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(C) In the Public Domain and prepared by the Gutenberg Project.

                   THE COUNTRY OF THE BLIND

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 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 family 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, and 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 lie 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 and purblind, the young
saw but dimly, and the children that were born to them saw never at all.
But life was very easy in that snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world,
with neither thorns nor briars, 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 noted 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 the chance of birth and heredity 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. Thereabouts 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 the
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 realised 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 that 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 moonlit 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 below.

He sat up and perceived he was on a little alp at the foot of a vast
precipice, that was grooved by 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 particoloured facade was
pierced by a door, and not a solitary window broke their even frontage.
They were particoloured 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

"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."

"Sight?" muttered Pedro. "Sight?"

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

The cloth of their coats Nunez saw was curiously 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

"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 rock."

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

"A wild man--using wild words," said Pedro. "Did you hear that--
_Bogota_? His mind is hardly formed yet. He has only the beginnings
of speech."

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

"Ay! 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 hither."

"Bring him 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

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

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 imperfectly.

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

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 sight 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 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 doorway murmured encouragingly. He said the night--for
the blind call their day night--was now far gone, and it behoved every one
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 all.

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 snowfields 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

He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village. "Ya ho 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 walk?"

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

"Has no one told you, 'In the Country of the Blind the One-eyed Man is

"What is blind?" asked the blind man carelessly over his shoulder.

Four days passed, and the fifth found the King of the Blind still
incognito, as a clumsy and useless stranger among his subjects.

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

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 the 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

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 complacent 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 these 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 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 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

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 houses.

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

"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 sort of 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 at his 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 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 done.

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

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."  ... 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

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

So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and these people
ceased to be a generalised people and became individualities 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 strong, 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 days.

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 in sunlight 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 understood.

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

"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 I 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

Then afterwards one of the elders, who thought deeply, had an idea. He was
the 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 Bogota," he said, "and the case is clearer to me. I think
very probably he might be cured."

"That 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 soft
depression in the face, are diseased, in the case of Bogota, 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 completely, all that we need 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 citizen."

"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

"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 surgeons.

"_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 among the rocks, the lightness and softness on a piece of fur,
the far sky with its drifting down 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 imagination stoops...
No; you would not have me do that?"

A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped, and left the thing a

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

"Yes," said he, 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, indeed, 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 intensely
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

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 strength.

"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 at that dear sight,

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 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 went he lifted up his eyes and saw the
morning, the morning like an angel in golden armour, marching down the

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 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 scrutinised the great curtain of the mountains with a keener

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.

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

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

He turned again towards the mountain wall, down which the day had come to

Then very circumspectly he began to climb.

When sunset came he was no longer climbing, but he was far and high. He
had been higher, but he was still very high. His clothes were torn, his
limbs were blood-stained, 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 details of the
rocks near at hand were drenched with subtle beauty--a vein of green
mineral piercing the grey, the flash of crystal faces 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 inactive
there, smiling as if he were satisfied merely to have escaped from the
valley of the Blind in which he had thought to be King.

The glow of the sunset passed, and the night came, and still he lay
peacefully contented under the cold clear stars.

This story has been taken from the book "The Country of the Blind, And
Other Stories" by H.G. Wells as presented by the Gutenberg Project. You
may find the complete Ebook at:

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