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“We must be on our guard,” he said, “or she will again outwit us. She would befool the very elect!”
“How are we to be on our guard?” I asked.
“Every way,” he answered. “She fears, therefore hates her child, and is in this house on her way to destroy her. The birth of children is in her eyes the death of their parents, and every new generation the enemy of the last. Her daughter appears to her an open channel through which her immortality—which yet she counts self-inherent—is flowing fast away: to fill it up, almost from her birth she has pursued her with an utter enmity. But the result of her machinations hitherto is, that in the region she claims as her own, has appeared a colony of children, to which that daughter is heart and head and sheltering wings. My Eve longed after the child, and would have been to her as a mother to her first-born, but we were then unfit to train her: she was carried into the wilderness, and for ages we knew nothing of her fate. But she was divinely fostered, and had young angels for her playmates; nor did she ever know care until she found a baby in the wood, and the mother-heart in her awoke. One by one she has found many children since, and that heart is not yet full. Her family is her absorbing charge, and never children were better mothered. Her authority over them is without appeal, but it is unknown to herself, and never comes to the surface except in watchfulness and service. She has forgotten the time when she lived without them, and thinks she came herself from the wood, the first of the family.
“You have saved the life of her and their enemy; therefore your life belongs to her and them. The princess was on her way to destroy them, but as she crossed that stream, vengeance overtook her, and she would have died had you not come to her aid. You did; and ere now she would have been raging among the Little Ones, had she dared again cross the stream. But there was yet a way to the blessed little colony through the world of the three dimensions; only, from that, by the slaying of her former body, she had excluded herself, and except in personal contact with one belonging to it, could not re-enter it. You provided the opportunity: never, in all her long years, had she had one before. Her hand, with lightest touch, was on one or other of your muffled feet, every step as you climbed. In that little chamber, she is now watching to leave it as soon as ever she may.”
“She cannot know anything about the door!—she cannot at least know how to open it!” I said; but my heart was not so confident as my words.
“Hush, hush!” whispered the librarian, with uplifted hand; “she can hear through anything!—You must go at once, and make your way to my wife’s cottage. I will remain to keep guard over her.”
“Let me go to the Little Ones!” I cried.
“Beware of that, Mr. Vane. Go to my wife, and do as she tells you.”
His advice did not recommend itself: why haste to encounter measureless delay? If not to protect the children, why go at all? Alas, even now I believed him only enough to ask him questions, not to obey him!
“Tell me first, Mr. Raven,” I said, “why, of all places, you have shut her up there! The night I ran from your house, it was immediately into that closet!”
“The closet is no nearer our cottage, and no farther from it, than any or every other place.”
“But,” I returned, hard to persuade where I could not understand, “how is it then that, when you please, you take from that same door a whole book where I saw and felt only a part of one? The other part, you have just told me, stuck through into your library: when you put it again on the shelf, will it not again stick through into that? Must not then the two places, in which parts of the same volume can at the same moment exist, lie close together? Or can one part of the book be in space, or somewhere, and the other out of space, or nowhere?”
“I am sorry I cannot explain the thing to you,” he answered; “but there is no provision in you for understanding it. Not merely, therefore, is the phenomenon inexplicable to you, but the very nature of it is inapprehensible by you. Indeed I but partially apprehend it myself. At the same time you are constantly experiencing things which you not only do not, but cannot understand. You think you understand them, but your understanding of them is only your being used to them, and therefore not surprised at them. You accept them, not because you understand them, but because you must accept them: they are there, and have unavoidable relations with you! The fact is, no man understands anything; when he knows he does not understand, that is his first tottering step—not toward understanding, but toward the capability of one day understanding. To such things as these you are not used, therefore you do not fancy you understand them. Neither I nor any man can here help you to understand; but I may, perhaps, help you a little to believe!”
He went to the door of the closet, gave a low whistle, and stood listening. A moment after, I heard, or seemed to hear, a soft whir of wings, and, looking up, saw a white dove perch for an instant on the top of the shelves over the portrait, thence drop to Mr. Raven’s shoulder, and lay her head against his cheek. Only by the motions of their two heads could I tell that they were talking together; I heard nothing. Neither had I moved my eyes from them, when suddenly she was not there, and Mr. Raven came back to his seat.
“Why did you whistle?” I asked. “Surely sound here is not sound there!”
“You are right,” he answered. “I whistled that you might know I called her. Not the whistle, but what the whistle meant reached her.—There is not a minute to lose: you must go!”
“I will at once!” I replied, and moved for the door.
“You will sleep to-night at my hostelry!” he said—not as a question, but in a tone of mild authority.
“My heart is with the children,” I replied. “But if you insist——”
“I do insist. You can otherwise effect nothing.—I will go with you as far as the mirror, and see you off.”
He rose. There came a sudden shock in the closet. Apparently the leopardess had flung herself against the heavy door. I looked at my companion.
“Come; come!” he said.
Ere we reached the door of the library, a howling yell came after us, mingled with the noise of claws that scored at the hard oak. I hesitated, and half turned.
“To think of her lying there alone,” I murmured, “—with that terrible wound!”
“Nothing will ever close that wound,” he answered, with a sigh. “It must eat into her heart! Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil.”
I held my peace until a sound I did not understand overtook us.
“If she should break loose!” I cried.
“Make haste!” he rejoined. “I shall hurry down the moment you are gone, and I have disarranged the mirrors.”
We ran, and reached the wooden chamber breathless. Mr. Raven seized the chains and adjusted the hood. Then he set the mirrors in their proper relation, and came beside me in front of the standing one. Already I saw the mountain range emerging from the mist.
Between us, wedging us asunder, darted, with the yell of a demon, the huge bulk of the spotted leopardess. She leaped through the mirror as through an open window, and settled at once into a low, even, swift gallop.
I cast a look of dismay at my companion, and sprang through to follow her. He came after me leisurely.
“You need not run,” he called; “you cannot overtake her. This is our way.”
As he spoke he turned in the opposite direction.
“She has more magic at her finger-ends than I care to know!” he added quietly.
“We must do what we can!” I said, and ran on, but sickening as I saw her dwindle in the distance, stopped, and went back to him.
“Doubtless we must,” he answered. “But my wife has warned Mara, and she will do her part; you must sleep first: you have given me your word!”
“Nor do I mean to break it. But surely sleep is not the first thing! Surely, surely, action takes precedence of repose!”
“A man can do nothing he is not fit to do.—See! did I not tell you Mara would do her part?”
I looked whither he pointed, and saw a white spot moving at an acute angle with the line taken by the leopardess.
“There she is!” he cried. “The spotted leopardess is strong, but the white is stronger!”
“I have seen them fight: the combat did not appear decisive as to that.”
“How should such eyes tell which have never slept? The princess did not confess herself beaten—that she never does—but she fled! When she confesses her last hope gone, that it is indeed hard to kick against the goad, then will her day begin to dawn! Come; come! He who cannot act must make haste to sleep!”