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I laid the manuscript down, consoled to find that my father had had a peep into that mysterious world, and that he knew Mr. Raven.
Then I remembered that I had never heard the cause or any circumstance of my father’s death, and began to believe that he must at last have followed Mr. Raven, and not come back; whereupon I speedily grew ashamed of my flight. What wondrous facts might I not by this time have gathered concerning life and death, and wide regions beyond ordinary perception! Assuredly the Ravens were good people, and a night in their house would nowise have hurt me! They were doubtless strange, but it was faculty in which the one was peculiar, and beauty in which the other was marvellous! And I had not believed in them! had treated them as unworthy of my confidence, as harbouring a design against me! The more I thought of my behaviour to them, the more disgusted I became with myself. Why should I have feared such dead? To share their holy rest was an honour of which I had proved myself unworthy! What harm could that sleeping king, that lady with the wound in her palm, have done me? I fell a-longing after the sweet and stately stillness of their two countenances, and wept. Weeping I threw myself on a couch, and suddenly fell asleep.
As suddenly I woke, feeling as if some one had called me. The house was still as an empty church. A blackbird was singing on the lawn. I said to myself, “I will go and tell them I am ashamed, and will do whatever they would have me do!” I rose, and went straight up the stairs to the garret.
The wooden chamber was just as when first I saw it, the mirror dimly reflecting everything before it. It was nearly noon, and the sun would be a little higher than when first I came: I must raise the hood a little, and adjust the mirrors accordingly! If I had but been in time to see Mr. Raven do it!
I pulled the chains, and let the light fall on the first mirror. I turned then to the other: there were the shapes of the former vision—distinguishable indeed, but tremulous like a landscape in a pool ruffled by “a small pipling wind!” I touched the glass; it was impermeable.
Suspecting polarisation as the thing required, I shifted and shifted the mirrors, changing their relation, until at last, in a great degree, so far as I was concerned, by chance, things came right between them, and I saw the mountains blue and steady and clear. I stepped forward, and my feet were among the heather.
All I knew of the way to the cottage was that we had gone through a pine-forest. I passed through many thickets and several small fir-woods, continually fancying afresh that I recognised something of the country; but I had come upon no forest, and now the sun was near the horizon, and the air had begun to grow chill with the coming winter, when, to my delight, I saw a little black object coming toward me: it was indeed the raven!
I hastened to meet him.
“I beg your pardon, sir, for my rudeness last night,” I said. “Will you take me with you now? I heartily confess I do not deserve it.”
“Ah!” he returned, and looked up. Then, after a brief pause, “My wife does not expect you to-night,” he said. “She regrets that we at all encouraged your staying last week.”
“Take me to her that I may tell her how sorry I am,” I begged humbly.
“It is of no use,” he answered. “Your night was not come then, or you would not have left us. It is not come now, and I cannot show you the way. The dead were rejoicing under their daisies—they all lie among the roots of the flowers of heaven—at the thought of your delight when the winter should be past, and the morning with its birds come: ere you left them, they shivered in their beds. When the spring of the universe arrives,—but that cannot be for ages yet! how many, I do not know—and do not care to know.”
“Tell me one thing, I beg of you, Mr. Raven: is my father with you? Have you seen him since he left the world?”
“Yes; he is with us, fast asleep. That was he you saw with his arm on the coverlet, his hand half closed.”
“Why did you not tell me? That I should have been so near him, and not know!”
“And turn your back on him!” corrected the raven.
“I would have lain down at once had I known!”
“I doubt it. Had you been ready to lie down, you would have known him!—Old Sir Up’ard,” he went on, “and your twice great-grandfather, both are up and away long ago. Your great-grandfather has been with us for many a year; I think he will soon begin to stir. You saw him last night, though of course you did not know him.”
“Why of course?”
“Because he is so much nearer waking than you. No one who will not sleep can ever wake.”
“I do not at all understand you!”
“You turned away, and would not understand!”
I held my peace.—But if I did not say something, he would go!
“And my grandfather—is he also with you?” I asked.
“No; he is still in the Evil Wood, fighting the dead.”
“Where is the Evil Wood, that I may find him?”
“You will not find him; but you will hardly miss the wood. It is the place where those who will not sleep, wake up at night, to kill their dead and bury them.”
“I cannot understand you!”
“Naturally not. Neither do I understand you; I can read neither your heart nor your face. When my wife and I do not understand our children, it is because there is not enough of them to be understood. God alone can understand foolishness.”
“Then,” I said, feeling naked and very worthless, “will you be so good as show me the nearest way home? There are more ways than one, I know, for I have gone by two already.”
“There are indeed many ways.”
“Tell me, please, how to recognise the nearest.”
“I cannot,” answered the raven; “you and I use the same words with different meanings. We are often unable to tell people what they need to know, because they want to know something else, and would therefore only misunderstand what we said. Home is ever so far away in the palm of your hand, and how to get there it is of no use to tell you. But you will get there; you must get there; you have to get there. Everybody who is not at home, has to go home. You thought you were at home where I found you: if that had been your home, you could not have left it. Nobody can leave home. And nobody ever was or ever will be at home without having gone there.”
“Enigma treading on enigma!” I exclaimed. “I did not come here to be asked riddles.”
“No; but you came, and found the riddles waiting for you! Indeed you are yourself the only riddle. What you call riddles are truths, and seem riddles because you are not true.”
“Worse and worse!” I cried.
“And you must answer the riddles!” he continued. “They will go on asking themselves until you understand yourself. The universe is a riddle trying to get out, and you are holding your door hard against it.”
“Will you not in pity tell me what I am to do—where I must go?”
“How should I tell your to-do, or the way to it?”
“If I am not to go home, at least direct me to some of my kind.”
“I do not know of any. The beings most like you are in that direction.”
He pointed with his beak. I could see nothing but the setting sun, which blinded me.
“Well,” I said bitterly, “I cannot help feeling hardly treated—taken from my home, abandoned in a strange world, and refused instruction as to where I am to go or what I am to do!”
“You forget,” said the raven, “that, when I brought you and you declined my hospitality, you reached what you call home in safety: now you are come of yourself! Good night.”
He turned and walked slowly away, with his beak toward the ground. I stood dazed. It was true I had come of myself, but had I not come with intent of atonement? My heart was sore, and in my brain was neither quest nor purpose, hope nor desire. I gazed after the raven, and would have followed him, but felt it useless.
All at once he pounced on a spot, throwing the whole weight of his body on his bill, and for some moments dug vigorously. Then with a flutter of his wings he threw back his head, and something shot from his bill, cast high in the air. That moment the sun set, and the air at once grew very dusk, but the something opened into a soft radiance, and came pulsing toward me like a fire-fly, but with a much larger and a yellower light. It flew over my head. I turned and followed it.
Here I interrupt my narrative to remark that it involves a constant struggle to say what cannot be said with even an approach to precision, the things recorded being, in their nature and in that of the creatures concerned in them, so inexpressibly different from any possible events of this economy, that I can present them only by giving, in the forms and language of life in this world, the modes in which they affected me—not the things themselves, but the feelings they woke in me. Even this much, however, I do with a continuous and abiding sense of failure, finding it impossible to present more than one phase of a multitudinously complicated significance, or one concentric sphere of a graduated embodiment. A single thing would sometimes seem to be and mean many things, with an uncertain identity at the heart of them, which kept constantly altering their look. I am indeed often driven to set down what I know to be but a clumsy and doubtful representation of the mere feeling aimed at, none of the communicating media of this world being fit to convey it, in its peculiar strangeness, with even an approach to clearness or certainty. Even to one who knew the region better than myself, I should have no assurance of transmitting the reality of my experience in it. While without a doubt, for instance, that I was actually regarding a scene of activity, I might be, at the same moment, in my consciousness aware that I was perusing a metaphysical argument.