Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 36

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Chapter XXXVI: Dreamland

It must have been two o'clock in the morning before I reached my lodgings. Too much exhausted to think, I hurried to my bed. I remember now that I reeled strangely as I went up-stairs. I lay down, and was asleep in an instant.

How long I had slept I know not, when I awoke with a strange confusion and whirling in my brain, and an intolerable weight and pain about my back and loins. By the light of the gas-lamp I saw a figure standing at the foot of my bed. I could not discern the face, but I knew instinctively that it was my mother. I called to her again and again, but she did not answer. She moved slowly away, and passed out through the wall of the room.

I tried to follow her, but could not. An enormous, unutterable weight seemed to lie upon me. The bedclothes grew and grew before me, and upon me, into a vast mountain, millions of miles in height. Then it seemed all glowing red, like the cone of a volcano. I heard the roaring of the fires within, the rattling of the cinders down the heaving slope. A river ran from its summit; and up that river-bed it seemed I was doomed to climb and climb for ever, millions and millions of miles upwards, against the rushing stream. The thought was intolerable, and I shrieked aloud. A raging thirst had seized me. I tried to drink the river-water: but it was boiling hot—sulphurous—reeking of putrefaction. Suddenly I fancied that I could pass round the foot of the mountain; and jumbling, as madmen will, the sublime and the ridiculous, I sprang up to go round the foot of my bed, which was the mountain.

I recollect lying on the floor. I recollect the people of the house, who had been awoke by my shriek and my fall, rushing in and calling to me. I could not rise or answer. I recollect a doctor; and talk about brain fever and delirium. It was true. I was in a raging fever. And my fancy, long pent-up and crushed by circumstances, burst out in uncontrollable wildness, and swept my other faculties with it helpless away over all heaven and earth, presenting to me, as in a vast kaleidoscope, fantastic symbols of all I had ever thought, or read, or felt.

That fancy of the mountain returned; but I had climbed it now. I was wandering along the lower ridge of the Himalaya. On my right the line of snow peaks showed like a rosy saw against the clear blue morning sky. Raspberries and cyclamens were peeping through the snow around me. As I looked down the abysses, I could see far below, through the thin veils of blue mist that wandered in the glens, the silver spires of giant deodars, and huge rhododendrons glowing like trees of flame. The longing of my life to behold that cradle of mankind was satisfied. My eyes revelled in vastness, as they swept over the broad flat jungle at the mountain foot, a desolate sheet of dark gigantic grasses, furrowed with the paths of the buffalo and rhinoceros, with barren sandy water-courses, desolate pools, and here and there a single tree, stunted with malaria, shattered by mountain floods; and far beyond, the vast plains of Hindostan, enlaced with myriad silver rivers and canals, tanks and rice-fields, cities with their mosques and minarets, gleaming among the stately palm-groves along the boundless horizon. Above me was a Hindoo temple, cut out of the yellow sandstone. I climbed up to the higher tier of pillars among monstrous shapes of gods and fiends, that mouthed and writhed and mocked at me, struggling to free themselves from their bed of rock. The bull Nundi rose and tried to gore me; hundred-handed gods brandished quoits and sabres round my head; and Kali dropped the skull from her gore-dripping jaws, to clutch me for her prey. Then my mother came, and seizing the pillars of the portico, bent them like reeds: an earthquake shook the hills—great sheets of woodland slid roaring and crashing into the valleys—a tornado swept through the temple halls, which rocked and tossed like a vessel in a storm: a crash—a cloud of yellow dust which filled the air—choked me—blinded me—buried me—

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