Originally published in 1936 by C. W. Daniel Company, London. Theosophical University Press electronic version published 1999, ISBN 1-55700-150-2. All rights reserved. This edition may be downloaded for off-line viewing without charge. For ease of searching, no diacritical marks appear in the electronic version of the text.
Have you ever, when walking in the forest, listened to the trees as they whispered among themselves? If you have, then you must surely have remarked how the whisper increased until you believed you could detect these words: "Who are you, Stranger? What do you seek here in our green home?" And your heart must have hastened to answer: "I seek peace and rest for my thoughts in your green home. Fear not that I break the harmony reigning among you! I come but to listen to the singing of the birds and to your soft voices." And at that the whisper sank to a low murmur, which, though wordless, you understood to mean: "Welcome, then, Stranger! Come and hearken to the singing of the birds and the rustle of our leaves, and you will surely be filled with the peace of the forest."
It was in this manner that the great forest near the source of the river Sophia in Pilgrim's Land held communion with the man on horseback who slowly made his way between the trees. He heard the wondering whisper of the heavy pines as they waved their shaggy arms about agitatedly, and he perceived how the whisper passed from tree to tree, from the haughty oak to the dainty birch, from the cheerful beech to the stately elm: "A stranger has come to our forest! A stranger!" And the man filled his lungs with the pure, fragrant air and murmured: "Ah, the peace! The utter peace of the forest!" And from this the forest understood that he was a friend, and the murmur of the trees became softer, and he heard them all rustle: "Welcome! Welcome!" — or so it seemed to him.
On and on he rode through the rows of the tall, gaunt, green-clad giants that surrounded him, and then, unexpectedly, he came to an opening in the forest, and before the charmed gaze of the youth — for he was scarce older — there lay a lake as clear as crystal, on which floated countless water-lilies. The sun's rays stole in through the tree-tops and danced and chased one another on the surface. All around it grew slender weeping-willows which bent over the water and contemplated their own graceful forms in permanent ecstasy. Shimmering dragon-flies flew to and fro, skimming the surface with their transparent wings. It was, in truth, a marvelous picture and well worth looking at, but the eyes of the youth looked past all this and right across the lake, for there, on the opposite side, he perceived a maiden of such unearthly beauty that he forgot all else as he gazed upon her. She stood immovable and calmly returned his look, and he noticed with wonder that her body emitted a faint radiance — or was it only the sunbeams nestling in her gleaming, golden hair? This he was unable to say.
An overpowering desire to approach her, to stand beside her and drink in the full spell of her loveliness seized him, and without more reflection he rode around the lake to where she stood — or rather had been standing, for when she saw him approaching she turned and ran, light as a doe, into the thickest part of the forest. Frantically the youth urged on his horse after the fleeing form, releasing his hold of the reins in his agitation, but at this something unexpected occurred. The unruly animal, feeling a complete relaxation of the masterful grip on the reins, suddenly threw back its head, and then turned and made for the opposite direction. Hastily the youth reached for the reins, but before he could put his intention into practice he was swept off the saddle by the heavy, overhanging branch of a tree, and then all was darkness around him.
When he came to himself he was lying in a cave on a pile of dry leaves and twigs. His head felt curiously dizzy and there was an unpleasant ringing in his ears. He tried to sit up but found himself unable to do this because of a strange weakness in all his limbs. Then he felt a soft arm around his shoulders, and a voice sweeter than any he had yet heard said: "Let me help you!"
And he turned his head quickly and looked up into the face of her who had spoken. It was She — the maiden of the calm gaze and the golden hair! Painfully he sat up, leaning against her arm, but at that she immediately moved away from him and stood and leaned against the entrance to the cave.
"Who are you, maiden?" he then asked her wonderingly. "It seems to me that I know you already; that I have seen you before. But where? . . . Where could I have seen you? In some dream?"
"Perhaps," she said with a smile, "you have indeed seen me before — in some dream. Are dreams not windows looking out on vaster tracts of land than any awakening state could ever show?"
But the youth shook his head with a dissatisfied air. He looked at her fixedly, the deep wrinkles on his forehead betraying the mental effort he was making to remember. Then his eyes lit up with a sudden gleam of recollection, and he exclaimed:
"I know now where I have seen you before. Many a night have I gazed upon the sky, and there have I seen your eyes, looking down upon me. I have seen your hair waving in the breeze upon the cornfields, and undulating on the moonlit sea. I have heard your footstep at even when the wind passed through the slumbering trees. I have seen the faint flush of your cheek when the sun crimsoned the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Small wonder that I was filled with longing at the sight of you! I stretched out my hand after the stars and pursued the immortal dawn!"
She smiled but said nothing. And he went on speaking.
"How could I have dared to pursue you as did?" he said. "Well did I deserve to be thrown off my horse! I had never thought him capable of so much contrariety: he had grown to be so much a part of my own self that I believed him to be an obedient servant and friend in every enterprise we undertook together. I see that I was greatly mistaken. But a greater marvel still have I seen to-day. When I pursued you, you turned and fled from me — and now, when I believed you lost to me for ever, you are here beside me."
And his face expressed a great wonder. But the maiden came up to him without a word and knelt down by his couch and proceeded to tend to the wound in his head, which he had received in his fall.
The following morning the youth was awakened by a clear voice in his ear which said:
"Arise and mount your horse. See how impatient he is to leave! You have had a good night's rest, and there is nothing to prevent you from proceeding on your way."
And there stood She beside him, holding his horse by the bridle. Slowly he rose and went up to her. His face grew dark as he looked at his impatient horse, stamping and prancing before him. Then he turned resolutely towards her, and said:
"Maiden, will you not come with me? Will you not follow me to my home and be my bride? I will do all to make your life bright and happy. I will be your shield and your armor, that none of the evils of life may touch you. I will serve you most devotedly, so that your every wish shall be my law and each of your desires a most sacred task for me to carry out."
And he looked at her eagerly. But she shook her head and sighed deeply. Then she spoke and said:
"I would I could indeed become your bride, most valiant knight, but this I may not do, for you and I are not alike. I am the Nameless One, the daughter of the Great King of the Seven Sacred Lands, and you are but a mortal. Him alone among the mortals may I wed who finds the Secret of Existence: such is the Law."
"The Secret of Existence?" he repeated in amazement. "What man can ever hope to find this most elusive of realities? Almost impossible is it to win you, most exquisite of maidens, but this will I do. I will leave no stone unturned in the wide world in my search for the Secret of Existence, if I have to live countless centuries to find it. To win you I could accomplish anything — even the impossible."
"It is not an easy task," she said gravely; "indeed, it is impossible of achievement unless you be filled with perfect courage, patience, and faith. Have you all these?"
"Yes," he said; "they shall be my banner and my sword."
"Go, then, Beloved, and know that whatever happens I shall be ever waiting for your return. And when you will have found that which you are now setting out to find, you will know your way back to me — but not until that day. Until then, Vincent, farewell!"
"You know my name!" he cried.
She smiled. "Perhaps I have heard it before — in some dream!"
And she handed him the reins of his horse. Lightly he jumped into the saddle, without daring to touch even her hand in parting — so wonderful did she seem to him — and with a last, long look at her he turned and rode away.
"Farewell! Farewell!" whispered the trees as he rode by, "Farewell!"
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