“I don’t know, Hare. I am not wise, to whom it is only granted to visit the Road occasionally to search for some one.”
“I understand, Mahatma, but still you must know a great deal or you would not be allowed in such a place before your time, or at any rate you must be able to guess a great deal. So tell me, why do you think that I am here?”
“I can’t say, Hare, I can’t indeed. Perhaps after the Gates are open and your Guardian has given you to drink of the Cup, you will go to sleep and wake up again as something else.”
“To drink of the cup, Mahatma? I don’t drink; at least I didn’t, though I can’t tell what may happen here. But what do you mean about waking up as something else? Please be more plain. As what else?”
“Oh! who can know? Possibly as you are on the human Road you might even become a man some day, though I should not advise you to build on such a hope as that.”
“What do you say, Mahatma? A man! One of those two-legged beasts that hunt hares; a thing like Giles and Tom—yes, Tom? Oh! not that—not that! I’d almost rather go through everything again than become a cruel, torturing man.”
As it spoke thus the Hare grew so disturbed that it nearly vanished; literally it seemed to melt away till I could only perceive its outline. With a kind of shock I comprehended all the horror that it must feel at such a prospect as I had suggested to it, and really this grasping of the truth hurt my human pride. It had never come home to me before that the circumstances of their lives—and deaths—must cause some creatures to see us in strange lights.
“Oh! I have no doubt I was mistaken,” I said hurriedly, “and that your wishes on the point will be respected. I told you that I know nothing.”
At these words the Hare became quite visible again.
It sat up and very reflectively began to rub its still shadowy nose with a shadowy paw. I think that it remembered the sting of the salt water in the cut made by the glass of the window through which it had sprung.
Believing that its remarkable story was done, and that presently it would altogether melt away and vanish out of my knowledge, I looked about me. First I looked above the towering Gates to see whether the Lights had yet begun to change. Then as they had not I looked down the Great White Road, following it for miles and miles, until even to my spirit sight it lost itself in the Nowhere.
Presently coming up this Road towards us I saw a man dressed in a green coat, riding-breeches and boots and a peaked cap, who held in his hand a hunting-whip. He was a fine-looking person of middle age, with a pleasant, open countenance, bright blue eyes, and very red cheeks, on which he wore light-coloured whiskers. In short a jovial-looking individual, with whom things had evidently always gone well, one to whom sorrow and disappointment and mental struggle were utter strangers. He, at least, had never known what it is to “endure hardness” in all his life.