I rubbed the water out of my eyes, and saw the raven on the edge of a huge stone basin. With the cold light of the dawn reflected from his glossy plumage, he stood calmly looking down upon me. I lay on my back in water, above which, leaning on my elbows, I just lifted my face. I was in the basin of the large fountain constructed by my father in the middle of the lawn. High over me glimmered the thick, steel-shiny stalk, shooting, with a torrent uprush, a hundred feet into the air, to spread in a blossom of foam.
Nettled at the coolness of the raven's remark,
"You told me nothing!" I said.
"I told you to do nothing any one you distrusted asked you!"
"Tut! how was mortal to remember that?"
"You will not forget the consequences of having forgotten it!" replied Mr. Raven, who stood leaning over the margin of the basin, and stretched his hand across to me.
I took it, and was immediately beside him on the lawn, dripping and streaming.
"You must change your clothes at once!" he said. "A wetting does not signify where you come from--though at present such an accident is unusual; here it has its inconveniences!"
He was again a raven, walking, with something stately in his step, toward the house, the door of which stood open.
"I have not much to change!" I laughed; for I had flung aside my robe to climb the tree.
"It is a long time since I moulted a feather!" said the raven.
In the house no one seemed awake. I went to my room, found a dressing-gown, and descended to the library.
As I entered, the librarian came from the closet. I threw myself on a couch. Mr. Raven drew a chair to my side and sat down. For a minute or two neither spoke. I was the first to break the silence.
"What does it all mean?" I said.
"A good question!" he rejoined: "nobody knows what anything is; a man can learn only what a thing means! Whether he do, depends on the use he is making of it."
"I have made no use of anything yet!"
"Not much; but you know the fact, and that is something! Most people take more than a lifetime to learn that they have learned nothing, and done less! At least you have not been without the desire to be of use!"
"I did want to do something for the children--the precious Little Ones, I mean."
"I know you did--and started the wrong way!"
"I did not know the right way."
"That is true also--but you are to blame that you did not."
"I am ready to believe whatever you tell me--as soon as I understand what it means."
"Had you accepted our invitation, you would have known the right way. When a man will not act where he is, he must go far to find his work."
"Indeed I have gone far, and got nowhere, for I have not found my work! I left the children to learn how to serve them, and have only learned the danger they are in."
"When you were with them, you were where you could help them: you left your work to look for it! It takes a wise man to know when to go away; a fool may learn to go back at once!"
"Do you mean, sir, I could have done something for the Little Ones by staying with them?"
"Could you teach them anything by leaving them?"
"No; but how could I teach them? I did not know how to begin. Besides, they were far ahead of me!"
"That is true. But you were not a rod to measure them with! Certainly, if they knew what you know, not to say what you might have known, they would be ahead of you--out of sight ahead! but you saw they were not growing--or growing so slowly that they had not yet developed the idea of growing! they were even afraid of growing!--You had never seen children remain children!"
"But surely I had no power to make them grow!"
"You might have removed some of the hindrances to their growing!"
"What are they? I do not know them. I did think perhaps it was the want of water!"
"Of course it is! they have none to cry with!"
"I would gladly have kept them from requiring any for that purpose!"
"No doubt you would--the aim of all stupid philanthropists! Why, Mr. Vane, but for the weeping in it, your world would never have become worth saving! You confess you thought it might be water they wanted: why did not you dig them a well or two?"
"That never entered my mind!"
"Not when the sounds of the waters under the earth entered your ears?"
"I believe it did once. But I was afraid of the giants for them. That was what made me bear so much from the brutes myself!"
"Indeed you almost taught the noble little creatures to be afraid of the stupid Bags! While they fed and comforted and worshipped you, all the time you submitted to be the slave of bestial men! You gave the darlings a seeming coward for their hero! A worse wrong you could hardly have done them. They gave you their hearts; you owed them your soul!--You might by this time have made the Bags hewers of wood and drawers of water to the Little Ones!"
"I fear what you say is true, Mr. Raven! But indeed I was afraid that more knowledge might prove an injury to them--render them less innocent, less lovely."
"They had given you no reason to harbour such a fear!"
"Is not a little knowledge a dangerous thing?"
"That is one of the pet falsehoods of your world! Is man's greatest knowledge more than a little? or is it therefore dangerous? The fancy that knowledge is in itself a great thing, would make any degree of knowledge more dangerous than any amount of ignorance. To know all things would not be greatness."
"At least it was for love of them, not from cowardice that I served the giants!"
"Granted. But you ought to have served the Little Ones, not the giants! You ought to have given the Little Ones water; then they would soon have taught the giants their true position. In the meantime you could yourself have made the giants cut down two-thirds of their coarse fruit-trees to give room to the little delicate ones! You lost your chance with the Lovers, Mr. Vane! You speculated about them instead of helping them!"