Part 9 out of 9
Nunez had an eye for all beautiful things, and it seemed to him that the
glow upon the snowfields and glaciers that rose about the valley on every
side was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. His eyes went from
that inaccessible glory to the village and irrigated fields, fast sinking
into the twilight, and suddenly a wave of emotion took him, and he thanked
God from the bottom of his heart that the power of sight had been given
He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village. "Ya ho there,
Bogota! Come hither!"
At that he stood up smiling. He would show these people once and for all
what sight would do for a man. They would seek him, but not find him.
"You move not, Bogota," said the voice.
He laughed noiselessly, and made two stealthy steps aside from the path.
"Trample not on the grass, Bogota; that is not allowed."
Nunez had scarcely heard the sound he made himself. He stopped amazed.
The owner of the voice came running up the piebald path towards him.
He stepped back into the pathway. "Here I am," he said.
"Why did you not come when I called you?" said the blind man. "Must you be
led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you walk?"
Nunez laughed. "I can see it," he said.
"There is no such word as _see_," said the blind man, after a pause.
"Cease this folly, and follow the sound of my feet."
Nunez followed, a little annoyed.
"My time will come," he said.
"You'll learn," the blind man answered. "There is much to learn in the
"Has no one told you, 'In the Country of the Blind the One-eyed Man is
"What is blind?" asked the blind man carelessly over his shoulder.
Four days passed, and the fifth found the King of the Blind still
incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects.
It was, he found, much more difficult to proclaim himself than he had
supposed, and in the meantime, while he meditated his _coup d'etat,_
he did what he was told and learnt the manners and customs of the Country
of the Blind. He found working and going about at night a particularly
irksome thing, and he decided that that should be the first thing he would
They led a simple, laborious life, these people, with all the elements of
virtue and happiness, as these things can be understood by men. They
toiled, but not oppressively; they had food and clothing sufficient for
their needs; they had days and seasons of rest; they made much of music
and singing, and there was love among them, and little children.
It was marvellous with what confidence and precision they went about their
ordered world. Everything, you see, had been made to fit their needs; each
of the radiating paths of the valley area had a constant angle to the
others, and was distinguished by a special notch upon its kerbing; all
obstacles and irregularities of path or meadow had long since been cleared
away; all their methods and procedure arose naturally from their special
needs. Their senses had become marvellously acute; they could hear and
judge the slightest gesture of a man a dozen paces away--could hear the
very beating of his heart. Intonation had long replaced expression with
them, and touches gesture, and their work with hoe and spade and fork was
as free and confident as garden work can be. Their sense of smell was
extraordinarily fine; they could distinguish individual differences as
readily as a dog can, and they went about the tending of the llamas, who
lived among the rocks above and came to the wall for food and shelter,
with ease and confidence. It was only when at last Nunez sought to assert
himself that he found how easy and confident their movements could be.
He rebelled only after he had tried persuasion.
He tried at first on several occasions to tell them of sight. "Look you
here, you people," he said. "There are things you do not understand in
Once or twice one or two of them attended to him; they sat with faces
downcast and ears turned intelligently towards him, and he did his best to
tell them what it was to see. Among his hearers was a girl, with eyelids
less red and sunken than the others, so that one could almost fancy she
was hiding eyes, whom especially he hoped to persuade. He spoke of the
beauties of sight, of watching the mountains, of the sky and the sunrise,
and they heard him with amused incredulity that presently became
condemnatory. They told him there were indeed no mountains at all, but
that the end of the rocks where the llamas grazed was indeed the end of
the world; thence sprang a cavernous roof of the universe, from which the
dew and the avalanches fell; and when he maintained stoutly the world had
neither end nor roof such as they supposed, they said his thoughts were
wicked. So far as he could describe sky and clouds and stars to them it
seemed to them a hideous void, a terrible blankness in the place of the
smooth roof to things in which they believed--it was an article of faith
with them that the cavern roof was exquisitely smooth to the touch. He saw
that in some manner he shocked them, and gave up that aspect of the matter
altogether, and tried to show them the practical value of sight. One
morning he saw Pedro in the path called Seventeen and coming towards the
central houses, but still too far off for hearing or scent, and he told
them as much. "In a little while," he prophesied, "Pedro will be here." An
old man remarked that Pedro had no business on path Seventeen, and then,
as if in confirmation, that individual as he drew near turned and went
transversely into path Ten, and so back with nimble paces towards the
outer wall. They mocked Nunez when Pedro did not arrive, and afterwards,
when he asked Pedro questions to clear his character, Pedro denied and
outfaced him, and was afterwards hostile to him.
Then he induced them to let him go a long way up the sloping meadows
towards the wall with one complacent individual, and to him he promised to
describe all that happened among the houses. He noted certain goings and
comings, but the things that really seemed to signify to these people
happened inside of or behind the windowless houses--the only things they
took note of to test him by--and of these he could see or tell nothing;
and it was after the failure of this attempt, and the ridicule they could
not repress, that he resorted to force. He thought of seizing a spade and
suddenly smiting one or two of them to earth, and so in fair combat
showing the advantage of eyes. He went so far with that resolution as to
seize his spade, and then he discovered a new thing about himself, and
that was that it was impossible for him to hit a blind man in cold blood.
He hesitated, and found them all aware that he had snatched up the spade.
They stood alert, with their heads on one side, and bent ears towards him
for what he would do next.
"Put that spade down," said one, and he felt a sort of helpless horror. He
came near obedience.
Then he thrust one backwards against a house wall, and fled past him and
out of the village.
He went athwart one of their meadows, leaving a track of trampled grass
behind his feet, and presently sat down by the side of one of their ways.
He felt something of the buoyancy that comes to all men in the beginning
of a fight, but more perplexity. He began to realise that you cannot even
fight happily with creatures who stand upon a different mental basis to
yourself. Far away he saw a number of men carrying spades and sticks come
out of the street of houses, and advance in a spreading line along the
several paths towards him. They advanced slowly, speaking frequently to
one another, and ever and again the whole cordon would halt and sniff the
air and listen.
The first time they did this Nunez laughed. But afterwards he did not
One struck his trail in the meadow grass, and came stooping and feeling
his way along it.
For five minutes he watched the slow extension of the cordon, and then his
vague disposition to do something forthwith became frantic. He stood up,
went a pace or so towards the circumferential wall, turned, and went back
a little way. There they all stood in a crescent, still and listening.
He also stood still, gripping his spade very tightly in both hands. Should
he charge them?
The pulse in his ears ran into the rhythm of "In the Country of the Blind
the One-eyed Man is King!"
Should he charge them?
He looked back at the high and unclimbable wall behind--unclimbable
because of its smooth plastering, but withal pierced with many little
doors, and at the approaching line of seekers. Behind these others were
now coming out of the street of houses.
Should he charge them?
"Bogota!" called one. "Bogota! where are you?"
He gripped his spade still tighter, and advanced down the meadows towards
the place of habitations, and directly he moved they converged upon him.
"I'll hit them if they touch me," he swore; "by Heaven, I will. I'll hit."
He called aloud, "Look here, I'm going to do what I like in this valley.
Do you hear? I'm going to do what I like and go where I like!"
They were moving in upon him quickly, groping, yet moving rapidly. It was
like playing blind man's buff, with everyone blindfolded except one. "Get
hold of him!" cried one. He found himself in the arc of a loose curve of
pursuers. He felt suddenly he must be active and resolute.
"You don't understand," he cried in a voice that was meant to be great and
resolute, and which broke. "You are blind, and I can see. Leave me alone!"
"Bogota! Put down that spade, and come off the grass!"
The last order, grotesque in its urban familiarity, produced a gust of
"I'll hurt you," he said, sobbing with emotion. "By Heaven, I'll hurt you.
Leave me alone!"
He began to run, not knowing clearly where to run. He ran from the nearest
blind man, because it was a horror to hit him. He stopped, and then made a
dash to escape from their closing ranks. He made for where a gap was wide,
and the men on either side, with a quick perception of the approach of his
paces, rushed in on one another. He sprang forward, and then saw he must
be caught, and _swish_! the spade had struck. He felt the soft thud
of hand and arm, and the man was down with a yell of pain, and he was
Through! And then he was close to the street of houses again, and blind
men, whirling spades and stakes, were running with a sort of reasoned
swiftness hither and thither.
He heard steps behind him just in time, and found a tall man rushing
forward and swiping at the sound of him. He lost his nerve, hurled his
spade a yard wide at his antagonist, and whirled about and fled, fairly
yelling as he dodged another.
He was panic-stricken. He ran furiously to and fro, dodging when there was
no need to dodge, and in his anxiety to see on every side of him at once,
stumbling. For a moment he was down and they heard his fall. Far away in
the circumferential wall a little doorway looked like heaven, and he set
off in a wild rush for it. He did not even look round at his pursuers
until it was gained, and he had stumbled across the bridge, clambered a
little way among the rocks, to the surprise and dismay of a young llama,
who went leaping out of sight, and lay down sobbing for breath.
And so his _coup d'etat_ came to an end.
He stayed outside the wall of the valley of the Blind for two nights and
days without food or shelter, and meditated upon the unexpected. During
these meditations he repeated very frequently and always with a profounder
note of derision the exploded proverb: "In the Country of the Blind the
One-Eyed Man is King." He thought chiefly of ways of fighting and
conquering these people, and it grew clear that for him no practicable way
was possible. He had no weapons, and now it would be hard to get one.
The canker of civilisation had got to him even in Bogota, and he could not
find it in himself to go down and assassinate a blind man. Of course, if
he did that, he might then dictate terms on the threat of assassinating
them all. But--sooner or later he must sleep!...
He tried also to find food among the pine trees, to be comfortable under
pine boughs while the frost fell at night, and--with less confidence--to
catch a llama by artifice in order to try to kill it--perhaps by hammering
it with a stone--and so finally, perhaps, to eat some of it. But the
llamas had a doubt of him and regarded him with distrustful brown eyes,
and spat when he drew near. Fear came on him the second day and fits of
shivering. Finally he crawled down to the wall of the Country of the Blind
and tried to make terms. He crawled along by the stream, shouting, until
two blind men came out to the gate and talked to him.
"I was mad," he said. "But I was only newly made."
They said that was better.
He told them he was wiser now, and repented of all he had done.
Then he wept without intention, for he was very weak and ill now, and they
took that as a favourable sign.
They asked him if he still thought he could "_see_"
"No," he said. "That was folly. The word means nothing--less than
They asked him what was overhead.
"About ten times ten the height of a man there is a roof above the world--
of rock--and very, very smooth." ... He burst again into hysterical
tears. "Before you ask me any more, give me some food or I shall die."
He expected dire punishments, but these blind people were capable of
toleration. They regarded his rebellion as but one more proof of his
general idiocy and inferiority; and after they had whipped him they
appointed him to do the simplest and heaviest work they had for anyone to
do, and he, seeing no other way of living, did submissively what he was
He was ill for some days, and they nursed him kindly. That refined his
submission. But they insisted on his lying in the dark, and that was a
great misery. And blind philosophers came and talked to him of the wicked
levity of his mind, and reproved him so impressively for his doubts about
the lid of rock that covered their cosmic casserole that he almost doubted
whether indeed he was not the victim of hallucination in not seeing it
So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and these people
ceased to be a generalised people and became individualities and familiar
to him, while the world beyond the mountains became more and more remote
and unreal. There was Yacob, his master, a kindly man when not annoyed;
there was Pedro, Yacob's nephew; and there was Medina-sarote, who was the
youngest daughter of Yacob. She was little esteemed in the world of the
blind, because she had a clear-cut face, and lacked that satisfying,
glossy smoothness that is the blind man's ideal of feminine beauty; but
Nunez thought her beautiful at first, and presently the most beautiful
thing in the whole creation. Her closed eyelids were not sunken and red
after the common way of the valley, but lay as though they might open
again at any moment; and she had long eyelashes, which were considered a
grave disfigurement. And her voice was strong, and did not satisfy the
acute hearing of the valley swains. So that she had no lover.
There came a time when Nunez thought that, could he win her, he would be
resigned to live in the valley for all the rest of his days.
He watched her; he sought opportunities of doing her little services, and
presently he found that she observed him. Once at a rest-day gathering
they sat side by side in the dim starlight, and the music was sweet. His
hand came upon hers and he dared to clasp it. Then very tenderly she
returned his pressure. And one day, as they were at their meal in the
darkness, he felt her hand very softly seeking him, and as it chanced the
fire leapt then and he saw the tenderness of her face.
He sought to speak to her.
He went to her one day when she was sitting in the summer moonlight
spinning. The light made her a thing of silver and mystery. He sat down at
her feet and told her he loved her, and told her how beautiful she seemed
to him. He had a lover's voice, he spoke with a tender reverence that came
near to awe, and she had never before been touched by adoration. She made
him no definite answer, but it was clear his words pleased her.
After that he talked to her whenever he could take an opportunity. The
valley became the world for him, and the world beyond the mountains where
men lived in sunlight seemed no more than a fairy tale he would some day
pour into her ears. Very tentatively and timidly he spoke to her of sight.
Sight seemed to her the most poetical of fancies, and she listened to his
description of the stars and the mountains and her own sweet white-lit
beauty as though it was a guilty indulgence. She did not believe, she
could only half understand, but she was mysteriously delighted, and it
seemed to him that she completely understood.
His love lost its awe and took courage. Presently he was for demanding
her of Yacob and the elders in marriage, but she became fearful and
delayed. And it was one of her elder sisters who first told Yacob that
Medina-sarote and Nunez were in love.
There was from the first very great opposition to the marriage of Nunez
and Medina-sarote; not so much because they valued her as because they
held him as a being apart, an idiot, incompetent thing below the
permissible level of a man. Her sisters opposed it bitterly as bringing
discredit on them all; and old Yacob, though he had formed a sort of
liking for his clumsy, obedient serf, shook his head and said the thing
could not be. The young men were all angry at the idea of corrupting the
race, and one went so far as to revile and strike Nunez. He struck back.
Then for the first time he found an advantage in seeing, even by twilight,
and after that fight was over no one was disposed to raise a hand against
him. But they still found his marriage impossible.
Old Yacob had a tenderness for his last little daughter, and was grieved
to have her weep upon his shoulder.
"You see, my dear, he's an idiot. He has delusions; he can't do anything
"I know," wept Medina-sarote. "But he's better than he was. He's getting
better. And he's strong, dear father, and kind--stronger and kinder than
any I other man in the world. And he loves me--and, father, I love him."
Old Yacob was greatly distressed to find her inconsolable, and, besides--
what made it more distressing--he liked Nunez for many things. So he went
and sat in the windowless council-chamber with the other elders and
watched the trend of the talk, and said, at the proper time, "He's better
than he was. Very likely, some day, we shall find him as sane as
Then afterwards one of the elders, who thought deeply, had an idea. He was
the great doctor among these people, their medicine-man, and he had a very
philosophical and inventive mind, and the idea of curing Nunez of his
peculiarities appealed to him. One day when Yacob was present he returned
to the topic of Nunez.
"I have examined Bogota," he said, "and the case is clearer to me. I think
very probably he might be cured."
"That is what I have always hoped," said old Yacob.
"His brain is affected," said the blind doctor.
The elders murmured assent.
"Now, _what_ affects it?"
"Ah!" said old Yacob.
"_This_," said the doctor, answering his own question. "Those queer
things that are called the eyes, and which exist to make an agreeable soft
depression in the face, are diseased, in the case of Bogota, in such a way
as to affect his brain. They are greatly distended, he has eyelashes, and
his eyelids move, and consequently his brain is in a state of constant
irritation and distraction."
"Yes?" said old Yacob. "Yes?"
"And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in order to cure
him completely, all that we need do is a simple and easy surgical
operation--namely, to remove these irritant bodies."
"And then he will be sane?"
"Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable citizen."
"Thank Heaven for science!" said old Yacob, and went forth at once to tell
Nunez of his happy hopes.
But Nunez's manner of receiving the good news struck him as being cold and
"One might think," he said, "from the tone you take, that you did not care
for my daughter."
It was Medina-sarote who persuaded Nunez to face the blind surgeons.
"_You_ do not want me," he said, "to lose my gift of sight?"
She shook her head.
"My world is sight."
Her head drooped lower.
"There are the beautiful things, the beautiful little things--the flowers,
the lichens among the rocks, the lightness and softness on a piece of fur,
the far sky with its drifting down of clouds, the sunsets and the stars.
And there is _you_. For you alone it is good to have sight, to see
your sweet, serene face, your kindly lips, your dear, beautiful hands
folded together... It is these eyes of mine you won, these eyes that hold
me to you, that these idiots seek. Instead, I must touch you, hear you,
and never see you again. I must come under that roof of rock and stone and
darkness, that horrible roof under which your imagination stoops...
No; you would not have me do that?"
A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped, and left the thing a
"I wish," she said, "sometimes----" She paused.
"Yes," said he, a little apprehensively.
"I wish sometimes--you would not talk like that."
"I know it's pretty--it's your imagination. I love it, but _now_----"
He felt cold. "_Now_?" he said faintly.
She sat quite still.
"You mean--you think--I should be better, better perhaps-----"
He was realising things very swiftly. He felt anger, indeed, anger at the
dull course of fate, but also sympathy for her lack of understanding--a
sympathy near akin to pity.
"_Dear_," he said, and he could see by her whiteness how intensely
her spirit pressed against the things she could not say. He put his arms
about her, he kissed her ear, and they sat for a time in silence.
"If I were to consent to this?" he said at last, in a voice that was very
She flung her arms about him, weeping wildly. "Oh, if you would," she
sobbed, "if only you would!"
* * * * *
For a week before the operation that was to raise him from his servitude
and inferiority to the level of a blind citizen, Nunez knew nothing of
sleep, and all through the warm sunlit hours, while the others slumbered
happily, he sat brooding or wandered aimlessly, trying to bring his mind
to bear on his dilemma. He had given his answer, he had given his consent,
and still he was not sure. And at last work-time was over, the sun rose in
splendour over the golden crests, and his last day of vision began for
him. He had a few minutes with Medina-sarote before she went apart to
"To-morrow," he said, "I shall see no more."
"Dear heart!" she answered, and pressed his hands with all her strength.
"They will hurt you but little," she said; "and you are going through this
pain--you are going through it, dear lover, for _me_... Dear, if a
woman's heart and life can do it, I will repay you. My dearest one, my
dearest with the tender voice, I will repay."
He was drenched in pity for himself and her.
He held her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers, and looked on her
sweet face for the last time. "Good-bye!" he whispered at that dear sight,
And then in silence he turned away from her.
She could hear his slow retreating footsteps, and something in the rhythm
of them threw her into a passion of weeping.
He had fully meant to go to a lonely place where the meadows were
beautiful with white narcissus, and there remain until the hour of his
sacrifice should come, but as he went he lifted up his eyes and saw the
morning, the morning like an angel in golden armour, marching down the
It seemed to him that before this splendour he, and this blind world in
the valley, and his love, and all, were no more than a pit of sin.
He did not turn aside as he had meant to do, but went on, and passed
through the wall of the circumference and out upon the rocks, and his eyes
were always upon the sunlit ice and snow.
He saw their infinite beauty, and his imagination soared over them to the
things beyond he was now to resign for ever.
He thought of that great free world he was parted from, the world that was
his own, and he had a vision of those further slopes, distance beyond
distance, with Bogota, a place of multitudinous stirring beauty, a glory
by day, a luminous mystery by night, a place of palaces and fountains and
statues and white houses, lying beautifully in the middle distance. He
thought how for a day or so one might come down through passes, drawing
ever nearer and nearer to its busy streets and ways. He thought of the
river journey, day by day, from great Bogota to the still vaster world
beyond, through towns and villages, forest and desert places, the rushing
river day by day, until its banks receded and the big steamers came
splashing by, and one had reached the sea--the limitless sea, with its
thousand islands, its thousands of islands, and its ships seen dimly far
away in their incessant journeyings round and about that greater world.
And there, unpent by mountains, one saw the sky--the sky, not such a disc
as one saw it here, but an arch of immeasurable blue, a deep of deeps in
which the circling stars were floating...
His eyes scrutinised the great curtain of the mountains with a keener
For example, if one went so, up that gully and to that chimney there, then
one might come out high among those stunted pines that ran round in a sort
of shelf and rose still higher and higher as it passed above the gorge.
And then? That talus might be managed. Thence perhaps a climb might be
found to take him up to the precipice that came below the snow; and if
that chimney failed, then another farther to the east might serve his
purpose better. And then? Then one would be out upon the amber-lit snow
there, and half-way up to the crest of those beautiful desolations.
He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and regarded it
He thought of Medina-sarote, and she had become small and remote.
He turned again towards the mountain wall, down which the day had come to
Then very circumspectly he began to climb.
When sunset came he was no longer climbing, but he was far and high. He
had been higher, but he was still very high. His clothes were torn, his
limbs were blood-stained, he was bruised in many places, but he lay as if
he were at his ease, and there was a smile on his face.
From where he rested the valley seemed as if it were in a pit and nearly a
mile below. Already it was dim with haze and shadow, though the mountain
summits around him were things of light and fire. The mountain summits
around him were things of light and fire, and the little details of the
rocks near at hand were drenched with subtle beauty--a vein of green
mineral piercing the grey, the flash of crystal faces here and there, a
minute, minutely-beautiful orange lichen close beside his face. There were
deep mysterious shadows in the gorge, blue deepening into purple, and
purple into a luminous darkness, and overhead was the illimitable vastness
of the sky. But he heeded these things no longer, but lay quite inactive
there, smiling as if he were satisfied merely to have escaped from the
valley of the Blind in which he had thought to be King.
The glow of the sunset passed, and the night came, and still he lay
peacefully contented under the cold clear stars.
THE BEAUTIFUL SUIT.
There was once a little man whose mother made him a beautiful suit of
clothes. It was green and gold, and woven so that I cannot describe how
delicate and fine it was, and there was a tie of orange fluffiness that
tied up under his chin. And the buttons in their newness shone like stars.
He was proud and pleased by his suit beyond measure, and stood before the
long looking-glass when first he put it on, so astonished and delighted
with it that he could hardly turn himself away. He wanted to wear it
everywhere, and show it to all sorts of people. He thought over all the
places he had ever visited, and all the scenes he had ever heard
described, and tried to imagine what the feel of it would be if he were to
go now to those scenes and places wearing his shining suit, and he wanted
to go out forthwith into the long grass and the hot sunshine of the meadow
wearing it. Just to wear it! But his mother told him "No." She told him he
must take great care of his suit, for never would he have another nearly
so fine; he must save it and save it, and only wear it on rare and great
occasions. It was his wedding-suit, she said. And she took the buttons and
twisted them up with tissue paper for fear their bright newness should be
tarnished, and she tacked little guards over the cuffs and elbows, and
wherever the suit was most likely to come to harm. He hated and resisted
these things, but what could he do? And at last her warnings and
persuasions had effect, and he consented to take off his beautiful suit
and fold it into its proper creases, and put it away. It was almost as
though he gave it up again. But he was always thinking of wearing it, and
of the supreme occasions when some day it might be worn without the
guards, without the tissue paper on the buttons, utterly and delightfully,
never caring, beautiful beyond measure.
One night, when he was dreaming of it after his habit, he dreamt he took
the tissue paper from one of the buttons, and found its brightness a
little faded, and that distressed him mightily in his dream. He polished
the poor faded button and polished it, and, if anything, it grew duller.
He woke up and lay awake, thinking of the brightness a little dulled, and
wondering how he would feel if perhaps when the great occasion (whatever
it might be) should arrive, one button should chance to be ever so little
short of its first glittering freshness, and for days and days that
thought remained with him distressingly. And when next his mother let him
wear his suit, he was tempted and nearly gave way to the temptation just
to fumble off one little bit of tissue paper and see if indeed the buttons
were keeping as bright as ever.
He went trimly along on his way to church, full of this wild desire. For
you must know his mother did, with repeated and careful warnings, let him
wear his suit at times, on Sundays, for example, to and fro from church,
when there was no threatening of rain, no dust blowing, nor anything to
injure it, with its buttons covered and its protections tacked upon it,
and a sun-shade in his hand to shadow it if there seemed too strong a
sunlight for its colours. And always, after such occasions, he brushed it
over and folded it exquisitely as she had taught him, and put it away
Now all these restrictions his mother set to the wearing of his suit he
obeyed, always he obeyed them, until one strange night he woke up and saw
the moonlight shining outside his window. It seemed to him the moonlight
was not common moonlight, nor the night a common night, and for awhile he
lay quite drowsily, with this odd persuasion in his mind. Thought joined
on to thought like things that whisper warmly in the shadows. Then he sat
up in his little bed suddenly very alert, with his heart beating very
fast, and a quiver in his body from top to toe. He had made up his mind.
He knew that now he was going to wear his suit as it should be worn. He
had no doubt in the matter. He was afraid, terribly afraid, but glad,
He got out of his bed and stood for a moment by the window looking at the
moonshine-flooded garden, and trembling at the thing he meant to do. The
air was full of a minute clamour of crickets and murmurings, of the
infinitesimal shoutings of little living things. He went very gently
across the creaking boards, for fear that he might wake the sleeping
house, to the big dark clothes-press wherein his beautiful suit lay
folded, and he took it out garment by garment, and softly and very eagerly
tore off its tissue-paper covering and its tacked protections until there
it was, perfect and delightful as he had seen it when first his mother had
given it to him--a long time it seemed ago. Not a button had tarnished,
not a thread had faded on this dear suit of his; he was glad enough for
weeping as in a noiseless hurry he put it on. And then back he went, soft
and quick, to the window that looked out upon the garden, and stood there
for a minute, shining in the moonlight, with his buttons twinkling like
stars, before he got out on the sill, and, making as little of a rustling
as he could, clambered down to the garden path below. He stood before his
mother's house, and it was white and nearly as plain as by day, with every
window-blind but his own shut like an eye that sleeps. The trees cast
still shadows like intricate black lace upon the wall.
The garden in the moonlight was very different from the garden by day;
moonshine was tangled in the hedges and stretched in phantom cobwebs from
spray to spray. Every flower was gleaming white or crimson black, and the
air was a-quiver with the thridding of small crickets and nightingales
singing unseen in the depths of the trees.
There was no darkness in the world, but only warm, mysterious shadows,
and all the leaves and spikes were edged and lined with iridescent jewels
of dew. The night was warmer than any night had ever been, the heavens
by some miracle at once vaster and nearer, and, spite of the great
ivory-tinted moon that ruled the world, the sky was full of stars.
The little man did not shout nor sing for all his infinite gladness. He
stood for a time like one awestricken, and then, with a queer small cry
and holding out his arms, he ran out as if he would embrace at once the
whole round immensity of the world. He did not follow the neat set paths
that cut the garden squarely, but thrust across the beds and through the
wet, tall, scented herbs, through the night-stock and the nicotine and the
clusters of phantom white mallow flowers and through the thickets of
southernwood and lavender, and knee-deep across a wide space of
mignonette. He came to the great hedge, and he thrust his way through it;
and though the thorns of the brambles scored him deeply and tore threads
from his wonderful suit, and though burrs and goose-grass and havers
caught and clung to him, he did not care. He did not care, for he knew it
was all part of the wearing for which he had longed. "I am glad I put on
my suit," he said; "I am glad I wore my suit."
Beyond the hedge he came to the duck-pond, or at least to what was the
duck-pond by day. But by night it was a great bowl of silver moonshine all
noisy with singing frogs, of wonderful silver moonshine twisted and
clotted with strange patternings, and the little man ran down into its
waters between the thin black rushes, knee-deep and waist-deep and to his
shoulders, smiting the water to black and shining wavelets with either
hand, swaying and shivering wavelets, amidst which the stars were netted
in the tangled reflections of the brooding trees upon the bank. He waded
until he swam, and so he crossed the pond and came out upon the other
side, trailing, as it seemed to him, not duckweed, but very silver in
long, clinging, dripping masses. And up he went through the transfigured
tangles of the willow-herb and the uncut seeding grasses of the farther
bank. He came glad and breathless into the high-road. "I am glad," he
said, "beyond measure, that I had clothes that fitted this occasion."
The high-road ran straight as an arrow flies, straight into the deep-blue
pit of sky beneath the moon, a white and shining road between the singing
nightingales, and along it he went, running now and leaping, and now
walking and rejoicing, in the clothes his mother had made for him with
tireless, loving hands. The road was deep in dust, but that for him was
only soft whiteness; and as he went a great dim moth came fluttering round
his wet and shimmering and hastening figure. At first he did not heed the
moth, and then he waved his hands at it, and made a sort of dance with it
as it circled round his head. "Soft moth!" he cried, "dear moth! And
wonderful night, wonderful night of the world! Do you think my clothes are
beautiful, dear moth? As beautiful as your scales and all this silver
vesture of the earth and sky?"
And the moth circled closer and closer until at last its velvet wings just
brushed his lips...
* * * * *
And next morning they found him dead, with his neck broken, in the bottom
of the stone pit, with his beautiful clothes a little bloody, and foul and
stained with the duckweed from the pond. But his face was a face of such
happiness that, had you seen it, you would have understood indeed how that
he had died happy, never knowing that cool and streaming silver for the
duckweed in the pond.