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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    Wind, Wave, and Spirit

    The rambles I have described were mostly inland: when by
    chance they took us down to the sea our impressions and
    adventures appeared less interesting. Looking back on the
    holiday, it would seem to us a somewhat vacant time compared
    to one spent in wandering from village to village. I mean if
    we do not take into account that first impression which the
    sea invariably makes on us on returning to it after a long
    absence--the shock of recognition and wonder and joy as if we
    had been suffering from loss of memory and it had now suddenly
    come back to us. That brief moving experience over, there is
    little the sea can give us to compare with the land. How
    could it be otherwise in our case, seeing that we were by it
    in a crowd, our movements and way of life regulated for us in
    places which appear like overgrown and ill-organized
    convalescent homes? There was always a secret intense dislike
    of all parasitic and holiday places, an uncomfortable feeling
    which made the pleasure seem poor and the remembrance of days
    so spent hardly worth dwelling on. And as we are able to keep
    in or throw out of our minds whatever we please, being
    autocrats in our own little kingdom, I elected to cast away
    most of the memories of these comparatively insipid holidays.
    But not all, and of those I retain I will describe at least
    two, one in the present chapter on the East Anglian coast, the
    other later on.

    It was cold, though the month was August; it blew and the sky
    was grey and rain beginning to fall when we came down about
    noon to a small town on the Norfolk coast, where we hoped to
    find lodging and such comforts as could be purchased out of a
    slender purse. It was a small modern pleasure town of an
    almost startling appearance owing to the material used in
    building its straight rows of cottages and its ugly square
    houses and villas. This was an orange-brown stone found in
    the neighbourhood, the roofs being all of hard, black slate.
    I had never seen houses of such a colour, it was stronger,
    more glaring and aggressive than the reddest brick, and there
    was not a green thing to partially screen or soften it, nor
    did the darkness of the wet weather have any mitigating effect
    on it. The town was built on high ground, with an open grassy
    space before it sloping down to the cliff in which steps had
    been cut to give access to the beach, and beyond the cliff we
    caught sight of the grey, desolate, wind-vexed sea. But the
    rain was coming down more and more heavily, turning the
    streets into torrents, so that we began to envy those who had
    found a shelter even in so ugly a place. No one would take us
    in. House after house, street after street, we tried, and at
    every door with "Apartments to Let" over it where we knocked
    the same hateful landlady-face appeared with the same
    triumphant gleam in the fish-eyes and the same smile on the
    mouth that opened to tell us delightedly that she and the town
    were "full up"; that never had there been known such a rush of
    visitors; applicants were being turned away every hour from
    every door!

    After three miserable hours spent in this way we began
    inquiring at all the shops, and eventually at one were told of
    a poor woman in a small house in a street a good way back from
    the front who would perhaps be able to taken us in. To this
    place we went and knocked at a low door in a long blank wall
    in a narrow street; it was opened to us by a pale thin
    sad-looking woman in a rusty black gown, who asked us into a
    shabby parlour, and agreed to take us in until we could find
    something better. She had a gentle voice and was full of
    sympathy, and seeing our plight took us into the kitchen
    behind the parlour, which was living- and working-room as
    well, to dry ourselves by the fire.

    "The greatest pleasure in life," said once a magnificent young
    athlete, a great pedestrian, to me, "is to rest when you are
    tired." And, I should add, to dry and warm yourself by a big
    fire when wet and cold, and to eat and drink when you are
    hungry and thirsty. All these pleasures were now ours, for
    very soon tea and chops were ready for us; and so strangely
    human, so sister-like did this quiet helpful woman seem after
    our harsh experiences on that rough rainy day--that we
    congratulated ourselves on our good fortune in having found
    such a haven, and soon informed her that we wanted no "better
    place."

    She worked with her needle to support herself and her one
    child, a little boy of ten; and by and by when he came in
    pretty wet from some outdoor occupation we made his
    acquaintance and the discovery that he was a little boy of an
    original character. He was so much to his mother, who, poor
    soul, had nobody else in the world to love, that she was
    always haunted by the fear of losing him. He was her boy, the
    child of her body, exclusively her own, unlike all other boys,
    and her wise heart told her that if she put him in a school he
    would be changed so that she would no longer know him for her
    boy. For it is true that our schools are factories, with a
    machinery to unmake and remake, or fabricate, the souls of
    children much in the way in which shoddy is manufactured. You
    may see a thousand rags or garments of a thousand shapes and
    colours cast in to be boiled, bleached, pulled to pieces,
    combed and woven, and finally come out as a piece of cloth a
    thousand yards long of a uniform harmonious pattern, smooth,
    glossy, and respectable. His individuality gone, he would in
    a sense be lost to her; and although by nature a weak timid
    woman, though poor, and a stranger in a strange place, this
    thought, or feeling, or "ridiculous delusion" as most people
    would call it, had made her strong, and she had succeeded in
    keeping her boy out of school.

    Hers was an interesting story. Left alone in the world she
    had married one in her own class, very happily as she
    imagined. He was in some business in a country town, well off
    enough to provide a comfortable home, and he was very good; in
    fact, his one fault was that he was too good, too open-hearted
    and fond of associating with other good fellows like himself,
    and of pledging them in the cup that cheers and at the same
    time inebriates. Nevertheless, things went very well for a
    time, until the child was born, the business declined, and
    they began to be a little pinched. Then it occurred to her
    that she, too, might be able to do something. She started
    dressmaking, and as she had good taste and was clever and
    quick, her business soon prospered. This pleased him; it
    relieved him from the necessity of providing for the home,
    and enabled him to follow his own inclination, which was to
    take things easily--to be an idle man, with a little ready
    money in his pocket for betting and other pleasures. The
    money was now provided out of "our business." This state of
    things continued without any change, except that process of
    degeneration which continued in him, until the child was about
    four years old, when all at once one day he told her they were
    not doing as well as they might. She was giving far too much
    of her time and attention to domestic matters--to the child
    especially. Business was business--a thing it was hard for a
    woman to understand--and it was impossible for her to give her
    mind properly to it with her thoughts occupied with the child.
    It couldn't be done. Let the child be put away, he said, and
    the receipts would probably be doubled. He had been making
    inquiries and found that for a modest annual payment the boy
    could be taken proper care of at a distance by good decent
    people he had heard of.

    She had never suspected such a thought in his mind, and this
    proposal had the effect of a stunning blow. She answered not
    one word: he said his say and went out, and she knew she would
    not see him again for many hours, perhaps not for some days;
    she knew, too, that he would say no more to her on the
    subject, that it would all be arranged about the child with or
    without her consent. His will was law, her wishes nothing.
    For she was his wife and humble obedient slave; never had she
    pleaded with or admonished him and never complained, even
    when, after her long day of hard work, he came in at ten or
    eleven o'clock at night with several of his pals, all excited
    with drink and noisy as himself, to call for supper.
    Nevertheless she had been happy--intensely happy, because of
    the child. The love for the man she had married, wondering
    how one so bright and handsome and universally admired and
    liked could stoop to her, who had nothing but love and worship
    to give in return--that love was now gone and was not missed,
    so much greater and more satisfying was the love for her boy.
    And now she must lose him. Two or three silent miserable days
    passed by while she waited for the dreadful separation, until
    the thought of it became unendurable and she resolved to keep
    her child and sacrifice everything else. Secretly she
    prepared for flight, getting together the few necessary things
    she could carry; then, with the child in her arms, she stole
    out one evening and began her flight, which took her all
    across England at its widest part, and ended at this small
    coast town, the best hiding-place she could think of.

    The boy was a queer little fellow, healthy but colourless,
    with strangely beautiful grey eyes which, on first seeing
    them, almost startled one with their intelligence. He was shy
    and almost obstinately silent, but when I talked to him on
    certain subjects the intense suppressed interest he felt would
    show itself in his face, and by and by it would burst out in
    speech--an impetuous torrent of words in a high shrill voice.
    He reminded me of a lark in a cage. Watch it in its prison
    when the sun shines forth--when, like the captive falcon in
    Dante, it is "cheated by a gleam"--its wing-tremblings, and
    all its little tentative motions, how the excitement grows and
    grows in it, until, although shut up and flight denied it, the
    passion can no longer be contained and it bursts out in a
    torrent of shrill and guttural sounds, which, if it were free
    and soaring, would be its song. His passion was all for
    nature, and his mother out of her small earnings had managed
    to get quite a number of volumes together for him. These he
    read and re-read until he knew them by heart; and on Sundays,
    or any other day they could take, those two lonely ones would
    take a basket containing their luncheon, her work and a book
    or two, and set out on a long ramble along the coast to pass
    the day in some solitary spot among the sandhills.

    With these two, the gentle woman and her quiet boy over his
    book, and the kitchen fire to warm and dry us after each
    wetting, the bad weather became quite bearable although it
    lasted many days. And it was amazingly bad. The wind blew
    with a fury from the sea; it was hard to walk against it. The
    people in hundreds waited in their dull apartments for a lull,
    and when it came they poured out like hungry sheep from the
    fold, or like children from a school, swarming over the green
    slope down to the beach, to scatter far and wide over the
    sands. Then, in a little while; a new menacing blackness
    would come up out of the sea, and by and by a fresh storm of
    wind would send the people scuttling back into shelter. So it
    went on day after day, and when night came the sound of the
    ever-troubled sea grew louder, so that, shut up in our little
    rooms in that back street, we had it in our ears, except at
    intervals, when the wind howled loud enough to drown its great
    voice, and hurled tempests of rain and hail against the roofs
    and windows.

    To me the most amazing thing was the spectacle of the swifts.
    It was late for them, near the end of August; they should now
    have been far away on their flight to Africa; yet here they
    were, delaying on that desolate east coast in wind and wet,
    more than a hundred of them. It was strange to see so many at
    one spot, and I could only suppose that they had congregated
    previous to migration at that unsuitable place, and were being
    kept back by the late breeders, who had not yet been wrought
    up to the point of abandoning their broods. They haunted a
    vast ruinous old barn-like building near the front, which was
    probably old a century before the town was built, and about
    fifteen to twenty pairs had their nests under the eaves. Over
    this building they hung all day in a crowd, rising high to
    come down again at a frantic speed, and at each descent a few
    birds could be seen to enter the holes, while others rushed
    out to join the throng, and then all rose and came down again
    and swept round and round in a furious chase, shrieking as if
    mad. At all hours they drew me to that spot, and standing
    there, marvelling at their swaying power and the fury that
    possessed them, they appeared to me like tormented beings, and
    were like those doomed wretches in the halls of Eblis whose
    hearts were in a blaze of unquenchable fire, and who, every
    one with hands pressed to his breast, went spinning round in
    an everlasting agonized dance. They were tormented and crazed
    by the two most powerful instincts of birds pulling in
    opposite directions--the parental instinct and the passion of
    migration which called them to the south.

    In such weather, especially on that naked desolate coast,
    exposed to the fury of the winds, one marvels at our modern
    craze for the sea; not merely to come and gaze upon and listen
    to it, to renew our youth in its salt, exhilarating waters and
    to lie in delicious idleness on the warm shingle or mossy
    cliff; but to be always, for days and weeks and even for
    months, at all hours, in all weathers, close to it, with its
    murmur, "as of one in pain," for ever in our ears.

    Undoubtedly it is an unnatural, a diseased, want in us, the
    result of a life too confined and artificial in close dirty
    overcrowded cities. It is to satisfy this craving that towns
    have sprung up everywhere on our coasts and extended their
    ugly fronts for miles and leagues, with their tens of
    thousands of windows from which the city-sickened wretches may
    gaze and gaze and listen and feed their sick souls with the
    ocean. That is to say, during their indoor hours; at other
    times they walk or sit or lie as close as they can to it,
    following the water as it ebbs and reluctantly retiring before
    it when it returns. It was not so formerly, before the
    discovery was made that the sea could cure us. Probably our
    great-grandfathers didn't even know they were sick; at all
    events, those who had to live in the vicinity of the sea were
    satisfied to be a little distance from it, out of sight of its
    grey desolation and, if possible, out of hearing of its
    "accents disconsolate." This may be seen anywhere on our
    coasts; excepting the seaports and fishing settlements, the
    towns and villages are almost always some distance from the
    sea, often in a hollow or at all events screened by rising
    ground and woods from it. The modern seaside place has, in
    most cases, its old town or village not far away but quite as
    near as the healthy ancients wished to be.

    The old village nearest to our little naked and ugly modern
    town was discovered at a distance of about two miles, but it
    might have been two hundred, so great was the change to its
    sheltered atmosphere. Loitering in its quiet streets among
    the old picturesque brick houses with tiled or thatched roofs
    and tall chimneys--ivy and rose and creeper-covered, with a
    background of old oaks and elms--I had the sensation of having
    come back to my own home. In that still air you could hear
    men and women talking fifty or a hundred yards away, the cry
    or laugh of a child and the clear crowing of a cock, also the
    smaller aerial sounds of nature, the tinkling notes of tits
    and other birdlings in the trees, the twitter of swallows and
    martins, and the "lisp of leaves and ripple of rain." It was
    sweet and restful in that home-like place, and hard to leave
    it to go back to the front to face the furious blasts once
    more. Rut there were compensations.

    The little town, we have seen, was overcrowded with late
    summer visitors, all eager for the sea yet compelled to waste
    so much precious time shut up in apartments, and at every
    appearance of a slight improvement in the weather they would
    pour out of the houses and the green slope would be covered
    with a crowd of many hundreds, all hurrying down to the beach.
    The crowd was composed mostly of women--about three to every
    man, I should say--and their children; and it was one of the
    most interesting crowds I had ever come across on account of
    the large number of persons in it of a peculiarly fine type,
    which chance had brought together at that spot. It was the
    large English blonde, and there were so many individuals of
    this type that they gave a character to the crowd so that
    those of a different physique and colour appeared to be fewer
    than they were and were almost overlooked. They came from
    various places about the country, in the north and the
    Midlands, and appeared to be of the well-to-do classes; they,
    or many of them, were with their families but without their
    lords. They were mostly tall and large in every way, very
    white-skinned, with light or golden hair and large light blue
    eyes. A common character of these women was their quiet
    reposeful manner; they walked and talked and rose up and sat
    down and did everything, in fact, with an air of deliberation;
    they gazed in a slow steady way at you, and were dignified,
    some even majestic, and were like a herd of large beautiful
    white cows. The children, too, especially the girls, some
    almost as tall as their large mothers, though still in short
    frocks, were very fine. The one pastime of these was
    paddling, and it was a delight to see their bare feet and
    legs. The legs of those who had been longest on the spot
    --probably several weeks in some instances--were of a deep
    nutty brown hue suffused with pink; after these a gradation of
    colour, light brown tinged with buff, pinkish buff and cream,
    like the Gloire de Dijon rose; and so on to the delicate
    tender pink of the clover blossom; and, finally, the purest
    ivory white of the latest arrivals whose skins had not yet
    been caressed and coloured by sun and wind.

    How beautiful are the feet of these girls by the sea who bring
    us glad tidings of a better time to come and the day of a
    nobler courage, a freer larger life when garments which have
    long oppressed and hindered shall have been cast away!
    It was, as I have said, mere chance which had brought so many
    persons of a particular type together on this occasion, and I
    thought I might go there year after year and never see the
    like again. As a fact I did return when August came round and
    found a crowd of a different character. The type was there
    but did not predominate: it was no longer the herd of
    beautiful white and strawberry cows with golden horns and
    large placid eyes. Nothing in fact was the same, for when I
    looked for the swifts there were no more than about twenty
    birds instead of over a hundred, and although just on the eve
    of departure they were not behaving in the same excited
    manner.

    Probably I should not have thought so much about that
    particular crowd in that tempestuous August, and remembered it
    so vividly, but for the presence of three persons in it and
    the strange contrast they made to the large white type I have
    described. These were a woman and her two little girls, aged
    about eight and ten respectively, but very small for their
    years. She was a little black haired and black-eyed woman
    with a pale sad dark face, on which some great grief or
    tragedy had left its shadow; very quiet and subdued in her
    manner; she would sit on a chair on the beach when the weather
    permitted, a book on her knees, while her two little ones
    played about, chasing and flying from the waves, or with the
    aid of their long poles vaulting from rock to rock. They were
    dressed in black frocks and scarlet blouses, which set off
    their beautiful small dark faces; their eyes sparkled like
    black diamonds, and their loose hair was a wonder to see, a
    black mist or cloud about their heads and necks composed of
    threads fine as gossamer, blacker than jet and shining like
    spun glass-hair that looked as if no comb or brush could ever
    tame its beautiful wildness. And in spirit they were what
    they seemed: such a wild, joyous, frolicsome spirit with such
    grace and fleetness one does not look for in human beings, but
    only in birds or in some small bird-like volatile mammal--a
    squirrel or a marmoset of the tropical forest, or the
    chinchilla of the desolate mountain slopes, the swiftest,
    wildest, loveliest, most airy and most vocal of small
    beasties. Occasionally to watch their wonderful motions more
    closely and have speech with them, I followed when they raced
    over the sands or flew about over the slippery rocks, and felt
    like a cochin-china fowl, or muscovy duck, or dodo, trying to
    keep pace with a humming-bird. Their voices were well suited
    to their small brilliant forms; not loud, though high-pitched
    and singularly musical and penetrative, like the high clear
    notes of a skylark at a distance. They also reminded me of
    certain notes, which have a human quality, in some of our
    songsters--the swallow, redstart, pied wagtail, whinchat, and
    two or three others. Such pure and beautiful sounds are
    sometimes heard in human voices, chiefly in children, when
    they are talking and laughing in joyous excitement. But for
    any sort of conversation they were too volatile; before I
    could get a dozen words from them they would be off again,
    flying and flitting along the margin, like sandpipers, and
    beating the clear-voiced sandpiper at his own aerial graceful
    game.

    By and by I was favoured with a fine exhibition of the spirit
    animating these two little things. The weather had made it
    possible for the crowd of visitors to go down and scatter
    itself over the beach, when the usual black cloud sprang up
    and soon burst on us in a furious tempest of wind and rain,
    sending the people flying back to the shelter of a large
    structure erected for such purposes against the cliff. It was
    a vast barn-like place, open to the front, the roof supported
    by wooden columns, and here in a few minutes some three or
    four hundred persons were gathered, mostly women and their
    girls, white and blue-eyed with long wet golden hair hanging
    down their backs. Finding a vacant place on the bench, I sat
    down next to a large motherly-looking woman with a robust or
    dumpy blue-eyed girl about four or five years old on her lap.
    Most of the people were standing about in groups waiting
    for the storm to blow over, and presently I noticed my two
    wild-haired dark little girls moving about in the crowd. It
    was impossible not to seen them, for they could not keep still
    a moment. They were here, there, and everywhere, playing
    hide-and-seek and skipping and racing wherever they could
    find an opening, and by and by, taking hold of each other,
    they started dancing. It was a pretty spectacle, but most
    interesting to see was the effect produced on the other
    children, the hundred girls, big and little, the little ones
    especially, who had been standing there tired and impatient to
    get out to the sea, and who were now becoming more and more
    excited as they gazed, until, like children when listening to
    lively music, they began moving feet and hands and soon their
    whole bodies in time to the swift movements of the little
    dancers. At last, plucking up courage, first one, then
    another, joined them, and were caught as they came and whirled
    round and round in a manner quite new to them and which they
    appeared to find very delightful. By and by I observed that
    the little rosy-faced dumpy girl on my neighbour's knees was
    taking the infection; she was staring, her blue eyes opened to
    their widest in wonder and delight. Then suddenly she began
    pleading, "Oh, mummy, do let me go to the little girls--oh, do
    let me!" And her mother said "No," because she was so little,
    and could never fly round like that, and so would fall and
    hurt herself and cry. But she pleaded still, and was ready to
    cry if refused, until the good anxious mother was compelled to
    release her; and down she slipped, and after standing still
    with her little arms and closed hands held up as if to collect
    herself before plunging into the new tremendous adventure, she
    rushed out towards the dancers. One of them saw her coming,
    and instantly quitting the child she was waltzing with flew to
    meet her, and catching her round the middle began spinning her
    about as if the solid little thing weighed no more than a
    feather. But it proved too much for her; very soon she came
    down and broke into a loud cry, which brought her mother
    instantly to her, and she was picked up and taken back to the
    seat and held to the broad bosom and soothed with caresses and
    tender words until the sobs began to subside. Then, even
    before the tears were dry, her eyes were once more gazing at
    the tireless little dancers, taking on child after child as
    they came timidly forward to have a share in the fun, and once
    more she began to plead with her "mummy," and would not be
    denied, for she was a most determined little Saxon, until
    getting her way she rushed out for a second trial. Again the
    little dancer saw her coming and flew to her like a bird to
    its mate, and clasping her laughed her merry musical little
    laugh. It was her "sudden glory," an expression of pure
    delight in her power to infuse her own fire and boundless
    gaiety of soul into all these little blue-eyed rosy phlegmatic
    lumps of humanity.

    What was it in these human mites, these fantastic Brownies,
    which, in that crowd of Rowenas and their children, made them
    seem like beings not only of another race, but of another
    species? How came they alone to be distinguished among so
    many by that irresponsible gaiety, as of the most volatile of
    wild creatures, that quickness of sense and mind and sympathy,
    that variety and grace and swiftness--all these brilliant
    exotic qualities harmoniously housed in their small beautiful
    elastic and vigorous frames? It was their genius, their
    character--something derived from their race. But what
    race? Looking at their mother watching her little ones at
    their frolics with dark shining eyes--the small oval-faced
    brown-skinned woman with blackest hair--I could but say that
    she was an Iberian, pure and simple, and that her children
    were like her. In Southern Europe that type abounds; it is
    also to be met with throughout Britain, perhaps most common in
    the southern counties, and it is not uncommon in East Anglia.
    Indeed, I think it is in Norfolk where we may best see the two
    most marked sub-types in which it is divided--the two
    extremes. The small stature, narrow head, dark skin, black
    hair and eyes are common to both, and in both these physical
    characters are correlated with certain mental traits, as, for
    instance, a peculiar vivacity and warmth of disposition; but
    they are high and low. In the latter sub-division the skin is
    coarse in texture, brown or old parchment in colour, with
    little red in it; the black hair is also coarse, the forehead
    small, the nose projecting, and the facial angle indicative of
    a more primitive race. One might imagine that these people
    had been interred, along with specimens of rude pottery and
    bone and flint implements, a long time back, about the
    beginning of the Bronze Age perhaps, and had now come out of
    their graves and put on modern clothes. At all events I don't
    think a resident in Norfolk would have much difficulty in
    picking out the portraits of some of his fellow-villagers in
    Mr. Reed's Prehistoric Peeps.

    The mother and her little ones were of the higher sub-type:
    they had delicate skins, beautiful faces, clear musical
    voices. They were Iberians in blood, but improved; purified
    and refined as by fire; gentleized and spiritualized, and to
    the lower types down to the aboriginals, as is the bright
    consummate flower to leaf and stem and root.

    Often and often we are teased and tantalized and mocked by
    that old question:

    Oh! so old--
    Thousands of years, thousands of years,
    If all were told--

    of black and blue eyes; blue versus black and black versus
    blue, to put it both ways. And by black we mean black with
    orange-brown lights in it--the eye called tortoise-shell; and
    velvety browns with other browns, also hazels. Blue includes
    all blues, from ultramarine, or violet, to the palest blue of
    a pale sky; and all greys down to the grey that is almost
    white. Our preference for this or that colour is supposed
    to depend on nothing but individual taste, or fancy, and
    association. I believe it is something more, but I do find
    that we are very apt to be swayed this way and that by the
    colour of the eyes of the people we meet in life, according as
    they (the people) attract or repel us. The eyes of the two
    little girls were black as polished black diamonds until
    looked at closely, when they appeared a beautiful deep brown
    on which the black pupils were seen distinctly; they were so
    lovely that I, predisposed to prefer dark to light, felt that
    this question was now definitely settled for me--that black
    was best. That irresistible charm, the flame-like spirit
    which raised these two so much above the others--how could it
    go with anything but the darkest eyes!

    But no sooner was the question thus settled definitely and for
    all time, to my very great satisfaction, than it was unsettled
    again. I do not know how this came about; it may have been
    the sight of some small child's blue eyes looking up at me,
    like the arch blue eyes of a kitten, full of wonder at the
    world and everything in it;

    "Where did you get those eyes so blue?"
    "Out of the sky as I came through";

    or it may have been the sight of a harebell; and perhaps it
    came from nothing but the "waste shining of the sky." At all
    events, there they were, remembered again, looking at me from
    the past, blue eyes that were beautiful and dear to me, whose
    blue colour was associated with every sweetness and charm in
    child and woman and with all that is best and highest in human
    souls; and I could not and had no wish to resist their appeal.

    Then came a new experience of the eye that is blue--a meeting
    with one who almost seemed to be less flesh than spirit. A
    middle-aged lady, frail, very frail; exceedingly pale from
    long ill-health, prematurely white-haired, with beautiful grey
    eyes, gentle but wonderfully bright. Altogether she was like
    a being compounded as to her grosser part of foam and mist and
    gossamer and thistledown, and was swayed by every breath of
    air, and who, should she venture abroad in rough weather,
    would be lifted and blown away by the gale and scattered like
    mist over the earth. Yet she, so frail, so timid, was the one
    member of the community who had set herself to do the work of
    a giant--that of championing all ill-used and suffering
    creatures, wild or tame, holding a protecting shield over them
    against the innate brutality of the people. She had been
    abused and mocked and jeered at by many, while others had
    regarded her action with an amused smile or else with a cold
    indifference. But eventually some, for very shame, had been
    drawn to her side, and a change in the feeling of the people
    had resulted; domestic animals were treated better, and it was
    no longer universally believed that all wild animals,
    especially those with wings, existed only that men might amuse
    themselves by killing and wounding and trapping and caging and
    persecuting them in various other ways.

    The sight of that burning and shining spirit in its frail
    tenement--for did I not actually see her spirit and the very
    soul of her in those eyes?--was the last of the unforgotten
    experiences I had at that place which had startled and
    repelled me with its ugliness.

    But, no, there was one more, marvellous as any--the experience
    of a day of days, one of those rare days when nature appears
    to us spiritualized and is no longer nature, when that which
    had transfigured this visible world is in us too, and it
    becomes possible to believe--it is almost a conviction--that
    the burning and shining spirit seen and recognized in one
    among a thousand we have known is in all of us and in all
    things. In such moments it is possible to go beyond even the
    most advanced of the modern physicists who hold that force
    alone exists, that matter is but a disguise, a shadow and
    delusion; for we may add that force itself--that which we call
    force or energy--is but a semblance and shadow of the
    universal soul.

    The change in the weather was not sudden; the furious winds
    dropped gradually; the clouds floated higher in the heavens,
    and were of a lighter grey; there were wider breaks in them,
    showing the lucid blue beyond; and the sea grew quieter. It
    had raved and roared too long, beating against the iron walls
    that held it back, and was now spent and fallen into an uneasy
    sleep, but still moved uneasily and moaned a little. Then all
    at once summer returned, coming like a thief in the night, for
    when it was morning the sun rose in splendour and power in a
    sky without a cloud on its vast azure expanse, on a calm sea
    with no motion but that scarcely perceptible rise and fall as
    of one that sleeps. As the sun rose higher the air grew
    warmer until it was full summer heat, but although a "visible
    heat," it was never oppressive; for all that day we were
    abroad, and as the tide ebbed a new country that was neither
    earth nor sea was disclosed, an infinite expanse of pale
    yellow sand stretching away on either side, and further and
    further out until it mingled and melted into the sparkling
    water and faintly seen line of foam on the horizon. And over
    all--the distant sea, the ridge of low dunes marking where the
    earth ended and the flat, yellow expanse between--there
    brooded a soft bluish silvery haze. A haze that blotted
    nothing out, but blended and interfused them all until earth
    and air and sea and sands were scarcely distinguishable. The
    effect, delicate, mysterious, unearthly, cannot be described.

    Ethereal gauze . . .
    Visible heat, air-water, and dry sea,
    Last conquest of the eye . . .

    Sun dust,
    Aerial surf upon the shores of earth,
    Ethereal estuary, frith of light. . . .
    Bird of the sun, transparent winged.

    Do we not see that words fail as pigments do--that the effect
    is too coarse, since in describing it we put it before the
    mental eye as something distinctly visible, a thing of itself
    and separate. But it is not so in nature; the effect is of
    something almost invisible and is yet a part of all and makes
    all things--sky and sea and land--as unsubstantial as itself.
    Even living, moving things had that aspect. Far out on the
    lowest further strip of sand, which appeared to be on a level
    with the sea, gulls were seen standing in twos and threes and
    small groups and in rows; but they did not look like gulls
    --familiar birds, gull-shaped with grey and white plumage.
    They appeared twice as big as gulls, and were of a dazzling
    whiteness and of no definite shape: though standing still they
    had motion, an effect of the quivering dancing air, the
    "visible heat"; at rest, they were seen now as separate
    objects; then as one with the silver sparkle on the
    sea; and when they rose and floated away they were no longer
    shining and white, but like pale shadows of winged forms
    faintly visible in the haze.

    They were not birds but spirits--beings that lived in or were
    passing through the world and now, like the heat, made
    visible; and I, standing far out on the sparkling sands, with
    the sparkling sea on one side and the line of dunes,
    indistinctly seen as land, on the other, was one of them; and
    if any person had looked at me from a distance he would have
    seen me as a formless shining white being standing by the sea,
    and then perhaps as a winged shadow floating in the haze. It
    was only necessary to put out one's arms to float. That was
    the effect on my mind: this natural world was changed to a
    supernatural, and there was no more matter nor force in sea or
    land nor in the heavens above, but only spirit.
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