LILITH A

 

(TRANSCRIPTION OF ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT)

 

March 28, 1890

 

When first I became aware that I was myself, I found myself one of a family, living in a rather strange old house, which might be worth describing were it concerned in more than a very small part of my narrative. We loved each other a good deal, my brothers and I, but not enough to kill the selfishness in us. So that There was no day passed without some quarrelling, neither, happily, without reconcilings both mute and expressed. How the experiment resulted What the result trial might have been had we gone on as we were going ab until we grew up quite, I cannot say, but a certain strange experience on my part led to the altering of many things and to this day I cannot tell where the alteration results or consequences of it will stop. Even now I am filled with wonder and awe as I write. The sun is shining his best above me; the sea lies blue below his gaze: it is the same air I have breathed from infancy-and yet every now & then the whole outspread splendour will suddenly assume the aspect of a passing show, or rather of an envelope that may any sudden moment be drawn aside, revealing things hidden but there all the time. This experience is the thing I have now undertaken-not to write-but to try to convey some poor weak impression of-weak or strong, partly as I am worthy and able to give it, partly as my reader is able to receive it.

My mother I had no memory of, and my father had {end 1} become to me as a shadow, and an old shadow, of whom even the name was nearly forgotten seldom heard in the house. But there were things told of him among the servants that kept alive in the hearts of some of us a vague sense of something we did not well know what to call it. For my part I could not tell whether I remembered anything of him or not, though I must have seen him. The portrait of him hung in the entrance hall of the house, and there was an hour in every evening for the space of three summer months at which if the door happened to be open the light of the sun as it approached the western horizon fell upon the picture and made its shape and colour come out wonderfully. For it was one of those portraits that, the more light you throw upon it, the more colours appear as having been used in producing the general effect of the likeness. I was not in the habit of studying this portrait, but several times in my life I knew that I had seen it with the sunlight from the open door upon it; and now, when I happened, which was not often, to think of my father, I never could tell whether the form that appeared to my imagination had been left in my mind by his own person or by the portrait which always hung there, and indeed, as often as we went into the hall, seemed somehow to influence the whole air of the place, and to dominate all that entered, for as black as it was in the absence of the direct sunlight. {end 2}

There were persons in the household who said that he was dead; there were others who said that all they were justified in saying was that he had disappeared: whether he was dead, especially as what dead meant they could not tell, they did not know: one thing only was certain, that he was nowhere to be found. There was indeed one solemn old person, always draped in black as if he had been were always mourning his master's absence, who, as often as he was questioned, expressed himself as unspeakably shocked at the wickedness of thinking he was dead, but would tell you things about him that made you wish he were dead indeed-at least would have made me wish he were dead but that I did not believe what the butler told me about him, and after one or two interviews with him never sought him any more but always avoided him as much as I could, though that was difficult especially on Sundays when he was more talkative than on other days. For, soon after, I came to know that I was myself, I was anxious to know about my father, and did that once or twice seek enlightenment from the butler-but no more. There were guardians of the family, no doubt, but at that time I had never come in contact with any of them, and it was a great wonder that the affairs of the household hadn't did not go to utter confusion. They were I believe bad enough at times, but it was like a watch too old & dirty to keep good time but which yet never actually stopped or quite {end 3} turned day into night by its false testimony. I was with I had

There were two younger than myself-the youngest a girl-and a good many older, who were rather rough with us little ones, though as we grew we got stronger and abler to stand up for ourselves. Some of them made great game of me because I was fonder of study than most of them and was more in the library than any other room of the house, reading whatever came in my way that I felt any inclination to read. Hence it came that I learned a good deal of what the people of that time called science-always changing the thing they gave the name to, but never changing the name, so that the name seemed the chief permanent part and the thing named in continual change-which showed really that the name was not the right one, but ought to have been in constant change like the thing it represented. But I wander from my purpose. One day when I was reading a book upon light and its properties, I looked up suddenly and saw a thin pale little man beside me whom I did not remember having seen before. He told me he had been the librarian in my father's time, but had been so troubled by his disappearance that he had not been able to endure the house after he was gone, and had forsaken the post. I asked him how if he knew anything as to the circumstances attending his disappearance, & he sat down by me and gave me the following narrative. {end 4} "I do not understand the thing," he said, "but I will tell you as much as I know myself. I was never, I need hardly say, on what you would call terms of intimacy with your father, but he did honour me by using what service I was able to render him; I was a good deal in this room with him, and know that he made much use of the volume you now hold in your hand. Some indeed, have said to me since that from their knowledge of the book they are convinced that he must have written it himself, although he had not put his name on the title page. As to that I can say nothing, for, although my business is with books, I know next to nothing of what makes them books-the souls of them, that is-just as the doctor, whose business lies with men and women, may know them only as live bodies, & neither not as the beings that make these bodies live and not dead. If you would let me look in the book a moment, I could tell you what he was at that time chiefly occupied with:-yes, here it is! It was polarized light. One day he laid down the book and saying, 'Come with me,' went out of the room. I followed him up the stairs of the house, one flight after the other, without any surprise, for though I knew had never been in it, I knew that he had a room we took to be a laboratory of some sort, away among the huge rafters of the house. He came to a door, to reach which I had to step from beam to beam to avoid breaking through into some room below me. I entered after him. The room was very dark. Through the {end 5} faint brown light from the open door, for there were but a few dusty, glimmering skylights about me, I saw him open another door in the middle of the room, leaving it open behind him. I followed, and came to an inclosure of about four feet square, in which was a kind of light I had never seen before, and there ,through what seemed a window I saw your father, but he seemed far off, and wandering away to a great distance through a misty kind of atmosphere, beyond which I saw what I took for the blue tops of mountains sharp against the paler blue of the sky. I would have followed, for I loved your father and was not afraid, but the moment I took a step after him I struck against the glass of either a window to some supernatural region or of a mirror that reflected nothing, for I could not see myself in it; and gradually the mist deepened, and I saw your father no more. I told came down trembling, as you may well believe, and foolishly, in my fear, told the butler what I had seen, but he said I had lost my senses, and he would not believe a word of my story. Neither was he the least more inclined to believe it as the days passed and my your father never appeared. No one however but myself had seen him go up the stair and everyone looked for his coming in at the front door as usual. But the years have passed and passed and he has never come. I do not know what to think. I only know I have lost the one man to whom I was able to look up with a {end 6} love that desired nothing but to please him." "Was my father such a good man then?" I asked. "Ah my child! my child! to have to ask such a question!" Now I was at the moment fifteen years of age, and was not pleased to be called a child by anyone. But the eyes of the old man were filled with such genuine regret and commiseration that I could not show any offence. On the contrary the sight of his emotion awoke in me suddenly a desire for which my life had, unknown to me been preparing me, a desire, which at first but as a grain of the smallest seed, grew and grew so rapidly that almost in a moment it filled my whole mind and became a determination-to seek my father until I found him. Little as I knew or could yet know about him until I found him, I was convinced that he was not dead, and that he would not have gone where he could not be found-except indeed that if he were anywhere whence he could have returned he would not have left his children so long without him and so helpless. "I will go and find him," I said. "I would have started long ago," he answered me, but I did not know how to set out. I do not know where the door is!" "How can you have been so long in the house," I said, "and not know where the door is?" "I know all the doors to the house as well as, perhaps better than you my boy; but they are all doors out, and what we want is a door in, that we may get into the world into which I believe your father has entered." "I do not understand you," I returned. "There out there is the world, and the way into the world is out at the {end 7} hall-door." He made me no answer for a moment or two, but leaned his head on his hand and his elbow on one of the bookshelves. The red glow of a setting sun shone into the room, and lit washed with a rosy light all the gilded titles & backs of the books around us. "Almost every one of these books is a door into another world than that the hall-door opens on," he said. "But," he went on, "look here:"-and again he closed his eyes:-"what world is the image of your father in now and I see him with my heart swelling with love toward him?" "Oh, that's a world inside your own head!" I answered, with a little laugh of amused unbelief. "Just so," he replied. "Then you allow there is at least one other world your hall-door does not open upon-"the world of my thoughts?" "Yes, that!" I replied, with childish scorn of being found in any blunder." "Think a little," he resumed; "nothing that the hall-door opens upon ever was or ever could be yours except it got into the world that is inside your head-and yet the world inside your small head is ever so much bigger than the world to which the hall-door is the door!" "My father ain't in it!" I answered. "Then you will never find him." "I will find him," I replied. "Just you show me where you saw him last and I will find him." "I will show you where [/] stood when I saw him," he answered. "But believe me there are more worlds and kinds of worlds than you have ever thought of or will be able to think of for many years to come. You shall not say, however, that I did not do what I could to help you. For the door-that you must find. I cannot show it to you, {end 8} nor do I believe can any man. Come, however, I will show you what I you ask of y me." He turned as he spoke and led the way from the library. I followed in silence. As I walked behind him I saw what a curious-looking old man he was. When I stood with him face to face I thought he was a little bald man; but now that his back was to me, I saw that he was very thin and very tall, and at the back of his head the hair hung down long, and was as white as snow. He had a long garment on, whether a coat or a dressing gown I could not tell, but instead of the slippers one might have looked for, he had on a pair of stout shoes. I learned afterwards that he was almost always out of doors, and that, although he was the librarian he was very seldom seen with a book in his hand. Out of doors they said he never seemed to be looking at anything, and indoors when anyone saw him he was always writing, but no one ever took a letter to the post for him or saw what he had written. Up and up the stairs he went-at last up short stairs here and there, with passages between, which I had not known to be in the house at all, and at last into a waste empty place immediately under the great slabs of stone that formed the roof of the old house. "Take care how you cross here," he said, speaking for the first time since we left the library, "for there is no floor: you must keep on the beams." I was not afraid, and was steady enough to follow without a false step til we came to a small door which he opened, and then I saw myself in the place he had before mentioned. It was a great low room, {end 9} with what looked like a closet built in the middle of it, from which rose something that looked like a conical chimney and went right up through the roof. Into the closet I went, and there we found ourselves almost in the dark. "That is where I saw him last, at least that is the direction in which I saw him," said my companion, and pointed. I looked. There was just light enough for me to see before me what looked a mirror, rather, but not very large-about the size of an old-fashioned door to an unimportant room. I saw my own face and figure, and those of my strange guide reflected in it. "I think you are amusing yourself with me, sir!" I said, but felt as I said it a little frightened; the place and everything in it seemed so solitary and so strange. "That is nothing but a common old fashioned mirror." For I had knew, as my eyes got more accustomed to the dim light, that I had often seen such a mirror in other rooms of the house, though indeed this was larger than any I had seen before-with a great black eagle with outspread wings on the top of it. "Yes, he answered, "you are quite right. There is nothing very peculiar about the mirror; there are others very like it in the house. All the difference lies in the kind of light that falls upon it." "Light!" I returned, "there is no light to fall on any mirror here!" "You will soon see how far you are mistaken!" he answered. With that he pulled a small chain, and I heard a creaking, and saw that the thing like a chimney that went through the roof began to turn round. The old gentleman looked at his watch. {end 10)