THE sun was very bright, but I doubted if the day would long be fine, and looked into the milky sapphire I wore, to see whether the star in it was clear. It was even less defined than I had expected. I rose from the breakfast-table, and went to the window to glance at the stone again. There had been heavy rain in the night, and on the lawn was a thrush breaking his way into the shell of a snail.
As I was turning my ring about to catch the response of the star to the sun, I spied a keen black eye gazing at me out of the milky misty blue. The sight startled me so that I dropped the ring, and when I picked it up the eye was gone from it. The same moment the sun was obscured; a dark vapour covered him, and in a minute or two the whole sky was clouded. The air had grown sultry, and a gust of wind came suddenly. A moment more and there was a flash of lightning, with a single sharp thunder-clap. Then the rain fell in torrents.
I had opened the window, and stood there looking out at the precipitous rain, when I descried a raven walking toward me over the grass, with solemn gait, and utter disregard of the falling deluge. Suspecting who he was, I congratulated myself that I was safe on the ground-floor. At the same time I had a conviction that, if I were not careful, something would happen.
He came nearer and nearer, made a profound bow, and with a sudden winged leap stood on the window-sill. Then he stepped over the ledge, jumped down into the room, and walked to the door. I thought he was on his way to the library, and followed him, determined, if he went up the stair, not to take one step after him. He turned, however, neither toward the library nor the stair, but to a little door that gave upon a grass-patch in a nook between two portions of the rambling old house. I made haste to open it for him. He stepped out into its creeper-covered porch, and stood looking at the rain, which fell like a huge thin cataract; I stood in the door behind him. The second flash came, and was followed by a lengthened roll of more distant thunder. He turned his head over his shoulder and looked at me, as much as to say, "You hear that?" then swivelled it round again, and anew contemplated the weather, apparently with approbation. So human were his pose and carriage and the way he kept turning his head, that I remarked almost involuntarily, "Fine weather for the worms, Mr. Raven!"
"Yes," he answered, in the rather croaky voice I had learned to know, "the ground will be nice for them to get out and in!--It must be a grand time on the steppes of Uranus!" he added, with a glance upward; "I believe it is raining there too; it was, all the last week!"
"Why should that make it a grand time?" I asked.
"Because the animals there are all burrowers," he answered, "--like the field-mice and the moles here.--They will be, for ages to come."
"How do you know that, if I may be so bold?" I rejoined.
"As any one would who had been there to see," he replied. "It is a great sight, until you get used to it, when the earth gives a heave, and out comes a beast. You might think it a hairy elephant or a deinotherium--but none of the animals are the same as we have ever had here. I was almost frightened myself the first time I saw the dry-bog-serpent come wallowing out--such a head and mane! and such eyes!--But the shower is nearly over. It will stop directly after the next thunder-clap. There it is!"
A flash came with the words, and in about half a minute the thunder. Then the rain ceased.
"Now we should be going!" said the raven, and stepped to the front of the porch.
"Going where?" I asked.
"Going where we have to go," he answered. "You did not surely think you had got home? I told you there was no going out and in at pleasure until you were at home!"
"I do not want to go," I said.
"That does not make any difference--at least not much," he answered. "This is the way!"
"I am quite content where I am."
"You think so, but you are not. Come along."
He hopped from the porch onto the grass, and turned, waiting.
"I will not leave the house to-day," I said with obstinacy.
"You will come into the garden!" rejoined the raven.
"I give in so far," I replied, and stepped from the porch.
The sun broke through the clouds, and the rain-drops flashed and sparkled on the grass. The raven was walking over it.
"You will wet your feet!" I cried.
"And mire my beak," he answered, immediately plunging it deep in the sod, and drawing out a great wriggling red worm. He threw back his head, and tossed it in the air. It spread great wings, gorgeous in red and black, and soared aloft.
"Tut! tut!" I exclaimed; "you mistake, Mr. Raven: worms are not the larvæ of butterflies!"
"Never mind," he croaked; "it will do for once! I'm not a reading man at present, but sexton at the--at a certain graveyard--cemetery, more properly--in--at--no matter where!"
"I see! you can't keep your spade still: and when you have nothing to bury, you must dig something up! Only you should mind what it is before you make it fly! No creature should be allowed to forget what and where it came from!"
"Why?" said the raven.
"Because it will grow proud, and cease to recognise its superiors."
No man knows it when he is making an idiot of himself.
"Where do the worms come from?" said the raven, as if suddenly grown curious to know.
"Why, from the earth, as you have just seen!" I answered.
"Yes, last!" he replied. "But they can't have come from it first--for that will never go back to it!" he added, looking up.
I looked up also, but could see nothing save a little dark cloud, the edges of which were red, as if with the light of the sunset.
"Surely the sun is not going down!" I exclaimed, struck with amazement.
"Oh, no!" returned the raven. "That red belongs to the worm."
"You see what comes of making creatures forget their origin!" I cried with some warmth.
"It is well, surely, if it be to rise higher and grow larger!" he returned. "But indeed I only teach them to find it!"
"Would you have the air full of worms?"
"That is the business of a sexton. If only the rest of the clergy understood it as well!"
In went his beak again through the soft turf, and out came the wriggling worm. He tossed it in the air, and away it flew.
I looked behind me, and gave a cry of dismay: I had but that moment declared I would not leave the house, and already I was a stranger in the strange land!
"What right have you to treat me so, Mr. Raven?" I said with deep offence. "Am I, or am I not, a free agent?"
"A man is as free as he chooses to make himself, never an atom freer," answered the raven.
"You have no right to make me do things against my will!"
"When you have a will, you will find that no one can."
"You wrong me in the very essence of my individuality!" I persisted.
"If you were an individual I could not, therefore now I do not. You are but beginning to become an individual."
All about me was a pine-forest, in which my eyes were already searching deep, in the hope of discovering an unaccountable glimmer, and so finding my way home. But, alas! how could I any longer call that house home, where every door, every window opened into Out, and even the garden I could not keep inside!
I suppose I looked discomfited.
"Perhaps it may comfort you," said the raven, "to be told that you have not yet left your house, neither has your house left you. At the same time it cannot contain you, or you inhabit it!"
"I do not understand you," I replied. "Where am I?"
"In the region of the seven dimensions," he answered, with a curious noise in his throat, and a flutter of his tail. "You had better follow me carefully now for a moment, lest you should hurt some one!"
"There is nobody to hurt but yourself, Mr. Raven! I confess I should rather like to hurt you!"
"That you see nobody is where the danger lies. But you see that large tree to your left, about thirty yards away?"
"Of course I do: why should I not?" I answered testily.
"Ten minutes ago you did not see it, and now you do not know where it stands!"
"Where do you think it stands?"
"Why there, where you know it is!"
"Where is there?"
"You bother me with your silly questions!" I cried. "I am growing tired of you!"
"That tree stands on the hearth of your kitchen, and grows nearly straight up its chimney," he said.
"Now I know you are making game of me!" I answered, with a laugh of scorn.
"Was I making game of you when you discovered me looking out of your star-sapphire yesterday?"
"That was this morning--not an hour ago!"
"I have been widening your horizon longer than that, Mr. Vane; but never mind!"
"You mean you have been making a fool of me!" I said, turning from him.
"Excuse me: no one can do that but yourself!"
"And I decline to do it."
"In declining to acknowledge yourself one already. You make yourself such by refusing what is true, and for that you will sorely punish yourself."
"By believing what is not true."
"Then, if I walk to the other side of that tree, I shall walk through the kitchen fire?"
"Certainly. You would first, however, walk through the lady at the piano in the breakfast-room. That rosebush is close by her. You would give her a terrible start!"
"There is no lady in the house!"
"Indeed! Is not your housekeeper a lady? She is counted such in a certain country where all are servants, and the liveries one and multitudinous!"
"She cannot use the piano, anyhow!"
"Her niece can: she is there--a well-educated girl and a capital musician."
"Excuse me; I cannot help it: you seem to me to be talking sheer nonsense!"
"If you could but hear the music! Those great long heads of wild hyacinth are inside the piano, among the strings of it, and give that peculiar sweetness to her playing!--Pardon me: I forgot your deafness!"
"Two objects," I said, "cannot exist in the same place at the same time!"
"Can they not? I did not know!--I remember now they do teach that with you. It is a great mistake--one of the greatest ever wiseacre made! No man of the universe, only a man of the world could have said so!"
"You a librarian, and talk such rubbish!" I cried. "Plainly, you did not read many of the books in your charge!"
"Oh, yes! I went through all in your library--at the time, and came out at the other side not much the wiser. I was a bookworm then, but when I came to know it, I woke among the butterflies. To be sure I have given up reading for a good many years--ever since I was made sexton.--There! I smell Grieg's Wedding March in the quiver of those rose-petals!"
I went to the rose-bush and listened hard, but could not hear the thinnest ghost of a sound; I only smelt something I had never before smelt in any rose. It was still rose-odour, but with a difference, caused, I suppose, by the Wedding March.
When I looked up, there was the bird by my side.
"Mr. Raven," I said, "forgive me for being so rude: I was irritated. Will you kindly show me my way home? I must go, for I have an appointment with my bailiff. One must not break faith with one's servants!"
"You cannot break what was broken days ago!" he answered.
"Do show me the way," I pleaded.
"I cannot," he returned. "To go back, you must go through yourself, and that way no man can show another."
Entreaty was vain. I must accept my fate! But how was life to be lived in a world of which I had all the laws to learn? There would, however, be adventure! that held consolation; and whether I found my way home or not, I should at least have the rare advantage of knowing two worlds!
I had never yet done anything to justify my existence; my former world was nothing the better for my sojourn in it: here, however, I must earn, or in some way find, my bread! But I reasoned that, as I was not to blame in being here, I might expect to be taken care of here as well as there! I had had nothing to do with getting into the world I had just left, and in it I had found myself heir to a large property! If that world, as I now saw, had a claim upon me because I had eaten, and could eat again, upon this world I had a claim because I must eat--when it would in return have a claim on me!
"There is no hurry," said the raven, who stood regarding me; "we do not go much by the clock here. Still, the sooner one begins to do what has to be done, the better! I will take you to my wife."
"Thank you. Let us go!" I answered, and immediately he led the way.