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 all
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, an 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 he 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, the young saw but dimly, and the children that were born
to them never saw at all. But life was very easy in that
snow-rimmed basin, lost to all the world, with neither thorns nor
briers, 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 noticed
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 chance 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. Thereabout it chanced that a man came into this
community from the outer world. And this is the story of that
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 that 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 realized 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 the
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 moon-lit 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
He sat up and perceived he was on a little alp at the foot of a
vast precipice that sloped only a little in 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
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
parti-coloured facade was pierced by a door, and not a solitary
window broke their even frontage. They were parti-coloured 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
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
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
“In the Country of the Blind the One-Eyed Man is
And very civilly he gave them greeting. He talked to them and
used his eyes.
“Where does he come from, brother Pedro?” asked
“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 cloth of their coats, Nunez saw was curious 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
“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
“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
“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 pail.
“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
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 rocks.”
“Bogota,” he said. “Bogota. Over the mountain
“A wild man—using wild words,” said Pedro.
“Did you hear that—“Bogota? His mind has hardly
formed yet. He has only the beginnings of speech.”
A little boy nipped his hand. “Bogota!” he said
“Aye! 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 in 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,” be said; I couldn’t see in this
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
“May I sit up?” he asked, in a pause. “I will
not struggle against you again.”
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 such-like marvels, to these
elders who sat in darkness in the Country of the Blind. And they
would believe and understand nothing whatever that 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
door-way murmured encouragingly. He said the night—for the
blind call their day night—was now far gone, and it behooved
everyone 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 snow-fields 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 him.
He heard a voice calling to him from out of the village.
“Yaho 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
“Trample not on the grass, Bogota; that is not
Nunez had scarcely heard the sound he made himself. He stopped,
The owner of the voice came running up the piebald path towards
He stepped back into the pathway. “Here I am,” he
“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
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 world.”
“Has no one told you, ‘In the Country of the Blind
the One-Eyed Man is King?’”
“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 change.
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 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
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 me.”
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
Then he induced them to let him go a long way up the sloping
meadows towards the wall with one complaisant 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 those 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 all 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 had 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 laugh.
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
Should he charge them?
“Bogota!” called one. “Bogota! where are
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
The last order, grotesque in its urban familiarity, produced a
gust of anger. “I’ll hurt you,” he said, sobbing
with emotion. “By Heaven, I’ll hurt you! Leave me
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.
Through! And then he was close to the street of houses again,
and blind men, whirling spades and stakes, were running with a
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 of this 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 his 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
They said that was better.
He told them he was wiser now, and repented of all he had
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 nothing!”
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. So
smooth—so beautifully 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 told.
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 overhead.
So Nunez became a citizen of the Country of the Blind, and these
people ceased to be a generalised people and became individualities
to him, 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 weak 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
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 by day 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
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 right.”
“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
other man in the world. And he loves me—and, father, I love
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 a 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 Nunez,” he said, “and the case is clearer to
me. I think very probably he might be cured.”
“This is what I have always hoped,” said old
“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 depression in the face, are diseased, in the
case of Nunez, 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
“Yes?” said old Yacob. “Yes?”
“And I think I may say with reasonable certainty that, in
order to cure him complete, all that we need to do is a simple and
easy surgical operation—namely, to remove these irritant
“And then he will be sane?”
“Then he will be perfectly sane, and a quite admirable
“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 disappointing.
“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
“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 amidst the rocks, the light
and softness on a piece of fur, the far sky with its drifting dawn
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 imaginations
stoop . . . NO; YOU would not have me do that?”
A disagreeable doubt had arisen in him. He stopped and left the
thing a question.
“I wish,” she said, “sometimes—”
“Yes?” he said, a little apprehensively.
“I wish sometimes—you would not talk like
“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
He was realising things very swiftly. He felt anger perhaps,
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 tensely 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 gentle.
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
“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 to that dear sight, “good-bye!”
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 walked away.
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 walked he lifted up
his eyes and saw the morning, the morning like an angel in golden
armour, marching down the steeps . . . .
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
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 that 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 began to scrutinise the great curtain of the mountains
with a keener inquiry.
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. And
suppose one had good fortune!
He glanced back at the village, then turned right round and
regarded it with folded arms.
He thought of Medina-sarote, and she had become small and
He turned again towards the mountain wall down which the day had
come to him.
Then very circumspectly he began his climb.
When sunset came he was not longer climbing, but he was far and
high. His clothes were torn, his limbs were bloodstained, 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 things in the rocks near at hand were drenched
with light and beauty, a vein of green mineral piercing the grey, a
flash of small crystal 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 still
there, smiling as if he were content now merely to have escaped
from the valley of the Blind, in which he had thought to be King.
And the glow of the sunset passed, and the night came, and still he
lay there, under the cold, clear stars.