by H. Rider Haggard
“Ultimately a good hare was found which took the field at . . . There the hounds pressed her, and on the hunt arriving at the edge of the cliff the hare could be seen crossing the beach and going right out to sea. A boat was procured, and the master and some others rowed out to her just as she drowned, and, bringing the body in, gave it to the hounds. A hare swimming out to sea is a sight not often witnessed.”—Local paper, January 1911.
“. . . A long check occurred in the latter part of this hunt, the hare having laid up in a hedgerow, from which she was at last evicted by a crack of the whip. Her next place of refuge was a horse-pond, which she tried to swim, but got stuck in the ice midway, and was sinking, when the huntsman went in after her. It was a novel sight to see huntsman and hare being lifted over a wall out of the pond, the eager pack waiting for their prey behind the wall.”—Local paper, February 1911.
The author supposes that the first of the above extracts must have impressed him. At any rate, on the night after the reading of it, just as he went to sleep, or on the following morning just as he awoke, he cannot tell which, there came to him the title and the outlines of this fantasy, including the command with which it ends. With a particular clearness did he seem to see the picture of the Great White Road, “straight as the way of the Spirit, and broad as the breast of Death,” and of the little Hare travelling towards the awful Gates.
Like the Mahatma of this fable, he expresses no opinion as to the merits of the controversy between the Red-faced Man and the Hare that, without search on his own part, presented itself to his mind in so odd a fashion. It is one on which anybody interested in such matters can form an individual judgment.
[*] Mahatma, “great-souled.”
“One of a class of persons with
preter-natural powers, imagined to exist in India and
Thibet.”—New English Dictionary.
Everyone has seen a hare, either crouched or running in the fields, or hanging dead in a poulterer’s shop, or lastly pathetic, even dreadful-looking and in this form almost indistinguishable from a skinned cat, on the domestic table. But not many people have met a Mahatma, at least to their knowledge. Not many people know even who or what a Mahatma is. The majority of those who chance to have heard the title are apt to confuse it with another, that of Mad Hatter.
This is even done of malice prepense (especially, for obvious reasons, if a hare is in any way concerned) in scorn, not in ignorance, by persons who are well acquainted with the real meaning of the word and even with its Sanscrit origin. The truth is that an incredulous Western world puts no faith in Mahatmas. To it a Mahatma is a kind of spiritual Mrs. Harris, giving an address in Thibet at which no letters are delivered. Either, it says, there is no such person, or he is a fraudulent scamp with no greater occult powers—well, than a hare.