The New Freewoman: No. 8, Vol. 1, October 1st 1913.
by Dora Marsden
IN the mouth of an old quarry sat an aged crone. From before the birth of the first man she had been there. Men came to her to learn how to make tools. Ages back, she had made the first tool that ever was and this had been of so much use that she had been kept busy ever since, making and teaching men to make tools. She had been too busy to die, and the ages rolling past her had made her face older than the oldest stone. Nine layers of furrowed stone hid her face from the light, and a boulder which a glacier had scratched, buried her knees. Her girdle was the floor of the ancient sea. Her arms were gone, long since worn to the sockets. She did not now speak to common men: they looked hard at the stone veils which covered her face and learnt how.
To scan her face there came an uncommon Youth: uncommon being he, who for that time, nourished the Fires a far-off sire had brought to Earth from Heaven. Eagerly and often the Youth came and searched her face, but saw no sign; the motionless veils hung unchanged. A last time he came and vainly searched, when, he being angered and unaware, the Fires flashed into his eyes and passed from thence, piercing into the gross texture of the stone shroudings. Invincibly they pressed through till, having passed the ninth thickness, they illumined to his eye what appeared to him as a light, moving. Faint, shifting, wavering, it baffled him. He called loud to the Fires in his heart. "Now, if I have cherished you, meet my needs even now."
They heard and answered, and riveted the light which grew in power as his sight held it. He shaded his eyes and saw that the fierce sparkling came from a star which shone between the eyes of a face within, from whence there came to him a voice.
"What dost thou seek?" it asked.
"Thy teachings," he replied. "Why spell thy veils no sign for me?"
"What need for signs have they who know?"
"But I know not."
"Thou hast the Fires."
"I guard them."
"Too well; thy fires are to be spent."
"I have spent them."
"But now, to search out me."
"Wilt thou teach me?"
"When I know that thine is not the dominion."
"Of the living."
"Who art thou?"
"I am Mind."
"Why goest thou veiled in this dark heaviness?"
"For my works, for the thing I do."
"What is it thou doest thus ill?"
"My work for men. I work even as I must, since what time I learnt to teach the weak, by cunning how they may destroy the strong."
"Nay ! but thou beliest thy works and those of men who learn of thee. The weak, with thee beside are even as the strong. Weak men, with thee, establish empire on the earth; they read the heavens and fix the stars; they mount the air and ride the sea; pierce the darkness and split the light; they shoot the cloud and harness the tide; before them wild beasts, serpents, and dumb monsters of the deep have need to flee. They build ships and towers and cities. Men build themselves a kingdom, and win earths for toys, aided by thee."
"Now see I thou art but a dazzled youth, deceived as others by these shows I make. The weak, even with me beside, are still the weak. If by trap and gin, I enable them to surmount the strong, it is still as the weak that they persist. I establish for them no escheat, whereby with victory the strong's strength may fall to them. In weakness they have prevailed, and in weakness they remain, the lords among the mean."
"But though strength of Life be less, dost not thou, thyself, become the more ? So much the more ?"
"My works are more, but I, Mind, am of one substance with that whereon I feed. I feed on Life's strength, increasing as it grows, yet when it declines, empowered to aid it nothing. In weakness, Life and Mind wither together. I have not power in aught to augment its substance. I can but play the schoolma'am, and, with pointing ferule, say ' Behold a marvel here, and here, meet to be to such and such of man's uses put '; and then with ill-booting assiduity contrive new needs to give my new found marvels relevance. Thus do I outrun my right commission, and as a too industrious serving-woman, for past benefits set in over great authority, will turn a household to confusion, diverting its true occupant from his own purposes to make occasion for the outrageous exercise of her great industry, so I, to make an audience attentive to my discoveries, do divert men from their lives' sole meaning. Their attention gained, I lay them bare my raree-show and levy toil of their amazement. Its appointment is timed of my activity. Like children, open-eyed, before a showman's booth, men gape at my performances. By use of light beyond proportion to their heat I conjure effects to which their powers of Life can give no tally. They see their vastness, and bow down."
"But thy works are wonderful, no matter howsoe'er diverse from men's necessities."
"Works? What works have men save one-the increase of their living potency ? Long years ere man, the tableau of creation stood forth perfected: matter made and method taken, a magic panorama exhibited to the void. Works enough were there, with matter lent to manipulations multiple. But creation's miracle was other: not works but life; the living force which feels, can leap, and run; the seeing eye, the swift foot, the fierce upspringing heart. Creation's latest comer is the miracle, and men's due wonderment is the living power in men. When I, to muster up the audience for my conjuror's tricks, my booth-man's spectacle, construct the engines which make Life in men beat low, what am I but as the dead resisting force which would press Life deathwards in the scale? Then do I that which it outstrips my power to remedy. Life I can evade, forestall, defeat, and can lay on it embargos: but not create, or increase. I can serve men's hour of weakness and be a shield, but as arbiter of choice in their hour of strength, I perforce must be Destroyer. For if I give men the wonders of the earth for toys and yet sap their living strength, what am I but a destroyer still? In the kingdom of the dead, the scaling tower and the level are as one. If with cunning skill, I make my engines race and soar, outspeed the eagle and the deer, and men crawl close to earth and hearts beat feebly there, what merits it? If eyes grow dim to read my lore, and courage fails and sap grows dry, to make meet subjects for my engines' uses, what do I? What do but effect my own defeat ? A little less of the living power and my cunning fails; and craft fails with it. All fails: for life greater than man's, already for man's sake my cunning has destroyed. Men were without the heart to brook companionship with the strong. Though the worm might live, the lion I removed. Now, the strong destroyed, they reign sole lords. What seems to raise its head in power to rival man, I deracinate. I, Mind, born to eke out his power's lack, serve his weakness still, and still engender it. That my uses may be perpetuate, man's weakness must be perpetual too. Too useful grown, with too much reverence earned I rule the kingdom I should serve at need. My power's uses need men's weakness and hence it grows. And my works grow with it. Their vastness is my monument and our common tomb; since, moving diverse ways round one circumference, the half-circle stretched, we meet at length in common doom."
"And I? Why lettest thou the burden of thy presages fall on me?"
"I speak to who may hear. That thou hearest is that thou hast the ear. Thine eye too still has the ancient virtue, and sweeping through the cunning signs I lay for men, pierced to me here. Thou art a Life-bearer: but over-well thou, too, hast learnt the ways of common men-their ways of fear-and guardest more than well the primal Fires. The Fire thou bearest is to be spent. He guards well who spends."
"What wouldst thou I should do?"
"Go forth and set free the fires. When all is spent, and in thy heart thou knowest thou art a conqueror, return to conquer me."
He left her there.
His face was become a man's. The power was in him, though how he knew not. Perhaps in the Fires. He would spend them. They should escape as they would. He stretched out his arms and flung back his head. The tight cord he had worn round his heart stretched and snapped. The lightning Fires leapt forth. They coursed through his limbs: the tendons stretched: the muscles tightened: a sharp tingling vivified the heavy flesh. It grew luminous with the inner fire. His stature heightened. Power surged up from within him. It poured in from without. Deep baths of air he drew in with his breath. His throat vibrated like a living column. He moved onwards. The vivid joy in his limbs coursed round his thighs as he walked. Swiftly he covered the ground. Swiftly he covered great leagues, swift as desire.
A film dissolved from his eyes. 'They saw a new world, its colours new and wonderful. His scent picked out new perfumes. His hearing grew keen. As he went forward, in his path rushing headlong to meet him came a strange beast roaring, fierce, and horned like a bull. Its eyes were balls of fire; like fire its hot breath. They fought together. Slowly the beast's savagery gave way before him. He bore him to the ground and printed on him the seal of the conquered. And there, in the path, he left him, still living.
He came to the edge of the land where cliffs high and stark chafed the sea. The sea moaned ceaselessly, a moan of human misery. It chilled the man's spirit. He took from his bare loins a girdle, the last remnant of the clothing of fear which was left him, and flung it far out beyond the breakers. When it reached the surface it swirled round as in a vortex, and was engulfed in the waters. Straightway the moan changed to the strong low chords of an organ, which swelled upwards in an anthem of glory. Its gladness and the sea's strong motions, drew him and he plunged far out into the waters. He found himself in his own mobile element. In its motion, its grace and the strength of its seething, he greeted familiars. He dived to look for the girdle, and saw it deep down, entwining a pallid human company. A sight too horrid for viewing, he rose towards the surface. As he rose he saw the black hulls of the ships sailing outwards.
From each hull hung a girdle.
He swam towards the shore, and arriving, shook himself free of the glistering liquid. Wearied he lay down. Above him, wheeled the strong white wings of the sea-gulls. Lulled by the swell of the ocean, he slept. In his sleep there came to him an old dream. At his heart was a fierce trouble. Its beat grew to a throbbing. Aspiration stronger than his limbs burst from it. He awoke and looked up through the blue ether: he knew he could fly. He stretched out his arms and lightly, without effort, he rose upward, borne aloft by his heart's aspiration. Swift and strongly he mounted, his eyes fronting the sunset. When its last rays had faded he was resting on the snow-covered peak of the mountain.
Warm, proud glow of life amid surrounding death, he laughed to the stars in his strength.
Because he was alive.
Long, loud, deep, he laughed out into the dome of heaven, arresting the night and the silence.
The tumult settled. The grey covered the glory. The beat of his heart dropped to a slow measure. In the calm and quiet he gave his limbs to the void. Gentle and silent, he swooped towards the valley.
His foot met the earth. With calm heart he trod the flat road and at length stood at the mouth of the quarry. None sat therein.
The veils were crumbled; the girdle split and jagged; the boulder like a shattered mould, broken; the dweller had departed.
But there stood beside him One, as a forest of spears martial in aspect, clothed in radiance. He knew her by the star on her forehead.
"You are Mind," he said, "I have delivered you."
"I remain to be conquered," she said. She moved from him. He came up with her where the earth's bent back made a mighty ridge round the heavens. Behind was a great waste. Before, far-off, where the sun had set, in the plains lay the cities.
He said again, "I have delivered you."
She said, "You do not deliver me. You deliver yourself from my power. I am yet to be conquered."
"By your strength, and desire; your strength against mine."
The man shrank from her. The light hurt him. He feared her.
She said again, "Many guardians of the Fires have stood here, fearing me as you. None have overcome me. Overcome of me, they have knelt to me here, and I have given them the kingdoms of the earth: I made them the shrunken possessors of extended dominions; as, if you fail, I will make you."
"And if I do not fail?"
"In you will be all strength . . . the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You will be a light to your own feet. . . . My star will fall to you when it falls it shall be to you as a Sight. I am to be overcome . . . and devoured."
He grappled with her. The light shocked his sight and his hands. Strong as light, with shoulder levelled with his, she pressed him. She showed him no mercy. Dizzy and faint, with joints become as water, he kept his hold. Dumb and spent he fought on, until the first grey streak of the morning. In the light of day, the fiercest dazzling faded. Hope came to him. The cool air of dawn brought the surge and glow he had known on the mountains. With passion of being, his grip hardened. A wild unseeing movement, and his night-long antagonist was pinioned. He laid his lips on her mouth and withdrew the breath from her. Wraith-like, she dwindled.
Frailer and sparer, intangible at length, he sucked out the last vapours of her being. Drunk, his eyes closed, his head fell forward. The star dropped upon his hand. His arms were empty.
He was alone.
He sank to his knees, and touched the earth with his forehead.
The risen sun gleamed oll his bent neck. It was as a thing afar off.
Slowly he was aware of a live tingling.
He raised his shoulders: his hand held the jewel.
He rose to his feet and stood upright, and gazed into the morning sun's splendour. He greeted its beauty and turned towards the cities.
His limbs cast shadows before him. He raised his arm and placed the star on his brow, for a glory.
Its light consumed the shadows.
He strode from the ridge and came towards the cities.