The tom-toms thumped straight on all night, and the darkness shuddered ‘round me like a living, feeling thing. I could not go to sleep, so I lay awake and looked; and I saw, as it seemed, this:
That I stood on a grassy precipice, and at my feet at crevice broke down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths. Back I drew, dizzy at the depth.
Then I saw forms of people moving in single file along the grass. They were making for the edge. There was a woman with a baby in her arms and another little child holding onto her dress. She was on the very verge. Then I saw that she was blind. She lifted her foot for the next step…it trod air. She was over, and the children over with her.
Oh, they cry as they went over!
Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind; and all made straight for the crevice’s edge. They were shrieks as they suddenly knew in themselves that they were falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly and fell without a sound.
Then I wondered with a wonder that was simple agony, why no one stopped them at the edge. I could not, I was glued to the ground. And I could not call; though I strained and tried, only a whisper would come.
Then I saw that along the edge there were guards set at intervals. But the intervals were too great; there were wide, unguarded gaps between. And over these gaps the people fell in their blindness, quite unwarned; and the green grass seemed blood-red to me, and gulf yawned like the mouth of hell.
Then I saw, like a little picture of peace, a group of people under some trees with their backs turned towards the gulf. They were making daisy chains. Sometimes when a piercing shriek cut the quiet air and reached them, it disturbed them and they thought it a rather vulgar noise. And if one of their number started up and wanted to go and do something to help, then all the others would pull that one down. “Why should you get all excited about it? You must wait for a definite call to go! You haven’t finished your daisy chain yet. It would be really selfish,” they said, “to leave us to finish the work alone.”
There was another group. It was made up of people whose great desire was to get more guards out; but they found that very few wanted to go, and sometimes there were no guards set for miles and miles of the edge.
One girl stood alone in her place, waving the people back; but her mother and other relations called, and reminded her that her furlough was due; she must not break the rules. And being tired and needing a change, she had to go and rest for a while; but no one was sent to guard her gap, and over and over the people fell, like a waterfall of souls.
Once a child caught at a tuft of grass that grew at the very brink of the gulf; it clung convulsively, and it called — but nobody seemed to hear. Then the roots of the grass gave way, and with a cry the child went over, the two little hands still holding right to the torn-off bunch of grass. And the girl who longed to be back in her gap thought she heard the little one cry, and she sprang up and wanted to go; at which they reproved her, reminding her that no one is necessary anywhere; the gap would be well taken care of, they knew. And then they sang a hymn.
Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was; the cry of the blood.
Then thundered a voice, the voice of the Lord. And he said, “What hast though done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto Me from the ground.”
The tom-toms still beat heavily, and darkness still shuddered and shivered about me. I heard the yells of the devil-dancers and weird, wild shrieks of the devil-possessed just outside the gate.
What does it matter, after all? It has gone on for years; it will go on for years. Why make such a fuss about it?
God forgive us! God arouse us! Shame us out of our callousness! Shame us out of our sin!