The Works of Sydney Fowler Wright 1874 - 1965

S. Fowler Wright's Short Stories



The man and woman had lived once on the earth, and their days had been evil.

        After their kind they had loved; but their souls had been blinded by the bodies in which they lived, so that they had known each other but dimly, as forms that move in the mist.

        Soul had called to soul as a half-heard voice in the darkness, and, even while they had held together, they had jarred and doubted.

        Also, their years had been pallid with hunger, and sad with fear, and divided by separate sins; and their child had died. They had suffered from their own follies and from the cruelties of their fellowmen. But at the last they, being hanged, had died together. That was by the mercy of God.

        And the angel of the Lord took them, one by one, to the Divine Presence.

        And the man went first, for so he had died. And the Eternal God asked him: "Have you done well?"

        And the man answered: "Lord, I have done little, either of good or evil. I was weak, and mean, and futile. I found pain and sorrow, which were very real; and I found love dimly."

        And the Eternal God answered: "The pain is past. What would you?"

        And the man thought, and answered: "I would have the woman I loved."

        And the Eternal God said: "You may have asked well, but she is not mine to give. Stand aside."

*        *        *        *        *

        And the woman came into the Divine Presence, and the Eternal God asked her: "Have you done well?"

        "Lord," she said, "I have done little, either of good or evil. I was wedded to one who was weak and futile, and I had no beauty to inspire, nor counsel to aid him. Fear and grief walked beside us, and I saw love dimly. And the child died."

        And the Eternal God answered: "The pain is past. What would you?"

        And the woman thought, and said: "I would have the man that I loved."

        And the Eternal God answered: "You have chosen well," and He called the man, and their hands met, and side by side they went into Heaven.

        And the ages passed, and the sun shone that never scorched, and the wind blew that never chilled, and the flowers bloomed that were fadeless.

        They loved, and were never weary of love; they ate the pleasant fruits, and were never sated.

        They thought as one, for their souls were bare to each other, and their bodies had been on earth. But those bodies had been made ugly by their parents' sins and were scarred by the jailer's stripes, and roughened by unnatural toils, and distorted by disease, and made gaunt with hunger, and piteous by the pressure of years; and their souls were now clean of the contamination of evil, and their bodies had no guile to conceal them.

        But there came a day when the man said: "I have beauty and strength of form, and you are fairer than the noon in Heaven; and we have desires that do not slacken, and delights that grant them. Our souls are bare to each other in a clear light, and the flesh can neither veil nor hinder. We have forgotten shame and fear. There is never discord between us, and love is a very perfect flower.

        "Yet I become less than I was on earth, a thing more despicable in the sight of God. For there I fought, though I never conquered. There I strove with evil, though it ever sloughed me.

        "But here is neither evil nor good, and the best words are forgotten.

        "Can we be generous, who have no need? Or valiant, who have no peril? Or merciful, who have no fear? Or magnanimous, who have no greed?

        "I am become less than the meanest rat that gnaws to break the trap in which its kindred are taken."

        And the woman answered: "It is even so; and I also am become less than the poorest bird that spreads defenceless wings above its eggs when the stoat approaches."

        And they asked the angels of God how these things were.

        And the angels answered: "You speak foolishly; for here is peace without evil, and joy is a flower that does not fall," and they drew apart, for they feared the shadow.

        And the woman said: "Is there no wisdom in the angels of God?"

        And the man answered: "It may be well for them. But we have known greater things."

        And they rose with one thought, and went into the Divine Presence.

        "Lord," they said, "we would go back to earth."

        And the Eternal God said: "Do you forget so soon. Look and know."

        And they saw the vision that moves in the wastes of space, and that will endure till the suns fail. The vision of the things that have been.

        They saw themselves, and each other. They saw a hovel, and a dying child. They saw a man that came through a broken door. His clothes were ragged, and drenched with rain, and his hands were empty of bread. He said: "I might have stolen, but I was afraid. As I remembered you, and the child, I was resolved; but then the watch came, and it was too late." And he sat down on a stool, and wept, for he was weak with hunger.

        And the woman answered: "Then the child must die?" and there was hate in her heart, and her eyes were evil.

        And they looked and knew, and answered nothing; but they returned into Heaven.

        And the ages passed, and the sun shone that never scorched, and the wind blew that never chilled, and the flowers bloomed that were fadeless.

        They loved and were never weary of love: they ate the pleasant fruits and were never sated: and the child was about their knees, and it did not die.

        But there were no stars.

        And there came a time when they arose again with one purpose.

        They came to the Divine Presence, and they said: "Lord, it is a fair life; but we have known of a better."

        And the Eternal God answered: "You have known a worse. Look and see."

        And they saw themselves, and each other.

        They saw a square, with red-tiled houses around it. They saw a marketplace of cobblestones, and a great crowd that filled it. They saw the arrogance of steel and feather, and the colours of painted shields.

        They saw a cart drawn by a white horse, and there was straw in the cart, and there were two that lay bound in the straw.

        Then they saw a man that cut the thongs from the captives' feet, so that they stood upright, but not steadily, a man and a woman. They were bony with starvation; they bore the scars of the red-hot pincers that had held them; and their faces were grey with fear.

        They stood up, and the crowd swayed, and shouted. A priest came forward, and there was a crucifix in his hand. The man shook his head as he approached, and the woman cursed him, and he withdrew. The crowd saw it, and shouted more loudly.

        They saw the man hustled up a ladder, and a halter was round his neck. They saw him pushed off, so that he twisted twice in the air, as a joint twists on the spit. They saw him lowered to the ground, while he still lived. They heard him scream as the knife entered.

        When his quarters lay on the ground they saw the woman hanged in the same way; only, after the hanging, a cord was put around her neck and was drawn tightly, so that she was dead before she was quartered.

        And they looked, and they said nothing; but they did not move.

        And the Eternal God said: "You have seen. What would you?"

        And the woman said: "Lord, why is it?"

        And the Eternal God answered: "It is necessary that all things are. Yet hath none gone to the pit but of a free choice, and I also have done it."

        And the man said: "Should we be apart or together?"

        And the Eternal God answered: "I cannot tell you that. There are many loves that may call, and many circumstances that may divide you. If you go, you go blindly."

        And the woman asked: "Have we choice of our parents or of the place of our births?"

        And the Eternal God answered: "You will neither choose nor know. Birth will be a darkness behind and death a darkness before you. You will forget all that you are or have been. You will endure the night of the womb, as your body grows from the current of another's blood, and her thoughts control you; knowing panic when she fears, and causeless joy when she pleasures. You will know the terror of birth when you are cast out with a body which is not yours, but has been made weak or strong by the passions of others. You will live through helpless years under the controls of those who may be foolish or brutal. You will be scourged by the customs of the tribe that breeds you, and enslaved by instincts that you cannot kill, though your mind may hate them. You will know remorse and shame. You will desire things which you cannot reach, or you will find your gains to be worthless. You will know pain that is more dreadful than any sorrow, and sorrow that is more dreadful than any pain. You will do evil to others, and you will suffer evil continually. At the last, you will die miserably, facing the curtain of death without assurance of immortality. For if you go, you go blindly."

        And the man and the woman looked at each other, and they were silent, being afraid. But at last they said: "Lord, we will go, for we have seen that it is the better way."

        And the Eternal God answered: "You have chosen well. As you have asked it is granted. Go in sorrow." For He saw that they had become as gods, knowing good and evil.

        And they loosed hands, and went blindly into the pit of birth, and were not together.

*        *        *        *        *

End of this file.