Short Story Essay: Silent Snow, Secret Snow
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Short Story Essay: Silent Snow, Secret Snow Length: 5-7 pages Due Date: Check Canvas
Task: Explore Aiken’s use of alliteration, sibilance, repetition, personification and metaphor/simile in
“Silent Snow, Secret Snow.” Demonstrate how that music and tone contributes to how Paul’s state of
mind devolves throughout the story. Make sure that you quote and analyze many of the passages in the
story so that you can point out their music and tone. DO NOT USE “I” OR “YOU” IN YOUR ESSAY.
Audience: Once again, the audience for your paper is familiar with the story, so you should not retell the
whole story. However, you will still need to describe specific events and summarize how Paul devolves
throughout the story. DO NOT USE “I” OR “YOU” IN YOUR ESSAY.
Citing In-Text / Works Cited Page: Use the course reader as your source for your works cited page as
well as for the page numbers in your in-text citations.
For the Conrad story, simply introduce the title and the author’s full name in your introduction
and, for the rest of the essay, simply use the page number for all quotations and paraphrasing.
Use the following for your works cited requirement (please note EXACTLY how it is formatted)
Author’s Last Name, Author’s First Name. “Title of Short Story.” English 1B Course Reader. Ed.
Nathan Wirth. Novato, CA: Nathan’s Mind Inc. 2017. Print.
Outside Sources: You are not required to use outside sources, but if you wish to, you may. However,
you must use a minimum of three outside sources and you must document them properly (MLA
format) in your works cited page.
Final Draft: Upload your final draft to Canvas. Check the course schedule for due dates and upload link.
Process Letter: You must also include a process letter, in which you write about your writing process
for the essay. Please make this the first page of your document (and it does not count as one of the
required pages). You can find a sample process letter in this course reader (check Table of Contents).
Formatting: Check formatting requirements before you upload your essay (explained in the reader).
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Silent Snow, Secret Snow by Conrad Aiken
JUST WHY it should have happened, or why it should have happened just when it did, he could not, of course, possibly
have said; nor perhaps could it even have occurred to him to ask. The thing was above all a secret, something to be
preciously concealed from Mother and Father; and to that very fact it owed an enormous part of its deliciousness. It was
like a peculiarly beautiful trinket to be carried unmentioned in one’s trouserpocket–a rare stamp, an old coin, a few tiny
gold links found trodden out of shape on the path in the park, a pebble of carnelian, a sea shell distinguishable from all
others by an unusual spot or stripe–and, as if it were anyone of these, he carried around with him everywhere a warm
and persistent and increasingly beautiful sense of possession. Nor was it only a sense of possession–it was also a sense of
protection. It was as if, in some delightful way, his secret gave him a fortress, a wall behind which he could retreat into
heavenly seclusion. This was almost the first thing he had noticed about it–apart from the oddness of the thing itself–and
it was this that now again, for the fiftieth time, occurred to him, as he sat in the little schoolroom. It was the half hour for
geography. Miss Buell was revolving with one finger, slowly, a huge terrestrial globe which had been placed on her desk.
The green and yellow continents passed and repassed, questions were asked and answered, and now the little girl in
front of him, Deirdre, who had a funny little constellation of freckles on the back of her neck, exactly like the Big Dipper,
was standing up and telling Miss Buell that the equator was the line that ran round the middle.
Miss Buell’s face, which was old and grayish and kindly, with gray stiff curls beside the cheeks, and eyes that swam very
brightly, like little minnows, behind thick glasses, wrinkled itself into a complication of amusements.
“Ah! I see. The earth is wearing a belt, or a sash. Or someone drew a line round it!”
“Oh, no–not that–I mean–”
In the general laughter, he did not share, or only a very little. He was thinking about the Arctic and Antarctic regions,
which of course, on the globe, were white. Miss Buell was now telling them about the tropics, the jungles, the steamy
heat of equatorial swamps, where the birds and butterflies, and even the snakes, were like living jewels. As he listened to
these things, he was already, with a pleasant sense of half-effort, putting his secret between himself and the words. Was
it really an effort at all? For effort implied something voluntary, and perhaps even something one did not especially want;
whereas this was distinctly pleasant, and came almost of its own accord. All he needed to do was to think of that
morning, the first one, and then of all the others–
But it was all so absurdly simple! It had amounted to so little. It was nothing, just an idea–and just why it should have
become so wonderful, so permanent, was a mystery–a very pleasant one, to be sure, but also, in an amusing way,
foolish. However, without ceasing to listen to Miss Buell, who had now moved up to the north temperate zones, he
deliberately invited his memory of the first morning. It was only a moment or two after he had waked up–or perhaps the
moment itself. But was there, to be exact, an exact moment? Was one awake all at once? or was it gradual? Anyway, it
was after he had stretched a lazy hand up towards the headrail, and yawned, and then relaxed again among his warm
covers, all the more grateful on a December morning, that the thing had happened. Suddenly, for no reason, he had
thought of the postman, he remembered the postman. Perhaps there was nothing so odd in that. After all, he heard the
postman almost every morning in his life–his heavy boots could be heard clumping round the corner at the top of the
little cobbled hill-street, and then, progressively nearer, progressively louder, the double knock at each door, the
crossings and re-crossings of the street, till finally the clumsy steps came stumbling across to the very door, and the
tremendous knock came which shook the house itself.
(Miss Buell was saying “Vast wheat-growing areas in North America and Siberia.” Deirdre had for the moment placed her
left hand across the back of her neck.)
But on this particular morning, the first morning, as he lay there with his eyes closed, he had for some reason waited for
the postman. He wanted to hear him come round the corner. And that was precisely the joke–he never did. He never
came. He never had come–round the corner–again. For when at last the steps were heard, they had already, he was
quite sure, come a little down the hill, to the first house; and even so, the steps were curiously different–they were
softer, they had a new secrecy about them, they were muffled and indistinct; and while the rhythm of them was the
same, it now said a new thing–it said peace, it said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep. And he had understood the
situation at once–nothing could have seemed simpler–there had been snow in the night, such as all winter he had been
longing for; and it was this which had rendered the postman’s first footsteps inaudible, and the later ones faint. Of
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course! How lovely! And even now it must be snowing–it was going to be a snowy day–the long white ragged lines were
drifting and sifting across the street, across the faces of the old houses, whispering and hushing, making little triangles of
white in the corners between cobblestones, seething a little when the wind blew them over the ground to a drifted
corner; and so it would be all day, getting deeper and deeper and silenter and silenter.
(Miss Buell was saying “Land of perpetual snow.”)
All this time, of course (while he lay in bed), he had kept his eyes closed, listening to the nearer progress of the postman,
the muffled footsteps thumping and slipping on the snow-sheathed cobbles; and all the other sounds–the double knocks,
a frosty far-off voice or two, a bell ringing thinly and softly as if under a sheet of ice–had the same slightly abstracted
quality, as if removed by one degree from actuality–as if everything in the world had been insulated by snow. But when
at last, pleased, he opened his eyes, and turned them towards the window, to see for himself this longdesired and now so
clearly imagined miracle–what he saw instead was brilliant sunlight on a roof; and when, astonished, he jumped out of
bed and stared down into the street, expecting to see the cobbles obliterated by the snow, he saw nothing but the bare
bright cobbles themselves.
Queer, the effect this extraordinary surprise had had upon him–all the following morning he had kept with him a sense as
of snow falling about him, a secret screen of new snow between himself and the world. If he had not dreamed such a
thing–and how could he have dreamed it while awake?–how else could one explain it? In any case, the delusion had
been so vivid as to affect his entire behavior. He could not now remember whether it was on the first or the second
morning–or was it even the third?–that his mother had drawn attention to some oddness in his manner.
“But my darling–” she had said at the breakfast table–“what has come over you? You don’t seem to be listening.
And how often that very thing had happened since!
(Miss Buell was now asking if anyone knew the difference between the North Pole and the Magnetic Pole. Deirdre was
holding up her flickering brown hand, and he could set the four white dimples that marked the knuckles.)
Perhaps it hadn’t been either the second or third morning–or even the fourth or fifth. How could he be sure? How could
he be sure just when the delicious progress had become clear? Just when it had really begun? The intervals weren’t very
precise. . . . All he now knew was, that at some point or other–perhaps the second day, perhaps the sixth–he had noticed
that the presence of the snow was a little more insistent, the sound of it clearer; and, conversely, the sound of the
postman’s footsteps more indistinct. Not only could he not hear the steps come round the corner, he could not even hear
them at the first house. It was below the first house that he heard them; and then, a few days later, it was below the
second house that he heard them; and a few days later again, below the third. Gradually, gradually, the snow was
becoming heavier, the sound of its seething louder, the cobblestones more and more muffled. When he found, each
morning, on going to the window, after the ritual of listening, that the roofs and cobbles were as bare as ever, it made no
difference. This was, after all, only what he had expected. It was even what pleased him, what rewarded him: the thing
was his own, belonged to no one else. No one else knew about it, not even his mother and father. There, outside, were
the bare cobbles; and here, inside, was the snow. Snow growing heavier each day, muffling the world, hiding the ugly,
and deadening increasingly–above all–the steps of the postman.
“But my darling–” she had said at the luncheon table–“what has come over you? You don’t seem to listen when people
speak to you. That’s the third time I’ve asked you to pass your plate. . . .”
How was one to explain this to Mother? or to Father? There was, of course, nothing to be done about it: nothing. All one
could do was to laugh embarrassedly, pretend to be a little ashamed, apologize, and take a sudden and somewhat
disingenuous interest in what was being done or said. The cat had stayed out all night. He had a curious swelling on his
left check–perhaps somebody had kicked him, or a stone had struck him. Mrs. Kempton was or was not coming to tea.
The house was going to be house cleaned, or “turned out,” on Wednesday instead of Friday. A new lamp was provided
for his evening work–perhaps it was eye-strain which accounted for this new and so peculiar vagueness of his–Mother
was looking at him with amusement as she said this, but with something else as well. A new lamp? A new lamp. Yes
Mother, No Mother, Yes Mother. School is going very well. The geometry is very easy. The history is very dull. The
geography is very interesting–particularly when it takes one to the North Pole. Why the North Pole? Oh, well, it would be
fun to be an explorer. Another Peary or Scott or Shackleton. And then abruptly he found his interest in the talk at an end,
stared at the pudding on his plate, listened, waited, and began once more–ah how heavenly, too, the first beginnings-to
hear or feel–for could he actually hear it?–the silent snow, the secret snow.
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(Miss Buell was telling them about the search for the Northwest Passage, about Hendrik Hudson, the Half Moon.)
This had been, indeed, the only distressing feature of the new experience: the fact that it so increasingly had brought him
into a kind of mute misunderstanding, or even conflict, with his father and mother. It was as if he were trying to lead a
double life. On the one hand he had to be Paul Hasleman, and keep up the appearance of being that person–dress, wash,
and answer intelligently when spoken to–; on the other, he had to explore this new world which had been opened to
him. Nor could there be the slightest doubt–not the slightest–that the new world was the profounder and more
wonderful of the two. It was irresistible. It was miraculous. Its beauty was simply beyond anything–beyond speech as
beyond thought-utterly incommunicable. But how then, between the two worlds, of which he was thus constantly aware,
was he to keep a balance? One must get up, one must go to breakfast, one must talk with Mother, go to school, do one’s
lessons–and, in all this, try not to appear too much of a fool. But if all the while one was also trying to extract the full
deliciousness of another and quite separate existence, one which could not easily (if at all) be spoken of–how was one to
manage? How was one to explain? Would it be safe to explain? Would it be absurd? Would it merely mean that he would
get into some obscure kind of trouble?
These thoughts came and went, came and went, as softly and secretly as the snow; they were not precisely a
disturbance, perhaps they were even a pleasure; he liked to have them; their presence was something almost palpable,
something he could stroke with his hand, without closing his eyes, and without ceasing to see Miss Buell and the schoolroom
and the globe and the freckles on Deirdre’s neck; nevertheless he did in a sense cease to see, or to see the obvious
external world, and substituted for this vision the vision of snow, the sound of snow, and the slow, almost soundless,
approach of the postman. Yesterday, it had been only at the sixth house that the postman had become audible; the snow
was much deeper now, it was falling more swiftly and heavily, the sound of its seething was more distinct, more soothing,
more persistent. And this morning, it had been–as nearly as he could figure–just above the seventh house–perhaps only
a step or two above: at most, he had heard two or three footsteps before the knock had sounded. . . . And with each such
narrowing of the sphere, each nearer approach of the limit at which the postman was first audible, it was odd how
sharply was increased the amount of illusion which had to be carried into the ordinary business of daily life. Each day, it
was harder to get out of bed, to go to the window, to look out at the-as always–perfectly empty and snowless street.
Each day it was more difficult to go through the perfunctory motions of greeting Mother and Father at breakfast, to reply
to their questions, to put his books together and go to school. And at school, how extraordinarily hard to conduct with
success simultaneously the public life and the life that was secret. There were times when he longed–positively ached–to
tell everyone about it–to burst out with it–only to be checked almost at once by a far-off feeling as of some faint
absurdity which was inherent in it–but was it absurd?–and more importantly by a sense of mysterious power in his very
secrecy. Yes: it must be kept secret. That, more and more, became clear. At whatever cost to himself, whatever pain to
(Miss Buell looked straight at him, smiling, and said, “Perhaps we’ll ask Paul. I’m sure Paul will come out of his day-dream
long enough to be able to tell us. Won’t you, Paul.” He rose slowly from his chair, resting one hand on the brightly
varnished desk, and deliberately stared through the snow towards the blackboard. It was an effort, but it was amusing to
make it. “Yes,” he said slowly, “it was what we now call the Hudson River. This he thought to be the Northwest Passage.
He was disappointed.” He sat down again, and as he did so Deirdre half turned in her chair and gave him a shy smile, of
approval and admiration.)
At whatever pain to others.
This part of it was very puzzling, very puzzling. Mother was very nice, and so was Father. Yes, that was all true enough. He
wanted to be nice to them, to tell them everything–and yet, was it really wrong of him to want to have a secret place of
At bedtime, the night before, Mother had said, “If this goes on, my lad, we’ll have to see a doctor, we will! We can’t have
our boy–” But what was it she had said? “Live in another world”? “Live so far away”? The word “far” had been in it, he
was sure, and then Mother had taken up a magazine again and laughed a little, but with an expression which wasn’t
mirthful. He had felt sorry for her. . . .
The bell rang for dismissal. The sound came to him through long curved parallels of falling snow. He saw Deirdre rise, and
had himself risen almost as soon–but not quite as soon–as she.
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On the walk homeward, which was timeless, it pleased him to see through the accompaniment, or counterpoint, of snow,
the items of mere externality on his way. There were many kinds of bricks in the sidewalks, and laid in many kinds of
pattern. The garden walls too were various, some of wooden palings, some of plaster, some of stone. Twigs of bushes
leaned over the walls; the little hard green winter-buds of lilac, on gray stems, sheathed and fat; other branches very thin
and fine and black and desiccated. Dirty sparrows huddled in the bushes, as dull in color as dead fruit left in leafless trees.
A single starling creaked on a weather vane. In the gutter, beside a drain, was a scrap of torn and dirty newspaper, caught
in a little delta of filth: the word ECZEMA appeared in large capitals, and below it was a letter from Mrs. Amelia D.
Cravath, 2100 Pine Street, Fort Worth, Texas, to the effect that after being a sufferer for years she had been cured by
Caley’s Ointment. In the little delta, beside the fan-shaped and deeply tunneled continent of brown mud, were lost twigs,
descended from their parent trees, dead matches, a rusty horse-chestnut burr, a small concentration of sparkling gravel
on the lip of the sewer, a fragment of eggshell, a streak of yellow sawdust which had been wet and was now dry and
congealed, a brown pebble, and a broken feather. Further on was a cement sidewalk, ruled into geometrical
parallelograms, with a brass inlay at one end commemorating the contractors who had laid it, and, halfway across, an
irregular and random series of dog-tracks, immortalized in synthetic stone. He knew these well, and always stepped on
them; to cover the little hollows with his own foot had always been a queer pleasure; today he did it once more, but
perfunctorily and detachedly, all the while thinking of something else. That was a dog, a long time ago, who had made a
mistake and walked on the cement while it was still wet. He had probably wagged his tail, but that hadn’t been recorded.
Now, Paul Hasleman, aged twelve, on his way home from school, crossed the same river, which in the meantime had
frozen into rock. Homeward through the snow, the snow falling in bright sunshine. Homeward?
Then came the gateway with the two posts surmounted by egg-shaped stones which had been cunningly balanced on
their ends, as if by Columbus, and mortared in the very act of balance: a source of perpetual wonder. On the brick wall
just beyond, the letter H had been stenciled, presumably for some purpose. H? H.
The green hydrant, with a little green-painted chain attached to the brass screw-cap.
The elm tree, with the great gray wound in the bark, kidney-shaped, into which he always put his hand–to feel the cold
but living wood. The injury, he had been sure, was due to the gnawings of a tethered horse. But now it deserved only a
passing palm, a merely tolerant eye. There were more important things. Miracles. Beyond the thoughts of trees, mere
elms. Beyond the thoughts of sidewalks, mere stone, mere brick, mere cement. Beyond the thoughts even of his own
shoes, which trod these sidewalks obediently, bearing a burden–far above–of elaborate mystery. He watched them. They
were not very well polished; he had neglected them, for a very good reason: they were one of the many parts of the
increasing difficulty of the daily return to daily life, the morning struggle. To get up, having at last opened one’s eyes, to
go to the window, and discover no snow, to wash, to dress, to descend the curving stairs to breakfast–
At whatever pain to others, nevertheless, one must persevere in severance, since the incommunicability of the
experience demanded it. It was desirable A course to be kind to Mother and Father, especially as they seemed to be
worried, but it was also desirable to be resolute. If they should decide–as appeared likely–to consult the doctor, Doctor
Howells, and have Paul inspected, his heart listened to through a kind of dictaphone, his lungs, his stomach–well, that
was all right. He would go through with it. He would give them answer for question, too–perhaps such answers as they
hadn’t expected? No. That would never do. For the secret world must, at all costs, be preserved.
The bird-house in the apple-tree was empty–it was the wrong time of year for wrens. The little round black door had lost
its pleasure. The wrens were enjoying other houses, other nests, remoter trees. But this too was a notion which he only
vaguely and grazingly entertained–as if, for the moment, he merely touched an edge of it; there was something further
on, which was already assuming a sharper importance; something which already teased at the corners of his eyes, teasing
also at the corner of his mind. It was funny to think that he so wanted this, so awaited it–and yet found himself enjoying
this momentary dalliance with the bird-house, as if for a quite deliberate postponement and enhancement of the
approaching pleasure. He was aware of his delay, of his smiling and detached and now almost uncomprehending gaze at
the little bird-house; he knew what he was going to look at next: it was his own little cobbled hill-street, his own house,
the little river at the bottom of the hill, the grocer’s shop with the cardboard man in the window–and now, thinking of all
this, he turned his head, still smiling, and looking quickly right and left through the snowladen sunlight.
And the mist of snow, as he had foreseen, was still on it–a ghost of snow falling in the bright sunlight, softly and steadily
floating and turning and pausing, soundlessly meeting the snow that covered, as with a transparent mirage, the bare
bright cobbles. He loved it–he stood still and loved it. Its beauty was paralyzing–beyond all words, all experience, all
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dream. No fairy-story he had ever read could be compared with it–none had ever given him this extraordinary
combination of ethereal loveliness with a something else, unnameable, which was just faintly and deliciously terrifying.
What was this thing? As he thought of it, he looked upward toward his own bedroom window, which was open–and it
was as if he looked straight into the room and saw himself lying half awake in his bed. There he was–at this very instant
he was still perhaps actually there–more truly there than standing here at the edge of the cobbled hill-street, with one
hand lifted to shade his eyes against the snow-sun. Had he indeed ever left his room, in all this time? since that very first
morning? Was the whole progress still being enacted there, was it still the same morning, and himself not yet wholly
awake? And even now, had the postman not yet come round the corner? . . .
This idea amused him, and automatically, as he thought of it, he turned his head and looked toward the top of the hill.
There was, of course, nothing there–nothing and no one. The street was empty and quiet. And all the more because of its
emptiness it occurred to him to count the houses –a thing which, oddly enough, he hadn’t before thought of doing. Of
course, he had known there weren’t many–many, that is, on his own side of the street, which were the ones that figured
in the postman’s progress –but nevertheless it came to him as something of a shock to find that there were precisely six,
above his own house–his own house was the seventh.
Astonished, he looked at his own house–looked at the door, on which was the number thirteen–and then realized that
the whole thing was exactly and logically and absurdly what he ought to have known. Just the same, the realization gave
him abruptly, and even a little frighteningly, a sense of hurry. He was being hurried–he was being rushed. For–he knit his
brows–he couldn’t be mistaken–it was just above the seventh house, his own house, that the postman had first been
audible this very morning. But in that case–in that case–did it mean that tomorrow he would hear nothing? The knock he
had heard must have been the knock of their own door. Did it mean–and this was an idea which gave him a really
extraordinary feeling of surprise–that he would never hear the postman again?-that tomorrow morning the postman
would already have passed the house, in a snow by then so deep as to render his footsteps completely inaudible? That he
would have made his approach down the snow-filled street so soundlessly, so secretly, that he, Paul Hasleman, there
lying in bed, would not have waked in time, or, waking, would have heard nothing?
But how could that be? Unless even the knocker should be muffled in the snow–frozen tight, perhaps? . . . But in that
A vague feeling of disappointment came over him; a vague sadness, as if he felt himself deprived of something which he
had long looked forward to, something much prized. After all this, all this beautiful progress, the slow delicious advance
of the postman through the silent and secret snow, the knock creeping closer each day, and the footsteps nearer, the
audible compass of the world thus daily narrowed, narrowed, narrowed, as the snow soothingly and beautifully
encroached and deepened, after all this, was he to be defrauded of the one thing he had so wanted–to be able to count,
as it were, the last two or three solemn footsteps, as they finally approached his own door? Was it all going to happen, at
the end, so suddenly? or indeed, had it already happened? with no slow and subtle gradations of menace, in which he
He gazed upward again, toward his own window which flashed in the sun: and this time almost with a feeling that it
would be better if he were still in bed, in that room; for in that case this must still be the first morning, and there would
be six more mornings to come–or, for that matter, seven or eight or nine–how could he be sure?–or even more.
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After supper, the inquisition began. He stood before the doctor, under the lamp, and submitted silently to the usual
thumpings and tappings.
“Now will you please say ‘Ah!’?”
“Now again please, if you don’t mind.”
“Say it slowly, and hold it if you can–”
How silly all this was. As if it had anything to do with his throat! Or his heart or lungs!
Relaxing his mouth, of which the corners, after all this absurd stretching, felt uncomfortable, he avoided the doctor’s
eyes, and stared towards the fireplace, past his mother’s feet (in gray slippers) which projected from the green chair, and
his father’s feet (in brown slippers) which stood neatly side by side on the hearth rug.
“Hm. There is certainly nothing wrong there
He felt the doctor’s eyes fixed upon him, and, as if merely to be polite, returned the look, but with a feeling of justifiable
“Now, young man, tell me,–do you feel all right?”
“Yes, sir, quite all right.”
“No headaches? no dizziness?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Let me see. Let’s get a book, if you don’t mind–yes, thank you, that will do splendidly–and now, Paul, if you’ll just read
it, holding it as you would normally hold it–”
He took the book and read:
“And another praise have I to tell for this the city our mother, the gift of a great god, a glory of the land most high; the
might of horses, the might of young horses, the might of the sea. . . . For thou, son of Cronus, our lord Poseidon, hast
throned herein this pride, since in these roads first thou didst show forth the curb that cures the rage of steeds. And the
shapely oar, apt to men’s hands, hath a wondrous speed on the brine, following the hundred-footed Nereids. . . . O land
that art praised above all lands, now is it for thee to make those bright praises seen in deeds.”
He stopped, tentatively, and lowered the heavy book.
“No–as I thought–there is certainly no superficial sign of eye-strain.”
Silence thronged the room, and he was aware of the focused scrutiny of the three people who confronted him. . . .
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“We could have his eyes examined–but I believe it is something else.”
“What could it be?” This was his father’s voice.
“It’s only this curious absent-minded–” This was his mother’s voice.
In the presence of the doctor, they both seemed irritatingly apologetic.
“I believe it is something else. Now Paul–I would like very much to ask you a question or two. You will answer them,
won’t you–you know I’m an old, old friend of yours, eh? That’s right! . . .”
His back was thumped twice by the doctor’s fat fist,–then the doctor was grinning at him with false amiability, while with
one finger-nail he was scratching the top button of his waistcoat. Beyond the doctor’s shoulder was the fire, the fingers of
flame making light prestidigitation against the sooty fireback, the soft sound of their random flutter the only sound.
“I would like to know–is there anything that worries you?”
The doctor was again smiling, his eyelids low against the little black pupils, in each of which was a tiny white bead of light.
Why answer him? why answer him at all? “At whatever pain to others”–but it was all a nuisance, this necessity for
resistance, this necessity for attention: it was as if one had been stood up on a brilliantly lighted stage, under a great
round blaze of spotlight; as if one were merely a trained seal, or a performing dog, or a fish, dipped out of an aquarium
and held up by the tail. It would serve them right if he were merely to bark or growl. And meanwhile, to miss these last
few precious hours, these hours of which every minute was more beautiful than the last, more menacing–? He still
looked, as if from a great distance, at the beads of light in the doctor’s eyes, at the fixed false smile, and then, beyond,
once more at his mother’s slippers, his father’s slippers, the soft flutter of the fire. Even here, even amongst these hostile
presences, and in this arranged light, he could see the snow, he could hear it–it was in the corners of the room, where
the shadow was deepest, under the sofa, behind the half-opened door which led to the dining room. It was gentler here,
softer, its seethe the quietest of whispers, as if, in deference to a drawing room, it had quite deliberately put on its
“manners”; it kept itself out of sight, obliterated itself, but distinctly with an air of saying, “Ah, but just wait! Wait till we
are alone together! Then I will begin to tell you something new! Something white! something cold! something sleepy!
something of cease, and peace, and the long bright curve of space! Tell them to go away. Banish them. Refuse to speak.
Leave them, go upstairs to your room, turn out the light and get into bed–I will go with you, I will be waiting for you, I will
tell you a better story than Little Kay of the Skates, or The Snow Ghost–I will surround your bed, I will close the windows,
pile a deep drift against the door, so that none will ever again be able to enter. Speak to them! . . .” It seemed as if the
little hissing voice came from a slow white spiral of falling flakes in the corner by the front window –but he could not be
sure. He felt himself smiling, then, and said to the doctor, but without looking at him, looking beyond him still–
“Oh, no, I think not–”
“But are you sure, my boy?”
His father’s voice came softly and coldly then–the familiar voice of silken warning. . . .
“You needn’t answer at once, Paul–remember we’re trying to help you –think it over and be quite sure, won’t you?”
He felt himself smiling again, at the notion of being quite sure. What a joke! As if he weren’t so sure that reassurance was
no longer necessary, and all this cross-examination a ridiculous farce, a grotesque parody! What could they know about
it? These gross intelligences, these humdrum minds so bound to the usual, the ordinary? Impossible to tell them about it!
Why, even now, even now, with the proof so abundant, so formidable, so imminent, so appallingly present here in this
very room, could they believe it? –could even his mother believe it? No–it was only too plain that if anything were said
about it, the merest hint given, they would be incredulous –they would laugh–they would say “Absurd!” think things
about him which weren’t true. . . .
“Why no, I’m not worried–why should I be?”
He looked then straight at the doctor’s low-lidded eyes, looked from one of them to the other, from one bead of light to
the other, and gave a little laugh.
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The doctor seemed to be disconcerted by this. He drew back in his chair, resting a fat white hand on either knee. The
smile faded slowly from his face.
“Well, Paul!” he said, and paused gravely, “I’m afraid you don’t take this quite seriously enough. I think you perhaps don’t
quite realize–don’t quite realize–“He took a deep quick breath, and turned, as if helplessly, at a loss for words, to the
others. But Mother and Father were both silent–no help was forthcoming.
“You must surely know, be aware, that you have not been quite yourself, of late? don’t you know that? . . .”
It was amusing to watch the doctor’s renewed attempt at a smile, a queer disorganized look, as of confidential
“I feel all right, sir,” he said, and again gave the little laugh.
“And we’re trying to help you.” The doctor’s tone sharpened.
“Yes sir, I know. But why? I’m all right. I’m just thinking, that’s all.”
His mother made a quick movement forward, resting a hand on the back of the doctor’s chair.
“Thinking?” she said. “But my dear, about what?”
This was a direct challenge–and would have to be directly met. But before he met it, he looked again into the corner by
the door, as if for reassurance. He smiled again at what he saw, at what he heard. The little spiral was still there, still
softly whirling, like the ghost of a white kitten chasing the ghost of a white tail, and making as it did so the faintest of
whispers. It was all right! If only he could remain firm, everything was going to be all right.
“Oh, about anything, about nothing,–you know the way you do!”
“But thinking about what?”
He laughed a third time–but this time, happening to glance upward towards his mother’s face, he was appalled at the
effect his laughter seemed to have upon her. Her mouth had opened in an expression of horror. . . . This was too bad!
Unfortunate! He had known it would cause pain, of course–but he hadn’t expected it to be quite so bad as this. Perhaps–
perhaps if he just gave them a tiny gleaming hint–?
“About the snow,” he said.
“What on earth!” This was his father’s voice. The brown slippers came a step nearer on the hearth rug.
“But my dear, what do you mean?” This was his mother’s voice.
The doctor merely stared.
“Just snow, that’s all. I like to think about it.”
“Tell us about it, my boy.”
“But that’s all it is. There’s nothing to tell. You know what snow is?”
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This he said almost angrily, for he felt that they were trying to corner him. He turned sideways so as no longer to face the
doctor, and the better to see the inch of blackness between the window-sill and the lowered curtain,–the cold inch of
beckoning and delicious night. At once he felt better, more assured.
“Mother–can I go to bed, now, please? I’ve got a headache.”
“But I thought you said–”
“It’s just come. It’s all these questions–! Can I, Mother?”
“You can go as soon as the doctor has finished.”
“Don’t you think this thing ought to be gone into thoroughly, and now?” This was Father’s voice. The brown slippers again
came a step nearer, the voice was the well-known “punishment” voice, resonant and cruel.
“Oh, what’s the use, Norman–”
Quite suddenly, everyone was silent. And without precisely facing them, nevertheless he was aware that all three of them
were watching him with an extraordinary intensity–staring hard at him–as if he had done something monstrous, or was
himself some kind of monster. He could hear the soft irregular flutter of the flames; the cluck-click-cluck-click of the clock;
far and faint, two sudden spurts of laughter from the kitchen, as quickly cut off as begun; a murmur of water in the pipes;
and then, the silence seemed to deepen, to spread out, to become worldlong and worldwide, to become timeless and
shapeless, and to center inevitably and rightly, with a slow and sleepy but enormous concentration of all power, on the
beginning of a new sound. What this new sound was going to be, he knew perfectly well. It might begin with a hiss, but it
would end with a roar–there was no time to lose–he must escape. It mustn’t happen here-Without another word, he
turned and ran up the stairs.
Not a moment too soon. The darkness was coming in long white waves. A prolonged sibilance filled the night–a great
seamless seethe of wild influence went abruptly across it–a cold low humming shook the windows. He shut the door and
flung off his clothes in the dark. The bare black floor was like a little raft tossed in waves of snow, almost overwhelmed,
washed under whitely, up again, smothered in curled billows of feather. The snow was laughing: it spoke from all sides at
once: it pressed closer to him as he ran and jumped exulting into his bed.
“Listen to us!” it said. “Listen! We have come to tell you the story we told you about. You remember? Lie down. Shut your
eyes, now–you will no longer see much–in this white darkness who could see, or want to see? We will take the place of
everything. . . . Listen–”
A beautiful varying dance of snow began at the front of the room, came forward and then retreated, flattened out
toward the floor, then rose fountain-like to the ceiling, swayed, recruited itself from a new stream of flakes which poured
laughing in through the humming window, advanced again, lifted long white arms. It said peace, it said remoteness, it
said cold –it said–
But then a gash of horrible light fell brutally across the room from the opening door–the snow drew back hissing–
something alien had come into the room–something hostile. This thing rushed at him, clutched at him, shook him–and
he was not merely horrified, he was filled with such a loathing as he had never known. What was this? this cruel
disturbance? this act of anger and hate? It was as if he had to reach up a hand toward another world for any
understanding of it,–an effort of which he was only barely capable. But of that other world he still remembered just
enough to know the exorcising words. They tore themselves from his other life suddenly–
“Mother! Mother! Go away! I hate you!”
And with that effort, everything was solved, everything became all right: the seamless hiss advanced once more, the long
white wavering lines rose and fell like enormous whispering sea-waves, the whisper becoming louder, the laughter more
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“Listen!” it said. “We’ll tell you the last, the most beautiful and secret story–shut your eyes–it is a very small story–a
story that gets smaller and smaller–it comes inward instead of opening like a flower–it is a flower becoming a seed–a
little cold seed–do you hear? we are leaning closer to you–”
The hiss was now becoming a roar–the whole world was a vast moving screen of snow–but even now it said peace, it
said remoteness, it said cold, it said sleep.