QUIS EST ISTE QUI UENIT
“I ought to be able to make it out,” he thought; “but I suppose I am a little rusty in my Latin. When I come to think of it, I don’t believe I even know the word for a whistle. The long one does seem simple enough. It ought to mean, ‘Who is this who is coming?’ Well, the best way to find out is evidently to whistle for him.”
He blew tentatively and stopped suddenly, startled and yet pleased at the note he had elicited. It had a quality of infinite distance in it, and, soft as it was, he somehow felt it must be audible for miles round. It was a sound, too, that seemed to have the power (which many scents possess) of forming pictures in the brain. He saw quite clearly for a moment a vision of a wide, dark expanse at night, with a fresh wind blowing, and in the midst a lonely figure–how employed, he could not tell. Perhaps he would have seen more had not the picture been broken by the sudden surge of a gust of wind against his casement, so sudden that it made him look up, just in time to see the white glint of a sea-bird’s wing somewhere outside the dark panes. The sound of the whistle had so fascinated him that he could not help trying it once more, this time more boldly. The note was little, if at all, louder than before, and repetition broke the illusion–no picture followed, as he had half hoped it might. “But what is this? Goodness! what force the wind can get up in a few minutes! What a tremendous gust! There! I knew that window-fastening was no use! Ah! I thought so–both candles out. It’s enough to tear the room to pieces.”
I read this story this afternoon and loved the slightly drifty, off centre narrative, where the reader is not quite sure about the direction and importance of the tale’s details until it seems too late and the protagonist is overtaken by supernatural circumstances far beyond his control.
The discovery of a buried whistle with its ironic inscription and disturbing sensory effects forms the centre of the tale, yet this centre disorientates and destabilises at every turn.
It is a ‘beckoning’ few would wish to entertain! For when we whistle, what and who are we inviting to visit us, and if they linger, will we ever recognise ‘home’ again?
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