The Blessing of Pan
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by Lord Dunsany
Description: One of Lord Dunsany's few book-length fantasies, The Blessing of Pan is an important early fantasy from 1928, depicting English country life as a creeping paganism (sympolized by Pan) seeks to establish a new toehold, only to be confronted by a rational resistance. The Blessing of Pan is among Lord Dunsany's last major fantasies.
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1928 UK
eBookwise Release Date: January 2006
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [228 KB]
Reading time: 166-232 min.
"The Blessing of Pan portrays English rural life under a sign of paganism, after the fashion of writers like T.F. Powys."--The Encyclopedia of Fantasy
CHAPTER IThe Vicar of Wolding
A blow-fly poised upon the summer air, that had burned the may but scarce brought out the rose, was maintaining his perfect stillness by a whirl of wing-beats too swift for a brain to calculate or even an eye to see: the small clear body hung between two blurs caused by his wing-beats, above a lawn underneath beech-trees: and a clergyman, plump and touched with grey, such a one as seemed just to have entered the placid years with the sharper cares left behind him, was watching the blow-fly from out of a long wicker chair. The dark-clad form lying back in the wicker chair suggested an immobility as complete as the one that the blow-fly only achieved by such a whirl of wings, but under the quiet face troubled thoughts were well astir. Then the blow-fly with a dart of incredible suddenness went sidelong away to poise himself motionless elsewhere, but the man in the chair remained with the same thoughts.
The vicar had been troubled for several days, at first by uncertainty almost amounting to fear, then, when the facts were certain, by wondering what he should do, and then, when he knew what he ought to do, by evasions and mere postponements; he was in a treadmill of thought that went uselessly round and round to the same point: he ought to write to the Bishop. Having seen that, there was no more to think about than "What will the Bishop think?"; "Will he be at the Palace on Tuesday?"; "Will he get it any sooner if I write before tomorrow, on account of the Sunday post?" And the insects changed in the still glittering air, those of the midday giving place to such as haunted the evening, and the light began to beat up under the beech-leaves, and it was coming near to the time when that strange tune would be heard again from the hill, piercing the air like a moon beam, and thrilling the gloaming with that sheer touch of magic that he knew it was right to dread.
And that day he tarried no longer, but rose all at once from his chair and went indoors, and into the little room that was called his study, and took pen and paper at once. His wife saw him come in, and said some idle word to him, but did nothing that would delay him, for she saw by a look on his face that all the trouble of the last few days, of which he said never a word to her, was now at some kind of climax. He wrote hurriedly: the difficulty was in beginning the letter at all, not in how to word it; he was sure of his facts, so far as these were knowable, and his mind was full of phrases that he had turned over and over for nearly a week, he had only to pour them out. By the opening and shutting of doors and familiar clickings he heard the tea-things being brought in late, but no one disturbed him there writing alone. And this was the letter that he wrote the Bishop:
Wolding Vicarage, Seldham,
In my great perplexity I am impelled to encroach upon your Lordship's time to ask advice and guidance. And before I write down the facts just as they are known to me I will ask your Lordship to bear in mind that Wolding has never been an ordinary parish this sixteen or seventeen years, and is not yet, and that--do what I can--I have been unable to eliminate queer tales that, were they older, might be called folk-lore, and a queer point of view, and, even where I am able to partially suppress these, queer memories among the older people. In fact, although I cannot lay a finger on anything definite he did that was wrong, Wolding suffered irreparable injury from the brief stay of the man that called himself the Reverend Arthur Davidson. I know he was ordained before your Lordship's time, and that it is not for me to find any fault with those that sent him here. I merely state as a fact the great difficulties attending all spiritual work in Wolding since he disappeared, and that these difficulties, however intangible, still persist after all this lapse of time, and I ask that they may be borne in mind.
And now, my lord, the facts are these. As soon as the sun is set, or a little sooner, for it is obscured from us early by Wold Hill, there comes the sound of music from the end of the hill, which is some way left of the sunset (at this time of year). It is a flute-like music, and a definite tune, but not a tune known to anyone here, nor one I am able to trace. It has been playing on most evenings all through Spring, and every day this June. I think I first heard some notes of it late one evening last winter, but now there can be no mistaking it. And sometimes I hear it by moonlight. It seems to come from this side of the woods on the top, either just from the shadow of them, or out of some wild-rose bushes there are on the slope. Later it seems to go over the hill, further and further away. At first I thought it was some young man signalling with this very strange tune to some girl in the village. But it is not that, for I went to see. It is no ordinary couple straying away through the wood. I went to the hill-slope one evening. I heard the notes piercingly clear, but could not see the player. And then I saw two or three girls together going up a little path, a kind of track that leads away from the village and goes over Wold Hill. I stayed where I was and the music played again. And then I saw more young girls. Some were going up the path and some were slanting away from it up the wild slope of the hill. All were going towards that music. Then I saw three or four that I knew coming through the briars towards me away from the path, near enough for me to recognise. When they saw me they turned deliberately back to the path, and when they came to it they went on up the hill, towards the woods, away from the village. I do not know how to express it, but they turned at once, as soon as they saw me, almost as wild things might, and went deliberately away to the woods. I desired to state my facts as amply as possible, though fearing that I should encroach too much on your lordship's time; but now that I have stated them I would there were more, for they seem too slight to account for my great perplexity. I can only add that this has happened often. But oh, my lord, believe me when I say that that tune is no common melody, but is something I never have known to come out of music, and has some power I never dreamed to be possible, and I need your help in this trouble as I never needed it yet.
Your Lordship's obedt. servant,
Then he went to the next room to find his wife. And the tea-things were all still here, though the buttered buns were cold.
"The tea's too strong now, dear," she said. "Besides, it's all cold. I'll ring for Marion."
"No, no," he said. Neither sight nor thought of tea had entered his mind. "I have been much perplexed lately. That tune one hears at sunset. I can't make it out at all. I couldn't make it out. So I wrote to the Bishop."
She took the letter thoughtfully and looked at it. Yes, it was as he had said, a letter to the Bishop.
"The tune," she said, "is played by young Tommy Duffin. He plays it on that instrument he made out of bulrushes or some such reeds."
"Tommy Duffin," her husband replied. "They said it was him in the village. Now how would Tommy Duffin have come by any such tune?"
But she was reading the letter attentively and said no more. For a moment she held it in silence when she had finished.
Then she said, "You split the infinitive, dear, where you said 'to partially suppress'."
"Does that matter?" he asked.
"Well, no," she said, "not really. But the Bishop might not like it."
He went back to the study and made the alteration, as tidily as such changes can be made, and then he sat there brooding over the letter. And the more he brooded the more he began to see that he was about to trouble the Bishop needlessly: that whether the tune, which was undoubtedly played, was played by Tommy Duffin, the seventeen-year-old boy whom he remembered christening as one of his earliest duties in that parish, or whether by any other, and whatever interest some silly girls might take in it, the subject of his letter was in any case trivial and would seem far more so if rashly sent to the Palace. No, that was no sensible way to set his mind at ease. And yet his wife agreed with him. She had said little enough, but she would never have let him send that letter to the Bishop unless she had fully agreed with it. There was something strange in that tune, whoever played it. But with that letter lying before him the enormity of troubling the Bishop seemed the more immediate, and all his old perplexities began again. And Marion came in with her trim white apron, turning his mind yet more t'wards conventional things.
"Will there be any more letters for the post, sir?" she said.
"No, Marion," he said. "No thank you."
And away she went to the village with a note for the grocer, and a letter to the draper in Seldham, and one of her own to her young man away in Yorkshire.
And then with a colour burning wild in the sky, and a dimness growing on earth, and a touch of cold, the sun went under Wold Hill, and there slipped down the shimmering air from the high hill over the valley, a clear wild tune so remote from the thoughts of man that it seemed to drift down from ages and out of lands with which none of our race has ever had any concern. More elfin than the blackbird, more magical than all nightingales, it thrilled the clergyman's heart with awful longings, which he could no more tell of in words than he could have put words to that tune. It gripped him, it held him there. To say he stood spellbound is not to describe his stillness: he did not even breathe. And all his thoughts, all his emotions, his very consciousness, seemed carried away to far valleys, perhaps not even of earth.
All in an instant the music ceased and the silence came back to the gloaming, and back like a slowly returning tide came the thoughts of every day. The vicar dashed to an envelope; he hastily addressed it to the Bishop of Wealdenstone, The Palace, Snichester; he thrust the letter in, and picked up his soft black hat and ran downhill to the Post Office.