The undulating and silent well,
And rippling rivulet, and evening gloom,
Now deepening the dark shades, for speech assuming,
Held commune with him; as if he and it
Were all that was."
I awoke one morning with the usual perplexity of mind which
accompanies the return of consciousness. As I lay and looked
through the eastern window of my room, a faint streak of
peach-colour, dividing a cloud that just rose above the low swell
of the horizon, announced the approach of the sun. As my thoughts,
which a deep and apparently dreamless sleep had dissolved, began
again to assume crystalline forms, the strange events of the
foregoing night presented themselves anew to my wondering
consciousness. The day before had been my one-and-twentieth
birthday. Among other ceremonies investing me with my legal rights,
the keys of an old secretary, in which my father had kept his
private papers, had been delivered up to me. As soon as I was left
alone, I ordered lights in the chamber where the secretary stood,
the first lights that had been there for many a year; for, since my
father's death, the room had been left undisturbed. But, as if the
darkness had been too long an inmate to be easily expelled, and had
dyed with blackness the walls to which, bat-like, it had clung,
these tapers served but ill to light up the gloomy hangings, and
seemed to throw yet darker shadows into the hollows of the
deep-wrought cornice. All the further portions of the room lay
shrouded in a mystery whose deepest folds were gathered around the
dark oak cabinet which I now approached with a strange mingling of
reverence and curiosity. Perhaps, like a geologist, I was about to
turn up to the light some of the buried strata of the human world,
with its fossil remains charred by passion and petrified by tears.
Perhaps I was to learn how my father, whose personal history was
unknown to me, had woven his web of story; how he had found the
world, and how the world had left him. Perhaps I was to find only
the records of lands and moneys, how gotten and how secured; coming
down from strange men, and through troublous times, to me, who knew
little or nothing of them all. To solve my speculations, and to
dispel the awe which was fast gathering around me as if the dead
were drawing near, I approached the secretary; and having found the
key that fitted the upper portion, I opened it with some
difficulty, drew near it a heavy high-backed chair, and sat down
before a multitude of little drawers and slides and pigeon-holes.
But the door of a little cupboard in the centre especially
attracted my interest, as if there lay the secret of this
long-hidden world. Its key I found.
One of the rusty hinges cracked and broke as I opened the door:
it revealed a number of small pigeon-holes. These, however, being
but shallow compared with the depth of those around the little
cupboard, the outer ones reaching to the back of the desk, I
concluded that there must be some accessible space behind; and
found, indeed, that they were formed in a separate framework, which
admitted of the whole being pulled out in one piece. Behind, I
found a sort of flexible portcullis of small bars of wood laid
close together horizontally. After long search, and trying many
ways to move it, I discovered at last a scarcely projecting point
of steel on one side. I pressed this repeatedly and hard with the
point of an old tool that was lying near, till at length it yielded
inwards; and the little slide, flying up suddenly, disclosed a
chamber—empty, except that in one corner lay a little heap of
withered rose-leaves, whose long-lived scent had long since
departed; and, in another, a small packet of papers, tied with a
bit of ribbon, whose colour had gone with the rose-scent. Almost
fearing to touch them, they witnessed so mutely to the law of
oblivion, I leaned back in my chair, and regarded them for a
moment; when suddenly there stood on the threshold of the little
chamber, as though she had just emerged from its depth, a tiny
woman-form, as perfect in shape as if she had been a small Greek
statuette roused to life and motion. Her dress was of a kind that
could never grow old-fashioned, because it was simply natural: a
robe plaited in a band around the neck, and confined by a belt
about the waist, descended to her feet. It was only afterwards,
however, that I took notice of her dress, although my surprise was
by no means of so overpowering a degree as such an apparition might
naturally be expected to excite. Seeing, however, as I suppose,
some astonishment in my countenance, she came forward within a yard
of me, and said, in a voice that strangely recalled a sensation of
twilight, and reedy river banks, and a low wind, even in this
"Anodos, you never saw such a little creature before, did
"No," said I; "and indeed I hardly believe I do now."
"Ah! that is always the way with you men; you believe
nothing the first time; and it is foolish enough to let mere
repetition convince you of what you consider in itself
unbelievable. I am not going to argue with you, however, but to
grant you a wish."
Here I could not help interrupting her with the foolish
speech, of which, however, I had no cause to repent—
"How can such a very little creature as you grant or refuse
"Is that all the philosophy you have gained in one-and-twenty
years?" said she. "Form is much, but size is nothing. It is a mere
matter of relation. I suppose your six-foot lordship does not feel
altogether insignificant, though to others you do look small beside
your old Uncle Ralph, who rises above you a great half-foot at
least. But size is of so little consequence with old me, that I may
as well accommodate myself to your foolish prejudices."
So saying, she leapt from the desk upon the floor, where she
stood a tall, gracious lady, with pale face and large blue eyes.
Her dark hair flowed behind, wavy but uncurled, down to her waist,
and against it her form stood clear in its robe of white.
"Now," said she, "you will believe me."
Overcome with the presence of a beauty which I could now
perceive, and drawn towards her by an attraction irresistible as
incomprehensible, I suppose I stretched out my arms towards her,
for she drew back a step or two, and said—
"Foolish boy, if you could touch me, I should hurt you. Besides,
I was two hundred and thirty-seven years old, last Midsummer eve;
and a man must not fall in love with his grandmother, you
"But you are not my grandmother," said I.
"How do you know that?" she retorted. "I dare say you know
something of your great-grandfathers a good deal further back than
that; but you know very little about your great-grandmothers on
either side. Now, to the point. Your little sister was reading a
fairy-tale to you last night."
"When she had finished, she said, as she closed the book, 'Is
there a fairy-country, brother?' You replied with a sigh, 'I
suppose there is, if one could find the way into it.'"
"I did; but I meant something quite different from what you seem
"Never mind what I seem to think. You shall find the way into
Fairy Land to-morrow. Now look in my eyes."
Eagerly I did so. They filled me with an unknown longing. I
remembered somehow that my mother died when I was a baby. I looked
deeper and deeper, till they spread around me like seas, and I sank
in their waters. I forgot all the rest, till I found myself at the
window, whose gloomy curtains were withdrawn, and where I stood
gazing on a whole heaven of stars, small and sparkling in the
moonlight. Below lay a sea, still as death and hoary in the moon,
sweeping into bays and around capes and islands, away, away, I knew
not whither. Alas! it was no sea, but a low bog burnished by the
moon. "Surely there is such a sea somewhere!" said I to myself. A
low sweet voice beside me replied—
"In Fairy Land, Anodos."
I turned, but saw no one. I closed the secretary, and went to my
own room, and to bed.
All this I recalled as I lay with half-closed eyes. I was soon
to find the truth of the lady's promise, that this day I should
discover the road into Fairy Land.