The World's Greatest Books, Vol. I
Part 2 out of 7
had placed on the shrine of the goddess Epona in the middle of the
"What a sacrilegious brute!" he cried, falling upon me savagely.
"Attacking the shrine of the divinity who guards over horses! I'll lame
you, that I will!"
As he was belabouring me with a great cudgel, a band of fierce men armed
with swords and carrying lighted torches appeared. At the sight of them
the groom fled in terror.
"Help! Help! Robbers!" I heard Milo and Fotis cry.
But before the groom was able to fetch the watch, the robbers forced
their way into the house, and broke open Milo's strongbox. Then they
loaded me and the horse and the ass with the stolen wealth, and drove us
out into the mountains. Unused to the heavy burden laid on me, I went
rather slowly. This enraged the robbers, and they beat me until I was
well-nigh dead. But at last I saw a sight which filled me with the
wildest joy. We passed a noble country house, surrounded by a garden of
sweet-smelling roses. I rushed open-mouthed upon the flowers. But just
as I strained my curling lips towards them, I stopped. If I changed
myself into a man the robbers would kill me, either as a wizard, or out
of fear that I would inform against them! So I left the roses untouched,
and in the evening we came to the cave in the mountains where the
robbers dwelt, and there, to my delight, I was relieved of my grievous
Soon afterwards another band of robbers arrived, carrying a young and
lovely maid arrayed as a bride. Her beautiful features were pale, and
wet with tears, and she tore her hair and her garments. "Take this
girl," said the robbers to the old woman who waited upon them, "and
comfort her. Tell her she's in no danger. Her people are rich, and will
soon ransom her."
Charite, for such was the name of the beautiful bride, fell weeping into
one of the old women's arms.
"They tore me away from Tlepolemus," she said, "when he was about to
enter my bridal chamber. Our house was decked with laurel, and the
bridal-song was being sung, when a band of swordsmen entered with drawn
swords, and carried me off. Now I shall never see my bridegroom again."
"Yes, you will, dearie," said the old woman. "But don't let us talk
about it now. After all, you are not in so evil a plight as Psyche was
when she lost her husband, Cupid. Now, listen, while I tell you that
And here is the tale of Cupid and Psyche as the old woman related it to
_IV.--The Marvellous Story of Cupid and Psyche_
"There was once a king of a certain city who had three daughters. All of
them were very beautiful, but Psyche, the youngest, was lovelier even
than Venus. The people worshipped her as she walked the streets, and
strewed her path with flowers. Strangers from all parts of the world
thronged to see her and to adore her. The temples of Venus were
deserted, and no garlands were laid at her shrines. Thereupon, the
goddess of love and beauty grew angry. She tossed her head with a cry of
rage, and called to her son, Cupid, and showed him Psyche walking the
streets of the city.
"'Avenge me!' she said. 'Fill this maiden with burning love for the
ugliest, wretchedest creature that lives on earth.'
"The king was thereupon commanded by an oracle to array his daughter in
bridal robes, and set her upon a high mountain, so that she might be
wedded to a horrible monster. All the city was filled with grief and
lamentation when Psyche was led out to her doom, and placed upon the
lonely peak. Then a mighty wind arose, and carried the maiden to an
enchanted palace, where she was waited on by unseen spirits who played
sweet music for her delight, and fed her with delicious food. But in the
darkness of night someone came to her couch and wooed her tenderly, and
she fell in love with him and became his wife. And he said: 'Psyche, you
may do what you will in the palace I have built for you. But one thing
you must not do--you must not attempt to see my face.'
"Her husband was very sweet and kind, but he came only in the night
time; and in the daytime Psyche felt very lonesome. So she begged her
husband to let her sisters come and stay with her, and her husband had
them brought on a mighty wind. When they saw how delightfully Psyche
lived in the enchanted palace they grew jealous of her strange
"'Yes, this is a very pleasant place,' they exclaimed, 'but you know
what the oracle said, Psyche. You are married to a monster! That is the
reason why he will not let you see his face.'
"In the night, when they had departed, Psyche lighted a lamp and looked
at her bedfellow. Oh, joy! It was Cupid, the radiant young god of love,
reposing in his beauty. In her excitement Psyche let a drop of burning
oil fall from the lamp upon his right shoulder. The god leaped up and
spread out his wings, and flew away, saying:
"'Instead of marrying you to a monster, in obedience to my mother's
commands, I wedded you myself. And this is how you serve me! Farewell,
"But Psyche set out to follow him, and after a long and toilsome journey
she reached the court of Venus, where Cupid was now imprisoned. Venus
seized her and beat her, and then set her on dangerous tasks, and tried
to bring about her death. But Psyche was so lovely and gentle that every
living creature wished to help her and save her. Then Venus, fearing
that Cupid would escape and rescue his wife, said:
"'Psyche, take this casket to Proserpine, in the Kingdom of the Dead,
and ask her to fill it with beauty.'
"Psyche was in despair. No mortal had ever returned from the Kingdom of
the Dead. She climbed a high tower, and prepared to throw herself down,
and die. But the very stones took pity upon her.
"'Go to Taenarus,' they said, 'and there you will find a way to the
Underworld. Take two copper coins in your mouth, and two honey-cakes in
"Psyche travelled to Taenarus, near Lacedaemon, and there she found a hole
leading to the Underworld. A ghostly ferryman rowed her over the River
of Death, and took one of her copper coins. Then a monstrous dog with
three heads sprang out, but Psyche fed him with one of her honey-cakes,
and entered the hall of Proserpine, the queen of the dead. Proserpine
filled the casket, and by means of the last honey-cake and the last
copper coin, Psyche returned to the green, bright earth.
"But, alas! she was over-curious, and opened the casket to see the
divine beauty it contained. A deadly vapour came out and overpowered
her, and she fell to the ground. But Cupid, who had now escaped from his
prison, found her lying on the grass, and wiped the vapour from her
face. Taking her in his arms, he spread out his wings, and carried her
to Olympus; and there they live together in unending bliss, with their
little child, whose name is Joy."
_V.--The Further Strange Adventures of the Ass_
While the old woman was entertaining the beautiful captive with this
charming tale, a tall, fierce young man in ragged clothes stalked boldly
in among the robbers.
"Long life to you, brave comrades!" he said. "Don't judge me by these
rags, my boys. They're a disguise. Have you heard of Haemus, the famous
Thracian brigand? If so, you've heard of me. My band has been cut up,
but I'm bringing what men I still have to you. Shall we join forces?"
The robbers had just lost their own captain, so they received Haemus with
great joy, and made him their leader. Soon afterwards ten of his men
came in, loaded with swollen wine-bags.
"Here's enough wine," he said, "to last us a fortnight if we use it
temperately. Let us celebrate this glorious day by finishing it at one
The robbers at once fell furiously to drinking, and their new captain
forced Charite to come and sit beside him. After a little wooing, she
began to cling to him, and return his kisses.
"Oh, what a frail, fickle, faithless race are women!" I said to myself.
"Scarcely two hours ago she was crying her eyes out for her bridegroom;
now here she is, fondling a wretched assassin."
What an ass I was! It was some time before I noticed that the new
captain did not drink himself, and that the men he brought with him were
only pretending to drink, while forcing the wine on the other robbers,
who soon became too drunk to drink, and rolled over in a deep sleep.
"Up, boys, and disarm and bind these ruffians!" said the new captain,
who was none other than Tlepolemus, the bridegroom of the fair Charite.
And leaving his servants to perform this task, he put Charite on my
back, and led me to his native town. All the inhabitants poured out into
the street to see us pass, and they loudly acclaimed Tlepolemus for his
valour and ingenuity in rescuing his lovely bride, and capturing the
Charite did not forget me in the scenes of rejoicing. She patted my head
and kissed my rough face, and bade the groom of the stud feed me well,
and let me have the run of the fields.
"Now I shall at last be able to get a mouthful of roses," I thought,
"and recover my human shape."
But, alas! the groom was an avaricious, disobedient slave, and he at
once sold me to a troupe of those infamous beggarly priests of Cybele,
who cart the Syrian goddess about the public squares to the sound of
cymbals and rattles.
The next morning my new owners smeared their faces with rouge, and
painted their eyes with black grease; then they dressed themselves in
white tunics, and set their wretched goddess on my back, and marched
out, leaping and brandishing great swords and axes. On coming to the
mansion of a wealthy man, they raised a wild din, and whirled about, and
cut themselves and scourged themselves until they were covered with
blood. The master of the mansion was so impressed with this savage and
degrading spectacle that he gave the priests a good sum of money, and
invited them into his house. They took the goddess with them, and I
scampered out into the fields searching for some roses.
But I was quickly brought back by the cook. His master had given him a
fat haunch from an enormous stag to roast for the priests' dinner, and a
dog had run off with it. In order to avoid being whipped for his
carelessness, the slave resolved to let the priests dine off a haunch of
their own ass. He locked the door of the kitchen, so that I could not
escape, and then took a long knife and came to kill me. But I had no
mind to perish in this way; and I dashed upstairs into the room where
the master was busy worshipping the goddess in the company of the
priests, and knocked the table over, and the goddess and many of the
"Kill the wretched thing," said the master. "It has gone mad."
But the priests did not care to lose their salable property, and they
locked me in their bedroom, and sold me to the first man they met the
next morning. It was a poor gardener who needed an ass to cart his stuff
to market. But as the gardener was taking me home a soldier came
tramping along the road. He, too, wanted an ass to carry his heavy kit.
So he struck the gardener down with his sword and seized me by right of
conquest; then, loading me with his armour and shield and baggage, he
took me to the town to which he was travelling. There he was ordered by
his tribune to take some letters to Rome, so he disposed of me for a
small sum to two confectioners.
By this time I had grown very feeble and thin. Though I was changed into
an ass, L could not relish hay and grass and food of that sort, and I
derived scarcely any nourishment from it. I still had human tastes, as
well as human thoughts and feelings. Happily, I was very well off with
my new masters. Every evening, they brought home the remains of the
banquets they had served--bits of chicken, pork, fish and meat, and
various cakes; and these they put in their room while they went for a
bath before dinner. I used then to creep in and take all the best bits,
and when my two masters returned they began to reproach each other with
having filched the choicest pieces. In the meantime, I grew plump and
glossy and broad-backed, and as my masters observed I ate no hay, they
spied on me one evening.
They forgot their quarrel when they saw their ass picking out the best
bits with the taste of an epicure: and, bursting open the door, they
cried: "Let us try him with wine!" Naturally, I drank it very readily.
"We have got a treasure here," they said. They soon found that I was
intelligent, and understood human language. And after training me they
took me to Corinth, and exhibited me there, and made a great deal of
money. In a short time I became famous throughout Greece as the "Golden
Ass," and I was bought by the town for use in the public show. Nobody
thought that any watch need be kept over an animal as thoroughly
civilised as I was; and one evening I succeeded in escaping, and fled to
a lonely spot on the seashore.
_VI.--The Miracle of Isis and the Fate of Lucius_
As I nestled down on the soft sand, the full-orbed moon rose above the
eastern waves, and shone with a glorious radiance. My heart opened to
the mysteries of the sacred night, and I sprang up, and bathed seven
times in the cleansing water of the sea. Then, with tears upon my
cheeks, I prayed to Isis, the mighty saviour goddess:
"O Queen of Heaven, who dost enlighten the world with thy lovely beams
as thou goest on thy lonely way, hear me now and help me, in my peril
and misery and misfortune! Restore me, O mighty goddess, to my rightful
shape, and let Lucius return to the bosom of his family."
Sleep fell swiftly upon my eyes, and in my sleep the goddess visited me.
She rose up, a vision of light, from the waters. On her head was a crown
of radiant flowers, shaped like the moon, and serpents coiled about her
temples, and her divine body was arrayed in a robe of shining darkness
embroidered with innumerable stars.
"See, Lucius," she said, with a voice that breathed a great sweetness
over me, "Isis appears in answer to your prayer. Cease now to weep and
mourn, for I am come in pity of your lot to show favour to you.
To-morrow my priest will descend to the seashore to celebrate my
festival, and in his left hand he will carry a crown of roses. Go forth
without fear, and take the crown of roses, and then put off the shape of
a beast, and put on the form of a man. Serve me well all the days of
your life, and when you go down to the grave you shall see me as a light
amid the darkness--as a queen in the palace of hell. By my favour you
shall be lifted up into the fields of Paradise, and there you shall
worship and adore me for all eternity."
The saviour goddess then vanished, and I awoke, and the dawn was in the
sky, and the waves of the sea were dancing in the golden light. A long
procession was winding down from the city to the shore to the sound of
flutes and pipes.
First came a great multitude of people carrying lamps and torches and
tapers in honour of the constellations of heaven; then a choir of
sweet-voiced boys and girls in snowy garments; and next a train of men
and women luminous in robes of pure white linen; these were the
initiates; and they were followed by the prelates of the sacred
mysteries; and behind them all walked the high priest, bearing in his
right hand the mystic rattle of Isis, and in his left hand the crown of
roses. By divine intervention, the crowd parted and made a way for me;
and when I came to the priest he held out the roses, and I ate them, and
was changed into a man. The people raised their hands to heaven,
wonder-stricken by the miracle, and the fame of it went out over all the
world. The priest initiated me into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris,
and I shaved my head, and entered the College of Pastors, and became a
servant of the high gods.
* * * * *
The Arabian Nights
Or, The Thousand and One Nights
There is as much doubt about the history of "The Thousand and
One Nights" as that which veils the origin of the Homeric
poems. It is said that a certain Caliph Shahryar, having been
deceived by his wife, slew her, and afterwards married a wife
only for one day, slaying her on the morning after. When this
slaughter of women had continued some time he became wedded to
one Shahrazad, daughter of his Vizir, who, by telling the
Commander of the Faithful exciting stories and leaving them
unfinished every dawn, so provoked the Caliph's curiosity that
he kept her alive, and at last grew so fond of her that he had
no thought of putting her to death. As for the authorship of
the stories, they are certainly not the work of one mind, and
have probably grown with the ages into their present form. The
editions published for Christian countries do not represent
the true character of these legends, which are often
exceedingly sensual. The European versions of this
extraordinary entertainment began in 1704 with the work of one
Antoine Galland, Professor of Arabic at the College of France,
a Frenchman who, according to Sir Richard Burton, possessed
"in a high degree that art of telling a tale which is far more
captivating than culture or scholarship." Sir R. Burton (see
Vol. XIX) summed up what may be definitely believed of the
Nights in the following conclusion: The framework of the book
is purely Persian perfunctorily Arabised, the archetype being
the Hazar Afsanah. The oldest tales may date from the reign of
Al-Mansur, in the eighth century; others belong to the tenth
century; and the latest may be ascribed to the sixteenth. The
work assumed its present form in the thirteenth century. The
author is unknown, "for the best reason; there never was one."
_I.--The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor_
When the father of Sindbad was taken to Almighty Allah, much wealth came
to the possession of his son; but soon did it dwindle in boon
companionship, for the city of Baghdad is sweet to the youthful. Then
did Sindbad bethink him how he might restore his fortune, saying to
himself: "Three things are better than other three; the day of death is
better than the day of birth, a live dog is better than a dead lion, and
the grave is better than want"; and gathering merchandise together, he
took ship and sailed away to foreign countries.
Now it came to pass that the captain of this ship sighted a strange
island, whereon were grass and trees, very pleasant to the eyes. So they
anchored, and many went ashore. When these had gathered fruits, they
made a fire, and were about to warm themselves, when the captain cried
out from the ship: "Ho there! passengers, run for your lives and hasten
back to the ship and leave your gear and save yourselves from
destruction. Allah preserve you! For this island whereon ye stand is no
true island, but a great fish stationary a-middlemost of the sea,
whereon the sand hath settled and trees have sprung up of old time, so
that it is become like unto an island; but when ye lighted fires on it,
it felt the heat and moved; and in a moment it will sink with you into
the depths of the sea and ye will be drowned."
When the fish moved, the captain did not wait for his passengers, but
sailed away, and Sindbad, seizing a tub, floated helpless in the great
waters. But by the mercy of Allah he was thrown upon a true island,
where a beautiful mare lay upon the ground, who cried at his approach.
Then a man started up at the mare's cry, and seeing Sindbad, bore him to
an underground chamber, where he regaled the waif with plenteous food.
To him did this man explain how he was a groom of King Mirjan, and that
he brought the king's mares to pasture on the island, hiding underground
while the stallions of the sea came up out of the waves unto the mares.
Presently Sindbad saw this strange sight, and witnessed how the groom
drove the stallions back to the waves when they would have dragged the
mares with them. After that he was carried before King Mirjan, who
entreated him kindly, and when he had amassed wealth, returned by ship
to Bussorah, and so to Baghdad.
But becoming possessed with the thought of travelling about the ways of
men, he set out on a second voyage. And it came to pass that he landed
with others on a lovely island, and lay down to sleep, after he had
eaten many delicious fruits. Awaking, he found the ship gone. Then,
praying to Almighty Allah, like a man distracted, he roamed about the
island, presently climbing a tree to see what he could see. And he saw a
great dome afar, and journeyed to it.
There was no entrance to this white dome, and as he went round about it,
the sun became suddenly darkened, so that he looked towards it in fear,
and lo! a bird in the heavens whose wings blackened all light. Then did
Sindbad know that the dome was an egg, and that the bird was the bird
roc, which feeds its young upon elephants. Sore afraid, he hid himself,
and the bird settled upon the egg, and brooded upon it. Then Sindbad
unwound his turban, and, tying one end to the leg of the great bird and
the other about his own middle, waited for the dawn.
When the dawn was come, the bird flew into the heavens, unaware of the
weight at its foot, and Sindbad was borne across great seas and far
countries. When at last the bird settled on land, Sindbad unfastened his
turban, and was free.
But the place was filled with frightful serpents, and strewn with
diamonds. Sindbad saw a dead sheep on the ground, with diamonds sticking
to its carcase, and he knew that this was a device of merchants, for
eagles come and carry away these carcases to places beyond the reach of
the serpents, and merchants take the diamonds sticking to the flesh. So
he hid himself under the carcase, and an eagle bore him with it to
inhabited lands, and he was delivered.
Again it came to him to travel, and on this his third voyage the ship
was driven to the mountain of Zughb, inhabited by hairy apes. These apes
seized all the goods and gear, breaking the ship, but spared the men.
Then they perceived a great house and entered it, but nobody was there.
At nightfall, however, a frightful giant entered, and began to feel the
men one by one, till he found the fattest, and him the giant roasted
over a fire and ate like a chicken. This happened many days, till
Sindbad encouraged his friends, and they heated two iron spits in the
fire, and while the giant slept put out his eyes. While they ran to the
shore, where they had built a raft, the giant, bellowing with rage,
returned with two ghuls, and pelted the raft with rocks, killing some,
but the rest escaped. However, three only were alive when they reached
The shore on which these three landed was occupied by an immense
serpent, like a dragon, who instantly ate one of the three, while
Sindbad and the other climbed up a tree. Next day the serpent glided up
the tree, and ate the second. Then Sindbad descended, and with planks
bound himself all round so that he was a man surrounded by a fence. Thus
did he abide safe from the serpent till a ship saved him.
Now on his fourth voyage Sindbad's ship was wrecked, and he fell among
hairy men, cannibals, who fattened all that they caught like cattle, and
consumed them. He being thin and wasted by all his misfortunes, escaped
death, and saw all his comrades fattened and roasted, till they went
mad, with cries of anguish. It chanced that the shepherd, who tended
these men in the folds, took pity on Sindbad and showed him the road out
of danger, which taking, he arrived, after divers adventures and
difficulties, at the country of a great king. In this country all were
horsemen, but the saddle was unknown, so Sindbad made first the king,
and afterwards the vizir, both saddle and stirrups, which so delighted
them that he was advanced to great fortune and honour.
Then was he married to a maiden most beautiful and chaste, so lovely to
behold that she ravished the senses, and he lived like one in a dream.
But it came to pass that she died, and when they buried her they took
Sindbad and shut him in the Place of the Dead with her, giving him a
little food and water till he should die. Such was the custom, that
husband and wife should accompany the dead wife or husband in the Place
of the Dead--a mighty cave strewn with dead bodies, dark as night, and
littered with jewels.
While Sindbad bewailed his lot in this place the doors opened, a dead
body of a man was brought in, and with it his live wife, to whom food
was given. Then Sindbad killed this fair lady with the bone of a leg,
took her food and jewels, and thus did he serve all the live people
thrust into the cavern. One day he heard a strange sound far up the
cavern, and perceived in the distance a wild beast. Then he knew that
there must be some entrance at that far end, and journeying thither,
found a hole in the mountain which led to the sea. On the shore Sindbad
piled all his jewels, returning every day to the cavern to gather more,
till a ship came and bore him away.
His fifth voyage was interrupted by rocs, whose egg the sailors had
smashed open to see the interior of what they took to be a dome. These
birds flew over the ship with rocks in their claws, and let them fall on
to the ship, so that it was wrecked.
Sindbad reached shore on a plank, and wandering on this island perceived
an old man, very sad, seated by a river. The old man signalled to
Sindbad that he should carry him on his back to a certain point, and
this Sindbad very willingly bent himself to do. But once upon his back,
the legs over the shoulders and wound round about his flanks, the old
man refused to get off, and drove Sindbad hither and thither with most
cruel blows. At last Sindbad took a gourd, hollowed it out, filled it
with grape juice, stopped the mouth, and set it in the sun. Then did he
drink of this wine and get merry and forget his misery, dancing with the
old man on his neck. So the old man asked for the gourd, and drank of
it, and fell sleepy, and dropped from Sindbad's neck, and Sindbad slew
After that, Sindbad amassed treasure by pelting apes with pebbles, who
threw back at him cocoanuts, which he sold for money.
On his sixth voyage Sindbad was wrecked on the most frightful mountain
which no ship could pass. The sight of all the useless wealth strewn
upon this terrible place of wreck and death drove all the other
passengers mad, so that they died. But Sindbad, finding a stream, built
a raft, and drifted with it, till, almost dead, he arrived among Indians
and Abyssinians. Here he was well treated, grew rich, and returned in
prosperity to Baghdad.
But once again did he travel, and this time his vessel encountered in
the middle seas three vast fish-like islands, which lashed out and
destroyed the ship, eating most, but Sindbad escaped. When he reached
land he found himself well cared for among kind people, and he grew rich
in an old man's house, who married him to his only daughter. One day
after the old man's death, and when he was as rich as any in that land,
lo! all the men grew into the likeness of birds, and Sindbad begged one
of them to take him on his back on the mysterious flight to which they
were now bent. After persuasion the man-bird agreed, and Sindbad was
carried up into the firmament till he could hear the angels glorifying
God in the heavenly dome. Carried away by ecstasy, he shouted praise of
Allah into the holy place, and instantly the bird fell to the ground,
for they were evil and incapable of praising God. But Sindbad returned
to his wife, and she told him how evil were those people, and that her
father was not of them, and induced him to carry her to his own land. So
he sold all his possessions, took ship, and came to Baghdad, where he
lived in great splendour and honour, and this was the seventh and last
voyage of Sindbad the Sailor.
_II.--The Tale of the Three Apples_
The Caliph Haroun al-Raschid, walking by night in the city, found a
fisherman lamenting that he had caught nothing for his wife and
children. "Cast again," said the caliph, "and I will give thee a hundred
gold pieces for whatsoever cometh up." So the man cast his net, and
there came up a box, wherein was found a young damsel foully murdered.
Now, to this murder confessed two men, a youth and an old man; and this
was the story of the youth.
His wife fell ill, and had a longing for apples, so that he made the
journey to Bussorah, and bought three apples from the caliph's gardener.
But his wife would not eat them. One day, as he sat in his shop, passed
a slave, bearing one of the apples. The husband asked how he came by it,
whereat replied the slave that his mistress gave it him, saying that her
wittol of a husband had journeyed to Bussorah for it. Then in rage the
young man returned and slew his wife. Presently his little son came
home, saying that he was afraid of his mother; and when the father
questioned him, replied the child that he had taken one of his mother's
three apples to play with, and that a slave had stolen it. Then did the
husband know his wife to be innocent, and he told her father all, and
they both mourned for her, and both offered themselves to the
executioner--the one that he was guilty, the other to save his son-in-
law whose guilt was innocence.
From this story followed that of Noureddin and his son Bedreddin Hassan,
whose marriage to the Lady of Beauty was brought about by a genie, in
spite of great difficulties. And it was after hearing this tale that
Haroun al-Raschid declared to his vizir: "It behoves that these stories
be written in letters of liquid gold."
_III.--Hassan, the Rope-Maker_
Two men, so it chanced, disputing whether wealth could give happiness,
came before the shop of a poor rope-maker. Said one of the men: "I will
give this fellow two hundred pieces of gold, and see what he does with
it." Hassan, amazed by this gift, put the gold in his turban, except ten
pieces, and went forth to buy hemp for his trade and meat for his
As he journeyed, a famished vulture made a pounce at the meat, and
Hassan's turban fell off, with which the vulture, balked of the meat,
flew away, far out of sight.
When the two men returned they found Hassan very unhappy, and the same
who had given before gave him another two hundred pieces, which Hassan
hid carefully, all but ten pieces, in a pot of bran. While he was out
buying hemp, his wife exchanged the pot of bran for some scouring sand
with a sandman in the street. Hassan was maddened when he came home, and
beat his wife, and tore her hair, and howled like an evil spirit. When
his friends returned they were amazed by his tale, but the one who had
as yet given nothing now gave Hassan a lump of lead picked up in the
street, saying: "Good luck shall come of homely lead, where gold profits
Hassan thought but little of the lead, and when a fisherman sent among
his neighbours that night for a piece of lead wherewith to mend his
nets, very willingly did Hassan part with this gift, the fisherman
promising him the first fish he should catch.
When Hassan's wife cut open this fish to cook it, she found within it a
large piece of glass, crystal clear, which she threw to the children for
a plaything. A Jewess who entered the shop saw this piece of glass,
picked it up, and offered a few pieces of money for it. Hassan's wife
dared not do anything now without her husband's leave, and Hassan, being
summoned, refused all the offers of the Jewess, perceiving that the
piece of glass was surely a precious diamond. At last the Jewess offered
a hundred thousand pieces of gold, and, as this was wealth beyond
wealth, Hassan very willingly agreed to the barter.
_IV.--Prince Ahmed and the Fairy_
Once upon a time there was a sultan who had three sons, and all these
young men loved their cousin, the fatherless and motherless Nouronnihar,
who lived at their father's court.
To decide which should marry the princess the sultan bade them go forth,
each a separate way, and, after a time, determined to end their travels
by assembling at a certain place. "He of you who brings back from his
travels the greatest of rarities," said the sultan, "he shall marry the
princess, my niece." To Almighty Allah was confided the rest.
The eldest of the princes, Houssain by name, consorted with merchants in
his travels, but saw nothing strange or wonderful till he encountered a
man crying a piece of carpet for forty pieces of gold. "Such is the
magic of this carpet," protested the man, "that he who sits himself upon
it is instantly transported to whatsoever place he desires to visit, be
it over wide seas or tall mountains." The prince bought this carpet,
amused himself with it for some time, and then flew joyfully to the
place of assembly.
Hither came the second prince, Ali, who brought from Persia an ivory
tube, down which, if any man looked, he beheld the sight that most he
desired to see; and the third prince, the young Ahmed, who had bought
for thirty-five pieces of gold a magic apple, the smell of which would
restore a soul almost passed through the gate of death.
The three princes, desiring to see their beloved princess, looked down
Ali's ivory tube, and, lo! the tragic sight that met their gaze--for the
princess lay at the point of death.
Swiftly did they seat themselves upon Houssain's magic carpet, and in a
moment of time found themselves beside the princess, whom Ahmed
instantly restored to life and beauty and health by his magic apple.
As it seemed impossible to decide which of these rare things was the
rarest, the sultan commanded that each prince should shoot an arrow, and
he whose arrow flew farthest should become the husband of Nouronnihar.
Houssain drew the first bow; then Ali, whose arrow sped much farther,
and then Ahmed, whose arrow was not to be found.
Houssain, in despair, gave up his right of succession to the throne,
and, with a blighted heart, went out into the wilderness to become a
holy man. Ali was married to the princess, and Ahmed went forth into the
world to seek his lost arrow.
After long wandering, Ahmed found his arrow among desolate rocks, too
far for any man to have shot with the bow; and, while he looked about
him, amazed and dumfounded, he beheld an iron door in the rocks, which
yielded to his touch and led into a very sumptuous palace. There
advanced towards him a lady of surpassing loveliness, who announced that
she was a genie, that she knew well who he was, and had sent the carpet,
the tube, and the apple, and had guided his arrow to her door.
Furthermore, she confessed to the prince great love for him, and offered
him all that she possessed, leading him to a vast and magnificent
chamber, where a marriage-feast was prepared for them.
Prince Ahmed was happy for some while, and then he thought of his
father, grieving for him, and at last obtained leave from the beautiful
genie to go on a visit to his home. At first his father was glad to see
him, but afterwards jealousy of his son and the son's secret place of
dwelling, and suspicion that a son so rich and powerful might have
designs on his throne, led his father to lay hard and cruel burdens on
However, all that he commanded Ahmed performed by help of the genie,
even things the most impossible. He brought a tent which would cover the
sultan's army, and yet, folded up, lay in the hollow of a man's hand.
This and many other wonderful things did Ahmed perform, till the sultan
asked for a man one foot and a half in height, with a beard thirty feet
long, who could carry a bar of iron weighing five hundredweight.
Such a man the genie found, and the sultan, beholding him, turned away
in disgust; whereat the dwarf flew at him in a rage, and with his iron
bar smote him to death.
Thus, too, did the little man treat all the wicked courtiers and
sorcerers who had incensed the sultan against his son. And Ahmed and the
genie became sultan and sultana of all that world, while Ali and
Nouronnihar reigned over a great province bestowed upon them by Prince
As for Houssain, he forsook not the life of a holy man living in the
There lived long ago a poor tailor with a pretty wife to whom he was
tenderly attached. One day there came to his door a hunchback, who
played upon a musical instrument and sang to it so amusingly that the
tailor straightway carried him to his wife. So delighted by the
hunchback's singing was the tailor's wife that she cooked a dish of fish
and the three sat down to be merry. But in the midst of the feast a bone
stuck in the hunchback's throat, and before a man could stare he was
dead. Afraid that they should be accused of murder, the tailor conspired
with his wife what they should do. "I have it," said he, and getting a
piece of money he sallied forth at dark with the hunchback's body and
arrived before the house of a doctor.
Here knocked he on the door, and giving the maid a piece of money, bade
her hasten the doctor to his need. So soon as the maid's back was
turned, he placed the hunchback on the top stair and fled. Now the
doctor, coming quickly, struck against the corpse so that it fell to the
bottom of the stairs. "Woe is me, for I have killed a patient!" said he,
and fearing to be accused of murder, carried the body in to his wife.
Now they had a neighbour who was absent from home, and going to his room
they placed the corpse against the fireplace. This man, returning and
crying out: "So it is not the rats who plunder my larder!" began to
belabour the hunchback, till the body rolled over and lay still. Then in
great fear of his deed, this Mussulman carried the corpse into the
street, and placed it upright against a shop.
Came by a Christian merchant at dawn of day, and running against the
hunchback tumbled him over; then thinking himself attacked he struck the
body, and at that moment the watch came by and haled the merchant before
Now the hunchback was a favourite of the sultan, and he ordered the
Christian merchant to be executed.
To the scaffold, just when death was to be done, came the Mussulman, and
confessed that he was the murderer. So the executioner released the
Christian, and was about to hang the other, when the doctor came and
confessed to being the murderer. So the doctor took the place of the
Mussulman, when the tailor and his wife hastened to the scene, and
confessed that they were guilty.
Now, when this story came to the ears of the sultan, he said: "Great is
Allah, whose will must be done!" and he released all of them, and
commanded this story of the hunchback to be written in a book.
_VI.--Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp_
There was in the old time a bad and idle boy who lived with his mother,
a poor widow, and gave her much unrest. And there came to him one day a
wicked magician, who called himself the boy's uncle, and made rich
presents to the mother, and one day he led Aladdin out to make him a
merchant. Now, the magician knew by his magic of a vast hoard of wealth,
together with a wonderful lamp, which lay in the earth buried in
Aladdin's name. And he sent the boy to fetch the lamp, giving him a
magic ring, and waited on the earth for his return. But Aladdin, his
pockets full of jewels, refused to give up the lamp till his false uncle
helped him to the surface of the earth, and in rage the magician caused
the stone to fall upon the cave, and left Aladdin to die.
But as he wept, wringing his hands, the genie of the magic ring
appeared, and by his aid Aladdin was restored to his mother. There, with
the genie of the lamp to wait upon him, he lived, till, seeing the
sultan's daughter pass on her way to the bath, he conceived violent love
for her, and sent his mother to the sultan with all his wonderful
jewels, asking the princess in marriage. The sultan, astonished by the
gift of jewels, set Aladdin to perform prodigies of wonder, but all
these he accomplished by aid of the genie, so that at last the sultan
was obliged to give him the princess in marriage. And Aladdin caused a
great pavilion to rise near the sultan's palace, and this was one of the
wonders of the world, and there he abode in honour and fame.
Then the wicked magician, knowing by magic the glory of Aladdin, came
disguised, crying "New Lamps for Old!" and one of the maids in the
pavilion gave him the wonderful lamp, and received a new one from the
coppersmith. The magician transplanted the pavilion to Africa, and
Aladdin, coming home, found the sultan enraged against him and his
palace vanished. But by means of the genie of the ring he discovered the
whereabouts of his pavilion, and going thither, slew the magician,
possessed himself anew of the lamp, and restored his pavilion to its
But the magician's wicked brother, plotting revenge, obtained access to
the princess in disguise of a holy woman he had foully murdered, and he
would have certainly slain Aladdin but for a warning of the genie, by
which Aladdin was enabled to kill the magician. After that Aladdin lived
in glory and peace, and ascended in due course to the throne, and
reigned with honour and mercy.
_VII.--Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves_
Now, the father of Ali Baba left both his sons poor; but Kasim married a
rich wife, and so he lived plenteously, while his poor brother, Ali
Baba, worked in the wood. It came to pass that Ali Baba one day saw in
the wood a company of forty robbers, the captain of whom cried, "Open,
Sesame!" to a great rock, and lo! it opened, and the men disappeared.
When they were gone out again, Ali Baba came from his hiding, and,
addressing the rock in the same way, found that it obeyed him. Then went
he in and took much of the treasure, which he drove home on his mule.
Now, when his wife sent to the brother Kasim for scales, wherewith she
might weigh all this treasure, the sister-in-law being suspicious that
one so poor should have need of scales, smeared the bottom of the pan
with wax and grease, and discovered on the return a gold piece. This she
showed to Kasim, who made Ali Baba confess the tale. Then Kasim went to
the cave, entered, loaded much treasure, and was about to depart, when
he found he had forgotten the magic words whereby he entered. There was
he found by the forty thieves, who slew and quartered him. Ali Baba
found the quarters, took them home, got a blind tailor to sew them
together, and gave his brother burial.
Now, the robbers discovered Ali Baba's house, and they hid themselves in
oil-jars hung on the backs of mules, and the captain drove them. Thus
came they to Ali Baba's house, and the captain craved lodging for
himself and his beasts. Surely would Ali Baba have been captured,
tortured, and put to death but for his maid, the faithful and astute
Morgiana, who discovered men in the jars, and, boiling cans of oil,
poured it upon them one by one, and so delivered her master. But the
captain had escaped, and Ali Baba still went in great fear of his life.
But when he returned, disguised so that he might have puzzled the
wisest, Morgiana recognised the enemy of her master; and she was dancing
before him and filling his eyes with pleasure; and when it came for her
to take the tambourine and go round for largess, she strengthened her
heart and, quick as the blinding lightning, plunged a dagger into his
vitals. Thus did the faithful Morgiana save her master, and he married
her to his nephew, the son of Kasim, and they lived long in great joy
_VIII.--The Fisherman and the Genie_
There was once a poor fisherman who every day cast his net four times
into the sea. On a day he went forth, and casting in his net, drew up
with great labour a dead jackass; casting again, an earthen pitcher full
of sand; casting a third time vexatiously, potsherds and shattered
glass; and at the last a jar of yellow copper, leaden-capped, and
stamped with the seal-ring of Solomon, the son of David. His rage was
silenced at sight of the sacred seal, and, removing the cap, smoke
issued, which, taking vast shape, became a terrible genie frightful to
Said the genie: "By what manner of death wilt thou die, for I have
sworn, by Allah, to slay the man who freed me!" He moreover explained
how Solomon had placed him in the jar for heresy, and how he had lain
all those years at the bottom of the sea. For a hundred years, he said,
he swore that he would make rich for ever and ever the man who freed
him; for the next hundred, that for such an one he would open the hoards
of the earth; then, that he would perfectly fulfil such an one's three
wishes; finally, in his rage, that he would kill the man who freed him.
Now, the fisherman, having pleaded in vain, said that he did not believe
the tale, seeing that so huge a genie could never have got into so small
a jar. Whereat the genie made smoke of himself, and re-entered the vase.
Instantly then did the fisherman stopper it, nor would he let the genie
free till that wicked one had promised to spare his life and do him
service. Grudgingly and wrathfully did the genie issue forth, but being
now under oath to Allah, he spared the fisherman and did him service.
He took him to a lake in the black mountains, bade him throw in his net,
and bear the catch to the sultan. Now, by the fisherman's catching of
four fish all of a different hue, the sultan discovered that this lake
in the mountains was once a populous and mighty city, whereof the prince
and all the inhabitants had been bewitched in ancient time. When the
city was restored and all those many people called back to life, the
sultan enriched the fisherman, who lived afterwards in wealth.
_IX.--The Enchanted Horse_
In olden times there came to the Court of Persia a stranger from Ind,
riding a horse made of wood, which, said he, could fly whithersoever its
rider wished. When the sultan had seen the horse fly to a mountain and
back, he asked the Hindu its price, and said the man: "Thy daughter's
hand." Now the prince, standing by, was enraged at this insolence, but
his father said: "Have no fear that I should do this thing. Howsoever,
lest another king become possessed of the horse, I will bargain for it."
But the impetuous prince, doubting the truth of the horse's power,
jumped upon its back, turned the peg which he had observed the Hindu to
turn, and instantly was borne far away.
The king, enraged that the Hindu could not bring back his son, had the
man cast into prison, albeit the Hindu protested that soon the prince
must discover the secret of stopping the horse by means of a second peg,
and therefore would soon return.
Now the prince did not discover this secret till he was far away, and it
was night. He came to earth near a palace, and going in, found there an
exquisite lady sleeping, and knew by her dress that she was of a rank
equal with his own. Then he pleaded to her for succour, and she
constrained him to stay, and for many weeks he abode as a guest. After
that time he said, "Come to my father's court, that we may be married!"
And early one dawn he bore her to Persia on the back of the enchanted
So glad was the king at his son's return that he released the Hindu.
Now the Hindu, hearing what had happened, determined on revenge. He
found where the horse was placed, and going to the palace where the
foreign princess was housed, sent for her in the sultan's name, and she
came to him. Then he seated her upon the horse, and mounting up in full
view of the sultan and his royal son, flew far away with his lovely
It was the Hindu's desire to marry this princess, but when they were
come to earth, she withstood him, and cried for help and succour. To her
came the sultan of that place, and slew the Hindu, and would have
married her, but she was faithful to her lover and feigned madness.
Then the sultan offered rewards to any who should cure her of this
frightful madness, and many physicians came and failed. Now, her lover,
distracted at sight of seeing her in mid-air with the Hindu, had turned
Holy Man, roaming the earth without hope like one who is doomed.
It happened that he came to the palace where the princess lay in her
feigned madness, and hearing the tale of her, and of the enchanted
horse, with new hope and a great joy in his heart, he went in, disguised
as a physician, and in secret made himself known.
Then he stood before the sultan of that land, and said: "From the
enchanted horse hath she contracted this madness, and by the enchanted
horse shall she lose it." And he gave orders to dress her in glorious
array, to crown her with jewels and gold, and to lead her forth to the
A vast concourse assembled there, and the prince set his beloved lady on
the horse, and pretending incantations, leapt suddenly upon its back,
turned the peg, and as the enchanted steed flew towards Persia, over his
shoulder cried the glad prince: "When next, O sultan, thou wouldst marry
a princess who implores thy protection, ask first for her consent."
* * * * *
AUCASSIN AND NICOLETTE
Song-Story of the Twelfth Century
If "Old Antif" of Hainault was, as the best authorities now
incline to think, the author of "Aucassin and Nicolette,"
Belgium may claim to have produced the finest poet of the ages
of chivalry. He was probably a contemporary of the English
minstrel king, Richard the Lion-hearted. But nothing is known
of him save what can be gathered from the exquisite story of
love which he composed in his old age. Perhaps he, too, was,
in his younger days, a Crusader as well as a minstrel, and
fought in the Holy Land against the Saracens. His "song-story"
is certainly Arabian both in form and substance. Even his
hero, Aucassin, the young Christian lord of Beaucaire, bears
an Arabian name--Alcazin. There is nothing in Mohammedan
literature equal to "Aucassin and Nicolette." It can be
compared only with Shakespeare's "As You Like It." The old,
sorrowful, tender-hearted minstrel knight, who wandered from
castle to castle in Hainault and Picardy seven hundred years
ago, is one of the master-singers of the world.
_I.--Lovers Young and Fair_
Listen to a tale of love,
Which an old grey captive wove.
Great delight and solace he
Found in his captivity,
As he told what toils beset
Aucassin and Nicolette;
And the dolour undergone,
And the deeds of prowess done
By a lad of noble race,
For a lady fair of face.
Though a man be old and blind,
Sick in body and in mind,
If he hearken he shall be
Filled with joy and jollity,
So delectable and sweet
Is the tale I now repeat.
Now, a war broke out between Count Bougars of Valence and Count Garin of
Beaucaire; and Count Bougars besieged Beaucaire with a hundred knights
and ten thousand men. Then Count Garin, who was old and feeble, said to
his fair young son, Aucassin:
"Now, son, go and defend our land and people."
"I tell you," said Aucassin, "I will never draw sword unless I have my
sweet love Nicolette to wife."
"And I tell you," said his father, "that I would liefer lose life and
land than see you wedded to her. What! A Saracen girl, bought by one of
my captains! A slave! A heathen! A witch! God! I will burn her in a
fire, and you with her."
"Stay!" said Aucassin. "I will make an agreement. I will fight Count
Bougars, if you will let me speak to Nicolette after the battle."
"I agree," said his father. And he said this because Count Bougars was
well night master of Beaucaire.
Aucassin went out to battle in great joy. But his father went in great
anger to the captain that had bought Nicolette from the Saracens, and
"If I lay hands on that heathen girl, I will burn her in a fire, and you
also, unless you have a care."
And the captain who had adopted Nicolette as his daughter was afraid
both for himself and for his godchild. And he hid her in the tower that
stood in the garden of his house.
In the tower that Nicolette
Prisoned is, may no man get.
Pleasant is her room to see,
Carved and painted wondrously.
But no pleasure can she find
In the paintings, to her mind.
Look! For she is standing there
By the window, with her hair
Yellow like autumnal wheat
When the sunshine falls on it.
Blue-grey eyes she has, and brows
Whiter than the winter snows;
And her face is like a flower,
As she gazes from the tower:
As she gazes far below
Where the garden roses blow,
And the thrush and blackbird sing
In the pleasant time of spring.
"Woe is me!" she cries, "that I
In a prison cell must lie;
Parted by a cruel spite
From my young and lovely knight.
By the eyes of God, I swear
Prisonment I will not bear!
Here for long I shall not stay:
Love will quickly find a way."
In the meantime, Aucassin mounted a great war-horse, and rode out to
battle. Still dreaming of Nicolette, he let the reins fall, and his
horse carried him among his foes. They took him prisoner, and sent word
to Count Bougars to come and see them hang the heir of Beaucaire.
"Ha!" said Aucassin, waking out of his dream. "Ha, my God! My Saviour!
If they hang me, I shall never see my sweet love Nicolette again!"
Striking out in a great passion, he made a havoc about him, like a boar
that turns at bay on the hounds in a forest. Ten knights he struck down,
and seven he wounded. Then, spying Count Bougars, that had come to see
him hanged, he lashed at his helm, and stunned him, and took him
prisoner to Beaucaire.
"Father," he said, "here is Count Bougars. The war is ended. Now let me
"I will not," said his father. "That is my last word in this matter. So
help me, God."
"Count Bougars," said Aucassin, "you are my prisoner. I will have a
pledge from you; give me your hand." Count Bougars gave his hand.
"Pledge me," said Aucassin, "that if I set you free, you will do my
father all the hurt and damage and shame you can; for he is a liar."
"In God's name," said Count Bougars, "put me to ransom and take all my
wealth; but do not mock me!"
"Are you my prisoner?" said Aucassin.
"Yes," said Count Bougars.
"Then, so help me, God," said Aucassin, "I will now send your head from
your shoulders unless I have that pledge!"
Thereupon Count Bougars pledged him, and Aucassin set him free. Then
Aucassin went to the captain that was godfather to Nicolette. "What have
you done with my sweet lady?" he asked.
"You will never again see Nicolette, my fair lord," said the captain.
"What would you gain if you took the Saracen maid to bed? Your soul
would go to hell. You would never win to heaven!"
"And what of that?" said Aucassin. "Who is it that win to heaven? Old
priests, and cripples that grovel and pray at altars, and tattered
beggars that die of cold and hunger. These only go to heaven, and I do
not want their company. So I will go to hell. For there go all good
scholars and the brave knights that died in wars, and sweet ladies that
had many lovers, and harpers, and minstrels, and great kings. Give me
but my Nicolette, and gladly I will keep them company."
_II.--Love's Song in a Dungeon_
Aucassin returned very sorrowfully to the castle, and there his father
put him into a dungeon.
Aucassin is cast and bound
In a dungeon underground;
Never does the sunlight fall
Shining on his prison wall;
Only one faint ray of it
Glimmers down a narrow slit.
But does Aucassin forget
His sweet lady, Nicolette?
Listen! He is singing there,
And his song is all of her:
"Though for love of thee I die
In this dungeon where I lie,
Wonder of the world, I will
Worship thee and praise thee still!
By the beauty of thy face,
By the joy of thy embrace,
By the rapture of thy kiss,
And thy body's sweetnesses,
Miracle of loveliness,
Comfort me in my distress!
Surely, 'twas but yesterday,
That the pilgrim came this way--
Weak and poor and travel-worn--
Who in Limousin was born.
With the falling sickness, he
Stricken was full grievously.
He had prayed to many a saint
For the cure of his complaint;
But no healing did he get
Till he saw my Nicolette.
Even as he lay down to die,
Nicolette came walking by.
On her shining limbs he gazed,
As her kirtle she upraised.
And he rose from off the ground,
Healed and joyful, whole and sound.
Miracle of loveliness,
Comfort me in my distress!"
As Aucassin was singing in his dungeon, Nicolette was devising how to
get out of her tower. It was now summer time, in the month of May, when
the day is warm, long and clear, and the night still and serene.
Nicolette lay on her bed, and the moonlight streamed through the window,
and the nightingale sang in the garden below; and she thought of
Aucassin, her lover, whom she loved, and of Count Garin, who hated her.
"I will stay here no longer," said Nicolette, "or the count will find me
and kill me."
The old woman that was set to watch over her was asleep. Nicolette put
on her fine silken kirtle, and took the bedclothes and knotted them
together, and made a rope. This she fastened to the bar of her window,
and so got down from the tower. Then she lifted up her kirtle with both
hands, because the dew was lying deep on the grass, and went away down
Her locks were yellow and curled; her eyes blue-grey and laughing; her
lips were redder than the cherry or rose in summertime; her teeth white
and small; so slim was her waist that you could have clipped her in your
two hands; and so firm were her breasts that they rose against her
bodice as if they were two apples. The daisies that bent above her
instep, and broke beneath her light tread, looked black against her
feet; so white the maiden was.
She came to the postern gate, and unbarred it, and went out through the
streets of Beaucaire, keeping always in the shadows, for the moon was
shining. And so she got to the dungeon where her lover, Aucassin, lay.
She thrust her head through the chink, and there she heard Aucassin
grieving for her whom he loved so much.
"Ah, Aucassin!" she said. "Never will you have joy of me. Your father
hates me to death, and I must cross the sea, and go to some strange
"If you were to go away," said Aucassin, "you would kill me. The first
man that saw you would take you to his bed. And, then, do you think I
would wait till I found a knife? No! I would dash my head to pieces
against a wall or a rock."
"Ah!" she said. "I love you more than you love me."
"Nay, my sweet lady," said he. "Woman cannot love man as much as man
loves woman. Woman only loves with her eyes; man loves with his heart."
Aucassin and Nicolette were thus debating, when the soldiers of the
count came marching down the street. Their swords were drawn, and they
were seeking for Nicolette to slay her.
"God, it were a great pity to kill so fair a maid!" said the warden of
the dungeon. "My young lord Aucassin would die of it, and that would be
a great loss to Beaucaire. Would that I could warn Nicolette!"
And with that, he struck up a merry tune, but the words he sang to it
were not merry.
Lady with the yellow hair,
Lovely, sweet and debonair,
Now take heed.
Death comes on thee unaware.
Turn thee now; oh, turn and flee;
Death is coming suddenly.
And the swords
Flash that seek to murder thee.
"May God reward you for your fair words!" said Nicolette.
Wrapping herself in her mantle, she hid in the shadows until the
soldiers went by. Then she said farewell to Aucassin, and climbed up the
castle-wall where it had been broken in the siege. But steep and deep
was the moat, and Nicolette's fair hands and feet were bleeding when she
got out. But she did not feel any pain, because of the great fear that
was on her lest she should fall into the hands of the count's men.
Within two bow-shots from Beaucaire was a great forest; and here
Nicolette slept in a thicket, until the herd-boys came in the morning,
and pastured their cattle close to her resting-place. They sat down by a
fountain, and spread out a cloak, and put their bread on it. Their
shouting aroused Nicolette, and she came to them.
"God bless you, sweet boys!" said she.
"God bless you, lady!" said one that had a readier tongue than the
"Do you know Aucassin, the brave young son of Count Garin?" she said.
"Yes, lady," they said. "We know him very well."
"Then tell him, in the name of God," said she, "that there is a beast in
this forest that he must come and hunt. If he can take it, he will not
sell a limb of it for a hundred marks of gold. Nay, not for any money."
"I tell him that?" said the boy that had a readier tongue than the
others. "Curse me if I do! There's no beast in this forest--stag, boar,
wolf or lion--with a limb worth more than two or three pence. You speak
of some enchantment, and you are a fairy woman. We do not want your
company. Go away."
"Sweet boys," said Nicolette, "you must do as I tell you. For the beast
has a medicine that will cure Aucassin of all his pain. Ah! I have five
pieces of money in my purse. Take them, and tell him. He must come and
hunt within three days, and if he does not, he will never be cured."
"Faith," said the boy, after consulting with his fellows, "we shall tell
him if he comes, but we will not search after him!"
_III.--Aucassin Goes in Quest of Nicolette_
Nicolette took leave of the herd-boys, and went into the forest down a
green way that led to a place where seven paths met. Close at hand was a
deep thicket, and there Nicolette built a lodge of green boughs, and
covered it with oak-leaves and lily-flowers, and made it sweet and
pleasant, both inside and out. And she stayed in this lodge to see what
Aucassin would do.
In the meantime, the cry went through all the country that Nicolette was
lost. Some said that she had gone away; others that Count Garin had put
her to death. If any man had joy in the news, that man was not Aucassin.
His father let him out of prison, and summoned all the knights and
ladies of the land to a great feast that he made to comfort his young
son. But when the revelry was at its height, there was Aucassin leaning
despondently from a gallery, sorrowful and utterly downcast. And an old
knight saw him, and came to him.
"Aucassin," he said, "there was a time when I, too, was sick with the
sickness that you have. If you will trust me, I will give you some good
"Gramercy," answered Aucassin. "Good counsel is indeed a precious
"Mount your horse and ride into the forest," said the old knight. "You
will see the flowers and the sweet herbs, and hear the birds singing.
And, perchance, you may also hear a word that will take away your
"Gramercy," said Aucassin. "That is what I will do."
He stole out of the hall, and went to the stable, and bridled and
saddled his horse, and rode swiftly out into the forest. By the fountain
he found the herd-boys. They had spread a cloak out on the grass, and
were eating their bread and making merry.
Jolly herd-boys, every one:
Martin, Emery, and John,
Aubrey, Oliver, and Matt
By the fountain-side they sat.
"Here," said John, "comes Aucassin,
Son of our good Count Garin.
Faith, he is a handsome boy!
Let us wish him luck and joy."
"And the girl with yellow hair
Wandering in the forest there,"
Aubrey said. "She gave us more
Gold than we have seen before.
Say, what shall we go and buy?"
"Cakes!" said greedy Emery.
"Flutes and bagpipes!" Johnny said.
"No," cried Martin; "knives instead!
Knives and swords! Then we can go
Out to war and fight the foe."
"Sweet boys," said Aucassin, as he rode up to them, "sing again the song
that you were singing just now, I pray you."
"We will not," said Aubrey, who had a readier tongue than the others.
"Do you not know me, then?" said Aucassin.
"Yes," said Aubrey. "You are our young lord, Aucassin. But we are not
your men, but the count's."
"Sweet boys, sing it again, I pray you," said Aucassin.
"God's heart!" cried Aubrey. "Why should I sing for you, if I do not
want to? There is no man in this country--save Count Garin--that dare
drive my cattle from his fields and corn-lands, if I put them there. He
would lose his eyes for it, no matter how rich he were. So, now, why
should I sing for you, if I do not want to?"
"In the name of God," said Aucassin, "take these ten sous, and sing it!"
"Sir, I will take your money," said Aubrey, "but I will not sing you
anything. Still, if you like, I will tell you something."
"By God," said Aucassin, "something is better than nothing!"
"Sir," said Aubrey, then, "we were eating our bread by this fountain,
between prime and tierce, and a maid came by--the loveliest thing in all
the world. She lighted up the forest with her beauty; so we thought she
was a fairy woman. But she gave us some money; and we promised that if
you came by we would tell you to go hunting in the forest. In there is a
beast of marvellous value. If you took it you would not sell one of its
limbs for many marks of gold, for it has a medicine that will cure your
sickness. Now I have told you all."
"And you have told me enough, sweet boy," said Aucassin. "Farewell! God
give me good hunting!"
And, as he spurred his horse into the forest, Aucassin sang right
Track of boar and slot of deer,
Neither do I follow here.
Nicolette I hotly chase
Down the winding, woodland ways--
Thy white body, thy blue eyes,
Thy sweet smiles and low replies
God in heaven give me grace,
Once to meet thee face to face;
Once to meet as we have met,
_IV.--Love in the Forest_
Furiously did his horse bear him on through the thorns and briars that
tore his clothes and scratched his body, so that you could have followed
the track of his blood on the grass. But neither hurt nor pain did he
feel, for he thought only of Nicolette. All day he sought for her in the
forest, and when evening drew on, he began to weep because he had not
found her. Night fell, but still he rode on; and he came at last to the
place where the seven roads met, and there he saw the lodge of green
boughs and lily-flowers which Nicolette had made.
"Ah, heaven," said Aucassin, "here Nicolette has been, and she has made
this lodge with her own fair hands! For the sweetness of it, and for
love of her, I will sleep here to-night."
As he sat in the lodge, Aucassin saw the evening star shining through a
gap in the boughs, and he sang:
Star of eve! Oh, star of love,
Gleaming in the sky above!
Nicolette, the bright of brow,
Dwells with thee in heaven now.
God has set her in the skies
To delight my longing eyes;
And her clear and yellow hair
Shines upon the darkness there.
Oh! my lady, would that I
Swiftly up to thee could fly.
Meet thee, greet thee, kiss thee, fold thee
To my aching heart, and hold thee.
Here, without thee, nothing worth
Can I find upon the earth.
When Nicolette heard Aucassin singing, she came into the bower, and
threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Aucassin then set his
sweet love upon his horse, and mounted behind her; and with all haste
they rode out from the forest and came to the seashore.
There Aucassin saw a ship sailing upon the sea, and he beckoned to it;
and the sailors took him and Nicolette on board, and they sailed to the
land of Torelore. And the King of Torelore welcomed them courteously;
and for two whole years they lived in great delight in his beautiful
castle by the sea. But one night the castle was suddenly stormed by the
Saracens; and Aucassin was bound hand and foot and thrown into a ship,
and Nicolette into another.
The ship that carried Aucassin was wrecked in a great storm, and it
drifted over the sea to Beaucaire. The people that ran to break up the
wreck found their young lord, and made great joy over his return. For
his father was dead, and he was now Count Aucassin. The people led him
to the castle, and did homage to him, and he held all his lands in
peace. But little delight had Aucassin in his wealth and power and
Though he lived in joy and ease,
And his kingdom was at peace,
Aucassin did so regret
His sweet lady, Nicolette,
That he would have liefer died
In the battle by her side.
"Ah, my Nicolette," he said,
"Are you living, are you dead?
All my kingdom I would give
For the news that still you live.
For the joy of finding you
Would I search the whole world through,
Did I think you living yet,
_V.--Nicolette's Love Song_
In the meantime, the Saracens took Nicolette to their great city of
Carthage; and because she was lovely and seemed of noble birth, they led
her to their king. And when Nicolette saw the King of Carthage, she knew
him again; and he, also, knew her. For she was his daughter who had been
carried off in her young days by the Christians. Her father held a great
feast in honour of Nicolette, and would have married her to a mighty
king of Paynim. But Nicolette had no mind to marry anyone but Aucassin,
and she devised how she might get news of her lover. One night she
smeared her face with a brown ointment, and dressed herself in
minstrel's clothes, and took a viol, and stole out of her father's
palace to the seashore. There she found a ship that was bound for
Provence, and she sailed in it to Beaucaire. She took her viol, and went
playing through the town, and came to the castle. Aucassin was sitting
on the castle steps with his proud barons and brave knights around him,
gazing sorrowfully at the sweet flowers, and listening to the singing of
"Shall I sing you a new song, sire?" said Nicolette.
"Yes, fair friend," said Aucassin; "if it be a merry one, for I am very
"If you like it," said Nicolette, "you will find it merry enough."
She drew the bow across her viol, and made sweet music, and then she
Once a lover met a maid
Wandering in a forest glade,
Where she had a pretty house
Framed with flowers and leafy boughs.
Maid and lover merrily
Sailed away across the sea,
To a castle by the strand
Of a strange and pleasant land.
There they lived in great delight
Till the Saracens by night
Stormed the keep, and took the maid,
With the captives of their raid.
Back to Carthage they returned,
And the maiden sadly mourned.
But they did not make of her
Paramour or prisoner.
For the King of Carthage said,
When he saw the fair young maid:
"Daughter!" and the maid replied:
"Father!" And they laughed and cried.
For she had been stolen when
She was young by Christian men.
And the captain of Beaucaire
Bought her as a slave-girl there.
Once her lover loved her well
Now, alas! he cannot tell
Who she is. Does he forget--
Aucassin leaped down the castle steps, and took his lady in his arms.
Then she went to the house of her godfather, the captain of the town,
and washed all the brownness from her face, and clad herself in robes of
rich silk. And, early on the morrow, Count Aucassin wedded her, and made
her Lady of Beaucaire; and they had great joy of one another. And here
my song-story ends. I know no more.
* * * * *
On the Height
Berthold Auerbach, a German poet and author of Jewish
descent, was born at Nordstetten, in Wuertemberg, on February
28, 1812. On the completion of his studies at the universities
of Tuebingen, Munich and Heidelberg he immediately devoted
himself to literature. His first publication dealt with
"Judaism and Recent Literature," and was to be followed by a
series of novels taken from Jewish history. Of this intended
series he actually published, with considerable success,
"Spinoza" and "Poet and Merchant." But real fame and
popularity came to him when he began to occupy himself with
the life of the general people which forms the subject of his
best-known works. In these later books, of which "On the
Height" is perhaps the most characteristic and certainly the
most famous, he revealed an unrivalled insight into the soul
of the Southern German country folk, and especially of the
peasants of the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. His
descriptions are remarkable for their fresh realism, graceful
style and humour. In addition to these qualities, his last
books are marked by great subtlety of psychological analysis.
"On the Height" was first published at Stuttgart in 1861, and
has been translated into several languages. Auerbach died at
Cannes on February 8, 1882, when all Germany was preparing to
celebrate his 70th birthday.
_I.--A Peasant Nurse in a Royal Palace_
Walpurga was as in a dream. It had all happened so quickly! Only a
fortnight ago, on the walk home from Sunday Mass at the village church,
her Hansei had to make a hay bed for her on a stone-heap by the
roadside. She had thought she could not get back to the cottage in time,
but she recovered after a while and bravely walked home. Her mother was
with her in the hour of suffering, as she had been with her through all
the joys and sorrows of her simple life. Then came the supreme joy of
the awakening, with a new life by her side, a baby-girl groping
helplessly for the mother's breast. Then--was it only yesterday?--when
she was waiting for the return of the christening party, a carriage
drove up with the village doctor and an elegant stranger. There was much
beating about the bush, and then it came out like a thunderbolt. The
stranger was a great doctor from the capital, entrusted with the mission
to find in the mountains an honest, comely peasant woman, and married
she must be, to act as wet-nurse for the expected crown prince or
Then Hansei came home with the merry party--there was much storming and
angry refusal; but finally the practical sense of the peasant folk
prevailed. It was, after all, only for a year, and it would mean comfort
and wealth, instead of hunger and grinding poverty. And scarcely had
their consent been wrung from them, when shouting and cheering announced
the great event of the crown prince's birth. Then came that strange,
long drive over hill and dale, through the dark night; and now, in the
Royal Palace, she tried to collect herself, to grasp the meaning of all
that splendour, the unintelligible ceremonious talk and bearing of those
about her. She was to be taken at once to see the queen and her precious
Walpurga was full of happiness when she left the queen's bedroom.
Touched by the comely young peasant-woman's naive and familiar
kindliness, the queen, who seemed to her beautiful as an angel, had
kissed her, and, on noticing a tear, had said: "Don't cry, Walpuga! You
are a mother, too, like myself!" The little prince took to his nurse
without much trouble, and she soon became accustomed to her new life,
although her thoughts often dwelt longingly on her native mountains, her
own child and mother and husband. How they would miss her! She knew her
Hansei was a good man at heart, but not particularly shrewd, and easily
gulled or led astray.
Meanwhile, her high spirits, her artless bluntness, the quaint
superstitions of the mountain child, gained her the goodwill and
approval of the king and queen, of Dr. Gunther, the court physician, of
the whole royal household, and, above all, of the lady-in-waiting,
Countess Irma Wildenort.
_II.--The Love Affairs of a King_
Countess Irma's letters to Emmy, her only convent friend, contained
little of idle gossip and of things that had happened. They had no
continuity. They were introspective, and took the form of a diary taken
up at odd moments and left again to be continued, sometimes the
following day, sometimes after a week. They revealed intellectual
development far in advance of her years, and clear perception of
"The queen lives in an exclusive world of sentiment and would like to
raise everybody to her exalted mood--liana-like, in the morning-glow and
evening-glow of sentiment, never in white daylight. She is most gracious
towards me, but we feel it instinctively--there is something in her and
in me that does not harmonise....
"Here all of them think me boundlessly naive, because I have the courage
to think for myself....
"The king loves reserve, but also gay freeness. The queen is too
serious--eternal organ sound; but you cannot dance to an organ, and we
are young and love to dance.
"A peasant woman from the mountains is nurse to the crown prince. I was
with her at the king's request. I stood by the cot when the king
arrived. He said to me gently: 'It is true, an angel stands by the
child's cradle.' He laid his hand upon mine, which rested on the rail of
the cot. The king went. And just imagine what occurred. The nurse, a
fresh, merry person with blue eyes, buxom and massive, a perfect peasant
beauty, to whom I showed friendliness, so as to cheer her up and save
her from feeling homesick, the nurse tells me in bald words: 'You are an
adulteress! You have exchanged loving glances with the king!'
"Emmy! How you were right in telling me that I idealise the people, and
that they are as corrupt as the great world, and, moreover, without the
curb of culture.
"No! she is a good, intelligent woman. She begged my pardon for her
impertinence; I remain friendly towards her. Yes, I will."
Irma's devotion to her king had something of hero-worship. And the king,
who loved his wife sincerely, but was, and wanted to be, of a heroic
nature, and who was averse to all that savoured of self-torment and
sentimentality, was attracted by Countess Irma's intellectual freedom
and _esprit_. He felt in her a kindred spirit. Her company was
stimulating; it could not affect the even tenour of his conjugal love.
But the queen, in her sentimental exultation, sought ever for new
"documents" to demonstrate the depth of her affection. And now she
wanted to give the supreme proof by renouncing her Lutheran faith to
enter into a yet closer union with her Catholic husband. To the king
this sacrifice seemed not only sentimentally weak, but politically
unwise. He received the confidence coldly, and begged her to reconsider
the matter. He sent Dr. Gunther, who, in spite of his democratic
tendencies, was held in high esteem by the king, and had great influence
over the queen, to exercise his persuasive powers--with no result.
Where wisdom and experience had failed, the voice of Nature, speaking
out of Walpurga's childish chatter, succeeded. Walpurga told the queen
of her father--how one day on the lake, on hearing the choral singing of
the peasants, he had said: "Now I know how the Almighty feels up there
in Heaven! All the Churches, ours, and the Lutheran, and the Jewish, and
the Turkish, they are all voices in the song. Each sings as he knows,
and yet it sounds well together up there." The queen was radiant next
day, when she informed her spouse that she had the courage of her own
inconsistency and that she had resolved to do his will. The sacrifice
was received with coolness. Was it that her noble act was construed as
further evidence of weakness?
The king had left town for some distant watering-place, and had
requested Irma to write to him at times. Knowing her love of flowers, he
had given orders for a fresh bouquet to be placed every day in her room,
and, perhaps to conceal the favour, in the rooms of two other ladies of
the court. Irma considered both the thought and the expedient unworthy
of her hero, and resolved not to write to him. She spent much of her
time at the studio of a professor of the academy, who not only modelled
a bust of her for a figure of Victory to be placed on the new arsenal,
but gave her instruction in his art. In spite of this new occupation,
she found herself in a state of feverish excitement, which became almost
unbearable when the queen showed her a passage in a letter just received
from the king. "Please make Countess Irma send me regular reports about
our son. Remember me to the dear fourth leaf of our clover-leaf."
She was indignant at this unworthy attempt at forcing her to write. Was
Walpurga right after all? Were lovers' glances to be exchanged over the
child's cradle? She longed for solitude and peace. On the way to her
room she had to stop to think where she was. A gallop might cool her
feverish head. She ordered her horse to be saddled, but had scarcely
changed into her riding-habit when a letter was handed to her, which was
unsealed with trembling fingers. It was a simply worded invitation from
her father, who wished to see her again after her long absence at court.
Here was salvation, balm for her aching heart! She gave a few orders,
then hurried to the queen's apartments to obtain leave of absence; and,
accompanied by her maid, sped to her paternal home the same evening as
fast as the horses would carry her.
The days passed quickly at the manor house, where Irma, for the first
time, gained an insight into the noble mind and firm character of her
father. In his many soothing talks Count Eberhard told her of his
regrets at having been forced by circumstances--her mother's death
before Irma had reached the age of three, and his inability to give her
a proper education in his mountain retreat--to send her first to her
aunt, then to the convent, and thus neglecting his duties as father. A
word from him would have decided her to remain under his roof, but the
old philosopher held that each intelligent being must work out its own
destiny, and would not influence her decision. His slighting remarks
about the monarchic system, about the impossibility of the king, with
all his noble intentions, being able to see the world as it is, since
everybody approaches him in pleasing costume, struck the final jarring
note and destroyed the complete understanding between father and
daughter. A half jocular joint letter from the king and his _entourage_,
in which the signatories expressed in exaggerated terms their longing
for her presence at court, decided her to return.
The carriage having been sent to the valley in advance, Count Eberhard
walked down with Irma, until they came to the apple-tree which he had
planted on the day of his daughter's birth. He stopped, and picked up a
fallen apple. "Let us part here," he said. "Take this fruit from your
native soil. The apple has left the tree because it has ripened; because
the tree cannot give any more to it. So man leaves home and family. But
man is more than the fruit of a tree. Come, my child, I hold your dear
head; don't weep--or weep! May you never weep for yourself, and only for
others! Remain faithful to yourself! I would give you all my thoughts;
remember but the one: Yield only to such pleasures as will be pleasure
in recollection. Take this kiss. You kiss passionately. May you never
give a kiss that does not leave your soul as pure and full as it is now.
_III.--Walpurga Returns Home_
Twelve months had passed since Walpurga's arrival at court. Her trunks
were now packed; she had given a last kiss to the boy prince; and now
she asked her Hansei, who had brought a carriage from the village to
take her home, to wait in the corridor while she took leave from
Countess Irma. She found Irma still in her bed, very pale, with her hair
in loose strains on the pillow.
"I wanted to give you a souvenir," said Irma, "but I think money will be
best for you. Look on the table, and take it all. I don't want any of
it. Take it, and don't be afraid; it is real money, won honestly at the
tables. I always win, always!... Take your kerchief and wrap it up." The
room was so dusky that Walpurga looked around in superstitious fear. The
money might be evil; she quickly made the sign of the Cross over it, and
put it into her ample pocket. "And now, farewell," said Irma. "Be happy.
You are happier than any of us. If ever I don't know where to go, I
shall come to you. You'll have me, won't you? Now go--go! I must sleep.
And don't forget me, Walpurga. Don't thank me, don't speak!"
"Oh, please let me speak, just one word! We both can't know which of us
will die, and then it would be too late. I don't know what's the matter
with you. You are not well, and you may get worse. You often have cold
hands and hot cheeks. I wronged you that day, soon after I arrived. I'll
never think bad of you again, no one shall say evil of you; but, please,
get away from the castle! Go home, to----"
"Enough," exclaimed Irma, thrusting forth her hands as though Walpurga's
words were stones thrown at her. "Farewell; and don't forget me." She
held out her hand for Walpurga to kiss; it was hot and feverish.
Walpurga went. The parrot in the ante-room screamed: "Good-bye, Irma."
Walpurga was frightened, and ran away as though she were chased.
Walpurga's homecoming was not pleasure unalloyed. She did not miss the
luxuries to which she had become accustomed. She rather relished the
hard, manual labour, to which she applied herself with full energy. But
her baby was a stranger to her, cried when she wished to take her up,
and became only gradually accustomed to her. Her faculties had been
sharpened, too; she felt a certain shyness in her husband, noticed his
weaknesses, and was deeply hurt when, on the second evening after her
return, he went to the inn, "so that people should not say he was under
her thumb." Then, Hansei, coaxed by the shrewd innkeeper, had set his
heart upon acquiring the inn, now that they had "wealth," and upon thus
becoming the most important man in the village. But with much tact and
cleverness Walpurga made him give up the plan, thereby arousing the
innkeeper's hostility, which became rampant when the reunited couple did
not appear at a kind of fete which he gave, ostensibly in their honour,
but really to benefit by the proceeds. By this slight the esteem and
admiration of the whole village were turned to ill-will and spite.
Hansei and Walpurga were almost boycotted; but their isolation made them
draw closer together, work harder, and enjoy to the fullest the harmony
of their domestic life. Moreover, the freehold farmer, Grubersepp, who
was a personage in the district, and had never before deigned to take
much notice of Hansei, now called at the cottage and offered his advice
on many questions. When on a Sunday the village doctor and the priest
were seen to visit the cottage, opinion began to veer around once more
in the good people's favour.
It was Walpurga's old uncle Peter, a poor pitch-burner, who was known in
the district as the "pitch-mannikin," who brought the first news that
the freehold farm, where Walpurga's mother had in her young days served
as a maid, was for sale at a very low price for ready money. It was six
hours from the lake, in the mountains--splendid soil, fine forest,
everything perfect. Hansei decided to have a look at it, and Grubersepp
went with him to value it. The uncle's description was found to be
highly coloured; but after some bargaining the purchase was effected,
and soon the news was bruited about the village that Hansei had paid "in
clinking golden coin."
The whole village, with a brass band, was assembled on the shore when
Hansei and Walpurga, with their family and worldly possessions, embarked
to cross the lake on the first stage of their "flitting." All vexations
were forgotten in the hearty send-off, and as the boat glided across the
silent lake it was followed by music, cheering, jodling, and the booming
They approached the opposite shore and Hansei pointed out the figure of
Uncle Peter waiting for them with the cart and the furniture, when
Walpurga suddenly ceased rowing, and gave a startled cry.
"Heavens! What's that? I could swear, when I was singing I thought if
only my good Countess Irma could see us here together, how happy she
would be. And just now it seemed to me as though----"
"Come on, let's land," said Hansei.
On the shore a figure in a fluttering garment was running up and down.
It suddenly collapsed when the wind carried a full sound of music across
the lake. Then it rose again, and vanished in the reeds.
"Have you seen nothing?" asked Walpurga.
"Rather! If it were not broad daylight, and if it were not superstition,
I should think it was the mermaid, herself."
The boat at last touched the shore. Walpurga was the first to jump out.
She hurried to the reed-bank, away from her people, and there, behind
the willows, the apparition fell on her neck and broke down.
_IV.--The Countess Irma's Atonement_
Dr. Gunther received the first telegraphic news of his friend, Count
Eberhard, having lost the power of speech through a stroke of paralysis.
He was to break the news to Irma. For some time she had felt, through
the physician's reserve and sympathetic kindness, that he could read her
secret. And now she realised that sudden knowledge of her disgrace alone
could have struck down her father, whose vigorous constitution had
always kept illness at arm's length.
They arrived at the manor house before midnight, and were shown into the
sufferer's room. Count Eberhard's eyelids moved quickly when he
recognised Dr. Gunther's voice, and he tried to extend his hand towards
his friend, but it fell heavily on the coverlet. Dr. Gunther seized it
and held it in a firm grasp. Irma knelt down before the bed, and her
father's trembling hand felt over her face, and was wetted by her tears.
Then he quickly withdrew it, as though he had touched a poisonous
animal; he turned away his face and pressed his forehead against the
wall. Now he turned round again, and with a gentle movement indicated
that he wished her to leave the room.
She was with him again next day. He tried painfully to say something to
her, to make her understand by signs--she could not understand. He bit
upon his lips and tried to sit up. His face was changed--it assumed a
strange colour, a strange expression. Irma saw with a shudder what was
happening. She knelt down and laid her cheek upon his hand. He withdrew
the hand. With supreme effort he wrote a word, a short word, with his
finger upon her forhead. She saw, she heard, she read it--in the air, on
her forehead, on her brain, in her soul--she gave a scream, and fell
senseless to the ground. Dr. Gunther entered quickly, stepped over Irma,
closed his friend's eyes, and all was silence.
For many hours Irma was in her room, shut in with her despair, her
remorse. No one could gain admission. She thought furiously, she raved,
and then fell into a troubled sleep. When she awake her resolution was
made. She asked for light and writing material, and wrote: "My queen,--
With death I atone for my guilt. Forgive and forget! IRMA." On the
envelope she wrote: "To be handed to the queen herself by Dr. Gunther."
Then she took another sheet, and wrote:
"My friend,--For the last time I speak to you. We have gone
astray--terribly. The atonement is mine. You belong to her and to the
people. Your atonement is in life; mine in death. Be calm, be one with
the law that ties you to her and to the people. You have denied both and
I have aided you. Be true again to yourself! This is my dying word, and
I die willingly, if you but listen. Listen to this voice, and do not
forget it! But forget her who speaks to you. I will not be remembered."
She sealed the letters, left them in her writing-case, and asked for her
horse to be saddled. She rode out, followed by a groom, whom, some
distance from home, she sent back on some pretext. When he was out of
sight, she galloped off at full speed, dismounted, struck her horse with
the whip to make it run away, and lost herself in the wood in the
direction of the lake.
_V.--A Court Scandal_
Irma's torn boots were found on a rock by the lake, her hat floating on
the waters. Although her body could not be recovered, there was no doubt
that the countess had committed suicide. Her father's death must have
bereft her of reason.
When the news was first brought to the king he trembled violently, and
had to seize the back of a chair for support. Then he requested to be
left alone, and with dim eyes he read Irma's farewell message. On the
impulse of the moment, he wanted to send the queen the last words of his
friend; he wanted to write under them, to pour out his whole heart, his
whole repentance. He decided not to act hastily. Even the heaviest task
must be fulfilled without loss of dignity. A chase had been arranged for
the morning. The hunting-party were waiting in the courtyard. With an
effort he pulled himself together, descended with firm step, and entered
his carriage, returning smilingly the salutations of his guests.
The queen was scarcely less shaken by the terrible news, which was
gently broken to her by Dr. Gunther. Her heart was filled with profound
pity for the unfortunate child, and she gave vent to her grief in sobs
and touching lamentations. Dr. Gunther tried to comfort her. "She is not
gone without farewell. She has left this letter for your majesty--surely
a letter that will bring balm in this terrible hour. Even to the last
she proved her loving nature."
The queen seized the letter, read it, and turned deathly pale, then
burning red. When she found words, she exclaimed: "And she has kissed my
child, and he has kissed his child! They talk of the sublime, and their
words do not cut their tongues! Everything is soiled! And he dared say
to me: A prince has no private actions. His doings and his neglects set
the example! Fie! Everything is soiled, everything filthy! Everything!"
She became unconscious. Dr. Gunther sprinkled her forehead with
eau-de-cologne, and had her taken to bed. He sat by the bedside for some
time, until she opened her eyes, thanked him, and expressed her desire
to sleep. He spoke some soothing words, and retired, leaving
instructions with the lady of the bed-chamber in the ante-room.
Some days passed before the king sought his wife's forgiveness. The
interview was brief and decisive. The king spoke nobly, manly and
sincerely; the queen was bitter, sharp and irreconcilable. Her duty as a
queen demanded that the rift should not appear in public; her injured
pride as a woman refused to admit more. He demanded to know whether her
friend and adviser, Dr. Gunther, knew of her decision. She replied he
was too noble to let thoughts of anger or revenge enter his great heart.
"This great being can be made small!"
"You will not rob me of my only friend?"
"Your only friend? I do not know this title. To my knowledge there is no
such office at court. Be what you will! Be alone and seek for support in
He stripped the wedding-ring from his hand, placed it on the table, and
moved towards the door. He hesitated a moment--will she call him back?
She looked after him--will he turn around? The moment passed. The door
In the evening a court was held, and the queen appeared, pale, but
smiling, on her husband's arm. They spoke confidentially, and nobody
noticed the missing ring.
Next day the journals announced that the king's physician had tendered
And court gossip had it that Walpurga had bought a farm with the gold
she had earned as intermediary between the king and the unfortunate
_VI.--Forgiving and Forgiven_
Irma had passed four years at Hansei's mountain farm. Her secret had
been well kept. Even Hansei, who had promised his wife never to ask any
questions about their permanent guest, was in complete ignorance about
her identity. Irma, who, after having tried her hand at various domestic
occupations, had taken up wood-carving with considerable success,
enabling her to discharge at least the material part of her debt of
gratitude, was generally held to be a half-witted relation of
Her despair and remorse had gradually given way to resigned sadness.
Self-communion had to make up for lack of intellectual intercourse, and
sharpened her perception. In her diary she entered the profound thoughts
suggested to her active intelligence by her observation of events in
themselves insignificant, and analysed with cool aloofness the working
of her mind. She never entertained the thought of finding a refuge in
the convent--her atonement was to be wrought, not by compulsion, but by
free will. And so the weeks passed, and the months, and the years.
They had all helped in the building of a wooden cowherd's hut on the
height of the mountain, a few hours' climb from the farm. Now Irma felt
the need for more complete solitude, away even from her simple friends.
Up there, on the height, she would find peace and complete her
atonement. And so it was decided to let her have her way, and to let her
stay in the hut, with Peter and his daughter.
The first two days and nights a cloud lingered around them, forming a
veil of dense fog; but on the third day Irma was awakened by the sun and
stepped out to see the awakening of nature. The grandeur, the immensity
of it all, the pure-scented air, the voices of the birds, filled her
heart with gladness. A sunray struck her forehead--the forehead was
pure, she felt it.
Irma now gave up her wood-carving; she had to be urged to eat, and only
took her food to please the kind old "pitch-mannikin." Immovably she
would lie for hours in her favorite meadow, and think and breathe the
pure air. Her life was slowly ebbing from her. A sudden vision of the
king with his companions of the chase galloping past her in pursuit of a
stag gave her the final shock. She cowered on the ground. She bit into
the moss, scraped the earth with her hands--she feared to scream aloud.
She staggered back to the hut, shaken by fever, and threw herself upon
her bed. Then she asked Peter for some paper. She had heard that Dr.
Gunther was living with his family at the summer resort at the foot of
the mountain. She wrote with shaking hand: "Eberhard's daughter calls
Dr. Gunther," and sent Peter to speed down with the message.
In the little town all was excitement and commotion owing to the sojourn
of the royal court. Dr. Gunther, now in favour again, was with the king
when the message arrived. He read the note and was left speechless with
amazement. Then he collected his wits, and hurried with Peter to the
dying penitent's bedside. Irma was sleeping, and he sat by her side
until she awoke. She saw Gunther--pleasure illumined her face, and she
held out both hands towards him. He took them, and she pressed her
feverish lips upon his hands.
Walpurga, to whom the news of Irma's impending end had been brought,
took a quick resolution. She hurried to the little town to seek her
queen. The matter was not easy, for suspicion rested heavily upon her;
but her determination removed all obstacles, and the queen, profoundly
moved by Walpurga's jerky explanation and passionate appeal, and stirred
to the very depths of her soul by Irma's heroism, demanded to be led at
once to her. She was followed in a short while by the king, to whom the
whole incident had been reported.
Gunther sat for hours by Irma's bedside, listening to her heavy
breathing. The door flew open and the queen appeared.
"At last, you have come!" breathed Irma, raising herself and kneeling in
her bed. Then, with a heart-breaking voice, she exclaimed: "Forgive,
"Forgive me, Irma, my sister!" sobbed the queen, and took her in her
arms and kissed her. A smile spread over Irma's face; then with a cry of
pain she fell back dead.
When the king arrived he found his wife kneeling before the bed. He
quietly knelt down by her side. The queen arose, placed her hand upon
his head. "Kurt," she said, "forgive me, as I have forgiven you." Then
she spread a white kerchief over the dead, and they left the hut. They
walked hand in hand through the wood, until they reached the road, where
carriages were waiting.
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