The Country Of The Blind

: The Door In The Wall And Other Stories

Three hundred miles and more from Chimborazo, one hundred from the

snows of Cotopaxi, in the wildest wastes of Ecuador's Andes, there

lies that mysterious mountain valley, cut off from all the world of

men, the Country of the Blind. Long years ago that valley lay so

far open to the world that men might come at last through frightful

gorges and over an icy pass into its equable meadows, and thither

indeed men came, a f
mily or so of Peruvian half-breeds fleeing

from the lust and tyranny of an evil Spanish ruler. Then came the

stupendous outbreak of Mindobamba, when it was night in Quito for

seventeen days, and the water was boiling at Yaguachi and all the

fish floating dying even as far as Guayaquil; everywhere along the

Pacific slopes there were land-slips and swift thawings and sudden

floods, and one whole side of the old Arauca crest slipped and came

down in thunder, and cut off the Country of the Blind for ever from

the exploring feet of men. But one of these early settlers had

chanced to be on the hither side of the gorges when the world had

so terribly shaken itself, and he perforce had to forget his wife

and his child and all the friends and possessions he had left up

there, and start life over again in the lower world. He started it

again but ill, blindness overtook him, and he died of punishment in

the mines; but the story he told begot a legend that lingers along

the length of the Cordilleras of the Andes to this day.

He told of his reason for venturing back from that fastness,

into which he had first been carried lashed to a llama, beside a

vast bale of gear, when he was a child. The valley, he said, had

in it all that the heart of man could desire--sweet water, pasture,

an even climate, slopes of rich brown soil with tangles of a shrub

that bore an excellent fruit, and on one side great hanging forests

of pine that held the avalanches high. Far overhead, on three

sides, vast cliffs of grey-green rock were capped by cliffs of ice;

but the glacier stream came not to them, but flowed away by the

farther slopes, and only now and then huge ice masses fell on the

valley side. In this valley it neither rained nor snowed, but the

abundant springs gave a rich green pasture, that irrigation would

spread over all the valley space. The settlers did well indeed

there. Their beasts did well and multiplied, and but one thing

marred their happiness. Yet it was enough to mar it greatly. A

strange disease had come upon them and had made all the children

born to them there--and, indeed, several older children

also--blind. It was to seek some charm or antidote against this

plague of blindness that he had with fatigue and danger and

difficulty returned down the gorge. In those days, in such cases,

men did not think of germs and infections, but of sins, and it

seemed to him that the reason of this affliction must he in the

negligence of these priestless immigrants to set up a shrine so

soon as they entered the valley. He wanted a shrine--a handsome,

cheap, effectual shrine--to be erected in the valley; he wanted

relics and such-like potent things of faith, blessed objects and

mysterious medals and prayers. In his wallet he had a bar of

native silver for which he would not account; he insisted there was

none in the valley with something of the insistence of an inexpert

liar. They had all clubbed their money and ornaments together,

having little need for such treasure up there, he said, to buy them

holy help against their ill. I figure this dim-eyed young

mountaineer, sunburnt, gaunt, and anxious, hat brim clutched

feverishly, a man all unused to the ways of the lower world,

telling this story to some keen-eyed, attentive priest before the

great convulsion; I can picture him presently seeking to return

with pious and infallible remedies against that trouble, and the

infinite dismay with which he must have faced the tumbled vastness

where the gorge had once come out. But the rest of his story of

mischances is lost to me, save that I know of his evil death after

several years. Poor stray from that remoteness! The stream that

had once made the gorge now bursts from the mouth of a rocky cave,

and the legend his poor, ill-told story set going developed into

the legend of a race of blind men somewhere "over there" one may

still hear to-day.

And amidst the little population of that now isolated and

forgotten valley the disease ran its course. The old became

groping, the young saw but dimly, and the children that were born

to them never saw at all. But life was very easy in that

snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world, with neither thorns nor

briers, with no evil insects nor any beasts save the gentle breed

of llamas they had lugged and thrust and followed up the beds of

the shrunken rivers in the gorges up which they had come. The

seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed

their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and

thither until they knew the whole valley marvellously, and when at

last sight died out among them the race lived on. They had even

time to adapt themselves to the blind control of fire, which they

made carefully in stoves of stone. They were a simple strain of

people at the first, unlettered, only slightly touched with the

Spanish civilisation, but with something of a tradition of the arts

of old Peru and of its lost philosophy. Generation followed

generation. They forgot many things; they devised many things.

Their tradition of the greater world they came from became mythical

in colour and uncertain. In all things save sight they were strong

and able, and presently chance sent one who had an original mind

and who could talk and persuade among them, and then afterwards

another. These two passed, leaving their effects, and the little

community grew in numbers and in understanding, and met and settled

social and economic problems that arose. Generation followed

generation. Generation followed generation. There came a time

when a child was born who was fifteen generations from that

ancestor who went out of the valley with a bar of silver to seek

God's aid, and who never returned. Thereabout it chanced that a

man came into this community from the outer world. And this is the

story of that man.

He was a mountaineer from the country near Quito, a man who

had been down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books

in an original way, an acute and enterprising man, and he was taken

on by a party of Englishmen who had come out to Ecuador to climb

mountains, to replace one of their three Swiss guides who had

fallen ill. He climbed here and he climbed there, and then came

the attempt on Parascotopetl, the Matterhorn of the Andes, in which

he was lost to the outer world. The story of that accident has

been written a dozen times. Pointer's narrative is the best. He

tells how the little party worked their difficult and almost

vertical way up to the very foot of the last and greatest

precipice, and how they built a night shelter amidst the snow upon

a little shelf of rock, and, with a touch of real dramatic power,

how presently they found Nunez had gone from them. They shouted,

and there was no reply; shouted and whistled, and for the rest of

that night they slept no more.

As the morning broke they saw the traces of his fall. It

seems impossible he could have uttered a sound. He had slipped

eastward towards the unknown side of the mountain; far below he had

struck a steep slope of snow, and ploughed his way down it in the

midst of a snow avalanche. His track went straight to the edge of

a frightful precipice, and beyond that everything was hidden. Far,

far below, and hazy with distance, they could see trees rising out

of a narrow, shut-in valley--the lost Country of the Blind. But

they did not know it was the lost Country of the Blind, nor

distinguish it in any way from any other narrow streak of upland

valley. Unnerved by this disaster, they abandoned their attempt in

the afternoon, and Pointer was called away to the war before he

could make another attack. To this day Parascotopetl lifts an

unconquered crest, and Pointer's shelter crumbles unvisited amidst

the snows.

And the man who fell survived.

At the end of the slope he fell a thousand feet, and came down

in the midst of a cloud of snow upon a snow-slope even steeper than

the one above. Down this he was whirled, stunned and insensible,

but without a bone broken in his body; and then at last came to

gentler slopes, and at last rolled out and lay still, buried amidst

a softening heap of the white masses that had accompanied and saved

him. He came to himself with a dim fancy that he was ill in bed;

then realized his position with a mountaineer's intelligence and

worked himself loose and, after a rest or so, out until he saw the

stars. He rested flat upon his chest for a space, wondering where

he was and what had happened to him. He explored his limbs, and

discovered that several of his buttons were gone and his coat

turned over his head. His knife had gone from his pocket and his

hat was lost, though he had tied it under his chin. He recalled

that he had been looking for loose stones to raise his piece of the

shelter wall. His ice-axe had disappeared.

He decided he must have fallen, and looked up to see,

exaggerated by the ghastly light of the rising moon, the tremendous

flight he had taken. For a while he lay, gazing blankly at the

vast, pale cliff towering above, rising moment by moment out of a

subsiding tide of darkness. Its phantasmal, mysterious beauty held

him for a space, and then he was seized with a paroxysm of sobbing

laughter . . . .

After a great interval of time he became aware that he was

near the lower edge of the snow. Below, down what was now a

moon-lit and practicable slope, he saw the dark and broken

appearance of rock-strewn turf He struggled to his feet, aching in

every joint and limb, got down painfully from the heaped loose snow

about him, went downward until he was on the turf, and there

dropped rather than lay beside a boulder, drank deep from the flask

in his inner pocket, and instantly fell asleep . . . .

He was awakened by the singing of birds in the trees far


He sat up and perceived he was on a little alp at the foot of

a vast precipice that sloped only a little in the gully down which

he and his snow had come. Over against him another wall of rock

reared itself against the sky. The gorge between these precipices

ran east and west and was full of the morning sunlight, which lit

to the westward the mass of fallen mountain that closed the

descending gorge. Below him it seemed there was a precipice

equally steep, but behind the snow in the gully he found a sort of

chimney-cleft dripping with snow-water, down which a desperate man

might venture. He found it easier than it seemed, and came at last

to another desolate alp, and then after a rock climb of no

particular difficulty, to a steep slope of trees. He took his

bearings and turned his face up the gorge, for he saw it opened out

above upon green meadows, among which he now glimpsed quite

distinctly a cluster of stone huts of unfamiliar fashion. At times

his progress was like clambering along the face of a wall, and

after a time the rising sun ceased to strike along the gorge, the

voices of the singing birds died away, and the air grew cold and

dark about him. But the distant valley with its houses was all the

brighter for that. He came presently to talus, and among the rocks

he noted--for he was an observant man--an unfamiliar fern that

seemed to clutch out of the crevices with intense green hands. He

picked a frond or so and gnawed its stalk, and found it helpful.

About midday he came at last out of the throat of the gorge

into the plain and the sunlight. He was stiff and weary; he sat

down in the shadow of a rock, filled up his flask with water from

a spring and drank it down, and remained for a time, resting before

he went on to the houses.

They were very strange to his eyes, and indeed the whole

aspect of that valley became, as he regarded it, queerer and more

unfamiliar. The greater part of its surface was lush green meadow,

starred with many beautiful flowers, irrigated with extraordinary

care, and bearing evidence of systematic cropping piece by piece.

High up and ringing the valley about was a wall, and what appeared

to be a circumferential water channel, from which the little

trickles of water that fed the meadow plants came, and on the

higher slopes above this flocks of llamas cropped the scanty

herbage. Sheds, apparently shelters or feeding-places for the

llamas, stood against the boundary wall here and there. The

irrigation streams ran together into a main channel down the centre

of the valley, and this was enclosed on either side by a wall

breast high. This gave a singularly urban quality to this secluded

place, a quality that was greatly enhanced by the fact that a

number of paths paved with black and white stones, and each with a

curious little kerb at the side, ran hither and thither in an

orderly manner. The houses of the central village were quite

unlike the casual and higgledy-piggledy agglomeration of the

mountain villages he knew; they stood in a continuous row on

either side of a central street of astonishing cleanness, here

and there their parti-coloured facade was pierced by a door,

and not a solitary window broke their even frontage. They were

parti-coloured with extraordinary irregularity, smeared with a sort

of plaster that was sometimes grey, sometimes drab, sometimes

slate-coloured or dark brown; and it was the sight of this wild

plastering first brought the word "blind" into the thoughts of the

explorer. "The good man who did that," he thought, "must have been

as blind as a bat."

He descended a steep place, and so came to the wall and

channel that ran about the valley, near where the latter spouted

out its surplus contents into the deeps of the gorge in a thin and

wavering thread of cascade. He could now see a number of men and

women resting on piled heaps of grass, as if taking a siesta, in

the remoter part of the meadow, and nearer the village a number of

recumbent children, and then nearer at hand three men carrying

pails on yokes along a little path that ran from the encircling

wall towards the houses. These latter were clad in garments of

llama cloth and boots and belts of leather, and they wore caps of

cloth with back and ear flaps. They followed one another in single

file, walking slowly and yawning as they walked, like men who have

been up all night. There was something so reassuringly prosperous

and respectable in their bearing that after a moment's hesitation

Nunez stood forward as conspicuously as possible upon his rock, and

gave vent to a mighty shout that echoed round the valley.

The three men stopped, and moved their heads as though they

were looking about them. They turned their faces this way and

that, and Nunez gesticulated with freedom. But they did not appear

to see him for all his gestures, and after a time, directing

themselves towards the mountains far away to the right, they

shouted as if in answer. Nunez bawled again, and then once more,

and as he gestured ineffectually the word "blind" came up to the

top of his thoughts. "The fools must be blind," he said.

When at last, after much shouting and wrath, Nunez crossed the

stream by a little bridge, came through a gate in the wall, and

approached them, he was sure that they were blind. He was sure

that this was the Country of the Blind of which the legends told.

Conviction had sprung upon him, and a sense of great and rather

enviable adventure. The three stood side by side, not looking at

him, but with their ears directed towards him, judging him by his

unfamiliar steps. They stood close together like men a little

afraid, and he could see their eyelids closed and sunken, as though

the very balls beneath had shrunk away. There was an expression

near awe on their faces.

"A man," one said, in hardly recognisable Spanish. "A man it

is--a man or a spirit--coming down from the rocks."

But Nunez advanced with the confident steps of a youth who

enters upon life. All the old stories of the lost valley and the

Country of the Blind had come back to his mind, and through his

thoughts ran this old proverb, as if it were a refrain:--

"In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

"In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

And very civilly he gave them greeting. He talked to them and

used his eyes.

"Where does he come from, brother Pedro?" asked one.

"Down out of the rocks."

"Over the mountains I come," said Nunez, "out of the country

beyond there--where men can see. From near Bogota--where there are

a hundred thousands of people, and where the city passes out of


"Sight?" muttered Pedro. "Sight?"

"He comes," said the second blind man, "out of the rocks."

The cloth of their coats, Nunez saw was curious fashioned,

each with a different sort of stitching.

They startled him by a simultaneous movement towards him, each

with a hand outstretched. He stepped back from the advance of

these spread fingers.

"Come hither," said the third blind man, following his motion

and clutching him neatly.

And they held Nunez and felt him over, saying no word further

until they had done so.

"Carefully," he cried, with a finger in his eye, and found

they thought that organ, with its fluttering lids, a queer thing in

him. They went over it again.

"A strange creature, Correa," said the one called Pedro.

"Feel the coarseness of his hair. Like a llama's hair."

"Rough he is as the rocks that begot him," said Correa,

investigating Nunez's unshaven chin with a soft and slightly moist

hand. "Perhaps he will grow finer."

Nunez struggled a little under their examination, but they

gripped him firm.

"Carefully," he said again.

"He speaks," said the third man. "Certainly he is a man."

"Ugh!" said Pedro, at the roughness of his coat.

"And you have come into the world?" asked Pedro.

"Out of the world. Over mountains and glaciers; right

over above there, half-way to the sun. Out of the great, big world

that goes down, twelve days' journey to the sea."

They scarcely seemed to heed him. "Our fathers have told us

men may be made by the forces of Nature," said Correa. "It is the

warmth of things, and moisture, and rottenness--rottenness."

"Let us lead him to the elders," said Pedro.

"Shout first," said Correa, "lest the children be afraid.

This is a marvellous occasion."

So they shouted, and Pedro went first and took Nunez by the

hand to lead him to the houses.

He drew his hand away. "I can see," he said.

"See?" said Correa.

"Yes; see," said Nunez, turning towards him, and stumbled

against Pedro's pail.

"His senses are still imperfect," said the third blind man.

"He stumbles, and talks unmeaning words. Lead him by the hand."

"As you will," said Nunez, and was led along laughing.

It seemed they knew nothing of sight.

Well, all in good time he would teach them.

He heard people shouting, and saw a number of figures

gathering together in the middle roadway of the village.

He found it tax his nerve and patience more than he had

anticipated, that first encounter with the population of the

Country of the Blind. The place seemed larger as he drew near to

it, and the smeared plasterings queerer, and a crowd of children

and men and women (the women and girls he was pleased to note had,

some of them, quite sweet faces, for all that their eyes were shut

and sunken) came about him, holding on to him, touching him with

soft, sensitive hands, smelling at him, and listening at every

word he spoke. Some of the maidens and children, however, kept

aloof as if afraid, and indeed his voice seemed coarse and rude

beside their softer notes. They mobbed him. His three guides kept

close to him with an effect of proprietorship, and said again and

again, "A wild man out of the rocks."

"Bogota," he said. "Bogota. Over the mountain crests."

"A wild man--using wild words," said Pedro. "Did you hear


"Bogota? His mind has hardly formed yet. He has only

the beginnings of speech."

A little boy nipped his hand. "Bogota!" he said mockingly.

"Aye! A city to your village. I come from the great world--where

men have eyes and see."

"His name's Bogota," they said.

"He stumbled," said Correa--"stumbled twice as we came


"Bring him in to the elders."

And they thrust him suddenly through a doorway into a room as

black as pitch, save at the end there faintly glowed a fire. The

crowd closed in behind him and shut out all but the faintest

glimmer of day, and before he could arrest himself he had fallen

headlong over the feet of a seated man. His arm, outflung, struck

the face of someone else as he went down; he felt the soft impact

of features and heard a cry of anger, and for a moment he struggled

against a number of hands that clutched him. It was a one-sided

fight. An inkling of the situation came to him and he lay quiet.

"I fell down," he said; "I couldn't see in this pitchy


There was a pause as if the unseen persons about him tried to

understand his words. Then the voice of Correa said: "He is but

newly formed. He stumbles as he walks and mingles words that mean

nothing with his speech."

Others also said things about him that he heard or understood


"May I sit up?" he asked, in a pause. "I will not struggle

against you again."

They consulted and let him rise.

The voice of an older man began to question him, and Nunez

found himself trying to explain the great world out of which he had

fallen, and the sky and mountains and such-like marvels, to these

elders who sat in darkness in the Country of the Blind. And they

would believe and understand nothing whatever that he told them, a

thing quite outside his expectation. They would not even

understand many of his words. For fourteen generations these

people had been blind and cut off from all the seeing world; the

names for all the things of sight had faded and changed; the story

of the outer world was faded and changed to a child's story; and

they had ceased to concern themselves with anything beyond the

rocky slopes above their circling wall. Blind men of genius had

arisen among them and questioned the shreds of belief and tradition

they had brought with them from their seeing days, and had

dismissed all these things as idle fancies and replaced them with

new and saner explanations. Much of their imagination had

shrivelled with their eyes, and they had made for themselves new

imaginations with their ever more sensitive ears and finger-tips.

Slowly Nunez realised this: that his expectation of wonder and

reverence at his origin and his gifts was not to be borne out; and

after his poor attempt to explain sight to them had been set aside

as the confused version of a new-made being describing the marvels

of his incoherent sensations, he subsided, a little dashed, into

listening to their instruction. And the eldest of the blind men

explained to him life and philosophy and religion, how that the

world (meaning their valley) had been first an empty hollow in the

rocks, and then had come first inanimate things without the gift of

touch, and llamas and a few other creatures that had little sense,

and then men, and at last angels, whom one could hear singing and

making fluttering sounds, but whom no one could touch at all, which

puzzled Nunez greatly until he thought of the birds.

He went on to tell Nunez how this time had been divided into

the warm and the cold, which are the blind equivalents of day and

night, and how it was good to sleep in the warm and work during the

cold, so that now, but for his advent, the whole town of the blind

would have been asleep. He said Nunez must have been specially

created to learn and serve the wisdom they had acquired, and that

for all his mental incoherency and stumbling behaviour he must have

courage and do his best to learn, and at that all the people in the

door-way murmured encouragingly. He said the night--for the blind

call their day night--was now far gone, and it behooved everyone to

go back to sleep. He asked Nunez if he knew how to sleep, and

Nunez said he did, but that before sleep he wanted food. They

brought him food, llama's milk in a bowl and rough salted bread,

and led him into a lonely place to eat out of their hearing, and

afterwards to slumber until the chill of the mountain evening

roused them to begin their day again. But Nunez slumbered not at


Instead, he sat up in the place where they had left him,

resting his limbs and turning the unanticipated circumstances of

his arrival over and over in his mind.

Every now and then he laughed, sometimes with amusement and

sometimes with indignation.

"Unformed mind!" he said. "Got no senses yet! They little

know they've been insulting their Heaven-sent King and master . .

. . .

"I see I must bring them to reason.

"Let me think.

"Let me think."

He was still thinking when the sun set.

Nunez had an eye for all beautiful things, and it seemed to

him that the glow upon the snow-fields and glaciers that rose about

the valley on every side was the most beautiful thing he had ever

seen. His eyes went from that inaccessible glory to the village

and irrigated fields, fast sinking into the twilight, and suddenly

a wave of emotion took him, and he thanked God from the bottom of

his heart that the power of sight had been given him.

He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village.

"Yaho there, Bogota! Come hither!"

At that he stood up, smiling. He would show these people once

and for all what sight would do for a man. They would seek him,

but not find him.

"You move not, Bogota," said the voice.

He laughed noiselessly and made two stealthy steps aside from

the path.

"Trample not on the grass, Bogota; that is not allowed."

Nunez had scarcely heard the sound he made himself. He

stopped, amazed.

The owner of the voice came running up the piebald path

towards him.

He stepped back into the pathway. "Here I am," he said.

"Why did you not come when I called you?" said the blind man.

"Must you be led like a child? Cannot you hear the path as you


Nunez laughed. "I can see it," he said.

"There is no such word as see," said the blind man,

after a pause. "Cease this folly and follow the sound of my feet."

Nunez followed, a little annoyed.

"My time will come," he said.

"You'll learn," the blind man answered. "There is much to

learn in the world."

"Has no one told you, 'In the Country of the Blind the

One-Eyed Man is King?'"

"What is blind?" asked the blind man, carelessly, over his


Four days passed and the fifth found the King of the Blind

still incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his


It was, he found, much more difficult to proclaim himself than

he had supposed, and in the meantime, while he meditated his

coup d'etat, he did what he was told and learnt the manners

and customs of the Country of the Blind. He found working and

going about at night a particularly irksome thing, and he decided

that that should be the first thing he would change.

They led a simple, laborious life, these people, with all the

elements of virtue and happiness as these things can be understood

by men. They toiled, but not oppressively; they had food and

clothing sufficient for their needs; they had days and seasons of

rest; they made much of music and singing, and there was love among

them and little children. It was marvellous with what confidence

and precision they went about their ordered world. Everything, you

see, had been made to fit their needs; each of the radiating paths

of the valley area had a constant angle to the others, and was

distinguished by a special notch upon its kerbing; all obstacles

and irregularities of path or meadow had long since been cleared

away; all their methods and procedure arose naturally from their

special needs. Their senses had become marvellously acute; they

could hear and judge the slightest gesture of a man a dozen paces

away--could hear the very beating of his heart. Intonation had

long replaced expression with them, and touches gesture, and their

work with hoe and spade and fork was as free and confident as

garden work can be. Their sense of smell was extraordinarily fine;

they could distinguish individual differences as readily as a dog

can, and they went about the tending of llamas, who lived among

the rocks above and came to the wall for food and shelter, with

ease and confidence. It was only when at last Nunez sought to

assert himself that he found how easy and confident their movements

could be.

He rebelled only after he had tried persuasion.

He tried at first on several occasions to tell them of sight.

"Look you here, you people," he said. "There are things you do not

understand in me."

Once or twice one or two of them attended to him; they sat

with faces downcast and ears turned intelligently towards him, and

he did his best to tell them what it was to see. Among his hearers

was a girl, with eyelids less red and sunken than the others, so

that one could almost fancy she was hiding eyes, whom especially he

hoped to persuade. He spoke of the beauties of sight, of watching

the mountains, of the sky and the sunrise, and they heard him with

amused incredulity that presently became condemnatory. They told

him there were indeed no mountains at all, but that the end of the

rocks where the llamas grazed was indeed the end of the world;

thence sprang a cavernous roof of the universe, from which the dew

and the avalanches fell; and when he maintained stoutly the world

had neither end nor roof such as they supposed, they said his

thoughts were wicked. So far as he could describe sky and clouds

and stars to them it seemed to them a hideous void, a terrible

blankness in the place of the smooth roof to things in which they

believed--it was an article of faith with them that the cavern roof

was exquisitely smooth to the touch. He saw that in some manner he

shocked them, and gave up that aspect of the matter altogether, and

tried to show them the practical value of sight. One morning he

saw Pedro in the path called Seventeen and coming towards the

central houses, but still too far off for hearing or scent, and he

told them as much. "In a little while," he prophesied, "Pedro will

be here." An old man remarked that Pedro had no business on path

Seventeen, and then, as if in confirmation, that individual as he

drew near turned and went transversely into path Ten, and so back

with nimble paces towards the outer wall. They mocked Nunez when

Pedro did not arrive, and afterwards, when he asked Pedro questions

to clear his character, Pedro denied and outfaced him, and was

afterwards hostile to him.

Then he induced them to let him go a long way up the sloping

meadows towards the wall with one complaisant individual, and to

him he promised to describe all that happened among the houses. He

noted certain goings and comings, but the things that really seemed

to signify to these people happened inside of or behind the

windowless houses--the only things they took note of to test him

by--and of those he could see or tell nothing; and it was after the

failure of this attempt, and the ridicule they could not repress,

that he resorted to force. He thought of seizing a spade and

suddenly smiting one or two of them to earth, and so in fair combat

showing the advantage of eyes. He went so far with that resolution

as to seize his spade, and then he discovered a new thing about

himself, and that was that it was impossible for him to hit a blind

man in cold blood.

He hesitated, and found them all aware that he had snatched up

the spade. They stood all alert, with their heads on one side, and

bent ears towards him for what he would do next.

"Put that spade down," said one, and he felt a sort of

helpless horror. He came near obedience.

Then he had thrust one backwards against a house wall, and

fled past him and out of the village.

He went athwart one of their meadows, leaving a track of

trampled grass behind his feet, and presently sat down by the side

of one of their ways. He felt something of the buoyancy that comes

to all men in the beginning of a fight, but more perplexity. He

began to realise that you cannot even fight happily with creatures

who stand upon a different mental basis to yourself. Far away he

saw a number of men carrying spades and sticks come out of the

street of houses and advance in a spreading line along the several

paths towards him. They advanced slowly, speaking frequently to

one another, and ever and again the whole cordon would halt and

sniff the air and listen.

The first time they did this Nunez laughed. But afterwards he

did not laugh.

One struck his trail in the meadow grass and came stooping and

feeling his way along it.

For five minutes he watched the slow extension of the cordon,

and then his vague disposition to do something forthwith

became frantic. He stood up, went a pace or so towards the

circumferential wall, turned, and went back a little way. There

they all stood in a crescent, still and listening.

He also stood still, gripping his spade very tightly in both

hands. Should he charge them?

The pulse in his ears ran into the rhythm of "In the Country

of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King."

Should he charge them?

He looked back at the high and unclimbable wall

behind--unclimbable because of its smooth plastering, but withal

pierced with many little doors and at the approaching line of

seekers. Behind these others were now coming out of the street of


Should he charge them?

"Bogota!" called one. "Bogota! where are you?"

He gripped his spade still tighter and advanced down the

meadows towards the place of habitations, and directly he moved

they converged upon him. "I'll hit them if they touch me," he

swore; "by Heaven, I will. I'll hit." He called aloud, "Look

here, I'm going to do what I like in this valley! Do you hear?

I'm going to do what I like and go where I like."

They were moving in upon him quickly, groping, yet moving

rapidly. It was like playing blind man's buff with everyone

blindfolded except one. "Get hold of him!" cried one. He found

himself in the arc of a loose curve of pursuers. He felt suddenly

he must be active and resolute.

"You don't understand," he cried, in a voice that was meant to

be great and resolute, and which broke. "You are blind and I can

see. Leave me alone!"

"Bogota! Put down that spade and come off the grass!"

The last order, grotesque in its urban familiarity, produced

a gust of anger. "I'll hurt you," he said, sobbing with emotion.

"By Heaven, I'll hurt you! Leave me alone!"

He began to run--not knowing clearly where to run. He ran

from the nearest blind man, because it was a horror to hit him. He

stopped, and then made a dash to escape from their closing ranks.

He made for where a gap was wide, and the men on either side, with

a quick perception of the approach of his paces, rushed in on one

another. He sprang forward, and then saw he must be caught, and

swish! the spade had struck. He felt the soft thud of hand

and arm, and the man was down with a yell of pain, and he was


Through! And then he was close to the street of houses again,

and blind men, whirling spades and stakes, were running with a

reasoned swiftness hither and thither.

He heard steps behind him just in time, and found a tall man

rushing forward and swiping at the sound of him. He lost his

nerve, hurled his spade a yard wide of this antagonist, and whirled

about and fled, fairly yelling as he dodged another.

He was panic-stricken. He ran furiously to and fro, dodging

when there was no need to dodge, and, in his anxiety to see on

every side of him at once, stumbling. For a moment he was down and

they heard his fall. Far away in the circumferential wall a little

doorway looked like Heaven, and he set off in a wild rush for it.

He did not even look round at his pursuers until it was gained, and

he had stumbled across the bridge, clambered a little way among the

rocks, to the surprise and dismay of a young llama, who went

leaping out of sight, and lay down sobbing for breath.

And so his coup d'etat came to an end.

He stayed outside the wall of the valley of the blind for two

nights and days without food or shelter, and meditated upon the

Unexpected. During these meditations he repeated very frequently

and always with a profounder note of derision the exploded proverb:

"In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is King." He thought

chiefly of ways of fighting and conquering these people, and it

grew clear that for him no practicable way was possible. He had no

weapons, and now it would be hard to get one.

The canker of civilisation had got to him even in Bogota, and

he could not find it in himself to go down and assassinate a blind

man. Of course, if he did that, he might then dictate terms on the

threat of assassinating them all. But--Sooner or later he must

sleep! . . . .

He tried also to find food among the pine trees, to be comfortable

under pine boughs while the frost fell at night, and--with

less confidence--to catch a llama by artifice in order to try

to kill it--perhaps by hammering it with a stone--and so finally,

perhaps, to eat some of it. But the llamas had a doubt of him and

regarded him with distrustful brown eyes and spat when he drew

near. Fear came on him the second day and fits of shivering.

Finally he crawled down to the wall of the Country of the Blind and

tried to make his terms. He crawled along by the stream, shouting,

until two blind men came out to the gate and talked to him.

"I was mad," he said. "But I was only newly made."

They said that was better.

He told them he was wiser now, and repented of all he had


Then he wept without intention, for he was very weak and ill

now, and they took that as a favourable sign.

They asked him if he still thought he could "see."

"No," he said. "That was folly. The word means nothing.

Less than nothing!"

They asked him what was overhead.

"About ten times ten the height of a man there is a roof above

the world--of rock--and very, very smooth. So smooth--so

beautifully smooth . ." He burst again into hysterical tears.

"Before you ask me any more, give me some food or I shall die!"

He expected dire punishments, but these blind people were

capable of toleration. They regarded his rebellion as but one more

proof of his general idiocy and inferiority, and after they had

whipped him they appointed him to do the simplest and heaviest work

they had for anyone to do, and he, seeing no other way of living,

did submissively what he was told.

He was ill for some days and they nursed him kindly. That

refined his submission. But they insisted on his lying in the

dark, and that was a great misery. And blind philosophers came and

talked to him of the wicked levity of his mind, and reproved him so

impressively for his doubts about the lid of rock that covered

their cosmic casserole that he almost doubted whether indeed

he was not the victim of hallucination in not seeing it overhead.

So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and

these people ceased to be a generalised people and became

individualities to him, and familiar to him, while the world beyond

the mountains became more and more remote and unreal. There was

Yacob, his master, a kindly man when not annoyed; there was Pedro,

Yacob's nephew; and there was Medina-sarote, who was the youngest

daughter of Yacob. She was little esteemed in the world of the

blind, because she had a clear-cut face and lacked that satisfying,

glossy smoothness that is the blind man's ideal of feminine beauty,

but Nunez thought her beautiful at first, and presently the most

beautiful thing in the whole creation. Her closed eyelids were

not sunken and red after the common way of the valley, but lay as

though they might open again at any moment; and she had long

eyelashes, which were considered a grave disfigurement. And her

voice was weak and did not satisfy the acute hearing of the valley

swains. So that she had no lover.

There came a time when Nunez thought that, could he win her,

he would be resigned to live in the valley for all the rest of his


He watched her; he sought opportunities of doing her little

services and presently he found that she observed him. Once at a

rest-day gathering they sat side by side in the dim starlight, and

the music was sweet. His hand came upon hers and he dared to clasp

it. Then very tenderly she returned his pressure. And one day, as

they were at their meal in the darkness, he felt her hand very

softly seeking him, and as it chanced the fire leapt then, and he

saw the tenderness of her face.

He sought to speak to her.

He went to her one day when she was sitting in the summer

moonlight spinning. The light made her a thing of silver and

mystery. He sat down at her feet and told her he loved her, and

told her how beautiful she seemed to him. He had a lover's voice,

he spoke with a tender reverence that came near to awe, and she had

never before been touched by adoration. She made him no definite

answer, but it was clear his words pleased her.

After that he talked to her whenever he could take an

opportunity. The valley became the world for him, and the world

beyond the mountains where men lived by day seemed no more than a

fairy tale he would some day pour into her ears. Very tentatively

and timidly he spoke to her of sight.

Sight seemed to her the most poetical of fancies, and she

listened to his description of the stars and the mountains and her

own sweet white-lit beauty as though it was a guilty indulgence.

She did not believe, she could only half understand, but she was

mysteriously delighted, and it seemed to him that she completely


His love lost its awe and took courage. Presently he was for

demanding her of Yacob and the elders in marriage, but she became

fearful and delayed. And it was one of her elder sisters who first

told Yacob that Medina-sarote and Nunez were in love.

There was from the first very great opposition to the marriage

of Nunez and Medina-sarote; not so much because they valued her as

because they held him as a being apart, an idiot, incompetent thing

below the permissible level of a man. Her sisters opposed it

bitterly as bringing discredit on them all; and old Yacob, though

he had formed a sort of liking for his clumsy, obedient serf, shook

his head and said the thing could not be. The young men were all

angry at the idea of corrupting the race, and one went so far as to

revile and strike Nunez. He struck back. Then for the first time

he found an advantage in seeing, even by twilight, and after that

fight was over no one was disposed to raise a hand against him.

But they still found his marriage impossible.

Old Yacob had a tenderness for his last little daughter, and

was grieved to have her weep upon his shoulder.

"You see, my dear, he's an idiot. He has delusions; he can't

do anything right."

"I know," wept Medina-sarote. "But he's better than he was.

He's getting better. And he's strong, dear father, and

kind--stronger and kinder than any other man in the world. And he

loves me--and, father, I love him."

Old Yacob was greatly distressed to find her inconsolable,

and, besides--what made it more distressing--he liked Nunez for

many things. So he went and sat in the windowless council-chamber

with the other elders and watched the trend of the talk, and said,

at the proper time, "He's better than he was. Very likely, some

day, we shall find him as sane as ourselves."

Then afterwards one of the elders, who thought deeply, had

an idea. He was a great doctor among these people, their

medicine-man, and he had a very philosophical and inventive mind,

and the idea of curing Nunez of his peculiarities appealed to him.

One day when Yacob was present he returned to the topic of Nunez.

"I have examined Nunez," he said, "and the case is clearer to me.

I think very probably he might be cured."

"This is what I have always hoped," said old Yacob.

"His brain is affected," said the blind doctor.

The elders murmured assent.

"Now, what affects it?"

"Ah!" said old Yacob.

"This," said the doctor, answering his own question. "Those

queer things that are called the eyes, and which exist to make

an agreeable depression in the face, are diseased, in the case

of Nunez, in such a way as to affect his brain. They are greatly

distended, he has eyelashes, and his eyelids move, and consequently

his brain is in a state of constant irritation and distraction."

"Yes?" said old Yacob. "Yes?"

"And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in

order to cure him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and

easy surgical operation--namely, to remove these irritant bodies."

"And then he will be sane?"

"Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable


"Thank Heaven for science!" said old Yacob, and went forth at

once to tell Nunez of his happy hopes.

But Nunez's manner of receiving the good news struck him as

being cold and disappointing.

"One might think," he said, "from the tone you take that you

did not care for my daughter."

It was Medina-sarote who persuaded Nunez to face the blind


"You do not want me," he said, "to lose my gift of sight?"

She shook her head.

"My world is sight."

Her head drooped lower.

"There are the beautiful things, the beautiful little

things--the flowers, the lichens amidst the rocks, the light and

softness on a piece of fur, the far sky with its drifting dawn of

clouds, the sunsets and the stars. And there is you. For

you alone it is good to have sight, to see your sweet, serene face,

your kindly lips, your dear, beautiful hands folded together. . . . .

It is these eyes of mine you won, these eyes that hold me to

you, that these idiots seek. Instead, I must touch you, hear you,

and never see you again. I must come under that roof of rock and

stone and darkness, that horrible roof under which your

imaginations stoop . . . No; you would not have me do that?"

A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped and left

the thing a question.

"I wish," she said, "sometimes--" She paused.

"Yes?" he said, a little apprehensively.

"I wish sometimes--you would not talk like that."

"Like what?"

"I know it's pretty--it's your imagination. I love it, but now--"

He felt cold. "Now?" he said, faintly.

She sat quite still.

"You mean--you think--I should be better, better perhaps--"

He was realising things very swiftly. He felt anger perhaps,

anger at the dull course of fate, but also sympathy for her lack of

understanding--a sympathy near akin to pity.

"Dear," he said, and he could see by her whiteness how

tensely her spirit pressed against the things she could not say.

He put his arms about her, he kissed her ear, and they sat for a

time in silence.

"If I were to consent to this?" he said at last, in a voice

that was very gentle.

She flung her arms about him, weeping wildly. "Oh, if you

would," she sobbed, "if only you would!"

For a week before the operation that was to raise him from his

servitude and inferiority to the level of a blind citizen Nunez

knew nothing of sleep, and all through the warm, sunlit hours,

while the others slumbered happily, he sat brooding or wandered

aimlessly, trying to bring his mind to bear on his dilemma. He had

given his answer, he had given his consent, and still he was not

sure. And at last work-time was over, the sun rose in splendour

over the golden crests, and his last day of vision began for him.

He had a few minutes with Medina-sarote before she went apart to


"To-morrow," he said, "I shall see no more."

"Dear heart!" she answered, and pressed his hands with all her


"They will hurt you but little," she said; "and you are going

through this pain, you are going through it, dear lover, for

me . . . . Dear, if a woman's heart and life can do it, I

will repay you. My dearest one, my dearest with the tender voice,

I will repay."

He was drenched in pity for himself and her.

He held her in his arms, and pressed his lips to hers and

looked on her sweet face for the last time. "Good-bye!" he

whispered to that dear sight, "good-bye!"

And then in silence he turned away from her.

She could hear his slow retreating footsteps, and something in

the rhythm of them threw her into a passion of weeping.

He walked away.

He had fully meant to go to a lonely place where the meadows

were beautiful with white narcissus, and there remain until the

hour of his sacrifice should come, but as he walked he lifted up

his eyes and saw the morning, the morning like an angel in golden

armour, marching down the steeps . . . .

It seemed to him that before this splendour he and this blind

world in the valley, and his love and all, were no more than a pit

of sin.

He did not turn aside as he had meant to do, but went on and

passed through the wall of the circumference and out upon the

rocks, and his eyes were always upon the sunlit ice and snow.

He saw their infinite beauty, and his imagination soared over

them to the things beyond he was now to resign for ever!

He thought of that great free world that he was parted from,

the world that was his own, and he had a vision of those further

slopes, distance beyond distance, with Bogota, a place of

multitudinous stirring beauty, a glory by day, a luminous mystery

by night, a place of palaces and fountains and statues and white

houses, lying beautifully in the middle distance. He thought how

for a day or so one might come down through passes drawing ever

nearer and nearer to its busy streets and ways. He thought of the

river journey, day by day, from great Bogota to the still vaster

world beyond, through towns and villages, forest and desert places,

the rushing river day by day, until its banks receded, and the big

steamers came splashing by and one had reached the sea--the

limitless sea, with its thousand islands, its thousands of islands,

and its ships seen dimly far away in their incessant journeyings

round and about that greater world. And there, unpent by

mountains, one saw the sky--the sky, not such a disc as one saw it

here, but an arch of immeasurable blue, a deep of deeps in which

the circling stars were floating . . . .

His eyes began to scrutinise the great curtain of the

mountains with a keener inquiry.

For example; if one went so, up that gully and to that chimney

there, then one might come out high among those stunted pines that

ran round in a sort of shelf and rose still higher and higher as it

passed above the gorge. And then? That talus might be managed.

Thence perhaps a climb might be found to take him up to the

precipice that came below the snow; and if that chimney failed,

then another farther to the east might serve his purpose better.

And then? Then one would be out upon the amber-lit snow there, and

half-way up to the crest of those beautiful desolations. And

suppose one had good fortune!

He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and

regarded it with folded arms.

He thought of Medina-sarote, and she had become small and


He turned again towards the mountain wall down which the day

had come to him.

Then very circumspectly he began his climb.

When sunset came he was not longer climbing, but he was far and high.

His clothes were torn, his limbs were bloodstained, he was bruised

in many places, but he lay as if he were at his ease, and there

was a smile on his face.

From where he rested the valley seemed as if it were in a pit

and nearly a mile below. Already it was dim with haze and shadow,

though the mountain summits around him were things of light and

fire. The mountain summits around him were things of light and

fire, and the little things in the rocks near at hand were drenched

with light and beauty, a vein of green mineral piercing the

grey, a flash of small crystal here and there, a minute,

minutely-beautiful orange lichen close beside his face. There

were deep, mysterious shadows in the gorge, blue deepening into

purple, and purple into a luminous darkness, and overhead was the

illimitable vastness of the sky. But he heeded these things no

longer, but lay quite still there, smiling as if he were content

now merely to have escaped from the valley of the Blind, in which

he had thought to be King. And the glow of the sunset passed, and

the night came, and still he lay there, under the cold, clear stars.