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Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Night

One night a Dream came to me and brought with her an old
and rusty key. She led me across fields and sweet
smelling lanes, where the hedges were already whispering
to one another in the dark of the spring, till we came
to a huge, gaunt house with staring windows and lofty
roof half hidden in the shadows of very early morning. I
noticed that the blinds were of heavy black, and that
the house seemed wrapped in absolute stillness.

"This," she whispered in my ear, "is the House of the
Past. Come with me and we will go through some of its
rooms and passages; but quickly, for I have not the key
for long, and the night is very nearly over. Yet,
perchance, you shall remember!"

The key made a dreadful noise as she turned it in the
lock, and when the great door swung open into an empty
hall and we went in, I heard sounds of whispering and
weeping, and the rustling of clothes, as of people
moving in their sleep and about to wake. Then,
instantly, a spirit of intense sadness came over me,
drenching me to the soul; my eyes began to burn and
smart, and in my heart I became aware of a strange
sensation as of the uncoiling of something that had been
asleep for ages. My whole being, unable to resist, at
once surrounded itself to the spirit of deepest
melancholy, and the pain of my heart, as the Things
moved and woke, became in a moment of time too strong
for words...

As we advanced, the faint voices and sobbing fled away
before us into the interior of the House, and I became
conscious that the air was full of hands held aloft, of
swaying garments, of drooping tresses, and of eyes so
sad and wistful that the tears, which were already
brimming in my own, held back for wonder at the sight of
such intolerable yearning.

"Do not allow this sadness to overwhelm you," whispered
the Dream at my side. "It is not often They wake. They
sleep for years and years and years. The chambers are
all full, and unless visitors such as we come to disturb
them, they will never wake of their own accord. But,
when one stirs, the sleep of the others is troubled, and
they too awake, till the motion is communicated from one
room to another and thus finally throughout the whole
House.... Then, sometimes, the sadness is too great to
be borne, and the mind weakens. For this reason Memory
gives to them the sweetest and deepest sleep she has and
she keeps this old key rusty from little use. But,
listen now," she added, holding up her hand: "do you not
hear all through the House that trembling of the air
like the distant murmur of falling water? And do you not
now... perhaps... remember?"

Even before she spoke, I had already caught faintly the
beginning of a new sound; and, now, deep in the cellars
beneath our feet, and from the upper regions of the
great House as well, I heard the whispering, and the
rustling and the inward stirring of the sleeping
Shadows. It rose like a chord swept softly from the huge
unseen strings stretched somewhere among the foundations
of the House, and its tremblings ran gently through its
walls and ceilings. And I knew that I heard the slow
awakening of the Ghosts of the Past.

Ah, me, with what terrible in rushing of sadness I stood
with brimming eyes and listened to the faint dead voices
of the long ago.... For, indeed, the whole House was
awakening; and there presently rose to my nostrils the
subtle, penetrating perfume of age: of letters, long
preserved, with ink faded and ribbons pale; of scented
tresses, golden and brown, laid away, ah, how tenderly!
among pressed flowers that still held the inmost
delicacy of their forgotten fragrance; the scented
presence of lost memories -- the intoxicating incense of
the past. My eyes o'erflowed, my heart tightened and
expanded, as I yielded myself up without reserve to
these old, old influences of sound and smell. These
Ghosts of the Past -- forgotten in the tumult of more
recent memories -- thronged round me, took my hands in
theirs, and, ever whispering of what I had so long
forgot, ever sighing, shaking from their hair and
garments the ineffable odours of the dead ages, led me
through the vast House, from room to room, from floor to

And the Ghosts -- were not all equally clear to me. Some
had indeed but the faintest life, and stirred me so
little that they left only an indistinct, blurred
impression in the air; while others gazed half
reproachfully at me out of faded, colourless eyes, as if
longing to recall themselves to my recollection; and
then, seeing they were not recognised, floated back
gently into the shadows of their room, to sleep again
undisturbed till the Final Day, when I should not fail
to know them.

"Many of these have slept so long," said the Dream
beside me, "that they wake only with the greatest
difficulty. Once awake, however, they know and remember
you even though you fail to remember them. For it is the
rule in this House of the Past that, unless you recall
them distinctly, remember precisely when you knew them
and with what particular causes in your past evolution
they were associated, they cannot stay awake. Unless you
remember them when your eyes meet, unless their look of
recognition is returned by you, they are obliged to go
back to their sleep, silent and sorrowful, their hands
unpressed, their voices unheard, to sleep and dream,
deathless and patient, till...."

At this moment, her words died away suddenly into the
distance and I became conscious of an overpowering
sensation of delight and happiness. Something had
touched me on the lips, and a strong, sweet fire flashed

tumultuously through my veins. My pulses beat wildly, my
skin glowed, my eyes grew tender, and the terrible
sadness of the place was instantly dispelled as if by
magic. Turning with a cry of joy, that was at once
swallowed up in the chorus of weeping and sighing round
me, I looked... and instinctively stretched forth my
arms in a rapture of happiness towards... towards a
vision of a Face... hair, lips, eyes; a cloth of gold
lay about the fair neck, and the old, old perfume of the
East - ye stars, how long ago - was in her breath. Her
lips were again on mine; her hair over my eyes; her arms
about my neck, and the love of her ancient soul pouring
into mine out of eyes still starry and undimmed. Oh, the
fierce tumult, the untold wonder, if I could only
remember! .... That subtle, mist-dispelling odour of
many ages ago, once so familiar... before the Hills of
Atlantis were above the blue sea, or the sands had begun
to form the bed of the Sphinx. Yet wait; it comes back;
I begin to remember. Curtain upon curtain rises in my
soul, and I can almost see beyond. But that hideous
stretch of the years, awful and sinister, thousands upon
thousands .... My heart shakes, and I am afraid. Another
curtain rises and a new vista, farther than the others,
comes into view, interminable, running to a point among
thick mists. Lo, they too are moving, rising,
lightening. At last, I shall see... already I begin to
recall... the dusky skin... the Eastern grace, the
wondrous eyes that held the knowledge of Buddha and the
wisdom of Christ before these had even dreamed of
attainment. As a dream within a dream, it steals over me
again, taking compelling possession of my whole being...
the slender form... the stars in that magical Eastern
sky... the whispering winds among the palm trees... the
murmur of the river's waves and the music of the reeds
where they bend and sigh in the shallows on the golden
sand. Thousands of years ago in some aeonian distance.
It fades a little and begins to pass; then seems again
to rise. Ah me, that smile of the shining teeth... those
lace-veined lids. Oh, who will help me to recall, for it
is to far away, too dim, and I cannot wholly remember;
though my lips are still tingling, and my arms still
outstretched, it again begins to fade. Already there is
a look of sadness too deep for words, as she realises
that she is unrecognised... she, whose mere presence
could once extinguish for me the entire universe... and
she goes back slowly, mournfully, silently to her dim,
tremendous sleep, to dream and dream of the day when I
must remember her and she must come where she belongs...

She peers at me from the end of the room where the
Shadows already cover her and win her back with
outstretched arms to her age-long sleep in the House of
the Past.

Trembling all over, with the strange odour still in my
nostrils and the fire in my heart, I turned away and
followed my Dream up a broad staircase into another part
of the House.

As we entered the upper corridors I heard the wind pass
singing over the roof. Its music took possession of me
until I felt as though my whole body were a single
heart, aching, straining, trobbing as if it would break;
and all because I heard the wind singing round the House
of the Past.

"But, remember," whispered the Dream, answering my
unspoken wonder, "that you are listening to the song it
has sung for untold ages into untold myriad ears. It
carries back so appallingly far; and in that simple
dirge, profound in its terrible monotony, are the
associations and recollections of the joys, grieves, and
struggles of all your previous existence. The wind, like
the sea, speaks to the inmost memory," she added, "and
that is why its voice is one of such deep spiritual
sadness. It is the song of things for ever incomplete,
unfinished, unsatisfying."

As we passed through the vaulted rooms, I noticed that
no one stirred. There was no actual sound, only a
general impression of deep, collective breathing, like
the heave of a muffled ocean. But the rooms, I knew at
once, were full to the walls, crowded, rows upon rows
.... And, from the floors below, rose ever the murmur of
the weeping Shadows as they returned to their sleep, and
settled down again in the silence, the darkness, and the
dust. The dust .... Ah, the dust that floated in this
House of the Past, so thick, so penetrating; so fine, it
filled the throat and eyes without pain; so fragrant, it
soothed the senses and stilled the heart; so soft, it
parched the tongue, without offence; yet so silently
falling, gathering, settling over everything, that the
air held it like a fine mist and the sleeping Shadows
wore it for their shrouds.

"And these are the oldest," said my Dream, "the longest
asleep," pointing to the crowded rows of silent
sleepers. "None here have wakened for ages too many to
count; and even if they woke you would not know them.
They are, like the others, all your own, but they are
the memories of your earliest stages along the great
Path of Evolution. Some day, though, they will awake,
and you must know them, and answer their questions, for
they cannot die till they have exhausted themselves
again through you who gave them birth."

"Ah me," I thought, only half listening to or
understanding these last words, "what mothers, fathers,
brothers may then be asleep in this room; what faithful
lovers, what true friends, what ancient enemies! And to
think that some day they will step forth and confront
me, and I shall meet their eyes again, claim them, know
them, forgive, and be forgiven... the memories of all my

I turned to speak to the Dream at my side, but she was
already fading into dimness, and, as I looked again, the
whole House melted away into the flush of the eastern
sky, and I heard the birds singing and saw the clouds
overhead veiling the stars in the light of coming day.