Phantastes, A Faerie Romance for Men and Women
Part 4 out of 4
appeared either to be welding it, or hammering one part of it to
a consenting shape with the rest. Having finished, they laid it
carefully in the fire; and, when it was very hot indeed, plunged
it into a vessel full of some liquid, whence a blue flame sprang
upwards, as the glowing steel entered.
There they left it; and drawing two stools to the fire, sat down,
one on each side of me.
"We are very glad to see you, brother. We have been expecting
you for some days," said the dark-haired youth.
"I am proud to be called your brother," I rejoined; "and you will
not think I refuse the name, if I desire to know why you honour
me with it?"
"Ah! then he does not know about it," said the younger. "We
thought you had known of the bond betwixt us, and the work we
have to do together. You must tell him, brother, from the
So the elder began:
"Our father is king of this country. Before we were born, three
giant brothers had appeared in the land. No one knew exactly
when, and no one had the least idea whence they came. They took
possession of a ruined castle that had stood unchanged and
unoccupied within the memory of any of the country people. The
vaults of this castle had remained uninjured by time, and these,
I presume, they made use of at first. They were rarely seen, and
never offered the least injury to any one; so that they were
regarded in the neighbourhood as at least perfectly harmless, if
not rather benevolent beings. But it began to be observed, that
the old castle had assumed somehow or other, no one knew when or
how, a somewhat different look from what it used to have. Not
only were several breaches in the lower part of the walls built
up, but actually some of the battlements which yet stood, had
been repaired, apparently to prevent them from falling into worse
decay, while the more important parts were being restored. Of
course, every one supposed the giants must have a hand in the
work, but no one ever saw them engaged in it. The peasants
became yet more uneasy, after one, who had concealed himself, and
watched all night, in the neighbourhood of the castle, reported
that he had seen, in full moonlight, the three huge giants
working with might and main, all night long, restoring to their
former position some massive stones, formerly steps of a grand
turnpike stair, a great portion of which had long since fallen,
along with part of the wall of the round tower in which it had
been built. This wall they were completing, foot by foot, along
with the stair. But the people said they had no just pretext for
interfering: although the real reason for letting the giants
alone was, that everybody was far too much afraid of them to
"At length, with the help of a neighbouring quarry, the whole of
the external wall of the castle was finished. And now the
country folks were in greater fear than before. But for several
years the giants remained very peaceful. The reason of this was
afterwards supposed to be the fact, that they were distantly
related to several good people in the country; for, as long as
these lived, they remained quiet; but as soon as they were all
dead the real nature of the giants broke out. Having completed
the outside of their castle, they proceeded, by spoiling the
country houses around them, to make a quiet luxurious provision
for their comfort within. Affairs reached such a pass, that the
news of their robberies came to my father's ears; but he, alas!
was so crippled in his resources, by a war he was carrying on
with a neighbouring prince, that he could only spare a very few
men, to attempt the capture of their stronghold. Upon these the
giants issued in the night, and slew every man of them. And now,
grown bolder by success and impunity, they no longer confined
their depredations to property, but began to seize the persons of
their distinguished neighbours, knights and ladies, and hold them
in durance, the misery of which was heightened by all manner of
indignity, until they were redeemed by their friends, at an
exorbitant ransom. Many knights have adventured their overthrow,
but to their own instead; for they have all been slain, or
captured, or forced to make a hasty retreat. To crown their
enormities, if any man now attempts their destruction, they,
immediately upon his defeat, put one or more of their captives to
a shameful death, on a turret in sight of all passers-by; so that
they have been much less molested of late; and we, although we
have burned, for years, to attack these demons and destroy them,
dared not, for the sake of their captives, risk the adventure,
before we should have reached at least our earliest manhood.
Now, however, we are preparing for the attempt; and the grounds
of this preparation are these. Having only the resolution, and
not the experience necessary for the undertaking, we went and
consulted a lonely woman of wisdom, who lives not very far from
here, in the direction of the quarter from which you have come.
She received us most kindly, and gave us what seems to us the
best of advice. She first inquired what experience we had had in
arms. We told her we had been well exercised from our boyhood,
and for some years had kept ourselves in constant practice, with
a view to this necessity.
"`But you have not actually fought for life and death?' said she.
"We were forced to confess we had not.
"`So much the better in some respects,' she replied. `Now listen
to me. Go first and work with an armourer, for as long time as
you find needful to obtain a knowledge of his craft; which will
not be long, seeing your hearts will be all in the work. Then go
to some lonely tower, you two alone. Receive no visits from man
or woman. There forge for yourselves every piece of armour that
you wish to wear, or to use, in your coming encounter. And keep
up your exercises.
As, however, two of you can be no match for the three giants, I
will find you, if I can, a third brother, who will take on
himself the third share of the fight, and the preparation.
Indeed, I have already seen one who will, I think, be the very
man for your fellowship, but it will be some time before he comes
to me. He is wandering now without an aim. I will show him to
you in a glass, and, when he comes, you will know him at once.
If he will share your endeavours, you must teach him all you
know, and he will repay you well, in present song, and in future
"She opened the door of a curious old cabinet that stood in the
room. On the inside of this door was an oval convex mirror.
Looking in it for some time, we at length saw reflected the place
where we stood, and the old dame seated in her chair. Our forms
were not reflected. But at the feet of the dame lay a young man,
"`Surely this youth will not serve our ends,' said I, `for he
"The old woman smiled. `Past tears are present strength,' said
"`Oh!' said my brother, `I saw you weep once over an eagle you
"`That was because it was so like you, brother,' I replied; `but
indeed, this youth may have better cause for tears than that--I
"`Wait a while,' said the woman; `if I mistake not, he will make
you weep till your tears are dry for ever. Tears are the only
cure for weeping. And you may have need of the cure, before you
go forth to fight the giants. You must wait for him, in your
tower, till he comes.'
"Now if you will join us, we will soon teach you to make your
armour; and we will fight together, and work together, and love
each other as never three loved before. And you will sing to us,
will you not?"
"That I will, when I can," I answered; "but it is only at times
that the power of song comes upon me. For that I must wait; but
I have a feeling that if I work well, song will not be far off to
enliven the labour."
This was all the compact made: the brothers required nothing
more, and I did not think of giving anything more. I rose, and
threw off my upper garments.
"I know the uses of the sword," I said. "I am ashamed of my
white hands beside yours so nobly soiled and hard; but that shame
will soon be wiped away."
"No, no; we will not work to-day. Rest is as needful as toil.
Bring the wine, brother; it is your turn to serve to-day."
The younger brother soon covered a table with rough viands, but
good wine; and we ate and drank heartily, beside our work.
Before the meal was over, I had learned all their story. Each
had something in his heart which made the conviction, that he
would victoriously perish in the coming conflict, a real sorrow
to him. Otherwise they thought they would have lived enough.
The causes of their trouble were respectively these:
While they wrought with an armourer, in a city famed for
workmanship in steel and silver, the elder had fallen in love
with a lady as far beneath him in real rank, as she was above the
station he had as apprentice to an armourer. Nor did he seek to
further his suit by discovering himself; but there was simply so
much manhood about him, that no one ever thought of rank when in
his company. This is what his brother said about it. The lady
could not help loving him in return. He told her when he left
her, that he had a perilous adventure before him, and that when
it was achieved, she would either see him return to claim her, or
hear that he had died with honour. The younger brother's grief
arose from the fact, that, if they were both slain, his old
father, the king, would be childless. His love for his father
was so exceeding, that to one unable to sympathise with it, it
would have appeared extravagant. Both loved him equally at
heart; but the love of the younger had been more developed,
because his thoughts and anxieties had not been otherwise
occupied. When at home, he had been his constant companion; and,
of late, had ministered to the infirmities of his growing age.
The youth was never weary of listening to the tales of his sire's
youthful adventures; and had not yet in the smallest degree lost
the conviction, that his father was the greatest man in the
world. The grandest triumph possible to his conception was, to
return to his father, laden with the spoils of one of the hated
giants. But they both were in some dread, lest the thought of
the loneliness of these two might occur to them, in the moment
when decision was most necessary, and disturb, in some degree,
the self-possession requisite for the success of their attempt.
For, as I have said, they were yet untried in actual conflict.
"Now," thought I, "I see to what the powers of my gift must
minister." For my own part, I did not dread death, for I had
nothing to care to live for; but I dreaded the encounter because
of the responsibility connected with it. I resolved however to
work hard, and thus grow cool, and quick, and forceful.
The time passed away in work and song, in talk and ramble, in
friendly fight and brotherly aid. I would not forge for myself
armour of heavy mail like theirs, for I was not so powerful as
they, and depended more for any success I might secure, upon
nimbleness of motion, certainty of eye, and ready response of
hand. Therefore I began to make for myself a shirt of steel
plates and rings; which work, while more troublesome, was better
suited to me than the heavier labour. Much assistance did the
brothers give me, even after, by their instructions, I was able
to make some progress alone. Their work was in a moment
abandoned, to render any required aid to mine. As the old woman
had promised, I tried to repay them with song; and many were the
tears they both shed over my ballads and dirges. The songs they
liked best to hear were two which I made for them. They were not
half so good as many others I knew, especially some I had learned
from the wise woman in the cottage; but what comes nearest to our
needs we like the best.
I The king sat on his throne
Glowing in gold and red;
The crown in his right hand shone,
And the gray hairs crowned his head.
His only son walks in,
And in walls of steel he stands:
Make me, O father, strong to win,
With the blessing of holy hands."
He knelt before his sire,
Who blessed him with feeble smile
His eyes shone out with a kingly fire,
But his old lips quivered the while.
"Go to the fight, my son,
Bring back the giant's head;
And the crown with which my brows have done,
Shall glitter on thine instead."
"My father, I seek no crowns,
But unspoken praise from thee;
For thy people's good, and thy renown,
I will die to set them free."
The king sat down and waited there,
And rose not, night nor day;
Till a sound of shouting filled the air,
And cries of a sore dismay.
Then like a king he sat once more,
With the crown upon his head;
And up to the throne the people bore
A mighty giant dead.
And up to the throne the people bore
A pale and lifeless boy.
The king rose up like a prophet of yore,
In a lofty, deathlike joy.
He put the crown on the chilly brow:
"Thou should'st have reigned with me
But Death is the king of both, and now
I go to obey with thee.
"Surely some good in me there lay,
To beget the noble one."
The old man smiled like a winter day,
And fell beside his son.
II "O lady, thy lover is dead," they cried;
"He is dead, but hath slain the foe;
He hath left his name to be magnified
In a song of wonder and woe."
"Alas! I am well repaid," said she,
"With a pain that stings like joy:
For I feared, from his tenderness to me,
That he was but a feeble boy.
"Now I shall hold my head on high,
The queen among my kind;
If ye hear a sound, 'tis only a sigh
For a glory left behind."
The first three times I sang these songs they both wept
passionately. But after the third time, they wept no more.
Their eyes shone, and their faces grew pale, but they never wept
at any of my songs again.
"I put my life in my hands."--The Book of Judges.
At length, with much toil and equal delight, our armour was
finished. We armed each other, and tested the strength of the
defence, with many blows of loving force. I was inferior in
strength to both my brothers, but a little more agile than
either; and upon this agility, joined to precision in hitting
with the point of my weapon, I grounded my hopes of success in
the ensuing combat. I likewise laboured to develop yet more the
keenness of sight with which I was naturally gifted; and, from
the remarks of my companions, I soon learned that my endeavours
were not in vain.
The morning arrived on which we had determined to make the
attempt, and succeed or perish--perhaps both. We had resolved to
fight on foot; knowing that the mishap of many of the knights who
had made the attempt, had resulted from the fright of their
horses at the appearance of the giants; and believing with Sir
Gawain, that, though mare's sons might be false to us, the earth
would never prove a traitor. But most of our preparations were,
in their immediate aim at least, frustrated.
We rose, that fatal morning, by daybreak. We had rested from all
labour the day before, and now were fresh as the lark. We bathed
in cold spring water, and dressed ourselves in clean garments,
with a sense of preparation, as for a solemn festivity. When we
had broken our fast, I took an old lyre, which I had found in the
tower and had myself repaired, and sung for the last time the two
ballads of which I have said so much already. I followed them
with this, for a closing song:
Oh, well for him who breaks his dream
With the blow that ends the strife
And, waking, knows the peace that flows
Around the pain of life!
We are dead, my brothers! Our bodies clasp,
As an armour, our souls about;
This hand is the battle-axe I grasp,
And this my hammer stout.
Fear not, my brothers, for we are dead;
No noise can break our rest;
The calm of the grave is about the head,
And the heart heaves not the breast.
And our life we throw to our people back,
To live with, a further store;
We leave it them, that there be no lack
In the land where we live no more.
Oh, well for him who breaks his dream
With the blow that ends the strife
And, waking, knows the peace that flows
Around the noise of life!
As the last few tones of the instrument were following, like a
dirge, the death of the song, we all sprang to our feet. For,
through one of the little windows of the tower, towards which I
had looked as I sang, I saw, suddenly rising over the edge of the
slope on which our tower stood, three enormous heads. The
brothers knew at once, by my looks, what caused my sudden
movement. We were utterly unarmed, and there was no time to arm.
But we seemed to adopt the same resolution simultaneously; for
each caught up his favourite weapon, and, leaving his defence
behind, sprang to the door. I snatched up a long rapier,
abruptly, but very finely pointed, in my sword-hand, and in the
other a sabre; the elder brother seized his heavy battle-axe; and
the younger, a great, two-handed sword, which he wielded in one
hand like a feather. We had just time to get clear of the tower,
embrace and say good-bye, and part to some little distance, that
we might not encumber each other's motions, ere the triple
giant-brotherhood drew near to attack us. They were about twice
our height, and armed to the teeth. Through the visors of their
helmets their monstrous eyes shone with a horrible ferocity. I
was in the middle position, and the middle giant approached me.
My eyes were busy with his armour, and I was not a moment in
settling my mode of attack. I saw that his body- armour was
somewhat clumsily made, and that the overlappings in the lower
part had more play than necessary; and I hoped that, in a
fortunate moment, some joint would open a little, in a visible
and accessible part. I stood till he came near enough to aim a
blow at me with the mace, which has been, in all ages, the
favourite weapon of giants, when, of course, I leaped aside, and
let the blow fall upon the spot where I had been standing. I
expected this would strain the joints of his armour yet more.
Full of fury, he made at me again; but I kept him busy,
constantly eluding his blows, and hoping thus to fatigue him. He
did not seem to fear any assault from me, and I attempted none as
yet; but while I watched his motions in order to avoid his blows,
I, at the same time, kept equal watch upon those joints of his
armour, through some one of which I hoped to reach his life. At
length, as if somewhat fatigued, he paused a moment, and drew
himself slightly up; I bounded forward, foot and hand, ran my
rapier right through to the armour of his back, let go the hilt,
and passing under his right arm, turned as he fell, and flew at
him with my sabre. At one happy blow I divided the band of his
helmet, which fell off, and allowed me, with a second cut across
the eyes, to blind him quite; after which I clove his head, and
turned, uninjured, to see how my brothers had fared. Both the
giants were down, but so were my brothers. I flew first to the
one and then to the other couple. Both pairs of combatants were
dead, and yet locked together, as in the death-struggle. The
elder had buried his battle-axe in the body of his foe, and had
fallen beneath him as he fell. The giant had strangled him in
his own death-agonies. The younger had nearly hewn off the left
leg of his enemy; and, grappled with in the act, had, while they
rolled together on the earth, found for his dagger a passage
betwixt the gorget and cuirass of the giant, and stabbed him
mortally in the throat. The blood from the giant's throat was
yet pouring over the hand of his foe, which still grasped the
hilt of the dagger sheathed in the wound. They lay silent. I,
the least worthy, remained the sole survivor in the lists.
As I stood exhausted amidst the dead, after the first worthy deed
of my life, I suddenly looked behind me, and there lay the
Shadow, black in the sunshine. I went into the lonely tower, and
there lay the useless armour of the noble youths--supine as they.
Ah, how sad it looked! It was a glorious death, but it was
death. My songs could not comfort me now. I was almost ashamed
that I was alive, when they, the true-hearted, were no more. And
yet I breathed freer to think that I had gone through the trial,
and had not failed. And perhaps I may be forgiven, if some
feelings of pride arose in my bosom, when I looked down on the
mighty form that lay dead by my hand.
"After all, however," I said to myself, and my heart sank, "it
was only skill. Your giant was but a blunderer."
I left the bodies of friends and foes, peaceful enough when the
death- fight was over, and, hastening to the country below,
roused the peasants. They came with shouting and gladness,
bringing waggons to carry the bodies. I resolved to take the
princes home to their father, each as he lay, in the arms of his
country's foe. But first I searched the giants, and found the
keys of their castle, to which I repaired, followed by a great
company of the people. It was a place of wonderful strength. I
released the prisoners, knights and ladies, all in a sad
condition, from the cruelties and neglects of the giants. It
humbled me to see them crowding round me with thanks, when in
truth the glorious brothers, lying dead by their lonely tower,
were those to whom the thanks belonged. I had but aided in
carrying out the thought born in their brain, and uttered in
visible form before ever I laid hold thereupon. Yet I did count
myself happy to have been chosen for their brother in this great
After a few hours spent in refreshing and clothing the prisoners,
we all commenced our journey towards the capital. This was slow
at first; but, as the strength and spirits of the prisoners
returned, it became more rapid; and in three days we reached the
palace of the king. As we entered the city gates, with the huge
bulks lying each on a waggon drawn by horses, and two of them
inextricably intertwined with the dead bodies of their princes,
the people raised a shout and then a cry, and followed in
multitudes the solemn procession.
I will not attempt to describe the behaviour of the grand old
king. Joy and pride in his sons overcame his sorrow at their
loss. On me he heaped every kindness that heart could devise or
hand execute. He used to sit and question me, night after night,
about everything that was in any way connected with them and
their preparations. Our mode of life, and relation to each
other, during the time we spent together, was a constant theme.
He entered into the minutest details of the construction of the
armour, even to a peculiar mode of riveting some of the plates,
with unwearying interest. This armour I had intended to beg of
the king, as my sole memorials of the contest; but, when I saw
the delight he took in contemplating it, and the consolation it
appeared to afford him in his sorrow, I could not ask for it;
but, at his request, left my own, weapons and all, to be joined
with theirs in a trophy, erected in the grand square of the
palace. The king, with gorgeous ceremony, dubbed me knight with
his own old hand, in which trembled the sword of his youth.
During the short time I remained, my company was, naturally, much
courted by the young nobles. I was in a constant round of gaiety
and diversion, notwithstanding that the court was in mourning.
For the country was so rejoiced at the death of the giants, and
so many of their lost friends had been restored to the nobility
and men of wealth, that the gladness surpassed the grief. "Ye
have indeed left your lives to your people, my great brothers!" I
But I was ever and ever haunted by the old shadow, which I had
not seen all the time that I was at work in the tower. Even in
the society of the ladies of the court, who seemed to think it
only their duty to make my stay there as pleasant to me as
possible, I could not help being conscious of its presence,
although it might not be annoying me at the time. At length,
somewhat weary of uninterrupted pleasure, and nowise strengthened
thereby, either in body or mind, I put on a splendid suit of
armour of steel inlaid with silver, which the old king had given
me, and, mounting the horse on which it had been brought to me,
took my leave of the palace, to visit the distant city in which
the lady dwelt, whom the elder prince had loved. I anticipated a
sore task, in conveying to her the news of his glorious fate: but
this trial was spared me, in a manner as strange as anything that
had happened to me in Fairy Land.
"No one has my form but the I."
Schoppe, in JEAN PAUL'S Titan.
"Joy's a subtil elf.
I think man's happiest when he forgets himself."
CYRIL TOURNEUR, The Revenger's Tragedy.
On the third day of my journey, I was riding gently along a road,
apparently little frequented, to judge from the grass that grew
upon it. I was approaching a forest. Everywhere in Fairy Land
forests are the places where one may most certainly expect
adventures. As I drew near, a youth, unarmed, gentle, and
beautiful, who had just cut a branch from a yew growing on the
skirts of the wood, evidently to make himself a bow, met me, and
thus accosted me:
"Sir knight, be careful as thou ridest through this forest; for
it is said to be strangely enchanted, in a sort which even those
who have been witnesses of its enchantment can hardly describe."
I thanked him for his advice, which I promised to follow, and
rode on. But the moment I entered the wood, it seemed to me
that, if enchantment there was, it must be of a good kind; for
the Shadow, which had been more than usually dark and
distressing, since I had set out on this journey, suddenly
disappeared. I felt a wonderful elevation of spirits, and began
to reflect on my past life, and especially on my combat with the
giants, with such satisfaction, that I had actually to remind
myself, that I had only killed one of them; and that, but for the
brothers, I should never have had the idea of attacking them, not
to mention the smallest power of standing to it. Still I
rejoiced, and counted myself amongst the glorious knights of old;
having even the unspeakable presumption--my shame and self-
condemnation at the memory of it are such, that I write it as the
only and sorest penance I can perform--to think of myself (will
the world believe it?) as side by side with Sir Galahad!
Scarcely had the thought been born in my mind, when, approaching
me from the left, through the trees, I espied a resplendent
knight, of mighty size, whose armour seemed to shine of itself,
without the sun. When he drew near, I was astonished to see that
this armour was like my own; nay, I could trace, line for line,
the correspondence of the inlaid silver to the device on my own.
His horse, too, was like mine in colour, form, and motion; save
that, like his rider, he was greater and fiercer than his
counterpart. The knight rode with beaver up. As he halted right
opposite to me in the narrow path, barring my way, I saw the
reflection of my countenance in the centre plate of shining steel
on his breastplate. Above it rose the same face--his face--only,
as I have said, larger and fiercer. I was bewildered. I could
not help feeling some admiration of him, but it was mingled with
a dim conviction that he was evil, and that I ought to fight with
"Let me pass," I said.
"When I will," he replied.
Something within me said: "Spear in rest, and ride at him! else
thou art for ever a slave."
I tried, but my arm trembled so much, that I could not couch my
lance. To tell the truth, I, who had overcome the giant, shook
like a coward before this knight. He gave a scornful laugh, that
echoed through the wood, turned his horse, and said, without
looking round, "Follow me."
I obeyed, abashed and stupefied. How long he led, and how long I
followed, I cannot tell. "I never knew misery before," I said to
myself. "Would that I had at least struck him, and had had my
death- blow in return! Why, then, do I not call to him to wheel
and defend himself? Alas! I know not why, but I cannot. One
look from him would cow me like a beaten hound." I followed, and
At length we came to a dreary square tower, in the middle of a
dense forest. It looked as if scarce a tree had been cut down to
make room for it. Across the very door, diagonally, grew the
stem of a tree, so large that there was just room to squeeze past
it in order to enter. One miserable square hole in the roof was
the only visible suggestion of a window. Turret or battlement,
or projecting masonry of any kind, it had none. Clear and smooth
and massy, it rose from its base, and ended with a line straight
and unbroken. The roof, carried to a centre from each of the
four walls, rose slightly to the point where the rafters met.
Round the base lay several little heaps of either bits of broken
branches, withered and peeled, or half- whitened bones; I could
not distinguish which. As I approached, the ground sounded
hollow beneath my horse's hoofs. The knight took a great key
from his pocket, and reaching past the stem of the tree, with
some difficulty opened the door. "Dismount," he commanded. I
obeyed. He turned my horse's head away from the tower, gave him
a terrible blow with the flat side of his sword, and sent him
madly tearing through the forest.
"Now," said he, "enter, and take your companion with you."
I looked round: knight and horse had vanished, and behind me lay
the horrible shadow. I entered, for I could not help myself; and
the shadow followed me. I had a terrible conviction that the
knight and he were one. The door closed behind me.
Now I was indeed in pitiful plight. There was literally nothing
in the tower but my shadow and me. The walls rose right up to
the roof; in which, as I had seen from without, there was one
little square opening. This I now knew to be the only window the
tower possessed. I sat down on the floor, in listless
wretchedness. I think I must have fallen asleep, and have slept
for hours; for I suddenly became aware of existence, in observing
that the moon was shining through the hole in the roof. As she
rose higher and higher, her light crept down the wall over me,
till at last it shone right upon my head. Instantaneously the
walls of the tower seemed to vanish away like a mist. I sat
beneath a beech, on the edge of a forest, and the open country
lay, in the moonlight, for miles and miles around me, spotted
with glimmering houses and spires and towers. I thought with
myself, "Oh, joy! it was only a dream; the horrible narrow waste
is gone, and I wake beneath a beech-tree, perhaps one that loves
me, and I can go where I will." I rose, as I thought, and walked
about, and did what I would, but ever kept near the tree; for
always, and, of course, since my meeting with the woman of the
beech-tree far more than ever, I loved that tree. So the night
wore on. I waited for the sun to rise, before I could venture to
renew my journey. But as soon as the first faint light of the
dawn appeared, instead of shining upon me from the eye of the
morning, it stole like a fainting ghost through the little square
hole above my head; and the walls came out as the light grew, and
the glorious night was swallowed up of the hateful day. The long
dreary day passed. My shadow lay black on the floor. I felt no
hunger, no need of food. The night came. The moon shone. I
watched her light slowly descending the wall, as I might have
watched, adown the sky, the long, swift approach of a helping
angel. Her rays touched me, and I was free. Thus night after
night passed away. I should have died but for this. Every night
the conviction returned, that I was free. Every morning I sat
wretchedly disconsolate. At length, when the course of the moon
no longer permitted her beams to touch me, the night was dreary
as the day.
When I slept, I was somewhat consoled by my dreams; but all the
time I dreamed, I knew that I was only dreaming. But one night,
at length, the moon, a mere shred of pallor, scattered a few thin
ghostly rays upon me; and I think I fell asleep and dreamed. I
sat in an autumn night before the vintage, on a hill overlooking
my own castle. My heart sprang with joy. Oh, to be a child
again, innocent, fearless, without shame or desire! I walked
down to the castle. All were in consternation at my absence. My
sisters were weeping for my loss. They sprang up and clung to
me, with incoherent cries, as I entered. My old friends came
flocking round me. A gray light shone on the roof of the hall.
It was the light of the dawn shining through the square window of
my tower. More earnestly than ever, I longed for freedom after
this dream; more drearily than ever, crept on the next wretched
day. I measured by the sunbeams, caught through the little
window in the trap of my tower, how it went by, waiting only for
the dreams of the night.
About noon, I started as if something foreign to all my senses
and all my experience, had suddenly invaded me; yet it was only
the voice of a woman singing. My whole frame quivered with joy,
surprise, and the sensation of the unforeseen. Like a living
soul, like an incarnation of Nature, the song entered my
prison-house. Each tone folded its wings, and laid itself, like
a caressing bird, upon my heart. It bathed me like a sea;
inwrapt me like an odorous vapour; entered my soul like a long
draught of clear spring-water; shone upon me like essential
sunlight; soothed me like a mother's voice and hand. Yet, as the
clearest forest-well tastes sometimes of the bitterness of
decayed leaves, so to my weary, prisoned heart, its cheerfulness
had a sting of cold, and its tenderness unmanned me with the
faintness of long-departed joys. I wept half-bitterly,
half-luxuriously; but not long. I dashed away the tears, ashamed
of a weakness which I thought I had abandoned. Ere I knew, I had
walked to the door, and seated myself with my ears against it, in
order to catch every syllable of the revelation from the unseen
outer world. And now I heard each word distinctly. The singer
seemed to be standing or sitting near the tower, for the sounds
indicated no change of place. The song was something like this:
The sun, like a golden knot on high,
Gathers the glories of the sky,
And binds them into a shining tent,
Roofing the world with the firmament.
And through the pavilion the rich winds blow,
And through the pavilion the waters go.
And the birds for joy, and the trees for prayer,
Bowing their heads in the sunny air,
And for thoughts, the gently talking springs,
That come from the centre with secret things--
All make a music, gentle and strong,
Bound by the heart into one sweet song.
And amidst them all, the mother Earth
Sits with the children of her birth;
She tendeth them all, as a mother hen
Her little ones round her, twelve or ten:
Oft she sitteth, with hands on knee,
Idle with love for her family.
Go forth to her from the dark and the dust,
And weep beside her, if weep thou must;
If she may not hold thee to her breast,
Like a weary infant, that cries for rest
At least she will press thee to her knee,
And tell a low, sweet tale to thee,
Till the hue to thy cheeky and the light to thine eye,
Strength to thy limbs, and courage high
To thy fainting heart, return amain,
And away to work thou goest again.
From the narrow desert, O man of pride,
Come into the house, so high and wide.
Hardly knowing what I did, I opened the door. Why had I not done
so before? I do not know.
At first I could see no one; but when I had forced myself past
the tree which grew across the entrance, I saw, seated on the
ground, and leaning against the tree, with her back to my prison,
a beautiful woman. Her countenance seemed known to me, and yet
unknown. She looked at me and smiled, when I made my appearance.
"Ah! were you the prisoner there? I am very glad I have wiled
"Do you know me then?"
"Do you not know me? But you hurt me, and that, I suppose, makes
it easy for a man to forget. You broke my globe. Yet I thank
you. Perhaps I owe you many thanks for breaking it. I took the
pieces, all black, and wet with crying over them, to the Fairy
Queen. There was no music and no light in them now. But she
took them from me, and laid them aside; and made me go to sleep
in a great hall of white, with black pillars, and many red
curtains. When I woke in the morning, I went to her, hoping to
have my globe again, whole and sound; but she sent me away
without it, and I have not seen it since. Nor do I care for it
now. I have something so much better. I do not need the globe
to play to me; for I can sing. I could not sing at all before.
Now I go about everywhere through Fairy Land, singing till my
heart is like to break, just like my globe, for very joy at my
own songs. And wherever I go, my songs do good, and deliver
people. And now I have delivered you, and I am so happy."
She ceased, and the tears came into her eyes.
All this time, I had been gazing at her; and now fully recognised
the face of the child, glorified in the countenance of the woman.
I was ashamed and humbled before her; but a great weight was
lifted from my thoughts. I knelt before her, and thanked her,
and begged her to forgive me.
"Rise, rise," she said; "I have nothing to forgive; I thank you.
But now I must be gone, for I do not know how many may be waiting
for me, here and there, through the dark forests; and they cannot
come out till I come."
She rose, and with a smile and a farewell, turned and left me. I
dared not ask her to stay; in fact, I could hardly speak to her.
Between her and me, there was a great gulf. She was uplifted, by
sorrow and well-doing, into a region I could hardly hope ever to
enter. I watched her departure, as one watches a sunset. She
went like a radiance through the dark wood, which was henceforth
bright to me, from simply knowing that such a creature was in it.
She was bearing the sun to the unsunned spots. The light and the
music of her broken globe were now in her heart and her brain.
As she went, she sang; and I caught these few words of her song;
and the tones seemed to linger and wind about the trees after she
Thou goest thine, and I go mine--
Many ways we wend;
Many days, and many ways,
Ending in one end.
Many a wrong, and its curing song;
Many a road, and many an inn;
Room to roam, but only one home
For all the world to win.
And so she vanished. With a sad heart, soothed by humility, and
the knowledge of her peace and gladness, I bethought me what now
I should do. First, I must leave the tower far behind me, lest,
in some evil moment, I might be once more caged within its
horrible walls. But it was ill walking in my heavy armour; and
besides I had now no right to the golden spurs and the
resplendent mail, fitly dulled with long neglect. I might do for
a squire; but I honoured knighthood too highly, to call myself
any longer one of the noble brotherhood. I stripped off all my
armour, piled it under the tree, just where the lady had been
seated, and took my unknown way, eastward through the woods. Of
all my weapons, I carried only a short axe in my hand.
Then first I knew the delight of being lowly; of saying to
myself, "I am what I am, nothing more." "I have failed," I said,
"I have lost myself--would it had been my shadow." I looked
round: the shadow was nowhere to be seen. Ere long, I learned
that it was not myself, but only my shadow, that I had lost. I
learned that it is better, a thousand-fold, for a proud man to
fall and be humbled, than to hold up his head in his pride and
fancied innocence. I learned that he that will be a hero, will
barely be a man; that he that will be nothing but a doer of his
work, is sure of his manhood. In nothing was my ideal lowered,
or dimmed, or grown less precious; I only saw it too plainly, to
set myself for a moment beside it. Indeed, my ideal soon became
my life; whereas, formerly, my life had consisted in a vain
attempt to behold, if not my ideal in myself, at least myself in
my ideal. Now, however, I took, at first, what perhaps was a
mistaken pleasure, in despising and degrading myself. Another
self seemed to arise, like a white spirit from a dead man, from
the dumb and trampled self of the past. Doubtless, this self
must again die and be buried, and again, from its tomb, spring a
winged child; but of this my history as yet bears not the record.
Self will come to life even in the slaying of self; but there is
ever something deeper and stronger than it, which will emerge at
last from the unknown abysses of the soul: will it be as a solemn
gloom, burning with eyes? or a clear morning after the rain? or a
smiling child, that finds itself nowhere, and everywhere?
"High erected thought, seated in a heart of courtesy."
SIR PHILIP SIDNEY.
"A sweet attractive kinde of grace,
A full assurance given by lookes,
Continuall comfort in a face,
The lineaments of Gospel bookes."
MATTHEW ROYDON, on Sir Philip Sidney.
I had not gone far, for I had but just lost sight of the hated
tower, when a voice of another sort, sounding near or far, as the
trees permitted or intercepted its passage, reached me. It was a
full, deep, manly voice, but withal clear and melodious. Now it
burst on the ear with a sudden swell, and anon, dying away as
suddenly, seemed to come to me across a great space.
Nevertheless, it drew nearer; till, at last, I could distinguish
the words of the song, and get transient glimpses of the singer,
between the columns of the trees. He came nearer, dawning upon
me like a growing thought. He was a knight, armed from head to
heel, mounted upon a strange-looking beast, whose form I could
not understand. The words which I heard him sing were like
Heart be stout,
And eye be true;
Good blade out!
And ill shall rue.
Thou lackst no skill;
Well thy force
Hath matched my will.
For the foe
With fiery breath,
At a blow,
It still in death.
'Tis his corse
That burdens thee.
The sun's eye
Is fierce at noon;
Thou and I
Will rest full soon.
And new strength
New work will meet;
Till, at length,
Long rest is sweet.
And now horse and rider had arrived near enough for me to see,
fastened by the long neck to the hinder part of the saddle, and
trailing its hideous length on the ground behind, the body of a
great dragon. It was no wonder that, with such a drag at his
heels, the horse could make but slow progress, notwithstanding
his evident dismay. The horrid, serpent-like head, with its
black tongue, forked with red, hanging out of its jaws, dangled
against the horse's side. Its neck was covered with long blue
hair, its sides with scales of green and gold. Its back was of
corrugated skin, of a purple hue. Its belly was similar in
nature, but its colour was leaden, dashed with blotches of livid
blue. Its skinny, bat-like wings and its tail were of a dull
gray. It was strange to see how so many gorgeous colours, so
many curving lines, and such beautiful things as wings and hair
and scales, combined to form the horrible creature, intense in
The knight was passing me with a salutation; but, as I walked
towards him, he reined up, and I stood by his stirrup. When I
came near him, I saw to my surprise and pleasure likewise,
although a sudden pain, like a birth of fire, sprang up in my
heart, that it was the knight of the soiled armour, whom I knew
before, and whom I had seen in the vision, with the lady of the
marble. But I could have thrown my arms around him, because she
loved him. This discovery only strengthened the resolution I had
formed, before I recognised him, of offering myself to the
knight, to wait upon him as a squire, for he seemed to be
unattended. I made my request in as few words as possible. He
hesitated for a moment, and looked at me thoughtfully. I saw
that he suspected who I was, but that he continued uncertain of
his suspicion. No doubt he was soon convinced of its truth; but
all the time I was with him, not a word crossed his lips with
reference to what he evidently concluded I wished to leave
unnoticed, if not to keep concealed.
"Squire and knight should be friends,"said he: "can you take me
by the hand?" And he held out the great gauntleted right hand.
I grasped it willingly and strongly. Not a word more was said.
The knight gave the sign to his horse, which again began his slow
march, and I walked beside and a little behind.
We had not gone very far before we arrived at a little cottage;
from which, as we drew near, a woman rushed out with the cry:
"My child! my child! have you found my child?"
"I have found her," replied the knight, "but she is sorely hurt.
I was forced to leave her with the hermit, as I returned. You
will find her there, and I think she will get better. You see I
have brought you a present. This wretch will not hurt you
again." And he undid the creature's neck, and flung the
frightful burden down by the cottage door.
The woman was now almost out of sight in the wood; but the
husband stood at the door, with speechless thanks in his face.
"You must bury the monster," said the knight. "If I had arrived
a moment later, I should have been too late. But now you need
not fear, for such a creature as this very rarely appears, in the
same part, twice during a lifetime."
"Will you not dismount and rest you, Sir Knight?" said the
peasant, who had, by this time, recovered himself a little.
"That I will, thankfully," said he; and, dismounting, he gave the
reins to me, and told me to unbridle the horse, and lead him into
the shade. "You need not tie him up," he added; "he will not run
When I returned, after obeying his orders, and entered the
cottage, I saw the knight seated, without his helmet, and talking
most familiarly with the simple host. I stood at the open door
for a moment, and, gazing at him, inwardly justified the white
lady in preferring him to me. A nobler countenance I never saw.
Loving-kindness beamed from every line of his face. It seemed as
if he would repay himself for the late arduous combat, by
indulging in all the gentleness of a womanly heart. But when the
talk ceased for a moment, he seemed to fall into a reverie. Then
the exquisite curves of the upper lip vanished. The lip was
lengthened and compressed at the same moment. You could have
told that, within the lips, the teeth were firmly closed. The
whole face grew stern and determined, all but fierce; only the
eyes burned on like a holy sacrifice, uplift on a granite rock.
The woman entered, with her mangled child in her arms. She was
pale as her little burden. She gazed, with a wild love and
despairing tenderness, on the still, all but dead face, white and
clear from loss of blood and terror.
The knight rose. The light that had been confined to his eyes,
now shone from his whole countenance. He took the little thing
in his arms, and, with the mother's help, undressed her, and
looked to her wounds. The tears flowed down his face as he did
so. With tender hands he bound them up, kissed the pale cheek,
and gave her back to her mother. When he went home, all his tale
would be of the grief and joy of the parents; while to me, who
had looked on, the gracious countenance of the armed man, beaming
from the panoply of steel, over the seemingly dead child, while
the powerful hands turned it and shifted it, and bound it, if
possible even more gently than the mother's, formed the centre of
After we had partaken of the best they could give us, the knight
took his leave, with a few parting instructions to the mother as
to how she should treat the child.
I brought the knight his steed, held the stirrup while he
mounted, and then followed him through the wood. The horse,
delighted to be free of his hideous load, bounded beneath the
weight of man and armour, and could hardly be restrained from
galloping on. But the knight made him time his powers to mine,
and so we went on for an hour or two. Then the knight
dismounted, and compelled me to get into the saddle, saying:
"Knight and squire must share the labour."
Holding by the stirrup, he walked along by my side, heavily clad
as he was, with apparent ease. As we went, he led a
conversation, in which I took what humble part my sense of my
condition would permit me.
"Somehow or other," said he, "notwithstanding the beauty of this
country of Faerie, in which we are, there is much that is wrong
in it. If there are great splendours, there are corresponding
horrors; heights and depths; beautiful women and awful fiends;
noble men and weaklings. All a man has to do, is to better what
he can. And if he will settle it with himself, that even renown
and success are in themselves of no great value, and be content
to be defeated, if so be that the fault is not his; and so go to
his work with a cool brain and a strong will, he will get it
done; and fare none the worse in the end, that he was not
burdened with provision and precaution."
"But he will not always come off well," I ventured to say.
"Perhaps not," rejoined the knight, "in the individual act; but
the result of his lifetime will content him."
"So it will fare with you, doubtless," thought I; "but for
Venturing to resume the conversation after a pause, I said,
"May I ask for what the little beggar-girl wanted your aid, when
she came to your castle to find you?"
He looked at me for a moment in silence, and then said--
"I cannot help wondering how you know of that; but there is
something about you quite strange enough to entitle you to the
privilege of the country; namely, to go unquestioned. I,
however, being only a man, such as you see me, am ready to tell
you anything you like to ask me, as far as I can. The little
beggar-girl came into the hall where I was sitting, and told me a
very curious story, which I can only recollect very vaguely, it
was so peculiar. What I can recall is, that she was sent to
gather wings. As soon as she had gathered a pair of wings for
herself, she was to fly away, she said, to the country she came
from; but where that was, she could give no information.
She said she had to beg her wings from the butterflies and moths;
and wherever she begged, no one refused her. But she needed a
great many of the wings of butterflies and moths to make a pair
for her; and so she had to wander about day after day, looking
for butterflies, and night after night, looking for moths; and
then she begged for their wings. But the day before, she had
come into a part of the forest, she said, where there were
multitudes of splendid butterflies flitting about, with wings
which were just fit to make the eyes in the shoulders of hers;
and she knew she could have as many of them as she liked for the
asking; but as soon as she began to beg, there came a great
creature right up to her, and threw her down, and walked over
her. When she got up, she saw the wood was full of these beings
stalking about, and seeming to have nothing to do with each
other. As soon as ever she began to beg, one of them walked over
her; till at last in dismay, and in growing horror of the
senseless creatures, she had run away to look for somebody to
help her. I asked her what they were like. She said, like great
men, made of wood, without knee- or elbow-joints, and without any
noses or mouths or eyes in their faces. I laughed at the little
maiden, thinking she was making child's game of me; but, although
she burst out laughing too, she persisted in asserting the truth
of her story.
"`Only come, knight, come and see; I will lead you.'
"So I armed myself, to be ready for anything that might happen,
and followed the child; for, though I could make nothing of her
story, I could see she was a little human being in need of some
help or other. As she walked before me, I looked attentively at
her. Whether or not it was from being so often knocked down and
walked over, I could not tell, but her clothes were very much
torn, and in several places her white skin was peeping through.
I thought she was hump-backed; but on looking more closely, I
saw, through the tatters of her frock--do not laugh at me--a
bunch on each shoulder, of the most gorgeous colours. Looking
yet more closely, I saw that they were of the shape of folded
wings, and were made of all kinds of butterfly-wings and
moth-wings, crowded together like the feathers on the individual
butterfly pinion; but, like them, most beautifully arranged, and
producing a perfect harmony of colour and shade. I could now
more easily believe the rest of her story; especially as I saw,
every now and then, a certain heaving motion in the wings, as if
they longed to be uplifted and outspread. But beneath her scanty
garments complete wings could not be concealed, and indeed, from
her own story, they were yet unfinished.
"After walking for two or three hours (how the little girl found
her way, I could not imagine), we came to a part of the forest,
the very air of which was quivering with the motions of
multitudes of resplendent butterflies; as gorgeous in colour, as
if the eyes of peacocks' feathers had taken to flight, but of
infinite variety of hue and form, only that the appearance of
some kind of eye on each wing predominated. `There they are,
there they are!' cried the child, in a tone of victory mingled
with terror. Except for this tone, I should have thought she
referred to the butterflies, for I could see nothing else. But
at that moment an enormous butterfly, whose wings had great eyes
of blue surrounded by confused cloudy heaps of more dingy
colouring, just like a break in the clouds on a stormy day
towards evening, settled near us. The child instantly began
murmuring: `Butterfly, butterfly, give me your wings'; when, the
moment after, she fell to the ground, and began crying as if
hurt. I drew my sword and heaved a great blow in the direction
in which the child had fallen. It struck something, and
instantly the most grotesque imitation of a man became visible.
You see this Fairy Land is full of oddities and all sorts of
incredibly ridiculous things, which a man is compelled to meet
and treat as real existences, although all the time he feels
foolish for doing so. This being, if being it could be called,
was like a block of wood roughly hewn into the mere outlines of a
man; and hardly so, for it had but head, body, legs, and arms--
the head without a face, and the limbs utterly formless. I had
hewn off one of its legs, but the two portions moved on as best
they could, quite independent of each other; so that I had done
no good. I ran after it, and clove it in twain from the head
downwards; but it could not be convinced that its vocation was
not to walk over people; for, as soon as the little girl began
her begging again, all three parts came bustling up; and if I had
not interposed my weight between her and them, she would have
been trampled again under them. I saw that something else must
be done. If the wood was full of the creatures, it would be an
endless work to chop them so small that they could do no injury;
and then, besides, the parts would be so numerous, that the
butterflies would be in danger from the drift of flying chips. I
served this one so, however; and then told the girl to beg again,
and point out the direction in which one was coming. I was glad
to find, however, that I could now see him myself, and wondered
how they could have been invisible before. I would not allow him
to walk over the child; but while I kept him off, and she began
begging again, another appeared; and it was all I could do, from
the weight of my armour, to protect her from the stupid,
persevering efforts of the two. But suddenly the right plan
occurred to me. I tripped one of them up, and, taking him by the
legs, set him up on his head, with his heels against a tree. I
was delighted to find he could not move.
Meantime the poor child was walked over by the other, but it was
for the last time. Whenever one appeared, I followed the same
plan-- tripped him up and set him on his head; and so the little
beggar was able to gather her wings without any trouble, which
occupation she continued for several hours in my company."
"What became of her?" I asked.
"I took her home with me to my castle, and she told me all her
story; but it seemed to me, all the time, as if I were hearing a
child talk in its sleep. I could not arrange her story in my
mind at all, although it seemed to leave hers in some certain
order of its own. My wife---"
Here the knight checked himself, and said no more. Neither did I
urge the conversation farther.
Thus we journeyed for several days, resting at night in such
shelter as we could get; and when no better was to be had, lying
in the forest under some tree, on a couch of old leaves.
I loved the knight more and more. I believe never squire served
his master with more care and joyfulness than I. I tended his
horse; I cleaned his armour; my skill in the craft enabled me to
repair it when necessary; I watched his needs; and was well
repaid for all by the love itself which I bore him.
"This," I said to myself, "is a true man. I will serve him, and
give him all worship, seeing in him the imbodiment of what I
would fain become. If I cannot be noble myself, I will yet be
servant to his nobleness." He, in return, soon showed me such
signs of friendship and respect, as made my heart glad; and I
felt that, after all, mine would be no lost life, if I might wait
on him to the world's end, although no smile but his should greet
me, and no one but him should say, "Well done! he was a good
servant!" at last. But I burned to do something more for him
than the ordinary routine of a squire's duty permitted.
One afternoon, we began to observe an appearance of roads in the
wood. Branches had been cut down, and openings made, where
footsteps had worn no path below. These indications increased as
we passed on, till, at length, we came into a long, narrow
avenue, formed by felling the trees in its line, as the remaining
roots evidenced. At some little distance, on both hands, we
observed signs of similar avenues, which appeared to converge
with ours, towards one spot. Along these we indistinctly saw
several forms moving, which seemed, with ourselves, to approach
the common centre. Our path brought us, at last, up to a wall of
yew-trees, growing close together, and intertwining their
branches so, that nothing could be seen beyond it. An opening
was cut in it like a door, and all the wall was trimmed smooth
and perpendicular. The knight dismounted, and waited till I had
provided for his horse's comfort; upon which we entered the place
It was a great space, bare of trees, and enclosed by four walls
of yew, similar to that through which we had entered. These
trees grew to a very great height, and did not divide from each
other till close to the top, where their summits formed a row of
conical battlements all around the walls. The space contained
was a parallelogram of great length. Along each of the two
longer sides of the interior, were ranged three ranks of men, in
white robes, standing silent and solemn, each with a sword by his
side, although the rest of his costume and bearing was more
priestly than soldierly. For some distance inwards, the space
between these opposite rows was filled with a company of men and
women and children, in holiday attire. The looks of all were
directed inwards, towards the further end. Far beyond the crowd,
in a long avenue, seeming to narrow in the distance, went the
long rows of the white-robed men. On what the attention of the
multitude was fixed, we could not tell, for the sun had set
before we arrived, and it was growing dark within. It grew
darker and darker. The multitude waited in silence. The stars
began to shine down into the enclosure, and they grew brighter
and larger every moment. A wind arose, and swayed the pinnacles
of the tree-tops; and made a strange sound, half like music, half
like moaning, through the close branches and leaves of the
tree-walls. A young girl who stood beside me, clothed in the
same dress as the priests, bowed her head, and grew pale with
The knight whispered to me, "How solemn it is! Surely they wait
to hear the voice of a prophet. There is something good near!"
But I, though somewhat shaken by the feeling expressed by my
master, yet had an unaccountable conviction that here was
something bad. So I resolved to be keenly on the watch for what
Suddenly a great star, like a sun, appeared high in the air over
the temple, illuminating it throughout; and a great song arose
from the men in white, which went rolling round and round the
building, now receding to the end, and now approaching, down the
other side, the place where we stood. For some of the singers
were regularly ceasing, and the next to them as regularly taking
up the song, so that it crept onwards with gradations produced by
changes which could not themselves be detected, for only a few of
those who were singing ceased at the same moment. The song
paused; and I saw a company of six of the white-robed men walk up
the centre of the human avenue, surrounding a youth gorgeously
attired beneath his robe of white, and wearing a chaplet of
flowers on his head. I followed them closely, with my keenest
observation; and, by accompanying their slow progress with my
eyes, I was able to perceive more clearly what took place when
they arrived at the other end. I knew that my sight was so much
more keen than that of most people, that I had good reason to
suppose I should see more than the rest could, at such a
distance. At the farther end a throne stood upon a platform,
high above the heads of the surrounding priests. To this
platform I saw the company begin to ascend, apparently by an
inclined plane or gentle slope. The throne itself was elevated
again, on a kind of square pedestal, to the top of which led a
flight of steps. On the throne sat a majestic- looking figure,
whose posture seemed to indicate a mixture of pride and
benignity, as he looked down on the multitude below. The company
ascended to the foot of the throne, where they all kneeled for
some minutes; then they rose and passed round to the side of the
pedestal upon which the throne stood. Here they crowded close
behind the youth, putting him in the foremost place, and one of
them opened a door in the pedestal, for the youth to enter. I
was sure I saw him shrink back, and those crowding behind pushed
him in. Then, again, arose a burst of song from the multitude in
white, which lasted some time. When it ceased, a new company of
seven commenced its march up the centre. As they advanced, I
looked up at my master: his noble countenance was full of
reverence and awe. Incapable of evil himself, he could scarcely
suspect it in another, much less in a multitude such as this, and
surrounded with such appearances of solemnity. I was certain it
was the really grand accompaniments that overcame him; that the
stars overhead, the dark towering tops of the yew-trees, and the
wind that, like an unseen spirit, sighed through their branches,
bowed his spirit to the belief, that in all these ceremonies lay
some great mystical meaning which, his humility told him, his
ignorance prevented him from understanding.
More convinced than before, that there was evil here, I could not
endure that my master should be deceived; that one like him, so
pure and noble, should respect what, if my suspicions were true,
was worse than the ordinary deceptions of priestcraft. I could
not tell how far he might be led to countenance, and otherwise
support their doings, before he should find cause to repent
bitterly of his error. I watched the new procession yet more
keenly, if possible, than the former. This time, the central
figure was a girl; and, at the close, I observed, yet more
indubitably, the shrinking back, and the crowding push. What
happened to the victims, I never learned; but I had learned
enough, and I could bear it no longer. I stooped, and whispered
to the young girl who stood by me, to lend me her white garment.
I wanted it, that I might not be entirely out of keeping with the
solemnity, but might have at least this help to passing
unquestioned. She looked up, half-amused and half-bewildered, as
if doubting whether I was in earnest or not. But in her
perplexity, she permitted me to unfasten it, and slip it down
from her shoulders.
I easily got possession of it; and, sinking down on my knees in
the crowd, I rose apparently in the habit of one of the
Giving my battle-axe to the girl, to hold in pledge for the
return of her stole, for I wished to test the matter unarmed,
and, if it was a man that sat upon the throne, to attack him with
hands bare, as I supposed his must be, I made my way through the
crowd to the front, while the singing yet continued, desirous of
reaching the platform while it was unoccupied by any of the
priests. I was permitted to walk up the long avenue of white
robes unmolested, though I saw questioning looks in many of the
faces as I passed. I presume my coolness aided my passage; for I
felt quite indifferent as to my own fate; not feeling, after the
late events of my history, that I was at all worth taking care
of; and enjoying, perhaps, something of an evil satisfaction, in
the revenge I was thus taking upon the self which had fooled me
so long. When I arrived on the platform, the song had just
ceased, and I felt as if all were looking towards me. But
instead of kneeling at its foot, I walked right up the stairs to
the throne, laid hold of a great wooden image that seemed to sit
upon it, and tried to hurl it from its seat. In this I failed at
first, for I found it firmly fixed. But in dread lest, the first
shock of amazement passing away, the guards would rush upon me
before I had effected my purpose, I strained with all my might;
and, with a noise as of the cracking, and breaking, and tearing
of rotten wood, something gave way, and I hurled the image down
the steps. Its displacement revealed a great hole in the throne,
like the hollow of a decayed tree, going down apparently a great
way. But I had no time to examine it, for, as I looked into it,
up out of it rushed a great brute, like a wolf, but twice the
size, and tumbled me headlong with itself, down the steps of the
throne. As we fell, however, I caught it by the throat, and the
moment we reached the platform, a struggle commenced, in which I
soon got uppermost, with my hand upon its throat, and knee upon
its heart. But now arose a wild cry of wrath and revenge and
rescue. A universal hiss of steel, as every sword was swept from
its scabbard, seemed to tear the very air in shreds. I heard the
rush of hundreds towards the platform on which I knelt. I only
tightened my grasp of the brute's throat. His eyes were already
starting from his head, and his tongue was hanging out. My
anxious hope was, that, even after they had killed me, they would
be unable to undo my gripe of his throat, before the monster was
past breathing. I therefore threw all my will, and force, and
purpose, into the grasping hand. I remember no blow. A
faintness came over me, and my consciousness departed.
"We are ne'er like angels till our passions die."
"This wretched INN, where we scarce stay to bait,
We call our DWELLING-PLACE:
We call one STEP A RACE:
But angels in their full enlightened state,
Angels, who LIVE, and know what 'tis to BE,
Who all the nonsense of our language see,
Who speak THINGS, and our WORDS,their ill-drawn
When we, by a foolish figure, say,
BEHOLD AN OLD MAN DEAD! then they
Speak properly, and cry, BEHOLD A MAN-CHILD BORN!"
I was dead, and right content. I lay in my coffin, with my
hands folded in peace. The knight, and the lady I loved, wept
Her tears fell on my face.
"Ah!" said the knight, "I rushed amongst them like a madman. I
hewed them down like brushwood. Their swords battered on me like
hail, but hurt me not. I cut a lane through to my friend. He
was dead. But he had throttled the monster, and I had to cut the
handful out of its throat, before I could disengage and carry off
his body. They dared not molest me as I brought him back."
"He has died well," said the lady.
My spirit rejoiced. They left me to my repose. I felt as if a
cool hand had been laid upon my heart, and had stilled it. My
soul was like a summer evening, after a heavy fall of rain, when
the drops are yet glistening on the trees in the last rays of the
down-going sun, and the wind of the twilight has begun to blow.
The hot fever of life had gone by, and I breathed the clear
mountain-air of the land of Death. I had never dreamed of such
blessedness. It was not that I had in any way ceased to be what
I had been. The very fact that anything can die, implies the
existence of something that cannot die; which must either take to
itself another form, as when the seed that is sown dies, and
arises again; or, in conscious existence, may, perhaps, continue
to lead a purely spiritual life. If my passions were dead, the
souls of the passions, those essential mysteries of the spirit
which had imbodied themselves in the passions, and had given to
them all their glory and wonderment, yet lived, yet glowed, with
a pure, undying fire. They rose above their vanishing earthly
garments, and disclosed themselves angels of light. But oh, how
beautiful beyond the old form! I lay thus for a time, and lived
as it were an unradiating existence; my soul a motionless lake,
that received all things and gave nothing back; satisfied in
still contemplation, and spiritual consciousness.
Ere long, they bore me to my grave. Never tired child lay down
in his white bed, and heard the sound of his playthings being
laid aside for the night, with a more luxurious satisfaction of
repose than I knew, when I felt the coffin settle on the firm
earth, and heard the sound of the falling mould upon its lid. It
has not the same hollow rattle within the coffin, that it sends
up to the edge of the grave. They buried me in no graveyard.
They loved me too much for that, I thank them; but they laid me
in the grounds of their own castle, amid many trees; where, as it
was spring-time, were growing primroses, and blue-bells, and all
the families of the woods
Now that I lay in her bosom, the whole earth, and each of her
many births, was as a body to me, at my will. I seemed to feel
the great heart of the mother beating into mine, and feeding me
with her own life, her own essential being and nature. I heard
the footsteps of my friends above, and they sent a thrill through
my heart. I knew that the helpers had gone, and that the knight
and the lady remained, and spoke low, gentle, tearful words of
him who lay beneath the yet wounded sod. I rose into a single
large primrose that grew by the edge of the grave, and from the
window of its humble, trusting face, looked full in the
countenance of the lady. I felt that I could manifest myself in
the primrose; that it said a part of what I wanted to say; just
as in the old time, I had used to betake myself to a song for the
same end. The flower caught her eye. She stooped and plucked
it, saying, "Oh, you beautiful creature!" and, lightly kissing
it, put it in her bosom. It was the first kiss she had ever
given me. But the flower soon began to wither, and I forsook it.
It was evening. The sun was below the horizon; but his rosy
beams yet illuminated a feathery cloud, that floated high above
the world. I arose, I reached the cloud; and, throwing myself
upon it, floated with it in sight of the sinking sun. He sank,
and the cloud grew gray; but the grayness touched not my heart.
It carried its rose-hue within; for now I could love without
needing to be loved again. The moon came gliding up with all the
past in her wan face. She changed my couch into a ghostly
pallor, and threw all the earth below as to the bottom of a pale
sea of dreams. But she could not make me sad. I knew now, that
it is by loving, and not by being loved, that one can come
nearest the soul of another; yea, that, where two love, it is the
loving of each other, and not the being loved by each other, that
originates and perfects and assures their blessedness. I knew
that love gives to him that loveth, power over any soul beloved,
even if that soul know him not, bringing him inwardly close to
that spirit; a power that cannot be but for good; for in
proportion as selfishness intrudes, the love ceases, and the
power which springs therefrom dies. Yet all love will, one day,
meet with its return. All true love will, one day, behold its
own image in the eyes of the beloved, and be humbly glad. This
is possible in the realms of lofty Death. "Ah! my friends,"
thought I, "how I will tend you, and wait upon you, and haunt you
with my love."
My floating chariot bore me over a great city. Its faint dull
sound steamed up into the air--a sound--how composed?" How many
hopeless cries," thought I, "and how many mad shouts go to make
up the tumult, here so faint where I float in eternal peace,
knowing that they will one day be stilled in the surrounding
calm, and that despair dies into infinite hope, and the seeming
impossible there, is the law here!
But, O pale-faced women, and gloomy-browed men, and forgotten
children, how I will wait on you, and minister to you, and,
putting my arms about you in the dark, think hope into your
hearts, when you fancy no one is near! Soon as my senses have
all come back, and have grown accustomed to this new blessed
life, I will be among you with the love that healeth."
With this, a pang and a terrible shudder went through me; a
writhing as of death convulsed me; and I became once again
conscious of a more limited, even a bodily and earthly life.
"Our life is no dream; but it ought to become one,
and perhaps will."--NOVALIS.
"And on the ground, which is my modres gate,
I knocke with my staf; erlich and late,
And say to hire, Leve mother, let me in."
CHAUCER, The Pardoneres Tale.
Sinking from such a state of ideal bliss, into the world of
shadows which again closed around and infolded me, my first dread
was, not unnaturally, that my own shadow had found me again, and
that my torture had commenced anew. It was a sad revulsion of
feeling. This, indeed, seemed to correspond to what we think
death is, before we die. Yet I felt within me a power of calm
endurance to which I had hitherto been a stranger. For, in
truth, that I should be able if only to think such things as I
had been thinking, was an unspeakable delight. An hour of such
peace made the turmoil of a lifetime worth striving through.
I found myself lying in the open air, in the early morning,
before sunrise. Over me rose the summer heaven, expectant of the
sun. The clouds already saw him, coming from afar; and soon
every dewdrop would rejoice in his individual presence within it.
I lay motionless for a few minutes; and then slowly rose and
looked about me. I was on the summit of a little hill; a valley
lay beneath, and a range of mountains closed up the view upon
that side. But, to my horror, across the valley, and up the
height of the opposing mountains, stretched, from my very feet, a
hugely expanding shade. There it lay, long and large, dark and
mighty. I turned away with a sick despair; when lo! I beheld
the sun just lifting his head above the eastern hill, and the
shadow that fell from me, lay only where his beams fell not. I
danced for joy. It was only the natural shadow, that goes with
every man who walks in the sun. As he arose, higher and higher,
the shadow-head sank down the side of the opposite hill, and
crept in across the valley towards my feet.
Now that I was so joyously delivered from this fear, I saw and
recognised the country around me. In the valley below, lay my
own castle, and the haunts of my childhood were all about me
hastened home. My sisters received me with unspeakable joy; but
I suppose they observed some change in me, for a kind of respect,
with a slight touch of awe in it, mingled with their joy, and
made me ashamed. They had been in great distress about me. On
the morning of my disappearance, they had found the floor of my
room flooded; and, all that day, a wondrous and nearly impervious
mist had hung about the castle and grounds. I had been gone,
they told me, twenty- one days. To me it seemed twenty-one
years. Nor could I yet feel quite secure in my new experiences.
When, at night, I lay down once more in my own bed, I did not
feel at all sure that when I awoke, I should not find myself in
some mysterious region of Fairy Land. My dreams were incessant
and perturbed; but when I did awake, I saw clearly that I was in
my own home.
My mind soon grew calm; and I began the duties of my new
position, somewhat instructed, I hoped, by the adventures that
had befallen me in Fairy Land. Could I translate the experience
of my travels there, into common life? This was the question.
Or must I live it all over again, and learn it all over again, in
the other forms that belong to the world of men, whose experience
yet runs parallel to that of Fairy Land? These questions I
cannot answer yet. But I fear.
Even yet, I find myself looking round sometimes with anxiety, to
see whether my shadow falls right away from the sun or no. I
have never yet discovered any inclination to either side. And if
I am not unfrequently sad, I yet cast no more of a shade on the
earth, than most men who have lived in it as long as I. I have a
strange feeling sometimes, that I am a ghost, sent into the world
to minister to my fellow men, or, rather, to repair the wrongs I
have already done.
May the world be brighter for me, at least in those portions of
it, where my darkness falls not.
Thus I, who set out to find my Ideal, came back rejoicing that I
had lost my Shadow.
When the thought of the blessedness I experienced, after my death
in Fairy Land, is too high for me to lay hold upon it and hope in
it, I often think of the wise woman in the cottage, and of her
solemn assurance that she knew something too good to be told.
When I am oppressed by any sorrow or real perplexity, I often
feel as if I had only left her cottage for a time, and would soon
return out of the vision, into it again. Sometimes, on such
occasions, I find myself, unconsciously almost, looking about for
the mystic mark of red, with the vague hope of entering her door,
and being comforted by her wise tenderness. I then console
myself by saying: "I have come through the door of Dismay; and
the way back from the world into which that has led me, is
through my tomb. Upon that the red sign lies, and I shall find
it one day, and be glad."
I will end my story with the relation of an incident which befell
me a few days ago. I had been with my reapers, and, when they
ceased their work at noon, I had lain down under the shadow of a
great, ancient beech-tree, that stood on the edge of the field.
As I lay, with my eyes closed, I began to listen to the sound of
the leaves overhead. At first, they made sweet inarticulate
music alone; but, by-and-by, the sound seemed to begin to take
shape, and to be gradually moulding itself into words; till, at
last, I seemed able to distinguish these, half-dissolved in a
little ocean of circumfluent tones: "A great good is coming--is
coming--is coming to thee, Anodos"; and so over and over again.
I fancied that the sound reminded me of the voice of the ancient
woman, in the cottage that was four-square. I opened my eyes,
and, for a moment, almost believed that I saw her face, with its
many wrinkles and its young eyes, looking at me from between two
hoary branches of the beech overhead. But when I looked more
keenly, I saw only twigs and leaves, and the infinite sky, in
tiny spots, gazing through between. Yet I know that good is
coming to me--that good is always coming; though few have at all
times the simplicity and the courage to believe it. What we call
evil, is the only and best shape, which, for the person and his
condition at the time, could be assumed by the best good. And
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