Part 2 out of 2
only spoke for humanity's sake, as--a fellow-creature.'
My new acquaintance gave way to a silent laugh within himself, which was
not so offensive as the loud laugh of the crowd, but yet was more
exasperating than words can say. 'You think that matters? But it does not
hurt you that he should he in pain. It would do you no good if he were to
get well. Why should you trouble yourself one way or the other? Let him
die--if he can--That makes no difference to you or me.'
'I must be dull indeed,' I cried,--'slow of understanding, as you say.
This is going back to the ideas of times beyond knowledge--before
Christianity--' As soon as I had said this I felt somehow--I could not
tell how--as if my voice jarred, as if something false and unnatural was
in what I said. My companion gave my arm a twist as if with a shock of
surprise, then laughed in his inward way again.
'We don't think much of that here, nor of your modern pretences in
general. The only thing that touches you and me is what hurts or helps
ourselves. To be sure, it all comes to the same thing,--for I suppose it
annoys you to see that wretch writhing; it hurts your more delicate,
'It has nothing to do with my consciousness,' I cried angrily; 'it is a
shame to let a fellow-creature suffer if we can prevent it.'
'Why shouldn't he suffer?' said my companion. We passed as he spoke some
other squalid, wretched creatures shuffling among the crowd, whom he
kicked with his foot, calling forth a yell of pain and curses. This he
regarded with a supreme contemptuous calm which stupefied me. Nor did any
of the passers-by show the slightest inclination to take the part of the
sufferers. They laughed, or shouted out a gibe, or what was still more
wonderful, went on with a complete unaffected indifference, as if all
this was natural. I tried to disengage my arm in horror and dismay, but
he held me fast with a pressure that hurt me. 'That's the question,' he
said. 'What have we to do with it? Your fictitious consciousness makes it
painful to you. To me, on the contrary, who take the view of nature, it
is a pleasurable feeling. It enhances the amount of ease, whatever that
may be, which I enjoy. I am in no pain. That brute who is'--and he
flicked with a stick he carried the uncovered wound of a wretch upon the
roadside--'makes me more satisfied with my condition. Ah! you think it
is I who am the brute? You will change your mind by and by.'
'Never!' I cried, wrenching my arm from his with an effort, 'if I should
live a hundred years.'
'A hundred years,--a drop in the bucket!' he said with his silent laugh.
'You will live forever, and you will come to my view; and we shall meet
in the course of ages, from time to time, to compare notes. I would say
good-by after the old fashion, but you are but newly arrived, and I will
not treat you so badly as that.' With which he parted from me, waving his
hand, with his everlasting horrible smile.
'Good-by!' I said to myself, 'good-by! why should it be treating me badly
to say good-by--'
I was startled by a buffet on the mouth. 'Take that!' cried some one,
'to teach you how to wish the worst of tortures to people who have done
you no harm.'
'What have I said? I meant no harm; I repeated only what is the commonest
civility, the merest good manners.'
'You wished,' said the man who had struck me,--'I won't repeat the words:
to me, for it was I only that heard them, the awful company that hurts
most, that sets everything before us, both past and to come, and cuts
like a sword and burns like fire. I'll say it to yourself, and see how it
feels. God be with you! There! it is said, and we all must bear it,
thanks, you fool and accursed, to you.'
And then there came a pause over all the place, an awful
stillness,--hundreds of men and women standing clutching with desperate
movements at their hearts as if to tear them out, moving their heads as
if to dash them against the wall, wringing their hands, with a look upon
all their convulsed faces which I can never forget. They all turned to
me, cursing me with those horrible eyes of anguish. And everything was
still; the noise all stopped for a moment, the air all silent, with a
silence that could be felt. And then suddenly out of the crowd there came
a great piercing cry; and everything began again exactly as before.
While this pause occurred, and while I stood wondering, bewildered,
understanding nothing, there came over me a darkness, a blackness, a
sense of misery such as never in all my life--though I have known
troubles enough--I had felt before. All that had happened to me
throughout my existence seemed to rise pale and terrible in a hundred
scenes before me,--all momentary, intense, as if each was the present
moment. And in each of these scenes I saw what I had never seen before. I
saw where I had taken the wrong instead of the right step, in what
wantonness, with what self-will it had been done; how God (I shuddered at
the name) had spoken and called me, and even entreated, and I had
withstood and refused. All the evil I had done came back, and spread
itself out before my eyes; and I loathed it, yet knew that I had chosen
it, and that it would be with me forever. I saw it all in the twinkling
of an eye, in a moment, while I stood there, and all men with me, in the
horror of awful thought. Then it ceased as it had come, instantaneously,
and the noise and the laughter, and the quarrels and cries, and all the
commotion of this new bewildering place, in a moment began again. I had
seen no one while this strange paroxysm lasted. When it disappeared, I
came to myself, emerging as from a dream, and looked into the face of the
man whose words, not careless like mine, had brought it upon us. Our eyes
met, and his were surrounded by curves and lines of anguish which were
terrible to see.
'Well,' he said with a short laugh, which was forced and harsh, 'how do
you like it? that is what happens when--If it came often, who could
endure it?' He was not like the rest. There was no sneer upon his face,
no gibe at my simplicity. Even now, when all had recovered, he was still
quivering with something that looked like a nobler pain. His face was
very grave, the lines deeply drawn in it; and he seemed to be seeking no
amusement or distraction, nor to take any part in the noise and tumult
which was going on around.
'Do you know what that cry meant?' he said. 'Did you hear that cry? It
was some one who saw--even here once in a long time, they say, it can
'What can be seen?'
He shook his head, looking at me with a meaning which I could not
interpret. It was beyond the range of my thoughts. I came to know after,
or I never could have made this record. But on that subject he said no
more. He turned the way I was going, though it mattered nothing what way
I went, for all were the same to me. 'You are one of the new-comers?' he
said; 'you have not been long here--'
'Tell me,' I cried, 'what you mean by _here_. Where are we? How can one
tell who has fallen--he knows not whence or where? What is this place? I
have never seen anything like it. It seems to me that I hate it already,
though I know not what it is.'
He shook his head once more. 'You will hate it more and more,' he said;
'but of these dreadful streets you will never be free, unless--' And here
he stopped again.
'Unless--what? If it is possible, I will be free of them, and that
He smiled at me faintly, as we smile at children, but not with derision.
'How shall you do that? Between this miserable world and all others,
there is a great gulf fixed. It is full of all the bitterness and tears
that come from all the universe. These drop from them, but stagnate here.
We, you perceive, have no tears, not even at moments--' Then, 'You will
soon be accustomed to all this,' he said. 'You will fall into the way.
Perhaps you will be able to amuse yourself to make it passable. Many do.
There are a number of fine things to be seen here. If you are curious,
come with me and I will show you. Or work,--there is even work. There is
only one thing that is impossible, or if not impossible--' And here he
paused again and raised his eyes to the dark clouds and lurid sky
overhead. 'The man who gave that cry! if I could but find him! he must
'What could he see?' I asked. But there arose in my mind something like
contempt. A visionary! who could not speak plainly, who broke off into
mysterious inferences, and appeared to know more than he would say. It
seemed foolish to waste time, when evidently there was still so much to
see, in the company of such a man; and I began already to feel more at
home. There was something in that moment of anguish which had wrought a
strange familiarity in me with my surroundings. It was so great a relief
to return out of the misery of that sharp and horrible self-realization,
to what had come to be, in comparison, easy and well known. I had no
desire to go back and grope among the mysteries and anguish so suddenly
revealed. I was glad to be free from them, to be left to myself, to get a
little pleasure perhaps like the others. While these thoughts passed
through my mind, I had gone on without any active impulse of my own, as
everybody else did; and my latest companion had disappeared. He saw, no
doubt, without any need for words, what my feelings were. And I proceeded
on my way. I felt better as I got more accustomed to the place, or
perhaps it was the sensation of relief after that moment of indescribable
pain. As for the sights in the streets, I began to grow used to them. The
wretched creatures who strolled or sat about with signs of sickness or
wounds upon them disgusted me only, they no longer called forth my pity.
I began to feel ashamed of my silly questions about the hospital. All the
same, it would have been a good thing to have had some receptacle for
them, into which they might have been driven out of the way. I felt an
inclination to push them aside as I saw other people do, but was a little
ashamed of that impulse too; and so I went on. There seemed no quiet
streets, so far as I could make out, in the place. Some were smaller,
meaner, with a different kind of passengers, but the same hubbub and
unresting movement everywhere. I saw no signs of melancholy or
seriousness; active pain, violence, brutality, the continual shock of
quarrels and blows, but no pensive faces about, no sorrowfulness, nor the
kind of trouble which brings thought. Everybody was fully occupied,
pushing on as if in a race, pausing for nothing.
The glitter of the lights, the shouts, and sounds of continual going, the
endless whirl of passers-by, confused and tired me after a while. I went
as far out as I could go to what seemed the out-skirts of the place,
where I could by glimpses perceive a low horizon all lurid and glowing,
which seemed to sweep round and round. Against it in the distance stood
up the outline, black against that red glow, of other towers and
house-tops, so many and great that there was evidently another town
between us and the sunset, if sunset it was. I have seen a western sky
like it when there were storms about, and all the colors of the sky were
heightened and darkened by angry influences. The distant town rose
against it, cutting the firmament so that it might have been tongues of
flame flickering between the dark solid outlines; and across the waste
open country which lay between the two cities, there came a distant hum
like the sound of the sea, which was in reality the roar of that other
multitude. The country between showed no greenness or beauty; it lay dark
under the dark overhanging sky. Here and there seemed a cluster of giant
trees scathed as if by lightning, their bare boughs standing up as high
as the distant towers, their trunks like black columns without foliage.
Openings here and there, with glimmering lights, looked like the mouths
of mines; but of passengers there were scarcely any. A figure here and
there flew along as if pursued, imperfectly seen, a shadow only a little
darker than the space about. And in contrast with the sound of the city,
here was no sound at all, except the low roar on either side, and a
vague cry or two from the openings of the mine,--a scene all drawn in
darkness, in variations of gloom, deriving scarcely any light at all from
the red and gloomy burning of that distant evening sky.
A faint curiosity to go forwards, to see what the mines were, perhaps to
get a share in what was brought up from them, crossed my mind. But I was
afraid of the dark, of the wild uninhabited savage look of the landscape;
though when I thought of it, there seemed no reason why a narrow stretch
of country between two great towns should be alarming. But the impression
was strong and above reason. I turned back to the street in which I had
first alighted, and which seemed to end in a great square full of people.
In the middle there was a stage erected, from which some one was
delivering an oration or address of some sort. He stood beside a long
table, upon which lay something which I could not clearly distinguish,
except that it seemed alive, and moved, or rather writhed with convulsive
twitchings, as if trying to get free of the bonds which confined it.
Round the stage in front were a number of seats occupied by listeners,
many of whom were women, whose interest seemed to be very great, some of
them being furnished with note-books; while a great unsettled crowd
coming and going, drifted round,--many, arrested for a time as they
passed, proceeding on their way when the interest flagged, as is usual to
such open-air assemblies. I followed two of those who pushed their way to
within a short distance of the stage, and who were strong, big men, more
fitted to elbow the crowd aside than I, after my rough treatment in the
first place, and the agitation I had passed through, could be. I was
glad, besides, to take advantage of the explanation which one was giving
to the other. 'It's always fun to see this fellow demonstrate,' he said,
'and the subject to-day's a capital one. Let's get well forward, and see
all that's going on.'
'Which subject do you mean?' said the other; 'the theme or the example?'
And they both laughed, though I did not seize the point of the wit.
'Well, both,' said the first speaker. 'The theme is nerves; and as a
lesson in construction and the calculation of possibilities, it's fine.
He's very clever at that. He shows how they are all strung to give as
much pain and do as much harm as can be; and yet how well it's all
managed, don't you know, to look the reverse. As for the example, he's a
capital one--all nerves together, lying, if you like, just on the
surface, ready for the knife.'
'If they're on the surface I can't see where the fun is,' said the other.
'Metaphorically speaking. Of course they are just where other people's
nerves are; but he's what you call a highly organized nervous
specimen. There will be plenty of fun. Hush! he is just going to begin.'
'The arrangement of these threads of being,' said the lecturer, evidently
resuming after a pause, 'so as to convey to the brain the most
instantaneous messages of pain or pleasure, is wonderfully skilful and
clever. I need not say to the audience before me, enlightened as it is by
experiences of the most striking kind, that the messages are less of
pleasure than of pain. They report to the brain the stroke of injury far
more often than the thrill of pleasure; though sometimes that too, no
doubt, or life could scarcely be maintained. The powers that be have
found it necessary to mingle a little sweet of pleasurable sensation,
else our miserable race would certainly have found some means of
procuring annihilation. I do not for a moment pretend to say that the
pleasure is sufficient to offer a just counterbalance to the other. None
of my hearers will, I hope, accuse me of inconsistency. I am ready to
allow that in a previous condition I asserted somewhat strongly that this
was the case; but experience has enlightened us on that point. Our
circumstances are now understood by us all in a manner impossible while
we were still in a condition of incompleteness. We are all convinced that
there is no compensation. The pride of the position, of bearing
everything rather than give in, or making a submission we do not feel, of
preserving our own will and individuality to all eternity, is the only
compensation. I am satisfied with it, for my part.'
The orator made a pause, holding his head high, and there was a certain
amount of applause. The two men before me cheered vociferously. 'That is
the right way to look at it,' one of them said. My eyes were upon them,
with no particular motive; and I could not help starting, as I saw
suddenly underneath their applause and laughter a snarl of cursing, which
was the real expression of their thoughts. I felt disposed in the same
way to curse the speaker, though I knew no reason why.
He went on a little farther, explaining what he meant to do; and then
turning round, approached the table. An assistant, who was waiting,
uncovered it quickly. The audience stirred with quickened interest, and I
with consternation made a step forwards, crying out with horror. The
object on the table, writhing, twitching to get free, but bound down by
every limb, was a living man. The lecturer went forwards calmly, taking
his instruments from their case with perfect composure and coolness.
'Now, ladies and gentlemen,' he said, and inserted the knife in the
flesh, making a long clear cut in the bound arm. I shrieked out, unable
to restrain myself. The sight of the deliberate wound, the blood, the cry
of agony that came from the victim, the calmness of all the lookers-on,
filled me with horror and rage indescribable. I felt myself clear the
crowd away with a rush, and spring on the platform, I could not tell how.
'You devil!' I cried, 'let the man go! Where is the police? Where is a
magistrate? Let the man go this moment! fiends in human shape! I'll have
you brought to justice!' I heard myself shouting wildly, as I flung
myself upon the wretched sufferer, interposing between him and the knife.
It was something like this that I said. My horror and rage were
delirious, and carried me beyond all attempt at control.
Through it all I heard a shout of laughter rising from everybody round.
The lecturer laughed; the audience roared with that sound of horrible
mockery which had driven me out of myself in my first experience. All
kinds of mocking cries sounded around me. 'Let him a little blood to calm
him down.' 'Let the fool have a taste of it himself, doctor.' Last of all
came a voice mingled with the cries of the sufferer whom I was trying to
shield, 'Take him instead; curse him! take him instead.' I was bending
over the man with my arms outstretched, protecting him, when he gave vent
to this cry. And I heard immediately behind me a shout of assent, which
seemed to come from the two strong young men with whom I had been
standing, and the sound of a rush to seize me. I looked round, half mad
with terror and rage; a second more and I should have been strapped on
the table too. I made one wild bound into the midst of the crowd; and
struggling among the arms stretched out to catch me, amid the roar of the
laughter and cries--fled--fled wildly, I knew not whither, in panic and
rage and horror which no words could describe. Terror winged my feet. I
flew, thinking as little of whom I met, or knocked down, or trod upon in
my way, as the others did at whom I had wondered a little while ago.
No distinct impression of this headlong course remains in my mind, save
the sensation of mad fear such as I had never felt before. I came to
myself on the edge of the dark valley which surrounded the town. All my
pursuers had dropped off before that time; and I have the recollection of
flinging myself upon the ground on my face in the extremity of fatigue
and exhaustion. I must have lain there undisturbed for some time. A few
steps came and went, passing me; but no one took any notice, and the
absence of the noise and crowding gave me a momentary respite. But in my
heat and fever I got no relief of coolness from the contact of the soil.
I might have flung myself upon a bed of hot ashes, so much was it unlike
the dewy cool earth which I expected, upon which one can always throw
one's self with a sensation of repose. Presently the uneasiness of it
made me struggle up again and look around me. I was safe; at least the
cries of the pursuers had died away, the laughter which made my blood
boil offended my ears no more. The noise of the city was behind me,
softened into an indefinite roar by distance, and before me stretched out
the dreary landscape in which there seemed no features of attraction.
Now that I was nearer to it, I found it not so unpeopled as I thought. At
no great distance from me was the mouth of one of the mines, from which
came an indication of subterranean lights; and I perceived that the
flying figures which I had taken for travellers between one city and
another were in reality wayfarers endeavoring to keep clear of what
seemed a sort of press-gang at the openings. One of them, unable to stop
himself in his flight, adopted the same expedient as myself, and threw
himself on the ground close to me when he had got beyond the range of
pursuit. It was curious that we should meet there, he flying from a
danger which I was about to face, and ready to encounter that from which
I had fled. I waited for a few minutes till he had recovered his breath,
and then, 'What are you running from?' I said. 'Is there any danger
there?' The man looked up at me with the same continual question in his
eyes,--Who is this fool?
'Danger!' he said. 'Are you so new here, or such a cursed idiot, as not
to know the danger of the mines? You are going across yourself, I
suppose, and then you'll see.'
'But tell me,' I said; 'my experience may be of use to you afterwards,
if you will tell me yours now.'
'Of use!' he cried, staring; 'who cares? Find out for yourself. If they
get hold of you, you will soon understand.'
I no longer took this for rudeness, but answered in his own way, cursing
him too for a fool. 'If I ask a warning I can give one; as for kindness,'
I said, 'I was not looking for that.'
At this he laughed, indeed we laughed together,--there seemed something
ridiculous in the thought; and presently he told me, for the mere relief
of talking, that round each of these pit-mouths there was a band to
entrap every passer-by who allowed himself to be caught, and send him
down below to work in the mine. 'Once there, there is no telling when you
may get free,' he said; 'one time or other most people have a taste of
it. You don't know what hard labor is if you have never been there. I had
a spell once. There is neither air nor light; your blood boils in your
veins from the fervent heat; you are never allowed to rest. You are put
in every kind of contortion to get at it, your limbs twisted, and your
'For what?' I said.
'For gold!' he cried with a flash in his eyes--'gold! There it is
inexhaustible; however hard you may work, there is always more, and
'And to whom does all that belong?' I said. 'To whoever is strong enough
to get hold and keep possession,--sometimes one, sometimes another. The
only thing you are sure of is that it will never be you.'
Why not I as well as another? was the thought that went through my mind,
and my new companion spied it with a shriek of derision.
'It is not for you nor your kind,' he cried. 'How do you think you could
force other people to serve _you_? Can you terrify them or hurt them, or
give them anything? You have not learned yet who are the masters here.'
This troubled me, for it was true. 'I had begun to think,' I said, 'that
there was no authority at all,--for every man seems to do as he pleases;
you ride over one, and knock another down, or you seize a living man and
cut him to pieces'--I shuddered as I thought of it--'and there is nobody
'Who should interfere?' he said. 'Why shouldn't every man amuse himself
as he can? But yet for all that we've got our masters,' he cried with a
scowl, waving his clinched fist in the direction of the mines; 'you'll
find it out when you get there.'
It was a long time after this before I ventured to move, for here it
seemed to me that for the moment I was safe,--outside the city, yet not
within reach of the dangers of that intermediate space which grew clearer
before me as my eyes became accustomed to the lurid threatening afternoon
light. One after another the fugitives came flying past me,--people who
had escaped from the armed bands whom I could now see on the watch near
the pit's mouth. I could see too the tactics of these bands,--how they
retired, veiling the lights and the opening, when a greater number than
usual of travellers appeared on the way, and then suddenly widening out,
throwing out flanking lines, surrounded and drew in the unwary. I could
even hear the cries with which their victims disappeared over the opening
which seemed to go down into the bowels of the earth. By and by there
came flying towards me a wretch more dreadful in aspect than any I had
seen. His scanty clothes seemed singed and burned into rags; his hair,
which hung about his face unkempt and uncared for, had the same singed
aspect; his skin was brown and baked. I got up as he approached, and
caught him and threw him to the ground, without heeding his struggles to
get on. 'Don't you see,' he cried with a gasp, 'they may get me again.'
He was one of those who had escaped out of the mines; but what was it to
me whether they caught him again or not? I wanted to know how he had been
caught, and what he had been set to do, and how he had escaped. Why
should I hesitate to use my superior strength when no one else did? I
kept watch over him that he should not get away.
'You have been in the mines?' I said.
'Let me go!' he cried. 'Do you need to ask?' and he cursed me as he
struggled, with the most terrible imprecations. 'They may get me yet.
Let me go!'
'Not till you tell me,' I cried. 'Tell me and I'll protect you. If they
come near I'll let you go. Who are they, man? I must know.'
He struggled up from the ground, clearing his hot eyes from the ashes
that were in them, and putting aside his singed hair. He gave me a glance
of hatred and impotent resistance (for I was stronger than he), and then
cast a wild terrified look back. The skirmishers did not seem to remark
that anybody had escaped, and he became gradually a little more composed.
'Who are they?' he said hoarsely. 'They're cursed wretches like you and
me; and there are as many bands of them as there are mines on the road;
and you'd better turn back and stay where you are. You are safe here.'
'I will not turn back,' I said.
'I know well enough: you can't. You've got to go the round like the
rest,' he said with a laugh which was like a sound uttered by a wild
animal rather than a human voice. The man was in my power, and I struck
him, miserable as he was. It seemed a relief thus to get rid of some of
the fury in my mind. 'It's a lie,' I said; 'I go because I please. Why
shouldn't I gather a band of my own if I please, and fight those brutes,
not fly from them like you?'
He chuckled and laughed below his breath, struggling and cursing and
crying out, as I struck him again, 'You gather a band! What could you
offer them? Where would you find them? Are you better than the rest of
us? Are you not a man like the rest? Strike me you can, for I'm down. But
make yourself a master and a chief--you!'
'Why not I?' I shouted again, wild with rage and the sense that I had no
power over him, save to hurt him. That passion made my hands tremble; he
slipped from me in a moment, bounded from the ground like a ball, and
with a yell of derision escaped, and plunged into the streets and the
clamor of the city from which I had just flown. I felt myself rage after
him, shaking my fists with a consciousness of the ridiculous passion of
impotence that was in me, but no power of restraining it; and there was
not one of the fugitives who passed, however desperate he might be, who
did not make a mock at me as he darted by. The laughing-stock of all
those miserable objects, the sport of fate, afraid to go forwards, unable
to go back, with a fire in my veins urging me on! But presently I grew a
little calmer out of mere exhaustion, which was all the relief that was
possible to me. And by and by, collecting all my faculties, and impelled
by this impulse, which I seemed unable to resist, I got up and went
Fear can act in two ways: it paralyzes, and it renders cunning. At this
moment I found it inspire me. I made my plans before I started, how to
steal along under the cover of the blighted brushwood which broke the
line of the valley here and there. I set out only after long thought,
seizing the moment when the vaguely perceived band were scouring in the
other direction intercepting the travellers. Thus, with many pauses, I
got near to the pit's mouth in safety. But my curiosity was as great as,
almost greater than my terror. I had kept far from the road, dragging
myself sometimes on hands and feet over broken ground, tearing my clothes
and my flesh upon the thorns; and on that farther side all seemed so
silent and so dark in the shadow cast by some disused machinery, behind
which the glare of the fire from below blazed upon the other side of the
opening, that I could not crawl along in the darkness, and pass, which
would have been the safe way, but with a breathless hot desire to see and
know, dragged myself to the very edge to look down. Though I was in the
shadow, my eyes were nearly put out by the glare on which I gazed. It was
not fire; it was the lurid glow of the gold, glowing like flame, at which
countless miners were working. They were all about like flies,--some on
their knees, some bent double as they stooped over their work, some lying
cramped upon shelves and ledges. The sight was wonderful, and terrible
beyond description. The workmen seemed to consume away with the heat and
the glow, even in the few minutes I gazed. Their eyes shrank into their
heads; their faces blackened. I could see some trying to secret morsels
of the glowing metal, which burned whatever it touched, and some who were
being searched by the superiors of the mines, and some who were punishing
the offenders, fixing them up against the blazing wall of gold. The fear
went out of my mind, so much absorbed was I in this sight. I gazed,
seeing farther and farther every moment into crevices and seams of the
glowing metal, always with more and more slaves at work, and the entire
pantomime of labor and theft, and search and punishment, going on and
on,--the baked faces dark against the golden glare, the hot eyes taking a
yellow reflection, the monotonous clamor of pick and shovel, and cries
and curses, and all the indistinguishable sound of a multitude of human
creatures. And the floor below, and the low roof which overhung whole
myriads within a few inches of their faces, and the irregular walls all
breached and shelved, were every one the same, a pandemonium of
gold,--gold everywhere. I had loved many foolish things in my life, but
never this; which was perhaps why I gazed and kept my sight, though there
rose out of it a blast of heat which scorched the brain.
While I stooped over, intent on the sight, some one who had come up by
my side to gaze too was caught by the fumes (as I suppose), for suddenly
I was aware of a dark object falling prone into the glowing interior with
a cry and crash which brought back my first wild panic. He fell in a
heap, from which his arms shot forth wildly as he reached the bottom, and
his cry was half anguish yet half desire. I saw him seized by half a
dozen eager watchers, and pitched upon a ledge just under the roof, and
tools thrust into his hands. I held on by an old shaft, trembling, unable
to move. Perhaps I cried too in my horror,--for one of the overseers who
stood in the centre of the glare looked up. He had the air of ordering
all that was going on, and stood unaffected by the blaze, commanding the
other wretched officials, who obeyed him like dogs. He seemed to me, in
my terror, like a figure of gold, the image perhaps of wealth or Pluto,
or I know not what, for I suppose my brain began to grow confused, and my
hold on the shaft to relax. I had strength enough, however (for I cared
not for the gold), to fling myself back the other way upon the ground,
where I rolled backwards, downwards, I knew not how, turning over and
over upon sharp ashes and metallic edges, which tore my hair and
beard.--and for a moment I knew no more.
This fall saved me. I came to myself after a time, and heard the
press-gang searching about. I had sense to lie still among the ashes
thrown up out of the pit, while I heard their voices. Once I gave myself
up for lost. The glitter of a lantern flashed in my eyes, a foot passed,
crashing among the ashes so close to my cheek that the shoe grazed it. I
found the mark after, burned upon my flesh; but I escaped notice by a
miracle. And presently I was able to drag myself up and crawl away; but
how I reached the end of the valley I cannot tell. I pushed my way along
mechanically on the dark side. I had no further desire to see what was
going on in the openings of the mines. I went on, stumbling and stupid,
scarcely capable even of fear, conscious only of wretchedness and
weariness, till at last I felt myself drop across the road within the
gateway of the other town, and lay there with no thought of anything but
the relief of being at rest.
When I came to myself, it seemed to me that there was a change in the
atmosphere and the light. It was less lurid, paler, gray, more like
twilight than the stormy afternoon of the other city. A certain dead
serenity was in the sky,--black paleness, whiteness, everything faint in
it. This town was walled, but the gates stood open, and I saw no defences
of troops or other guardians. I found myself lying across the threshold,
but pushed to one side, so that the carriages which went and came should
not be stopped or I injured by their passage. It seemed to me that there
was some thoughtfulness and kindness in this action, and my heart sprang
up in a reaction of hope. I looked back as if upon a nightmare on the
dreadful city which I had left, on its tumults and noise, the wild racket
of the streets, the wounded wretches who sought refuge in the corners,
the strife and misery that were abroad, and, climax of all, the horrible
entertainment which had been going on in the square, the unhappy being
strapped upon the table. How, I said to myself, could such things be? Was
it a dream? Was it a nightmare? Was it something presented to me in a
vision,--a strong delusion to make me think that the old fables which had
been told concerning the end of mortal life were true? When I looked back
it appeared like an allegory, so that I might have seen it in a dream;
and still more like an allegory were the gold mines in the valley, and
the myriads who labored there. Was it all true, or only a reflection
from the old life mingling with the strange novelties which would most
likely elude understanding on the entrance into this new? I sat within
the shelter of the gateway on my awakening, and thought over all this. My
heart was calm,--almost, in the revulsion from the terrors I had been
through, happy. I persuaded myself that I was but now beginning; that
there had been no reality in these latter experiences, only a curious
succession of nightmares, such as might so well be supposed to follow a
wonderful transformation like that which must take place between our
mortal life and--the world to come. The world to come! I paused and
thought of it all, until the heart began to beat loud in my breast. What
was this where I lay? Another world,--a world which was not happiness,
not bliss? Oh, no; perhaps there was no world of bliss save in dreams.
This, on the other hand, I said to myself, was not misery; for was not I
seated here, with a certain tremulousness about me, it was true, after
all the experiences which, supposing them even to have been but dreams, I
had come through,--a tremulousness very comprehensible, and not at all
I will not say that I believed even what I tried to think. Something in
me lay like a dark shadow in the midst of all my theories; but yet I
succeeded to a great degree in convincing myself that the hope in me was
real, and that I was but now beginning--beginning with at least a
possibility that all might be well. In this half conviction, and after
all the troubles that were over (even though they might only have been
imaginary troubles), I felt a certain sweetness in resting there within
the gateway, with my back against it. I was unwilling to get up again,
and bring myself in contact with reality. I felt that there was pleasure
in being left alone. Carriages rolled past me occasionally, and now and
then some people on foot; but they did not kick me out of the way or
interfere with my repose.
Presently as I sat trying to persuade myself to rise and pursue my way,
two men came up to me in a sort of uniform. I recognized with another
distinct sensation of pleasure that here were people who had authority,
representatives of some kind of government. They came up to me and bade
me come with them in tones which were peremptory enough; but what of
that?--better the most peremptory supervision than the lawlessness from
which I had come. They raised me from the ground with a touch, for I
could not resist them, and led me quickly along the street into which
that gateway gave access, which was a handsome street with tall houses
on either side. Groups of people were moving about along the pavement,
talking now and then with considerable animation; but when my companions
were seen, there was an immediate moderation of tone, a sort of respect
which looked like fear. There was no brawling nor tumult of any kind in
the street. The only incident that occurred was this: when we had gone
some way, I saw a lame man dragging himself along with difficulty on the
other side of the street. My conductors had no sooner perceived him than
they gave each other a look and darted across, conveying me with them,
by a sweep of magnetic influence, I thought, that prevented me from
staying behind. He made an attempt with his crutches to get out of the
way, hurrying on--and I will allow that this attempt of his seemed to me
very grotesque, so that I could scarcely help laughing; the other
lookers-on in the street laughed too, though some put on an aspect of
disgust. 'Look, the tortoise!' some one said; 'does he think he can go
quicker than the orderlies?' My companions came up to the man while this
commentary was going on, and seized him by each arm. 'Where were you
going? Where have you come from? How dare you make an exhibition of
yourself?' they cried. They took the crutches from him as they spoke and
threw them away, and dragged him on until we reached a great grated door
which one of them opened with a key, while the other held the offender
(for he seemed an offender) roughly up by one shoulder, causing him
great pain. When the door was opened, I saw a number of people within,
who seemed to crowd to the door as if seeking to get out; but this was
not at all what was intended. My second companion dragged the lame man
forwards, and pushed him in with so much violence that I could see him
fall forwards on his face on the floor. Then the other locked the door,
and we proceeded on our way. It was not till some time later that I
In the mean time I was hurried on, meeting a great many people who took
no notice of me, to a central building in the middle of the town, where I
was brought before an official attended by clerks, with great books
spread out before him. Here I was questioned as to my name and my
antecedents and the time of my arrival, then dismissed with a nod to one
of my conductors. He led me back again down the street, took me into one
of the tall great houses, opened the door of a room which was numbered,
and left me there without a word. I cannot convey to any one the
bewildered consternation with which I felt myself deposited here; and as
the steps of my conductor died away in the long corridor, I sat down, and
looking myself in the face, as it were, tried to make out what it was
that had happened to me. The room was small and bare. There was but one
thing hung upon the undecorated walls, and that was a long list of
printed regulations which I had not the courage for the moment to look
at. The light was indifferent, though the room was high up, and the
street from the window looked far away below. I cannot tell how long I
sat there thinking, and yet it could scarcely be called thought. I asked
myself over and over again, Where am I? is it a prison? am I shut in, to
leave this enclosure no more? what am I to do? how is the time to pass? I
shut my eyes for a moment and tried to realize all that had happened to
me; but nothing save a whirl through my head of disconnected thoughts
seemed possible, and some force was upon me to open my eyes again, to
see the blank room, the dull light, the vacancy round me in which there
was nothing to interest the mind, nothing to please the eye,--a blank
wherever I turned. Presently there came upon me a burning regret for
everything I had left,--for the noisy town with all its tumults and
cruelties, for the dark valley with all its dangers. Everything seemed
bearable, almost agreeable, in comparison with this. I seemed to have
been brought here to make acquaintance once more with myself, to learn
over again what manner of man I was. Needless knowledge, acquaintance
unnecessary, unhappy! for what was there in me to make me to myself a
good companion? Never, I knew, could I separate myself from that eternal
consciousness; but it was cruelty to force the contemplation upon me. All
blank, blank around me, a prison! And was this to last forever?
I do not know how long I sat, rapt in this gloomy vision; but at last it
occurred to me to rise and try the door, which to my astonishment was
open. I went out with a throb of new hope. After all, it might not be
necessary to come back. There might be other expedients; I might fall
among friends. I turned down the long echoing stairs, on which I met
various people, who took no notice of me, and in whom I felt no interest
save a desire to avoid them, and at last reached the street. To be out of
doors in the air was something, though there was no wind, but a
motionless still atmosphere which nothing disturbed. The streets, indeed,
were full of movement, but not of life--though this seems a paradox. The
passengers passed on their way in long regulated lines,--those who went
towards the gates keeping rigorously to one side of the pavement, those
who came, to the other. They talked to each other here and there; but
whenever two men in uniform, such as those who had been my conductors,
appeared, silence ensued, and the wayfarers shrank even from the looks of
these persons in authority. I walked all about the spacious town.
Everywhere there were tall houses, everywhere streams of people coming
and going, but no one spoke to me, or remarked me at all. I was as lonely
as if I had been in a wilderness. I was indeed in a wilderness of men,
who were as though they did not see me, passing without even a look of
human fellowship, each absorbed in his own concerns. I walked and walked
till my limbs trembled under me, from one end to another of the great
streets, up and down, and round and round. But no one said, How are you?
Whence come you? What are you doing? At length in despair I turned again
to the blank and miserable room, which had looked to me like a cell in a
prison. I had wilfully made no note of its situation, trying to avoid
rather than to find it, but my steps were drawn thither against my will.
I found myself retracing my steps, mounting the long stairs, passing the
same people, who streamed along with no recognition of me, as I desired
nothing to do with them; and at last found myself within the same four
blank walls as before.
Soon after I returned I became conscious of measured steps passing the
door, and of an eye upon me. I can say no more than this. From what point
it was that I was inspected I cannot tell; but that I was inspected,
closely scrutinized by some one, and that not only externally, but by a
cold observation that went through and through me, I knew and felt beyond
any possibility of mistake. This recurred from time to time, horribly, at
uncertain moments, so that I never felt myself secure from it. I knew
when the watcher was coming by tremors and shiverings through all my
being; and no sensation so unsupportable has it ever been mine to bear.
How much that is to say, no one can tell who has not gone through those
regions of darkness, and learned what is in all their abysses. I tried at
first to hide, to fling myself on the floor, to cover my face, to burrow
in a dark corner. Useless attempts! The eyes that looked in upon me had
powers beyond my powers. I felt sometimes conscious of the derisive smile
with which my miserable subterfuges were regarded. They were all in vain.
And what was still more strange was that I had not energy to think of
attempting any escape. My steps, though watched, were not restrained in
any way, so far as I was aware. The gates of the city stood open on all
sides, free to those who went as well as to those who came; but I did not
think of flight. Of flight! Whence should I go from myself? Though that
horrible inspection was from the eyes of some unseen being, it was in
some mysterious way connected with my own thinking and reflections, so
that the thought came ever more and more strongly upon me, that from
myself I could never escape. And that reflection took all energy, all
impulse from me. I might have gone away when I pleased, beyond reach of
the authority which regulated everything,--how one should walk, where
one should live,--but never from my own consciousness. On the other side
of the town lay a great plain, traversed by roads on every side. There
was no reason why I should not continue my journey there; but I did not.
I had no wish nor any power in me to go away.
In one of my long, dreary, companionless walks, unshared by any human
fellowship, I saw at last a face which I remembered; it was that of the
cynical spectator who had spoken to me in the noisy street, in the
midst of my early experiences. He gave a glance round him to see that
there were no officials in sight, then left the file in which he was
walking, and joined me. 'Ah!' he said, 'you are here already,' with the
same derisive smile with which he had before regarded me. I hated the
man and his sneer, yet that he should speak to me was something, almost
'Yes,' said I, 'I am here.' Then, after a pause, in which I did not know
what to say, 'It is quiet here,' I said.
'Quiet enough. Do you like it better for that? To do whatever you please
with no one to interfere; or to do nothing you please, but as you are
forced to do it,--which do you think is best?'
I felt myself instinctively glance round, as he had done, to make sure
that no one was in sight. Then I answered, faltering, 'I have always held
that law and order were necessary things; and the lawlessness of
that--that place--I don't know its name--if there is such a place,' I
cried, 'I thought it was a dream.'
He laughed in his mocking way. 'Perhaps it is all a dream; who knows?' he
'Sir,' said I, 'you have been longer here than I--'
'Oh,' cried he, with a laugh that was dry and jarred upon the air almost
like a shriek, 'since before your forefathers were born!' It seemed to me
that he spoke like one who, out of bitterness and despite, made every
darkness blacker still. A kind of madman in his way; for what was this
claim of age?--a piece of bravado, no doubt, like the rest.
'That is strange,' I said, assenting, as when there is such a
hallucination it is best to do. 'You can tell me, then, whence all this
authority comes, and why we are obliged to obey.'
He looked at me as if he were thinking in his mind how to hurt me most.
Then, with that dry laugh, 'We make trial of all things in this world,'
he said, 'to see if perhaps we can find something we shall
like.--discipline here, freedom in the other place. When you have gone
all the round like me, then perhaps you will be able to choose.'
'Have you chosen?' I asked.
He only answered with a laugh. 'Come,' he said, 'there is amusement to be
had too, and that of the most elevated kind. We make researches here into
the moral nature of man. Will you come? But you must take the risk,' he
added with a smile which afterwards I understood.
We went on together after this till we reached the centre of the place,
in which stood an immense building with a dome, which dominated the city,
and into a great hall in the centre of that, where a crowd of people were
assembled. The sound of human speech, which murmured all around, brought
new life to my heart. And as I gazed at a curious apparatus erected on a
platform, several people spoke to me.
'We have again,' said one, 'the old subject to-day.'
'Is it something about the constitution of the place?' I asked in the
bewilderment of my mind. My neighbors looked at me with alarm, glancing
behind them to see what officials might be near.
'The constitution of the place is the result of the sense of the
inhabitants that order must be preserved,' said the one, who had spoken
to me first. 'The lawless can find refuge in other places. Here we have
chosen to have supervision, nuisances removed, and order kept. That is
enough. The constitution is not under discussion.'
'But man is,' said a second speaker. 'Let us keep to that in which we can
mend nothing. Sir, you may have to contribute your quota to our
enlightenment. We are investigating the rise of thought. You are a
stranger; you may be able to help us.'
'I am no philosopher,' I said with a panic which I could not explain
'That does not matter. You are a fresh subject.' The speaker made a
slight movement with his hand, and I turned round to escape in wild,
sudden fright, though I had no conception what could be done to me; but
the crowd had pressed close round me, hemming one in on every side. I was
so wildly alarmed that I struggled among them, pushing backwards with all
my force, and clearing a space round me with my arms; but my efforts were
vain. Two of the officers suddenly appeared out of the crowd, and
seizing me by the arms, forced me forwards. The throng dispersed before
them on either side, and I was half dragged, half lifted up upon the
platform, where stood the strange apparatus which I had contemplated with
a dull wonder when I came into the hall. My wonder did not last long. I
felt myself fixed in it, standing supported in that position by bands and
springs, so that no effort of mine was necessary to hold myself up, and
none possible to release myself. I was caught by every joint, sustained,
supported, exposed to the gaze of what seemed a world of upturned faces;
among which I saw, with a sneer upon it, keeping a little behind the
crowd, the face of the man who had led me here. Above my head was a
strong light, more brilliant than anything I had ever seen, and which
blazed upon my brain till the hair seemed to singe and the skin shrink. I
hope I may never feel such a sensation again. The pitiless light went
into me like a knife; but even my cries were stopped by the framework in
which I was bound. I could breathe and suffer, but that was all.
Then some one got up on the platform above me and began to speak. He
said, so far as I could comprehend in the anguish and torture in which I
was held, that the origin of thought was the question he was
investigating, but that in every previous subject the confusion of ideas
had bewildered them, and the rapidity with which one followed another.
'The present example has been found to exhibit great persistency of
idea,' he said. 'We hope that by his means some clearer theory may be
arrived at.' Then he pulled over me a great movable lens as of a
microscope, which concentrated the insupportable light. The wild,
hopeless passion that raged within my soul had no outlet in the immovable
apparatus that held me. I was let down among the crowd, and exhibited to
them every secret movement of my being, by some awful process which I
have never fathomed. A burning fire was in my brain; flame seemed to run
along all my nerves; speechless, horrible, incommunicable fury raged in
my soul. But I was like a child--nay, like an image of wood or wax--in
the pitiless hands that held me. What was the cut of a surgeon's knife to
this? And I had thought _that_ cruel! And I was powerless, and could do
nothing--to blast, to destroy, to burn with this same horrible flame the
fiends that surrounded me, as I desired to do.
Suddenly, in the raging fever of my thoughts, there surged up the
recollection of that word which had paralyzed all around, and myself
with them. The thought that I must share the anguish did not restrain me
from my revenge. With a tremendous effort I got my voice, though the
instrument pressed upon my lips. I know not what I articulated save
'God,' whether it was a curse or a blessing. I had been swung out into
the middle of the hall, and hung amid the crowd, exposed to all their
observations, when I succeeded in gaining utterance. My God! my God!
Another moment and I had forgotten them and all my fury in the tortures
that arose within myself. What, then, was the light that racked my brain?
Once more my life from its beginning to its end rose up before me,--each
scene like a spectre, like the harpies of the old fables rending me with
tooth and claw. Once more I saw what might have been, the noble things I
might have done, the happiness I had lost, the turnings of the fated road
which I might have taken,--everything that was once so possible, so
possible, so easy! but now possible no more. My anguish was immeasurable;
I turned and wrenched myself, in the strength of pain, out of the
machinery that held me, and fell down, down among all the curses that
were being hurled at me,--among the horrible and miserable crowd. I had
brought upon them the evil which I shared, and they fell upon me with a
fury which was like that which had prompted myself a few minutes before;
but they could do nothing to me so tremendous as the vengeance I had
taken upon them. I was too miserable to feel the blows that rained upon
me, but presently I suppose I lost consciousness altogether, being almost
torn to pieces by the multitude.
While this lasted, it seemed to me that I had a dream. I felt the blows
raining down upon me, and my body struggling upon the ground; and yet
it seemed to me that I was lying outside upon the ground, and above me
the pale sky which never brightened at the touch of the sun. And I
thought that dull, persistent cloud wavered and broke for an instant,
and that I saw behind a glimpse of that blue which is heaven when we
are on the earth--the blue sky--which is nowhere to be seen but in the
mortal life; which is heaven enough, which is delight enough, for those
who can look up to it, and feel themselves in the land of hope. It
might be but a dream; in this strange world who could tell what was
vision and what was true?
The next thing I remember was that I found myself lying on the floor of
a great room full of people with every kind of disease and deformity,
some pale with sickness, some with fresh wounds, the lame, and the
maimed, and the miserable. They lay round me in every attitude of pain,
many with sores, some bleeding, with broken limbs, but all struggling,
some on hands and knees, dragging themselves up from the ground to stare
at me. They roused in my mind a loathing and sense of disgust which it is
impossible to express. I could scarcely tolerate the thought that I--I!
should be forced to remain a moment in this lazar-house. The feeling with
which I had regarded the miserable creature who shared the corner of the
wall with me, and who had cursed me for being sorry for him, had
altogether gone out of my mind. I called out, to whom I know not,
adjuring some one to open the door and set me free; but my cry was
answered only by a shout from my companions in trouble. 'Who do you think
will let you out?' 'Who is going to help you more than the rest?' My
whole body was racked with pain; I could not move from the floor, on
which I lay. I had to put up with the stares of the curious, and the
mockeries and remarks on me of whoever chose to criticise. Among them
was the lame man whom I had seen thrust in by the two officers who had
taken me from the gate. He was the first to jibe. 'But for him they would
never have seen me,' he said. 'I should have been well by this time in
the fresh air.' 'It is his turn now,' said another. I turned my head as
well as I could and spoke to them all.
'I am a stranger here,' I cried. 'They have made my brain burn with their
experiments. Will nobody help me? It is no fault of mine, it is their
fault. If I am to be left here uncared for, I shall die.'
At this a sort of dreadful chuckle ran round the place. 'If that is what
you are afraid of, you will not die,' somebody said, touching me on my
head in a way which gave me intolerable pain. 'Don't touch me,' I cried.
'Why shouldn't I?' said the other, and pushed me again upon the throbbing
brain. So far as my sensations went, there were no coverings at all,
neither skull nor skin upon the intolerable throbbing of my head, which
had been exposed to the curiosity of the crowd, and every touch was
agony; but my cry brought no guardian, nor any defence or soothing. I
dragged myself into a corner after a time, from which some other wretch
had been rolled out in the course of a quarrel; and as I found that
silence was the only policy, I kept silent, with rage consuming my heart.
Presently I discovered by means of the new arrivals which kept coming in,
hurled into the midst of us without thought or question, that this was
the common fate of all who were repulsive to the sight, or who had any
weakness or imperfection which offended the eyes of the population. They
were tossed in among us, not to be healed, or for repose or safety, but
to be out of sight, that they might not disgust or annoy those who were
more fortunate, to whom no injury had happened; and because in their
sickness and imperfection they were of no use in the studies of the
place, and disturbed the good order of the streets. And there they lay
one above another,--a mass of bruised and broken creatures, most of them
suffering from injuries which they had sustained in what would have been
called in other regions the service of the State. They had served like
myself as objects of experiments. They had fallen from heights where they
had been placed in illustration of some theory. They had been tortured or
twisted to give satisfaction to some question. And then, that the
consequences of these proceedings might offend no one's eyes, they were
flung into this receptacle, to be released if chance or strength enabled
them to push their way out when others were brought in, or when their
importunate knocking wearied some watchman, and brought him angry and
threatening to hear what was wanted. The sound of this knocking against
the door, and of the cries that accompanied it, and the rush towards the
opening when any one was brought in, caused a hideous continuous noise
and scuffle which was agony to my brain. Every one pushed before the
other; there was an endless rising and falling as in the changes of a
feverish dream, each man as he got strength to struggle forwards himself,
thrusting back his neighbors, and those who were nearest to the door
beating upon it without cease, like the beating of a drum without cadence
or measure, sometimes a dozen passionate hands together, making a
horrible din and riot. As I lay unable to join in that struggle, and
moved by rage unspeakable towards all who could, I reflected strangely
that I had never heard when outside this horrible continual appeal of the
suffering. In the streets of the city, as I now reflected, quiet reigned.
I had even made comparisons on my first entrance, in the moment of
pleasant anticipation which came over me, of the happy stillness here
with the horror and tumult of that place of unrule which I had left.
When my thoughts reached this point I was answered by the voice of some
one on a level with myself, lying helpless like me on the floor of the
lazar-house. 'They have taken their precautions,' he said; 'if they will
not endure the sight of suffering, how should they hear the sound of it?
Every cry is silenced there.'
'I wish they could be silenced within too,' I cried savagely; 'I would
make them dumb had I the power.'
'The spirit of the place is in you,' said the other voice.
'And not in you?' I said, raising my head, though every movement was
agony; but this pretence of superiority was more than I could bear.
The other made no answer for a moment; then he said faintly, 'If it is
so, it is but for greater misery.'
And then his voice died away, and the hubbub of beating and crying and
cursing and groaning filled all the echoes. They cried, but no one
listened to them. They thundered on the door, but in vain. They
aggravated all their pangs in that mad struggle to get free. After a
while my companion, whoever he was, spoke again.
'They would rather,' he said, 'lie on the roadside to be kicked and
trodden on, as we have seen; though to see that made you miserable.'
'Made me miserable! You mock me,' I said. 'Why should a man be miserable
save for suffering of his own?'
'You thought otherwise once,' my neighbor said.
And then I remembered the wretch in the corner of the wall in the
other town, who had cursed me for pitying him. I cursed myself now for
that folly. Pity him! was he not better off than I? 'I wish,' I cried,
'that I could crush them into nothing, and be rid of this infernal
noise they make!'
'The spirit of the place has entered into you,' said that voice.
I raised my arm to strike him; but my hand fell on the stone floor
instead, and sent a jar of new pain all through my battered frame. And
then I mastered my rage and lay still, for I knew there was no way but
this of recovering my strength,--the strength with which, when I got it
back, I would annihilate that reproachful voice and crush the life out of
those groaning fools, whose cries and impotent struggles I could not
endure. And we lay a long time without moving, with always that tumult
raging in our ears. At last there came into my mind a longing to hear
spoken words again. I said, 'Are you still there?'
'I shall be here,' he said, 'till I am able to begin again.'
'To begin! Is there here, then, either beginning or ending? Go on; speak
to me; it makes me a little forget my pain.'
'I have a fire in my heart,' he said; 'I must begin and begin--till
perhaps I find the way.'
'What way?' I cried, feverish and eager; for though I despised him, yet
it made me wonder to think that he should speak riddles which I could not
He answered very faintly, 'I do not know.' The fool! then it was only
folly, as from the first I knew it was. I felt then that I could treat
him roughly, after the fashion of the place--which he said had got into
me. 'Poor wretch!' I said, 'you have hopes, have you? Where have you come
from? You might have learned better before now.'
'I have come,' he said, 'from where we met before. I have come by the
valley of gold. I have worked in the mines. I have served in the troops
of those who are masters there. I have lived in this town of tyrants, and
lain in this lazar-house before. Everything has happened to me, more and
worse than you dream of.'
'And still you go on? I would dash my head against the wall and die.'
'When will you learn,' he said with a strange tone in his voice, which,
though no one had been listening to us, made a sudden silence for a
moment, it was so strange; it moved me like that glimmer of the blue
sky in my dream, and roused all the sufferers round with an
expectation--though I know not what. The cries stopped; the hands beat no
longer. I think all the miserable crowd were still, and turned to where
he lay. 'When will you learn--that you have died, and can die no more?'
There was a shout of fury all around me. 'Is that all you have to say?'
the crowd burst forth; and I think they rushed upon him and killed him,
for I heard no more until the hubbub began again more wild than ever,
with furious hands beating, beating against the locked door.
After a while I began to feel my strength come back. I raised my head. I
sat up. I began to see the faces of those around me, and the groups
into which they gathered; the noise was no longer so insupportable,--my
racked nerves were regaining health. It was with a mixture of pleasure
and despair that I became conscious of this. I had been through many
deaths; but I did not die, perhaps could not, as that man had said. I
looked about for him, to see if he had contradicted his own theory. But
he was not dead. He was lying close to me, covered with wounds; but he
opened his eyes, and something like a smile came upon his lips. A
smile,--I had heard laughter, and seen ridicule and derision, but this I
had not seen. I could not bear it. To seize him and shake the little
remaining life out of him was my impulse; but neither did I obey that.
Again he reminded me of my dream--was it a dream?--of the opening in the
clouds. From that moment I tried to shelter him, and as I grew stronger
and stronger and pushed my way to the door, I dragged him along with me.
How long the struggle was I cannot tell, or how often I was balked, or
how many darted through before me when the door was opened. But I
did not let him go; and at last, for now I was as strong as
before,--stronger than most about me,--I got out into the air and
brought him with me. Into the air! it was an atmosphere so still and
motionless that there was no feeling of life in it, as I have said; but
the change seemed to me happiness for the moment. It was freedom. The
noise of the struggle was over; the horrible sights were left behind. My
spirit sprang up as if I had been born into new life. It had the same
effect, I suppose, upon my companion, though he was much weaker than I,
for he rose to his feet at once with almost a leap of eagerness, and
turned instantaneously towards the other side of the city.
'Not that way,' I said; 'come with me and rest.'
'No rest--no rest--my rest is to go on;' and then he turned towards me
and smiled and said, 'Thanks'--looking into my face. What a word to hear!
I had not heard it since--A rush of strange and sweet and dreadful
thoughts came into my mind. I shrank and trembled, and let go his arm,
which I had been holding; but when I left that hold I seemed to fall back
into depths of blank pain and longing. I put out my hand again and caught
him. 'I will go,' I said, 'where you go.'
A pair of the officials of the place passed as I spoke. They looked at
me with a threatening glance, and half paused, but then passed on. It
was I now who hurried my companion along. I recollected him now. He
was a man who had met me in the streets of the other city when I was
still ignorant, who had convulsed me with the utterance of that name
which, in all this world where we were, is never named but for
punishment,--the name which I had named once more in the great hall in
the midst of my torture, so that all who heard me were transfixed with
that suffering too. He had been haggard then, but he was more haggard
now. His features were sharp with continual pain; his eyes were wild
with weakness and trouble, though there was a meaning in them which
went to my heart. It seemed to me that in his touch there was a certain
help, though he was weak and tottered, and every moment seemed full of
suffering. Hope sprang up in my mind,--the hope that where he was so
eager to go there would be something better, a life more livable than
in this place. In every new place there is new hope. I was not worn out
of that human impulse. I forgot the nightmare which had crushed me
before,--the horrible sense that from myself there was no escape,--and
holding fast to his arm, I hurried on with him, not heeding where. We
went aside into less frequented streets, that we might escape
observation. I seemed to myself the guide, though I was the follower.
A great faith in this man sprang up in my breast. I was ready to go
with him wherever he went, anywhere--anywhere must be better than this.
Thus I pushed him on, holding by his arm, till we reached the very
outmost limits of the city. Here he stood still for a moment, turning
upon me, and took me by the hands.
'Friend,' he said, 'before you were born into the pleasant earth I had
come here. I have gone all the weary round. Listen to one who knows: all
is harder, harder, as you go on. You are stirred to go on by the
restlessness in your heart, and each new place you come to, the spirit of
that place enters into you. You are better here than you will be farther
on. You were better where you were at first, or even in the mines, than
here. Come no farther. Stay; unless--' but here his voice gave way. He
looked at me with anxiety in his eyes, and said no more.
'Then why,' I cried, 'do you go on? Why do you not stay?'
He shook his head, and his eyes grew more and more soft. 'I am going,' he
said, and his voice shook again. 'I am going--to try--the most awful and
the most dangerous journey--' His voice died away altogether, and he only
looked at me to say the rest.
'A journey? Where?'
I can tell no man what his eyes said. I understood, I cannot tell how;
and with trembling all my limbs seemed to drop out of joint and my face
grow moist with terror. I could not speak any more than he, but with my
lips shaped, How? The awful thought made a tremor in the very air around.
He shook his head slowly as he looked at me, his eyes, all circled with
deep lines, looking out of caves of anguish and anxiety; and then I
remembered how he had said, and I had scoffed at him, that the way he
sought was one he did not know. I had dropped his hands in my fear; and
yet to leave him seemed dragging the heart out of my breast, for none but
he had spoken to me like a brother, had taken my hand and thanked me. I
looked out across the plain, and the roads seemed tranquil and still.
There was a coolness in the air. It looked like evening, as if somewhere
in those far distances there might be a place where a weary soul might
rest; and I looked behind me, and thought what I had suffered, and
remembered the lazar-house and the voices that cried and the hands that
beat against the door, and also the horrible quiet of the room in which I
lived, and the eyes which looked in at me and turned my gaze upon myself.
Then I rushed after him, for he had turned to go on upon his way, and
caught at his clothes, crying, 'Behold me, behold me! I will go too!'
He reached me his hand and went on without a word; and I with terror
crept after him, treading in his steps, following like his shadow. What
it was to walk with another, and follow, and be at one, is more than I
can tell; but likewise my heart failed me for fear, for dread of what we
might encounter, and of hearing that name or entering that presence which
was more terrible than all torture. I wondered how it could be that one
should willingly face _that_ which racked the soul, and how he had
learned that it was possible, and where he had heard of the way. And as
we went on I said no word, for he began to seem to me a being of another
kind, a figure full of awe; and I followed as one might follow a ghost.
Where would he go? Were we not fixed here forever, where our lot had been
cast? And there were still many other great cities where there might be
much to see, and something to distract the mind, and where it might be
more possible to live than it had proved in the other places. There might
be no tyrants there, nor cruelty, nor horrible noises, nor dreadful
silence. Towards the right hand, across the plain, there seemed to rise
out of the gray distance a cluster of towers and roofs like another
habitable place; and who could tell that something better might not be
there? Surely everything could not turn to torture and misery. I dragged
on behind him, with all these thoughts hurrying through my mind. He was
going--I dare to say it now, though I did not dare then--to seek out a
way to God; to try, if it was possible, to find the road that led
back,--that road which had been open once to all. But for me, I trembled
at the thought of that road. I feared the name, which was as the plunging
of a sword into my inmost parts. All things could be borne but that. I
dared not even think upon that name. To feel my hand in another man's
hand was much, but to be led into that awful presence, by awful ways,
which none knew--how could I bear it? My spirits failed me, and my
strength. My hand became loose in his hand; he grasped me still, but my
hold failed, and ever with slower and slower steps I followed, while he
seemed to acquire strength with every winding of the way. At length he
said to me, looking back upon me, 'I cannot stop; but your heart falls
you. Shall I loose my hand and let you go?'
'I am afraid; I am afraid!' I cried.
'And I too am afraid; but it is better to suffer more and to escape than
to suffer less and to remain.'
'Has it ever been known that one escaped? No one has ever escaped. This
is our place,' I said; 'there is no other world.'
'There are other worlds; there is a world where every way leads to One
who loves us still.'
I cried out with a great cry of misery and scorn. 'There is no
love!' I said.
He stood still for a moment and turned and looked at me. His eyes seemed
to melt my soul. A great cloud passed over them, as in the pleasant earth
a cloud will sweep across the moon; and then the light came out and
looked at me again, for neither did he know. Where he was going all might
end in despair and double and double pain. But if it were possible that
at the end there should be found that for which he longed, upon which his
heart was set! He said with a faltering voice, 'Among all whom I have
questioned and seen, there was but one who found the way. But if one has
found it, so may I. If you will not come, yet let me go.'
'They will tear you limb from limb; they will burn you in the endless
fires,' I said. But what is it to be torn limb from limb, or burned with
fire? There came upon his face a smile, and in my heart even I laughed to
scorn what I had said.
'If I were dragged every nerve apart, and every thought turned into a
fiery dart,--and that is so,' he said,--'yet will I go, if but perhaps I
may see Love at the end.'
'There is no love!' I cried again with a sharp and bitter cry; and the
echo seemed to come back and back from every side, No love! no love! till
the man who was my friend faltered and stumbled like a drunken man; but
afterwards he recovered strength and resumed his way.
And thus once more we went on. On the right hand was that city, growing
ever clearer, with noble towers rising up to the sky, and battlements and
lofty roofs, and behind a yellow clearness, as of a golden sunset. My
heart drew me there; it sprang up in my breast and sang in my ears, Come,
and come. Myself invited me to this new place as to a home. The others
were wretched, but this will be happy,--delights and pleasures will be
there. And before us the way grew dark with storms, and there grew
visible among the mists a black line of mountains, perpendicular cliffs,
and awful precipices, which seemed to bar the way. I turned from that
line of gloomy heights, and gazed along the path to where the towers
stood up against the sky. And presently my hand dropped by my side, that
had been held in my companion's hand; and I saw him no more.
I went on to the city of the evening light. Ever and ever, as I proceeded
on my way, the sense of haste and restless impatience grew upon me, so
that I felt myself incapable of remaining long in a place, and my desire
grew stronger to hasten on and on; but when I entered the gates of the
city this longing vanished from my mind. There seemed some great festival
or public holiday going on there. The streets were full of
pleasure-parties, and in every open place (of which there were many) were
bands of dancers, and music playing; and the houses about were hung with
tapestries and embroideries and garlands of flowers. A load seemed to be
taken from my spirit when I saw all this,--for a whole population does
not rejoice in such a way without some cause. And to think that after
all I had found a place in which I might live and forget the misery and
pain which I had known, and all that was behind me, was delightful to my
soul. It seemed to me that all the dancers were beautiful and young,
their steps went gayly to the music, their faces were bright with smiles.
Here and there was a master of the feast, who arranged the dances and
guided the musicians, yet seemed to have a look and smile for new-comers
too. One of these came forwards to meet me, and received me with a
welcome, and showed me a vacant place at the table, on which were
beautiful fruits piled up in baskets, and all the provisions for a meal.
'You were expected, you perceive,' he said. A delightful sense of
well-being came into my mind. I sat down in the sweetness of ease after
fatigue, of refreshment after weariness, of pleasant sounds and sights
after the arid way. I said to myself that my past experiences had been a
mistake, that this was where I ought to have come from the first, that
life here would be happy, and that all intruding thoughts must soon
vanish and die away.
After I had rested, I strolled about, and entered fully into the
pleasures of the place. Wherever I went, through all the city, there was
nothing but brightness and pleasure, music playing, and flags waving, and
flowers and dancers and everything that was most gay. I asked several
people whom I met what was the cause of the rejoicing; but either they
were too much occupied with their own pleasures, or my question was lost
in the hum of merriment, the sound of the instruments and of the dancers'
feet. When I had seen as much as I desired of the pleasure out of doors,
I was taken by some to see the interiors of houses, which were all
decorated for this festival, whatever it was, lighted up with curious
varieties of lighting, in tints of different colors. The doors and
windows were all open; and whosoever would could come in from the dance
or from the laden tables, and sit down where they pleased and rest,
always with a pleasant view out upon the streets, so that they should
lose nothing of the spectacle. And the dresses, both of women and men,
were beautiful in form and color, made in the finest fabrics, and
affording delightful combinations to the eye. The pleasure which I took
in all I saw and heard was enhanced by the surprise of it, and by the
aspect of the places from which I had come, where there was no regard to
beauty nor anything lovely or bright. Before my arrival here I had come
in my thoughts to the conclusion that life had no brightness in these
regions, and that whatever occupation or study there might be, pleasure
had ended and was over, and everything that had been sweet in the former
life. I changed that opinion with a sense of relief, which was more warm
even than the pleasure of the present moment; for having made one such
mistake, how could I tell that there were not more discoveries awaiting
me, that life might not prove more endurable, might not rise to something
grander and more powerful? The old prejudices, the old foregone
conclusion of earth that this was a world of punishment, had warped my
vision and my thoughts. With so many added faculties of being, incapable
of fatigue as we were, incapable of death, recovering from every wound or
accident as I had myself done, and with no foolish restraint as to what
we should or should not do, why might not we rise in this land to
strength unexampled, to the highest powers? I rejoiced that I had dropped
my companion's hand, that I had not followed him in his mad quest.
Sometime, I said to myself, I would make a pilgrimage to the foot of
those gloomy mountains, and bring him back, all racked and tortured as
he was, and show him the pleasant place which he had missed.
In the mean time the music and the dance went on. But it began to
surprise me a little that there was no pause, that the festival continued
without intermission. I went up to one of those who seemed the masters of
ceremony, directing what was going on. He was an old man, with a flowing
robe of brocade, and a chain and badge which denoted his office. He stood
with a smile upon his lips, beating time with his hand to the music,
watching the figure of the dance.
'I can get no one to tell me,' I said, 'what the occasion of all this
'It is for your coming,' he replied without hesitation, with a smile
and a bow.
For the moment a wonderful elation came over me. 'For my coming!' But
then I paused and shook my head. 'There are others coming besides me.
See! they arrive every moment.'
'It is for their coming too,' he said with another smile and a still
deeper bow; 'but you are the first as you are the chief.'
This was what I could not understand; but it was pleasant to hear, and I
made no further objection. 'And how long will it go on?' I said.
'So long as it pleases you,' said the old courtier.
How he smiled! His smile did not please me. He saw this, and distracted
my attention. 'Look at this dance,' he said; 'how beautiful are those
round young limbs! Look how the dress conceals yet shows the form and
beautiful movements! It was invented in your honor. All that is lovely
is for you. Choose where you will, all is yours. We live only for this;
all is for you.' While he spoke, the dancers came nearer and nearer till
they circled us round, and danced and made their pretty obeisances, and
sang, 'All is yours; all is for you;' then breaking their lines, floated
away in other circles and processions and endless groups, singing and
laughing till it seemed to ring from every side, 'Everything is yours;
all is for you.'
I accepted this flattery I know not why, for I soon became aware that I
was no more than others, and that the same words were said to every
new-comer. Yet my heart was elated, and I threw myself into all that was
set before me. But there was always in my mind an expectation that
presently the music and the dancing would cease, and the tables be
withdrawn, and a pause come. At one of the feasts I was placed by the
side of a lady very fair and richly dressed, but with a look of great
weariness in her eyes. She turned her beautiful face to me, not with any
show of pleasure, and there was something like compassion in her look.
She said, 'You are very tired,' as she made room for me by her side.
'Yes,' I said, though with surprise, for I had not yet acknowledged
that even to myself. 'There is so much to enjoy. We have need of a
'Of rest!' said she, shaking her head, 'this is not the place for rest.'
'Yet pleasure requires it,' I said, 'as much as--' I was about to say
pain; but why should one speak of pain in a place given up to
pleasure? She smiled faintly and shook her head again. All her
movements were languid and faint; her eyelids drooped over her eyes.
Yet when I turned to her, she made an effort to smile. 'I think you
are also tired,' I said.
At this she roused herself a little. 'We must not say so; nor do I say
so. Pleasure is very exacting. It demands more of you than anything else.
One must be always ready--'
'To give enjoyment and to receive it.' There was an effort in her voice
to rise to this sentiment, but it fell back into weariness again.
'I hope you receive as well as give,' I said.
The lady turned her eyes to me with a look which I cannot forget, and
life seemed once more to be roused within her, but not the life of
pleasure; her eyes were full of loathing and fatigue and disgust and
despair. 'Are you so new to this place,' she said, 'and have not learned
even yet what is the height of all misery and all weariness; what is
worse than pain and trouble, more dreadful than the lawless streets and
the burning mines, and the torture of the great hall and the misery of
'Oh, lady,' I said, 'have you been there?'
She answered me with her eyes alone; there was no need of more. 'But
pleasure is more terrible than all,' she said; and I knew in my heart
that what she said was true.
There is no record of time in that place. I could not count it by days or
nights; but soon after this it happened to me that the dances and the
music became no more than a dizzy maze of sound and sight which made my
brain whirl round and round, and I too loathed what was spread on the
table, and the soft couches, and the garlands, and the fluttering flags
and ornaments. To sit forever at a feast, to see forever the merrymakers
turn round and round, to hear in your ears forever the whirl of the
music, the laughter, the cries of pleasure! There were some who went on
and on, and never seemed to tire; but to me the endless round came at
last to be a torture from which I could not escape. Finally, I could
distinguish nothing,--neither what I heard nor what I saw; and only a
consciousness of something intolerable buzzed and echoed in my brain. I
longed for the quiet of the place I had left; I longed for the noise in
the streets, and the hubbub and tumult of my first experiences. Anything,
anything rather than this! I said to myself; and still the dancers
turned, the music sounded, the bystanders smiled, and everything went on
and on. My eyes grew weary with seeing, and my ears with hearing. To
watch the new-comers rush in, all pleased and eager, to see the eyes of
the others glaze with weariness, wrought upon my strained nerves. I could
not think, I could not rest, I could not endure. Music forever and
ever,--a whirl, a rush of music, always going on and on; and ever that
maze of movement, till the eyes were feverish and the mouth parched;
ever that mist of faces, now one gleaming out of the chaos, now another,
some like the faces of angels, some miserable, weary, strained with
smiling, with the monotony, and the endless, aimless, never-changing
round. I heard myself calling to them to be still--to be still! to pause
a moment. I felt myself stumble and turn round in the giddiness and
horror of that movement without repose. And finally, I fell under the
feet of the crowd, and felt the whirl go over and over me, and beat upon
my brain, until I was pushed and thrust out of the way lest I should
stop the measure. There I lay, sick, satiate, for I know not how
long,--loathing everything around me, ready to give all I had (but what
had I to give?) for one moment of silence. But always the music went on,
and the dancers danced, and the people feasted, and the songs and the
voices echoed up to the skies.
How at last I stumbled forth I cannot tell. Desperation must have moved
me, and that impatience which after every hope and disappointment comes
back and back,--the one sensation that never fails. I dragged myself at
last by intervals, like a sick dog, outside the revels, still hearing
them, which was torture to me, even when at last I got beyond the crowd.
It was something to lie still upon the ground, though without power to
move, and sick beyond all thought, loathing myself and all that I had
been and seen. For I had not even the sense that I had been wronged to
keep me up, but only a nausea and horror of movement, a giddiness and
whirl of every sense. I lay like a log upon the ground.
When I recovered my faculties a little, it was to find myself once more
in the great vacant plain which surrounded that accursed home of
pleasure,--a great and desolate waste upon which I could see no track,
which my heart fainted to look at, which no longer roused any hope in me,
as if it might lead to another beginning, or any place in which yet at
the last it might be possible to live. As I lay in that horrible
giddiness and faintness, I loathed life and this continuance which
brought me through one misery after another, and forbade me to die. Oh
that death would come,--death, which is silent and still, which makes no
movement and hears no sound! that I might end and be no more! Oh that I
could go back even to the stillness of that chamber which I had not been
able to endure! Oh that I could return,--return! to what? To other
miseries and other pain, which looked less because they were past. But I
knew now that return was impossible until I had circled all the dreadful
round; and already I felt again the burning of that desire that pricked
and drove me on,--not back, for that was impossible. Little by little I
had learned to understand, each step printed upon my brain as with
red-hot irons: not back, but on, and on--to greater anguish, yes; but on,
to fuller despair, to experiences more terrible,--but on, and on, and on.
I arose again, for this was my fate. I could not pause even for all the
teachings of despair.
The waste stretched far as eyes could see. It was wild and terrible, with
neither vegetation nor sign of life. Here and there were heaps of ruin,
which had been villages and cities; but nothing was in them save reptiles
and crawling poisonous life and traps for the unwary wanderer. How often
I stumbled and fell among these ashes and dust-heaps of the past! Through
what dread moments I lay, with cold and slimy things leaving their trace
upon my flesh! The horrors which seized me, so that I beat my head
against a stone,--why should I tell? These were nought; they touched not
the soul. They were but accidents of the way.
At length, when body and soul were low and worn out with misery and
weariness, I came to another place, where all was so different from the
last that the sight gave me a momentary solace. It was full of furnaces
and clanking machinery and endless work. The whole air round was aglow
with the fury of the fires; and men went and came like demons in the
flames, with red-hot melting metal, pouring it into moulds and beating
it on anvils. In the huge workshops in the background there was a
perpetual whir of machinery, of wheels turning and turning, and pistons
beating, and all the din of labor, which for a time renewed the anguish
of my brain, yet also soothed it,--for there was meaning in the beatings
and the whirlings. And a hope rose within me that with all the forces
that were here, some revolution might be possible,--something that would
change the features of this place and overturn the worlds. I went from
workshop to workshop, and examined all that was being done, and
understood,--for I had known a little upon the earth, and my old
knowledge came back, and to learn so much more filled me with new life.
The master of all was one who never rested, nor seemed to feel
weariness nor pain nor pleasure. He had everything in his hand. All who
were there were his workmen or his assistants or his servants. No one
shared with him in his councils. He was more than a prince among them;
he was as a god. And the things he planned and made, and at which in
armies and legions his workmen toiled and labored, were like living
things. They were made of steel and iron, but they moved like the brains
and nerves of men. They went where he directed them, and did what he
commanded, and moved at a touch. And though he talked little, when he
saw how I followed all that he did, he was a little moved towards me,
and spoke and explained to me the conceptions that were in his mind, one
rising out of another, like the leaf out of the stem and the flower out
of the bud. For nothing pleased him that he did, and necessity was upon
him to go on and on.
'They are like living things,' I said; 'they do your bidding, whatever
you command them. They are like another and a stronger race of men.'
'Men!' he said, 'what are men? The most contemptible of all things that
are made,--creatures who will undo in a moment what it has taken
millions of years, and all the skill and all the strength of generations
to do. These are better than men. They cannot think or feel. They cannot
stop but at my bidding, or begin unless I will. Had men been made so, we
should be masters of the world.'
'Had men been made so, you would never have been,--for what could genius
have done or thought?--you would have been a machine like all the rest.'
'And better so!' he said, and turned away; for at that moment, watching
keenly as he spoke the action of a delicate combination of movements, all
made and balanced to a hair's breadth, there had come to him suddenly the
idea of something which made it a hundredfold more strong and terrible.
For they were terrible, these things that lived yet did not live, which
were his slaves and moved at his will. When he had done this, he looked
at me, and a smile came upon his mouth; but his eyes smiled not, nor ever
changed from the set look they wore. And the words he spoke were familiar
words, not his, but out of the old life. 'What a piece of work is a man!'
he said; 'how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! in form and
moving how express and admirable! And yet to me what is this
quintessence of dust?' His mind had followed another strain of thought,
which to me was bewildering, so that I did not know how to reply. I
answered like a child, upon his last word.
'We are dust no more,' I cried, for pride was in my heart,--pride of him
and his wonderful strength, and his thoughts which created strength, and
all the marvels he did; 'those things which hindered are removed. Go on;
go on! you want but another step. What is to prevent that you should not
shake the universe, and overturn this doom, and break all our bonds?
There is enough here to explode this gray fiction of a firmament, and to
rend those precipices, and to dissolve that waste,--as at the time when
the primeval seas dried up, and those infernal mountains rose.'
He laughed, and the echoes caught the sound and gave it back as if
they mocked it. 'There is enough to rend us all into shreds,' he said,
'and shake, as you say, both heaven and earth, and these plains and
'Then why,' I cried in my haste, with a dreadful hope piercing through my
soul--'why do you create and perfect, but never employ? When we had
armies on the earth, we used them. You have more than armies; you have
force beyond the thoughts of man, but all without use as yet.'
'All,' he cried, 'for no use! All in vain!--in vain!'
'O master!' I said, 'great and more great in time to come, why?--why?'
He took me by the arm and drew me close.
'Have you strength,' he said, 'to bear it if I tell you why?'
I knew what he was about to say. I felt it in the quivering of my veins,
and my heart that bounded as if it would escape from my breast; but I
would not quail from what he did not shrink to utter. I could speak no
word, but I looked him in the face and waited--for that which was more
terrible than all.
He held me by the arm, as if he would hold me up when the shock of
anguish came. 'They are in vain,' he said, 'in vain--because God rules
His arm was strong; but I fell at his feet like a dead man.
How miserable is that image, and how unfit to use! Death is still and
cool and sweet. There is nothing in it that pierces like a sword, that
burns like fire, that rends and tears like the turning wheels. O life, O
pain, O terrible name of God in which is all succor and all torment!
What are pangs and tortures to that, which ever increases in its awful
power, and has no limit nor any alleviation, but whenever it is spoken
penetrates through and through the miserable soul? O God, whom once I
called my Father! O Thou who gavest me being, against whom I have fought,
whom I fight to the end, shall there never be anything but anguish in the
sound of Thy great name?
When I returned to such command of myself as one can have who has been
transfixed by that sword of fire, the master stood by me still. He had
not fallen like me, but his face was drawn with anguish and sorrow like
the face of my friend who had been with me in the lazar-house, who had
disappeared on the dark mountains. And as I looked at him, terror seized
hold upon me, and a desire to flee and save myself, that I might not be
drawn after him by the longing that was in his eyes.
The master gave me his hand to help me to rise, and it trembled, but not
'Sir,' I cried, 'have not we enough to bear? Is it for hatred, is it for
vengeance, that you speak that name?'
'O friend,' he said, 'neither for hatred nor revenge. It is like a fire
in my veins; if one could find Him again!'
'You, who are as a god, who can make and destroy,--you, who could shake
He put up his hand. 'I who am His creature, even here--and still His
child, though I am so far, so far--' He caught my hand in his, and
pointed with the other trembling. 'Look! your eyes are more clear
than mine, for they are not anxious like mine. Can you see anything
upon the way?'
The waste lay wild before us, dark with a faintly-rising cloud, for
darkness and cloud and the gloom of death attended upon that name. I
thought, in his great genius and splendor of intellect, he had gone mad,
as sometimes may be. 'There is nothing,' I said, and scorn came into my
soul; but even as I spoke I saw--I cannot tell what I saw--a moving spot
of milky whiteness in that dark and miserable wilderness, no bigger than
a man's hand, no bigger than a flower. 'There is something,' I said
unwillingly; 'it has no shape nor form. It is a gossamer-web upon some
bush, or a butterfly blown on the wind.'
'There are neither butterflies nor gossamers here.'
'Look for yourself, then!' I cried, flinging his hand from me. I was
angry with a rage which had no cause. I turned from him, though I loved
him, with a desire to kill him in my heart, and hurriedly took the other
way. The waste was wild; but rather that than to see the man who might
have shaken earth and hell thus turning, turning to madness and the awful
journey. For I knew what in his heart he thought; and I knew that it was
so. It was something from that other sphere; can I tell you what? A child
perhaps--O thought that wrings the heart!--for do you know what manner of
thing a child is? There are none in the land of darkness. I turned my
back upon the place where that whiteness was. On, on, across the waste!
On to the cities of the night! On, far away from maddening thought, from
hope that is torment, and from the awful Name!
* * * * *
The above narrative, though it is necessary to a full understanding of
the experiences of the Little Pilgrim in the Unseen, does not belong to
her personal story in any way, but is drawn from the Archives in the
Heavenly City, where all the records of the human race are laid up.