not. I will lie abroad on the heath; it
cannot be colder there!"
"I have just told you that the dead are there also,
`Thick as autumnal leaves that strow the brooks
said the librarian.
"I will NOT," I cried again; and in the compassing dark, the two
gleamed out like spectres that waited on the dead; neither answered
me; each stood still and sad, and looked at the other.
"Be of good comfort; we watch the flock of the great shepherd,"
said the sexton to his wife.
Then he turned to me.
"Didst thou not find the air of the place pure and sweet when thou
enteredst it?" he asked.
"Yes; but oh, so cold!" I answered.
"Then know," he returned, and his voice was stern, "that thou who
callest thyself alive, hast brought into this chamber the odours
of death, and its air will not be wholesome for the sleepers until
thou art gone from it!"
They went farther into the great chamber, and I was left alone in
the moonlight with the dead.
I turned to escape.
What a long way I found it back through the dead! At first I was
too angry to be afraid, but as I grew calm, the still shapes grew
terrible. At last, with loud offence to the gracious silence, I
ran, I fled wildly, and, bursting out, flung-to the door behind me.
It closed with an awful silence.
I stood in pitch-darkness. Feeling about me, I found a door, opened
it, and was aware of the dim light of a lamp. I stood in my library,
with the handle of the masked door in my hand.
Had I come to myself out of a vision?--or lost myself by going back
to one? Which was the real--what I now saw, or what I had just
ceased to see? Could both be real, interpenetrating yet unmingling?
I threw myself on a couch, and fell asleep.
In the library was one small window to the east, through which, at
this time of the year, the first rays of the sun shone upon a mirror
whence they were reflected on the masked door: when I woke, there
they shone, and thither they drew my eyes. With the feeling that
behind it must lie the boundless chamber I had left by that door,
I sprang to my feet, and opened it. The light, like an eager hound,
shot before me into the closet, and pounced upon the gilded edges
of a large book.
"What idiot," I cried, "has put that book in the shelf the wrong
But the gilded edges, reflecting the light a second time, flung it
on a nest of drawers in a dark corner, and I saw that one of them
was half open.
"More meddling!" I cried, and went to close the drawer.
It contained old papers, and seemed more than full, for it would
not close. Taking the topmost one out, I perceived that it was
in my father's writing and of some length. The words on which first
my eyes fell, at once made me eager to learn what it contained. I
carried it to the library, sat down in one of the western windows,
and read what follows.
MY FATHER'S MANUSCRIPT
I am filled with awe of what I have to write. The sun is shining
golden above me; the sea lies blue beneath his gaze; the same world
sends its growing things up to the sun, and its flying things into
the air which I have breathed from my infancy; but I know the
outspread splendour a passing show, and that at any moment it may,
like the drop-scene of a stage, be lifted to reveal more wonderful
Shortly after my father's death, I was seated one morning in the
library. I had been, somewhat listlessly, regarding the portrait
that hangs among the books, which I knew only as that of a distant
ancestor, and wishing I could learn something of its original. Then
I had taken a book from the shelves and begun to read.
Glancing up from it, I saw coming toward me--not between me and
the door, but between me and the portrait--a thin pale man in rusty
black. He looked sharp and eager, and had a notable nose, at once
reminding me of a certain jug my sisters used to call Mr. Crow.
"Finding myself in your vicinity, Mr. Vane, I have given myself the
pleasure of calling," he said, in a peculiar but not disagreeable
voice. "Your honoured grandfather treated me--I may say it without
presumption--as a friend, having known me from childhood as his
It did not strike me at the time how old the man must be.
"May I ask where you live now, Mr. Crow?" I said.
He smiled an amused smile.
"You nearly hit my name," he rejoined, "which shows the family
insight. You have seen me before, but only once, and could not
then have heard it!"
"Where was that?"
"In this very room. You were quite a child, however!"
I could not be sure that I remembered him, but for a moment I
fancied I did, and I begged him to set me right as to his name.
"There is such a thing as remembering without recognising the memory
in it," he remarked. "For my name--which you have near enough--it
used to be Raven."
I had heard the name, for marvellous tales had brought it me.
"It is very kind of you to come and see me," I said. "Will you not
He seated himself at once.
"You knew my father, then, I presume?"
"I knew him," he answered with a curious smile, "but he did not
care about my acquaintance, and we never met.--That gentleman,
however," he added, pointing to the portrait,--"old Sir Up'ard,
his people called him,--was in his day a friend of mine yet more
intimate than ever your grandfather became."
Then at length I began to think the interview a strange one. But
in truth it was hardly stranger that my visitor should remember
Sir Upward, than that he should have been my great-grandfather's
"I owe him much," he continued; "for, although I had read many more
books than he, yet, through the special direction of his studies, he
was able to inform me of a certain relation of modes which I should
never have discovered of myself, and could hardly have learned from
any one else."
"Would you mind telling me all about that?" I said.
"By no means--as much at least as I am able: there are not such
things as wilful secrets," he answered--and went on.
"That closet held his library--a hundred manuscripts or so, for
printing was not then invented. One morning I sat there, working
at a catalogue of them, when he looked in at the door, and said,
`Come.' I laid down my pen and followed him--across the great hall,
down a steep rough descent, and along an underground passage to a
tower he had lately built, consisting of a stair and a room at the
top of it. The door of this room had a tremendous lock, which he
undid with the smallest key I ever saw. I had scarcely crossed
the threshold after him, when, to my eyes, he began to dwindle, and
grew less and less. All at once my vision seemed to come right, and
I saw that he was moving swiftly away from me. In a minute more he
was the merest speck in the distance, with the tops of blue mountains
beyond him, clear against a sky of paler blue. I recognised the
country, for I had gone there and come again many a time, although
I had never known this way to it.
"Many years after, when the tower had long disappeared, I taught
one of his descendants what Sir Upward had taught me; and now and
then to this day I use your house when I want to go the nearest
way home. I must indeed--without your leave, for which I ask your
pardon--have by this time well established a right of way through
it--not from front to back, but from bottom to top!"
"You would have me then understand, Mr. Raven," I said, "that you
go through my house into another world, heedless of disparting
"That I go through it is an incontrovertible acknowledgement of
space," returned the old librarian.
"Please do not quibble, Mr. Raven," I rejoined. "Please to take my
question as you know I mean it."
"There is in your house a door, one step through which carries me
into a world very much another than this."
"Not throughout; but so much another that most of its physical, and
many of its mental laws are different from those of this world. As
for moral laws, they must everywhere be fundamentally the same."
"You try my power of belief!" I said.
"You take me for a madman, probably?"
"You do not look like one."
"A liar then?"
"You give me no ground to think you such."
"Only you do not believe me?"
"I will go out of that door with you if you like: I believe in you
enough to risk the attempt."
"The blunder all my children make!" he murmured. "The only door out
is the door in!"
I began to think he must be crazy. He sat silent for a moment, his
head resting on his hand, his elbow on the table, and his eyes on
the books before him.
"A book," he said louder, "is a door in, and therefore a door out.--I
see old Sir Up'ard," he went on, closing his eyes, "and my heart
swells with love to him:--what world is he in?"
"The world of your heart!" I replied; "--that is, the idea of him
"There is one world then at least on which your hall-door does not
"I grant you so much; but the things in that world are not things to
have and to hold."
"Think a little farther," he rejoined: "did anything ever become
yours, except by getting into that world?--The thought is beyond
you, however, at present!--I tell you there are more worlds, and
more doors to them, than you will think of in many years!"
He rose, left the library, crossed the hall, and went straight up
to the garret, familiar evidently with every turn. I followed,
studying his back. His hair hung down long and dark, straight and
glossy. His coat was wide and reached to his heels. His shoes
seemed too large for him.
In the garret a light came through at the edges of the great roofing
slabs, and showed us parts where was no flooring, and we must step
from joist to joist: in the middle of one of these spaces rose a
partition, with a door: through it I followed Mr. Raven into a small,
obscure chamber, whose top contracted as it rose, and went slanting
through the roof.
"That is the door I spoke of," he said, pointing to an oblong mirror
that stood on the floor and leaned against the wall. I went in
front of it, and saw our figures dimly reflected in its dusty face.
There was something about it that made me uneasy. It looked
old-fashioned and neglected, but, notwithstanding its ordinary
seeming, the eagle, perched with outstretched wings on the top,
"As a mirror," said the librarian, "it has grown dingy with age;
but that is no matter: its doorness depends on the light."
"Light!" I rejoined; "there is no light here!"
He did not answer me, but began to pull at a little chain on the
opposite wall. I heard a creaking: the top of the chamber was
turning slowly round. He ceased pulling, looked at his watch, and
began to pull again.
"We arrive almost to the moment!" he said; "it is on the very stroke
The top went creaking and revolving for a minute or so. Then he
pulled two other chains, now this, now that, and returned to the
first. A moment more and the chamber grew much clearer: a patch of
sunlight had fallen upon a mirror on the wall opposite that against
which the other leaned, and on the dust I saw the path of the
reflected rays to the mirror on the ground. But from the latter
none were returned; they seemed to go clean through; there was
nowhere in the chamber a second patch of light!
"Where are the sunrays gone?" I cried.
"That I cannot tell," returned Mr. Raven; "--back, perhaps, to where
they came from first. They now belong, I fancy, to a sense not yet
developed in us."
He then talked of the relations of mind to matter, and of senses
to qualities, in a way I could only a little understand, whence he
went on to yet stranger things which I could not at all comprehend.
He spoke much about dimensions, telling me that there were many
more than three, some of them concerned with powers which were indeed
in us, but of which as yet we knew absolutely nothing. His words,
however, I confess, took little more hold of me than the light did
of the mirror, for I thought he hardly knew what he was saying.
Suddenly I was aware that our forms had gone from the mirror, which
seemed full of a white mist. As I gazed I saw, growing gradually
visible beyond the mist, the tops of a range of mountains, which
became clearer and clearer. Soon the mist vanished entirely,
uncovering the face of a wide heath, on which, at some distance,
was the figure of a man moving swiftly away. I turned to address
my companion; he was no longer by my side. I looked again at the
form in the mirror, and recognised the wide coat flying, the black
hair lifting in a wind that did not touch me. I rushed in terror
from the place.
I laid the manuscript down, consoled to find that my father had
had a peep into that mysterious world, and that he knew Mr. Raven.
Then I remembered that I had never heard the cause or any
circumstance of my father's death, and began to believe that he
must at last have followed Mr. Raven, and not come back; whereupon
I speedily grew ashamed of my flight. What wondrous facts might
I not by this time have gathered concerning life and death, and
wide regions beyond ordinary perception! Assuredly the Ravens were
good people, and a night in their house would nowise have hurt me!
They were doubtless strange, but it was faculty in which the one
was peculiar, and beauty in which the other was marvellous! And I
had not believed in them! had treated them as unworthy of my
confidence, as harbouring a design against me! The more I thought
of my behaviour to them, the more disgusted I became with myself.
Why should I have feared such dead? To share their holy rest was
an honour of which I had proved myself unworthy! What harm could
that sleeping king, that lady with the wound in her palm, have done
me? I fell a longing after the sweet and stately stillness of their
two countenances, and wept. Weeping I threw myself on a couch, and
suddenly fell asleep.
As suddenly I woke, feeling as if some one had called me. The
house was still as an empty church. A blackbird was singing on
the lawn. I said to myself, "I will go and tell them I am ashamed,
and will do whatever they would have me do!" I rose, and went
straight up the stairs to the garret.
The wooden chamber was just as when first I saw it, the mirror
dimly reflecting everything before it. It was nearly noon, and
the sun would be a little higher than when first I came: I must
raise the hood a little, and adjust the mirrors accordingly! If I
had but been in time to see Mr. Raven do it!
I pulled the chains, and let the light fall on the first mirror.
I turned then to the other: there were the shapes of the former
vision--distinguishable indeed, but tremulous like a landscape in
a pool ruffled by "a small pipling wind!" I touched the glass; it
Suspecting polarisation as the thing required, I shifted and shifted
the mirrors, changing their relation, until at last, in a great
degree, so far as I was concerned, by chance, things came right
between them, and I saw the mountains blue and steady and clear. I
stepped forward, and my feet were among the heather.
All I knew of the way to the cottage was that we had gone through
a pine-forest. I passed through many thickets and several small
fir-woods, continually fancying afresh that I recognised something
of the country; but I had come upon no forest, and now the sun was
near the horizon, and the air had begun to grow chill with the
coming winter, when, to my delight, I saw a little black object
coming toward me: it was indeed the raven!
I hastened to meet him.
"I beg your pardon, sir, for my rudeness last night," I said. "Will
you take me with you now? I heartily confess I do not deserve it."
"Ah!" he returned, and looked up. Then, after a brief pause, "My
wife does not expect you to-night," he said. "She regrets that
we at all encouraged your staying last week."
"Take me to her that I may tell her how sorry I am," I begged
"It is of no use," he answered. "Your night was not come then, or
you would not have left us. It is not come now, and I cannot show
you the way. The dead were rejoicing under their daisies--they
all lie among the roots of the flowers of heaven--at the thought
of your delight when the winter should be past, and the morning
with its birds come: ere you left them, they shivered in their beds.
When the spring of the universe arrives,--but that cannot be for
ages yet! how many, I do not know--and do not care to know."
"Tell me one thing, I beg of you, Mr. Raven: is my father with
you? Have you seen him since he left the world?"
"Yes; he is with us, fast asleep. That was he you saw with his
arm on the coverlet, his hand half closed."
"Why did you not tell me? That I should have been so near him,
and not know!"
"And turn your back on him!" corrected the raven.
"I would have lain down at once had I known!"
"I doubt it. Had you been ready to lie down, you would have known
him!--Old Sir Up'ard," he went on, "and your twice great-grandfather,
both are up and away long ago. Your great-grandfather has been with
us for many a year; I think he will soon begin to stir. You saw
him last night, though of course you did not know him."
"Why OF COURSE?"
"Because he is so much nearer waking than you. No one who will not
sleep can ever wake."
"I do not at all understand you!"
"You turned away, and would not understand!"
I held my peace.--But if I did not say something, he would go!
"And my grandfather--is he also with you?" I asked.
"No; he is still in the Evil Wood, fighting the dead."
"Where is the Evil Wood, that I may find him?"
"You will not find him; but you will hardly miss the wood. It is
the place where those who will not sleep, wake up at night, to kill
their dead and bury them."
"I cannot understand you!"
"Naturally not. Neither do I understand you; I can read neither
your heart nor your face. When my wife and I do not understand
our children, it is because there is not enough of them to be
understood. God alone can understand foolishness."
"Then," I said, feeling naked and very worthless, "will you be so
good as show me the nearest way home? There are more ways than one,
I know, for I have gone by two already."
"There are indeed many ways."
"Tell me, please, how to recognise the nearest."
"I cannot," answered the raven; "you and I use the same words with
different meanings. We are often unable to tell people what they
NEED to know, because they WANT to know something else, and would
therefore only misunderstand what we said. Home is ever so far
away in the palm of your hand, and how to get there it is of no use
to tell you. But you will get there; you must get there; you have
to get there. Everybody who is not at home, has to go home. You
thought you were at home where I found you: if that had been your
home, you could not have left it. Nobody can leave home. And nobody
ever was or ever will be at home without having gone there."
"Enigma treading on enigma!" I exclaimed. "I did not come here to
be asked riddles."
"No; but you came, and found the riddles waiting for you! Indeed
you are yourself the only riddle. What you call riddles are truths,
and seem riddles because you are not true."
"Worse and worse!" I cried.
"And you MUST answer the riddles!" he continued. "They will go on
asking themselves until you understand yourself. The universe is
a riddle trying to get out, and you are holding your door hard
"Will you not in pity tell me what I am to do--where I must go?"
"How should I tell YOUR to-do, or the way to it?"
"If I am not to go home, at least direct me to some of my kind."
"I do not know of any. The beings most like you are in that
He pointed with his beak. I could see nothing but the setting sun,
which blinded me.
"Well," I said bitterly, "I cannot help feeling hardly treated--taken
from my home, abandoned in a strange world, and refused instruction
as to where I am to go or what I am to do!"
"You forget," said the raven, "that, when I brought you and you
declined my hospitality, you reached what you call home in safety:
now you are come of yourself! Good night."
He turned and walked slowly away, with his beak toward the ground.
I stood dazed. It was true I had come of myself, but had I not
come with intent of atonement? My heart was sore, and in my brain
was neither quest nor purpose, hope nor desire. I gazed after the