The Pilgrims Of The Rhine
E. Bulwer Lytton
Part 3 out of 5
"Shake a paw on it," quoth the grim smoker; and the dog shook paws.
"And now," said the griffin, "I will tell you what you are to do. Look
here," and moving his tail, he showed the dog a great heap of gold and
silver, in a hole in the ground, that he had covered with the folds of
his tail; and also, what the dog thought more valuable, a great heap of
bones of very tempting appearance. "Now," said the griffin, "during the
day I can take very good care of these myself; but at night it is very
necessary that I should go to sleep, so when I sleep you must watch over
them instead of me."
"Very well," said the dog. "As to the gold and silver, I have no
objection; but I would much rather that you would lock up the bones, for
I'm often hungry of a night, and--"
"Hold your tongue," said the griffin.
"But, sir," said the dog, after a short silence, "surely nobody ever
comes into so retired a situation! Who are the thieves, if I may make
bold to ask?"
"Know," answered the griffin, "that there are a great many serpents in
this neighbourhood. They are always trying to steal my treasure; and if
they catch me napping, they, not contented with theft, would do their
best to sting me to death. So that I am almost worn out for want of
"Ah," quoth the dog, who was fond of a good night's rest, "I don't envy
you your treasure, sir."
At night, the griffin, who had a great deal of penetration, and saw that
he might depend on the dog, lay down to sleep in another corner of the
cave; and the dog, shaking himself well, so as to be quite awake, took
watch over the treasure. His mouth watered exceedingly at the bones, and
he could not help smelling them now and then; but he said to himself, "A
bargain's a bargain, and since I have promised to serve the griffin, I
must serve him as an honest dog ought to serve."
In the middle of the night he saw a great snake creeping in by the side
of the cave; but the dog set up so loud a bark that the griffin awoke,
and the snake crept away as fast as he could. Then the griffin was very
much pleased, and he gave the dog one of the bones to amuse himself with;
and every night the dog watched the treasure, and acquitted himself so
well that not a snake, at last, dared to make its appearance,--so the
griffin enjoyed an excellent night's rest.
The dog now found himself much more comfortable than he expected. The
griffin regularly gave him one of the bones for supper; and, pleased with
his fidelity, made himself as agreeable a master as a griffin could be.
Still, however, the dog was secretly very anxious to return to earth; for
having nothing to do during the day but to doze on the ground, he dreamed
perpetually of his cousin the cat's charms, and, in fancy, he gave the
rascal Reynard as hearty a worry as a fox may well have the honour of
receiving from a dog's paws. He awoke panting; alas! he could not
realize his dreams.
One night, as he was watching as usual over the treasure, he was greatly
surprised to see a beautiful little black and white dog enter the cave;
and it came fawning to our honest friend, wagging its tail with pleasure.
"Ah, little one," said our dog, whom, to distinguish, I will call the
watch-dog, "you had better make the best of your way back again. See,
there is a great griffin asleep in the other corner of the cave, and if
he wakes, he will either eat you up or make you his servant, as he has
"I know what you would tell me," says the little dog; "and I have come
down here to deliver you. The stone is now gone from the mouth of the
cave, and you have nothing to do but to go back with me. Come, brother,
The dog was very much excited by this address. "Don't ask me, my dear
little friend," said he; "you must be aware that I should be too happy to
escape out of this cold cave, and roll on the soft turf once more: but if
I leave my master, the griffin, those cursed serpents, who are always on
the watch, will come in and steal his treasure,--nay, perhaps, sting him
to death." Then the little dog came up to the watch-dog, and
remonstrated with him greatly, and licked him caressingly on both sides
of his face; and, taking him by the ear, endeavoured to draw him from the
treasure: but the dog would not stir a step, though his heart sorely
pressed him. At length the little dog, finding it all in vain, said,
"Well, then, if I must leave, good-by; but I have become so hungry in
coming down all this way after you, that I wish you would give me one of
those bones; they smell very pleasantly, and one out of so many could
never be missed."
"Alas!" said the watchdog, with tears in his eyes, "how unlucky I am to
have eaten up the bone my master gave me, otherwise you should have had
it and welcome. But I can't give you one of these, because my master has
made me promise to watch over them all, and I have given him my paw on
it. I am sure a dog of your respectable appearance will say nothing
further on the subject."
Then the little dog answered pettishly, "Pooh, what nonsense you talk!
surely a great griffin can't miss a little bone fit for me?" and nestling
his nose under the watch-dog, he tried forthwith to bring up one of the
On this the watch-dog grew angry, and, though with much reluctance, he
seized the little dog by the nape of the neck and threw him off, but
without hurting him. Suddenly the little dog changed into a monstrous
serpent, bigger even than the griffin himself, and the watch-dog barked
with all his might. The griffin rose in a great hurry, and the serpent
sprang upon him ere he was well awake. I wish, dearest Nymphalin, you
could have seen the battle between the griffin and the serpent,--how they
coiled and twisted, and bit and darted their fiery tongues at each other.
At length the serpent got uppermost, and was about to plunge his tongue
into that part of the griffin which is unprotected by his scales, when
the dog, seizing him by the tail, bit him so sharply that he could not
help turning round to kill his new assailant, and the griffin, taking
advantage of the opportunity, caught the serpent by the throat with both
claws, and fairly strangled him. As soon as the griffin had recovered
from the nervousness of the conflict, he heaped all manner of caresses on
the dog for saving his life. The dog told him the whole story, and the
griffin then explained that the dead snake was the king of the serpents,
who had the power to change himself into any shape he pleased. "If he
had tempted you," said he, "to leave the treasure but for one moment, or
to have given him any part of it, ay, but a single bone, he would have
crushed you in an instant, and stung me to death ere I could have waked;
but none, no, not the most venomous thing in creation, has power to hurt
"That has always been my belief," answered the dog; "and now, sir, you
had better go to sleep again and leave the rest to me."
"Nay," answered the griffin, "I have no longer need of a servant; for now
that the king of the serpents is dead, the rest will never molest me. It
was only to satisfy his avarice that his subjects dared to brave the den
of the griffin."
Upon hearing this the dog was exceedingly delighted; and raising himself
on his hind paws, he begged the griffin most movingly to let him return
to earth, to visit his mistress the cat, and worry his rival the fox.
"You do not serve an ungrateful master," answered the griffin. "You
shall return, and I will teach you all the craft of our race, which is
much craftier than the race of that pettifogger the fox, so that you may
be able to cope with your rival."
"Ah, excuse me," said the dog, hastily, "I am equally obliged to you; but
I fancy honesty is a match for cunning any day, and I think myself a
great deal safer in being a dog of honour than if I knew all the tricks
in the world."
"Well," said the griffin, a little piqued at the dog's bluntness, "do as
you please; I wish you all possible success."
Then the griffin opened a secret door in the side of the cabin, and the
dog saw a broad path that led at once into the wood. He thanked the
griffin with all his heart, and ran wagging his tail into the open
moonlight. "Ah, ah, master fox," said he, "there's no trap for an honest
dog that has not two doors to it, cunning as you think yourself."
With that he curled his tail gallantly over his left leg, and set off on
a long trot to the cat's house. When he was within sight of it, he
stopped to refresh himself by a pool of water, and who should be there
but our friend the magpie.
"And what do _you_ want, friend?" said she, rather disdainfully, for the
dog looked somewhat out of case after his journey.
"I am going to see my cousin the cat," answered he.
"_Your cousin_! marry come up," said the magpie; "don't you know she is
going to be married to Reynard the fox? This is not a time for her to
receive the visits of a brute like you."
These words put the dog in such a passion that he very nearly bit the
magpie for her uncivil mode of communicating such bad news. However, he
curbed his temper, and, without answering her, went at once to the cat's
The cat was sitting at the window, and no sooner did the dog see her than
he fairly lost his heart; never had he seen so charming a cat before. He
advanced, wagging his tail, and with his most insinuating air, when the
cat, getting up, clapped the window in his face, and lo! Reynard the fox
appeared in her stead.
"Come out, thou rascal!" said the dog, showing his teeth; "come out, I
challenge thee to single combat; I have not forgiven thy malice, and thou
seest that I am no longer shut up in the cave, and unable to punish thee
for thy wickedness."
"Go home, silly one!" answered the fox, sneering; "thou hast no business
here, and as for fighting thee--bah!" Then the fox left the window and
disappeared. But the dog, thoroughly enraged, scratched lustily at the
door, and made such a noise, that presently the cat herself came to the
"How now!" said she, angrily; "what means all this rudeness? Who are
you, and what do you want at my house?"
"Oh, my dear cousin," said the dog, "do not speak so severely. Know that
I have come here on purpose to pay you a visit; and, whatever you do, let
me beseech you not to listen to that villain Reynard,--you have no
conception what a rogue he is!"
"What!" said the cat, blushing; "do you dare to abuse your betters in
this fashion? I see you have a design on me. Go, this instant, or--"
"Enough, madam," said the dog, proudly; "you need not speak twice to
And he turned away very slowly, and went under a tree, where he took up
his lodgings for the night. But the next morning there was an amazing
commotion in the neighbourhood; a stranger, of a very different style of
travelling from that of the dog, had arrived at the dead of the night,
and fixed his abode in a large cavern hollowed out of a steep rock. The
noise he had made in flying through the air was so great that it had
awakened every bird and beast in the parish; and Reynard, whose bad
conscience never suffered him to sleep very soundly, putting his head out
of the window, perceived, to his great alarm, that the stranger was
nothing less than a monstrous griffin.
Now the griffins are the richest beasts in the world; and that's the
reason they keep so close under ground. Whenever it does happen that
they pay a visit above, it is not a thing to be easily forgotten.
The magpie was all agitation. What could the griffin possibly want
there? She resolved to take a peep at the cavern, and accordingly she
hopped timorously up the rock, and pretended to be picking up sticks for
"Holla, ma'am!" cried a very rough voice, and she saw the griffin putting
his head out of the cavern. "Holla! you are the very lady I want to see;
you know all the people about here, eh?"
"All the best company, your lordship, I certainly do," answered the
magpie, dropping a courtesy.
Upon this the griffin walked out; and smoking his pipe leisurely in the
open air, in order to set the pie at her ease, continued,--
"Are there any respectable beasts of good families settled in this
"Oh, most elegant society, I assure your lordship," cried the pie. "I
have lived here myself these ten years, and the great heiress, the cat
yonder, attracts a vast number of strangers."
"Humph! heiress, indeed! much you know about heiresses!" said the
griffin. "There is only one heiress in the world, and that's my
"Bless me! has your lordship a family? I beg you a thousand pardons; but
I only saw your lordship's own equipage last night, and did not know you
brought any one with you."
"My daughter went first, and was safely lodged before I arrived. She did
not disturb you, I dare say, as I did; for she sails along like a swan:
but I have got the gout in my left claw, and that's the reason I puff and
groan so in taking a journey."
"Shall I drop in upon Miss Griffin, and see how she is after her
journey?" said the pie, advancing.
"I thank you, no. I don't intend her to be seen while I stay here,--it
unsettles her; and I'm afraid of the young beasts running away with her
if they once heard how handsome she was: she's the living picture of me,
but she's monstrous giddy! Not that I should care much if she did go off
with a beast of degree, were I not obliged to pay her portion, which is
prodigious; and I don't like parting with money, ma'am, when I've once
got it. Ho, ho, ho!"
"You are too witty, my lord. But if you refused your consent?" said the
pie, anxious to know the whole family history of so grand a seigneur.
"I should have to pay the dowry all the same. It was left her by her
uncle the dragon. But don't let this go any further."
"Your lordship may depend on my secrecy. I wish your lordship a very
Away flew the pie, and she did not stop till she got to the cat's house.
The cat and the fox were at breakfast, and the fox had his paw on his
heart. "Beautiful scene!" cried the pie; the cat coloured, and bade the
pie take a seat.
Then off went the pie's tongue, glib, glib, glib, chatter, chatter,
chatter. She related to them the whole story of the griffin and his
daughter, and a great deal more besides, that the griffin had never told
The cat listened attentively. Another young heiress in the neighbourhood
might be a formidable rival. "But is this griffiness handsome?" said
"Handsome!" cried the pie; "oh, if you could have seen the father!--such
a mouth, such eyes, such a complexion; and he declares she's the living
picture of himself! But what do you say, Mr. Reynard,--you, who have
been so much in the world, have, perhaps, seen the young lady?"
"Why, I can't say I have," answered the fox, waking from a revery; "but
she must be wonderfully rich. I dare say that fool the dog will be
making up to her."
"Ah, by the way," said the pie, "what a fuss he made at your door
yesterday; why would you not admit him, my dear?"
"Oh," said the cat, demurely, "Mr. Reynard says that he is a dog of very
bad character, quite a fortune-hunter; and hiding the most dangerous
disposition to bite under an appearance of good nature. I hope he won't
be quarrelsome with you, dear Reynard!"
"With me? Oh, the poor wretch, no!--he might bluster a little; but he
knows that if I'm once angry I'm a devil at biting;--one should not boast
In the evening Reynard felt a strange desire to go and see the griffin
smoking his pipe; but what could he do? There was the dog under the
opposite tree evidently watching for him, and Reynard had no wish to
prove himself that devil at biting which be declared he was. At last he
resolved to have recourse to stratagem to get rid of the dog.
A young buck of a rabbit, a sort of provincial fop, had looked in upon
his cousin the cat, to pay her his respects, and Reynard, taking him
aside, said, "You see that shabby-looking dog under the tree? He has
behaved very ill to your cousin the cat, and you certainly ought to
challenge him. Forgive my boldness, nothing but respect for your
character induces me to take so great a liberty; you know I would
chastise the rascal myself, but what a scandal it would make! If I were
already married to your cousin, it would be a different thing. But you
know what a story that cursed magpie would hatch out of it!"
The rabbit looked very foolish; he assured the fox he was no match for
the dog; that he was very fond of his cousin, to be sure! but he saw no
necessity to interfere with her domestic affairs; and, in short, he tried
all he possibly could to get out of the scrape; but the fox so artfully
played on his vanity, so earnestly assured him that the dog was the
biggest coward in the world and would make a humble apology, and so
eloquently represented to him the glory he would obtain for manifesting
so much spirit, that at length the rabbit was persuaded to go out and
deliver the challenge.
"I'll be your second," said the fox; "and the great field on the other
side the wood, two miles hence, shall be the place of battle: there we
shall be out of observation. You go first, I'll follow in half an hour;
and I say, hark!--in case he does accept the challenge, and you feel the
least afraid, I'll be in the field, and take it off your paws with the
utmost pleasure; rely on _me_, my dear sir!"
Away went the rabbit. The dog was a little astonished at the temerity of
the poor creature; but on hearing that the fox was to be present,
willingly consented to repair to the place of conflict. This readiness
the rabbit did not at all relish; he went very slowly to the field, and
seeing no fox there, his heart misgave him; and while the dog was putting
his nose to the ground to try if he could track the coming of the fox,
the rabbit slipped into a burrow, and left the dog to walk back again.
Meanwhile the fox was already at the rock; he walked very soft-footedly,
and looked about with extreme caution, for he had a vague notion that a
griffin-papa would not be very civil to foxes.
Now there were two holes in the rock,--one below, one above, an upper
story and an under; and while the fox was peering about, he saw a great
claw from the upper rock beckoning to him.
"Ah, ah!" said the fox, "that's the wanton young griffiness, I'll swear."
He approached, and a voice said,--
"Charming Mr. Reynard, do you not think you could deliver an unfortunate
griffiness from a barbarous confinement in this rock?"
"Oh, heavens!" cried the fox, tenderly, "what a beautiful voice! and, ah,
my poor heart, what a lovely claw! Is it possible that I hear the
daughter of my lord, the great griffin?"
"Hush, flatterer! not so loud, if you please. My father is taking an
evening stroll, and is very quick of hearing. He has tied me up by my
poor wings in the cavern, for he is mightily afraid of some beast running
away with me. You know I have all my fortune settled on myself."
"Talk not of fortune," said the fox; "but how can I deliver you? Shall I
enter and gnaw the cord?"
"Alas!" answered the griffiness, "it is an immense chain I am bound with.
However, you may come in and talk more at your ease."
The fox peeped cautiously all round, and seeing no sign of the griffin,
he entered the lower cave and stole upstairs to the upper story; but as
he went on, he saw immense piles of jewels and gold, and all sorts of
treasure, so that the old griffin might well have laughed at the poor cat
being called an heiress. The fox was greatly pleased at such
indisputable signs of wealth, and he entered the upper cave, resolved to
be transported with the charms of the griffiness.
There was, however, a great chasm between the landing-place and the spot
where the young lady was chained, and he found it impossible to pass; the
cavern was very dark, but he saw enough of the figure of the griffiness
to perceive, in spite of her petticoat, that she was the image of her
father, and the most hideous heiress that the earth ever saw!
However, he swallowed his disgust, and poured forth such a heap of
compliments that the griffiness appeared entirely won.
He implored her to fly with him the first moment she was unchained.
"That is impossible," said she; "for my father never unchains me except
in his presence, and then I cannot stir out of his sight."
"The wretch!" cried Reynard, "what is to be done?"
"Why, there is only one thing I know of," answered the griffiness, "which
is this: I always make his soup for him, and if I could mix something in
it that would put him fast to sleep before he had time to chain me up
again I might slip down and carry off all the treasure below on my back."
"Charming!" exclaimed Reynard; "what invention! what wit! I will go and
get some poppies directly."
"Alas!" said the griffiness, "poppies have no effect upon griffins. The
only thing that can ever put my father fast to sleep is a nice young cat
boiled up in his soup; it is astonishing what a charm that has upon him!
But where to get a cat?--it must be a maiden cat too!"
Reynard was a little startled at so singular an opiate. "But," thought
he, "griffins are not like the rest of the world, and so rich an heiress
is not to be won by ordinary means."
"I do know a cat,--a maiden cat," said he, after a short pause; "but I
feel a little repugnance at the thought of having her boiled in the
griffin's soup. Would not a dog do as well?"
"Ah, base thing!" said the griffiness, appearing to weep; "you are in
love with the cat, I see it; go and marry her, poor dwarf that she is,
and leave me to die of grief."
In vain the fox protested that he did not care a straw for the cat;
nothing could now appease the griffiness but his positive assurance that
come what would poor puss should be brought to the cave and boiled for
the griffin's soup.
"But how will you get her here?" said the griffiness.
"Ah, leave that to me," said Reynard. "Only put a basket out of the
window and draw it up by a cord; the moment it arrives at the window, be
sure to clap your claw on the cat at once, for she is terribly active."
"Tush!" answered the heiress; "a pretty griffiness I should be if I did
not know how to catch a cat!"
"But this must be when your father is out?" said Reynard.
"Certainly; he takes a stroll every evening at sunset."
"Let it be to-morrow, then," said Reynard, impatient for the treasure.
This being arranged, Reynard thought it time to decamp. He stole down
the stairs again, and tried to filch some of the treasure by the way; but
it was too heavy for him to carry, and he was forced to acknowledge to
himself that it was impossible to get the treasure without taking the
griffiness (whose back seemed prodigiously strong) into the bargain.
He returned home to the cat, and when he entered her house, and saw how
ordinary everything looked after the jewels in the griffin's cave, he
quite wondered how he had ever thought the cat had the least pretensions
to good looks. However, he concealed his wicked design, and his mistress
thought he had never appeared so amiable.
"Only guess," said he, "where I have been!--to our new neighbour the
griffin; a most charming person, thoroughly affable, and quite the air of
the court. As for that silly magpie, the griffin saw her character at
once; and it was all a hoax about his daughter,--he has no daughter at
all. You know, my dear, hoaxing is a fashionable amusement among the
great. He says he has heard of nothing but your beauty, and on my
telling him we were going to be married, he has insisted upon giving a
great ball and supper in honour of the event. In fact, he is a gallant
old fellow, and dying to see you. Of course, I was obliged to accept the
"You could not do otherwise," said the unsuspecting young creature, who,
as I before said, was very susceptible to flattery.
"And only think how delicate his attentions are," said the fox. "As he
is very badly lodged for a beast of his rank, and his treasure takes up
the whole of the ground floor, he is forced to give the _fete_ in the
upper story, so he hangs out a basket for his guests, and draws them up
with his own claw. How condescending! But the great _are_ so amiable!"
The cat, brought up in seclusion, was all delight at the idea of seeing
such high life, and the lovers talked of nothing else all the next
day,--when Reynard, towards evening, putting his head out of the window,
saw his old friend the dog lying as usual and watching him very grimly.
"Ah, that cursed creature! I had quite forgotten him; what is to be done
now? He would make no bones of me if he once saw me set foot out of
With that, the fox began to cast in his head how he should get rid of his
rival, and at length he resolved on a very notable project; he desired
the cat to set out first, and wait for him at a turn in the road a little
way off. "For," said he, "if we go together we shall certainly be
insulted by the dog; and he will know that in the presence of a lady, the
custom of a beast of my fashion will not suffer me to avenge the affront.
But when I am alone, the creature is such a coward that he will not dare
say his soul's his own; leave the door open and I'll follow immediately."
The cat's mind was so completely poisoned against her cousin that she
implicitly believed this account of his character; and accordingly, with
many recommendations to her lover not to sully his dignity by getting
into any sort of quarrel with the dog, she set off first.
The dog went up to her very humbly, and begged her to allow him to say a
few words to her; but she received him so haughtily, that his spirit was
up; and he walked back to the tree more than ever enraged against his
rival. But what was his joy when he saw that the cat had left the door
open! "Now, wretch," thought he, "you cannot escape me!" So he walked
briskly in at the back door. He was greatly surprised to find Reynard
lying down in the straw, panting as if his heart would break, and rolling
his eyes in the pangs of death.
"Ah, friend," said the fox, with a faltering voice, "you are avenged, my
hour is come; I am just going to give up the ghost: put your paw upon
mine, and say you forgive me."
Despite his anger, the generous dog could not set tooth on a dying foe.
"You have served me a shabby trick," said he; "you have left me to starve
in a hole, and you have evidently maligned me with my cousin: certainly I
meant to be avenged on you; but if you are really dying, that alters the
"Oh, oh!" groaned the fox, very bitterly; "I am past help; the poor cat
is gone for Doctor Ape, but he'll never come in time. What a thing it is
to have a bad conscience on one's death-bed! But wait till the cat
returns, and I'll do you full justice with her before I die."
The good-natured dog was much moved at seeing his mortal enemy in such a
state, and endeavoured as well as he could to console him.
"Oh, oh!" said the fox; "I am so parched in the throat, I am burning;"
and he hung his tongue out of his mouth, and rolled his eyes more
fearfully than ever.
"Is there no water here?" said the dog, looking round.
"Alas, no!--yet stay! yes, now I think of it, there is some in that
little hole in the wall; but how to get at it! It is so high that I
can't, in my poor weak state, climb up to it; and I dare not ask such a
favour of one I have injured so much."
"Don't talk of it," said the dog: "but the hole's very small, I could not
put my nose through it."
"No; but if you just climb up on that stone, and thrust your paw into the
hole, you can dip it into the water, and so cool my poor parched mouth.
Oh, what a thing it is to have a bad conscience!"
The dog sprang upon the stone, and, getting on his hind legs, thrust his
front paw into the hole; when suddenly Reynard pulled a string that he
had concealed under the straw, and the dog found his paw caught tight to
the wall in a running noose.
"Ah, rascal!" said he, turning round; but the fox leaped up gayly from
the straw, and fastening the string with his teeth to a nail in the other
end of the wall, walked out, crying, "Good-by, my dear friend; have a
care how you believe hereafter in sudden conversions!" So he left the
dog on his hind legs to take care of the house.
Reynard found the cat waiting for him where he had appointed, and they
walked lovingly together till they came to the cave. It was now dark,
and they saw the basket waiting below; the fox assisted the poor cat into
it. "There is only room for one," said he, "you must go first!" Up rose
the basket; the fox heard a piteous mew, and no more.
"So much for the griffin's soup!" thought he.
He waited patiently for some time, when the griffiness, waving her claw
from the window, said cheerfully, "All's right, my dear Reynard; my papa
has finished his soup, and sleeps as sound as a rock! All the noise in
the world would not wake him now, till he has slept off the boiled cat,
which won't be these twelve hours. Come and assist me in packing up the
treasure; I should be sorry to leave a single diamond behind."
"So should I," quoth the fox. "Stay, I'll come round by the lower hole:
why, the door's shut! pray, beautiful griffiness, open it to thy
"Alas, my father has hid the key! I never know where he places it. You
must come up by the basket; see, I will lower it for you."
The fox was a little loth to trust himself in the same conveyance that
had taken his mistress to be boiled; but the most cautious grow rash when
money's to be gained, and avarice can trap even a fox. So he put himself
as comfortably as he could into the basket, and up he went in an instant.
It rested, however, just before it reached the window, and the fox felt,
with a slight shudder, the claw of the griffiness stroking his back.
"Oh, what a beautiful coat!" quoth she, caressingly.
"You are too kind," said the fox; "but you can feel it more at your
leisure when I am once up. Make haste, I beseech you."
"Oh, what a beautiful bushy tail! Never did I feel such a tail."
"It is entirely at your service, sweet griffiness," said the fox; "but
pray let me in. Why lose an instant?"
"No, never did I feel such a tail! No wonder you are so successful with
"Ah, beloved griffiness, my tail is yours to eternity, but you pinch it a
little too hard."
Scarcely had he said this, when down dropped the basket, but not with the
fox in it; he found himself caught by the tail, and dangling half way
down the rock, by the help of the very same sort of pulley wherewith he
had snared the dog. I leave you to guess his consternation; he yelped
out as loud as he could,--for it hurts a fox exceedingly to be hanged by
his tail with his head downwards,--when the door of the rock opened, and
out stalked the griffin himself, smoking his pipe, with a vast crowd of
all the fashionable beasts in the neighbourhood.
"Oho, brother," said the bear, laughing fit to kill himself; "who ever
saw a fox hanged by the tail before?"
"You'll have need of a physician," quoth Doctor Ape.
"A pretty match, indeed; a griffiness for such a creature as you!" said
the goat, strutting by him.
The fox grinned with pain, and said nothing. But that which hurt him
most was the compassion of a dull fool of a donkey, who assured him with
great gravity that he saw nothing at all to laugh at in his situation!
"At all events," said the fox, at last, "cheated, gulled, betrayed as I
am, I have played the same trick to the dog. Go and laugh at him,
gentlemen; he deserves it as much as I can, I assure you."
"Pardon me," said the griffin, taking the pipe out of his mouth; "one
never laughs at the honest."
"And see," said the bear, "here he is."
And indeed the dog had, after much effort, gnawed the string in two, and
extricated his paw; the scent of the fox had enabled him to track his
footsteps, and here he arrived, burning for vengeance and finding himself
But his first thought was for his dear cousin. "Ah, where is she?" he
cried movingly; "without doubt that villain Reynard has served her some
"I fear so indeed, my old friend," answered the griffin; "but don't
grieve,--after all, she was nothing particular. You shall marry my
daughter the griffiness, and succeed to all the treasure; ay, and all the
bones that you once guarded so faithfully."
"Talk not to me," said the faithful dog. "I want none of your treasure;
and, though I don't mean to be rude, your griffiness may go to the devil.
I will run over the world, but I will find my dear cousin."
"See her then," said the griffin; and the beautiful cat, more beautiful
than ever, rushed out of the cavern, and threw herself into the dog's
A pleasant scene this for the fox! He had skill enough in the female
heart to know that it may excuse many little infidelities, but to be
boiled alive for a griffin's soup--no, the offence was inexpiable.
"You understand me, Mr. Reynard," said the griffin, "I have no daughter,
and it was me you made love to. Knowing what sort of a creature a magpie
is, I amused myself with hoaxing her,--the fashionable amusement at
court, you know."
The fox made a mighty struggle, and leaped on the ground, leaving his
tail behind him. It did not grow again in a hurry.
"See," said the griffin, as the beasts all laughed at the figure Reynard
made running into the wood, "the dog beats the fox with the ladies, after
all; and cunning as he is in everything else, the fox is the last
creature that should ever think of making love!"
"Charming!" cried Nymphalin, clasping her hands; "it is just the sort of
story I like."
"And I suppose, sir," said Nip, pertly, "that the dog and the cat lived
very happily ever afterwards? Indeed the nuptial felicity of a dog and
cat is proverbial!"
"I dare say they lived much the same as any other married couple,"
answered the prince.
THE TOMB OF A FATHER OF MANY CHILDREN.
THE feast being now ended, as well as the story, the fairies wound their
way homeward by a different path, till at length a red steady light
glowed through the long basaltic arches upon them, like the Demon
Hunters' fires in the Forest of Pines.
The prince sobered in his pace. "You approach," said he, in a grave
tone, "the greatest of our temples; you will witness the tomb of a mighty
founder of our race!" An awe crept over the queen, in spite of herself.
Tracking the fires in silence, they came to a vast space, in the midst of
which was a long gray block of stone, such as the traveller finds amidst
the dread silence of Egyptian Thebes.
And on this stone lay the gigantic figure of a man,--dead, but not
death-like, for invisible spells had preserved the flesh and the long
hair for untold ages; and beside him lay a rude instrument of music, and
at his feet was a sword and a hunter's spear; and above, the rock wound,
hollowed and roofless, to the upper air, and daylight came through,
sickened and pale, beneath red fires that burned everlastingly around
him, on such simple altars as belong to a savage race. But the place was
not solitary, for many motionless but not lifeless shapes sat on large
blocks of stone beside the tomb. There was the wizard, wrapped in his
long black mantle, and his face covered with his hands; there was the
uncouth and deformed dwarf, gibbering to himself; there sat the household
elf; there glowered from a gloomy rent in the wall, with glittering eyes
and shining scale, the enormous dragon of the North. An aged crone in
rags, leaning on a staff, and gazing malignantly on the visitors, with
bleared but fiery eyes, stood opposite the tomb of the gigantic dead.
And now the fairies themselves completed the group! But all was dumb and
unutterably silent,--the silence that floats over some antique city of
the desert, when, for the first time for a hundred centuries, a living
foot enters its desolate remains; the silence that belongs to the dust of
eld,--deep, solemn, palpable, and sinking into the heart with a leaden
and death-like weight. Even the English fairy spoke not; she held her
breath, and gazing on the tomb, she saw, in rude vast characters,--
"_We_ are all that remain of his religion!" said the prince, as they
turned from the dread temple.
THE FAIRY'S CAVE, AND THE FAIRY'S WISH.
IT was evening; and the fairies were dancing beneath the twilight star.
"And why art thou sad, my violet?" said the prince; "for thine eyes seek
"Now that I have found thee," answered the queen, "and now that I feel
what happy love is to a fairy, I sigh over that love which I have lately
witnessed among mortals, but the bud of whose happiness already conceals
the worm. For well didst thou say, my prince, that we are linked with a
mysterious affinity to mankind, and whatever is pure and gentle amongst
them speaks at once to our sympathy, and commands our vigils."
"And most of all," said the German fairy, "are they who love under our
watch; for love is the golden chain that binds all in the universe: love
lights up alike the star and the glow-worm; and wherever there is love in
men's lot, lies the secret affinity with men, and with things divine."
"But with the human race," said Nymphalin, "there is no love that
outlasts the hour, for either death ends, or custom alters. When the
blossom comes to fruit, it is plucked and seen no more; and therefore,
when I behold true love sentenced to an early grave, I comfort myself
that I shall not at least behold the beauty dimmed, and the softness of
the heart hardened into stone. Yet, my prince, while still the pulse can
beat, and the warm blood flow, in that beautiful form which I have
watched over of late, let me not desert her; still let my influence keep
the sky fair, and the breezes pure; still let me drive the vapour from
the moon, and the clouds from the faces of the stars; still let me fill
her dreams with tender and brilliant images, and glass in the mirror of
sleep the happiest visions of fairy-land; still let me pour over her eyes
that magic, which suffers them to see no fault in one in whom she has
garnered up her soul! And as death comes slowly on, still let me rob the
spectre of its terror, and the grave of its sting; so that, all gently
and unconscious to herself, life may glide into the Great Ocean where the
shadows lie, and the spirit without guile may be severed from its mansion
The wish of the fairy was fulfilled.
THE BANKS OF THE RHINE.--FROM THE DRACHENFELS TO BROHL.--AN INCIDENT THAT
SUFFICES IN THIS TALE FOR AN EPOCH.
FROM the Drachenfels commences the true glory of the Rhine; and once more
Gertrude's eyes conquered the languor that crept gradually over them as
she gazed on the banks around.
Fair blew the breeze, and freshly curled the waters; and Gertrude did not
feel the vulture that had fixed its talons within her breast. The Rhine
widens, like a broad lake, between the Drachenfels and Unkel; villages
are scattered over the extended plain on the left; on the right is the
Isle of Werth and the houses of Oberwinter; the hills are covered with
vines; and still Gertrude turned back with a lingering gaze to the lofty
crest of the Seven Hills.
On, on--and the spires of Unkel rose above a curve in the banks, and on
the opposite shore stretched those wondrous basaltic columns which extend
to the middle of the river, and when the Rhine runs low, you may see them
like an engulfed city beneath the waves. You then view the ruins of
Okkenfels, and hear the voice of the pastoral Gasbach pouring its waters
into the Rhine. From amidst the clefts of the rocks the vine peeps
luxuriantly forth, and gives a richness and colouring to what Nature,
left to herself, intended for the stern.
"But turn your eye backward to the right," said Trevylyan; "those banks
were formerly the special haunt of the bold robbers of the Rhine, and
from amidst the entangled brakes that then covered the ragged cliffs they
rushed upon their prey. In the gloomy canvas of those feudal days what
vigorous and mighty images were crowded! A robber's life amidst these
mountains, and beside this mountain stream, must have been the very
poetry of the spot carried into action."
They rested at Brohl, a small town between two mountains. On the summit
of one you see the gray remains of Rheinech. There is something weird
and preternatural about the aspect of this place; its soil betrays signs
that in the former ages (from which even tradition is fast fading away)
some volcano here exhausted its fires. The stratum of the earth is black
and pitchy, and the springs beneath it are of a dark and graveolent
water. Here the stream of the Brohlbach falls into the Rhine, and in a
valley rich with oak and pine, and full of caverns, which are not without
their traditionary inmates, stands the castle of Schweppenbourg, which
our party failed not to visit.
Gertrude felt fatigued on their return, and Trevylyan sat by her in the
little inn, while Vane went forth, with the curiosity of science, to
examine the strata of the soil.
They conversed in the frankness of their plighted troth upon those topics
which are only for lovers: upon the bright chapter in the history of
their love; their first meeting; their first impressions; the little
incidents in their present journey,--incidents noticed by themselves
alone; that life _within_ life which two persons know together,--which
one knows not without the other, which ceases to both the instant they
"I know not what the love of others may be," said Gertrude, "but ours
seems different from all of which I have read. Books tell us of
jealousies and misconstructions, and the necessity of an absence, the
sweetness of a quarrel; but we, dearest Albert, have had no experience of
these passages in love. _We_ have never misunderstood each other; _we_
have no reconciliation to look back to. When was there ever occasion for
me to ask forgiveness from you? Our love is made up only of one
memory,--unceasing kindness! A harsh word, a wronging thought, never
broke in upon the happiness we have felt and feel."
"Dearest Gertrude," said Trevylyan, "that character of our love is caught
from you; you, the soft, the gentle, have been its pervading genius; and
the well has been smooth and pure, for you were the spirit that lived
within its depths."
And to such talk succeeded silence still more sweet,--the silence of the
hushed and overflowing heart. The last voices of the birds, the sun
slowly sinking in the west, the fragrance of descending dews, filled them
with that deep and mysterious sympathy which exists between Love and
It was after such a silence--a long silence, that seemed but as a
moment--that Trevylyan spoke, but Gertrude answered not; and, yearning
once more for her sweet voice, he turned and saw that she had fainted
This was the first indication of the point to which her increasing
debility had arrived. Trevylyan's heart stood still, and then beat
violently; a thousand fears crept over him; he clasped her in his arms,
and bore her to the open window. The setting sun fell upon her
countenance, from which the play of the young heart and warm fancy had
fled, and in its deep and still repose the ravages of disease were darkly
visible. What were then his emotions! His heart was like stone; but he
felt a rush as of a torrent to his temples: his eyes grew dizzy,--he was
stunned by the greatness of his despair. For the last week he had taken
hope for his companion; Gertrude had seemed so much stronger, for her
happiness had given her a false support. And though there had been
moments when, watching the bright hectic come and go, and her step
linger, and the breath heave short, he had felt the hope suddenly cease,
yet never had he known till now that fulness of anguish, that dread
certainty of the worst, which the calm, fair face before him struck into
his soul; and mixed with this agony as he gazed was all the passion of
the most ardent love. For there she lay in his arms, the gentle breath
rising from lips where the rose yet lingered, and the long, rich hair,
soft and silken as an infant's, stealing from its confinement: everything
that belonged to Gertrude's beauty was so inexpressibly soft and pure and
youthful! Scarcely seventeen, she seemed much younger than she was; her
figure had sunken from its roundness, but still how light, how lovely
were its wrecks! the neck whiter than snow, the fair small hand! Her
weight was scarcely felt in the arms of her lover; and he--what a
contrast!--was in all the pride and flower of glorious manhood! His was
the lofty brow, the wreathing hair, the haughty eye, the elastic form;
and upon this frail, perishable thing had he fixed all his heart, all the
hopes of his youth, the pride of his manhood, his schemes, his energies,
"Oh, Gertrude!" cried he, "is it--is it thus--is there indeed no hope?"
And Gertrude now slowly recovering, and opening her eyes upon Trevylyan's
face, the revulsion was so great, his emotions so overpowering, that,
clasping her to his bosom, as if even death should not tear her away from
him, he wept over her in an agony of tears; not those tears that relieve
the heart, but the fiery rain of the internal storm, a sign of the fierce
tumult that shook the very core of his existence, not a relief.
Awakened to herself, Gertrude, in amazement and alarm, threw her arms
around his neck, and, looking wistfully into his face, implored him to
speak to her.
"Was it my illness, love?" said she; and the music of her voice only
conveyed to him the thought of how soon it would be dumb to him forever.
"Nay," she continued winningly, "it was but the heat of the day; I am
better now,--I am well; there is no cause to be alarmed for me!" and with
all the innocent fondness of extreme youth, she kissed the burning tears
from his eyes.
There was a playfulness, an innocence in this poor girl, so unconscious
as yet of her destiny, which rendered her fate doubly touching, and which
to the stern Trevylyan, hackneyed by the world, made her irresistible
charm; and now as she put aside her hair, and looked up gratefully, yet
pleadingly, into his face, he could scarce refrain from pouring out to
her the confession of his anguish and despair. But the necessity of
self-control, the necessity of concealing from _her_ a knowledge which
might only, by impressing her imagination, expedite her doom, while it
would embitter to her mind the unconscious enjoyment of the hour, nerved
and manned him. He checked by those violent efforts which only men can
make, the evidence of his emotions; and endeavoured, by a rapid torrent
of words, to divert her attention from a weakness, the causes of which he
could not explain. Fortunately Vane soon returned, and Trevylyan,
consigning Gertrude to his care, hastily left the room.
Gertrude sank into a revery.
"Ah, dear father!" said she, suddenly, and after a pause, "if I indeed
were worse than I have thought myself of late, if I were to die now, what
would Trevylyan feel? Pray God I may live for his sake!"
"My child, do not talk thus; you are better, much better than you were.
Ere the autumn ends, Trevylyan's happiness will be your lawful care. Do
not think so despondently of yourself."
"I thought not of myself," sighed Gertrude, "but of _him_!"
GERTRUDE.--THE EXCURSION TO HAMMERSTEIN.--THOUGHTS.
THE next day they visited the environs of Brohl. Gertrude was unusually
silent; for her temper, naturally sunny and enthusiastic, was accustomed
to light up everything she saw. Ah, once how bounding was that step! how
undulating the young graces of that form! how playfully once danced the
ringlets on that laughing cheek! But she clung to Trevylyan's proud form
with a yet more endearing tenderness than was her wont, and hung yet more
eagerly on his words; her hand sought his, and she often pressed it to
her lips, and sighed as she did so. Something that she would not tell
seemed passing within her, and sobered her playful mood. But there was
this noticeable in Gertrude: whatever took away from her gayety increased
her tenderness. The infirmities of her frame never touched her temper.
She was kind, gentle, loving to the last.
They had crossed to the opposite banks, to visit the Castle of
Hammerstein. The evening was transparently serene and clear; and the
warmth of the sun yet lingered upon the air, even though the twilight had
passed and the moon risen, as their boat returned by a lengthened passage
to the village. Broad and straight flows the Rhine in this part of its
career. On one side lay the wooded village of Namedy, the hamlet of
Fornech, backed by the blue rock of Kruezborner Ley, the mountains that
shield the mysterious Brohl; and on the opposite shore they saw the
mighty rock of Hammerstein, with the green and livid ruins sleeping in
the melancholy moonlight. Two towers rose haughtily above the more
dismantled wrecks. How changed since the alternate banners of the
Spaniard and the Swede waved from their ramparts, in that great war in
which the gorgeous Wallenstein won his laurels! And in its mighty calm
flowed on the ancestral Rhine, the vessel reflected on its smooth
expanse; and above, girded by thin and shadowy clouds, the moon cast her
shadows upon rocks covered with verdure, and brought into a dim light the
twin spires of Andernach, tranquil in the distance.
"How beautiful is this hour!" said Gertrude, with a low voice, "surely we
do not live enough in the night; one half the beauty of the world is
slept away. What in the day can equal the holy calm, the loveliness, and
the stillness which the moon now casts over the earth? These," she
continued, pressing Trevylyan's hand, "are hours to remember; and
_you_--will you ever forget them?"
Something there is in recollections of such times and scenes that seem
not to belong to real life, but are rather an episode in its history;
they are like some wandering into a more ideal world; they refuse to
blend with our ruder associations; they live in us, apart and alone, to
be treasured ever, but not lightly to be recalled. There are none living
to whom we can confide them,--who can sympathize with what then we felt?
It is this that makes poetry, and that page which we create as a
confidant to ourselves, necessary to the thoughts that weigh upon the
breast. We write, for our writing is our friend, the inanimate paper is
our confessional; we pour forth on it the thoughts that we could tell to
no private ear, and are relieved, are consoled. And if genius has one
prerogative dearer than the rest, it is that which enables it to do
honour to the dead,--to revive the beauty, the virtue that are no more;
to wreathe chaplets that outlive the day around the urn which were else
forgotten by the world!
When the poet mourns, in his immortal verse, for the dead, tell me not
that fame is in his mind! It is filled by thoughts, by emotions that
shut out the living. He is breathing to his genius--to that sole and
constant friend which has grown up with him from his cradle--the sorrows
too delicate for human sympathy! and when afterwards he consigns the
confession to the crowd, it is indeed from the hope of honour--, honour
not for himself, but for the being that is no more.
LETTER FROM TREVYLYAN TO -----.
I AM obliged to you, my dear friend, for your letter; which, indeed, I
have not, in the course of our rapid journey, had the leisure, perhaps
the heart, to answer before. But we are staying in this town for some
days, and I write now in the early morning, ere any one else in our hotel
is awake. Do not tell me of adventure, of politics, of intrigues; my
nature is altered. I threw down your letter, animated and brilliant as
it was, with a sick and revolted heart. But I am now in somewhat less
dejected spirits. Gertrude is better,--yes, really better; there is a
physician here who gives me hope; my care is perpetually to amuse, and
never to fatigue her,--never to permit her thoughts to rest upon herself.
For I have imagined that illness cannot, at least in the unexhausted
vigour of our years, fasten upon us irremediably unless we feed it with
our own belief in its existence. You see men of the most delicate frames
engaged in active and professional pursuits, who literally have no time
for illness. Let them become idle, let them take care of themselves, let
them think of their health--and they die! The rust rots the steel which
use preserves; and, thank Heaven, although Gertrude, once during our
voyage, seemed roused, by an inexcusable imprudence of emotion on my
part, into some suspicion of her state, yet it passed away; for she
thinks rarely of herself,--I am ever in her thoughts and seldom from her
side, and you know, too, the sanguine and credulous nature of her
disease. But, indeed, I now hope more than I have done since I knew her.
When, after an excited and adventurous life which had comprised so many
changes in so few years, I found myself at rest in the bosom of a retired
and remote part of the country, and Gertrude and her father were my only
neighbours, I was in that state of mind in which the passions, recruited
by solitude, are accessible to the purer and more divine emotions. I was
struck by Gertrude's beauty, I was charmed by her simplicity. Worn in
the usages and fashions of the world, the inexperience, the trustfulness,
the exceeding youth of her mind, charmed and touched me; but when I saw
the stamp of our national disease in her bright eye and transparent
cheek, I felt my love chilled while my interest was increased. I fancied
myself safe, and I went daily into the danger; I imagined so pure a light
could not burn, and I was consumed. Not till my anxiety grew into pain,
my interest into terror, did I know the secret of my own heart; and at
the moment that I discovered this secret, I discovered also that Gertrude
loved me! What a destiny was mine! what happiness, yet what misery!
Gertrude was my own--but for what period? I might touch that soft hand,
I might listen to the tenderest confession from that silver voice; but
all the while my heart spoke of passion, my reason whispered of death.
You know that I am considered of a cold and almost callous nature, that I
am not easily moved into affection; but my very pride bowed me here into
weakness. There was so soft a demand upon my protection, so constant an
appeal to my anxiety. You know that my father's quick temper burns
within me, that I am hot, and stern, and exacting; but one hasty word,
one thought of myself, here were inexcusable. So brief a time might be
left for her earthly happiness,--could I embitter one moment? All that
feeling of uncertainty which should in prudence have prevented my love,
increased it almost to a preternatural excess. That which it is said
mothers feel for an only child in sickness, I feel for Gertrude. _My_
existence is not!--I exist in her!
Her illness increased upon her at home; they have recommended travel.
She chose the course we were to pursue, and, fortunately, it was so
familiar to me, that I have been enabled to brighten the way. I am ever
on the watch that she shall not know a weary hour; you would almost smile
to see how I have roused myself from my habitual silence, and to find
me--me, the scheming and worldly actor of real life--plunged back into
the early romance of my boyhood, and charming the childish delight of
Gertrude with the invention of fables and the traditions of the Rhine.
But I believe that I have succeeded in my object; if not, what is left to
me? _Gertrude is better!_--In that sentence what visions of hope dawn
upon me! I wish you could have seen Gertrude before we left England; you
might then have understood my love for her. Not that we have not, in the
gay capitals of Europe, paid our brief vows to forms more richly
beautiful; not that we have not been charmed by a more brilliant genius,
by a more tutored grace. But there is that in Gertrude which I never saw
before,--the union of the childish and the intellectual, an ethereal
simplicity, a temper that is never dimmed, a tenderness--O God! let me
not speak of her virtues, for they only tell me how little she is suited
to the earth.
You will direct to me at Mayence, whither our course now leads us, and
your friendship will find indulgence for a letter that is so little a
reply to yours.
Your sincere friend,
A. G. TREVYLYAN.
COBLENTZ.--EXCURSION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF TAUNUS; ROMAN TOWER IN THE
VALLEY OF EHRENBREITSTEIN.--TRAVEL, ITS PLEASURES ESTIMATED DIFFERENTLY
BY THE YOUNG AND THE OLD.--THE STUDENT OF HEIDELBERG; HIS CRITICISMS ON
GERTRUDE had, indeed, apparently rallied during their stay at Coblentz;
and a French physician established in the town (who adopted a peculiar
treatment for consumption, which had been attended with no ordinary
success) gave her father and Trevylyan a sanguine assurance of her
ultimate recovery. The time they passed within the white walls of
Coblentz was, therefore, the happiest and most cheerful part of their
pilgrimage. They visited the various places in its vicinity; but the
excursion which most delighted Gertrude was one to the mountains of
They took advantage of a beautiful September day; and, crossing the
river, commenced their tour from the Thal, or valley of Ehrenbreitstein.
They stopped on their way to view the remains of a Roman tower in the
valley; for the whole of that district bears frequent witness of the
ancient conquerors of the world. The mountains of Taunus are still
intersected with the roads which the Romans cut to the mines that
supplied them with silver. Roman urns and inscribed stones are often
found in these ancient places. The stones, inscribed with names utterly
unknown,--a type of the uncertainty of fame! the urns, from which the
dust is gone, a very satire upon life!
Lone, gray, and mouldering, this tower stands aloft in the valley; and
the quiet Vane smiled to see the uniform of a modern Prussian, with his
white belt and lifted bayonet, by the spot which had once echoed to the
clang of the Roman arms. The soldier was paying a momentary court to a
country damsel, whose straw hat and rustic dress did not stifle the
vanity of the sex; and this rude and humble gallantry, in that spot, was
another moral in the history of human passions. Above, the ramparts of a
modern rule frowned down upon the solitary tower, as if in the vain
insolence with which present power looks upon past decay,--the living
race upon ancestral greatness. And indeed, in this respect, rightly! for
modern times have no parallel to that degradation of human dignity
stamped upon the ancient world by the long sway of the Imperial Harlot,
all slavery herself, yet all tyranny to earth; and, like her own
Messalina, at once a prostitute and an empress!
They continued their course by the ancient baths of Ems, and keeping by
the banks of the romantic Lahn, arrived at Holzapfel.
"Ah," said Gertrude, one day, as they proceeded to the springs of the
Carlovingian Wiesbaden, "surely perpetual travel with those we love must
be the happiest state of existence! If home has its comforts, it also
has its cares; but here we are at home with Nature, and the minor evils
vanish almost before they are felt."
"True," said Trevylyan, "we escape from 'THE LITTLE,' which is the curse
of life; the small cares that devour us up, the grievances of the day.
We are feeding the divinest part of our nature,--the appetite to admire."
"But of all things wearisome," said Vane, "a succession of changes is the
most. There can be a monotony in variety itself. As the eye aches in
gazing long at the new shapes of the kaleidoscope, the mind aches at the
fatigue of a constant alternation of objects; and we delightedly return
to 'REST,' which is to life what green is to the earth."
In the course of their sojourn among the various baths of Taunus, they
fell in, by accident, with a German student of Heidelberg, who was
pursuing the pedestrian excursions so peculiarly favoured by his tribe.
He was tamer and gentler than the general herd of those young wanderers,
and our party were much pleased with his enthusiasm, because it was
unaffected. He had been in England, and spoke its language almost as a
"Our literature," said he, one day, conversing with Vane, "has two
faults,--we are too subtle and too homely. We do not speak enough to the
broad comprehension of mankind; we are forever making abstract qualities
of flesh and blood. Our critics have turned your 'Hamlet' into an
allegory; they will not even allow Shakspeare to paint mankind, but
insist on his embodying qualities. They turn poetry into metaphysics,
and truth seems to them shallow, unless an allegory, which is false, can
be seen at the bottom. Again, too, with our most imaginative works we
mix a homeliness that we fancy touching, but which in reality is
ludicrous. We eternally step from the sublime to the ridiculous; we want
"But not, I hope, French taste. Do not govern a Goethe, or even a
Richter, by a Boileau!" said Trevylyan.
"No; but Boileau's taste was false. Men who have the reputation for good
taste often acquire it solely because of the want of genius. By taste I
mean a quick tact into the harmony of composition, the art of making the
whole consistent with its parts, the _concinnitas_. Schiller alone of
our authors has it. But we are fast mending; and by following shadows so
long we have been led at last to the substance. Our past literature is
to us what astrology was to science,--false but ennobling, and conducting
us to the true language of the intellectual heaven."
Another time the scenes they passed, interspersed with the ruins of
frequent monasteries, leading them to converse on the monastic life, and
the various additions time makes to religion, the German said: "Perhaps
one of the works most wanted in the world is the history of Religion. We
have several books, it is true, on the subject, but none that supply the
want I allude to. A German ought to write it; for it is, probably, only
a German that would have the requisite learning. A German only, too, is
likely to treat the mighty subject with boldness, and yet with
veneration; without the shallow flippancy of the Frenchman, without the
timid sectarianism of the English. It would be a noble task, to trace
the winding mazes of antique falsehood; to clear up the first glimmerings
of divine truth; to separate Jehovah's word from man's invention; to
vindicate the All-merciful from the dread creeds of bloodshed and of
fear: and, watching in the great Heaven of Truth the dawning of the True
Star, follow it--like the Magi of the East--till it rested above the real
God. Not indeed presuming to such a task," continued the German, with a
slight blush, "I have about me a humble essay, which treats only of one
part of that august subject; which, leaving to a loftier genius the
history of the true religion, may be considered as the history of a false
one,--of such a creed as Christianity supplanted in the North; or such as
may perhaps be found among the fiercest of the savage tribes. It is a
fiction--as you may conceive; but yet, by a constant reference to the
early records of human learning, I have studied to weave it up from
truths. If you would like to hear it,--it is very short--"
"Above all things," said Vane; and the German drew a manuscript neatly
bound from his pocket.
"After having myself criticised so insolently the faults of our national
literature," said he, smiling, "you will have a right to criticise the
faults that belong to so humble a disciple of it; but you will see that,
though I have commenced with the allegorical or the supernatural, I have
endeavoured to avoid the subtlety of conceit, and the obscurity of
design, which I blame in the wilder of our authors. As to the style, I
wished to suit it to the subject; it ought to be, unless I err, rugged
and massive,--hewn, as it were, out of the rock of primeval language.
But you, madam--doubtless you do not understand German?"
"Her mother was an Austrian," said Vane; "and she knows at least enough
of the tongue to understand you; so pray begin."
Without further preface, the German then commenced the story, which the
reader will find translated* in the next chapter.
* Nevertheless I beg to state seriously, that the German student
is an impostor; and that he has no right to wrest the parentage
of the fiction from the true author.
THE FALLEN STAR; OR THE HISTORY OF A FALSE RELIGION.
AND the STARS sat, each on his ruby throne, and watched with sleepless
eyes upon the world. It was the night ushering in the new year, a night
on which every star receives from the archangel that then visits the
universal galaxy its peculiar charge. The destinies of men and empires
are then portioned forth for the coming year, and, unconsciously to
ourselves, our fates become minioned to the stars. A hushed and solemn
night is that in which the dark gates of time open to receive the ghost
of the Dead Year, and the young and radiant Stranger rushes forth from
the clouded chasms of Eternity. On that night, it is said that there are
given to the spirits that we see not a privilege and a power; the dead
are troubled in their forgotten graves, and men feast and laugh, while
demon and angel are contending for their doom.
It was night in heaven; all was unutterably silent; the music of the
spheres had paused, and not a sound came from the angels of the stars;
and they who sat upon those shining thrones were three thousand and ten,
each resembling each. Eternal youth clothed their radiant limbs with
celestial beauty, and on their faces was written the dread of calm,--that
fearful stillness which feels not, sympathizes not with the doom over
which it broods. War, tempest, pestilence, the rise of empires and their
fall, they ordain, they compass, unexultant and uncompassionate. The
fell and thrilling crimes that stalk abroad when the world sleeps,--the
parricide with his stealthy step and horrent brow and lifted knife; the
unwifed mother that glides out and looks behind, and behind, and
shudders, and casts her babe upon the river, and hears the wail, and
pities not--the splash, and does not tremble,--these the starred kings
behold, to these they lead the unconscious step; but the guilt blanches
not their lustre, neither doth remorse wither their unwrinkled youth.
Each star wore a kingly diadem; round the loins of each was a graven
belt, graven with many and mighty signs; and the foot of each was on a
burning ball, and the right arm drooped over the knee as they bent down
from their thrones. They moved not a limb or feature, save the finger of
the right hand, which ever and anon moved slowly pointing, and regulated
the fates of men as the hand of the dial speaks the career of time.
One only of the three thousand and ten wore not the same aspect as his
crowned brethren,--a star smaller than the rest, and less luminous; the
countenance of this star was not impressed with the awful calmness of the
others, but there were sullenness and discontent upon his mighty brow.
And this star said to himself, "Behold! I am created less glorious than
my fellows, and the archangel apportions not to me the same lordly
destinies. Not for me are the dooms of kings and bards, the rulers of
empires, or, yet nobler, the swayers and harmonists of souls. Sluggish
are the spirits and base the lot of the men I am ordained to lead through
a dull life to a fameless grave. And wherefore? Is it mine own fault,
or is it the fault which is not mine, that I was woven of beams less
glorious than my brethren? Lo! when the archangel comes, I will bow not
my crowned head to his decrees. I will speak, as the ancestral Lucifer
before me: _he_ rebelled because of his glory, _I_ because of my
obscurity; _he_ from the ambition of pride, and _I_ from its discontent."
And while the star was thus communing with himself, the upward heavens
were parted as by a long river of light, and adown that stream swiftly,
and without sound, sped the archangel visitor of the stars. His vast
limbs floated in the liquid lustre, and his outspread wings, each plume
the glory of a sun, bore him noiselessly along; but thick clouds veiled
his lustre from the eyes of mortals, and while above all was bathed in
the serenity of his splendour, tempest and storm broke below over the
children of the earth: "He bowed the heavens and came down, and darkness
was under his feet."
And the stillness on the faces of the stars became yet more still, and
the awfulness was humbled into awe. Right above their thrones paused the
course of the archangel; and his wings stretched from east to west,
overshadowing with the shadow of light the immensity of space. Then
forth, in the shining stillness, rolled the dread music of his voice:
and, fulfilling the heraldry of God, to each star he appointed the duty
and the charge; and each star bowed his head yet lower as he heard the
fiat, while his throne rocked and trembled at the Majesty of the Word.
But at last, when each of the brighter stars had, in succession, received
the mandate, and the viceroyalty over the nations of the earth, the
purple and diadems of kings, the archangel addressed the lesser star as
he sat apart from his fellows.
"Behold," said the archangel, "the rude tribes of the North, the
fishermen of the river that flows beneath, and the hunters of the forests
that darken the mountain tops with verdure! these be thy charge, and
their destinies thy care. Nor deem thou, O Star of the sullen beams,
that thy duties are less glorious than the duties of thy brethren; for
the peasant is not less to thy master and mine than the monarch; nor doth
the doom of empires rest more upon the sovereign than on the herd. The
passions and the heart are the dominion of the stars,--a mighty realm;
nor less mighty beneath the hide that garbs the shepherd than under the
jewelled robes of the eastern kings."
Then the star lifted his pale front from his breast, and answered the
"Lo!" he said, "ages have passed, and each year thou hast appointed me to
the same ignoble charge. Release me, I pray thee, from the duties that I
scorn; or, if thou wilt that the lowlier race of men be my charge, give
unto me the charge not of many, but of one, and suffer me to breathe into
him the desire that spurns the valleys of life, and ascends its steeps.
If the humble are given to me, let there be amongst them one whom I may
lead on the mission that shall abase the proud; for, behold, O Appointer
of the Stars, as I have sat for uncounted years upon my solitary throne,
brooding over the things beneath, my spirit hath gathered wisdom from the
changes that shift below. Looking upon the tribes of earth, I have seen
how the multitude are swayed, and tracked the steps that lead weakness
into power; and fain would I be the ruler of one who, if abased, shall
aspire to rule."
As a sudden cloud over the face of noon was the change on the brow of the
"Proud and melancholy star," said the herald, "thy wish would war with
the courses of the invisible DESTINY, that, throned far above, sways and
harmonizes all,--the source from which the lesser rivers of fate are
eternally gushing through the heart of the universe of things. Thinkest
thou that thy wisdom, of itself, can lead the peasant to become a king?"
And the crowned star gazed undauntedly on the face of the archangel, and
"Yea! Grant me but one trial!"
Ere the archangel could reply, the farthest centre of the Heaven was rent
as by a thunderbolt; and the divine herald covered his face with his
hands, and a voice low and sweet and mild, with the consciousness of
unquestionable power, spoke forth to the repining star.
"The time has arrived when thou mayest have thy wish. Below thee, upon
yon solitary plain, sits a mortal, gloomy as thyself, who, born under thy
influence, may be moulded to thy will."
The voice ceased as the voice of a dream. Silence was over the seas of
space, and the archangel, once more borne aloft, slowly soared away into
the farther heaven, to promulgate the divine bidding to the stars of
far-distant worlds. But the soul of the discontented star exulted within
itself; and it said, "I will call forth a king from the valley of the
herdsman that shall trample on the kings subject to my fellows, and
render the charge of the contemned star more glorious than the minions of
its favoured brethren; thus shall I revenge neglect! thus shall I prove
my claim hereafter to the heritage of the great of earth!"
. . . . . . .
At that time, though the world had rolled on for ages, and the pilgrimage
of man had passed through various states of existence, which our dim
traditionary knowledge has not preserved, yet the condition of our race
in the northern hemisphere was then what we, in our imperfect lore, have
conceived to be among the earliest.
. . . . . . .
By a rude and vast pile of stones, the masonry of arts forgotten, a
lonely man sat at midnight, gazing upon the heavens. A storm had just
passed from the earth; the clouds had rolled away, and the high stars
looked down upon the rapid waters of the Rhine; and no sound save the
roar of the waves, and the dripping of the rain from the mighty trees,
was heard around the ruined pile. The white sheep lay scattered on the
plain, and slumber with them. He sat watching over the herd, lest the
foes of a neighbouring tribe seized them unawares, and thus he communed
with himself: "The king sits upon his throne, and is honoured by a
warrior race, and the warrior exults in the trophies he has won; the step
of the huntsman is bold upon the mountain-top, and his name is sung at
night round the pine-fires by the lips of the bard; and the bard himself
hath honour in the hall. But I, who belong not to the race of kings, and
whose limbs can bound not to the rapture of war, nor scale the eyries of
the eagle and the haunts of the swift stag; whose hand cannot string the
harp, and whose voice is harsh in the song,--_I_ have neither honour nor
command, and men bow not the head as I pass along; yet do I feel within
me the consciousness of a great power that should rule my species--not
obey. My eye pierces the secret hearts of men. I see their thoughts ere
their lips proclaim them; and I scorn, while I see, the weakness and the
vices which I never shared. I laugh at the madness of the warrior; I
mock within my soul at the tyranny of kings. Surely there is something
in man's nature more fitted to command, more worthy of renown, than the
sinews of the arm, or the swiftness of the feet, or the accident of
As Morven, the son of Osslah, thus mused within himself, still looking at
the heavens, the solitary man beheld a star suddenly shooting from its
place, and speeding through the silent air, till it suddenly paused right
over the midnight river, and facing the inmate of the pile of stones.
As he gazed upon the star, strange thoughts grew slowly over him. He
drank, as it were, from its solemn aspect the spirit of a great design.
A dark cloud rapidly passing over the earth snatched the star from his
sight, but left to his awakened mind the thoughts and the dim scheme that
had come to him as he gazed.
When the sun arose, one of his brethren relieved him of his charge over
the herd, and he went away, but not to his father's home. Musingly he
plunged into the dark and leafless recesses of the winter forest; and
shaped out of his wild thoughts, more palpably and clearly, the outline
of his daring hope. While thus absorbed he heard a great noise in the
forest, and, fearful lest the hostile tribe of the Alrich might pierce
that way, he ascended one of the loftiest pine-trees, to whose perpetual
verdure the winter had not denied the shelter he sought; and, concealed
by its branches, he looked anxiously forth in the direction whence the
noise had proceeded. And IT came,--it came with a tramp and a crash, and
a crushing tread upon the crunched boughs and matted leaves that strewed
the soil; it came, it came,--the monster that the world now holds no
more,--the mighty Mammoth of the North! Slowly it moved its huge
strength along, and its burning eyes glittered through the gloomy shade;
its jaws, falling apart, showed the grinders with which it snapped
asunder the young oaks of the forest; and the vast tusks, which, curved
downward to the midst of its massive limbs, glistened white and ghastly,
curdling the blood of one destined hereafter to be the dreadest ruler of
the men of that distant age.
The livid eyes of the monster fastened on the form of the herdsman, even
amidst the thick darkness of the pine. It paused, it glared upon him;
its jaws opened, and a low deep sound, as of gathering thunder, seemed to
the son of Osslah as the knell of a dreadful grave. But after glaring on
him for some moments, it again, and calmly, pursued its terrible way,
crashing the boughs as it marched along, till the last sound of its heavy
tread died away upon his ear.*
* _The Critic_ will perceive that this sketch of the beast, whose
race has perished, is mainly intended to designate the remote
period of the world in which the tale is cast.
Ere yet, however, Morven summoned the courage to descend the tree, he saw
the shining of arms through the bare branches of the wood, and presently
a small band of the hostile Alrich came into sight. He was perfectly
hidden from them; and, listening as they passed him, he heard one say to
"The night covers all things; why attack them by day?"
And he who seemed the chief of the band, answered,--
"Right. To-night, when they sleep in their city, we will upon them. Lo!
they will be drenched in wine, and fall like sheep into our hands."
"But where, O chief," said a third of the band, "shall our men hide
during the day? for there are many hunters among the youth of the
Oestrich tribe, and they might see us in the forest unawares, and arm
their race against our coming."
"I have prepared for that," answered the chief. "Is not the dark cavern
of Oderlin at hand? Will it not shelter us from the eyes of the
Then the men laughed, and, shouting, they went their way adown the
When they were gone, Morven cautiously descended, and, striking into a
broad path, hastened to a vale that lay between the forest and the river
in which was the city where the chief of his country dwelt. As he passed
by the warlike men, giants in that day, who thronged the streets (if
streets they might be called), their half garments parting from their
huge limbs, the quiver at their backs, and the hunting spear in their
hand, they laughed and shouted out, and, pointing to him, cried, "Morven
the woman! Morven the cripple! what dost thou among men?"
For the son of Osslah was small in stature and of slender strength, and
his step had halted from his birth; but he passed through the warriors
unheedingly. At the outskirts of the city he came upon a tall pile in
which some old men dwelt by themselves, and counselled the king when
times of danger, or when the failure of the season, the famine or the
drought, perplexed the ruler, and clouded the savage fronts of his
They gave the counsels of experience, and when experience failed, they
drew, in their believing ignorance, assurances and omens from the winds
of heaven, the changes of the moon, and the flights of the wandering
birds. Filled--by the voices of the elements, and the variety of
mysteries, which ever shift along the face of things, unsolved by the
wonder which pauses not, the fear which believes, and that eternal
reasoning of all experience, which assigns causes to effect--with the
notion of superior powers, they assisted their ignorance by the
conjectures of their superstition. But as yet they knew no craft and
practised no _voluntary_ delusion; they trembled too much at the
mysteries which had created their faith to seek to belie them. They
counselled as they believed, and the bold dream of governing their
warriors and their kings by the wisdom of deceit had never dared to cross
men thus worn and gray with age.
The son of Osslah entered the vast pile with a fearless step, and
approached the place at the upper end of the hall where the old men sat
"How, base-born and craven-limbed!" cried the eldest, who had been a
noted warrior in his day, "darest thou enter unsummoned amidst the secret
councils of the wise men? Knowest thou not, scatterling! that the
penalty is death?"
"Slay me, if thou wilt," answered Morven, "but hear! As I sat last night
in the ruined palace of our ancient kings, tending, as my father bade me,
the sheep that grazed around, lest the fierce tribe of Alrich should
descend unseen from the mountains upon the herd, a storm came darkly on;
and when the storm had ceased, and I looked above on the sky, I saw a
star descend from its height towards me, and a voice from the star said:
'Son of Osslah, leave thy herd and seek the council of the wise men and
say unto them, that they take thee as one of their number, or that sudden
will be the destruction of them and theirs.' But I had courage to answer
the voice, and I said, 'Mock not the poor son of the herdsman. Behold,
they will kill me if I utter so rash a word, for I am poor and valueless
in the eyes of the tribe of Oestrich, and the great in deeds and the gray
of hair alone sit in the council of the wise men.'
"Then the voice said: 'Do my bidding, and I will give thee a token that
thou comest from the Powers that sway the seasons and sail upon the
eagles of the winds. Say unto the wise men this very night if they
refuse to receive thee of their band, evil shall fall upon them, and the
morrow shall dawn in blood.'
"Then the voice ceased, and the cloud passed over the star; and I
communed with myself, and came, O dread father, mournfully unto you; for
I feared that ye would smite me because of my bold tongue, and that ye
would sentence me to the death, in that I asked what may scarce be given
even to the sons of kings."
Then the grim elders looked one at the other, and marvelled much, nor
knew they what answer they should make to the herdsman's son.
At length one of the wise men said, "Surely there must be truth in the
son of Osslah, for he would not dare to falsify the great lights of
Heaven. If he had given unto men the words of the star, verily we might
doubt the truth. But who would brave the vengeance of the gods of
Then the elders shook their heads approvingly; but one answered and
"Shall we take the herdsman's son as our equal? No!" The name of the
man who thus answered was Darvan, and his words were pleasing to the
But Morven spoke out: "Of a truth, O councillors of kings, I look not to
be an equal with yourselves. Enough if I tend the gates of your palace,
and serve you as the son of Osslah may serve;" and he bowed his head
humbly as he spoke.
Then said the chief of the elders, for he was wiser than the others, "But
how wilt thou deliver us from the evil that is to come? Doubtless the
star has informed thee of the service thou canst render to us if we take
thee into our palace, as well as the ill that will fall on us if we
Morven answered meekly, "Surely, if thou acceptest thy servant, the star
will teach him that which may requite thee; but as yet he knows only what
he has uttered."
Then the sages bade him withdraw, and they communed with themselves, and
they differed much; but though fierce men, and bold at the war-cry of a
human foe, they shuddered at the prophecy of a star. So they resolved to
take the son of Osslah, and suffer him to keep the gate of the
He heard their decree and bowed his head, and went to the gate, and sat
down by it in silence.
And the sun went down in the west, and the first stars of the twilight
began to glimmer, when Morven started from his seat, and a trembling
appeared to seize his limbs. His lips foamed; an agony and a fear
possessed him; he writhed as a man whom the spear of a foeman has pierced
with a mortal wound, and suddenly fell upon his face on the stony earth.
The elders approached him; wondering, they lifted him up. He slowly
recovered as from a swoon; his eyes rolled wildly.
"Heard ye not the voice of the star?" he said.
And the chief of the elders answered, "Nay, we heard no sound."
Then Morven sighed heavily.
"To me only the word was given. Summon instantly, O councillors of the
king, summon the armed men, and all the youth of the tribe, and let them
take the sword and the spear, and follow thy servant! For lo! the star
hath announced to him that the foe shall fall into our hands as the wild
beasts of the forests."
The son of Osslah spoke with the voice of command, and the elders were
amazed. "Why pause ye?" he cried. "Do the gods of the night lie? On my
head rest the peril if I deceive ye."
Then the elders communed together; and they went forth and summoned the
men of arms, and all the young of the tribe; and each man took the sword
and the spear, and Morven also. And the son of Osslah walked first,
still looking up at the star, and he motioned them to be silent, and
moved with a stealthy step.
So they went through the thickest of the forest, till they came to the
mouth of a great cave, overgrown with aged and matted trees, and it was
called the Cave of Oberlin; and he bade the leaders place the armed men
on either side the cave, to the right and to the left, among the bushes.
So they watched silently till the night deepened, when they heard a noise
in the cave and the sound of feet, and forth came an armed man; and the
spear of Morven pierced him, and he fell dead at the mouth of the cave.
Another and another, and both fell! Then loud and long was heard the
war-cry of Alrich, and forth poured, as a stream over a narrow bed, the
river of armed men. And the sons of Oestrich fell upon them, and the foe
were sorely perplexed and terrified by the suddenness of the battle and
the darkness of the night; and there was a great slaughter.
And when the morning came, the children of Oestrich counted the slain,
and found the leader of Alrich and the chief men of the tribe amongst
them; and great was the joy thereof. So they went back in triumph to the
city, and they carried the brave son of Osslah on their shoulders, and
shouted forth, "Glory to the servant of the star."
And Morven dwelt in the council of the wise men.
Now the king of the tribe had one daughter, and she was stately amongst
the women of the tribe, and fair to look upon. And Morven gazed upon her
with the eyes of love, but he did not dare to speak.
Now the son of Osslah laughed secretly at the foolishness of men; he
loved them not, for they had mocked him; he honoured them not, for he had
blinded the wisest of their leaders. He shunned their feasts and
merriment, and lived apart and solitary. The austerity of his life
increased the mysterious homage which his commune with the stars had won
him, and the boldest of the warriors bowed his head to the favourite of
One day he was wandering by the side of the river, and he saw a large
bird of prey rise from the waters, and give chase to a hawk that had not
yet gained the full strength of its wings. From his youth the solitary
Morven had loved to watch, in the great forests and by the banks of the
mighty stream, the habits of the things which nature has submitted to
man; and looking now on the birds, he said to himself, "Thus is it ever;
by cunning or by strength each thing wishes to master its kind." While
thus moralizing, the larger bird had stricken down the hawk, and it fell
terrified and panting at his feet. Morven took the hawk in his hands,
and the vulture shrieked above him, wheeling nearer and nearer to its
protected prey; but Morven scared away the vulture, and placing the hawk
in his bosom he carried it home, and tended it carefully, and fed it from
his hand until it had regained its strength; and the hawk knew him, and
followed him as a dog. And Morven said, smiling to himself, "Behold, the
credulous fools around me put faith in the flight and motion of birds. I
will teach this poor hawk to minister to my ends." So he tamed the bird,
and tutored it according to its nature; but he concealed it carefully
from others, and cherished it in secret.
The king of the country was old, and like to die, and the eyes of the
tribe were turned to his two sons, nor knew they which was the worthier
to reign. And Morven, passing through the forest one evening, saw the
younger of the two, who was a great hunter, sitting mournfully under an
oak, and looking with musing eyes upon the ground.
"Wherefore musest thou, O swift-footed Siror?" said the son of Osslah;
"and wherefore art thou sad?"
"Thou canst not assist me," answered the prince, sternly; "take thy way."
"Nay," answered Morven, "thou knowest not what thou sayest; am I not the
favourite of the stars?"
"Away, I am no graybeard whom the approach of death makes doting: talk
not to me of the stars; I know only the things that my eye sees and my
ear drinks in."
"Hush," said Morven, solemnly, and covering his face; "hush! lest the
heavens avenge thy rashness. But, behold, the stars have given unto me
to pierce the secret hearts of others; and I can tell thee the thoughts
"Speak out, base-born!"
"Thou art the younger of two, and thy name is less known in war than the
name of thy brother: yet wouldst thou desire to be set over his head, and
to sit on the high seat of thy father?"
The young man turned pale. "Thou hast truth in thy lips," said he, with
a faltering voice.
"Not from me, but from the stars, descends the truth."
"Can the stars grant my wish?"
"They can: let us meet to-morrow." Thus saying, Morven passed into the
The next day, at noon, they met again.
"I have consulted the gods of night, and they have given me the power
that I prayed for, but on one condition."
"That thou sacrifice thy sister on their altars; thou must build up a
heap of stones, and take thy sister into the wood, and lay her on the
pile, and plunge thy sword into her heart; so only shalt thou reign."
The prince shuddered, and started to his feet, and shook his spear at the
pale front of Morven.
"Tremble," said the son of Osslah, with a loud voice. "Hark to the gods
who threaten thee with death, that thou hast dared to lift thine arm
against their servant!"
As he spoke, the thunder rolled above; for one of the frequent storms of
the early summer was about to break. The spear dropped from the prince's
hand; he sat down, and cast his eyes on the ground.
"Wilt thou do the bidding of the stars, and reign?" said Morven.
"I will!" cried Siror, with a desperate voice.
"This evening, then, when the sun sets, thou wilt lead her hither, alone;
I may not attend thee. Now, let us pile the stones."
Silently the huntsman bent his vast strength to the fragments of rock
that Morven pointed to him, and they built the altar, and went their way.
And beautiful is the dying of the great sun, when the last song of the
birds fades into the lap of silence; when the islands of the cloud are
bathed in light, and the first star springs up over the grave of day!
"Whither leadest thou my steps, my brother?" said Orna; "and why doth thy
lip quiver; and why dost thou turn away thy face?"
"Is not the forest beautiful; does it not tempt us forth, my sister?"
"And wherefore are those heaps of stone piled together?"
"Let others answer; I piled them not."
"Thou tremblest, brother: we will return."
"Not so; by these stones is a bird that my shaft pierced today,--a bird
of beautiful plumage that I slew for thee."
"We are by the pile; where hast thou laid the bird?"
"Here!" cried Siror; and he seized the maiden in his arms, and, casting
her on the rude altar, he drew forth his sword to smite her to the heart.
Right over the stones rose a giant oak, the growth of immemorial ages;
and from the oak, or from the heavens, broke forth a loud and solemn
voice, "Strike not, son of kings! the stars forbear their own: the maiden
thou shalt not slay; yet shalt thou reign over the race of Oestrich; and
thou shalt give Orna as a bride to the favourite of the stars. Arise,
and go thy way!"
The voice ceased: the terror of Orna had overpowered for a time the
springs of life; and Siror bore her home through the wood in his strong
"Alas!" said Morven, when, at the next day, he again met the aspiring
prince; "alas! the stars have ordained me a lot which my heart desires
not: for I, lonely of life, and crippled of shape, am insensible to the
fires of love; and ever, as thou and thy tribe know, I have shunned the
eyes of women, for the maidens laughed at my halting step and my sullen
features; and so in my youth I learned betimes to banish all thoughts of
love. But since they told me (as they declared to _thee_), that only
through that marriage, thou, O beloved prince! canst obtain thy father's
plumed crown, I yield me to their will."
"But," said the prince, "not until I am king can I give thee my sister in
marriage; for thou knowest that my sire would smite me to the dust if I
asked him to give the flower of our race to the son of the herdsman
"Thou speakest the words of truth. Go home and fear not; but, when thou
art king, the sacrifice must be made, and Orna mine. Alas! how can I
dare to lift mine eyes to her! But so ordain the dread kings of the
night!--who shall gainsay their word?"
"The day that sees me king sees Orna thine," answered the prince.
Morven walked forth, as was his wont, alone; and he said to himself, "The
king is old, yet may he live long between me and mine hope!" and he began
to cast in his mind how he might shorten the time. Thus absorbed, he
wandered on so unheedingly that night advanced, and he had lost his path
among the thick woods and knew not how to regain his home. So he lay
down quietly beneath a tree, and rested till day dawned; then hunger came
upon him, and he searched among the bushes for such simple roots as those
with which, for he was ever careless of food, he was used to appease the
cravings of nature.
He found, among other more familiar herbs and roots, a red berry of a
sweetish taste, which he had never observed before. He ate of it
sparingly, and had not proceeded far in the wood before he found his eyes
swim, and a deadly sickness came over him. For several hours he lay
convulsed on the ground, expecting death; but the gaunt spareness of his
frame, and his unvarying abstinence, prevailed over the poison, and he
recovered slowly, and after great anguish. But he went with feeble steps
back to the spot where the berries grew, and, plucking several, hid them
in his bosom, and by nightfall regained the city.
The next day he went forth among his father's herds, and seizing a lamb,
forced some of the berries into his stomach, and the lamb, escaping, ran
away, and fell down dead. Then Morven took some more of the berries and
boiled them down, and mixed the juice with wine, and he gave the wine in
secret to one of his father's servants, and the servant died.
Then Morven sought the king, and coming into his presence, alone, he said
unto him, "How fares my lord?"
The king sat on a couch made of the skins of wolves, and his eye was
glassy and dim; but vast were his aged limbs, and huge was his stature,
and he had been taller by a head than the children of men, and none
living could bend the bow he had bent in youth; gray, gaunt, and worn, as
some mighty bones that are dug at times from the bosom of the earth,--a
relic of the strength of old.
And the king said faintly, and with a ghastly laugh, "The men of my years
fare ill. What avails my strength? Better had I been born a cripple
like thee, so should I have had nothing to lament in growing old."
The red flush passed over Morven's brow; but he bent humbly,--
"O king, what if I could give thee back thy youth? What if I could
restore to thee the vigour which distinguished thee above the sons of
men, when the warriors of Alrich fell like grass before thy sword?"
Then the king uplifted his dull eyes, and he said,--
"What meanest thou, son of Osslah? Surely I hear much of thy great
wisdom, and how thou speakest nightly with the stars. Can the gods of
the night give unto thee the secret to make the old young?"
"Tempt them not by doubt," said Morven, reverently. "All things are
possible to the rulers of the dark hour; and, lo! the star that loves thy
servant spake to him at the dead of night, and said, 'Arise, and go unto
the king; and tell him that the stars honour the tribe of Oestrich, and
remember how the king bent his bow against the sons of Alrich; wherefore,
look thou under the stone that lies to the right of thy dwelling, even
beside the pine tree, and thou shalt see a vessel of clay, and in the
vessel thou wilt find a sweet liquid, that shall make the king thy master
forget his age forever.' Therefore, my lord, when the morning rose I went
forth, and looked under the stone, and behold the vessel of clay; and I
have brought it hither to my lord the king."
"Quick, slave, quick! that I may drink and regain my youth!"
"Nay, listen, O king! further said the star to me,--
"'It is only at night, when the stars have power, that this their gift
will avail; wherefore the king must wait till the hush of the midnight,
when the moon is high, and then may he mingle the liquid with his wine.
And he must reveal to none that he hath received the gift from the hand
of the servant of the stars. For THEY do their work in secret, and when
men sleep; therefore they love not the babble of mouths, and he who
reveals their benefits shall surely die."
"Fear not," said the king, grasping the vessel; "none shall know: and,
behold, I will rise on the morrow; and my two sons, wrangling for my
crown--verily I shall be younger than they!"
Then the king laughed loud; and he scarcely thanked the servant of the
stars, neither did he promise him reward; for the kings in those days had
little thought save for themselves.
And Morven said to him, "Shall I not attend my lord?--for without me,
perchance, the drug might fail of its effect."
"Ay," said the king, "rest here."
"Nay," replied Morven; "thy servants will marvel and talk much, if they
see the son of Osslah sojourning in thy palace. So would the displeasure
of the gods of night perchance be incurred. Suffer that the lesser door
of the palace be unbarred, so that at the night hour, when the moon is
midway in the heavens, I may steal unseen into thy chamber, and mix the
liquid with thy wine."
"So be it," said the king. "Thou art wise, though thy limbs are crooked
and curt; and the stars might have chosen a taller man." Then the king
laughed again; and Morven laughed too, but there was danger in the mirth
of the son of Osslah.
The night had begun to wane, and the inhabitants of Oestrich were buried
in deep sleep, when, hark! a sharp voice was heard crying out in the
streets, "Woe, woe! Awake, ye sons of Oestrich! woe!" Then forth, wild,
haggard, alarmed, spear in hand, rushed the giant sons of the rugged
tribe, and they saw a man on a height in the middle of the city,
shrieking "Woe!" and it was Morven, the son of Osslah! And he said unto
them, as they gathered round him, "Men and warriors, tremble as ye hear.
The star of the west hath spoken to me, and thus said the star: 'Evil
shall fall upon the kingly house of Oestrich,--yea, ere the morning dawn;
wherefore, go thou mourning into the streets, and wake the inhabitants to
woe!' So I rose and did the bidding of the star." And while Morven was
yet speaking, a servant of the king's house ran up to the crowd, crying
loudly, "The king is dead!" So they went into the palace and found the
king stark upon his couch, and his huge limbs all cramped and crippled by
the pangs of death, and his hands clenched as if in menace of a foe,--the
Foe of all living flesh! Then fear came on the gazers, and they looked
on Morven with a deeper awe than the boldest warrior would have called
forth; and they bore him back to the council-hall of the wise men,
wailing and clashing their arms in woe, and shouting, ever and anon,
"Honour to Morven the prophet!" And that was the first time the word
PROPHET was ever used in those countries.
At noon, on the third day from the king's death, Siror sought Morven, and
he said, "Lo, my father is no more, and the people meet this evening at
sunset to elect his successor, and the warriors and the young men will
surely choose my brother, for he is more known in war. Fail me not
"Peace, boy!" said Morven, sternly; "nor dare to question the truth of
the gods of night."
For Morven now began to presume on his power among the people, and to
speak as rulers speak, even to the sons of kings; and the voice silenced
the fiery Siror, nor dared he to reply.
"Behold," said Morven, taking up a chaplet of coloured plumes, "wear this
on thy head, and put on a brave face, for the people like a hopeful
spirit, and go down with thy brother to the place where the new king is
to be chosen, and leave the rest to the stars. But, above all things,
forget not that chaplet; it has been blessed by the gods of night."
The prince took the chaplet and returned home.
It was evening, and the warriors and chiefs of the tribe were assembled
in the place where the new king was to be elected. And the voices of the
many favoured Prince Voltoch, the brother of Siror, for he had slain
twelve foemen with his spear; and verily, in those days, that was a great
virtue in a king.
Suddenly there was a shout in the streets, and the people cried out, "Way
for Morven the prophet, the prophet!" For the people held the son of
Osslah in even greater respect than did the chiefs. Now, since he had
become of note, Morven had assumed a majesty of air which the son of the
herdsman knew not in his earlier days; and albeit his stature was short,
and his limbs halted, yet his countenance was grave and high. He only of
the tribe wore a garment that swept the ground, and his head was bare and
his long black hair descended to his girdle, and rarely was change or
human passion seen in his calm aspect. He feasted not, nor drank wine,
nor was his presence frequent in the streets. He laughed not, neither
did he smile, save when alone in the forest,--and then he laughed at the
follies of his tribe.
So he walked slowly through the crowd, neither turning to the left nor to
the right, as the crowd gave way; and he supported his steps with a staff
of the knotted pine.
And when he came to the place where the chiefs were met, and the two
princes stood in the centre, he bade the people around him proclaim
silence; then mounting on a huge fragment of rock, he thus spake to the
"Princes, Warriors, and Bards! ye, O council of the wise men! and ye, O
hunters of the forests and snarers of the fishes of the streams! hearken
to Morven, the son of Osslah. Ye know that I am lowly of race and weak
of limb; but did I not give into your hands the tribe of Alrich, and did
ye not slay them in the dead of night with a great slaughter? Surely, ye
must know this of himself did not the herdsman's son; surely he was but
the agent of the bright gods that love the children of Oestrich! Three
nights since when slumber was on the earth, was not my voice heard in the
streets? Did I not proclaim woe to the kingly house of Oestrich? and
verily the dark arm had fallen on the bosom of the mighty, that is no
more. Could I have dreamed this thing merely in a dream, or was I not as
the voice of the bright gods that watch over the tribes of Oestrich?
Wherefore, O men and chiefs! scorn not the son of Osslah, but listen to
his words; for are they not the wisdom of the stars? Behold, last night,
I sat alone in the valley, and the trees were hushed around, and not a
breath stirred; and I looked upon the star that counsels the son of
Osslah; and I said, 'Dread conqueror of the cloud! thou that bathest thy
beauty in the streams and piercest the pine-boughs with thy presence;
behold thy servant grieved because the mighty one hath passed away, and
many foes surround the houses of my brethren; and it is well that they
should have a king valiant and prosperous in war, the cherished of the
stars. Wherefore, O star! as thou gavest into our hands the warriors of
Alrich, and didst warn us of the fall of the oak of our tribe, wherefore
I pray thee give unto the people a token that they may choose that king
whom the gods of the night prefer!' Then a low voice, sweeter than the
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