Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Stories and Sketches
Part 3 out of 3
him to be the victor. A witty courtier said that Marsyas had avenged
himself on Apollo; but the nobleman and his Kapellmeister snorted and
sniffed and said nothing. Albrecht was given the prize and appointed
Kapellmeister to the Court without further discussion.
"When the ceremony was over, Franz, who was indifferent to his defeat,
went to the chapel of the palace, and lighting a candle, walked up
into the organ loft. There he played to himself another song, a hymn
he had composed in honour of Princess Kunigmunde. It was filled with
rapture and a breathless wonder, and in it his inmost soul spoke its
unuttered love. He had not sung this song in public, it was too
sacred. As he played and sang to himself in a low voice he was aware
of a soft footstep. He started and looked round, and there was the
Princess, bright in silk and jewels, with a pink rose in her powdered
hair. She took this rose and laid it lightly on the black keys.
" 'That is the prize,' she said. 'You won it, and I want to thank you.
I never knew music could be so beautiful.'
"Franz looked at her, and said 'Thank you.' He had risen from his seat
and was about to go, but the light of his candle caught Princess
Kunigmunde's brown eyes (which were wet with tears), and something
rose like fire in his breast and made him forget his bashfulness, his
respect, and his sense of decorum.
" 'Come with me,' he said, in a broken voice. 'Let us fly from this
Court to the hills and be happy.'
"But the Princess shook her head sadly, and said: 'Alas! It is
impossible. I am betrothed to the King of the Two Sicilies.'
"Then Franz mastered himself once more, and said: 'Of course, it is
impossible. I was mad.'
"The Princess kissed her hand to him and fled.
"At that moment Franz heard a noise in the nave of the chapel; he
looked over the gallery of the organ loft, and saw sidling away in the
darkness the dim figure of a deformed man.
"That night Princess Kunigmunde had a strange dream. She thought she
was transported into a beautiful southern country where the azure sky
seemed to scintillate with the dust of myriads and myriads of
diamonds, and to sparkle with sunlight like dancing wine. The low blue
hills were bare and sparsely clothed with delicate trees, and the
fields, sprinkled with innumerable red, yellow, white and purple
flowers, were bright as fabulous Persian carpets. On a grassy knoll
before her the rosy columns of a temple shone in the gleaming dust of
the atmosphere. Beside her there was a running stream, on the bank of
which grew a bay-tree. There was a chirping of grasshoppers in the
air, a noise of bees, and a delicious warm smell of burnt grass and
thyme and mint.
"Near the stream a man was standing; he was an ordinary man, and yet
he seemed to tower above the landscape without being unusually tall;
his hair was bright as gold, and his eyes, more lustrous still,
reflected the silvery blue sky and shone like opals. In his hands he
held a golden lyre, and around him a warm golden cloud seemed to rise,
on a transparent aura of light, like the glow of the sunset. In front
of him there stood a creature of the woods, a satyr, with pointed
ears, cloven hoofs, and human eyes, in his hairy hands holding a flute
made out of a reed.
"Presently the satyr breathed on his flute and a wonderful note
trembled in the air, soft, low, and liquid. The note was followed by
others, and a stillness fell upon Nature; the birds ceased to sing,
the grasshoppers were still, the bees paused. All Nature was listening
and the Princess was conscious in her dream that there were others
besides herself listening, unseen shapes and sightless phantoms; a
crowd, a multitude of attentive ghosts, that were hidden from her
sight. The melody rose and swelled in stillness; it was melting and
ravishing and bold with a human audacity. As she listened it reminded
her of something; she felt she had heard such sounds before, though
she could not remember where and when. But suddenly it flashed across
her that the music resembled Albrecht's song; it was Albrecht's song,
only transfigured as it were, and a thousand times more beautiful in
her dream than in reality. More beautiful, and at the same time as
though it belonged to the days of youth and spring which Albrecht had
never known. The satyr ceased playing and the pleasant noises of the
world began once more. The shining figure who stood before him looked
on the satyr with divine scorn and smiled a radiant, merciless smile.
Then he struck his lyre and Nature once more was dumb.
"But this time the magic was of another kind and a thousand times more
mighty; a song rose into the air which leapt and soared like a flame,
imperious as the flashing of a sword, triumphant as the waving of a
banner, wonderful as the dawn and fresh as the laughing sea. And once
more Princess Kunigmunde was aware that the music was familiar to her.
She had heard something like it in the chapel that evening, when in
the darkness Franz had played and sung the hymn that he had composed
in her honour. Only now it was more than human, unearthly and divine.
As soon as he ceased an eclipse seemed to darken the world, a thick
cloud of rolling darkness; there was a crash of thunder, a flash of
lightning, and out of the blackness came a piteous, human cry, the cry
of a creature in anguish, and then a faint moaning.
"Presently all was still, but the dark cloud remained, and she heard a
mocking laugh and the accents of a clear, scornful voice (she
recognised the voice, it was the voice of Albrecht), and the voice
said: 'Thou hast conquered, Apollo, and cruelly hast thou used thy
victory; and cruelly has thou punished me for daring to challenge thy
divine skill. It was mad indeed to compete with a god; and yet shall I
avenge my wrong and thy harshness shall recoil on thee. For not even
gods can be unjust with impunity, and the Fates are above us all. And
I shall be avenged; for all thy sons shall suffer what I have
suffered; and there is not one of them that shall escape the doom and
not share the fate of Marsyas the Satyr, whom thou didst cruelly slay.
The music and the skill which shall be their inheritance shall be the
cause to them of sorrow and grief unending and pitiless pain and
misery. Their life shall be as bitter to them as my death has been to
me. Their music shall fill the world with sweetness and ravish the
ears of listening nations, but to them it shall bring no joy; for life
like a cruel blade shall flay and lay bare their hearts, and sorrow
like a searching wind shall play upon their souls and make them
tremble, even as the scabbard of my body trembled in the breeze; and
just as from that trembling husk of what was once myself there came
forth sweet sounds, so shall it be with their souls, shivering and
trembling in the cold wind of life. Music shall come from them, but
this music shall be born of agony; nor shall they utter a single note
that is not begotten of sorrow or pain. And so shall the children of
Apollo suffer and share the pain of Marsyas.
"The voice died away, and a pitiful wail was heard as of a wind
blowing through the reeds of a river. And the Princess awoke,
trembling with fear of some unknown and impending disaster.
"The next morning Franz, as he walked into the chapel to practice on
the organ, was met by two soldiers, who bade him follow them, and he
was shut up in the prison of the palace. No word of explanation was
given him; nor had he any idea what the crime might be of which he was
accused, or of his ultimate fate. But in the evening, when the
gaoler's daughter brought him his food, she made him a sign, and he
found in his loaf of bread a rose, a file, and a tiny scroll, on which
the following words were written; 'Albrecht denounced you. Fly for
your life. K.' Later, when the gaolers had gone to sleep, the gaoler's
daughter stole to his cell. She brought him a rope, and a purse full
of silver. He filed the bars and let himself down into a narrow street
of the city.
"By the time the sun rose he had left the city far behind him. He
journeyed on and on till he passed the frontier of the Emperor's
dominions and reached a neighbouring State. By the time he came to a
city he had spent his money, and he was in rags and tatters;
nevertheless, he managed to earn his bread by making music in the
streets, and after a time a well-to-do citizen who noticed him took
him into his house and entrusted him with the task of teaching music
to his sons and of playing him to sleep in the evening. Franz spent
his leisure hours in composing an opera called 'The Death of Adonis,'
into which he poured all the music of his soul, all his love, his
sorrow, and his infinite desire. He lived for this only, and during
all the hours he spent when he was not working at his opera he was
like a man in a dream, unconscious of the realities around him. In a
year his opera was finished. He took it to the Intendant of the Ducal
Theatre in the city and played it to him, and the Intendant, greatly
pleased, determined to have it performed without delay. The best
singers were allotted parts in it, and it was performed before the
Arch-Duke and his Court, and a multitude of people.
"The music told the story of Franz's love; it was bright with all his
dreams, and sorrowful with his great despair. Never had such music
been heard; so sweet, so sunlit in its joys, so radiant in its
sadness. But the Arch-Duke and his Court, startled by the new accent
of this music, and influenced by the local and established musicians,
who were envious of this newcomer, listened in frigid silence, so that
the common people in the gallery dared not show signs of their
delight. In fact, the opera was a complete failure. Public opinion
followed the Court, and found no words, bad or strong enough to
condemn what they called the new-fangled rubbish. Among those who
blamed the new work there was none so bitter as the citizen whose
children Franz had been teaching. For this man considered himself to
be a genius, and was inordinately vain, and his ignorance was equal to
his conceit. He dismissed Franz from his service. All doors were now
closed to him, and being on the verge of starvation he was reduced to
earning his bread in the streets by playing his pipe. This also proved
unsuccessful, and it was with difficulty that he earned a few pence
"At last he burnt all his manuscripts, and went into the hills; the
hill people welcomed him, but their kindness came too late; his heart
was broken, and when sickness came to him with the winter snow, he had
no longer any strength to resist it. The peasants found him one day
lying cold and stiff in his hut. They buried him on the hill-side. The
night of his funeral a strange fiddler with a shining face was seen
standing beside his grave and playing the most lovely tunes on a
"The name of Franz was soon forgotten, but although he died obscure
and penniless he left a rich legacy. For he taught the hill-people
three songs, the songs he had sung at Court in honour of Princess
Kunigmunde, and they never died. They spread from the hills to the
plains, from the plains to the river, from the river to the woods, and
indeed you can still hear them on the hills of the north, on the great
broad rivers of the east, and in the orchards of the south."
A CHINAMAN ON OXFORD
"Yes, I am a student," said the Chinaman, "And I came here to study
the English manners and customs."
We were seated on the top of the electric tram which goes to Hampton
Court. It was a bitterly cold spring day. The suburbs of London were
not looking their best.
"I spent three days at Oxford last week," he said.
"It's a beautiful place, is it not?" I remarked.
The Chinaman smiled. "The country which you see from the windows of
the railway carriages," he said, "on the way from Oxford to London
strikes me as being beautiful. It reminded me of the Chinese Plain,
only it is prettier. But the houses at Oxford are hideous: there is no
symmetry about them. The houses in this country are like blots on the
landscape. In China the houses are made to harmonise with the
landscape just as trees do."
"What did you see at Oxford?" I asked.
"I saw boat races," he said, "and a great many ignorant old men."
"What did you think of that?"
"I think," he said, "the young people seemed to enjoy it, and if they
enjoy it they are quite right to do it. But the way the older men talk
about these things struck me as being foolish. They talk as if these
games and these sports were a solemn affair, a moral or religious
question; they said the virtues and the prowess of the English race
were founded on these things. They said that competition was the
mainspring of life; they seemed to think exercise was the goal of
existence. A man whom I saw there and who, I learnt, had been chosen
to teach the young on account of his wisdom, told me that competition
trained the man to sharpen his faculties; and that the tension which
it provoked is in itself a useful training. I do not believe this. A
cat or a boa constrictor will lie absolutely idle until it perceives
an object worthy of its appetite; it will then catch it and swallow
it, and once more relapse into repose without thinking of keeping
itself 'in training.' But it will lie dormant and rise to the occasion
when it occurs. These people who talked of games seem to me to
undervalue repose. They forget that repose is the mother of action,
and exercise only a frittering away of the same."
"What did you think," I asked, "of the education that the students at
"I think," said the Chinaman, "that inasmuch as the young men waste
their time in idleness they do well; for the wise men who are chosen
to instruct the young at your places of learning, are not always wise.
I visited a professor of Oriental languages. His servant asked me to
wait, and after I had waited three quarters of an hour, he sent word
to say that he had tried everywhere to find the professor in the
University who spoke French, but that he had not been able to find
him. And so he asked me to call another day. I had dinner in a college
hall. I found that the professors talked of many things in such a way
as would be impossible to children of five and six in our country.
They are quite ignorant of the manners and customs of the people of
other European countries. They pronounce Greek and Latin and even
French in the same way as English. I mentioned to one of them that I
had been employed for some time in the Chinese Legation; he asked me
if I had had much work to do. I said yes, the work had been heavy.
'But,' he observed, 'I suppose a great deal of the work is carried on
directly between the Governments and not through the Ambassadors.' I
cannot conceive what he meant or how such a thing could be possible,
or what he considered the use and function of Embassies and Legations
to be. They most of them seemed to take for granted that I could not
speak English: some of them addressed me in a kind of baby language;
one of them spoke French. The professor who spoke to me in this
language told me that the French possessed no poetical literature, and
he said the reason of this was that the French language was a bastard
language; that it was, in fact, a kind of pidgin Latin. He said when a
Frenchman says a girl is 'beaucoup belle,' he is using pidgin Latin.
The courtesy due to a host prevented me from suggesting that if a
Frenchman said 'beaucoup belle' he would be talking pidgin French.
"Another professor said to me that China would soon develop if she
adopted a large Imperial ideal, and that in time the Chinese might
attain to a great position in the world, such as the English now held.
He said the best means of bringing this about would be to introduce
cricket and football into China. I told him that I thought this was
improbable, because if the Chinese play games, they do not care who is
the winner; the fun of the game is to us the improvisation of it as
opposed to the organisation which appeals to the people here. Upon
which he said that cricket was like a symphony of music. In a symphony
every instrument plays its part in obedience to one central will, not
for its individual advantage, but in order to make a beautiful whole.
'So it is with our games,' he said, 'every man plays his part not for
the sake of personal advantage, but so that his side may win; and thus
the citizen is taught to sink his own interests in those of the
community.' I told him the Chinese did not like symphonies, and
Western music was intolerable to them for this very reason. Western
musicians seem to us to take a musical idea which is only worthy of a
penny whistle (and would be very good indeed if played on a penny
whistle!); and they sit down and make a score of it twenty yards
broad, and set a hundred highly-trained and highly-paid musicians to
play it. It is the contrast between the tremendous apparatus and waste
of energy on one side, and the light and playful character of the
business itself on the other which makes me, a Chinaman, as incapable
of appreciating your complicated games as I am of appreciating the
complicated symphonies of the Germans or the elaborate rules which
their students make with regard to the drinking of beer. We like a man
for taking his fun and not missing a joke when he finds it by chance
on his way, but we cannot understand his going out of his way to
prepare a joke and to make arrangements for having some fun at a
certain fixed date. This is why we consider a wayside song, a tune
that is heard wandering in the summer darkness, to be better than
"What did that professor say?" I asked.
"He said that if I were to stay long enough in England and go to a
course of concerts at the Chelsea Town Hall, I would soon learn to
think differently. And that if cricket and football were introduced
into China, the Chinese would soon emerge out of their backwardness
and barbarism and take a high place among the enlightened nations of
the world. I thought to myself as he said this that your games are no
doubt an excellent substitute for drill, but if we were to submit to
so complicated an organisation it would be with a purpose: in order to
turn the Europeans out of China, for instance; but that organisation
without a purpose would always seem to us to be stupid, and we should
no more dream of organising our play than of organising a stroll in
the twilight to see the Evening Star, or the chase of a butterfly in
the spring. If we were to decide on drill it would be drill with a
vengeance and with a definite aim; but we should not therefore and
thereby destroy our play. Play cannot exist for us without fun, and
for us the open air, the fields, and the meadows are like wine: if we
feel inclined, we roam and jump about in them, but we should never
submit to standing to attention for hours lest a ball should escape
us. Besides which, we invented the foundations of all our games many
thousand of years ago. We invented and played at 'Diabolo' when the
Britons were painted blue and lived in the woods. The English knew how
to play once, in the days of Queen Elizabeth; then they had masques
and madrigals and Morris dances and music. A gentleman was ashamed if
he did not speak six or seven languages, handle the sword with a
deadly dexterity, play chess, and write good sonnets. Men were broken
on the wheel for an idea: they were brave, cultivated, and gay; they
fought, they played, and they wrote excellent verse. Now they organise
games and lay claim to a special morality and to a special mission;
they send out missionaries to civilise us savages; and if our people
resent having an alien creed stuffed down their throats, they take our
hand and burn our homes in the name of Charity, Progress, and
Civilisation. They seek for one thing--gold; they preach competition,
but competition for what? For this: who shall possess the most, who
shall most successfully 'do' his neighbour. These ideals and aims do
not tempt us. The quality of the life is to us more important than the
quantity of what is done and achieved. We live, as we play, for the
sake of living. I did not say this to the professors because we have a
proverb that when you are in a man's country you should not speak ill
of it. I say it to you because I see you have an inquiring mind, and
you will feel it more insulting to be served with meaningless phrases
and empty civilities than with the truth, however bitter. For those
who have once looked the truth in the face cannot afterwards be put
off with false semblances."
"You speak true words," I said, "but what do you like best in
"The gardens," he answered, "and the little yellow flowers that are
sprinkled like stars on your green grass."
"And what do you like least in England?"
"The horrible smells," he said.
"Have you no smells in China?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "we have natural smells, but not the smell of gas
and smoke and coal which sickens me here. It is strange to me that
people can find the smell of human beings disgusting and be able to
stand the foul stenches of a London street. This very road along which
we are now travelling (we were passing through one of the less
beautiful portions of the tramway line) makes me homesick for my
country. I long to see a Chinese village once more built of mud and
fenced with mud, muddy-roaded and muddy-baked, with a muddy little
stream to be waded across or passed by stepping on stones; with a
delicate one-storeyed temple on the water-eaten bank, and green poppy
fields round it; and the women in dark blue standing at the doorways,
smoking their pipes; and the children, with three small budding
pigtails on the head of each, clinging to them; and the river fringed
with a thousand masts: the boats, the houseboats, the barges and the
ships in the calm, wide estuaries, each with a pair of huge eyes
painted on the front bow. And the people: the men working at their
looms and whistling a happy tune out of the gladness of their hearts.
And everywhere the sense of leisure, the absence of hurry and bustle
and confusion; the dignity of manners and the grace of expression and
of address. And, above all, the smell of life everywhere."
"I admit," I said, "that our streets smell horribly of smoke and coal,
but surely our people are clean?"
"Yes," he said, "no doubt; but you forget that to us there is nothing
so intolerably nasty as the smell of a clean white man!"
John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office.
He lived a lonely life, and had done so ever since he had been a boy.
At school he had mixed little with his fellow school-boys, and he took
no interest in the things that interested them, that is to say, games.
On the other hand, although he was what is called "good at work," and
did his lessons with facility and ease, he was not a literary boy, and
did not care for books. He was drawn towards machinery of all kinds,
and spent his spare time in dabbling in scientific experiments or in
watching trains go by on the Great Western line. Once he blew off his
eyebrows while making some experiment with explosive chemicals; his
hands were always smudged with dark, mysterious stains, and his room
was like that of a mediaeval alchemist, littered with retorts,
bottles, and test-glasses. Before leaving school he invented a flying
machine (heavier than air), and an unsuccessful attempt to start it on
the high road caused him to be the victim of much chaff and ridicule.
When he left school he went to Oxford. His life there was as lonely as
it had been at school. The dirty, untidy, ink-stained, and chemical-
stained little boy grew up into a tall, lank, slovenly-dressed man,
who kept entirely to himself, not because he cherished any dislike or
disdain for his fellow-creatures, but because he seemed to be entirely
absorbed in his own thoughts and isolated from the world by a barrier
He did well at Oxford, and when he went down he passed high into the
Civil Service and became a clerk in a Government office. There he kept
as much to himself as ever. He did his work rapidly and well, for this
man, who seemed so slovenly in his person, had an accurate mind, and
was what was called a good clerk, although his incurable absent-
mindedness once or twice caused him to forget certain matters of
His fellow clerks treated him as a crank and as a joke, but none of
them, try as they would, could get to know him or win his confidence.
They used to wonder what Fletcher did with his spare time, what were
his pursuits, what were his hobbies, if he had any. They suspected
that Fletcher had some hobby of an engrossing kind, since in everyday
life he conveyed the impression of a man who is walking in his sleep,
who acts mechanically and automatically. Somewhere else, they thought,
in some other circumstances, he must surely wake up and take a living
interest in somebody or in something.
Yet had they followed him home to his small room in Canterbury-
mansions they would have been astonished. For when he returned from
the office after a hard day's work he would do nothing more engrossing
than slowly to turn over the leaves of a book in which there were
elaborate drawings and diagrams of locomotives and other kinds of
engines. And on Sunday he would take a train to one of the large
junctions and spend the whole day in watching express trains go past,
and in the evening would return again to London.
One day after he had returned from the office somewhat earlier than
usual, he was telephoned for. He had no telephone in his own room, but
he could use a public telephone which was attached to the building. He
went into the small box, but found on reaching the telephone that he
had been cut off by the exchange. He imagined that he had been rung up
by the office, so he asked to be given their number. As he did so his
eye caught an advertisement which was hung just over the telephone. It
was an elaborate design in black and white, pointing out the merits of
a particular kind of soap called the Venus: a classical lady, holding
a looking-glass in one hand and a cake of this invaluable soap in the
other, was standing in a sphere surrounded by pointed rays, which was
no doubt intended to represent the most brilliant of the planets.
Fletcher sat down on the stool and took the receiver in his hand. As
he did so he had for one second the impression that the floor
underneath him gave way and that he was falling down a precipice. But
before he had time to realise what was happening the sensation of
falling left him; he shook himself as though he had been asleep, and
for one moment a faint recollection as though of the dreams of the
night twinkled in his mind, and vanished beyond all possibility of
recall. He said to himself that he had had a long and curious dream,
and he knew that it was too late to remember what it had been about.
Then he opened his eyes wide and looked round him.
He was standing on the slope of a hill. At his feet there was a kind
of green moss, very soft to tread on. It was sprinkled here and there
with light red, wax-like flowers such as he had never seen before. He
was standing in an open space; beneath him there was a plain covered
with what seemed to be gigantic mushrooms, much taller than a man.
Above him rose a mass of vegetation, and over all this was a dense,
heavy, streaming cloud faintly glimmering with a white, silvery light
which seemed to be beyond it.
He walked towards the vegetation, and soon found himself in the middle
of a wood, or rather of a jungle. Tangled plants grew on every side;
large hanging creepers with great blue flowers hung downwards. There
was a profound stillness in this wood; there were no birds singing and
he heard not the slightest rustle in the rich undergrowth. It was
oppressively hot and the air was full of a pungent, aromatic
sweetness. He felt as though he were in a hot-house full of gardenias
and stephanotis. At the same time the atmosphere of the place was
pleasant to him. It was neither strange nor disagreeable. He felt at
home in this green shimmering jungle and in this hot, aromatic
twilight, as though he had lived there all his life.
He walked mechanically onwards as if he were going to a definite spot
of which he knew. He walked fast, but in spite of the oppressive
atmosphere and the thickness of the growth he grew neither hot nor out
of breath; on the contrary, he took pleasure in the motion, and the
stifling, sweet air seemed to invigorate him. He walked steadily on
for over three hours, choosing his way nicely, avoiding certain places
and seeking others, following a definite path and making for a
definite goal. During all this time the stillness continued unbroken,
nor did he meet a single living thing, either bird or beast.
After he had been walking for what seemed to him several hours, the
vegetation grew thinner, the jungle less dense, and from a more or
less open space in it he seemed to discern what might have been a
mountain entirely submerged in a multitude of heavy grey clouds. He
sat down on the green stuff which was like grass and yet was not
grass, at the edge of the open space whence he got this view, and
quite naturally he picked from the boughs of an overhanging tree a
large red, juicy fruit, and ate it. Then he said to himself, he knew
not why, that he must not waste time, but must be moving on.
He took a path to the right of him and descended the sloping jungle
with big, buoyant strides, almost running; he knew the way as though
he had been down that path a thousand times. He knew that in a few
moments he would reach a whole hanging garden of red flowers, and he
knew that when he had reached this he must again turn to the right. It
was as he thought: the red flowers soon came to view. He turned
sharply, and then through the thinning greenery he caught sight of an
open plain where more mushrooms grew. But the plain was as yet a great
way off, and the mushrooms seemed quite small.
"I shall get there in time," he said to himself, and walked steadily
on, looking neither to the right nor to the left. It was evening by
the time he reached the edge of the plain: everything was growing
dark. The endless vapours and the high banks of cloud in which the
whole of this world was sunk grew dimmer and dimmer. In front of him
was an empty level space, and about two miles further on the huge
mushrooms stood out, tall and wide like the monuments of some
prehistoric age. And underneath them on the soft carpet there seemed
to move a myriad vague and shadowy forms.
"I shall get there in time," he thought. He walked on for another half
hour, and by this time the tall mushrooms were quite close to him, and
he could see moving underneath them, distinctly now, green, living
creatures like huge caterpillars, with glowing eyes. They moved slowly
and did not seem to interfere with each other in any way. Further off,
and beyond them, there was a broad and endless plain of high green
stalks like ears of green wheat or millet, only taller and thinner.
He ran on, and now at his very feet, right in front of him, the green
caterpillars were moving. They were as big as leopards. As he drew
nearer they seemed to make way for him, and to gather themselves into
groups under the thick stems of the mushrooms. He walked along the
pathway they made for him, under the shadow of the broad, sunshade-
like roofs of these gigantic growths. It was almost dark now, yet he
had no doubt or difficulty as to finding his way. He was making for
the green plain beyond. The ground was dense with caterpillars; they
were as plentiful as ants in an ant's nest, and yet they never seemed
to interfere with each other or with him; they instinctively made way
for him, nor did they appear to notice him in any way. He felt neither
surprise nor wonder at their presence.
It grew quite dark; the only lights which were in this world came from
the twinkling eyes of the moving figures, which shone like little
stars. The night was no whit cooler than the day. The atmosphere was
as steamy, as dense and as aromatic as before. He walked on and on,
feeling no trace of fatigue or hunger, and every now and then he said
to himself: "I shall be there in time." The plain was flat and level,
and covered the whole way with the mushrooms, whose roofs met and shut
out from him the sight of the dark sky.
At last he came to the end of the plain of mushrooms and reached the
high green stalks he had been making for. Beyond the dark clouds a
silver glimmer had begun once more to show itself. "I am just in
time," he said to himself, "the night is over, the sun is rising."
At that moment there was a great whirr in the air, and from out of the
green stalks rose a flight of millions and millions of enormous broad-
winged butterflies of every hue and description--silver, gold, purple,
brown and blue. Some with dark and velvety wings like the Purple
Emperor, or the Red Admiral, others diaphanous and iridescent as
dragon-flies. Others again like vast soft and silvery moths. They rose
from every part of that green plain of stalks, they filled the sky,
and then soared upwards and disappeared into the silvery cloudland.
Fletcher was about to leap forward when he heard a voice in his ear
"Are you 6493 Victoria? You are talking to the Home Office."
* * * * *
As soon as Fletcher heard the voice of the office messenger through
the telephone he instantly realised his surroundings, and the strange
experience he had just gone through, which had seemed so long and
which in reality had been so brief, left little more impression on him
than that which remains with a man who has been immersed in a brown
study or who has been staring at something, say a poster in the
street, and has not noticed the passage of time.
The next day he returned to his work at the office, and his fellow-
clerks, during the whole of the next week, noticed that he was more
zealous and more painstaking than ever. On the other hand, his
periodical fits of abstraction grew more frequent and more pronounced.
On one occasion he took a paper to the head of the department for
signature, and after it had been signed, instead of removing it from
the table, he remained staring in front of him, and it was not until
the head of the department had called him three times loudly by name
that he took any notice and regained possession of his faculties. As
these fits of absent-mindedness grew to be somewhat severely commented
on, he consulted a doctor, who told him that what he needed was change
of air, and advised him to spend his Sundays at Brighton or at some
other bracing and exhilarating spot. Fletcher did not take the
doctor's advice, but continued spending his spare time as he did
before, that is to say, in going to some big junction and watching the
express trains go by all day long.
One day while he was thus employed--it was Sunday, in August of 19--,
when the Egyptian Exhibition was attracting great crowds of visitors--
and sitting, as was his habit, on a bench on the centre platform of
Slough Station, he noticed an Indian pacing up and down the platform,
who every now and then stopped and regarded him with peculiar
interest, hesitating as though he wished to speak to him. Presently
the Indian came and sat down on the same bench, and after having sat
there in silence for some minutes he at last made a remark about the
"Yes," said Fletcher, "it is trying, especially for people like
myself, who have to remain in London during these months."
"You are in an office, no doubt," said the Indian.
"Yes," said Fletcher.
"And you are no doubt hard worked."
"Our hours are not long," Fletcher replied, "and I should not complain
of overwork if I did not happen to suffer from--well, I don't know
what it is, but I suppose they would call it nerves."
"Yes," said the Indian, "I could see that by your eyes."
"I am a prey to sudden fits of abstraction," said Fletcher, "they are
growing upon me. Sometimes in the office I forget where I am
altogether for a space of about two or three minutes; people are
beginning to notice it and to talk about it. I have been to a doctor,
and he said I needed change of air. I shall have my leave in about a
month's time, and then perhaps I shall get some change of air, but I
doubt if it will do me any good. But these fits are annoying, and once
something quite uncanny seemed to happen to me."
The Indian showed great interest and asked for further details
concerning this strange experience, and Fletcher told him all that he
could recall--for the memory of it was already dimmed--of what had
happened when he had telephoned that night.
The Indian was thoughtful for a while after hearing this tale. At last
he said: "I am not a doctor, I am not even what you call a quack
doctor--I am a mere conjurer, and I gain my living by conjuring tricks
and fortune-telling at the Exhibition which is going on in London. But
although I am a poor man and an ignorant man, I have an inkling, a few
sparks in me of ancient knowledge, and I know what is the matter with
"What is it?" asked Fletcher.
"You have the power, or something has the power," said the Indian, "of
detaching you from your actual body, and your astral body has been
into another planet. By your description I think it must be the planet
Venus. It may happen to you again, and for a longer period--for a very
much longer period."
"Is there anything I can do to prevent it?" asked Fletcher.
"Nothing," said the Indian. "You can try change of air if you like,
but," he said with a smile, "I do not think it will do you much good."
At that moment a train came in, and the Indian said good-bye and
jumped into it.
On the next day, which was Monday, when Fletcher got to the office it
was necessary for him to use the telephone with regard to some
business. No sooner had he taken the receiver off the telephone than
he vividly recalled the minute details of the evening he had
telephoned, when the strange experience had come to him. The
advertisement of Venus Soap that had hung in the telephone box in his
house appeared distinctly before him, and as he thought of that he
once more experienced a falling sensation which lasted only a fraction
of a second, and rubbing his eyes he awoke to find himself in the
tepid atmosphere of a green and humid world.
This time he was not near the wood, but on the sea-shore. In front of
him was a grey sea, smooth as oil and clouded with steaming vapours,
and behind him the wide green plain stretched into a cloudy distance.
He could discern, faint on the far-off horizon, the shadowy forms of
the gigantic mushrooms which he knew, and on the level plain which
reached the sea beach, but not so far off as the mushrooms, he could
plainly see the huge green caterpillars moving slowly and lazily in an
endless herd. The sea was breaking on the sand with a faint moan. But
almost at once he became aware of another sound, which came he knew
not whence, and which was familiar to him. It was a low whistling
noise, and it seemed to come from the sky.
At that moment Fletcher was seized by an unaccountable panic. He was
afraid of something; he did not know what it was, but he knew, he felt
absolutely certain, that some danger, no vague calamity, no distant
misfortune, but some definite physical danger was hanging over him and
quite close to him--something from which it would be necessary to run
away, and to run fast in order to save his life. And yet there was no
sign of danger visible, for in front of him was the motionless oily
sea, and behind him was the empty and silent plain. It was then he
noticed that the caterpillars were fast disappearing, as if into the
earth: he was too far off to make out how.
He began to run along the coast. He ran as fast as he could, but he
dared not look round. He ran back from the coast to the plain, from
which a white mist was rising. By this time every single caterpillar
had disappeared. The whistling noise continued and grew louder.
At last he reached the wood and bounded on, trampling down long
trailing grasses and tangled weeds through the thick, muggy gloom of
those endless aisles of jungle. He came to a somewhat open space where
there was the trunk of a tree larger than the others; it stood by
itself and disappeared into the tangle of creepers above. He thought
he would climb the tree, but the trunk was too wide, and his efforts
failed. He stood by the tree trembling and panting with fear. He could
not hear a sound, but he felt that the danger, whatever it was, was at
It grew darker and darker. It was night in the forest. He stood
paralysed with terror; he felt as though bound hand and foot, but
there was nothing to be done except to wait until his invisible enemy
should choose to inflict his will on him and achieve his doom. And yet
the agony of this suspense was so terrible that he felt that if it
lasted much longer something must inevitably break inside him . . .
and just as he was thinking that eternity could not be so long as the
moments he was passing through, a blessed unconsciousness came over
him. He woke from this state to find himself face to face with one of
the office messengers, who said to him that he had been given his
number two or three times but had taken no notice of it.
Fletcher executed his commission and then went upstairs to his office.
His fellow-clerks at once asked what had happened to him, for he was
looking white. He said that he had a headache and was not feeling
quite himself, but made no further explanations.
This last experience changed the whole tenor of his life. When fits of
abstraction had occurred to him before he had not troubled about them,
and after his first strange experience he had felt only vaguely
interested; but now it was a different matter. He was consumed with
dread lest the thing should occur again. He did not want to get back
to that green world and that oily sea; he did not want to hear the
whistling noise, and to be pursued by an invisible enemy. So much did
the dread of this weigh on him that he refused to go to the telephone
lest the act of telephoning should set alight in his mind the train of
associations and bring his thoughts back to his dreadful experience.
Shortly after this he went for leave, and following the doctor's
advice he spent it by the sea. During all this time he was perfectly
well, and was not once troubled by his curious fits. He returned to
London in the autumn refreshed and well.
On the first day that he went to the office a friend of his telephoned
to him. When he was told that the line was being held for him he
hesitated, but at last he went down to the telephone office.
He remained away twenty minutes. Finally his prolonged absence was
noticed, and he was sent for. He was found in the telephone room stiff
and unconscious, having fallen forward on the telephone desk. His face
was quite white, and his eyes wide open and glazed with an expression
of piteous and harrowing terror. When they tried to revive him their
efforts were in vain. A doctor was sent for, and he said that Fletcher
had died of heart disease.
Before the bell had time to sound the alarm a huge pillar of smoke and
flame, leaping high in the breathless August night, told the whole
village the news of the fire. Men, women, and children hurried to the
burning place. The firemen galloped down the rutty road with their
barrels of water and hand-pumps, yelling. The bell rang, with hurried,
throbbing beats. The fire, which was further off than it seemed to be
at first sight, was in the middle of the village. Two houses were
burning--a house built of bricks and a wooden cottage. The flame was
prodigious: it soared into the sky like the eruption of a volcano, and
the wooden cottage, with its flat logs and blazing roof, looked like a
sacrificial pyre consuming the body of some warrior or Viking. In the
light of the flames the soft sky, which was starless and flooded with
stillness by the large full moon, had turned from blue to green. A
dense crowd had gathered round the burning houses.
The firemen, working like bees, were doing what they could to
extinguish the flames and to prevent the fire spreading. Volunteers
from the crowd helped them. One man climbed up on the edge of the
wooden house, where the flames had been overcome, and shovelled earth
from the roof on the little flames, which were leaping like earth
spirits from the ground. His wife stood below and called on him in
forcible language to descend from such a dangerous place. The crowd
jeered at her fears, and she spoke her mind to them in frank and
unvarnished terms. It was St. John the Baptist's Day. Some of the men
had been celebrating the feast by drinking. One of them, out of the
fulness of his heart, cried out: "Oh, how happy I am! I'm drunk, and
there's a fire, and all at the same time!" But most of the crowd--they
looked like black shadows against the glare--looked on quietly, every
now and then making comments on the situation. One of the peasants
tried to knock down the burning house with an axe. He failed. Someone
not far off was playing an accordion and singing a monotonous
Amidst the shifting crowd of shadows I noticed a strange figure, who
beckoned to me. "I see you are short-sighted," he said, "let me lend
you a glass." His voice sounded thin and distant, and he handed me a
piece of glass which seemed to be more opaque than transparent. I
looked through it and I noticed a difference in things:
The cottages had disappeared; in their place were great high buildings
with lofty porticos, broad columns and carved friezes, but flames were
leaping round them, intenser and greater than before, and the noise of
the fire had increased. In front of me was an open court, in the
centre of which was an altar, and to the right of this altar stood an
old bay-tree. An old man and a grey-haired woman were clinging to this
altar; it was drenched with blood, and on the steps of it lay several
bodies of young men clothed in armour, but squalid with dust and
I had scarcely become aware of the scene before a great cloud of smoke
passed through the court, and when it rose I saw there had been
another change: in that few moments' space the fire seemed to have
wrought incredible havoc. Nothing was left of all the tall pillared
buildings, the friezes and the porticos, the altar, the bay-tree and
the bodies--nothing but the pile of logs which vomited a rolling cloud
of flame and smoke into the sky. The moon was still shining calmly,
and the sky was softer and greener. On the ground there were hundreds
of dead and dying men; the dying were groaning in their agony. Far
away on the horizon there was a thin line of light, a faint trembling
thread as though of foam, and I seemed to hear the moaning of the sea.
All at once a woman walked in front of the burning pile. She was tall,
and silken folds clothed the perfect lines of her body and fell
straight to the ground. She walked royally, and when she moved her
gestures were like the rhythm of majestic music. The firelight shone
on her hair, which was bound with a narrow golden band. Her hair was
like a cloud of spun sunshine, and it seemed brighter than the flames.
She was walking with downcast eyes, but presently she looked up. Her
face was calm, and faultless as skilfully-hewn marble, and it seemed
to be made of some substance different from the clay which goes to the
making of men and women. It was not an angel's face; it was not a
divine face; neither was it a wicked face, nor had it anything cruel,
nor anything of the siren or the witch. Love and pleasure seemed to
have moulded the flower-like lips; but an infinite carelessness shone
in the still blue eyes. They seemed like two seas that had never known
what winds and tempests mean, but which bask for ever under unruffled
skies lulled by a slumber-scented breeze.
She looked up at the fire and smiled, and at that smile one thought
the heavens must open and the stars break into song, so marvellous was
its loveliness, so infinitely radiant the glory of it. She was a
woman, and yet more than a woman, a creature of the earth, yet
fashioned of pearls and dew and the petals of flowers: delicate as a
gossamer, and yet radiant with the flush of life, soft as the
twilight, and glowing with the blood of the ruby; and, above all
things, serene, calm, aloof, and unruffled like the silver moon. When
the dying men saw her smile they raised their eyes towards her, and
one could see that there shone in them a strange and wonderful
happiness. And when they had looked they fell back and died.
Then a cloud of smoke blinded me. When it rose the full moon was still
shining in a sky even bluer and softer than it had yet been. The fire
was further off, but it had spread. The whole village was on fire; but
the village had grown; it seemed endless, and covered several hills.
Right in front of me was a grove of cypresses, dark against the
intense glow of the flames, which leapt all round in the distance: a
huge circle of light, a chain of fiery tongues and dancing lightnings.
We were on the top of a hill, and we looked down into a place where
tall buildings and temples stood, where the fire had not penetrated.
This place was crowded with men, women and children. It was the same
shifting crowd of shadows: some shouting, some gesticulating, some
looking on indifferent. And straight in front of me was a short, dark,
and rather fat man with a low forehead, deep-set eyes, and a heavy
jaw. He was crowned with a golden wreath, and he was twanging a kind
of harp. In the distance suddenly the cypress trees became alive with
huge flaring torches, which lit the garden like Bengal lights. The man
threw down his harp and clapped his hands in ecstasy at the bright
fireworks. Again a cloud of smoke obscured everything.
When it lifted I was in the village once more, and once more it was
different. It was on fire, and it seemed infinitely larger and more
straggling than when I had arrived. The moon was still in the sky, but
the air had a chilly touch. Instead of one church there was an
infinite number of churches, for in the glare countless minarets and
small cupolas were visible. There was no crowd, no voices, and no
shouting; only a long line of low, blazing wooden houses. The place
was deserted and silent save for the crackling blaze. Then down the
street a short, fat man on horseback rode towards us. He was riding a
white horse. He wore a grey overcoat and a cocked hat. I became aware
of a rhythmical tramping: a noise of hundreds and hundreds of hoofs, a
champing of bits, and the tramp of innumerable feet and the rumble of
guns. In the distance there was a hill with crenelated battlements
round it; it was crowned with the domes and minarets of several
churches, taller and greater than all the other churches in sight.
These minarets shone out clean-cut and distinct against the ruddy sky.
The short man on horseback looked back for a moment at this hill. He
took a pinch of snuff.
When the ancient gods were turned out of Olympus, and the groan of
dying Pan shook the world like an earthquake, none of the fallen
deities was so disconsolate as Proserpine. She wandered across the
world, assuming now this shape and now that, but nowhere could she
find a resting-place or a home. In the Southern country which she
regarded as her own, whatever shape or disguise she assumed, whether
that of a gleaner or of an old woman begging for alms, the country
people would scent something uncanny about her and chase her from the
place. Thus it was that she left the Southern country, which she
loved; she said farewell to the azure skies, the hills covered with
corn and fringed everywhere with rose bushes, the white oxen, the
cypress, the olive, the vine, the croaking frogs, and the million
fireflies; and she sought the green pastures and the woods of a
One evening, not long after her arrival (it was Midsummer Eve), as she
was wandering in a thick wood, she noticed that the trees and the
under-growth were twinkling with a myriad soft flames which reminded
her of the fireflies of her own country, and presently she perceived
that these flames were stars which, soft as dew and bright as
moonbeams, formed the diadems crowning the hair of unearthly shapes.
These shapes were like those of men and maidens, transfigured and
rendered strange and delicate, as light as foam, and radiant as
dragonflies hovering over a pool. They were rimmed with rainbow-
coloured films, and sometimes they flew and sometimes they danced, but
they rarely seemed to touch the ground. And as Proserpine approached
them, in the sad majesty of her fallen divinity, they gathered round
her in a circle and bowed down before her. And one of them, taller
than the rest, advanced towards her and said:--
"We are the Fairies, and for a long time we have been mournful, for we
have lost our Queen, our beautiful Queen. She loved a mortal, and on
this account she was banished from Fairyland, nor may she ever revisit
the haunt and the kingdom that were hers. But Merlin, the oldest and
the wisest of the wizards, told us we should find another Queen, and
that we should know her by the poppies in her hair, the whiteness of
her brow, and the stillness of her eyes, and with or without such
tokens we should know, as soon as we set eyes on her, that it was she
and no other who was to be our Queen. And now we know that it was you
and no other. Therefore shall you be our Queen and rule over us until
he comes who, Merlin said, shall conquer your kingdom and deliver its
secrets to the mortal world. Then shall you abandon the kingdom of the
Fairies--the everlasting Limbo shall receive you."
* * * * *
It was one summer's day a long time ago, many and many years after
Proserpine had become Queen of the Fairies, that a butcher's
apprentice called William was enjoying a holiday, and strolling in the
woods with no other purpose than to stroll and enjoy the fresh air and
the cool leaves and the song of the birds. William loved the sights
and sounds of the country; unlike many boys of his age, he was not
deeply versed in the habits of birds and beasts, but devoted his spare
time to reading such books as he could borrow from the village
schoolmaster whose school he had lately left to go into trade, or to
taking part in the games of his companions, for he loved human
fellowship and the talk and laughter of his fellow-creatures.
The day was hot--it was Midsummer Day--and William, having stumbled on
a convenient mound, fell asleep. And he dreamt a curious dream. He
thought he saw a beautiful maiden walking towards him. She was tall,
and clothed in dark draperies, and her hair was bound with a coronal
of scarlet flowers, her face was pale and lustrous, and he could not
see her eyes because they were veiled. She approached him and said:--
"You are he who has been chosen to try to conquer my kingdom, which is
faery, and to possess it: if, indeed, you are able to endure the
fierce ordeal and to perform the three dreadful tasks which have been
appointed. If he who sets out to conquer my kingdom should fail in any
one of the three tasks he dies, and the world hears of him no more.
Many have tried and failed."
And William said he would try with all his might to conquer the faery
kingdom, and he asked what the three tasks might be.
The maiden, who was none other than Proserpine, Queen of the Fairies,
told him that the first task was to pluck the crystal apple from the
laughing tree, and second to pluck the blood-red rose from the fiery
rose tree, and the third to cull the white poppy from the quiet
fields. William asked her how he was to set about these tasks.
Proserpine told him that he had but to accept the quest and all would
be made clear. So he accepted the quest without further talk.
Immediately Proserpine vanished, and William found himself in a large
green garden of fruit trees, and in the distance he heard the noise of
rippling laughter. He walked along many paths to the place whence he
thought the laughter came, until he found a large fruit tree which
grew by itself. It was laden with fruit, and from one of its boughs
hung a crystal apple which shone with all the colours of the rainbow.
But the tree was guarded by a hideous old hag, covered with sores and
leprous scales, loathsome to behold. And a laughing voice came from
the tree saying: "He who would pluck the crystal apple must embrace
its guardian." And William looked at her and felt no loathing but
rather a deep pity, so that tears welled in his eyes and dropped on
her, and he took her face in his hands to embrace her, and as he did
so she changed into a beautiful maiden with veiled eyes, who plucked
the crystal apple from the tree and gave it to him and vanished.
Then the garden changed its semblance, and all around him there seemed
to be a hedge of smoking thorns and before him a fiery tree on which
blood-red roses shone like rubies. The tree was guarded by a maiden
with long grey eyes and flowing hair, and of spun moonshine, beautiful
exceedingly, and a moaning voice came from the tree, saying: "He who
would pluck the rose must slay its guardian." On the grass beneath the
tree lay an unsheathed sword. William took the sword in his hands, but
the maiden looked at him piteously and wept, so that he hesitated;
then, hardening himself, he plunged the sword into her heart and a
great moan was heard, and the fire disappeared, and only a withered
rose-tree stood before him. Then he heard the voice say that he must
pierce his own heart with a thorn from the tree and let the blood fall
upon its roots. This he did, and as he did so he felt the sharpness of
Death, as though the last dreadful moment had come; but as the drops
of blood fell on the roots the beautiful maiden with veiled eyes, whom
he had seen before stood before him and gave him the blood-red rose,
and she touched his wound and straightway it was healed.
Then the garden vanished altogether, and he stood before a dark porch
and a gate beyond which he caught a pale glimmer. And by the porch
stood a terrible shape: a hooded skeleton bearing a scythe, with white
sockets of fire which had no eyes in them but which were so terrible
that no mortal could look on them and live. And here he heard a voice
saying: "He who would cull the white poppy must look into the eyes of
its guardian and take the scythe from the bony hands." And William
seized the scythe and an icy darkness descended upon him, and he felt
dizzy and faint; yet he persisted and wrestled with the skeleton,
although the darkness seemed to be overwhelming him. He tore the hood
from the bony head and looked boldly into the fiery sockets.
Then with a crash of thunder the skeleton vanished, and the maiden
with veiled eyes led him through the gate into the quiet fields, and
there he culled the white poppy. Then the maiden turned to him and
unveiled herself, and it was Proserpine, the Queen of the Fairies.
"You have conquered," she said, "and the faery kingdom is yours for
ever, and you shall visit it and dwell in it whenever you desire, and
reveal its sounds and its sights to the mortals of the world: and in
my kingdom you shall see, as though in a mirror, the pageant of
mankind, the scroll of history, and the story of man which is writ in
brave, golden and glowing letters, of blood and tears and fire. And
there is nothing in the soul of man that shall be hid from you; and
you shall speak the secrets of my kingdom to mortal men with a voice
of gold and of honey. And when you grow weary of life you shall
withdraw for ever into the island of faery voices which lies in the
heart of my kingdom. And as for me I go to the everlasting Limbo."
Then Proserpine vanished, and William awoke from his dream, and went
home to his butcher's shop.
Soon after this he left his native village and went to London, where
he became well known; although how his surname shall be spelt is a
matter of dispute, some spelling it Shakespeare, some Shakespere, and
Ferroll was an intellectual, and he prided himself on the fact. At
Cambridge he had narrowly missed being a Senior Wrangler, and his
principal study there had been Lunar Theory. But when he went down
from Cambridge for good, being a man of some means, he travelled. For
a year he was an honorary Attache at one of the big Embassies. He
finally settled in London with a vague idea of some day writing a
/magnum opus/ about the stupidity of mankind; for he had come to the
conclusion by the age of twenty-five that all men were stupid,
irreclaimably, irredeemably stupid; that everything was wrong; that
all literature was really bad, all art much overrated, and all music
tedious in the long run.
The years slipped by and he never began his /magnum opus/; he joined a
literary club instead and discussed the current topic of the day.
Sometimes he wrote a short article; never in the daily Press, which he
despised, nor in the reviews (for he never wrote anything as long as a
magazine article), but in a literary weekly he would express in weary
and polished phrases the unemphatic boredom or the mitigated approval
with which the works of his fellow-men inspired him. He was the kind
of man who had nothing in him you could positively dislike, but to
whom you could not talk for five minutes without having a vague
sensation of blight. Things seemed to shrivel up in his presence as
though they had been touched by an insidious east wind, a subtle
frost, a secret chill. He never praised anything, though he sometimes
condescended to approve. The faint puffs of blame in which he more
generally indulged were never sharp or heavy, but were like the smoke
rings of a cigarette which a man indolently smoking blows from time to
time up to the ceiling.
He lived in rooms in the Temple. They were comfortably, not
luxuriously furnished; a great many French books--French was the only
modern language worth reading he used to say--a few modern German
etchings, a low Turkish divan, and some Egyptian antiquities, made up
the furniture of his two sitting-rooms. Above all things he despised
Greek art; it was, he said decadent. The Egyptians and the Germans
were, in his opinion, the only people who knew anything about the
plastic arts, whereas the only music he could endure was that of the
modern French School. Over his chimney-piece there was a large German
landscape in oils, called "Im Walde"; it represented a wood at
twilight in the autumn, and if you looked at it carefully and for a
long time you saw that the objects depicted were meant to be trees
from which the leaves were falling; but if you looked at the picture
carelessly and from a distance, it looked like a man-of-war on a rough
sea, for which it was frequently taken, much to Ferrol's annoyance.
One day an artist friend of his presented him with a small Chinese god
made of crystal; he put this on his chimney-piece. It was on the
evening of the day on which he received this gift that he dined,
together with a friend named Sledge who had travelled much in Eastern
countries, at his club. After dinner they went to Ferrol's rooms to
smoke and to talk. He wanted to show Sledge his antiquities, which
consisted of three large Egyptian statuettes, a small green Egyptian
god, and the Chinese idol which he had lately been given. Sledge, who
was a middle-aged, bearded man, frank and unconventional, examined the
antiquities with care, pronounced them to be genuine, and singled out
for special praise the crystal god.
"Your things are very good," he said, "very good. But don't you really
mind having all these things about you?"
"Why should I mind?" asked Ferrol.
"Well, you have travelled a good deal, haven't you?"
"Yes," said Ferrol, "I have travelled; I have been as far east as
Nijni-Novgorod to see the Fair, and as far west as Lisbon."
"I suppose," said Sledge, "you were a long time in Greece and Italy?"
"No," said Ferrol, "I have never been to Greece. Greek art distresses
me. All classical art is a mistake and a superstition."
"Talking of superstition," said Sledge, "you have never been to the
Far East, have you?"
"No," Ferrol answered, "Egypt is Eastern enough for me, and cannot be
"Well," said Sledge, "I have been in the Far East. I have lived there
many years. I am not a superstitious man; but there is one thing I
would not do in any circumstances whatsoever, and that is to keep in
my sitting-room the things you have got there."
"But why?" asked Ferrol.
"Well," said Sledge, "nearly all of them have come from the tombs of
the dead, and some of them are gods. Such things may have attached to
them heaven knows what spooks and spirits."
Ferrol shut his eyes and smiled, a faint, seraphic smile. "My dear
boy," he said, "you forget. This is the Twentieth Century."
"And you," answered Sledge, "forget that the things you have here were
made before the Twentieth Century. B.C."
"You don't seriously mean," said Ferrol, "that you attach any
importance to these--" he hesitated.
"Children's stories?" suggested Sledge.
"I have lived long enough in the East," said Sledge, "to know that the
sooner you learn to believe children's stories the better."
"I am afraid, then," said Ferrol, with civil tolerance, "that our
points of view are too different for us to discuss the matter." And
they talked of other things until late into the night.
Just as Sledge was leaving Ferrol's rooms and had said "Good-night,"
he paused by the chimney-piece, and, pointing to the tiny Ikon which
was lying on it, asked: "What is that?"
"Oh, that's nothing," said Ferrol, "only a small Ikon I bought for
twopence at the Fair of Nijni-Novgorod."
Sledge said "Good-night" again, but when he was on the stairs he
called back: "In any case remember one thing, that East is East and
West is West. Don't mix your deities."
Ferrol had not the slightest idea what he was alluding to, nor did he
care. He dismissed the matter from his mind.
The next day he spent in the country, returning to London late in the
evening. As he entered his rooms the first thing which met his eye was
that his great picture, "Im Walde," which he considered to be one of
the few products of modern art that a man who respected himself could
look at without positive pain in the eyes, had fallen from its place
over the chimney-piece to the floor in front of the fender, and the
glass was shattered into a thousand fragments. He was much vexed. He
sought the cause of the accident. The nail was a strong one, and it
was still in its place. The picture had been hung by a wire; the wire
seemed strong also and was not broken. He concluded that the picture
must have been badly balanced and that a sudden shock such a door
banging had thrown it over. He had no servant in his rooms, and when
he had gone out that morning he had locked the door, so no one could
have entered his rooms during his absence.
Next morning he sent for a framemaker and told him to mend the frame
as soon as possible, to make the wire strong, and to see that the
picture was firmly fixed on the wall. In two or three days' time the
picture returned and was once more hung on the wall over the chimney-
piece immediately above the little crystal Chinese god. Ferrol
supervised the hanging of the picture in person. He saw that the nail
was strong, and firmly fixed in the wall; he took care that the wire
left nothing to be desired and was properly attached to the rings of
The picture was hung early one morning. That day he went to play golf.
He returned at five o'clock, and again the first thing which met his
eye was the picture. It had again fallen down, and this time it had
brought with it in its fall the small Chinese god, which was broken in
two. The glass had again been shattered to bits, and the picture
itself was somewhat damaged. Everything else on the chimney-piece,
that is to say, a few matchboxes and two candle-sticks, had also been
thrown to the ground--everything with the exception of the little Ikon
he had bought at Nijni-Novgorod, a small object about two inches
square on which two Saints were pictured. This still rested in its
place against the wall.
Ferrol investigated the disaster. The nail was in its place in the
wall; the wire at the back of the picture was not broken or damaged in
any way. The accident seemed to him quite inexplicable. He was greatly
annoyed. The Chinese god was a valuable thing. He stood in front of
the chimney-piece contemplating the damage with a sense of great
"To think that everything should have been broken except this beastly
little Ikon!" he said to himself. "I wonder whether that was what
Sledge meant when he said I should not mix my deities."
Next morning he sent again for the framemaker, and abused him roundly.
The framemaker said he could not understand how the accident had
happened. The nail was an excellent nail, the picture, Mr. Ferrol must
admit, had been hung with great care before his very eyes and under
his own direct and personal supervision. What more could be done?"
"It's something to do with the balance," said Ferrol. "I told you that
before. The picture is half spoiled now."
The framemaker said the damage would not show once the glass was
repaired, and took the picture away again to mend it. A few days later
it was brought back. Two men came to fix it this time; steps were
brought and the hanging lasted about twenty minutes. Nails were put
under the picture; it was hung by a double wire. All accidents in the
future seemed guarded against.
The following morning Ferrol telephoned to Sledge and asked him to
dine with him. Sledge was engaged to dine out that evening, but said
that he would look in at the Temple late after dinner.
Ferrol dined alone at the Club; he reached his rooms about half-past
nine; he made up a blazing fire and drew an armchair near it. He lit a
cigarette, made some Turkish coffee, and took down a French novel.
Every now and then he looked up at his picture. No damage was visible;
it looked, he thought, as well as ever. In the place of the Chinese
idol he had put his little green Egyptian god on the chimney-piece.
The candlesticks and the Ikon were still in their places.
"After all," thought Ferrol, "I did wrong to have any Chinese art in
the place at all. Egyptian things are the only things worth having. It
is a lesson to me not to dabble with things out of my period."
After he had read for about a quarter of an hour he fell into a doze.
* * * * *
Sledge arrived at the rooms about half-past ten, and an ugly sight met
his eyes. There had been an accident. The picture over the chimney-
piece had fallen down right on Ferrol. His face was badly cut. They
put Ferrol to bed, and his wounds were seen to and everything that was
necessary was done. A nurse was sent for to look after him, and Sledge
decided to stay in the house all night. After all the arrangements had
been made, the doctor, before he went away, said to Sledge: "He will
recover all right, he is not in the slightest danger; but I don't know
who is to break the news to him."
"What is that?" asked Sledge.
"He will be quite blind," said the doctor.
Then the doctor went away, and Sledge sat down in front of the fire.
The broken glass had been swept up. The picture had been placed on the
Oriental divan, and as Sledge looked at the chimney-piece he noticed
that the little Ikon was still in its place. Something caught his eye
just under the low fender in front of the fireplace. He bent forward
and picked up the object.
It was Ferrol's green Egyptian god, which had been broken into two
To Jack Gordon
Hart Minor and Smith were behind-hand with their sums. It was Hart
Minor's first term: Smith had already been one term at school. They
were in the fourth division at St. James's. A certain number of sums
in short division had to be finished. Hart Minor and Smith got up
early to finish these sums before breakfast, which was at half-past
seven. Hart Minor divided slowly, and Smith reckoned quickly. Smith
finished his sums with ease. When half-past seven struck, Hart Minor
had finished four of them and there was still a fifth left: 3888 had
to be divided by 36; short division had to be employed. Hart Minor was
busily trying to divide 3888 by 4 and by 9; he had got as far as
saying, "Four's into 38 will go six times and two over; four's into
twenty-eight go seven times; four's into eight go twice." He was
beginning to divide 672 by 9, an impossible task, when the breakfast
bell rang, and Smith said to him: "Come on!"
"I can't," said Hart Minor, "I haven't finished my sum."
Smith glanced at his page and said: "Oh that's all right, don't you
see? The answer's 108."
Hart Minor wrote down 108 and put a large R next to the sum, which
The boys went in to breakfast. After breakfast they returned to the
fourth division schoolroom, where they were to be instructed in
arithmetic for an hour by Mr. Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead called for the
sums. He glanced through Smith's and found them correct, and then
through Hart Minor's. His attention was arrested by the last division.
"What's this?" he demanded. "Four's into thirty-eight don't go six
times. You've got the right answer and the wrong working. What does
this mean?" And Mr. Whitehead bit his knuckles savagely. "Somebody,"
he said, "has been helping you."
Hart Minor owned that he had received help from Smith. Mr. Whitehead
shook him violently, and said, "Do you know what this means?"
Hart Minor had no sort of idea as to the inner significance of his
act, except that he had finished his sums.
"It means," said Mr. Whitehead, "that you're a cheat and a thief:
you've been stealing marks. For the present you can stand on the stool
of penitence and I'll see what is to be done with you later."
The stool of penitence was a high, three-cornered stool, very narrow
at the top. When boys in this division misbehaved themselves they had
to stand on it during the rest of the lesson in the middle of the
Hart Minor fetched the stool of penitence and climbed up on it. It
After the lesson, which was punctuated throughout by Mr. Whitehead
with bitter comments on the enormity of theft, the boys went to
chapel. Smith and Hart were in the choir: they wore white surplices
which were put on in the vestry. Hart Minor, who knew that he was in
for a terrific row of some kind, thought he observed something unusual
in the conduct of the masters who were assembled in the vestry. They
were all tittering. Mr. Whitehead seemed to be convulsed with
uncontrollable laughter. The choir walked up the aisle. Hart Minor
noticed that all the boys in the school, and the servants who sat
behind them, and the master's wife who sat in front, and the organist
who played the harmonium, were all staring at him with unwonted
interest; the boys were nudging each other: he could not understand
When the service, which lasted twenty minutes, was over, and the boys
came out of chapel, Hart Minor was the centre of a jeering crowd of
boys. He asked Smith what the cause of this was, and Smith confessed
to him that before going into chapel Mr. Whitehead had pinned on his
back a large sheet of paper with "Cheat" written on it, and had only
removed it just before the procession walked up the aisle, hence the
interest aroused. But, contrary to his expectation, nothing further
occurred; none of the masters alluded to his misdemeanour, and Hart
Minor almost thought that the incident was closed--almost, and yet
really not at all; he tried to delude himself into thinking the affair
would blow over, but all the while at the bottom of his heart sat a
Every Monday there was in this school what was called "reading over."
The boys all assembled in the library and the Head Master, standing in
front of his tall desk, summoned each division before him in turn. The
marks of the week were read out and the boys took places, moving
either up or down according to their marks; so that a boy who was at
the top of his division one week might find himself at the bottom the
next week, and vice versa.
On the Sunday after the incident recorded, the boys of the fourth
division were sitting in their schoolroom before luncheon, in order to
write their weekly letter home. This was the rule of the school. Mr.
Whitehead sat at his desk and talked in a friendly manner to the boys.
He was writing his weekly report in the large black report book that
was used for reading over. Mr. Whitehead was talking in a chaffing way
as to who was his favourite boy.
"You can tell your people," he said to Hart Minor, "that my favourite
is old Polly." Polly was Hart Minor's nickname, which was given to him
owing to his resemblance to a parrot. Hart Minor was much pleased at
this friendly attitude, and began to think that the unpleasant
incident of the week had been really forgotten and that the misgiving
which haunted him night and day was a foolish delusion.
"We shall soon be writing the half-term reports," said Mr. Whitehead.
"You've all been doing well, especially old Polly: you can put that in
your letter," he said to Hart Minor. "I'm very much pleased with you,"
and he chuckled.
On Monday morning at eleven o'clock was reading over. When the fourth
division were called up, the Head Master paused, looked down the page,
then at the boys, then at the book once more; then he frowned. There
was a second pause, then he read out in icy tones:--
"I'm sorry to say that Smith and Hart Minor have been found guilty of
gross dishonesty; they combined--in fact they entered into a
conspiracy, to cheat, to steal marks and obtain by unfair means, a
higher place and an advantage which was not due to them."
The Head Master paused. "Hart Minor and Smith," he continued, "go to
the bottom of the division. Smith," he added, "I'm astounded at you.
Your conduct in this affair is inexplicable. If it were not for your
previous record and good conduct, I should have you severely flogged;
and if Hart Minor were not a new boy, I should treat him in the same
way and have him turned out of the choir. (The choir had special
privileges.) As it is, you shall lose, each of you, 200 marks, and I
shall report the whole matter in detail to your parents in your half-
term report, and if anything of the sort ever occurs again, you shall
be severely punished. You have been guilty of an act for which, were
you not schoolboys, but grown up, you would be put in prison. It is
this kind of thing that leads people to penal servitude."
After the reading over was finished and the lessons that followed
immediately on it, and the boys went out to wash their hands for
luncheon, the boys of the second division crowded round Hart Minor and
asked him how he could have perpetrated such a horrible and daring
crime. The matter, however, was soon forgotten by the boys, but Hart
Minor had not heard the last of it. On the following Sunday in chapel,
at the evening service, the Head Master preached a sermon. He chose as
his text "Thou shalt not steal!" The eyes of the whole school were
fixed on Smith and Hart Minor. The Head Master pointed out in his
discourse that one might think at first sight that boys at a school
might not have the opportunity to violate the tremendous Commandments;
but, he said, this was not so. The Commandments were as much a living
actuality in school life as they were in the larger world. Coming
events cast their shadows before them; the child was the father of the
man; what a boy was at school, such would he be in after life. Theft,
the boys perhaps thought, was not a sin which immediately concerned
them. But there were things which were morally the same if not worse
than the actual theft of material and tangible objects--dishonesty in
the matter of marks, for instance, and cheating in order to gain an
undue advantage over one's fellow-schoolboys. A boy who was guilty of
such an act at school would probably end by being a criminal when he
went out into the larger world. The seeds of depravity were already
sown; the tree whose early shoots were thus blemished would probably
be found to be rotten when it grew up; and for such trees and for such
noxious growths there could only be one fate--to be cut down and cast
into the unquenchable fire!
In Hart Minor's half-term report, which was sent home to his parents,
it was stated that he had been found guilty of the meanest and
grossest dishonesty, and that should it occur again he would be first
punished and finally expelled.
He had long ago retired from public life, and in his Tuscan villa,
where he now lived quite alone, seldom seeing his friends, he never
regretted the strenuous days of his activity. He had done his work
well; he had been more than a competent public servant; as Pro-Consul
he proved a pillar of strength to the State, a man whose name at one
time was on men's lips as having left plenty where he had found
dearth, and order and justice where corruption, oppression, and
anarchy, had once run riot. His retirement had been somewhat of a
surprise to his friends, for although he was ripe in years, his mental
powers were undiminished and his body was active and vigorous. But his
withdrawal from public life was due not so much to fatigue or to a
longing for leisure as to a lack of sympathy, which he felt to be
growing stronger and stronger as the years went by, with the manners
and customs, the mode of thought, and the manner of living of the new
world and the new generation which was growing up around him. Nurtured
as he had been in the old school and the strong traditions which
taught an austere simplicity of life, a contempt for luxury and show,
he was bewildered and saddened by the rapid growth of riches, the
shameless worship of wealth, the unrestrained passion for amusement at
all costs, the thirst for new sensations, and the ostentatious airs of
the youth of the day, who seemed to be born disillusioned and whose
palates were jaded before they knew the taste of food. He found much
to console him in literature, not only in the literature of the past
but in the literature of his day, but here again he was beset with
misgivings and haunted by forebodings. He felt that the State had
reached its zenith both in material prosperity and intellectual
achievement, and that all the future held in reserve was decline and
decay. This thought was ever present with him; in the vast extension
of empire he foresaw the inevitable disintegration, and he wondered in
a melancholy fashion what would be the fate of mankind when the
Empire, dismembered and rotten, should become the prey of the
It was in the winter of the second year after his retirement that his
melancholy increased to a pitch of almost intolerable heaviness. That
winter was an extraordinarily mild one, and even during the coldest
month he strolled every evening after he had supped on the terrace
walk which was before the portico. He was strolling one night on the
terrace pondering on the fate of mankind, and more especially on the
life--if there was such a thing--beyond the grave. He was not a
superstitious man, but, saturated with tradition, he was a scrupulous
observer of religious feast, custom, and ritual. He had lately been
disturbed by what he considered to be an ill-favoured omen. One night
--it was twelve nights ago he reckoned--the statues of Pan and Apollo,
standing in his dining-room, which was at the end of the portico, had
fallen to the ground without any apparent cause and had been shattered
into fragments. And it had seemed to him that the crash of this
accident was immediately followed by a low and prolonged wail, which
appeared to come from nowhere in particular and yet to fill the world;
the noise of the moan had seemed to be quite close to him, and as it
died away its echo had seemed to be miles and miles distant. He
thought it had been a hallucination, but that same night a still
stranger thing happened. After the accident, which had wakened the
whole household, he had been unable to go to sleep again and he had
gone from his sleeping chamber into an adjoining room, and, lighting a
lamp, had taken down and read out of the "Iliad" of Homer. After he
had been reading for about half an hour he heard a voice calling him
very distinctly by his name, but as soon as the sound had ceased he
was not quite certain whether he had heard it or not. At that moment
one of his slaves, who had been born in the East, entered the room and
asked him what he required, saying that he had heard his master
calling loudly. What these signs and portents signified he had no
idea; perhaps, he mused, they mean my own death, which is of no
consequence; or perhaps--which may the Fates forfend--some disaster to
an absent friend or even to the State. But so far--and twelve days had
passed since he had seen these strange manifestations--he had received
no news which confirmed his fears.
As he was thus musing he looked up at the sky, and he noticed the
presence of a new and unfamiliar star, which he had never seen before.
He was a close observer of the heavens and learned in astronomy, and
he felt quite certain that he had never seen this star before. It was
a star of peculiar radiance, large and white--almost blue in its
whiteness--it shone in the East, and seemed to put all the other stars
to shame by its overwhelming radiance and purity. While he was thus
gazing at the star it seemed to him as though a great darkness had
come upon the world. He heard a low muttering sound as of a distant
earthquake, and this was quickly followed by the tramping of
innumerable armies. He knew that the end had come. It is the
Barbarians, he thought, who have already conquered the world. Rome has
fallen never to rise again; Rome has shared the fate of Troy and
Carthage, of Babylon, and Memphis; Rome is a name in an old wife's
tale; and little savage children shall be given our holy trophies for
playthings, and shall use our ruined temples and our overthrown
palaces as their playground. And so sharp was the vividness of his
vision that he wondered what would happen to his villa, and whether or
no the Barbarians would destroy the image of Ceres on the terrace,
which he especially cherished, not for its beauty but because it had
belonged to his father and to his grandfather before him.
An eternity seemed to pass, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of the armies
of those untrained hordes which were coming from the North and
overrunning the world seemed to get nearer and nearer. He wondered
what they would do with him; he had no place for fear in his heart,
but he remembered that on the portico in the morning his freedman's
child had been playing with the pieces of a broken jar, a copper coin,
and a dog made of terra-cotta. He remembered the child's brown eyes
and curly hair, its smile, its laughter, and lisping talk--it was a
piece of earth and sun--and he thought of the spears of the
Barbarians, and then shifted his thoughts because they sickened him.
Then, just when he thought the heavy footsteps had reached the
approach of his villa, the vision changed. The noise of tramping
ceased, and through the thick darkness there pierced the radiance of
the star: the strange star he had seen that night. The world seemed to
awake from a dark slumber. The ruins rose from the dust and took once
more a stately shape, even lordlier than before. Rome had risen from
the dead, and once more she dominated the world like a starry diadem.
Before him he seemed to see the pillars and the portals of a huge
temple, more splendid and gorgeous than the Temples of Caesar. The
gates were wide open, and from within came a blare of trumpets. He saw
a kneeling multitude; and soldiers with shining breastplates, far
taller than the legionaries of Caesar, were keeping a way through the
dense crowd, while the figure of an aged man--was it the Pontifex
Maximus, he wondered?--was borne aloft in a chair over their heads.
Then once more the vision changed. At least the temple seemed to grow
wider, higher, and lighter; the crowd vanished; it seemed to him as
though a long corridor of light was opening on some ultimate and
mysterious doorway. At last this doorway was opened, and he saw
distinctly before him a dark and low manger where oxen and asses were
stalled. It was littered with straw. He could hear the peaceful beasts
munching their food.
In the corner lay a woman, and in her arms was a child and his face
shone like the sun and lit up the whole place, in which there were
neither torches nor lamps. The door of the manger was ajar, and
through it he saw the sky and the strange star still shining brightly.
He heard a voice, the same voice which he had heard twelve nights
before; but the voice was not calling him, it was singing a song, and
the song was as it were a part of a larger music, a symphony of clear
voices, more joyous and different from anything he had ever heard.
The vision vanished altogether; he was standing once more under the
portico amongst the surroundings which were familiar to him. The
strange star was still shining in the sky. He went back through the
folding-doors of the piazza into the dining-room. His gloom and his
perplexity had been lifted from him; he felt quite happy; he could not
have explained why. He called his slave and told him to get plenty of
provisions on the morrow, for he expected friends to dinner. He added
that he wanted nothing further and that the slaves could go to bed.
To Henry de C. Ward
His name was Chun Wa; possibly there was some more of it, but that is
all I can remember. He was about four or five years old, and I made
his acquaintance the day we arrived at the temple. It was at the end
of September. We had left Mukden in order to take part in what they
said was going to be a great battle. I don't know what the village was
called at which we arrived on the second day of our march. I can only
remember that it was a beautiful and deliciously quiet spot, and that
we established ourselves in a temple; that is to say not actually in
the temple itself, but in the house of the priest. He was a Buddhist
who looked after the deities of the place, which were made of carved
and painted wood, and lived in a small pagoda. The building consisted
of three quadrangles surrounded by a high stone wall. The first of
these quadrangles, which you entered from the road, reminded me of the
yard in front of any farm. There was a good deal of straw lying about,
some broken ploughshares, buckets, wooden bowls, spades, and other
implements of toil. A few hens hurried about searching for grains here
and there; a dog was sleeping in the sun. At the further end of the
yard a yellow cat seemed to have set aside a space for its exclusive
use. This farmyard was separated from the next quadrangle by the house
of the priest, which occupied the whole of the second enclosure; that
is to say the living rooms extended right round the quadrangle,
leaving a square and open space in the centre. The part of the house
which separated the second quadrangle from the next consisted solely
of a roof supported by pillars, making an open verandah, through which
from the second enclosure you saw into the third. The third enclosure
was a garden, consisting of a square grass plot and some cypress
trees. At the further end of the garden was the temple itself.
We arrived in the afternoon. We were met by an elderly man, the
priest, who put the place at our disposal and established us in the
rooms situated in the second quadrangle to the east and west. He
himself and his family lived in the part of the house which lay
between the farmyard and the second enclosure. The Cossacks of the
battery with which I was living encamped in a field on the other side
of the farmyard, but the treasure chest was placed in the farmyard
itself, and a sentry stood near it with a drawn sword.
The owner of the house had two sons. One of them, aged about thirteen,
had something to do with the temple services, and wore a kind of tunic
made of white silk. The second was Chun Wa. It was when the sentry
went on guard that we first made the acquaintance of Chun Wa. His
cheeks were round and fat, and his face seemed to bulge out towards
the base. His little eyes were soft and brown and twinkled like
onyxes. His tiny little hands were most beautifully shaped, and this
child moved about the farmyard with the dignity of an Emperor and the
serenity of a great Pontiff. Gravely and without a smile he watched
the Cossacks unharnessing their horses, lighting a fire and arranging
the officers' kit.
He walked up to the sentry who was standing near the treasure chest, a
big, grey-eyed Cossack with a great tuft of fair hair, and the
expression of a faithful retriever, and in a tone of indescribable
contempt, Chun Wa said "Ping!" "Ping" in Chinese means soldier-man,
and if you wish to express your contempt for a man there is no word in
the whole of the Chinese language which expresses it so fully and so
emphatically as the word "Ping."
The Cossack smiled on Chun Wa and called him by a long list of
endearing diminutives, but Chun Wa took no notice, and retired into
the inner part of the house as if he had determined to pay no more
attention to the barbarous intruders. The next day, however, curiosity
got the better of him, and he could not resist inspecting the yard,
and observing the doings of the foreign devils. And one of the
Cossacks--his name was Lieskov and he looked after my mule--made
friends with Chun Wa. He made friends with him by playing with the
dog. The dog, like most Chinese dogs, was dirty, distrustful, and not
used to being played with; he slunk away if you called him, and if you
took any notice of him he evidently expected to be beaten, kicked, or
to have stones thrown at him. He was too thin to be eaten. But Lieskov
tamed the dog and taught him how to play, and the big Cossack used to
roll on the ground while the dog pretended to bite him, until Chun Wa
forgot his dignity, his contempt, and his superior culture, and
smiled. I remember coming home that very afternoon from a short stroll
with one of the officers, and we found Lieskov lying fast asleep in
the farmyard right across the steps of the door through which we
wanted to go, and Chun Wa and the dog were sitting beside him. We woke
him up and the officer asked him why he had gone to sleep.
"I was playing with the dog, your honour," he said, "and I played so
hard that I was exhausted and fell asleep."
After that Chun Wa made friends with everybody, officers and men, and
he ruled the battery like an autocrat. He ruled by charm and a
thousand winning ways. But his special friend was Lieskov, who carried
the child about on his back, performed many droll antics to amuse him,
and taught him words of pidgin Russian. Among other things he made him
a kite--a large and beautiful kite--out of an old piece of yellow
silk, shaped like a butterfly. And Chun Wa's brother flew this kite
with wonderful skill, so that it looked like a glittering golden bird
hovering in the air.
I forget how long we stayed at this temple, whether it was three days
or four days; possibly it was not so long, but it seemed like many
months, or rather it seemed at the same time very long and very short,
like a pleasant dream. The weather was so soft and so fine, the
sunshine so bright, the air so still, that had not the nights been
chilly we should never have dreamt that it was autumn. It seemed
rather as though the spring had been unburied and had returned to the
earth by mistake. And all this time fighting was going on to the east
of us. The battle of Sha-Ho had begun, but we were in the reserve, in
what they called the deepest reserve, and we heard no sound of firing,
neither did we receive any news of it. We seemed to be sheltered from
the world in an island of dreamy lotus-eating; and the only noise that
reached us was the sound of the tinkling gongs of the temple. We lived
a life of absolute indolence, getting up with the sun, eating, playing
cards, strolling about on the plains where the millet had now been
reaped, eating again and going to bed about nine o'clock in the
evening. Our chief amusement was to talk with Chun Wa and to watch the
way in which he treated the Cossacks, who had become his humble
slaves. I am sure there was not one of the men who would not have died
gladly for Chun Wa.
One afternoon, just as we were finishing our midday meal, we received
orders to start. We were no longer in the reserve; we were needed
further on. Everything was packed up in a hurry, and by half-past two
the whole battery was on the march, and we left the lovely calm
temple, the cypress trees, the chiming gongs, and Chun Wa. The idyll
was over, the reality was about to begin. As we left the place Chun Wa
stood by the gate, dignified, and grave as usual. In one hand he held
his kite, and in the other a paper flower, and he gave this flower to
Next day we arrived at another village, and from there we were sent
still further on, to a place whence, from the hills, all the fighting
that was going on in the centre of that big battle was visible. From
half-past six in the morning until sunset the noise of the artillery
never ceased, and all night long there was a rattle of rifle firing.
The troops which were in front drew each day nearer to us. Another two
days passed; the battery took part in the action, some of the men were
killed, and some of the men and the officers were wounded, and we
retreated to the River Sha-Ho. Then just as we thought a final retreat
was about to take place, a retreat right back to Mukden, we recrossed
the river, took part in another action, and then a great stillness
came. The battle was practically over. The advance of the enemy had
ceased, and we were ordered to go to a certain place.
We started, and on our way we passed through the village where we had
lived before the battle began. The place was scarcely recognisable. It
was quite deserted; some of the houses looked like empty shells or
husks, as though the place had suffered from earthquake. A dead horse
lay across the road just outside the farmyard.
One of the officers and myself had the curiosity to go into the temple
buildings where we had enjoyed such pleasant days. They were deserted.
Part of the inner courtyard was all scorched and crumbled as if there
had been a fire. The straw was still lying about in the yard, and the
implements of toil. The actual temple itself at the end of the grassy
plot remained untouched, and the grinning gods inside it were intact;
but the dwelling rooms of our host were destroyed, and the rooms where
we had lived ourselves were a mass of broken fragments, rubbish, and
dust. The place had evidently been heavily shelled. There was not a
trace of any human being, save that in the only room which remained
undestroyed, on the matting of the hard /Khang/--that is the divan
which stretches like a platform across three-quarters of every Chinese
room--lay the dead body of a Chinese coolie. The dog, the cat, and the
hens had all gone.
We only remained a moment or two in the place, and as we left it the
officer pulled my sleeve and pointed to a heap of rubbish near the
gate. There, amidst some broken furniture, a mass of refuse, burned
and splintered wood, lay the tattered remains of a golden kite.
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