Menu Close


The Last Journey

ON a summer night, in the year of grace nineteen hundred
and four, in the age of motor-cars and halfpenny papers,
of the Salvation Army and the writings of Professor
Metchnikoff, a woman proved to her own, if not to her neigh-
bours’, satisfaction that wonders have not ceased, that enchant-
ments still obtain, that the magic of ancient days is still true magic,
and that a country stranger dan any mentioned by travellers in
Fairyland, is close at hand, lies just beyond the world of every
day, can be reached easily from Piccadilly. For she drove there
on the top of an omnibus.

    She thought it would never come, as she stood what seemed
an interminable time, near Piccadilly Circus. Omnibus after omni-
bus passed, but never the one for which she waited.

    “Here it is,” exclaimed someone behind her when her
weariness had grown almost insupportable; “it’s the last.”

    Cecilia noticed vaguely, as it came swinging up, that the
horses were white, and with more distinctness that there was just
one seat vacant immediately behind the driver. She hurried up
the steps, and sank into it with a sigh of exhaustion.

    A moment’s pause, and then with a jerk and a straining of
harness the horses started.

    She glanced round her appreciatively as they began to move.

    The Circus was very wonderful with its thousand lights.
A yellow flood streamed from the Criterion. Great silver globes
hung against the front of the Pavilion opposite. Silver globes
swung in the darkness of all the radiating streets and thorough-
fares. Some of the lamps burnt with a pinkish lilac flame, others
with gold, some with a hard white radiance. Everywhere the dark-
ness was stained, flooded, streaked with light, or spotted with
points of colour. It was beautiful; more beautiful than usual,
surely. “Oram I seeing it better this evening?” she wondered.

    Her eyes were so dazzled that it was not till the omnibus
had crossed the Circus, that Cecilia first noticed the loveliness of
the night. The strip of sky overhead ran, a river of moonlit blue,
between the houses, deep, soft, infinitely mysterious. It was,
I think, just then that the magic began to work. London was a
fairy city The sudden realization of its beauty left her breathless.

    For weeks, of late, a misery, gnawing, insistent, relentless,
had wrapped her round, obscuring the blue sky, blotting out the

sun. Now, as though a winding-sheet had fallen, it dropped
suddenly away, leaving her an exquisite freedom, an exquisite
sense of response to the long unheeded appeal of the senses.

    They were passing St James’s Street at the moment, and at
the end of the avenue she had a moment’s vision of the clock
tower, dark against a sky suffused with moonlight. She saw the
long chain of silvery globes, like beads on a necklace, broken off
at the Palace walls, and noticed the confused network of jewels
beneath the high-swung chain—jewels of rose and purple and
emerald where the hansoms stood, some in ranks, some slowly
moving. Now the line of shops and houses on the left of Picca-
dilly ended, and Green Park, half veiled in summer mist, stretched
away to dim shadowy distances. For a moment she thought
dreamily that beyond the nearest fringe of trees lay, the sea. All
the star-like gleams studding its immensity were lights at the
prows of distant ships, sailing on through the night over a waste
of soft, dark water. The momentary illusion was so complete
that she heard the faint splash of the waves. As a louder one
broke upon the shore of Piccadilly, she started, and with an effort
pulled herself together.

    And yet, would it be so strange after all, since to-night
London was a magic city? What a city of lights! And how the
lights varied in colour, in tone of radiance, in character, as though
the spirits which haunt the night had each chosen one for its own
visible embodiment.

    Swung high above the rest, some embowered in overhang-
ing branches of plane trees, the great incandescent globes shone
with a radiance as of milky pearls. Cecilia noticed with a thrill of
pleasure how these turned the tree depths into which they plunged
their beams, to caverns of uncanny green fire. Beneath them—a
lower carcanet of jewels, dipping down the hill, and again rising —
other lamps glowed golden as topazes; and lower still, nearer the
ground, like flowers springing from some witch’s garden, flecks of
emerald, of crimson, of deep violet, showed where the hansoms
waited outside the clubs.

    The horses’ hoofs on the road made a rhythmic music, a
framework into which Cecilia’s half-formed thoughts fitted like
designs in colour. She was dreamily content. She had given
herself up to the delicious sensation, keen, yet voluptuous, of

                                    The Last Journey

mental excitement, combined with a bodily lassitude so complete
that the thought of ever moving again seemed a ridiculous im-

    London was a city of magic lights, through which, under the
spell of some enchantment, she found herself driving, without
thought for the past, without care for the future.

    A city of lights! And therefore a city of shadows. She
began to notice these shadows; idly at first, and then with growing
wonder at their beauty.

    Beneath the silver moon of each incandescent globe there
was awonderful circle of shadow, orrather an infinite number of con-
centric shadows, faint, elusive, like the very ghosts of shade. And
these gigantic yet faint shadow-circles, one within the other, like
the rings which, in still water, spread on the dropping of a pebble,
these shadows were ever moving and swaying like phantom cages
to imprison intangible things. Cecilia watched them fascinated,
and then her eyes were drawn to the tree shadows. Every tree
which held a lamp to its green breast had dropped a gigantic
etching of itself upon the ground. Plane leaves of enormous size
danced a shadow-dance upon the blanched pavement, and swayed
and undulated like the giant circles.

    Then there were the shadows of the people on the omnibus,
her own among them, ever gliding swiftly past and disappearing
ahead; shadows always springing afresh, always racing past along
the pavement, and—disappearing. “I wonder where they go?”
Cecilia found herself thinking with curiosity. And again she
pulled herself up with a half smile to realize that for the moment
her wonder had been genuine.

    It was a strangely silent company that shared her ride
through the lamp-lit street. The top of the omnibus was crowded
she knew, but only once, and that just as it was starting, had she
heard any one speak. She recalled the words:

    “Where does this go?” a woman’s voice had asked.

    “To the World’s End,” someone had replied.

    Cecilia’s vagrant attention had been arrested for a moment
by the name, till in a half-amused fashion she remembered it was
that of a public house.

    There had been a long silence, and then the woman’s voice
had spoken again.

     “Can I get down before that?” Cecilia suddenly recalled
the tone of the voice, timid, hesitating, full of a painful entreaty.

    “If you please.” The little dialogue sprang afresh to her
mind, and stirred it to a curiosity she had not at the time ex-

    She found herself wondering about the woman to whom
that pathetic voice belonged, and still more about the individual
who in such a tone of complete detachment had replied. He was
something of a brute, she reflected. At any rate the woman was
afraid of him. A momentary desire to glance back and look
came and passed. It would involve a slight exertion, and she was
too comfortable to move. Instead she glanced at her left-hand
neighbour, the occupant of the same seat, and saw that he was
sitting with downbent head, and coat so pulled up round his throat
that she could not see his face. His attitude of dejection struck
her with a momentary pity, but her own sense of bien-étre was too
absorbing for the emotion to be more than transitory. The night
air flowed round her in waves soft and delicious as the swirl of
warm water. The moonlit sky stooped to her with brooding kind-
ness, the lights shone in the empty streets, and the innumerable
shadows, a silent bodyguard, leapt and danced, and raced beside
her. On and on, while Cecilia, like a lotus-eater, dreamed exqui-
sitely, and prayed that this swift flying through the summer night
might be indefinitely prolonged.

    She was roused gradually by the sense of silence in the echo-
ing streets. Was it very late, she wondered? Yes. It must be.
She remembered that, as she stood waiting for the omnibus, some
one had said, “Here it is. The last one.”

    Evidently it was the last one. There were no others in the
deserted streets. She looked about her. There were no cabs
either. And—with a start she realized it—there were no people.

    Was it so late as that, then? Were all the people within
these still rows of houses, between which the lamps burnt steadily,
unwearyingly in the emptiness?

    For a moment she wondered how she should get back.

    Only for a moment, for she did not want to think of moving. But
it was very quiet. This reflection came after another spell of
dreaming, from which this time she waked with a start to wonder
what part of London they had reached. She did not know these

                                    The Last Journey

wide, white streets, so wide that the houses on either side looked
remote and dim, uncertain shapes, rather than houses. But in the
broad road the shadows had room to play. They raced madly.
Shadows from the lamp-posts, shadows from the opposite houses,
the shadow of the omnibus which spread half across the white
road, shadows of the people on the top—

    Cecilia started violently. What had become of all their
shadows? There were only two now, her own and another
one, the shadow of a woman whose hands covered her face,
who was leaning forward in an attitude of weeping.

    She turned her eyes hurriedly to look at her left-hand
neighbour. He was gone. Before she had recovered from the
slight shock of this discovery, a long sobbing sigh broke the
quiet. At the same moment the shadow of the weeping woman
lengthened, moved backwards, and disappeared, as she herself
presumably descended the steps. The omnibus did not stop;
it merely slackened a trifle in its speed, and though Cecilia
leant over the rail next her, moved ce a pitying curiosity, no
one alighted.

    Then, for the first time, she forced herself to turn round.
All the seats were empty. “When did they get down?” she asked
herself in amazement. “I don’t believe we have stopped once for
hours and hours—” And then once more she pulled herself
up. Hours and hours? How could that be? One never drove
for hours on any omnibus. And yet it seemed more like days than
hours since they started—days, or rather nights, long, long nights,
full of light, and full of shadow.

    Suddenly, with disconcerting abruptness, the omnibus
stopped. The unexpected pause arrested the tide of her con-
fused thoughts, and a voice, clear and incisive, startled her as
it cut the stillness.

    “The World’s End,” it called, and again Cecilia felt sur-
prise, for it was a strange voice for a conductor: deep, solemn
even, and so close that she expected, when she looked over her
shoulder, to find the speaker at her elbow. There was no one
there, and when, still surprised, she turned back again, she
saw that a white mist was gathering in the street at some dis-
tance ahead.

    She watched it as it deepened and, with an effect curious

and beautiful, swept slowly in her direction. Every moment the
moonlit vapour grew denser and more white, till now billowy
waves of it, like great summer clouds, came rolling along the
street. It was such a strange, unusual sight that she half bent
forward as though to utter some exclamation to the driver—and
refrained. Sitting with head bent almost upon his breast, his
light loose coat, nearly white in the moonlight, pulled in folds
about him, he seemed so unapproachable that Cecilia doubted
whether he would answer. He was probably half asleep. No
wonder; it was so late, and he had been driving so long. She
wondered idly why they did not go on. They must soon be at
the end of the journey, and from the first she had meant to go as
far as the omnibus would take her.

    “The World’s End,” repeated the conductor’s voice
once more.

    Another long pause, while Cecilia sat still and watched the
strange white etedds. which had stopped advancing, and now re-
mained swaying and billowing a few paces ahead. From the
ground along which their skirts trailed, they rose to a great
height, but above them the sky was still radiantly suffused with
moonlight. Cecilia glanced back. The wide street was in that
direction quite clear, the lamps stretching in a never-ending chain
back, back as far as the eye could reach; the shadows printed
black on the empty road and deserted pavements.

    “The World’s End.” This stage of the journey had been
called three times, Cecilia reflected, still waiting with impatience
now for the moment of starting. She was anxious, with some-
thing of a childish feeling of anticipated mystery, half real, half
pretence, to drive through the wall of mist—to get inside the

    At last! The driver sat suddenly upright, the horses at
the touch of the whip started forward; they were off! In
another moment they had reached the cloudy rampart, had
dashed through it and were speeding on, cleaving a lane
through the mist, as the prow of a boat cleaves a lane through
the water.

    On either hand, in great masses soft as carded wool, the
cloud walls towered, white, spectral, gigantic, shutting out all the
world behind them. Cecilia glanced from side to side amazed.

                                    The Last Journey

This was really wonderful. It recalled her childish longing to
lay among the piled-up summer clouds in the blue fields of sky.
It was a fairy tale—come true, she thought, in the first moment of
delighted wonder—before she noticed the shadows. How did
they come here? There were hundreds, thousands of them, all
racing past on the skirts of the cloud mountains! For a moment
she watched them, dazed, confused with the swiftness of their
flight, with their innumerability, as they followed in endless suc-
cession on one another’s heels. Then with a thrill of some violent
unclassified emotion she made a discovery. They were going the
wrong way.
They were coming fowards her, flying past her, back,
back to where in imagination she could see the lamps stretching
in a jewel-studded chain, back to the world of people, of houses,
of theatres, of business, of a thousand trivial preoccupations. She
had lost the end of that chain. It was gone; shut out by a ram-
part of clouds. She fell to watching the shadows intently. Their
procession reminded her of a toy she had possessed as a child.
Was it called the Wheel of Life? At any rate the plaything was
lighted by a candle, and, round the white circle which the light
enclosed, phantom shapes raced endlessly. She remembered how
she had laughed to see them flying past. Here were the phantom
shapes again, but now she did not laugh. For these were all grief-
stricken shapes, these phantom men and women and children.
There were many children. They came weeping, terrified,
shivering; some of them—and then Cecilia covered her own
—with despair in their eyes. For, as she looked, the shapes
took tangible form; frail and ghostly form indeed, yet actual
shape of human beings, all stricken with one malady in many

    “Where do their joys go?” thought Cecilia, as she bent
her head low. “This is the country of their griefs.”

    When she raised herself again, there was a new shadow
thrown upon the cloud mountains, a shadow of gigantic wings,
rising and falling upon their white background as they winnowed
the air; and between them fell the shadow of a hooded figure,
with reins tight-gathered in one hand.

    The wings sweeping onwards made a mighty arch, from
beneath which came all the shadows as they fled past.

    On and on they drove, and still the shadows came, innumer-

able as the sand on the sea-shore, as the waves of the sea, as the
leaves of a forest.

    On and on, and suddenly she held her breath, for a face
she knew, came flying towards her. It was her own face as a
child. Swiftly the little form glided past. In its arms it held
a tiny creature, a kitten perhaps, over which it bent sobbing.
Cecilia remembered. Then the ghostly shape grew a little older,
and now Cecilia sat with clenched hands. And presently she
covered her face, for these were griefs of yesterday, and she dared
not look.

    And still, in the ravine between the glimmering cloud-
mountains, under the moon-lit sky, issuing from beneath the
colossal wings as from a portal, without pause, ceaselessly, for
ever, weeping, sullen, writhing, leaping, grotesque in the contor-
tions of their grief, came the shadows. “It is a danse-macabre,”
thought Cecilia. “A dance of dead hopes, dead loves, dead joys,
and ever-living pain. Why am I here? What place is this?
Who drives?”

    And then thought faded, effaced by the increasing speed, as
she was whirled under the moonlit sky, between the spectral
clouds, on, on, till time also faded, and she was conscious only
that the shadows never for one moment ceased to pour from be-
neath the greater shadow of the out-spread wings.

    At last, with a suddenness which set the blood surging in her
veins, and her pulses sounding in her ears like the ringing of a
thousand bells—as though the driver had pulled up on the edge
of a precipice—there came a sudden full stop. There was a film
over Cecilia’s eyes, but when it cleared she saw that it was even
so. An abyss infinite, profound, lay before her; a mighty sea of
blue air skirted by the clouds through which she had come. To
right and left, as far as sight could reach, clouds ringed the abyss,
billowing, surging. She noticed how, at the edge of whatever was
the platform they covered, masses of vapour now and then broke
away, swirled a little like smoke in the blue immensity, and like
a puff of smoke disappeared. Everywhere the gulf was sown
with stars. They shone with a liquid radiance as though through
deep water: Cecilia did not know whether they were shining deep
in the gulf, or overhead in the night sky. There was no above
or below; it was all an ocean of dark blue air. She had never

                                    The Last Journey

known till now what silence was. It covered her consciousness
like a velvet-soft canopy, shutting out every thought, every mental
image but that of star-filled immensity. Silence, the everlasting
stars, and a peace so profound that Cecilia closed her eyes, unable
to realize the quiet that spread over her heart as a wave spreads
over the sand on the sea-shore.

    When she opened them, the driver was stooping forward to
let the reins fall softly on the horses’ necks. Cecilia saw with-
out surprise the mighty white wings which sprang from their
shoulders. She saw them, but her whole attention was rivetted
on their driver who was rising slowly from his seat. Cecilia
caught her breath as she noticed the majesty of his figure against
the sky. It blotted out the stars. And when at last he faced her,
her heart stopped beating.

    Only for a moment: then, in the silence, she heard it thud-
ding like the tones of a deep bell. For an immeasurable time she
sat with uplifted face, looking into his. There was no word, The
profound silence remained unbroken, but gradually Cecilia under-
stood. Even now she was free to return. She had come far,
further than any of the others had dared. But she was still free.
Before her was the great leap. Behind, the roar of Piccadilly, the
shops, the theatres, the pointless talk, the fever and the fret, the
dressing, the dining—all the great cage. To it, like homing birds,
all the shadows were hastening, not one of them lost; all of them
ready at some moment to confront man, woman and child. The
beating of Cecilia’s heart grew quieter. Her unwavering glance
more trustful. Als Freund? she whispered with a half smile.
There was no reply. She looked at the steady stars, let her glance
travel as far as sight could reach, through plains of air; felt the
silence and the calm, and bowed her head. With a fine gesture
the driver turned, gathered the reins tight, and after one breath-
less moment, took the plunge.

    There was a foolish, sensational tale in the papers next
morning. A tale which for quite three days was discussed at
tea-parties by eager, shocked, excited or curious men and women.

    Cecilia could have told them a stranger story.

                                                              NETTA SYRETT

MLA citation:

Syrett, Netta. “The Last Journey.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 40-52. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,