Lilith, by George MacDonald

Chapter VIII.

My Father’s Manuscript

I am filled with awe of what I have to write. The sun is shining golden above me; the sea lies blue beneath his gaze; the same world sends its growing things up to the sun, and its flying things into the air which I have breathed from my infancy; but I know the outspread splendour a passing show, and that at any moment it may, like the drop-scene of a stage, be lifted to reveal more wonderful things.

Shortly after my father’s death, I was seated one morning in the library. I had been, somewhat listlessly, regarding the portrait that hangs among the books, which I knew only as that of a distant ancestor, and wishing I could learn something of its original. Then I had taken a book from the shelves and begun to read.

Glancing up from it, I saw coming toward me — not between me and the door, but between me and the portrait — a thin pale man in rusty black. He looked sharp and eager, and had a notable nose, at once reminding me of a certain jug my sisters used to call Mr. Crow.

“Finding myself in your vicinity, Mr. Vane, I have given myself the pleasure of calling,” he said, in a peculiar but not disagreeable voice. “Your honoured grandfather treated me — I may say it without presumption — as a friend, having known me from childhood as his father’s librarian.”

It did not strike me at the time how old the man must be.

“May I ask where you live now, Mr. Crow?” I said.

He smiled an amused smile.

“You nearly hit my name,” he rejoined, “which shows the family insight. You have seen me before, but only once, and could not then have heard it!”

“Where was that?”

“In this very room. You were quite a child, however!”

I could not be sure that I remembered him, but for a moment I fancied I did, and I begged him to set me right as to his name.

“There is such a thing as remembering without recognising the memory in it,” he remarked. “For my name — which you have near enough — it used to be Raven.”

I had heard the name, for marvellous tales had brought it me.

“It is very kind of you to come and see me,” I said. “Will you not sit down?”

He seated himself at once.

“You knew my father, then, I presume?”

“I knew him,” he answered with a curious smile, “but he did not care about my acquaintance, and we never met. — That gentleman, however,” he added, pointing to the portrait — “old Sir Up’ard, his people called him — was in his day a friend of mine yet more intimate than ever your grandfather became.”

Then at length I began to think the interview a strange one. But in truth it was hardly stranger that my visitor should remember Sir Upward, than that he should have been my great-grandfather’s librarian!

“I owe him much,” he continued; “for, although I had read many more books than he, yet, through the special direction of his studies, he was able to inform me of a certain relation of modes which I should never have discovered of myself, and could hardly have learned from any one else.”

“Would you mind telling me all about that?” I said.

“By no means — as much at least as I am able: there are not such things as wilful secrets,” he answered — and went on.

“That closet held his library — a hundred manuscripts or so, for printing was not then invented. One morning I sat there, working at a catalogue of them, when he looked in at the door, and said, ‘Come.’ I laid down my pen and followed him — across the great hall, down a steep rough descent, and along an underground passage to a tower he had lately built, consisting of a stair and a room at the top of it. The door of this room had a tremendous lock, which he undid with the smallest key I ever saw. I had scarcely crossed the threshold after him, when, to my eyes, he began to dwindle, and grew less and less. All at once my vision seemed to come right, and I saw that he was moving swiftly away from me. In a minute more he was the merest speck in the distance, with the tops of blue mountains beyond him, clear against a sky of paler blue. I recognised the country, for I had gone there and come again many a time, although I had never known this way to it.

“Many years after, when the tower had long disappeared, I taught one of his descendants what Sir Upward had taught me; and now and then to this day I use your house when I want to go the nearest way home. I must indeed — without your leave, for which I ask your pardon — have by this time well established a right of way through it — not from front to back, but from bottom to top!”

“You would have me then understand, Mr. Raven,” I said, “that you go through my house into another world, heedless of disparting space?”

“That I go through it is an incontrovertible acknowledgement of space,” returned the old librarian.

“Please do not quibble, Mr. Raven,” I rejoined. “Please to take my question as you know I mean it.”

“There is in your house a door, one step through which carries me into a world very much another than this.”

“A better?”

“Not throughout; but so much another that most of its physical, and many of its mental laws are different from those of this world. As for moral laws, they must everywhere be fundamentally the same.”

“You try my power of belief!” I said.

“You take me for a madman, probably?”

“You do not look like one.”

“A liar then?”

“You give me no ground to think you such.”

“Only you do not believe me?”

“I will go out of that door with you if you like: I believe in you enough to risk the attempt.”

“The blunder all my children make!” he murmured. “The only door out is the door in!”

I began to think he must be crazy. He sat silent for a moment, his head resting on his hand, his elbow on the table, and his eyes on the books before him.

“A book,” he said louder, “is a door in, and therefore a door out. — I see old Sir Up’ard,” he went on, closing his eyes, “and my heart swells with love to him:— what world is he in?”

“The world of your heart!” I replied; “— that is, the idea of him is there.”

“There is one world then at least on which your hall-door does not open?”

“I grant you so much; but the things in that world are not things to have and to hold.”

“Think a little farther,” he rejoined: “did anything ever become yours, except by getting into that world? — The thought is beyond you, however, at present! — I tell you there are more worlds, and more doors to them, than you will think of in many years!”

He rose, left the library, crossed the hall, and went straight up to the garret, familiar evidently with every turn. I followed, studying his back. His hair hung down long and dark, straight and glossy. His coat was wide and reached to his heels. His shoes seemed too large for him.

In the garret a light came through at the edges of the great roofing slabs, and showed us parts where was no flooring, and we must step from joist to joist: in the middle of one of these spaces rose a partition, with a door: through it I followed Mr. Raven into a small, obscure chamber, whose top contracted as it rose, and went slanting through the roof.

“That is the door I spoke of,” he said, pointing to an oblong mirror that stood on the floor and leaned against the wall. I went in front of it, and saw our figures dimly reflected in its dusty face. There was something about it that made me uneasy. It looked old-fashioned and neglected, but, notwithstanding its ordinary seeming, the eagle, perched with outstretched wings on the top, appeared threatful.

“As a mirror,” said the librarian, “it has grown dingy with age; but that is no matter: its clearness depends on the light.”

“Light!” I rejoined; “there is no light here!”

He did not answer me, but began to pull at a little chain on the opposite wall. I heard a creaking: the top of the chamber was turning slowly round. He ceased pulling, looked at his watch, and began to pull again.

“We arrive almost to the moment!” he said; “it is on the very stroke of noon!”

The top went creaking and revolving for a minute or so. Then he pulled two other chains, now this, now that, and returned to the first. A moment more and the chamber grew much clearer: a patch of sunlight had fallen upon a mirror on the wall opposite that against which the other leaned, and on the dust I saw the path of the reflected rays to the mirror on the ground. But from the latter none were returned; they seemed to go clean through; there was nowhere in the chamber a second patch of light!

“Where are the sunrays gone?” I cried.

“That I cannot tell,” returned Mr. Raven; “— back, perhaps, to where they came from first. They now belong, I fancy, to a sense not yet developed in us.”

He then talked of the relations of mind to matter, and of senses to qualities, in a way I could only a little understand, whence he went on to yet stranger things which I could not at all comprehend. He spoke much about dimensions, telling me that there were many more than three, some of them concerned with powers which were indeed in us, but of which as yet we knew absolutely nothing. His words, however, I confess, took little more hold of me than the light did of the mirror, for I thought he hardly knew what he was saying.

Suddenly I was aware that our forms had gone from the mirror, which seemed full of a white mist. As I gazed I saw, growing gradually visible beyond the mist, the tops of a range of mountains, which became clearer and clearer. Soon the mist vanished entirely, uncovering the face of a wide heath, on which, at some distance, was the figure of a man moving swiftly away. I turned to address my companion; he was no longer by my side. I looked again at the form in the mirror, and recognised the wide coat flying, the black hair lifting in a wind that did not touch me. I rushed in terror from the place.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09