"A spirit . . .
. . . . . .
The undulating and silent well,
And rippling rivulet, and evening gloom,
Now deepening the dark shades, for speech assuming,
Held commune with him; as if he and it
Were all that was."
I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity
which accompanies the return of consciousness
. As I lay and looked through
the eastern window of my room, a faint streak
of peach-colour, dividing a cloud that just rose above the low swell
of the horizon
, announced the approach
of the sun. As my thoughts, which a deep and apparently
dreamless sleep had dissolved, began again to assume
crystalline forms, the strange
events of the foregoing night presented themselves anew
to my wondering consciousness
. The day before had been my one-and-twentieth birthday. Among other ceremonies investing me with my legal
rights, the keys of an old secretary
, in which my father had kept his private
papers, had been delivered up to me. As soon as I was left alone, I ordered lights in the chamber
where the secretary
stood, the first lights that had been there for many a year; for, since my father's death, the room had been left undisturbed. But, as if the darkness had been too long an inmate
to be easily expelled, and had dyed
with blackness the walls to which, bat-like, it had clung, these tapers served but ill to light up the gloomy
hangings, and seemed to throw
yet darker shadows into the hollows of the deep-wrought cornice
. All the further portions of the room lay shrouded in a mystery
whose deepest folds were gathered around the dark oak cabinet
which I now approached with a strange
mingling of reverence
. Perhaps, like a geologist
, I was about to turn up to the light some of the buried strata of the human
world, with its fossil
remains charred by passion
and petrified by tears. Perhaps I was to learn how my father, whose personal
history was unknown to me, had woven his web of story; how he had found the world, and how the world had left him. Perhaps I was to find only the records of lands and moneys, how gotten and how secured; coming down from strange
men, and through
troublous times, to me, who knew little or nothing of them all. To solve
my speculations, and to dispel
which was fast gathering around me as if the dead were drawing near, I approached the secretary
; and having found the key that fitted the upper portion
, I opened it with some difficulty
, drew near it a heavy high-backed chair, and sat down before a multitude
of little drawers and slides and pigeon-holes. But the door of a little cupboard in the centre especially attracted my interest
, as if there lay the secret of this long-hidden world. Its key I found.
One of the rusty
hinges cracked and broke as I opened the door: it revealed a number of small pigeon-holes. These, however, being but shallow
compared with the depth
of those around the little cupboard, the outer ones reaching to the back of the desk, I concluded that there must be some accessible
space behind; and found, indeed, that they were formed in a separate framework
, which admitted of the whole being pulled out in one piece. Behind, I found a sort of flexible
portcullis of small bars of wood laid close together horizontally. After long search
, and trying many ways to move it, I discovered at last a scarcely
projecting point of steel on one side. I pressed this repeatedly and hard with the point of an old tool
that was lying near, till
it yielded inwards; and the little slide, flying up suddenly
, disclosed a chamber
-empty, except that in one corner
lay a little heap of withered
rose-leaves, whose long-lived scent
had long since departed
; and, in another, a small packet of papers, tied with a bit of ribbon, whose colour had gone with the rose-scent
. Almost fearing to touch them, they witnessed so mutely to the law of oblivion
, I leaned back in my chair, and regarded them for a moment
; when suddenly
there stood on the threshold
of the little chamber
, as though she had just emerged from its depth
, a tiny
woman-form, as perfect
as if she had been a small Greek statuette roused to life and motion
. Her dress was of a kind that could never grow old-fashioned
, because it was simply natural
: a robe plaited in a band around the neck, and confined
by a belt about the waist, descended to her feet. It was only afterwards, however, that I took notice
of her dress, although my surprise
was by no means of so overpowering a degree
as such an apparition might
naturally be expected
to excite. Seeing, however, as I suppose
, some astonishment
in my countenance
, she came forward
within a yard
of me, and said, in a voice that strangely recalled a sensation
, and reedy
river banks, and a low wind, even in this deathly room:-
"Anodos, you never saw such a little creature
before, did you?"
"No," said I; "and indeed I hardly believe I do now."
"Ah! that is always the way with you men; you believe nothing the first time; and it is foolish
enough to let mere repetition convince
you of what you consider
in itself unbelievable
. I am not going to argue
with you, however, but to grant
you a wish."
Here I could not help interrupting her with the foolish speech
, of which, however, I had no cause
"How can such a very little creature
as you grant
"Is that all the philosophy
you have gained in one-and-twenty years?" said she. "Form is much, but size is nothing. It is a mere matter
. I suppose
your six-foot lordship does not feel altogether insignificant
, though to others you do look small beside your old Uncle Ralph, who rises above you a great half-foot at least. But size is of so little consequence
with old me, that I may as well accommodate
myself to your foolish
So saying, she leapt from the desk upon the floor, where she stood a tall, gracious
lady, with pale
face and large blue eyes. Her dark hair flowed behind, wavy but uncurled, down to her waist, and against it her form stood clear in its robe of white.
"Now," said she, "you will believe me."
Overcome with the presence
of a beauty which I could now perceive
, and drawn towards her by an attraction irresistible
, I suppose
I stretched out my arms towards her, for she drew back a step or two, and said-
"Foolish boy, if you could touch me, I should hurt you. Besides, I was two hundred and thirty-seven years old, last Midsummer eve; and a man must not fall in love with his grandmother, you know."
"But you are not my grandmother," said I.
"How do you know that?" she retorted. "I dare
say you know something of your great-grandfathers a good deal further back than that; but you know very little about your great-grandmothers on either side. Now, to the point. Your little sister was reading a fairy-tale to you last night."
"When she had finished, she said, as she closed the book, 'Is there a fairy-country, brother?' You replied with a sigh
, 'I suppose
there is, if one could find the way into it.'"
"I did; but I meant something quite different
from what you seem to think."
what I seem to think. You shall find the way into Fairy Land to-morrow. Now look in my eyes."
Eagerly I did so. They filled me with an unknown longing
. I remembered somehow that my mother died when I was a baby. I looked deeper and deeper, till
around me like seas, and I sank in their waters. I forgot all the rest, till
I found myself at the window, whose gloomy
curtains were withdrawn
, and where I stood gazing on a whole heaven of stars, small and sparkling in the moonlight. Below lay a sea, still as death and hoary
in the moon, sweeping into bays and around capes and islands, away, away, I knew not whither. Alas! it was no sea, but a low bog
burnished by the moon. "Surely there is such a sea somewhere!" said I to myself. A low sweet voice beside me replied-
"In Fairy Land, Anodos."
I turned, but saw no one. I closed the secretary
, and went to my own room, and to bed.
All this I recalled as I lay with half-closed eyes. I was soon to find the truth of the lady's promise
, that this day I should discover
the road into Fairy Land.