by John Buchan
LEITHEN told me this story one evening in early September
as we sat beside the pony track which gropes its way from
Glenavelin up the Correi na Sidhe. I had arrived that
afternoon from the south, while he had been taking an
off-day from a week's stalking, so we had walked up the glen
together after tea to get the news of the forest. A rifle
was out on the Correi na Sidhe beat, and a thin spire of
smoke had risen from the top of Sgurr Dearg to show that a
stag had been killed at the burn-head. The lumpish hill pony
with its deer-saddle had gone up the Correi in a gillie's
charge, while we followed at leisure, picking our way among
the loose granite rocks and the patches of wet bogland. The
track climbed high on one of the ridges of Sgurr Dearg, till
it hung over a caldron of green glen with the Alt-na-Sidhe
churning in its linn a thousand feet below. It was a
breathless evening, I remember, with a pale-blue sky just
clearing from the haze of the day. West-wind weather may
make the North, even in September, no bad imitation of the
Tropics, and I sincerely pitied the man who all these
stifling hours had been toiling on the screes of Sgurr
Dearg. By-and-by we sat down on a bank of heather, and idly
watched the trough swimming at our feet. The clatter of the
pony's hoofs grew fainter, the drone of bees had gone, even
the midges seemed to have forgotten their calling. No place
on earth can be so deathly still as a deer-forest early in
the season before the stags have begun roaring, for there
are no sheep with their homely noises, and only the rare
croak of a raven breaks the silence. The hillside was far
from sheer one could have walked down with a little
care but something in the shape of the hollow and the
remote gleam of white water gave it an air of extraordinary
depth and space. There was a shimmer left from the day's
heat, which invested bracken and rock and scree with a
curious airy unreality. One could almost have believed that
the eye had tricked the mind, that all was mirage, that five
yards from the path the solid earth fell away into
nothingness. I have a bad head, and instinctively I drew
farther back into the heather. Leithen's eyes were looking,
vacantly before him.
"Did you ever know Hollond?" he asked.
Then he laughed shortly. "I don't know why I
asked that, but somehow this place reminded me of Hollond.
That glimmering hollow looks as if it were the beginning of
eternity. It must be eerie to live with the feeling always
Leithen seemed disinclined for further
exercise. He lit a pipe and smoked quietly for a little.
"Odd that you didn't know Hollond. You must have heard his
name. I thought you amused yourself with metaphysics."
Then I remembered. There had been an erratic
genius who had written some articles in 'Mind' on that
dreary subject, the mathematical conception of infinity. Men
had praised them to me, but I confess I never quite
understood their argument. "Wasn't he some sort of
mathematical professor?" I asked.
"He was, and, in his own way, a tremendous
swell. He wrote a book on Number which has translations in
every European language. He is dead now, and the Royal
Society founded a medal in his honour. But I wasn't thinking
of that side of him."
It was the time and place for a story, for
the pony would not be back for an hour. So I asked Leithen
about the other side of Hollond which was recalled to him by
Correi na Sidhe. He seemed a little unwilling to speak....
"I wonder if you will understand it. You
ought to, of course, better than me, for you know something
of philosophy. But it took me a long time to get the hang of
it, and I can't give you any kind of explanation. He was my
fag at Eton, and when I began to get on at the Bar I was
able to advise him on one or two private matters, so that he
rather fancied my legal ability. He came to me with his
story because he had to tell someone, and he wouldn't trust
a colleague. He said he didn't want a scientist to know, for
scientists were either pledged to their own theories and
wouldn't understand, or, if they understood, would get ahead
of him in his researches. He wanted a lawyer, he said, who
was accustomed to weighing evidence. That was good sense,
for evidence must always be judged by the same laws, and I
suppose in the long-run the most abstruse business comes
down to a fairly simple deduction from certain data. Anyhow,
that was the way he used to talk, and I listened to him, for
I liked the man, and had an enormous respect for his brains.
At Eton he sluiced down all the mathematics they could give
him, and he was an astonishing swell at Cambridge. He was a
simple fellow, too, and talked no more jargon than he could
help. I used to climb with him in the Alps now and then, and
you would never have guessed that he had any thoughts beyond
getting up steep rocks.
"It was at Chamonix, I remember, that I first
got a hint of the matter that was filling his mind. We had
been taking an off-day, and were sitting in the hotel
garden, watching the Aiguilles getting purple in the
twilight. Chamonix always makes me choke a little it is so
crushed in by those great snow masses. I said something
about it said I liked open spaces like the Gornergrat or
the Bel Alp better. He asked me why: if it was the
difference of the air, or merely the wider horizon? I said
it was the sense of not being crowded, of living in an empty
world. He repeated the word 'empty' and laughed.
"'By "empty" you mean,' he said,
'where things don't knock up against you?'
"I told him No. I meant just empty, void,
nothing but blank æther.
"'You don't knock up against things here, and
the air is as good as you want. It can't be the lack of
ordinary emptiness you feel.'
"I agreed that the word needed explaining. 'I
suppose it is mental restlessness,' I said. 'I like to feel
that for a tremendous distance there is nothing round me.
Why, I don't know. Some men are built the other way and have
a terror of space.'
"He said that that was better. 'It is a
personal fancy, and depends on your knowing that
there is nothing between you and the top of the Dent
Blanche. And you know because your eyes tell you there is
nothing. Even if you were blind, you might have a sort of
sense about adjacent matter. Blind men often have it. But in
any case, whether got from instinct or sight, the
knowledge is what matters.'
"Hollond was embarking on a Socratic dialogue
in which I could see little point. I told him so, and he
"'I am not sure that I am very clear myself.
But yes there is a point. Supposing you knew not
by sight or by instinct, but by sheer intellectual
knowledge, as I know the truth of a mathematical
proposition that what we call empty space was full,
crammed. Not with lumps of what we call matter like hills
and houses, but with things as real as real to the mind.
Would you still feel crowded?'
"'No,' I said, 'I don't think so. It is only
what we call matter that signifies. It would be just as well
not to feel crowded by the other thing, for there would be
no escape from it. But what are you getting at? Do you mean
atoms or electric currents or what?'
"He said he wasn't thinking about that sort
of thing, and began to talk of another subject.
"Next night, when we were pigging it at the
Géant cabane, he started again on the same
tack. He asked me how I accounted for the fact that animals
could find their way back over great tracts of unknown
country. I said I supposed it was the homing instinct.
"'Rubbish, man,' he said. 'That's only
another name for the puzzle, not an explanation. There must
be some reason for it. They must know something
that we cannot understand. Tie a cat in a bag and take it
fifty miles by train and it will make its way home. That cat
has some clue that we haven't.'
"I was tired and sleepy, and told him that I
did not care a rush about the psychology of cats. But he was
not to be snubbed, and went on talking.
"'How if Space is really full of things we
cannot see and as yet do not know? How if all animals and
some savages have a cell in their brain or a nerve which
responds to the invisible world? How if all Space be full of
these landmarks, not material in our sense, but quite real?
A dog barks at nothing, a wild beast makes an aimless
circuit. Why? Perhaps because Space is made up of corridors
and alleys, ways to travel and things to shun? For all we
know, to a greater intelligence than ours the top of Mont
Blanc may be as crowded as Piccadilly Circus.'
"But at that point I fell asleep and left
Hollond to repeat his questions to a guide who knew no
English and a snoring porter.
"Six months later, one foggy January
afternoon, Hollond rang me up at the Temple and proposed to
come to see me that night after dinner. I thought he wanted
to talk Alpine shop, but he turned up in Duke Street about
nine with a kit-bag full of papers. He was an odd fellow to
look at a yellowish face with the skin stretched tight on
the cheekbones, clean-shaven, a sharp chin which he kept
poking forward, and deep-set, greyish eyes. He was a hard
fellow, too, always in pretty good condition, which was
remarkable considering how he slaved for nine months out of
the twelve. He had a quiet, slow-spoken manner, but that
night I saw that he was considerably excited.
"He said that he had come to me because we
were old friends. He proposed to tell me a tremendous
secret. 'I must get another mind to work on it or I'll go
crazy. I don't want a scientist. I want a plain man.'
"Then he fixed me with a look like a tragic
actor's. 'Do you remember that talk we had in August at
Chamonix about Space? I daresay you thought I was playing
the fool. So I was in a sense, but I was feeling my way
towards something which has been in my mind for ten years.
Now I have got it, and you must hear about it. You may take
my word that it's a pretty startling discovery.'
"I lit a pipe and told him to go ahead,
warning him that I knew about as much science as the
"I am bound to say that it took me a long
time to understand what he meant. He began by saying that
everybody thought of Space as an 'empty homogeneous medium.'
'Never mind at present what the ultimate constituents of
that medium are. We take it as a finished product, and we
think of it as mere extension, something without any quality
at all. That is the view of civilised man. You will find all
the philosophers taking it for granted. Yes, but every
living thing does not take that view. An animal, for
instance. It feels a kind of quality in Space. It can find
its way over new country, because it perceives certain
landmarks, not necessarily material, but perceptible, or if
you like intelligible. Take an Australian savage. He has the
same power, and, I believe, for the same reason. He is
conscious of intelligible landmarks.'
"'You mean what people call a sense of
direction,' I put in.
"'Yes, but what in Heaven's name is a sense
of direction? The phrase explains nothing. However
incoherent the mind of the animal or the savage may be, it
is there somewhere, working on some data. I've been all
through the psychological and anthropological side of the
business, and after you eliminate clues from sight and
hearing and smell and half-conscious memory there
remains a solid lump of the
"Hollond's eye had kindled, and he sat
doubled up in his chair, dominating me with a finger.
"'Here, then, is a power which man is
civilising himself out of. Call it anything you like, but
you must admit that it is a power. Don't you see that it is
a perception of another kind of reality that we are leaving
behind us? . . . Well, you know the way nature works. The
wheel comes full circle, and what we think we have lost we
regain in a higher form. So for a long time I have been
wondering whether the civilised mind could not re-create for
itself this lost gift, the gift of seeing the quality of
Space. I mean that I wondered whether the scientific modern
brain could not get to the stage of realising that Space is
not an empty homogeneous medium, but full of intricate
differences, intelligible and real, though not with our
"I found all this very puzzling, and he had
to repeat it several times before I got a glimpse of what he
was talking about.
"'I've wondered for a long time,' he went on,
'but now, quite suddenly, I have begun to know.' He stopped
and asked me abruptly if I knew much about mathematics.
"'It's a pity,' he said, 'but the main point
is not technical, though I wish you could appreciate the
beauty of some of my proofs.' Then he began to tell me about
his last six months' work. I should have mentioned that he
was a brilliant physicist besides other things. All Hollond's
tastes were on the borderlands of sciences, where
mathematics fades into metaphysics and physics merges in the
abstrusest kind of mathematics. Well, it seems he had been
working for years at the ultimate problem of matter, and
especially of that rarefied matter we call æther or
space. I forget what his view was atoms or molecules or
electric waves. If he ever told me I have forgotten, but I'm
not certain that I ever knew. However, the point was that
these ultimate constituents were dynamic and mobile, not a
mere passive medium but a medium in constant movement and
change. He claimed to have discovered by ordinary inductive
experiment that the constituents of æther possessed
certain functions, and moved in certain figures obedient to
certain mathematical laws. Space, I gathered, was
perpetually 'forming fours' in some fancy way.
"Here he left his physics and became the
mathematician. Among his mathematical discoveries had been
certain curves or figures or something whose behaviour
involved a new dimension. I gathered that this wasn't the
ordinary Fourth Dimension that people talk of, but that
fourth-dimensional inwardness or involution was part of it.
The explanation lay in the pile of manuscripts he left with
me, but though I tried honestly I couldn't get the hang of
it. My mathematics stopped with desperate finality just as
he got into his subject.
"His point was that the constituents of Space
moved according to these new mathematical figures of his.
They were always changing, but the principles of their
change were as fixed as the law of gravitation. Therefore,
if you once grasped these principles you knew the contents
of the void. What do you make of that?"
I said that it seemed to me a reasonable
enough argument, but that it got one very little way
forward. "A man," I said, "might know the contents
of Space and the laws of their arrangement and yet be unable to
see anything more than his fellows. It is a purely academic
knowledge. His mind knows it as the result of many
deductions, but his senses perceive nothing."
Leithen laughed. "Just what I said to
Hollond. He asked the opinion of my legal mind. I said I
could not pronounce on his argument, but that I could point
out that he had established no trait d'union between
the intellect which understood and the senses which
perceived. It was like a blind man with immense knowledge
but no eyes and therefore no peg to hang his knowledge on
and make it useful. He had not explained his savage or his
cat. 'Hang it, man,' I said, 'before you can appreciate the
existence of your Spacial forms you have to go through
elaborate experiments and deductions. You can't be doing
that every minute. Therefore you don't get any nearer to the
use of the sense you say that man once possessed, though you
can explain it a bit."
"What did he say?" I asked.
"The funny thing was that he never seemed to
see my difficulty. When I kept bringing him back to it he
shied off with a new wild theory of perception. He argued
that the mind can live in a world of realities without any
sensuous stimulus to connect them with the world of our
ordinary life. Of course that wasn't my point. I supposed
that this world of Space was real enough to him, but I
wanted to know how he got there. He never answered me. He
was the typical Cambridge man, you know dogmatic about
uncertainties, but curiously diffident about the obvious. He
laboured to get me to understand the notion of his
mathematical forms, which I was quite willing to take on
trust from him. Some queer things he said, too. He took our
feeling about Left and Right as an example of our instinct
for the quality of Space. But when I objected that Left and
Right varied with each object, and only existed in
connection with some definite material thing, he said that
that was exactly what he meant. It was an example of the
mobility of the Spacial forms. Do you see any sense in
I shook my head. It seemed to me pure
"And then he tried to show me what he called
the 'involution of Space,' by taking two points on a piece
of paper. The points were a foot away when the paper was
flat, but they coincided when it was doubled up. He said
that there were no gaps between the figures, for the medium
was continuous, and he took as an illustration the loops on
a cord. You are to think of a cord always looping and
unlooping itself according to certain mathematical laws. Oh,
I tell you, I gave up trying to follow him. And he was so
desperately in earnest all the time. By his account Space
was a sort of mathematical pandemonium."
Leithen stopped to refill his pipe, and I
mused upon the ironic fate which had compelled a
mathematical genius to make his sole confidant of a
philistine lawyer, and induced that lawyer to repeat it
confusedly to an ignoramus at twilight on a Scotch hill. As
told by Leithen it was a very halting tale.
"But there was one thing I could see very
clearly," Leithen went on," and that was Hollond's own
case. This crowded world of Space was perfectly real to him. How
he had got to it I do not know. Perhaps his mind, dwelling
constantly on the problem, had unsealed some atrophied cell
and restored the old instinct. Anyhow, he was living his
daily life with a foot in each world.
"He often came to see me, and after the first
hectic discussions he didn't talk much. There was no
noticeable change in him a little more abstracted perhaps.
He would walk in the street or come into a room with a quick
look round him, and sometimes for no earthly reason he would
swerve. Did you ever watch a cat crossing a room? It sidles
along by the furniture and walks over an open space of
carpet as if it were picking its way among obstacles. Well,
Hollond behaved like that, but he had always been counted a
little odd, and nobody noticed it but me.
"I knew better than to chaff him, and we had
stopped argument, so there wasn't much to be said. But
sometimes he would give me news about his experiences. The
whole thing was perfectly clear and scientific and
above-board, and nothing creepy about it. You know how I
hate the washy supernatural stuff they give us nowadays.
Hollond was well and fit, with an appetite like a hunter.
But as he talked, sometimes well, you know I haven't much
in the way of nerves or imagination but I used to get a
little eerie. Used to feel the solid earth dissolving round
me. It was the opposite of vertigo, if you understand me a
sense of airy realities crowding in on you crowding the
mind, that is, not the body.
"I gathered from Hollond that he was always
conscious of corridors and halls and alleys in Space,
shifting, but shifting according to inexorable laws. I never
could get quite clear as to what this consciousness was
like. When I asked he used to look puzzled and worried and
helpless. I made out from him that one landmark involved a
sequence, and once given a bearing from an object you could
keep the direction without a mistake. He told me he could
easily if he wanted, go in a dirigible from the top of Mont
Blanc to the top of Snowdon in the thickest fog and without
a compass, if he were given the proper angle to start from.
I confess I didn't follow that myself. Material objects had
nothing to do with the Spacial forms, for a table or a bed
in our world might be placed across a corridor of Space. The
forms played their game independent of our kind of reality.
But the worst of it was, that if you kept your mind too much
in one world you were apt to Forget about the other and
Hollond was always barking his shins on stones and chairs
"He told me all this quite simply and
frankly. Remember his mind and no other part of him lived in
his new world. He said it gave him an odd sense of
detachment to sit in a room among people, and to know that
nothing there but himself had any relation at all to the
infinite strange world of Space that flowed around them. He
would listen, he said, to a great man talking, with one eye
on the cat on the rug, thinking to himself how much more the
cat knew than the man."
"How long was it before he went mad?" I
It was a foolish question, and made Leithen
cross. "He never went mad in your sense. My dear fellow,
you're very much wrong if you think there was anything
pathological about him then. The man was brilliantly sane.
His mind was as keen as a keen sword. I couldn't understand
him, but I could judge of his sanity right enough."
I asked if it made him happy or miserable.
"At first I think it made him uncomfortable.
He was restless because he knew too much and too little. The
unknown pressed in on his mind, as bad air weighs on the
lungs. Then it lightened, and he accepted the new world in
the same sober practical way that he took other things. I
think that the free exercise of his mind in a pure medium
gave him a feeling of extraordinary power and ease. His eyes
used to sparkle when he talked. And another odd thing he
told me. He was a keen rock-climber, but, curiously enough,
he had never a very good head. Dizzy heights always worried
him, though he managed to keep hold on himself. But now all
that had gone. The sense of the fulness of Space made him as
happy happier I believe with his legs dangling into
eternity, as sitting before his own study fire.
"I remember saying that it was all rather
like the mediæval wizards who made their spells by
means of numbers and figures.
"He caught me up at once, 'Not numbers,' he
said. 'Number has no place in Nature. It is an invention of
the human mind to atone for a bad memory. But figures are a
different matter. All the mysteries of the world are in
them, and the old magicians knew that at least, if they knew
"He had only one grievance. He complained
that it was terribly lonely. 'It is the Desolation,' he
would quote, 'spoken of by Daniel the prophet.' He would
spend hours travelling those eerie shifting corridors of
Space with no hint of another human soul. How could there
be? It was a world of pure reason, where human personality
had no place. What puzzled me was why he should feel the
absence of this. One wouldn't, you know, in an intricate
problem of geometry or a game of chess. I asked him, but he
didn't understand the question. I puzzled over it a good
deal, for it seemed to me that if Hollond felt lonely, there
must be more in this world of his than we imagined. I began
to wonder if there was any truth in fads like psychical
research. Also, I was not so sure that he was as normal as I
had thought: it looked as if his nerves might be going bad.
"Oddly enough, Hollond was getting on the
same track himself. He had discovered, so he said, that in
sleep everybody now and then lived in this new world of his.
You know how one dreams of triangular railway platforms with
trains running simultaneously down all three sides and not
colliding. Well, this sort of cantrip was 'common form,' as
we say at the Bar, in Hollond's Space, and he was very
curious about the why and wherefore of Sleep. He began to
haunt psychological laboratories, where they experiment with
the charwoman and the odd-man, and he used to go up to
Cambridge for séances. It was a foreign atmosphere to
him, and I don't think he was very happy in it. He found so
many charlatans that he used to get angry, and declare he
would be better employed at Mothers' Meetings!"
From far up the Glen came the sound of the
pony's hoofs. The stag had been loaded up, and the gillies
were returning. Leithen looked at his watch. "We'd better
wait and see the beast," he said.
. . . "Well, nothing happened for more than
a year. Then one evening in May he burst into my rooms in
high excitement. You understand quite clearly that there was
no suspicion of horror or fright or anything unpleasant
about this world he had discovered. It was simply a series
of interesting and difficult problems. All this time Hollond
had been rather extra well and cheery. But when he came in I
thought I noticed a different look in his eyes, something
puzzled and diffident and apprehensive.
"'There's a queer performance going on in the
other world,' he said. 'It's unbelievable. I never dreamed
of such a thing. I I don't quite know how to put it, and I
don't know how to explain it, but but I am becoming aware
that there are other beings other minds moving in Space
"I suppose I ought to have realised then that
things were beginning to go wrong. But it was very
difficult, he was so rational and anxious to make it all
clear. I asked him how he knew. There could, of course, on
his own showing be no change in that world, for the forms of
Space moved and existed under inexorable laws. He said he
found his own mind failing him at points. There would come
over him a sense of fear intellectual fear and weakness, a
sense of something else, quite alien to Space, thwarting
him. Of course he could only describe his impressions very
lamely, for they were purely of the mind, and he had no
material peg to hang them on, so that I could realise them.
But the gist of it was that he had been gradually becoming
conscious of what he called 'Presences' in his world. They
had no effect on Space did not leave footprints in its
corridors, for instance but they affected his mind. There
was some mysterious contact established between him and
them. I asked him if the affection was unpleasant, and he
said 'No, not exactly.' But I could see a hint of fear in
"Think of it. Try to realise what
intellectual fear is. I can't, but it is conceivable. To you
and me fear implies pain to ourselves or some other, and
such pain is always in the last resort pain of the flesh.
Consider it carefully and you will see that it is so. But
imagine fear so sublimated and transmuted as to be the
tension of pure spirit. I can't realise it, but I think it
possible. I don't pretend to understand how Hollond got to
know about these Presences. But there was no doubt about the
fact. He was positive, and he wasn't in the least mad not
in our sense. In that very month he published his book on
Number, and gave a German professor who attacked it a most
tremendous public trouncing.
"I know what you are going to say, that the
fancy was a weakening of the mind from within. I admit I
should have thought of that, but he looked so confoundedly
sane and able that it seemed ridiculous. He kept asking me
my opinion, as a lawyer, on the facts he offered. It was the
oddest case ever put before me, but I did my best for him. I
dropped all my own views of sense and nonsense. I told him
that, taking all that he had told me as fact, the Presences
might be either ordinary minds traversing Space in sleep; or
minds such as his which had independently captured the sense
of Space's quality; or, finally, the spirits of just men
made perfect, behaving as psychical researchers think they
do. It was a ridiculous task to set a prosaic man, and I
wasn't quite serious. But Hollond was serious enough.
"He admitted that all three explanations were
conceivable, but he was very doubtful about the first. The
projection of the spirit into Space during sleep, he
thought, was a faint and feeble thing, and these were
powerful Presences. With the second and the third he was
rather impressed. I suppose I should have seen what was
happening and tried to stop it; at least, looking back that
seems to have been my duty. But it was difficult to think
that anything was wrong with Hollond; indeed the odd thing
is that all this time the idea of madness never entered my
head. I rather backed him up. Somehow the thing took my
fancy, though I thought it moonshine at the bottom of my
heart. I enlarged on the pioneering before him. 'Think,' I
told him, 'what may be waiting for you. You may discover the
meaning of Spirit. You may open up a new world, as rich as
the old one, but imperishable. You may prove to mankind
their immortality and deliver them for ever from the fear of
death. Why, man, you are picking at the lock of all the
"But Hollond did not cheer up. He seemed
strangely languid and dispirited. 'That is all true enough,'
he said, 'if you are right, if your alternatives are
exhaustive. But suppose they are something else, something .
. .' What that 'something' might be he had apparently no
idea, and very soon he went away.
"He said another thing before he left. He
asked me if I ever read poetry, and I said, Not often. Nor
did he: but he had picked up a little book somewhere and
found a man who knew about the Presences. I think his name
was Traherne, one of the seventeenth-century fellows. He
quoted a verse which stuck to my fly-paper memory. It ran
something like this:
"'Within the region of the air,
Compassed about with Heavens fair,
Great tracts of lands there may be found,
Where many numerous hosts,
In those far distant coasts,
For other great and glorious ends
Inhabit, my yet unknown friends.'
Hollond was positive he did not mean angels
or anything of the sort. I told him that Traherne evidently
took a cheerful view of them. He admitted that, but added:
'He had religion, you see. He believed that everything was
for the best. I am not a man of faith, and can only take
comfort from what I understand. I'm in the dark, I tell
"Next week I was busy with the Chilian
Arbitration case, and saw nobody for a couple of months.
Then one evening I ran against Hollond on the Embankment,
and thought him looking horribly ill. He walked back with me
to my rooms, and hardly uttered one word all the way. I gave
him a stiff whisky-and-soda, which he gulped down
absent-mindedly. There was that strained, hunted look in his
eyes that you see in a frightened animal's. He was always
lean, but now he had fallen away to skin and bone.
"'I can't stay long,' he told me, 'for I'm
off to the Alps to-morrow and I have a lot to do.' Before
then he used to plunge readily into his story, but now he
seemed shy about beginning. Indeed I had to ask him a
"'Things are difficult,' he said
hesitatingly, 'and rather distressing. Do you know, Leithen,
I think you were wrong about about what I spoke to you of.
You said there must be one of three explanations. I am
beginning to think that there is a fourth....'
"He stopped for a second or two, then
suddenly leaned forward and gripped my knee so fiercely that
I cried out. 'That world is the Desolation,' he said in a
choking voice, 'and perhaps I am getting near the
Abomination of the Desolation that the old prophet spoke of.
I tell you, man, I am on the edge of a terror, a terror,' he
almost screamed, 'that no mortal can think of and live.'
"You can imagine that I was considerably
startled. It was lightning out of a clear sky. How the devil
could one associate horror with mathematics? I don't see it
yet.... At any rate, I You may be sure I cursed my
folly for ever pretending to take him seriously. The only
way would have been to have laughed him out of it at the
start. And yet I couldn't, you know it was too real and
reasonable. Anyhow, I tried a firm tone now, and told him
the whole thing was arrant raving bosh. I bade him be a man
and pull himself together. I made him dine with me, and took
him home, and got him into a better state of mind before he
went to bed. Next morning I saw him off at Charing Cross,
very haggard still, but better. He promised to write to me
The pony, with a great eleven-pointer
lurching athwart its back, was abreast of us, and from the
autumn mist came the sound of soft Highland voices. Leithen
and I got up to go, when we heard that the rifle had made
direct for the Lodge by a short-cut past the Sanctuary. In
the wake of the gillies we descended the Correi road into a
glen all swimming with dim purple shadows. The pony minced
and boggled; the stag's antlers stood out sharp on the rise
against a patch of sky, looking like a skeleton tree. Then
we dropped into a covert of birches and emerged on the white
Leithen's story had bored and puzzled me at
the start, but now it had somehow gripped my fancy. Space a
domain of endless corridors and Presences moving in them!
The world was not quite the same as an hour ago. It was the
hour, as the French say, "between dog and wolf," when
the mind is disposed to marvels. I thought of my stalking on the
morrow, and was miserably conscious that I would miss my
stag. Those airy forms would get in the way. Confound
Leithen and his yarns!
"I want to hear the end of your story,"
told him, as the lights of the Lodge showed half a mile
"The end was a tragedy," he said slowly.
don't much care to talk about it. But how was I to know? I
couldn't see the nerve going. You see I couldn't believe it
was all nonsense. If I could I might have seen. But I still
think there was something in it up to a point. Oh, I agree
he went mad in the end. It is the only explanation.
Something must have snapped in that fine brain, and he saw
the little bit more which we call madness. Thank God, you
and I are prosaic fellows....
"I was going out to Chamonix myself a week
later. But before I started I got a post-card from Hollond,
the only word from him. He had printed my name and address,
and on the other side had scribbled six words 'I know
at last God's mercy. H.G.H.' The handwriting was like
a sick man of ninety. I knew that things must be pretty bad
with my friend.
"I got to Chamonix in time for his funeral.
An ordinary climbing accident you probably read about it in
the papers. The Press talked about the toll which the Alps
took from intellectuals the usual rot. There was an
inquiry, but the facts were quite simple. The body was only
recognised by the clothes. He had fallen several thousand
"It seems that he had climbed for a few days
with one of the Kronigs and Dupont, and they had done some
hair-raising things on the Aiguilles. Dupont told me that
they had found a new route up the Montanvert side of the
Charmoz. He said that Hollond climbed like a 'diable
fou,' and if you know Dupont's standard of madness you
will see that the pace must have been pretty hot. 'But
monsieur was sick,' he added; 'his eyes were not good. And I
and Franz, we were grieved for him and a little afraid. We
were glad when he left us.'
"He dismissed the guides two days before his
death. The next day he spent in the hotel, getting his
affairs straight. He left everything in perfect order, but
not a line to a soul, not even to his sister. The following
day he set out alone about three in the morning for the
Grèpon. He took the road up the Nantillons glacier to
the Col, and then he must have climbed the Mummery crack by
himself. After that he left the ordinary route and tried a
new traverse across the Mer de Glace face. Somewhere near
the top he fell, and next day a party going to the Dent du
Requin found him on the rocks thousands of feet below.
"He had slipped in attempting the most
foolhardy course on earth, and there was a lot of talk about
the dangers of guideless climbing. But I guessed the truth,
and I am sure Dupont knew, though he held his tongue...."
We were now on the gravel of the drive, and I
was feeling better. The thought of dinner warmed my heart,
and drove out the eeriness of the twilight glen. The hour
between dog and wolf was passing. After all, there was a
gross and jolly earth at hand for wise men who had a mind to
Leithen, I saw, did not share my mood. He
looked glum and puzzled, as if his tale had aroused grim
memories. He finished it at the Lodge door.
". . . For, of course, he had gone out that
day to die. He had seen the something more, the little bit
too much, which plucks a man from his moorings. He had gone
so far into the land of pure spirit that he must needs go
further and shed the fleshly envelope that cumbered him. God
send that he found rest! I believe that he chose the
steepest cliff in the Alps for a purpose. He wanted to be
unrecognisable. He was a brave man and a good citizen. I
think he hoped that those who found him might not see the
look in his eyes."
STOCKS AND STONES.
[The Chief TOPIAWARI replieth to Sir
who upbraided him for idol worship.]
My gods, you say, are idols dumb,
Which men have wrought from wood or clay,
Carven with chisel, shaped with thumb,
A morning's task, an evening's play.
You bid me turn my face on high,
Where the blue heaven the sun enthrones,
And serve a viewless deity,
Nor make my bow to stocks and stones.
My lord, I am not skilled in wit
Nor wise in priestcraft, but I know
That fear to man is spur and bit
To jog and curb his fancies' flow.
He fears and loves, for love and awe
In mortal souls may well unite
To fashion forth the perfect law
Where Duty takes to wife Delight.
But on each man one Fear awaits
And chills his marrow like the dead.
He cannot worship what he hates
Or make a god of naked Dread.
The homeless winds that twist and race,
The heights of cloud that veer and roll
The unplumb'd Abyss, the drifts of Space
These are the fears that drain the soul.
Ye dauntless ones from out the sea
Fear nought. Perchance your gods are strong
To rule the air where grim things be,
And quell the deeps with all their throng.
For me, I dread not fire nor steel,
Nor aught that walks in open light,
But fend me from the endless Wheel
The voids of Space, the gulfs of Night.
Wherefore my brittle gods I make
Of friendly clay and kindly stone,
Wrought with my hands, to serve or break,
From crown to toe my work, my own.
My eyes can see, my nose can smell,
My fingers touch their painted face,
They weave their little homely spell
To warm me from the cold of Space.
My gods are wrought of common stuff
For human joys and mortal tears;
Weakly, perchance, yet staunch enough
To build a barrier 'gainst my fears,
Where, lowly but secure, I wait
And hear without the strange winds blow.
I cannot worship what I hate,
Or serve a god I dare not know.