Sunrise Magazine Online

A Veil Withdrawn

By Hazel Minot

Yon path shall take you where you will. — Virgil

Steve Marsden lighted his pipe and stretched out comfortably by the little stream: its source a cluster of springs in the rock-wall towering towards pine-crowned heights; its destination the river far below. Steve himself was headed for that same river, but by a route less precipitous than that of the stream. It was a steep descent at best, already a wild scramble in parts, and when he had reached the stream he was glad to take time out for a smoke. Time also to sort out his impressions: they had been crowding in on him ever since he had come to the rim of a mountain valley and looked across at range on range of rugged peaks. It was a sight that had stirred him deeply and given confirmation to the urge that had sent him tramping through the hills.

He was hunting the answers to a lot of questions: questions about the how and why of things; some resolvement of the recurring entanglements in the pattern of life; an indication of what one individual could do to shift the balance for the better. Most of his questions were only half-formed, and his inability to dislodge them from the depths of his consciousness and make them objective had left him with a feeling of frustration. That his friends regarded him as an impractical dreamer did not help the situation, and he had welcomed his two weeks' vacation as an opportunity to get away by himself, to come closer to nature, and to be where he could think aloud if he wanted to. He would find out if something which seemed so close as to be 'just around the corner' really was there — if it wasn't, he'd do his best to lay its ghost. Coming with startling suddenness upon his first view of those majestic peaks, he had known for certain that there were answers to his questions, and that they were waiting for him in this primeval land. The knowledge of it brought both the excitement of adventure and the peace of realization.

It was with a feeling of well-being that he listened now to the murmur of the stream. He was very much relaxed, too much so in fact, for its pleasant drowsiness almost lulled him asleep, carrying his thoughts far, far away, and when he roused himself it was with the feeling of trying to remember something once known but long forgotten. Whatever the answer to that one, he knew he must be on his way if he wished to reach the river before dusk, and so once more he began the difficult descent.

[image]The path, such as it was, led in and out of canyons, up and over spurs that could not be detoured. Sometimes the mountains were almost lost to sight, again they confronted him with an abruptness that was startling. A jutting rock that had seemed a considerable distance away unexpectedly loomed in front of him, and the majesty and tremendous size of it all made him feel as if he had been transported to another world. He was more and more aware of a murmur below him and knew that he was nearing the river. At last he caught a glimpse of it: no quiet-flowing stream this, but a turbulent water foaming over stones, cascading down steplike rocks, its voice becoming more boisterous as he drew near.

Forcing his way through a tangle of shrubs he found himself on a bank overlooking the river and stood rooted to the spot. Opposite him, and rising from the water to such a height that he must bend backward to see its top, was sheer stone cliff. Beyond it the mountains were touched by late afternoon light, forming a striking contrast to this giant cliff, all dark and forbidding. It seemed the very gateway to the underworld. His eye caught movement midway on the cliff-face — a bird darker than the rock beating the air with its wings as though seeking some crevice by which to enter that rocky wall. It was unreal, not a thing of the present, but a picture captured from the beginning of time. Then, swiftly the beating wings had changed their motion, carrying the bird eastward along the river.

Steve sensed its departure rather than saw it and took a deep breath, realizing only then how fixed had been his concentration. For, while the bird floated, poised before the cliff, his thought, following its every quiver as it hovered, had flashed beyond it, penetrated that rocky citadel, found what it was seeking — and returned before the bird had flown away.

The half-hour by the stream had been one of supreme relaxation. His experience by the river was an intense stimulation. Hours later he was still under the inspiration of it; aware of things within himself that gave the clue to the answers he was seeking; catching a glimpse of the good even one man can do if his thought be for others before himself. Words could never tell a thousandth part of what had been brought him in that moment beyond time. He remembered lines from Porphyry that he had always loved but now they had an entirely new meaning for him:

Through intelligence one reaches many things which are superior to intelligence, but intuitions come better by the quiescence of thought than by thought itself.

Yes, that had been it: an utter quiescence of thought, a vast silence. But out of that silence had come light, as if a veil had been withdrawn.

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Mind is the spell which governs earth and heaven,
And we feel day and night,
The burden of ourselves;
Well, then, the wiser wight
In his own bosom delves,
And asks what ails him so,
And gets what aid he can.
Once read thy own breast right,
And thou hast done with fears;
Man gets no other light,
Search he a thousand years.
— Matthew Arnold