Mordag, the merchant, followed the Wisdom circumspectly, not speaking of it where laughter might arise; separating the Principles carefully from the established usages of profit; allowing not his gifts to cut into his commerce; congratulating himself that this was an enlightened age in which a man need not lose the world in order to cultivate his soul.
But the time came when it was rumored about that the Assemblies had drawn too many worshipers from the temples, and that the priests sought the ear of the King against them. This king, being heavy-handed and of quick temper, and the priests being adept in pricking the vanities of the great, Mordag was disturbed, and for many days was not seen at the Assemblies: reasoning to himself that if peril were toward, the power and wealth of a man like himself had best be preserved against a day of reestablishment in more favorable times. Thus, as the trouble grew, he busied himself in concealing the traces of his adherence; but at a banquet one night was accused, less than half in jest, of frequenting the Assemblies himself. Seeking hastily to turn this danger aside, he bethought himself of saying:
“There may be madmen among them, but there are also fair women among them!”
In the approving laugh that went up over this establishment of a seemly reason for being seen in such company, Mordag’s fears were ameliorated; but he did not enjoy the banquet, for the taste of that answer remained in his mouth.
Upon the next day, MacMorhan the Preceptor appeared in Mordag’s doorway. He stood wearily; his clothing was torn and there was blood on the path behind him. By this, Mordag knew that the wrath of the King had indeed fallen, and was sorely frightened, as MacMorhan looked into his eyes with a silent question. On the screen of Mordag’s brain arose pictures of Mordag disgraced, perhaps hanged; of Mordag’s treasures seized by the State; of Mordag’s children ragged in the grounds of the common schools, laughed at. Pinned between those visions and the calm eyes of MacMorhan, Mordag quivered in anguish; but the cup of choice passed from his lips, for MacMorhan turned away, saying no word.
As he reached the gate, lance-heads crested the ridge, and shortly MacMorhan, like a tall oak before the woodsman’s ax, unfearing and unresisting, was ridden down in the road by the King’s men, before the eyes of Mordag, sick in his doorway. For a long time Mordag gazed at the crumpled rags that were the remaining manifestation of the wisdom and benevolence of MacMorhan, and plucked at his lips. Recovering at last, he busied himself with secret disposal of the body of the Preceptor and with setting foundation of justification under the edifice of his non-doing.
“What gain,” he reasoned, “in two dying where one would suffice; and what hope for revival, some day, of the Wisdom, if Preceptor and sustainer alike are vanished?”
Tossing upon his couch that night, Mordag at last reached complacence; but upon entering the corridors of sleep he found himself in a land strange and dark, wherein were rolling hills covered with pines whose summits were lost in wet darkness overhead. Slowly the mist gathered on the leaves; slowly dripped on the wet clay where no grass grew. Around about, silence and the labyrinth of trunks giving no direction.
Wearily, wearily, Mordag struggled and slid, by no light save the torch held high in his trembling hand. Wearily his mind fumbled to recover the meaning, the half-remembered meaning, of a land over-shadowed by trees under which no grass could grow. Worn beyond endurance, he slipped and fell; the torch, flung far, vanished. Mordag sat up amid the dark and drip, waiting the dawn; but after a timeless age, knew that in that place was never any dawn; no light forevermore save what a man carried in his hand; and the light was out.
Then Mordag, flinging his arms wide and his covering to the four walls, won back from this nightmare to the blessed morning dawn, and sobbed in joy and relief. But unknown to him, there lay under the rosy light reflected from his walls, darkness illimitable and all-encompassing.
For the Soul of Mordag had stood, invisible beside MacMorhan, to ask a question; and the dream that was no dream was the departing message of the Soul of Mordag.
Last Update : January