Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches
Part 2 out of 3
groups of dancers, whose satin and whose pearls glimmered faintly in
the shifting moonlight, for the night was cloudy. At last they too
were tired of the revel, they wandered towards a more secluded place
and made for the avenue which Pierrot had sought. On their way they
passed through a narrow grass walk between two rows of closely cropped
yew hedges. There on a marble seat a tall man in a black domino was
sitting, his head resting on his hands; and between the loose folds of
his satin cloak, one caught the glint of precious stones. When they
had passed him Columbine whispered to Harlequin: "That is the King. I
caught sight of his jewelled collar." They presently found themselves
in the long avenue at the end of which were the waterfall and the
fountain. They wandered on till they reached the Greek temple, and
there suddenly Columbine put her finger on her lips. Then she led
Harlequin back a little way and took him round through the undergrowth
to the back of the temple, and, crouching down in the bushes, bade him
look. In the middle of the temple there was a statue of Eros holding a
torch in his hands. Standing close beside the statue were two figures,
a man dressed as a Pierrot, and a beautiful lady who wore a grey satin
domino. She had taken off her mask and pushed back the hood from her
hair, which was encircled by a diadem made of something shining and
silvery, and a ray of moonlight fell on her face, which was as
delicate as the petal of a flower. Pierrot was masked; he was holding
her hand and looking into her eyes, which were turned upwards towards
"It is the Queen!" whispered Columbine to Harlequin. And once more
putting her finger on her lips, she deftly led him by the hand and
noiselessly threaded her way through the bushes and back into the
avenue, and without saying a word ran swiftly with him to the place
where they had seen the King. He was still there, alone, his head
resting upon his hands.
* * * * *
In the temple the Queen was upbraiding her lover for his temerity in
having crossed the frontier into the land from which he had been
banished for ever, and for having dared to appear at the court revel
disguised as Pierrot. "Remember," she was saying, "the enemies that
surround us, the dreadful peril, and the doom that awaits us." And her
lover said: "What is doom, and what is death? You whispered to the
night and I heard. You sighed and I am here!" He tore the mask from
his face, and the Queen looked at him and smiled. At that moment a
rustle was heard in the undergrowth, and the Queen started back from
him, whispering: "We are betrayed! Fly!" And her lover put on his mask
and darted through the undergrowth, following a path which he and no
one else knew, till he came to an open space where his squire awaited
him with horses, and they galloped away safe from all pursuit.
Then the King walked into the temple and led the Queen back to the
palace without saying a word; but the whole avenue was full of dark
men bearing torches and armed with swords, who were searching the
undergrowth. And presently they found Pierrot who, ignorant of all
that had happened, had been listening all night to the song of the
night-jar. He was dragged to the palace and cast into a dungeon, and
the King was told. But the revel did not cease, and the dancing and
the music continued softly as before. The King sent for Columbine and
told her she should have speech with Pierrot in his prison, for haply
he might have something to confess to her. And Columbine was taken to
Pierrot's dungeon, and the King followed her without her knowing it,
and concealed himself behind the door, which he set ajar.
Columbine upbraided Pierrot and said: "All this was my work. I have
always known that you loved the Queen. And yet for the sake of past
days, tell me the truth. Was it love or a joke, such as those you love
Pierrot laughed inanely. "It was a joke," he said. "It is my trade to
make jokes. What else can I do?"
"You love the Queen nevertheless," said Columbine, "of that I am sure,
and for that I have had my revenge."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed again.
And though she talked and raved and wept, she could get no other
answer from him. Then she left him, and the King entered the dungeon.
"I have heard what you said," said the King, "but to me you must tell
the truth. I do not believe it was you who met the Queen in the
temple; tell me the truth, and your life shall be spared."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed. Then the King grew
fierce and stormed and threatened. But his rage and threats were in
vain! for Pierrot only laughed. Then the King appealed to him as man
to man and implored him to tell him the truth; for he would have given
his kingdom to believe that it was the real Pierrot who had met the
Queen and that the adventure had been a joke. Pierrot only repeated
what he had said, and laughed and giggled inanely.
At dawn the prison door was opened and three masked men led Pierrot
out through the courtyard into the garden. The revellers had gone
home, but here and there lights still twinkled and flickered and a
stray note or two of music was still heard. Some of the latest of the
revellers were going home. The dawn was grey and chilly; they led
Pierrot through the alleys to the grass amphitheatre, and they hanged
him on the horizontal beam which formed part of the primitive
proscenium where he and Columbine had danced so wildly in the night.
They hanged him and his white figure dangled from the beam as though
he were still dancing; and the new Pierrot, who was appointed the next
day, was told that such would be the fate of all mummers who went too
far, and whose jokes and pranks overstepped the limits of decency and
The /Referendarius/ had three junior clerks to carry on the business
of his department, and they in their turn were assisted by two
scribes, who did most of the copying and kept the records. The work of
the Department consisted in filing and annotating the petitions and
cases which were referred from the lower Courts, through the channel
of the /Referendarius/, to the Emperor.
The three clerks and their two scribes occupied a high marble room in
the spacious office. It was as yet early in April, but, nevertheless,
the sun out of doors was almost fierce. The high marble rooms of the
office were cool and stuffy at the same time, and the spring sunshine
without, the soft breeze from the sea, the call of the flower-sellers
in the street, and the lazy murmur of the town had, in these shaded,
musty, and parchment-smelling halls, diffused an atmosphere of
laziness which inspired the clerks in question with an overwhelming
desire to do nothing.
There was, indeed, no pressing work on hand. Only from time to time
the /Referendarius/, who occupied a room to himself next door to
theirs, would communicate with them through a hole in the wall,
demanding information on some point or asking to be supplied with
certain documents. Then the clerks would make a momentary pretence of
being busy, and ultimately the scribes would find either the documents
or the information which were required.
As it was, the clerks were all of them engaged in occupations which
were remote from official work. The eldest of them, Cephalus by name--
a man who was distinguished from the others by a certain refined
sobriety both in his dark dress and in his quiet demeanour--was
reading a treatise on algebra; the second, Theophilus, a musician,
whose tunic was as bright as his flaming hair, was mending a small
organ; and the third, Rufinus, a rather pale, short-sighted, and
untidy youth, was scribbling on a tablet. The scribes were busy
sorting old records and putting them away in their permanent places.
Presently an official strolled in from another department. He was a
middle-aged, corpulent, and cheerful-looking man, dressed in gaudy
coloured tissue, on which all manner of strange birds were depicted.
He was bursting with news.
"Phocas is going to win," he said. "It is certain."
Cephalus looked vaguely up from his book and said: "Oh!"
Theophilus and Rufinus paid no attention to the remark.
"Well," continued the new-comer cheerfully, "Who will come to the
races with me?"
As soon as he heard the word races, Rufinus looked up from his
scribbling. "I will come," he said, "if I can get leave."
"I did not know you cared for that sort of thing," said Cephalus.
Rufinus blushed and murmured something about going every now and then.
He walked out of the room, and sought the /Referendarius/ in the next
room. This official was reading a document. He did not look up when
Rufinus entered, but went on with his reading. At last, after a
prolonged interval, he turned round and said: "What is it?"
"May I go to the races?" asked Rufinus.
"Well," said the high official, "what about your work?"
"We've finished everything," said the clerk.
The Head of the Department assumed an air of mystery and coughed.
"I don't think I can very well see my way to letting you go," he said.
"I am very sorry," he added quickly, "and if it depended on me you
should go at once. But He," he added--he always alluded to the Head of
the Office as He--"does not like it. He may come in at any moment and
find you gone. No; I'm afraid I can't let you go to-day. Now, if it
had been yesterday you could have gone."
"I should only be away an hour," said Rufinus, tentatively.
"He might choose just that hour to come round. If it depended only on
me you should go at once," and he laughed and slapped Rufinus on the
The clerk did not press the point further.
"You'd better get on with that index," said the high official as
He told the result of his interview to his sporting friend, who
started out by himself to the Hippodrome.
Rufinus settled down to his index. But he soon fell into a mood of
abstraction. The races and the games did not interest him in the
least. It was something else which attracted him. And, as he sat
musing, the vision of the Hippodrome as he had last seen it rose
clearly before him. He saw the seaweed-coloured marble; the glistening
porticoes, adorned with the masterpieces of Greece, crowded with women
in gemmed embroideries and men in white tunics hemmed with broad
purple; he saw the Generals with their barbaric officers--Bulgarians,
Persians, Arabs, Slavs--the long line of savage-looking prisoners in
their chains, and the golden breastplates of the standard-bearers. He
saw the immense silk /velum/ floating in the azure air over that
rippling sea of men, those hundreds of thousands who swarmed on the
marble steps of the Hippodrome. He saw the Emperor in his high-
pillared box, on his circular throne of dull gold, surrounded by
slaves fanning him with jewel-coloured plumes, and fenced round with
And opposite him, on the other side of the Stadium, the Empress,
mantled in a stiff pontifical robe, laden with heavy embroidered
stuffs, her little head framed like a portrait in a square crown of
gold and diamonds, whence chains of emeralds hung down to her breast;
motionless as an idol, impassive as a gilded mummy.
He saw the crowd of gorgeous women, grouped like Eastern flowers
around her: he saw one woman. He saw one form as fresh as a lily of
the valley, all white amidst that hard metallic splendour; frail as a
dewy anemone, slender as the moist narcissus. He saw one face like the
chalice of a rose, and amidst all those fiery jewels two large eyes as
soft as dark violets. And the sumptuous Court, the plumes, the swords,
the standards, the hot, vari-coloured crowd melted away and
disappeared, so that when the Emperor rose and made the sign of the
Cross over his people, first to the right, and then to the left, and
thirdly over the half-circle behind him, and the singers of Saint
Sofia and the Church of the Holy Apostles mingled their bass chant
with the shrill trebles of the chorus of the Hippodrome, to the sound
of silver organs, he thought that the great hymn of praise was rising
to her and to her alone; and that men had come from the uttermost
parts of the earth to pay homage to her, to sing her praise, to kneel
to her--to her, the wondrous, the very beautiful: peerless, radiant,
A voice, followed by a cough, called from the hole in the wall; but
Rufinus paid no heed, so deeply sunk was he in his vision.
"Rufinus, the Chief is calling you," said Cephalus.
Rufinus started, and hurried to the hole in the wall. The Head of the
Department gave him a message for an official in another department.
Rufinus hurried with the message downstairs and delivered it. On his
way back he passed the main portico on the ground floor. He walked out
into the street: it was empty. Everybody was at the games.
A dark-skinned country girl passed him singing a song about the
swallow and the spring. She was bearing a basket full of anemones,
violets, narcissi, wild roses, and lilies of the valley.
"Will you sell me your flowers?" he asked, and he held out a silver
"You are welcome to them," said the girl. "I do not need your money."
He took the flowers and returned to the room upstairs. The flowers
filled the stuffy place with an unwonted and wonderful fragrance.
Then he sat down and appeared to be once more busily engrossed in his
index. But side by side with the index he had a small tablet, and on
this, every now and then, he added or erased a word to a short poem.
The sense of it was something like this:--
Rhodocleia, flowers of spring
I have woven in a ring;
Take this wreath, my offering, Rhodocleia.
Here's the lily, here the rose
Her full chalice shall disclose;
Here's narcissus wet with dew,
Windflower and the violet blue.
Wear the garland I have made;
Crowned with it, put pride away;
For the wreath that blooms must fade;
Thou thyself must fade some day, Rhodocleia.
THE SPIDER'S WEB
To K. L.
He heard the bell of the Badia sound hour after hour, and still sleep
refused its solace. He got up and looked through the narrow window.
The sky in the East was soft with that luminous intensity, as of a
melted sapphire, that comes just before the dawn. One large star was
shining next to the paling moon. He watched the sky as it grew more
and more transparent, and a fresh breeze blew from the hills. It was
the second night that he had spent without sleeping, but the weariness
of his body was as nothing compared with the aching emptiness which
possessed his spirit. Only three days ago the world had seemed to him
starred and gemmed like the Celestial City--an enchanted kingdom,
waiting like a sleeping Princess for the kiss of the adventurous
conqueror; and now the colours had faded, the dream had vanished, the
sun seemed to be deprived of his glory, and the summer had lost its
His eye fell upon some papers which were lying loose upon his table.
There was an unfinished sonnet which he had begun three days ago. The
octet was finished and the first two lines of the sestet. He would
never finish it now. It had no longer any reason to be; for it was a
cry to ears which were now deaf, a question, an appeal, which demanded
an answering smile, a consenting echo; and the lips, the only lips
which could frame that answer, were dumb. He remembered that Casella,
the musician, had asked him a week ago for the text of a /canzone/
which he had repeated to him one day. He had promised to let him have
it. The promise had entirely gone out of his mind. Then he reflected
that because the ship of his hopes and dreams had been wrecked there
was no reason why he should neglect his obligations to his fellow-
travellers on the uncertain sea.
He sat down and transcribed by the light of the dawn in his exquisite
handwriting the stanzas which had been the fruit of a brighter day.
And the memory of this dead joy was exceedingly bitter to him, so that
he sat musing for some time on the unutterable sadness which the
ghosts of perished joys bring to man in his misery, and a line of
Virgil buzzed in his brain; but not, as of yore, did it afford him the
luxury of causeless melancholy, but like a cruel finger it touched his
open wound. The ancients, he thought, knew how to bear misfortune.
Levius fit patientia
Quidquid corrigere est nefas.
As the words occurred to him he thought how much better equipped he
was for the bitter trial, since had he not the certain hope of another
life, and of meeting his beloved in the spaces of endless felicity?
Surely then he should be able to bear his sorrow with as great a
fortitude as the pagan poets, who looked forward to nothing but the
dust; to whom the fabled dim country beyond the Styx was a cheerless
dream, and to whom a living dog upon the earth was more worthy of envy
than the King of all Elysium. He must learn of the ancients.
The magic of the lemon-coloured dawn had vanished now before the swift
daylight. Many bells were ringing in the city, and the first signs of
life were stirring in the streets. He searched for a little book, and
read of the consolation which Cicero gave to Laelius in the /De
Amicitia/. But he had not read many lines before he closed the book.
His wound was too fresh for the balm of reason and philosophy.
"Later," he thought, "this will strengthen and help me, but not
to-day; to-day my wound must bleed and be allowed to bleed, for all
the philosophy in the world cannot lessen the fact that yesterday she
was and to-day she is not."
He felt a desire to escape from his room, which had been the chapel of
such holy prayers, the shrine where so many fervent tapers of hope had
burnt, where so sweet an incense of dream had risen. He left his room
and hurried down the narrow stone stairs into the street. As he left
the house he turned to his right and walked on till he reached Or San
Michele; there he turned to his right again and walked straight on
till he reached the churches of Santa Reparata and San Giovanni. He
entered San Giovanni and said a brief prayer; then he took the nearest
street, east of Santa Reparata, to the Porta a ballo, and found
himself beyond the walls of the city. He walked towards Fiesole.
The glory of the sunrise was still in the sky, the fragrance of the
dawning summer (it was the 11th of June) was in the air. He walked
towards the East. The corn on the hills was green, and pink wild roses
fringed every plot of wheat. The grass was wet with dew. The city
glittered in the plain beneath, clean and fresh in the dazzling air;
it seemed a part of the pageant of summer, an unreal piece of imagery,
distinct and clear-cut, yet miraculous, like a mirage seen in mid-
ocean. "Truly," he thought, "this is the city of the flower, and the
lily is its fitting emblem."
But while his heart went out towards his native town he felt a sharp
pang as he remembered that the flower of flowers, the queen of the
lilies, had been mowed down by the scythe, and the city which to him
had heretofore been an altar was now a tomb. The lovely Virgilian
Manibus date lilia plenis . . .
His saltem accumulem donis et fungar inani
rang in his ears, and he thought that he too must bring a gift and
scatter lilies on her grave; handfuls of lilies; but they must be
unfading flowers, wet with immortal tears. He pondered on this gift.
It must be a gift of song, a temple built in verse. But he was still
unsatisfied. No dirge, however tender and solemn; no elegy, however
soft and majestic; no song, however piteous, could be a sufficient
offering for the glorious being who had died in her youth and beauty.
But what could he fashion or build? He thought with envy of Arnolfo
and of Giotto: the one with his bricks could have built a tomb which
would prove to be one of the wonders of the world, and the other with
his brush could have fixed her features for ever, for the wonder of
future generations. And yet was not his instrument the most potent of
all, his vehicle the most enduring? Stones decayed, and colours faded,
but verse remained, outliving bronze and marble. Yes, his monument
should be more lasting than all the masterpieces of Giotto, than all
the proud designs of Arnolfo; but how should it be?
He had reached a narrow lane at the foot of a steep hill covered with
corn and dotted with olives. He lay down under a hedge in the shade.
The sun was shining on two large bramble bushes which grew on the
hedge opposite him. Above him, on his right, was a tall cypress tree
standing by itself, and the corn plots stretched up behind him till
they reached the rocky summits tufted with firs. Between the two
bramble bushes a spider had spun a large web, and he was sitting in
the midst of it awaiting his prey. But the bramble and the web were
still wet with the morning dew, whose little drops glistened in the
sunshine like diamonds. Every tiny thread and filament of the web was
dewy and lit by the newly-awakened sun. He lay on his back in the
shade and pondered on the shape and nature of his gift of song, and on
the deathless flowers that he must grow and gather and lay upon her
The spider's web caught his eye, and from where he lay the sight was
marvellous. The spider seemed like a small globe of fire in the midst
of a number of concentric silvery lines studded with dewy gems; it was
like a miniature sun in the midst of a system of gleaming stars. The
delicate web with its shining films and dewdrops seemed to him as he
lay there to be a vision of the whole universe, with all its worlds
and stars revolving around the central orb of light. It was as though
a veil had been torn away and he were looking on the naked glory of
the spheres, the heart of Heaven, the very home of God.
He looked and looked, his whole spirit filled with ineffable awe and
breathless humility. He lay gazing on the chance miracle of nature
till a passing cloud obscured the sun, and the spider's web wore once
more its ordinary appearance. Then he arose with tears in his eyes and
gave a great sigh of thankfulness.
"I have found it," he thought, "I will say of her what has never yet
been said of any woman. I will paint all Hell, all Purgatory, and all
that is in them, to make more glorious the glory of her abode, and I
will reveal to man that glory. I will show her in the circle of
spotless flame, among the rivers and rings of eternal light, which
revolve around the inmost heart, the fiery rose, and move obedient to
the Love which moves the sun." And his thought shaped itself into
verse and he murmured to himself:
L'amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle.
EDWARD II. AT BERKELEY CASTLE
BY AN EYE-WITNESS
(With apologies to Mr. H. Belloc)
The King had not slept for three nights. He looked at his face in the
muddy pool of water which had settled in the worn flagstones of his
prison floor, and noticed that his beard was of a week's growth. Beads
of sweat stood on his forehead, and his eyes were bloodshot. In the
room next door, which was the canteen, the soldiers were playing on a
drum. Over the tall hills the dawn was ruffling the clouds. There was
a faint glimmer on the waters of the river. The footsteps of the
gaolers were heard on the outer rampart. At seven o'clock they brought
the King a good dinner: they allowed him burgundy from France, and
yellow mead, and white bread baked in the ovens of the Abbey, although
he was constrained to drink out of pewter, and plates were forbidden
him. Eustace, his page, timidly offered him music. The King bade him
sing the "Lay of the Sussex Lass," which begins thus:
Triumphant, oh! triumphant now she stands,
Above my Sussex, and above my sea!
She stretches out her thin ulterior hands
Across the morning . . .
But the King, to whom memories were portentous, called for another
song and Eustace sang a stave of that ballad which was made on the
Pyrenees, and which is still unfinished (for the modern world has no
need of these things), telling of how Lord Raymond drank in a little
tent with Charlemagne:
Enormous through the morning the tall battalions run:
The men who fought with Charlemagne are very dearly done;
The wine is dark beneath the night, the stars are in the sky,
The hammer's in the blacksmith's hand in case he wants to try.
We'll ride to Fontarabia, we'll storm the stubborn wall,
And I call.
And Uriel and his Seraphim are hammering a shield;
And twice along the valley has the horn of Roland pealed;
And Cleopatra on the Nile, Iseult in Brittany,
And Lancelot in Camelot, and Drake upon the sea;
And behind the young Republic are the fellows with the flag,
And I brag!
The King listlessly opened his eyes and said that he had no stomach
for such song, and from the next door came the mutter of the drums.
For on that night--which was Candlemas--Thursday, or as we should now
call it "Friday"--the gaolers were keeping holiday, and drinking
English beer brewed in Sussex; for the beer of West England was not to
their liking, as any one who has walked down the old Roman Road
through Daglingworth, Brimpsfield, and Birdlip towards Cardigan on a
warm summer's day can know. For a man may tramp that road and stop and
ask for drink at an inn, and receive nothing but Imperialist whisky,
and drinks that annoy rather than satisfy the great thirst of a
Outside, a little breeze had crept out of the West. The morning star
was paling over the Quantock Hills, and the King was mortally weary.
"This day three years ago," he thought, "I was spurred and harnessed
for the lists in a tunic of mail, with an emerald on my shoulder-
strap, and I was tilting with my lord of Cleremont before Queen
Isabella of France. The birds were singing in Touraine, and the sun
was beating on the lists; and the minstrels of Val-es-Dunes were
chanting the song of the men who died for the Faith when they stormed
Jerusalem. What is the lilt of that song," said the King, "which the
singers of Val-es-Dunes sang?" And Eustace pondered, for his memory
was weak and he was overwrought by nights of watching and days of
vigilance; but presently he touched his strings and sang:
The captains came from Normandy
In clamorous ships across the sea;
And from the trees in Gascony
The masts were cloven, tall and free.
And Turpin swung the helm and sang;
And stars like all the bells at Brie
From cloudy steeples rang.
The rotten leaves are whirling down
Dishevelled from September's crown;
The Emperors have left the town;
The Weald of Sussex, burnt and brown,
Is trampled by the kings.
And Harmuth gallops up the Down,
And, as he rides, he sings.
He sings of battles and of wine,
Of boats that leap the bellowing brine,
Of April eyes that smile and shine,
Of Raymond and Lord Catiline
And Carthage by the sea,
Of saints, and of the Muses Nine
That dwell in Gascony.
And to the King, as he heard this stave, came visions of his youth; of
how he had galloped from Woodstock to Stonesfield on a night of June
within eleven hours, with a company of minstrels, and of how during
that long feast at Arundel he made a song in the vernacular in praise
of St. Anselm. And he remembered that he owed a candle to that saint.
For he had vowed that if the wife of Westermain should meet him after
the tournament he would burn a tall candle at Canterbury before
Michaelmas. But this had escaped his mind, for it had been tossed
hither and thither during days of conflict which had come later, and
he was not loth to believe that the neglect of this service and the
idle vow had been corner-stone of his misfortunes, and had helped to
bring about his miserable plight.
While these threads of memory glimmered in his mind the small tallow
rush-light which lit the dungeon flickered and went out. The chapel
clock struck six. The King made a gesture which meant that the time of
music was over, and Eustace went back to the canteen, where the men of
the guard were playing at dice by the light of smoky rush-lights. The
King lay down on his wooden pallet, whose linen was delicate and of
lawn, embroidered with his own cipher and crown. The pillow, which was
stuffed with scented rushes, was delicious to the cheek, and yielding.
* * * * *
All that night in London Queen Isabella had been waiting for the news
from France. A storm was blowing across the Channel, and the ships
(their pilots were Germans, and bungled in reading the stars) making
for the port turned back towards Dunquerque. It was a storm such as,
if you are in a small boat, turns you back from Broughty Ferry to the
Goodwin Sands. The Queen, who took counsel of no one, was in two minds
as to her daring deed, and her hostage trembled in an uncertain grasp.
In Saxony the banished favourites talked wildly, cursing the counsels
of London; but Saxony was heedless and unmoved. And Piers Gaveston
spoke heated words in vain.
The King, who was in that lethargic state of slumber, between sleep
and waking, heard a shuffle of steps beyond the door; a cold sweat
broke once more on his forehead, and he waved his left hand
listlessly. Outside the sun had risen, and a broad daylight flooded
the wet meadows and the brimming tide of the Severn, catching the
sails of the boats that were heeling and trembling on the ripple of
the water, which was stirred by the South wind. The King looked
towards the window with weariness, expecting, as far as his lethargy
allowed, the advent of another monotonous day.
The door opened. The faces he saw by the gaoler's torch were not those
he expected. The King, I say, looked towards them, and his hands
trembled, and the moisture on them glistened. They were dark, and one
of them was concealed by a silken mask.
Three men entered the dungeon. In the hands of the foremost of the
three glowed a red-hot iron, which was to be the manner of his doom.
"Perhaps we had better not land after all," said Lewis as he was
stepping into the boat; "we can explore this island on our way home."
"We had much better land now," said Stewart; "we shall get to
Teneriffe to-morrow in any case. Besides, an island that's not on the
chart is too exciting a thing to wait for."
Lewis gave in to his younger companion, and the two ornithologists,
who were on their way to the Canary Islands in search of eggs, were
rowed to shore.
"They had better fetch us at sunset," said Lewis as they landed.
"Perhaps we shall stay the night," responded Stewart.
"I don't think so," said Lewis; but after a pause he told the sailors
that if they should be more than half an hour late they were not to
wait, but to come back in the morning at ten. Lewis and Stewart walked
from the sandy bay up a steep basaltic cliff which sloped right down
to the beach.
"The island is volcanic," said Stewart.
"All the islands about here are volcanic," said Lewis. "We shan't be
able to climb much in this heat," he added.
"It will be all right when we get to the trees," said Stewart.
Presently they reached the top of the cliff. The basaltic rock ceased
and an open grassy incline was before them covered with myrtle and
cactus bushes; and further off a thick wood, to the east of which rose
a hill sparsely dotted with olive trees. They sat down on the grass,
panting. The sun beat down on the dry rock; there was not a cloud in
the sky nor a ripple on the emerald sea. In the air there was a
strange aromatic scent; and the stillness was heavy.
"I don't think it can be inhabited," said Lewis.
"Perhaps it's merely a volcanic island cast up by a sea disturbance,"
"Look at those trees," said Lewis, pointing to the wood in the
"What about them?" asked Stewart.
"They are oak trees," said Lewis. "Do you know why I didn't want to
land?" he asked abruptly. "I am not superstitious, you know, but as I
got into the boat I distinctly heard a voice calling out: 'Don't
Stewart laughed. "I think it was a good thing to land," he said.
"Let's go on now."
They walked towards the wood, and the nearer they got to it the more
their surprise increased. It was a thick wood of large oak trees which
must certainly have been a hundred years old. When they had got quite
close to it they paused.
"Before we explore the wood," said Lewis, "let us climb the hill and
see if we can get a general view of the island."
Stewart agreed, and they climbed the hill in silence. When they
reached the top they found it was not the highest point of the island,
but only one of several hills, so that they obtained only a limited
view. The valleys seemed to be densely wooded, and the oak wood was
larger than they had imagined. They laid down and rested and lit their
"No birds," remarked Lewis gloomily.
"I haven't seen one--the island is extraordinarily still," said
Stewart. The further they had penetrated inland the more oppressive
and sultry the air had become; and the pungent aroma they had noticed
directly was stronger. It was like that of mint, and yet it was not
mint; and although sweet it was not agreeable. The heat seemed to
weigh even on Stewart's buoyant spirits, for he sat smoking in
silence, and no longer urged Lewis to continue their exploration.
"I think the island is inhabited," said Lewis, "and that the houses
are on the other side. There are some sheep and some goats on that
hill opposite. Do you see?"
"Yes," said Stewart, "I think they are mouflon, but I don't think the
island is inhabited all the same." No sooner were the words out of his
mouth than he started, and rising to his feet, cried: "Look there!"
and he pointed to a thin wreath of smoke which was rising from the
wood. Their languor seemed to leave them, and they ran down the hill
and reached the wood once more. Just as they were about to enter it
Lewis stooped and pointed to a small plant with white flowers and
three oval-shaped leaves rising from the root.
"What's that?" he asked Stewart, who was the better botanist of the
two. The flowers were quite white, and each had six pointed petals.
"It's a kind of garlic, I think," said Stewart. Lewis bent down over
it. "It doesn't smell," he said. "It's not unlike moly (/Allium
flavum/), only it's white instead of yellow, and the flowers are
larger. I'm going to take it with me." He began scooping away the
earth with a knife so as to take out the plant by the roots. After he
had been working for some minutes he exclaimed: "This is the toughest
plant I've ever seen; I can't get it out." He was at last successful,
but as he pulled the root he gave a cry of surprise.
"There's no bulb," he said. "Look! Only a black root."
Stewart examined the plant. "I can't make it out," he said.
Lewis wrapped the plant in his handkerchief and put it in his pocket.
They entered the wood. The air was still more sultry here than
outside, and the stillness even more oppressive. There were no birds
and not a vestige of bird life.
"This exploration is evidently a waste of time as far as birds are
concerned," remarked Lewis. At that moment there was a rustle in the
undergrowth, and five pigs crossed their path and disappeared,
grunting. Lewis started, and for some reason he could not account for,
shuddered; he looked at Stewart, who appeared unconcerned.
"They are not wild," said Stewart. They walked on in silence. The
place and its heavy atmosphere had again affected their spirits. When
they spoke it was almost in a whisper. Lewis wished they had not
landed, but he could give no reason to himself for his wish. After
they had been walking for about twenty minutes they suddenly came on
an open space and a low white house. They stopped and looked at each
"It's got no chimney!" cried Lewis, who was the first to speak. It was
a one-storeyed building, with large windows (which had no glass in
them) reaching to the ground, wider at the bottom than at the top. The
house was overgrown with creepers; the roof was flat. They entered in
silence by the large open doorway and found themselves in a low hall.
There was no furniture and the floor was mossy.
"It's rather like an Egyptian tomb," said Stewart, and he shivered.
The hall led into a further room, which was open in the centre to the
sky, like the /impluvium/ of a Roman house. It also contained a square
basin of water, which was filled by water bubbling from a lion's mouth
carved in stone. Beyond the /impluvium/ there were two smaller rooms,
in one of which there was a kind of raised stone platform. The house
was completely deserted and empty. Lewis and Stewart said little; they
examined the house in silent amazement.
"Look," said Lewis, pointing to one of the walls. Stewart examined the
wall and noticed that there were traces on it of a faded painted
"It's like the wall paintings at Pompeii," he said.
"I think the house is modern," remarked Lewis. "It was probably built
by some eccentric at the beginning of the nineteenth century, who did
it up in Empire style."
"Do you know what time it is?" said Stewart, suddenly. "The sun has
set and it's growing dark."
"We must go at once," said Lewis, "we'll come back here to-morrow."
They walked on in silence. The wood was dim in the twilight, a fitful
breeze made the trees rustle now and again, but the air was just as
sultry as ever. The shapes of the trees seemed fantastic and almost
threatening in the dimness, and the rustle of the leaves was like a
human moan. Once or twice they seemed to hear the grunting of pigs in
the undergrowth and to catch sight of bristly backs.
"We don't seem to be getting any nearer the end," said Stewart after a
time. "I think we've taken the wrong path. They stopped. "I remember
that tree," said Stewart, pointing to a twisted oak; "we must go
straight on from there to the left." They walked on and in ten
minutes' time found themselves once more at the back of the house. It
was now quite dark.
"We shall never find the way now," said Lewis. "We had better sleep in
the house." They walked through the house into one of the furthest
rooms and settled themselves on the mossy platform. The night was warm
and starry, the house deathly still except for the splashing of the
water in the basin.
"We shan't get any food," Lewis said.
"I'm not hungry," said Stewart, and Lewis knew that he could not have
eaten anything to save his life. He felt utterly exhausted and yet not
at all sleepy. Stewart, on the other hand, was overcome with
drowsiness. He lay down on the mossy platform and fell asleep almost
instantly. Lewis lit a pipe; the vague forebodings he had felt in the
morning had returned to him, only increased tenfold. He felt an
unaccountable physical discomfort, an inexplicable sensation of
uneasiness. Then he realised what it was. He felt there was someone in
the house besides themselves, someone or something that was always
behind him, moving when he moved and watching him. He walked into the
/impluvium/, but heard nothing and saw nothing. There were none of the
thousand little sounds, such as the barking of a dog, or the hoot of a
night-bird, which generally complete the silence of a summer night.
Everything was uncannily still. He returned to the room. He would have
given anything to be back on the yacht, for besides the physical
sensation of discomfort and of the something watching him he also felt
the unmistakable feeling of impending danger that had been with him
nearly all day.
He lay down and at last fell into a doze. As he dozed he heard a
subdued noise, a kind of buzzing, such as is made by a spinning wheel
or a shuttle on a loom, and more strongly than ever he felt that he
was being watched. Then all at once his body seemed to grow stiff with
fright. He saw someone enter the room from the /impluvium/. It was a
dim, veiled figure, the figure of a woman. He could not distinguish
her features, but he had the impression that she was strangely
beautiful; she was bearing a cup in her hands, and she walked towards
Stewart and bent over him, offering him the cup.
Something in Lewis prompted him to cry out with all his might: "Don't
drink! Don't drink!" He heard the words echoing in the air, just as he
had heard the voice in the boat; he felt that it was imperative to
call out, and yet he could not: he was paralysed; the words would not
come. He formed them with his lips, but no sound came. He tried with
all his might to rise and scream, and he could not move. Then a sudden
cold faintness came upon him, and he remembered no more till he woke
and found the sun shining brightly. Stewart was lying with his eyes
closed, moaning loudly in his sleep.
Lewis tried to wake him. He opened his eyes and stared with a fixed,
meaningless stare. Lewis tried to lift him from the platform, and then
a horrible thing happened. Stewart struggled violently and made a
snarling noise, which froze the blood in Lewis's veins. He ran out of
the house with cold beads of sweat on his forehead. He ran through the
wood to the shore, and there he found the boat. He rowed back to the
yacht and fetched some quinine. Then, together with the skipper, the
steward, and some other sailors, he returned to the ominous house.
They found it empty. There was no trace of Stewart. They shouted in
the wood till they were hoarse, but no answer broke the heavy
Then sending for the rest of the crew, Lewis organised a regular
search over the whole island. This lasted till sunset, and they
returned in the evening without having found any trace of Stewart or
of any other human being. In the night a high wind rose, which soon
became a gale; they were obliged to weigh anchor so as not to be
dashed against the island, and for twenty-four hours they underwent a
terrific tossing. Then the storm subsided as quickly as it had come.
They made for the island once more and reached the spot where they had
anchored three days before. There was no trace of the island. It had
When they reached Teneriffe the next day they found that everybody was
talking of the great tidal wave which had caused such great damage and
destruction in the islands.
THE MAN WHO GAVE GOOD ADVICE
To Henry Cust
When he was a child his baby brother came to him one day and said that
their elder brother, who was grown up, had got a beautiful small ship
in his room. Should he ask him for it? The child who gave good advice
said: "No, if you ask him for it he will say you are a spoilt child;
but go and play in his room with it before he gets up in the morning,
and he will give it to you." The baby brother followed this advice,
and sure enough two days afterwards he appeared triumphant in the
nursery with the ship in his hands, saying: "He said I might choose,
the ship or the picture-book." Now the picture-book was a coloured
edition of Baron Munchausen's adventures; the boy who gave good advice
had seen it and hankered for it. As the baby brother had refused it
there could be no harm in asking for it, so the next time his elder
brother sent him on an errand (it was to fetch a pin-cushion from his
room) judging the moment to be propitious, he said to him: "May I have
the picture-book that baby wouldn't have?" "I don't like little boys
who ask," answered the big brother, and there the matter ended.
The child who gave good advice went to school. There was a rage for
stag beetles at the school; the boys painted them and made them run
races on a chessboard. They imagined--rightly or wrongly--that some
stag beetles were much faster than others. A little boy called Bell
possessed the stag beetle which was the favourite for the coming
races. Another boy called Mason was consumed with longing for this
stag beetle; and Bell had said he would give it to him in exchange for
Mason's catapult, which was famous in the school for the unique
straightness of its two prongs. Mason went to the boy who gave good
advice and asked him for his opinion. "Don't swap it for your catty,"
said the boy who gave good advice, "because Bell's stag beetle may not
win after all; and even if it does stag beetles won't be the rage for
very long; but a catty is always a catty, and yours is the best in the
school." Mason took the advice. When the races came off, the stag
beetles were so erratic that no prize was awarded, and they
immediately ceased to be the rage. The rage for stag beetles was
succeeded by a rage for secret alphabets. One boy invented a secret
alphabet made of simple hieroglyphics, which was imparted only to a
select few, who spent their spare time in corresponding with each
other by these cryptic signs. The boy who gave good advice was not of
those initiated into the mystery of the cypher, and he longed to be.
He made several overtures, but they were all rejected, the reason
being that boys of the second division could not let a "third division
squit" into their secret. At last the boy who gave good advice offered
to one of the initiated the whole of his stamp collection in return
for the secret of the alphabet. This offer was accepted. The boy took
the stamp collection, but the boy who gave good advice received in
return not the true alphabet but a sham one especially manufactured
for him. This he found out later; but recriminations were useless;
besides which the rage for secret alphabets soon died out and was
replaced by a rage for aquariums, newts, and natterjack toads.
The boy went to a public school. He was a fag. His fag-master had two
fags. One morning the other fag came to the boy who gave good advice
and said: "Clarke (he was the fag-master) told me three days ago to
clean his football boots. He's been 'staying out' and hasn't used
them, and I forgot. He'll want them to-day, and now there isn't time.
I shall pretend I did clean them."
"No, don't do that," said the boy who gave good advice, "because if
you say you have cleaned them he will lick you twice as much for
having cleaned them badly--say you forgot." The advice was taken, and
the fag-master merely said: "Don't forget again." A little later the
fag-master had some friends to tea, and told the boy who gave good
advice to boil him six eggs for not more than three minutes and a
half. The boy who gave good advice, while they were on the fire, took
part in a rag that which was going on in the passage; the result was
that the eggs remained seven minutes in boiling water. They were hard.
When the fag-master pointed this out and asked his fag what he meant
by it, the boy who gave good advice persisted in his statement that
they had been exactly three minutes and a half in the saucepan, and
that he had timed them by his watch. So the fag-master caned him for
The boy who gave good advice grew into a man and went to the
university. There he made friends with a man called Crawley, who went
to a neighbouring race meeting one day and lost two or three hundred
"I must raise the money from a money-lender somehow," said Crawley to
the man who gave good advice, "and on no account must the Master hear
of it or he would send me down; or write home, which would be worse."
"On the contrary," said the man who gave good advice, "you must go
straight to the Master and tell him all about it. He will like you
twice as much for ever afterwards; he never minds people getting into
scrapes when he happens to like them, and he likes you and believes
you have a great career before you."
Crawley went to the Master of the college and made a clean breast of
it. The Master told him he had been foolish--very foolish; but he
arranged the whole matter in such a manner that it never came to the
ears of Crawley's extremely violent-tempered and puritanical father.
The man who gave good advice got a "First" in Mods, and everyone felt
confident he would get a first in Greats; he did brilliantly in nearly
all his papers; but during the Latin unseen a temporary and sudden
lapse of memory came over him and he forgot the English for
/manubioe/, which the day before he had known quite well means prize-
money. In fact the word was written on the first page of his note-
book. The word was in his brain, but a small shutter had closed on it
for the moment and he could not recall it. He looked over his
neighbour's shoulder. His neighbour had translated it "booty." He
copied the word mechanically, knowing it was wrong. As he did so he
was detected and accused of cribbing. He denied the charge, the matter
was investigated, the papers were compared, and the man who gave good
advice was disqualified. In all his other papers he had done
incomparably better than anyone else.
When he left Oxford the man who gave good advice went into a
Government office. He had not been in it long before he perceived that
by certain simple reforms the work of the office could be done twice
as effectually and half as expensively. He embodied these reforms in a
memorandum and they were not long afterwards adopted. He became
private secretary to Snipe, a rising politician and persuaded him to
change his party and his politics. Snipe, owing to this advice, became
a Cabinet Minister, and the man who gave good advice, having inherited
some money, stood for Parliament himself. He stood as a Conservative
at a General Election and spoke eloquently to enthusiastic meetings.
The wire-pullers prophecied an overwhelming majority, when shortly
before the poll, at one of his meetings, he suddenly declared himself
to be an Independent, and made a speech violently in favour of Home
Rule and conscription. The result was that the Liberal Imperialist got
in by a huge majority, and the man who gave good advice was pelted
with rotten eggs.
After this the man who gave good advice abandoned politics and took to
finance; in this branch of human affairs he made the fortune of
several of his friends, preventing some from putting their money in
alluring South African schemes, and advising others to risk theirs on
events which seemed to him certain, such as the election of a
President or the short-lived nature of a revolution; events which he
foresaw with intuition amounting to second-sight. At the same time he
lost nearly all his own money by investing it in a company which
professed to have discovered a manner--cheap and rapid--of
transforming copper into platinum. He made the fortune of a publisher
by insisting on the publication of a novel which six intelligent men
had declared to be unreadable. It was called "The Conscience of John
Digby," and when published it sold by thousands and tens of thousands.
But he lost the handsome reward he received for this service by
publishing at his own expense, on magnificent paper, an edition of
Rabelais' works in their original tongue. He frequently spotted
winners for his friends and for himself, but any money that he won at
a race meeting he invariably lost coming home in the train on the
Three Card Trick.
Nor did he lose touch with politicians, and this brought about the
final catastrophe. A great friend of his, the eminent John Brooke, had
the chance of becoming Prime Minister. Parties were at that time in a
state of confusion. The question was, should his friend ally himself
with or sever himself for ever from Mr. Capax Nissy, the leader of the
Liberal Aristocracy Party, who seemed to have a large following? His
friend, John Brooke, gave a small dinner to his most intimate friends
in order to talk over the matter. The man who gave good advice was so
eloquent, so cogent in his reasoning, so acute in his perception, that
he persuaded Brooke to sever himself for ever from Capax Nissy. He
persuaded all who were present, with the exception of Mr. Short-Sight,
a pig-headed man who reasoned falsely. So annoyed did the man who gave
good advice become with Short-Sight, and so excited in his vexation,
that he finally lost his self-control, and hit him as hard as he could
on the head--after Short-Sight had repeated a groundless assertion for
the seventh time--with the poker.
Short-Sight died, and the man who gave good advice was convicted of
wilful murder. He gave admirable advice to his counsel, but threw away
his own case as soon as he entered the box himself, which he insisted
on doing. He was hanged in gaol at Reading. Many people whom he had
benefited in various ways visited him in prison, among others John
Brooke, the Prime Minister. It is said that he would certainly have
been reprieved but for the intemperate and inexcusable letters he
wrote to the Home Secretary from prison.
"It's a great tragedy--he was a clever man," said Brooke after dinner
when they were discussing the misfortune at Downing Street; "a very
clever man, but he had no judgment."
"No," said Snipe, the man whose private secretary the man who gave
good advice had been, "That's it. It's an awful thing--but he had no
Peter, or Petrushka, which was the name he was known by, was the
carpenter's mate; his hair was like light straw, and his eyes were
mild and blue. He was good at his trade; a quiet and sober youth;
thoughtful, too, for he knew how to read and had read several books
when he was still a boy. A translation of "Monte Cristo" once fell
into his hands, and this story had kindled his imagination and stirred
in him the desire to travel, to see new countries and strange people.
He had made up his mind to leave the village and to try his luck in
one of the big towns, when, before he was eighteen, something happened
to him which entirely changed the colour of his thoughts and the range
of his desires. It was an ordinary experience enough: he fell in love.
He fell in love with Tatiana, who worked in the starch factory.
Tatiana's eyes were grey, her complexion was white, her features small
and delicate, and her hair a beautiful dark brown with gold lights and
black shadows in it; her movements were quick and her glance keen; she
was like a swallow.
It happened when the snows melted and the meadows were flooded; the
first fine day in April. The larks were singing over the plains, which
were beginning to show themselves once more under the melting snow;
the sun shone on the large patches of water, and turned the flooded
meadows in the valley into a fantastic vision. It was on a Sunday
after church that this new thing happened. He had often seen Tatiana
before: that day she was different and new to him. It was as if a
bandage had been taken from his eyes, and at the same moment he
realised that Tatiana was a new Tatiana. He also knew that the old
world in which he had lived hitherto had crumbled to pieces; and that
a new world, far brighter and more wonderful, had been created for
him. As for Tatiana, she loved him at once. There was no delay, no
hesitation, no misunderstandings, no doubt: and at the first not much
speech; but first love came to them straight and swift, with the first
sunshine of the spring, as it does to the birds.
All the spring and summer they kept company and walked out together in
the evenings. When the snows entirely melted and the true spring came,
it came with a rush; in a fortnight's time all the trees except the
ash were green, and the bees boomed round the thick clusters of pear-
blossom and apple-blossom, which shone like snow against the bright
azure. During that time Petrushka and Tatiana walked in the apple
orchard in the evening and they talked to each other in the divinest
of all languages, the language of first love, which is no language at
all but a confused medley and murmur of broken phrases, whisperings,
twitterings, pauses, and silences--a language so wonderful that it
cannot be put down into speech or words, although Shakespeare and the
very great poets translate the spirit of it into music, and the great
musicians catch the echo of it in their song. Then a fortnight later,
when the woods were carpeted and thick with lilies of the valley,
Petrushka and Tatiana walked in the woods and picked the last white
violets, and later again they sought the alleys of the landlord's
property, where the lilac bushes were a mass of blossom and fragrance,
and there they listened to the nightingale, the bird of spring. Then
came the summer, the fragrance of the beanfields, and the ripening of
corn and the wonderful long twilights, and July, when the corn, ripe
and tall and stiff, changed the plains into a vast rippling ocean of
After the harvest, at the very beginning of autumn, they were to be
married. There had been a slight difficulty about money. Tatiana's
father had insisted that Petrushka should produce a certain not very
large sum; but the difficulty had been overcome and the money had been
found. There were no more obstacles, everything was smooth and
settled. Petrushka no longer thought of travels in foreign lands; he
had forgotten the old dreams which "Monte Cristo" had once kindled in
It was in the middle of August that the carpenter received
instructions from the landowner to make some wooden steps and a small
raft and to fix them up on the banks of the river for the convenience
of bathers. It did not take the carpenter and Petrushka long to make
these things, and one afternoon Petrushka drove down to the river to
fix them in their place. The river was broad, the banks were wooded
with willow trees, and the undergrowth was thick, for the woods
reached to the river bank, which was flat, but which ended sheer above
the water over a slope of mud and roots, so that a bather needed steps
or a raft or a springboard, so as to dive or to enter and leave the
water with comfort.
Petrushka put the steps in their place--which was where the wood ended
--and made fast the floating raft to them. Not far from the bank the
ground was marshy and the spot was suspected by some people of being
haunted by malaria. It was a still, sultry day. The river was like
oil, the sky clouded but not entirely overclouded, and among the high
banks of grey cloud there were patches of blue.
When Petrushka had finished the job, he sat on the wooden steps, and
rolling some tobacco into a primitive cigarette, contemplated the
grey, oily water and the willow trees. It was too late in the year, he
thought, to make a bathing place. He dipped his hand in the water: it
was cold, but not too cold. Yet in a fortnight's time it would not be
pleasant to bathe. However, people had their whims, and he mused on
the scheme of the universe which ordained that certain people should
have whims, and that others should humour those whims whether they
liked it or not. Many people--many of his fellow-workers--talked of
the day when the universal levelling would take place and when all men
could be equal. Petrushka did not much believe in the advent of that
day; he was not quite sure whether he ardently desired it; in any
case, he was very happy as he was.
At that moment he heard two sharp short sounds, less musical than a
pipe and not so loud or harsh as a scream. He looked up. A kingfisher
had flown across the oily water. Petrushka shouted; and the kingfisher
skimmed over the water once more and disappeared in the trees on the
other side of the river. Petrushka rolled and lit another cigarette.
Presently he heard the two sharp sounds once more, and the kingfisher
darted again across the water: a bit of fish was in its beak. It
disappeared into the bank of the river on the same side on which
Petrushka was sitting, only lower down.
"Its nest must be there," thought Petrushka, and he remembered that he
had heard it said that no one had ever been able to carry off a
kingfisher's nest intact. Why should he not be the first person to do
so? He was skilful with his fingers, his touch was sure and light. It
was evidently a carpenter's job, and few carpenters had the leisure or
opportunity to look for kingfishers' nests. What a rare present it
would be for Tatiana--a whole kingfisher's nest with every bone in it
He walked stealthily through the bushes down the bank of the river,
making as little noise as possible. He thought he had marked the spot
where the kingfisher had dived into the bank. As he walked, the
undergrowth grew thicker and the path darker, for he had reached the
wood, on the outskirts and end of which was the spot where he had made
the steps. He walked on and on without thinking, oblivious of his
surroundings, until he suddenly realised that he had gone too far.
Moreover, he must have been walking for some time, for it was getting
dark, or was it a thunder-shower? The air, too, was unbearably sultry;
he stopped and wiped his forehead with a big print handkerchief. It
was impossible to reach the bank from the place where he now stood, as
he was separated from it by a wide ditch of stagnant water. He
therefore retraced his footsteps through the wood. It grew darker and
darker; it must be, he thought, the evening deepening and no storm.
All at once he started; he had heard a sound, a high pipe. Was it the
kingfisher? He paused and listened. Distinctly, and not far off in the
undergrowth, he heard a laugh, a woman's laugh. It flashed across his
mind that it might be Tatiana, but it was not her laugh. Something
rustled in the bushes to the left of him; he followed the rustling and
it led him through the bushes--he had now passed the ditch--to the
river bank. The sun had set behind the woods from which he had just
emerged; the sky was as grey as the water, and there was no reflection
of the sunset in the east. Except the water and the trees he saw
nothing; there was not a sound to be heard, not a ripple on the river,
not a whisper from the woods.
Then all at once the stillness was broken again by quick rippling
laughs immediately behind him. He turned sharply round, and saw a
woman in the bushes: her eyes were large and green and sad; her hair
straggling and dishevelled; she was dressed in reeds and leaves; she
was very pale. She stared at him fixedly, and smiled, showing gleaming
teeth, and when she smiled there was no light nor laughter in her
eyes, which remained sad and green and glazed like those of a drowned
person. She laughed again and ran into the bushes. Petrushka ran after
her, but although he was quite close to her he lost all trace of her
immediately. It was as if she had vanished under the earth or into the
"It's a Russalka," thought Petrushka, and he shivered. Then he added
to himself, with the pride of the new scepticism he had learnt from
the factory hands: "There is no such thing; only women believe in such
things. It was some drunken woman."
Petrushka walked quickly back to the edge of the wood, where he had
left his cart, and drove home. The next day was Sunday, and Tatiana
noticed that he was different--moody, melancholy, and absent-minded.
She asked him what was the matter; he said his head ached. Towards
five o'clock he told her--they were standing outside her cottage--that
he was obliged to go to the river to work.
"To-day is holiday," she said quietly.
"I left something there yesterday: one of my tools. I must fetch it,"
Tatiana looked at him, and her intuition told her, firstly, that this
was not true, and, secondly, that it was not well for Petrushka to go
to the river. She begged him not to go. Petrushka laughed and said he
would be back quickly. Tatiana cried, and implored him on her knees
not to go. Then Petrushka grew irritable and almost rough, and told
her not to vex him with foolishness. Reluctantly and sadly she gave in
Petrushka went to the river, and Tatiana watched him go with a heavy
heart. She felt quite certain some disaster was about to happen.
At seven o'clock Petrushka had not yet returned, and he did not return
that night. The next morning the carpenter and two others went to the
river to look for him. They found his body in the shallow water,
entangled in the ropes of the raft he had made. He had been drowned,
no doubt, in setting the raft straight.
During all that Sunday night, Tatiana had said no word, nor had she
moved from her doorstep: it was only when they brought back the
dripping body to the village that she stirred, and when she saw it she
laughed a dreadful laugh, and the spirit went from her eyes, leaving a
THE OLD WOMAN
The old woman was spinning at her wheel near a fire of myrtle boughs
which burnt fragrantly in the open yard. Through the stone columns the
sea was visible, smooth, dark, and blue; the low sun bathed the brown
hills of the coast in a golden mist. It was December. The shepherds
were driving home their flocks, the work of the day was done, and a
noise of light laughter and rippling talk came from the Slaves'
In the middle of the stone-flagged yard two little boys were playing
at quoits. Their eyes and hair were as dark as their brown skin, which
had been tanned by the sun. In one of the corners of the yard a fair-
haired, blue-eyed girl was nursing a kitten and singing it to sleep.
The old woman was singing too, or rather humming a tune to herself as
she turned her wheel. She was very old: her hair was white and
silvery, and her face was furrowed by a hundred wrinkles. Her eyes
were blue as the sky, and perhaps they had once been full of fire and
laughter, but all that had been quenched and washed out long ago, and
Time, with his noiseless chisel, had sharpened her delicate features
and hollowed out her cheeks, which were as white as ivory. But her
hands as they twisted the wood were the hands of a young woman, and
seemed as though they had been fashioned by a rare craftsman, so
perfect were they in shape and proportion, as firm as carved marble,
as delicate as flowers.
The sun sank behind the hills of the coast, and a flood of scarlet
light spread along the West just above them, melting higher up into
orange, and still higher into a luminous blue, which turned to green
later as the evening deepened. The air was cool and sharp, and the
little boys, who had finished their game, drew near to the fire.
"Tell us a story," said the elder of the two boys, as they curled
themselves up at the feet of the old woman.
"You know all my stories," she said.
"That doesn't matter," said the boy. "You can tell us an old one."
"Well," said the old woman, "I suppose I must. There was once upon a
time a King and a Queen who had three sons and one daughter." At the
sound of these words the little girl ran up and nestled in the folds
of the old woman's long cloak.
"No, not that one," one of the little boys interrupted, "tell us about
the Queen without a heart." So the old woman began and said:--
"There was once upon a time a King and a Queen who had one daughter,
and they invited all the gods and goddesses to the feast which they
gave in honour of the birth of their child. The gods and goddesses
came and gave the child every gift they could think of; she was to be
the most beautiful woman in the whole world, she was to dance like the
West wind, to laugh like the stream, and to sing like the lark. Her
hair should be made of sunshine, and her eyes should be as the sea in
midsummer. She should excel in all things, in knowledge, in wit, and
in skill; she should be fleet of foot, a cunning harp-player, adept at
all manner of woman-like crafts, and deft with the needle and the
spinning-wheel, and at the loom. Zeus himself gave her stateliness and
majesty, the Lord of the Sun gave a voice as of a golden flute;
Poseidon gave her the laughter of all the waves of the sea, the King
of the Underworld gave her a red ruby to wear on her breast more
precious than all the gems of the world. Artemis gave her swiftness
and radiance, Persephone the fragrance and the freshness of all the
flowers of spring; Pallas Athene gave her curious knowledge and
pleasant speech; and, lastly, the Seaborn Goddess breathed upon her
and gave her the beauty of the rose, the pearl, the dew, and the
shells and the foam of the sea. But, alas! the King and Queen had
forgotten to ask one guest. The Goddess of Envy and Discord had been
left out, and she came unbidden, and when all the gods and goddesses
had given their gifts, she said: 'I too have a gift to give, a gift
that will be more precious to her than any. I will give her a heart
that shall be proof against all the onsets of the world.' So saying
the Goddess of Envy took away the child's heart and put in its place a
heart of stone, hard as adamant, bright and glittering as a gem. And
the Goddess of Envy went her way mocking. The King and Queen were
greatly concerned, and they asked the gods and goddesses whether their
daughter would ever recover her human heart. They were told that the
Goddess of Envy would be obliged to give back the child's heart to the
man who loved her enough to seek and to find it, and this would surely
happen; but when and how it was forbidden to them to reveal.
"The child grew up and became the wonder of the world. She was married
to a powerful King, and they lived in peace and plenty until the
Goddess of Envy once more troubled the child's life. For owing to her
subtle planning a Prince was promised for wife the fairest woman in
the world, and he took the wife of the powerful King and carried her
away to Asia to the six-gated city. The King prepared a host of ships
and armed men and sailed to Asia to win back his wife. And he and his
army fought for ten years until the six-gated city was taken, and he
brought his wife home once more. Now during all the time the war
lasted, although the whole world was filled with the fame of the
King's wife and of her beauty, there was not found one man who was
willing to seek for her heart and to find it, for some gave no
credence to the tale, and others, believing it, reasoned that the
quest might last a life-time, and that by the time they accomplished
it the King's wife would be an old woman, and there would be fairer
women in the world. Others, again, could not believe that in so
perfect a woman there could be any fault; they vowed her heart must be
one with her matchless beauty, and they said that even if the tale
were true, they preferred to worship her as she was, and they would
not have her be otherwise or changed by a hair's breadth for all the
world. Some, indeed, did set out upon the quest, but abandoned it soon
from weariness and returned to bask in the beauty of the great Queen.
"The years went by. The Queen journeyed to Egypt, to the mountains of
the South, and the cities of the desert; to the Pillars of Hercules
and to the islands of the West. Wherever she went her fame spread like
fire, and men fought and died for a glimpse of her marvellous beauty;
and wherever she passed she left behind her strife and sorrow like a
burning trail. After many voyages she returned home and lived
prosperously. The King her husband died, her children grew up and
married and bore children themselves, and she continued to live
peacefully in her palace. Her fame and her glory brought her neither
joy nor sorrow, nor did she heed the spell that she cast on the hearts
"One day a harp-player came to her palace and sang and played before
her; he made music so ravishing and so sad that all who heard him wept
save the Queen, who listened and smiled, listless and indifferent. But
her smile filled him with such a passion of wonder and worship that he
resolved to rest no more until he had found her heart, for he knew the
tale. So he sought the whole world over in vain; and for years and
years he roamed the world fruitlessly. At last one day in a far
country he found a little bird in a trap and he set it free, and in
return the bird promised him that he should find the Queen's heart.
All he had to do was to go home and to seek the Queen's palace. So the
harper went home to the Queen's palace, and when he reached it he
found the Queen had grown old; her hair was grey and there were lines
on her cheek. But she smiled on him, and he knelt down before her, for
he loved her more than ever, and to him she was as beautiful as ever
she had been. At that moment, for the first time in her life the
Queen's eyes filled with tears, for her heart had been given back to
her. And that is all the story."
"And what happened to the harper?" asked one of the little boys.
"He lived in the palace and played to the Queen till he died."
"And is the story true?" asked the other little boy.
"Yes," said the old woman, "quite true."
The boys jumped up and kissed the old woman, and the elder of them,
growing pensive, said:--
"Grandmother, were you ever young yourself?"
"Yes, my child," said the old woman, smiling, "I was once young--a
very long time ago."
She got up, for the twilight had come and it was almost dark. She
walked into the house, and as she rose she was neither bowed nor bent,
but she trod the ground with a straightness which was not stiff but
full of grace, and she moved royally like a goddess. As she walked
past the smoking flames the children noticed that large tears were
welling from her eyes and trickling down her faded cheek.
DR. FAUST'S LAST DAY
The Doctor got up at dawn, as was his wont, and as soon as he was
dressed he sat down at his desk in his library overlooking the sea,
and immersed himself in the studies which were the lodestar of his
existence. His hours were mapped out with rigid regularity like those
of a school-boy, and his methodical life worked as though by
clockwork. He rose at dawn and read without interruption until eight
o'clock. He then partook of some light food (he was a strict
vegetarian), after which he walked in the garden of his house,
overlooking the Bay of Naples, until ten. From ten to twelve he
received sick people, peasants from the village, or any visitors that
needed his advice or his company. At twelve he ate a frugal meal. From
one o'clock until three he enjoyed a siesta. At three he resumed his
studies, which continued without interruption until six when he
partook of a second meal. At seven he took another stroll in the
village or by the seashore and remained out of doors until nine. He
then withdrew into his study, and at midnight went to bed.
It was, perhaps, the extreme regularity of his life, combined with the
strict diet which he observed, that accounted for his good health.
This day was his seventieth birthday, and his body was as vigorous and
his mind as alert as they had been in his fortieth year. His thick
hair and beard were scarcely grey, and the wrinkles on his white,
thoughtful face were rare. Yet the Doctor, when questioned as to the
secret of his youthfulness, being like many learned men fond of a
paradox, used to reply that diet and regularity had nothing to do with
it, and that the Southern sun and the climate of the Neapolitan coast,
which he had chosen among all places to be the abode of his old age,
were in reality responsible for his excellent health.
"I lead a regular life," he used to say, "not in order to keep well,
but in order to get through my work. Unless my hours were mapped out
regularly I should be the prey of every idler in the place and I
should never get any work done at all."
On this day, as it was his seventieth birthday, the Doctor had asked a
few friends to share his mid-day meal, and when he returned from his
morning stroll he sent for his housekeeper to give her a few final
instructions. The housekeeper, who was a voluble Italian peasant-
woman, after receiving his orders, handed him a piece of paper on
which a few words were scrawled in reddish-brown ink, saying it had
been left by a Signore.
"What Signore?" asked the Doctor, as he perused the document, which
consisted of words in the German tongue to the effect that the writer
regretted his absence from the Doctor's feast, but would call at
midnight. It was not signed.
"He was a Signore, like all Signores," said the housekeeper; "he just
left the letter and went away."
The Doctor was puzzled, and in spite of much cross-examination he was
unable to extract anything more beyond the fact that he was a
"Shall I lay one place less?" asked the housekeeper.
"Certainly not," said the Doctor. "All my guests will be present." And
he threw the piece of paper on the table.
The housekeeper left the room, but she had not been gone many minutes
before she returned and said that Maria, the wife of the late
Giovanni, the baker, wished to speak to him. The Doctor nodded, and
Maria burst into the room, sobbing.
When her tears had somewhat subsided she told her story in broken
sentences. Her daughter, Margherita, who was seventeen years old, had
been allowed to spend the summer at Sorrento with her late father's
sister. There, it appeared, she had met a "Signore," who had given her
jewels, made love to her, promised her marriage, and held clandestine
meetings with her. Her aunt professed now to have been unaware of
this; but Maria assured the Doctor that her sister-in-law, who had the
evil eye and had more than once trafficked with Satan, must have had
knowledge of the business, even if she were not directly responsible,
which was highly probable. In the meantime Margherita's brother
Anselmo had returned from the wars in the North, and, discovering the
truth, had sworn to kill the Signore unless he married Margherita.
"And what do you wish me to do?" asked the Doctor, after he had
listened to the story.
"Anything, anything," she answered, "only calm my son Anselmo or else
there will be a disaster."
"Who is the Signore?" asked the Doctor.
"The Conte Guido da Siena," she answered.
The Doctor reflected a moment, and then said: "I will see what can be
done. The matter can be arranged. Send your son to me later." And
then, after scolding Maria for not having taken proper care of her
daughter, he sent her away.
As he did so he caught sight of the dirty piece of paper on his table.
For one second he had the impression that the letters on it were
written in blood, and he shivered, but the momentary hallucination and
sense of discomfort passed immediately.
At mid-day the guests arrived. They consisted of Dr. Cornelius,
Vienna's most learned scholar; Taddeo Mainardi, the painter; a Danish
student from the University of Wittenberg; a young English nobleman,
who was travelling in Italy; and Guido da Siena, philosopher and poet,
who was said to be the handsomest man in Italy. The Doctor set before
his guests a precious wine from Cyprus, in which he toasted them,
although as a rule he drank only water. The meal was served in the
cool loggia overlooking the bay, and the talk, which was of the men
and books of many climes, flowed like a rippling stream on which the
sunshine of laughter lightly played.
The student asked the Doctor whether in Italy men of taste took any
interest in the recent experiments of a French Huguenot, who professed
to be able to send people into a trance. Moreover, the patient when in
the trance, so it was alleged, was able to act as a bridge between the
material and the spiritual worlds, and the dead could be summoned and
made to speak through the unconscious patient.
"We take no thought of such things here," said the Doctor. "In my
youth, when I studied in the North, experiments of that nature
exercised a powerful sway over my mind. I dabbled in alchemy; I tried
and indeed considered that I succeeded in raising spirits and visions;
but two things are necessary for such a study: youth, and the mists of
the Northern country. Here the generous sun kills such phantasies.
There are no phantoms here. Moreover, I am convinced that in all such
experiments success depends on the state of mind of the inquirer,
which not only persuades, but indeed compels itself by a strange
magnetic quality to see the vision it desires. In my youth I
considered that I had evoked visions of Satan and Helen of Troy, and
what not--such things are fit for the young. We greybeards have more
serious things to occupy us, and when a man has one foot in the grave,
he has no time to waste."
"To my mind," said the painter, "this world has sufficient beauty and
mystery to satisfy the most ardent inquirer."
"But," said the Englishman, "is not this world a phantom and a dream
as insubstantial as the visions of the ardent mind?"
"Men and women are the only study fit for a man," interrupted Guido,
"and as for the philosopher's stone I have found it. I found it some
months ago in a garden at Sorrento. It is a pearl radiant with all the
hues of the rainbow."
"With regard to that matter," said the Doctor, "we will have some talk
later. The wench's brother has returned from the war. We must find her
"You misunderstand me," said Guido. "You do not think I am going to
throw my precious pearl to the swine? I have sworn to wed Margherita,
and wed her I shall, and that swiftly."
"Such an act of folly would only lead," said the Doctor, "to your
unhappiness and to hers. It is the selfish act of a fool. You must not
think of it."
"Ah!" said Guido, "you are young at seventy, Doctor, but you were old
at twenty-five, and you cannot know what these things mean."
"I was young in my day," said the Doctor, "and I found many such
pearls; believe me, they are all very well in their native shell. To
move them is to destroy their beauty."
"You do not understand," said Guido. "I have loved countless times;
but she is different. You never felt the revelation of the real, true
thing that is different from all the rest and transforms a man's
"No," said the Doctor, "I confess that to me it was always the same
thing." And for the second time that day the Doctor shivered, he knew
Soon after the meal was over the guests departed, and although the
Doctor detained Guido and endeavoured to persuade him to listen to the
voice of reason and commonsense, his efforts were in vain. Guido had
determined to wed Margherita.
"Besides which, if I left her now, I should bring shame and ruin on
her," he said.
The Doctor started--a familiar voice seemed to whisper in his ear:
"She is not the first one." A strange shudder passed through him, and
he distinctly heard a mocking voice laughing. "Go your way," he said,
"but do not come and complain to me if you bring unhappiness on
yourself and her."
Guido departed and the Doctor retired to enjoy his siesta.
For the first time during all the years he had lived at Naples the
Doctor was not able to sleep. "This and the hallucinations I have
suffered from to-day come from drinking that Cyprus wine," he said to
He lay in the darkened room tossing uneasily on his bed and sleep
would not come to him. Stranger still, before his eyes fiery letters
seemed to dance before him in the air. At seven o'clock he went out
into the garden. Never had he beheld a more glorious evening. He
strolled down towards the seashore and watched the sunset. Mount
Vesuvius seemed to have dissolved into a rosy haze; the waves of the
sea were phosphorescent. A fisherman was singing in his boat. The sky
was an apocalypse of glory and peace.
The Doctor sighed and watched the pageant of light until it faded and
the stars lit up the magical blue darkness. Then out of the night came
another song--a song which seemed familiar to the Doctor, although for
the moment he could not place it, about a King in the Northern Country
who was faithful to the grave and to whom his dying mistress a golden
"Strange," thought the Doctor, "it must come from some Northern
fishing smack," and he went home.
He sat reading in his study until midnight, and for the first time in
thirty years he could not fix his mind on his book. For the vision of
the sunset and the song of the Northern fisherman, which in some
unaccountable way brought back to him the days of his youth, kept on
surging up in his mind.
Twelve o'clock struck. He rose to go to bed, and as he did so he heard
a loud knock at the door.
"Come in," said the Doctor, but his voice faltered ("the Cyprus wine
again!" he thought), and his heart beat loudly.
The door opened and an icy draught blew into the room. The visitor
beckoned, but spoke no word, and Doctor Faust rose and followed him
into the outer darkness.
THE FLUTE-PLAYER'S STORY
There is a village in the South of England not far from the sea, which
possesses a curious inn called "The Green Tower." Why it is called
thus, nobody knows. This inn must in days gone by have been the
dwelling of some well-to-do squire, but nothing now remains of its
former prosperity, except the square grey tower, partially covered
with ivy, from which it takes its name. The inn stands on the
roadside, on the brow of a hill, and at the top of the tower there is
a room with four large windows, whence you can see all over the wooded
country. The ex-Prime Minister of a foreign state, who had been driven
from office and home by a revolution, happening to pass the night in
the inn and being of an eccentric disposition, was so much struck with
this room that he secured it, together with two bedrooms, permanently
for himself. He determined to spend the rest of his life here, and as
he was within certain limits not unsociable, he invited his friends to
come and stay with him on any Saturday they pleased, without giving
Thus it happened that of a Saturday and Sunday there was nearly always
a mixed gathering of men at "The Green Tower, and after they had dined
they would sit in the tower room and drink old Southern wines from the
ex-Prime Minister's country, and talk, or tell each other stories. But
the ex-Prime Minister made it a stringent rule that at least one guest
should tell one story during his stay, for while he had been Prime
Minister a Court official had been in his service whose only duty it
was to tell him a story every evening, and this was the only thing he
regretted of all his former privileges.
On this particular Sunday, besides myself, the clerk, the flute-
player, the wine merchant (the friends of the ex-Prime Minister were
exceedingly various), and the scholar were present. They were smoking
in the tower room. It was summer, and the windows were wide open.
Every inch of wall which was not occupied by the windows was crowded
with books. The clerk was turning over the leaves of the ex-Prime
Minister's stamp collection (which was magnificent), the flute-player
was reading the score of Handel's flute sonatas (which was rare), the
scholar was reading a translation in Latin hexameters of the "Ring and
the Book" (which the ex-Prime Minister has written in his spare
moments), and the wine merchant was drinking generously of a curious
red wine, which was very old.
"I think," said the ex-Prime Minister, "that the flute-player has
never yet told us a story."
The guests knew that this hint was imperative, and so putting away the
score, the flute-player said: "My story is called, 'The Fiddler.'" And
"This happened a long time ago in one of the German-speaking countries
of the Holy Roman Empire. There was a Count who lived in a large
castle. He was rich, powerful, and the owner of large lands. He had a
wife, and one daughter, who was dazzlingly beautiful, and she was
betrothed to the eldest son of a neighbouring lord. When I say
betrothed, I mean that her parents had arranged the marriage. She
herself--her name was Elisinde--had had no voice in the matter, and
she disliked, or rather loathed, her future husband, who was boorish,
sullen, and ill-tempered; he cared for nothing except hunting and deep
drinking, and had nothing to recommend him but his ducats and his
land. But it was quite useless for Elisinde to cry or protest. Her
parents had settled the marriage and it was to be. She understood this
herself very well.
"All the necessary preparations for the wedding, which was to be held
on a splendid scale, were made. There was to be a whole week of
feasting; and tumblers and musicians came from distant parts of the
country to take part in the festivities and merry-making. In the
village, which was close to the castle, a fair was held, and the
musicians, tumblers, and mountebanks, who had thronged to it,
performed in front of the castle walls for the amusement of the
"Among these strolling vagabonds was a fiddler who far excelled all
the others in skill. He drew the most ravishing tones from his
instrument, which seemed to speak in trills as liquid as those of the
nightingale, and in accents as plaintive as those of a human voice.
And one of the inmates of the castle was so much struck by the
performance of this fiddler that he told the Count of it, and the
fiddler was commanded to come and play at the Castle, after the
banquet which was to be held on the eve of the wedding. The banquet
took place in great pomp and solemnity, and lasted for many hours.
When it was over the fiddler was summoned to the large hall and bidden
to play before the Lords and Ladies.
"The fiddler was a strange looking, tall fellow with unkempt fair
hair, and eyes that glittered like gold; but as he was dressed in
tattered uncouth rags (and they were his best too) he cut an
extraordinary and almost ridiculous figure amongst that splendid
jewelled gathering. The guests tittered when they saw him. But as soon
as he began to play, their tittering ceased, for never had they heard
"He played--in view of the festive occasion--a joyous melody. And, as
he played, the air seemed full of sunlight, and the smell of wine vats
and the hum of bees round ripe fruit. The guests could not keep still
in their places, and at last the Count gave orders for a general
dance. The hall was cleared, and soon all the guests were breathlessly
dancing to the divine lilt of the fiddler's melody. All except
Elisinde who, when her betrothed came forward to lead her to the
dance, pleaded fatigue, and remained seated in her chair, pale and
distraught, and staring at the fiddler. This did not, to tell the
truth, displease her betrothed, who was a clumsy dancer and had no ear
for music. Breathless at last with exhaustion the guests begged the
untiring fiddler to pause while they rested for a moment to get their
"And while they were resting the fiddler played another tune. This
time it was a sad tune: a low, soft tune, liquid and lovely as a human
voice. A great hush came on the company. It seemed as if after the
heat and splendour of a summer's day the calm of evening had fallen;
the quiet of the dusk, when the moon rises in the sky, still faintly
yellow in the west with the ebb of sunset, and pours on the stiff
cornfields its cool, silvery frost; and the trees quiver, as though
they felt the freshness and were relieved, and a breeze comes, almost
imperceptible and not strong enough to shake the boughs, from the sea;
and a bird, hidden somewhere in the leaves, sings a throbbing song.
"Everyone was spellbound, but none so much as Elisinde. The music
seemed to be speaking straight to her, to pierce the very core of her
heart. It was an inarticulate language which she understood better
than any words. She heard a lonely spirit crying out to her, that it
understood her sorrow and shared her pain. And large tears poured down
"The fiddler stopped playing, and for a moment or two no one spoke. At
last Elisinde's betrothed gave a great yawn, and the spell was broken.
" 'You play very well--very well, indeed,' said the Count.
" 'But that sad music is, I think, rather out of place to-day,' said
" 'Yes, let us have another cheerful tune,' said the Count.
"The fiddler struck up once more and played another dance. This time
there was an almost elfish magic in his melody. It took you captive;
it was irresistible; it called and commanded and compelled; you longed
to follow, follow, anywhere, over the hills, over the sea, to the end
of the world.
"Elisinde rose from her chair as though the spirit of the music
beckoned her, but looking round she saw no partner to her taste. She
sat down again and stared at the fiddler. His eyes were fixed on her,
and as she looked at him his squalor and rags seemed to fade away and
his blue eyes that glittered like gold seemed to grow larger, and his
hair to grow brighter till it shone like fire. And he seemed to be
caught in a rosy cloud of light: tall, splendid, young, and glowing
like a god.
"After this dance was over the Count rose, and he and his guests
retired to rest. The fiddler was given a purse full of money, and the
Count gave orders that he should be served refreshment in the kitchen.
"Elisinde went up to her bedroom, which overlooked the garden. She
threw the window wide open and looked out into the starry darkness. It
was a breathless summer night. The air was full of warm scents. Lights
still twinkled in the village; now and again a dog barked, otherwise
everything was still. She leant out of the window, and cried bitterly
because her lot was loathsome to her, and she had not a friend in the
world to whom she could confide her sorrow.
"While she was thus sobbing she heard a rustling in the bushes
beneath; she looked down and she saw a face looking up towards her, a
beautiful face, glistening in the moonlight. It was the fiddler.
" 'Elisinde,' he called to her in a low voice, 'if you want to escape
I have the means. Come with me; I love you, and I will save you from
" 'I would come with you to the end of the world,' she said, 'but how
can I get away from this castle?'
"He threw a rope ladder up to her. 'Make it fast to the bar,' he said,
'and let yourself down.'
"She let herself down into the garden. 'We can easily climb the wall
with this,' he said; 'but before you come I must tell you that if you
will be my bride your life will be hard and full of misery. Think
before you come.'
" 'Rather all the misery in the world,' she said, 'than the awful doom
that awaits me here. Besides which I love you, and we shall be very
"They scaled the wall, and on the other side of it the fiddler had two
horses, waiting tied to the gate. They galloped through many villages,
and by the dawn they had reached a village far beyond the Count's
lands. Here they stopped at an inn, and they were married by the
priest that day. But they did not stop in this village; they sought a
further country, beyond reach of all pursuit. They settled in a
village, and the fiddler earned his bread by his fiddling, and
Elisinde kept their cottage neat and clean. For awhile they were as
happy as the day was long; the fiddler found favour everywhere by his
fiddling, and Elisinde ingratiated herself by her gentle ways. But one
day when Elisinde was lying in bed and the fiddler had lulled her to
sleep with his music, some neighbours, attracted by the sound, passed
the cottage and looked in at the window. And to their astonishment
they saw the fiddler sitting by a bed on which lay what seemed to them
to be a sleeping princess; and the whole cottage was full of dazzling
light, and the fiddler's face shone, and his hair and his eyes
glittered like gold. They went away much frightened, and told the
whole village the news.
"Now there were already not a few of the villagers who looked askance
on the fiddler; and this incident set all the evil and envious tongues
wagging. When the fiddler went to play the next day at the inn men
turned away from him, and a child in the street threw a stone at him.
Presently he was warned that he had better swiftly fly or else he
would be drowned as a sorcerer.
"So he and Elisinde fled in the night to a neighbouring village. But
soon the dark rumours followed them, and they were forced to flee once
more. This happened again and again, till at last in the whole country
there was not a village which would receive them, and one night they
were obliged to take refuge in a barn, for Elisinde was expecting the
birth of her child. That night their child was born, a beautiful
little boy, and an hour afterwards Elisinde smiled and died.
"All that night the villagers heard from afar a piteous wailing music,
infinitely sad and beautiful, and those that heard it shuddered and
"The next day the villagers sought the barn, for they had resolved to
drown the sorcerer; but he was not there. All they found was the dead
body of Elisinde, and a little baby lying on some straw. The body of
Elisinde was covered with roses. And this was strange, for it was
midwinter. The fiddler had disappeared and was never heard of again,
and an old wood-cutter, who was too old to know any better, took
charge of the baby.
"I will tell you what happened to it another day."
* * * * *
"We wish to hear the end of your story," said the ex-Prime Minister to
"Yes," said the scholar, "and I want to know who the fiddler was."
This conversation took place at the Green Tower two weeks after the
gathering I have already described. The same people were present; but
there was another guest, namely, the musician, who, unlike the flute-
player, was not an amateur.
"The child of Elisinde and the fiddler," began the flute-player, "was,
as I have already told you, a boy. The woodcutter who took pity on him
was old and childless. He brought the baby to his hut, and gave it
over to the care of his wife. At first she pretended to be angry, and
said that nothing would persuade her to have anything to do with the
child, and that it was all they could do to feed themselves without
picking up waifs in the gutter; but she ended by looking after the
baby with the utmost tenderness and care, and by loving it as much as
if it had been her own child. The baby was christened Franz. As soon
as he was able to walk and talk there were two things about him which
were remarkable. The first was his hair, which glittered like
sunlight; the second was his fondness for all musical sounds. When he
was four years old he had made himself a flute out of a reed, and on
this he played all day, imitating the song of the birds. He was in his
sixth year when an event happened which changed his life. He was
sitting in front of the woodcutter's cottage one day, when a bright
cavalcade passed him. It was a nobleman from a neighbouring castle,
who was travelling to the city with his retainers. Among these was a
Kapellmeister, who organised the music of this nobleman's household.
The moment he caught sight of Franz and heard his piping, he stopped,
and asked who he was.
"The woodcutter's wife told him the story of the finding of the waif,
to which both the nobleman and himself listened with great interest.
The Kapellmeister said that they should take the child with them; that
he should be attached to the nobleman's house and trained as a member
of his choir or his string band, according to his capacities. The
nobleman, who was passionately fond of music, and extremely particular
with regard to the manner of its performance, was delighted with the
idea. The offer was made to the woodcutter and his wife, and although
she cried a good deal they were both forced to recognise that they had
no right to interfere with the child's good fortune. Moreover, the
gift of a purse full of gold (which the nobleman gave them) did not
make the matter more distasteful.
"Finally it was settled that the child should go with the nobleman
then and there; and Franz took leave of his adopted parents, not
without many and bitter tears being shed on both sides.
"Franz travelled with the nobleman to a large city, and he became a
member--the youngest--of the nobleman's household. He was taught his
letters, which he learnt with ease, and the rudiments of music, which
he absorbed with such astounding rapidity, that the Kapellmeister said
that it seemed as if he already knew everything that was taught him.
When he was seven years old, he could not only play several
instruments, but he composed fugues and sonatas. When the nobleman
invited the magnates of the place to listen to his musicians, Franz,
the prodigy, was the centre of interest, and very soon he became the
talk of the town. At the age of ten he was an accomplished organ
player, and he played with skill on the flute and the clavichord.
"He grew up a tall and handsome lad, with clear, dreamy eyes, and hair
that continued to glitter like sunlight. He was happy in the
nobleman's household, for the nobleman and his wife were kind people;
like the woodcutter they were childless and came to look upon him as
their own child. He was a quiet youth, and so deeply engrossed in his
music and his studies that he seemed to be quite unaware of the
outside world and its inhabitants and its doings. But although he led
a retired, studious life, his fame had got abroad and had even reached
the Emperor's ears.
"When Franz was seventeen years old it happened that the Court was in
need of an organist. The Emperor's curiosity had been aroused by what
he had heard of Franz, and one fine day the youth was summoned to
Court to play before his Majesty. This he did with such success that
he was appointed organist of the Court on the spot.
"He was sad at leaving the nobleman, but there was nothing to be done.
The Emperor's wish was law. He became Court organist and he played the
organ in the Imperial chapel during Mass on Sundays. As before, he
spent all his leisure time in composing music.
"Now the Emperor had a daughter called Kunigmunde, who was beautiful
and wildly romantic. She was immediately spellbound by Franz's music,
and he became the lodestar of her dreams. Often in the afternoon she
would steal up to the organ loft, where he was playing alone, and sit
for hours listening to his improvisations. They did not speak to each
other much, but ever since Franz had set eyes on her something new had
entered into his soul and spoke in his music, something tremulous and
strange and wonderful.
"For a year Franz's life ran placidly and smoothly. He was made much
of, praised and petted; but now, as before, he seemed quite unaware of
the outside world and its doings, and he moved in a world of his own,
only he was no longer alone in his secret habitation, it was inhabited
by another shape, the beautiful dark-haired Princess Kunigmunde, and
in her honour he composed songs, minuets, sonatas, hymns, and
triumphal marches. As was only natural, there were not wanting at
Court persons who were envious of Franz, his talent, and his good
fortune. And among them there was a musician, a tenor in the Imperial
choir, called Albrecht, who hated Franz with his whole heart. He was a
dark-eyed, dark-haired creature, slightly deformed; he limped, and he
had a sinister look as though of a satyr. Nevertheless he was highly
gifted and composed music of his own which, although it was not
radiant like that of Franz, was full of brilliance and not without a
certain compelling power. Albrecht revolved in his mind how he might
ruin Franz. He tried to excite the envy of the courtiers against him,
but Franz was such a modest fellow, so kindly and good-natured, that
it was not easy to make people dislike him. Nevertheless there were
many who were tired of hearing him praised, and many who were secretly
tired of the perpetual beauty and radiance of Franz's music, and
wished for something new even though it should be ugly.
"An opportunity soon presented itself for Albrecht to carry out his
evil and envious designs. The Court Kapellmeister died, and not long
after this event a great feast was to be held at Court to celebrate
Princess Kunigmunde's birthday. The Emperor had offered a prize, a
wreath of gilt laurels, as well as the post of Court Kapellmeister to
him who should compose the most beautiful piece of music in his
daughter's honour. Franz seemed so certain of success that nobody even
dared to compete with him except Albrecht.
"When the hour of the contest came--it took place in the great throne-
room before the Emperor, the Empress, their sons, their daughters, and
the whole court after the banquet--Franz was the first to display his
work. He sat down at the clavichord and sang what he had composed in
honour of the Princess. He had made three little songs for her. Franz
had not much voice, but it had a peculiar wail in it, and he sang,
like the born and trained musician that he was, with that absolute
mastery over his means, that certain perfection of utterance, that
power of conveying, to the shade of a shade, the inmost spirit and
meaning of the music which only belong to those great and rare artists
whose perfect art is alive with the inspiration that cannot be learnt.
"The first song he sang was the call of a home-going shepherd to his
flock on the hills at sunset, and when he sang it he brought the
largeness of the dying evening and the solemn hills into the elegant
throne-room. The second song was the cry of a lonely fisherman on the
river at midnight, and as he sang it he brought the mystery of broad
starlit waters into the taper-lit, gilded hall. The third song was the
song of the happy lover in the orchard at dawn. And when he sang it he
brought the smell of dewy leaves and grass, the soaring radiance of
spring and early morning, to that powdered and silken assembly. The
Court applauded him, but they were astonished and slightly
disappointed, for they had expected something grand and complicated,
and not three simple tunes. But the nobleman who had educated Franz,
and his Kapellmeister, who were among the guests, wept tears in
"Albrecht followed him. The swarthy singer sat down to the instrument
and struck a ringing chord. He had a pure and infinitely powerful
tenor voice, clear as crystal, loud as a clarion, strong, rich, and
rippling. He sang a love-song he had composed himself. He called it
'The Homage of King Pan to the Princess.' It was voluptuous and
vehement and sweet as honey, full of bold conceits and audacious turns
and trills, which startled the audience and took their breath away. He
sang his song with almost devilish skill and power; and his warm,
captivating voice rang through the room and shook the tall window-
panes, and finally died away like the vibrations of a great bell. The
whole Court shouted, delirious with applause, and unanimously declared
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