From The white people
(1899, 1922 ed)
by Arthur Machen
"That's a very queer story," said
Cotgrave, handing back the green book to the recluse,
Ambrose. "I see the drift of a good deal, but there are
many things that I do not grasp at all. On the last page,
for example, what does she mean by 'nymphs'?"
"Well, I think there are references
throughout the manuscript to certain 'processes' which have
been handed down by tradition from age to age. Some of these
processes are just beginning to come within the purview of
science, which has arrived at them--or rather at the steps
which lead to them--by quite different paths. I have
interpreted the reference to 'nymphs' as a reference to one
of these processes."
"And you believe that there are such things?"
"Oh, I think so. Yes, I believe I could
give you convincing evidence on that point. I am afraid you
have neglected the study of alchemy? It is a pity, for the
symbolism, at all events, is very beautiful, and moreover if
you were acquainted with certain books on the subject, I
could recall to your mind phrases which might explain a good
deal in the manuscript that you have been reading."
"Yes; but I want to know whether you
seriously think that there is any foundation of fact beneath
these fancies. Is it not all a department of poetry; a
curious dream with which man has indulged himself?"
"I can only say that it is no doubt
better for the great mass of people to dismiss it all as a
dream. But if you ask my veritable belief--that goes quite
the other way. No; I should not say belief, but rather
knowledge. I may tell you that I have known cases in which
men have stumbled quite by accident on certain of these
'processes,' and have been astonished by wholly unexpected
results. In the cases I am thinking of there could have been
no possibility of 'suggestion' or sub-conscious action of
any kind. One might as well suppose a schoolboy 'suggesting'
the existence of &Aelig;schylus to himself, while he plods
mechanically through the declensions.
"But you have noticed the
obscurity," Ambrose went on, "and in this
particular case it must have been dictated by instinct,
since the writer never thought that her manuscripts would
fall into other hands. But the practice is universal, and
for most excellent reasons. Powerful and sovereign
medicines, which are, of necessity, virulent poisons also,
are kept in a locked cabinet. The child may find the key by
chance, and drink herself dead; but in most cases the search
is educational, and the phials contain precious elixirs for
him who has patiently fashioned the key for himself."
"You do not care to go into details?"
"No, frankly, I do not. No, you must
remain unconvinced. But you saw how the manuscript
illustrates the talk we had last week?"
"Is this girl still alive?"
"No. I was one of those who found her. I
knew the father well; he was a lawyer, and had always left
her very much to herself. He thought of nothing but deeds
and leases, and the news came to him as an awful surprise.
She was missing one morning; I suppose it was about a year
after she had written what you have read. The servants were
called, and they told things, and put the only natural
interpretation on them--a perfectly erroneous one.
"They discovered that green book somewhere in her room, and I
found her in the place that she described with so much dread, lying
on the ground before the image."
"It was an image?"
"Yes, it was hidden by the thorns and
the thick undergrowth that had surrounded it. It was a wild,
lonely country; but you know what it was like by her
description, though of course you will understand that the
colours have been heightened. A child's imagination always
makes the heights higher and the depths deeper than they
really are; and she had, unfortunately for herself,
something more than imagination. One might say, perhaps,
that the picture in her mind which she succeeded in a
measure in putting into words, was the scene as it would
have appeared to an imaginative artist. But it is a strange,
"And she was dead?"
"Yes. She had poisoned herself--in time.
No; there was not a word to be said against her in the
ordinary sense. You may recollect a story I told you the
other night about a lady who saw her child's fingers crushed
by a window?"
"And what was this statue?"
"Well, it was of Roman workmanship, of a
stone that with the centuries had not blackened, but had
become white and luminous. The thicket had grown up about it
and concealed it, and in the Middle Ages the followers of a
very old tradition had known how to use it for their own
purposes. In fact it had been incorporated into the
monstrous mythology of the Sabbath. You will have noted that
those to whom a sight of that shining whiteness had been
vouchsafed by chance, or rather, perhaps, by apparent
chance, were required to blindfold themselves on their
second approach. That is very significant."
"And is it there still?"
"I sent for tools, and we hammered it
into dust and fragments."
"The persistence of tradition never
surprises me," Ambrose went on after a pause. "I
could name many an English parish where such traditions as
that girl had listened to in her childhood are still
existent in occult but unabated vigour. No, for me, it is
the 'story' not the 'sequel,' which is strange and awful,
for I have always believed that wonder is of the soul."
Previous section: The Green Book - Part 3