- in The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle - Collected Edition (21 september 1922, John Murray [UK])
- in The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle - Collected Edition (14 september 1928, John Murray [UK])
A well in an arid, rocky spot. At the back a winding path. Beyond a rugged mountain, the summit of which is draped in clouds. Round the well sit the Faith family, who are the hereditary guides upon the journey. Beside them sits an iridescent, evasive creature who is Inspiration. A little apart sits Reason, a stern greybeard. Aloof from them all sits Science, working with a battery and some wires. The Faith family are clad in various garbs, all with a suspicion of sacerdotalism, either Mahometan, Buddhist, or Christian.
Faith 1. What a blessing it is that we are appointed guides upon the journey ! What would the poor people do without us !
All. Ah, what would they do without us!
Faith 1. They would never reach the City Beautiful at all. They would all wander off upon the way.
Faith 2. They would die in the great salt marsh of Sin.
Faith 3. Or be starved in the Jungle of Disbelief, or fall over the Precipice of Schism.
Faith 4. Well, it depends upon what you call Schism.
Faith 1. Hush ! we need not go into that. Perhaps we had best agree to drop the subject as it has led to so much trouble in the past. We all know in our own hearts what we mean by Schism.
All. [Glaring at each other] Yes, we know that.
Faith 2. Allow me to tell you what Schism is
Faith 1. No, no, let us change the subject! The road is very quiet to-day. We have not had many to guide.
Faith 2. So many guide themselves these days and don't want any help from us.
Faith 3. Poor creatures ! I wonder what befalls them.
Faith 1. And so many never know that they are on a journey at all, and simply wander downwards or round and round the mountain instead of trying to get to the city at the top.
Faith 2. Deplorable ! Deplorable ! We can but go among them and point them upwards.
Faith 3. This is an important camping ground. I thought of erecting a sign-post, so that if I should not be there it would point the way.
All. Admirable ! Splendid ! Let us have a signpost.
Faith 3. See [produces a crossed stick], I have actually made one. [Rises] I will put it on the rock there so that it may point due east.
Faith 2. But that is the wrong way.
Faith 1. Of course it is.
Faith 3. It is the right way.
Others. No, no ! Wrong ! Wrong !
Faith 1. Why, if he went that way he would be up to his neck in the quagmire of Superstition and never win his way through.
Faith 3. You are talking nonsense. How would you go ?
Faith 1. That way ! [pointing].
Faith 2. No, that way ! [pointing].
Faith 3. And both of them right over the edge of the Precipice of Schism and down into the Valley of Damnation.
Faith 1. Keep a civil tongue, if you please.
Faith 3. I will testify to what I know to be truth.
Faith 2. Bigoted, obstinate ass ! How do you know that it is truth ?
Faith 3. Because I was told long ago by Inspiration. You told me, Inspiration ?
Inspir. Yes, I told you. Quite right. I told you.
Faith 3. You hear her. She told me. I have never allowed myself to question it. The way is really quite straight. What you imagine to be the quagmire of Superstition is really the pleasant Valley of Tradition. You can't go wrong, for you can guide yourself by the church steeple, which can always be seen. Somewhere on the hills beyond lies the City.
Faith 4. By Allah, I could smite you with this staff when I hear such talk. You would surely lead the poor wayfarers to Gehenna. A great guide of old named Mahomet showed me the way, and as I learned it, so I teach it.
Faith 2. But who showed it to him ?
Faith 4. Surely it was Inspiration.
Inspir. Yes, yes, I showed it to him. It is right as I showed it.
Faith 4. You go eastwards, it is true, but you take your bearings from a town named Mecca, and pass over the plain of Pious Observance, until at last the minarets of the great City rise before you.
Faith 1. No, no, my good friend. You're very earnest, I admit, but I wouldn't trust your guide, and I think our mutual friend Inspiration was less happy than usual if she ever suggested such a route.
Faith 2. Well, how do you direct the travellers ?
Faith 1. Well, I start them from the beginning at the gate of the Baptistry. There the path is clear enough, and I see that every one of them has a book which will tell them the right way if they are in doubt.
Faith 4. But who wrote the book ?
Faith 1. It was Inspiration who wrote it. You did, did you not ?
Inspir. Oh yes, the book is mine.
Faith 4. And my guide book. You wrote that ?
Inspir. Certainly. I wrote that also.
Reason. [Stepping forward.] Might I be permitted to say a word or two ?
Faith 1. Certainly not.
Faith 2. It's that old bore Reason.
Faith 3. We don't know the fellow.
Faith 4. I can hardly keep my hands off him.
Reason. It's true that you and I parted company many, many centuries ago. I don't think we were ever very friendly, so far as I can remember.
Faith 1. I should hope not indeed.
Faith 2. We have nothing to do with you.
Faith 3. You are getting much too forward nowadays.
Faith 4. The sharp edge of a sword is what my ancestors gave you.
Faith 1. Indeed ! We used always to burn the fellow.
Faith 2. We merely ignore his existence. We look on him as bad form.
Reason. Still, whether you burn me or ignore me, I am still there, you know. You can't really get away from me. Now do please answer a question or two, will you ?
Faith 1. No flippancy - nothing offensive !
Reason. Certainly not. I have, I assure you, every respect for you - that is to say for your motives, though not for your proceedings.
Faith 2. Pray, what do you mean by that ?
Reason. I mean that you all are very earnest and have the best intentions.
Faith 3. [Sardonically.] We thank you most humbly.
Reason. You only need my co-operation to be most valuable.
Faith 4. Rascally infidel !
Faith 1. What characteristic modesty !
Faith 2. You were always a detestable prig.
Faith 3. And how, pray, could you improve us ?
Reason. I would bid you beware of this hussy Inspiration. Can't you see that she is fooling you ? Is it not clear that she has given you half a dozen contradictory directions, and that they can't all be the right one ?
Inspir. Blasphemy ! Blasphemy ! Burn the rascal !
Faith 1. One is the right one. The others are delusions.
Reason. Then which is the right one ?
Reason. You see ! Each of you believes that his comrades have been deceived. Don't you think it more likely that you have all been deceived.
Inspir. Oh, villainy ! Blasphemy ! I knew that you put that rack away too soon. Has no one got a pincers about him ?
Faith 1. If it were not for us, who would guide the travellers ?
Reason. But you all guide them in different directions, and spend most of your time abusing each other.
Faith 2. At least we all point them upwards.
Reason. Exactly. You all point them upwards. There is your merit. But I would point them upwards also, without pretending that only one path can lead to the City. All upward paths will take you equally to the high places. Inspiration has been no help to you. She has only set you all by the ears.
Inspir. Atrocious ! Horrible ! What are we coming to ? Don't wait here or he will contaminate you. Away ! Away ! The fellow is dangerous.
Faith 1. Come on, my friends. This is most unedifying talk.
Faith 2. The fellow always gives me a headache.
Faith 3. We should be simple travellers like the rest if he had his way.
Faith 4. And Mecca like any other town. May Allah confound you and guide you down the Valley of Gehenna.
[All this time Science has been absorbed in his work.]
Reason. Hullo, Science ! [No answer.] Hullo, old Science ! [No answer.] Bless the fellow, he is always absorbed in his own dreams. [Goes across and touches him.]
Science. Get away ! Don't interrupt me !
Reason. You are a grumpy fellow.
Science. Oh, it's you.
Reason. I don't mind you. I look on you as a friend. I thought it was one of those Faith people, for I heard them all chattering behind me.
Reason. What did you think of what they said ?
Science. I am far too busy to think of what they say.
Reason. But I thought that you and they were getting much more friendly. Some of the travellers told me so of late.
Science. Well, I don't know. We should get along very well if it were not for that hussy Inspiration.
Reason. You don't seem to love her any more than I do.
Science. She raises a scream against everything I do. She accuses me of contradicting her. Such a touchy person, she is. Then they all take her side. I am cold-shouldered by them all. But the fact is, my dear Reason, I am so useful to them all that they can't get on without me. The travellers all say, whatever difference there may be about our path, it is certainly made very much more convenient and comfortable by this hard-working old fellow. I don't give them promises only. They actually see and feel what I do When old Faith tries to read his guide book in the dark, it is I who give him his electric torch. When his eyes give way - and they are all getting a bit senile, you know - it is I who correct them with glasses. So they don't pay too much attention to the cries of Inspiration, and they actually admit that they mistook her meaning and that there is no real difference of opinion.
Reason. That's better than being burned at the stake. In old Giordano Bruno's time you and I used to blaze together. We are getting a little of our own back now. What are you working at ?
Science. I was plotting out a power station to light the travellers in the dark places of the path.
Reason. And where do you think the path leads to ?
Science. Oh, I know nothing of such matters.
Reason. Well, you at least know that you exist.
Science. Nothing of the sort. I may be altogether subjective. I may be somebody's dream.
Reason. Oh, come, come ! Cheer up ! Is there nothing solid you can get hold of ?
Science. Nothing reliable. I used to work things down to the atom. Now it is the electron. I suspect it will end in the ether. There is no finality.
Reason. But a purposeful force behind it all ?
Science. Pure impersonal laws.
Reason. Which made themselves ?
Reason. Ah, there you and I must agree to differ.
Science. When you differ from me, you cease to be yourself.
Reason. The older you grow, the more dogmatic you get. You know, you old rascal, if you got the upper hand, you are capable of burning a few people on your own account.
Science. Don't be funny ! I am trying to work.
Reason. But you are an honest and useful old chap. A little limited and a bit inhuman - that's all. You should marry Imagination.
Science. Half-sister of Inspiration. Thank you, I have had quite enough of that family.
Reason. You'd do her good - and she you.
Science. Well, I must go and fix up this installation. Don't forget that you are rather limited yourself. Here are some travellers coming. Where's that voltmeter ? And the induction coil ? Thank you. Well, if you like to travel with me, come along !
[Enter a man and a woman.]
The Man. Thank heaven that we have shaken off the guides. They make my head ache with their chatter.
The Woman. And yet, dear, they all point us upwards.
The Man. Some of them seemed to me to be going downwards themselves.
The Woman. We must go as they point.
The Man. Yes, woman seems to need a guide.
The Woman. We are lost without one. I like a guide and one who is sure of himself - one who has no doubt that he knows the way.
The Man. Whether he really does or not ?
The Woman. One can at least hope that what he says is truth.
The Man. Well, I used to trust them. But they differed so much that I took to guiding myself with the little help that old Reason could give me. Let us rest by this well.
The Woman. Yes, let us rest. Oh, it is a weary, weary journey.
The Man. We have love to help us along - and that is more than many can say.
The Woman. Yes, if love were not with us, I should indeed despair. Love has been our true helper.
The Man. And yet, do you remember that pale sad-faced creature who has walked again and again so very close to us ?
The Woman. You mean Sorrow.
The Man. Exactly. Sorrow. I am not sure that she is not the best guide of all. We seem to have risen higher always when she has been our companion.
The Woman. It is true. I shudder when I think of her, and yet she has surely helped us upon our way. How pale and weary the poor child is ! [Looks at child.]
The Man. Put him here among the ferns.
The Woman. He is worn out. Rest there, my darling!
The Man. She was with us when our boy died.
The Woman. And that night, as we sat together hand in hand, each thinking of the other's grief, then and only then did we seem for one moment, as we looked upwards, to see some break in the clouds and to know that there was indeed something there which makes the long journey worth while.
The Man. Yes, I felt that. I saw the City. Just for a moment I seemed to see the shining walls. [Looks at the boy.] Dear laddie, how weary he is ! Should we wake him and give him food ?
The Woman. Let him rest. He can have food when he wakes. I am so very tired.
The Man. Dear heart, what a comrade you have been ! Poor little feet, worn out by tramping at my side.
The Woman. But oh, it was worth it, my own man who never gave a thought to himself.
The Man. How could I when - Hullo, who are these ?
[Three roisterers come singing down the path.]
The Man. Heh, friends ! you are going the wrong way.
A Roisterer. What d'you mean, the wrong way ? How the deuce do you know where we want to get to ?
The Man. Surely you want to get up to the City Beautiful, like the rest of us.
Roisterer. Not much. We've tried that game, and it won't work. No, no, my friend, you can do the climbing and hunt for something which is up in the clouds of dreamland. Give us something solid.
2nd Roisterer. That's the idea. Something solid. What's the use of talking about things that are far away. We want to enjoy ourselves here and now. One City of pleasure down in the plain is worth many City Beautifuls up on the hill-top. Come on, my lads !
3rd Roisterer. You look tired out. No wonder, when you are climbing all the time. It's much easier! to go down hill with us.
The Man. But you only have to come back again.
Roisterer. Oh, bother the fellow. He's a kill-joy. Come on, boys. We'll have a rare time down there.
The Man. No, no, don't be foolish. You've got so far. You are bound sooner or later to get to the top. What is the use of going down when you will have all the climbing to do over again.
Roisterer. That's the future. Hang the future ! We're in the present.
2nd Roisterer. But there's something in what the fellow says. We were not started on this journey for the purpose of having a good time, were we ? We were started that we might get to the top.
3rd Roisterer. Well, I want some liquor, and I am going down for it. Come on. Jack, if you are coming.
2nd Roisterer. No, I think I'll start up the hill again. I remember what my mother used to say
Roisterer. Oh, bother your mother ! Come on,
Tom. Leave the milksop here, if he wants to stay.
[The two go on down the hill. The other goes slowly up.]
The Man. Poor souls ! I've been down before now myself.
The Woman. Yes, we have all done it and learned our lesson.
[Enter Sorrow, who sits unobserved on rock at back.]
The Man. Are you less weary now, dear ?
The Woman. Yes, yes, if only the little fellow is rested we can soon go on.
The Man. Do you remember, dear, that when we lost our way, and when it was so dark as we crossed the great marsh of Doubt, I told you that the best guide was our dear little dead lad whom I saw in front of us ?
The Woman. Yes, I saw him too.
The Man. I asked old Science about it. He said it was impossible.
The Woman. Yes, but when you asked him the second time, Science was not so sure about it. At first he thought Imagination had a hand in it. But when he learned that we both saw it, and that Imagination was not present at all, he was more serious about it.
The Man. Yes, but since then I have seen our boy again and again. He is still living, and he is leading us to the City Beautiful, for he has found his own way there. [Looks round.] Who is that over there ?
The Woman. It looks like Sorrow.
The Man. I'm afraid of that woman. I wish she would not come with us.
The Woman. But she did help us up. Let us ask her to the well.
The Man. Won't you come and join us at the well ?
[Sorrow advances and sits down.]
The Woman. Poor thing ! You'll reach the City some day, will you not ?
Sorrow. No, there is no place for me there. I am stationed on the path. You will always find me there.
The Woman. Every one avoids you, and is afraid of you.
Sorrow. And yet those who have known me make better progress than those who have not.
The Man. Yes, I have known some people who said that they had never met Sorrow, and they were not people whom I wish to travel with. Their hearts were hard to others for they could not understand. Now, dear, if you are rested, we must go on.
The Woman. Yes, dear, we must go on. [Goes to the child.] Oh, John, John, our little boy is dead !
The Man. My God ! Oh, my poor, poor wife !
The Woman. John, dear John, it will break your great heart.
[They embrace each other and weep.]
[Sorrow blesses them and moves slowly away.]
The Man. Well, it is the darkest pass of all. How black it looks above our heads !
The Woman. But surely I see the upward path more clearly.
The Man. Yes, yes, see how it winds over the shoulder of the hill. And see the Towers of the City. Never have we seen it so clearly. Come, while the way is open.
The Woman. Can we leave our bairn ?
The Man. Remember the other. He is ahead of us on the path. We have two guides, not one. Come, brave comrade, come !
[They place their cloak over the child and turn to ascend the path.]