"I am sorry I cannot explain the thing to you," he answered; "but there
is no provision in you for understanding it. Not merely, therefore,
is the phenomenon inexplicable to you, but the very nature of it is
inapprehensible by you. Indeed I but partially apprehend it myself. At
the same time you are constantly experiencing things which you not only
do not, but cannot understand. You think you understand them, but your
understanding of them is only your being used to them, and therefore not
surprised at them. You accept them, not because you understand them,
but because you must accept them: they are there, and have unavoidable
relations with you! The fact is, no man understands anything; when he
knows he does not understand, that is his first tottering step--not
toward understanding, but toward the capability of one day
understanding. To such things as these you are not used, therefore you do not fancy you understand them. Neither I nor any man can here help you to understand; but I may, perhaps, help you a little to believe!"
He went to the door of the closet, gave a low whistle, and stood listening. A moment after, I heard, or seemed to hear, a soft whir of wings, and, looking up, saw a white dove perch for an instant on the top of the shelves over the portrait, thence drop to Mr. Raven's shoulder, and lay her head against his cheek. Only by the motions of their two heads could I tell that they were talking together; I heard nothing. Neither had I moved my eyes from them, when suddenly she was not there, and Mr. Raven came back to his seat.
"Why did you whistle?" I asked. "Surely sound here is not sound there!"
"You are right," he answered. "I whistled that you might know I called her. Not the whistle, but what the whistle meant reached her.--There is not a minute to lose: you must go!"
"I will at once!" I replied, and moved for the door.
"You will sleep to-night at my hostelry!" he said--not as a question, but in a tone of mild authority.
"My heart is with the children," I replied. "But if you insist----"
"I do insist. You can otherwise effect nothing.--I will go with you as far as the mirror, and see you off."
He rose. There came a sudden shock in the closet. Apparently the leopardess had flung herself against the heavy door. I looked at my companion.
"Come; come!" he said.
Ere we reached the door of the library, a howling yell came after us, mingled with the noise of claws that scored at the hard oak. I hesitated, and half turned.
"To think of her lying there alone," I murmured, "--with that terrible wound!"
"Nothing will ever close that wound," he answered, with a sigh. "It must eat into her heart! Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. An evil thing must live with its evil until it chooses to be good. That alone is the slaying of evil."
I held my peace until a sound I did not understand overtook us.
"If she should break loose!" I cried.
"Make haste!" he rejoined. "I shall hurry down the moment you are gone, and I have disarranged the mirrors."
We ran, and reached the wooden chamber breathless. Mr. Raven seized the chains and adjusted the hood. Then he set the mirrors in their proper relation, and came beside me in front of the standing one. Already I saw the mountain range emerging from the mist.
Between us, wedging us asunder, darted, with the yell of a demon, the huge bulk of the spotted leopardess. She leaped through the mirror as through an open window, and settled at once into a low, even, swift gallop.
I cast a look of dismay at my companion, and sprang through to follow her. He came after me leisurely.
"You need not run," he called; "you cannot overtake her. This is our way."
As he spoke he turned in the opposite direction.
"She has more magic at her finger-tips than I care to know!" he added quietly.
"We must do what we can!" I said, and ran on, but sickening as I saw her dwindle in the distance, stopped, and went back to him.
"Doubtless we must," he answered. "But my wife has warned Mara, and she will do her part; you must sleep first: you have given me your word!"
"Nor do I mean to break it. But surely sleep is not the first thing! Surely, surely, action takes precedence of repose!"
"A man can do nothing he is not fit to do.--See! did I not tell you Mara would do her part?"
I looked whither he pointed, and saw a white spot moving at an acute angle with the line taken by the leopardess.
"There she is!" he cried. "The spotted leopardess is strong, but the white is stronger!"
"I have seen them fight: the combat did not appear decisive as to that."
"How should such eyes tell which have never slept? The princess did not confess herself beaten--that she never does--but she fled! When she confesses her last hope gone, that it is indeed hard to kick against the goad, then will her day begin to dawn! Come; come! He who cannot act must make haste to sleep!"