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  Lilith George MacDonald

I Sleep The Sleep

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When I woke, the ground was moist about me, and my track to the grave was growing a quicksand. In its ancient course the river was swelling, and had begun to shove at its burden. Soon it would be roaring down the precipice, and, divided in its fall, rushing with one branch to resubmerge the orchard valley, with the other to drown perhaps the monster horde, and between them to isle the Evil Wood. I set out at once on my return to those who sent me.

When I came to the precipice, I took my way betwixt the branches, for I would pass again by the cottage of Mara, lest she should have returned: I longed to see her once more ere I went to sleep; and now I knew where to cross the channels, even if the river should have overtaken me and filled them. But when I reached it, the door stood open still; the bread and the water were still on the table; and deep silence was within and around it. I stopped and called aloud at the door, but no voice replied, and I went my way.

A little farther, I came where sat a grayheaded man on the sand, weeping.

"What ails you, sir?" I asked. "Are you forsaken?"

"I weep," he answered, "because they will not let me die. I have been to the house of death, and its mistress, notwithstanding my years, refuses me. Intercede for me, sir, if you know her, I pray you."

"Nay, sir," I replied, "that I cannot; for she refuses none whom it is lawful for her to receive."

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"How know you this of her? You have never sought death! you are much too young to desire it!"

"I fear your words may indicate that, were you young again, neither would you desire it."

"Indeed, young sir, I would not! and certain I am that you cannot."

"I may not be old enough to desire to die, but I am young enough to desire to live indeed! Therefore I go now to learn if she will at length take me in. You wish to die because you do not care to live: she will not open her door to you, for no one can die who does not long to live."

"It ill becomes your youth to mock a friendless old man. Pray, cease your riddles!"

"Did not then the Mother tell you something of the same sort?"

"In truth I believe she did; but I gave little heed to her excuses."

"Ah, then, sir," I rejoined, "it is but too plain you have not yet learned to die, and I am heartily grieved for you. Such had I too been but for the Lady of Sorrow. I am indeed young, but I have wept many tears; pardon me, therefore, if I presume to offer counsel:--Go to the Lady of Sorrow, and `take with both hands'[1] what she will give you. Yonder lies her cottage. She is not in it now, but her door stands open, and there is bread and water on her table. Go in; sit down; eat of the bread; drink of the water; and wait there until she appear. Then ask counsel of her, for she is true, and her wisdom is great."

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