The World's Greatest Books, Vol. I
Part 5 out of 7
you! I want you! I wish to die for you!"
With extraordinary strength--the last outburst of life--he tore the door
off the hinges, and saw Pauline in agony on a sofa. She had stabbed
"If I die, he will live!" she was crying.
Raphael staggered across the room, and fell into the arms of beautiful
* * * * *
The Quest of the Absolute
"La Recherche de l'Absolu" was published in 1834, with a
touching dedication to Madame Josephine Delannoy: "Madame, may
it please God that this, my book, may live when I am dead,
that the gratitude which is due from me to you, and which
equals, I trust, your motherlike generosity to me, may hope to
endure beyond the limits set to human love." The novel became
a part of the "Human Comedy" in 1845. The struggle of
Balthazar Claes in his quest for the Absolute, his disregard
of all else save his work, and the heroic devotion of
Josephine and Marguerite, are characteristic features of
Balzac's art; the sordidness of life and the mad passion for
the unattainable are admirably relieved, as in "Eugenie
Grandet" and "Old Goriot," by a certain nobility and purity of
motive. The novel is generally acknowledged one of Balzac's
masterpieces, both in vigour of portraiture and minuteness of
detail. Perhaps no one was ever better fitted to depict the
ruin wrought by a fixed idea than Balzac himself, who wasted
much of his laborious life in struggling to discover a short
cut to wealth.
_I.--Claes, the Alchemist_
In Douai, situated in the Rue de Paris, there is a house which stands
out from all the rest in the city by reason of its purely Flemish
character. In all its details, this tall and handsome house expresses
the manners of the domesticated people of the Low Countries. The name of
the house for some two centuries has been Maison Claes, after the great
family of craftsmen who occupied it. These Van Claes had amassed
fortunes, played a part in politics, and had suffered many vicissitudes
in the course of history without losing their place in the mighty
bourgeois world of commerce. They were substantial people, princes of
At the end of the eighteenth century the representative of this ancient
and affluent family was Balthazar Claes, a tall and handsome young man,
who after some years' residence in Paris, where he saw the fashionable
world and made acquaintance with many of the great savants, including
Lavoisier the chemist, returned to his home in Douai, and set himself to
find a wife.
It was on a visit to a relation in Ghent that he heard gossip concerning
a young lady living in Brussels, which made him curious to see so
interesting a person. Rumour had two tales to tell of this Mlle.
Josephine Temninck. She was beautiful, but she was deformed. Could
deformity be triumphed over by beauty of face? A relative of Claes
thought that it could, and maintained this opinion against the opposite
camp. This relative spoke of Mlle. Temninck's character, telling how the
sweet girl had surrendered her share of the family estate that her
younger brother might make a great marriage, and how she had quite
resigned herself, even on the threshold of her life, to the idea of
spinsterhood and narrow means.
Claes sought out this noble soul. He found her inexpressibly beautiful,
and the malformation of one of her shoulders appeared as nothing in his
eyes. He lost his heart to Josephine, and made passionate love to her.
Distracted by such adoration, the beautiful cripple was now lifted to
dizzy heights of joy and now plunged into abysmal depths of despair. She
had deemed herself irreparably plain; in the eyes of a charming young
man, she found herself beautiful. But, could such love endure through
life? To be loved was delicious, but to be deceived after so surprising
a release from solitude would be terrible.
Conscious of her deformity, intimidated by the future, she became in the
purity of her soul a coquette. She dissimulated her feelings, became
exacting, and hid from her lover the passion of joy which was consuming
her; indeed, she only revealed her true self after marriage had shown
her the steadfast nobility of her husband's character, when she could no
longer doubt of his affection. He loved her with fidelity and ardour.
She realised all his ideals, and no consideration of duty entered into
their passionate affection. She was Spanish, and had the secret of charm
in her variety of attraction; ill-educated though she was, like most
daughters of Spanish noblemen, she was engaging and bewildering in the
force of her own nature and the religion of her absorbing love. In
society she was dull; for her husband alone she was enchanting. No
couple could have been happier.
They had four children, two boys and two girls; the eldest a girl named
Fourteen years after their marriage, in the year 1809, a change appeared
in Balthazar, but so gradually that Mme. Claes did not at first question
it. He became thoughtful, reflective, silent, preoccupied. When
Josephine Claes noticed this change, it was too late for her to ask
questions; she waited for Balthazar to speak. She began to fear.
Balthazar, whose whole heaven had lain in the happiness of the family
life, who had loved to play with his children, to attend to his tulips,
to sun himself in the dark eyes of Josephine, seemed now to forget the
existence of them all. He was indifferent to everything.
People who questioned her were put off with the brave story that
Balthazar had a great work in hand, which would bring fame one day to
his native town. Josephine's hazard was founded on truth. Workmen had
been engaged for some time in the garret of the house, and there Claes
spent the greater part of his time. But the poor lady was to learn the
full truth from the neighbours she had attempted to hoodwink. They asked
her if she meant to see herself and her children ruined, adding that her
husband was spending a fortune on scientific instruments, machinery,
books, and materials in a search for the Philosopher's Stone.
Humiliated that the neighbours should know more than she did, and
terrified by the prospect in front of her, Josephine at last spoke to
"My dear," he said, "you would not understand what I am about. I am
studying chemistry, and I am perfectly happy."
Things went from bad to worse. Claes became more taciturn and more
invisible to his family. He was slovenly in dress and untidy in his
habits. Only his servant Lemulquinier, or Mulquinier, as he was often
called, was allowed to enter the attic and share his master's secrets.
Mme. Claes had a rival. It was science.
One day she went to the garret, but Claes repulsed her with wrath and
"My experiment is absolutely spoilt," he cried vehemently. "In another
minute I might have resolved nitrogen."
_II.--The Riddle of Existence_
Josephine consulted Claes's notary, M. Pierquin, a young man and a
relative of the family. He looked into matters, and found that Claes
owed a hundred thousand francs to a firm of chemists in Paris. He warned
Josephine that ruin was certain if this state of things continued.
Hitherto she had loved husband more than children; now the mother was
roused in her, and for her children's sakes she determined to act. She
had sold her diamonds to provide for the housekeeping, since for six
months Claes had given her nothing; she had sent away the governess; she
had economised in a hundred directions. Now she must act against her
husband. But her children came between her and her true life, since her
true life was Balthazar's. She loved him with a sublime passion which
could sacrifice everything except her children.
One Sunday, after vespers, in 1812, she sent for her husband, and
awaited him at a window of one of the lower rooms, which looked on the
garden. Tears were in her eyes. As she sat there, suddenly over her head
sounded the footsteps of Claes, making her start. No one could have
heard that slow and dragging step unmoved. One wondered if it were a
He entered the apartment, thin, round-shouldered, with disordered long
hair, his cravat awry, his clothes stained and torn.
"Are you so absorbed in your work, Balthazar?" said Josephine. "It is
thirty-three Sundays since you have been either to vespers or mass."
"Vespers?" he questioned, vaguely. Then added: "Ah, the children have
been to church," and walked to the window and looked at the tulips. As
he stood there, he said to himself: "But yes, why shouldn't they combine
in a given time?"
His poor wife asked herself in despair, "Is he going mad?" Then, rousing
herself, she called him by his name. Without paying heed to her he
coughed and went to one of the spittoons beside the wainscot.
"Monsieur, I speak to you!"
"What of that?" he demanded, turning swiftly. She became deadly white.
"Forgive me, dear," she whispered, and cried: "Ah, this is killing me!"
Tears in her eyes roused Claes out of his reverie. He took her into his
arms, pushed open a door, and sprang lightly up the staircase. Finding
the door of her apartment locked, he laid her gently in an armchair.
"Thank you, dear," she murmured. "I have not been so near your heart for
a long time."
Her loveliness postponed disaster. Enamoured by her beauty, rescued to
humanity, Claes returned for a brief interval to the family life, and
was adorable to his wife, charming to his children. When they were alone
together, Josephine questioned him as to his secret work, telling him
that she had begun to study chemistry in order that she might share his
life. Touched by this devotion, Claes declared his secret. A Polish
officer had come to their house in 1809, and had discussed chemistry
with Claes. The result of the conversations had set Claes to search for
the single element out of which all things are perhaps composed. The
Polish officer had confided certain secrets to him, saying: "You are a
disciple of Lavoisier; you are wealthy, you are free; I will give you my
idea. The Primitive Element must be common to oxygen, hydrogen,
nitrogen, and carbon. Force must be the common principle of positive and
negative electricity. Demonstrate these two hypotheses, and you will
hold in your hands the First Cause, the solution of the great riddle of
As Claes rattled away, Josephine suddenly exclaimed, against her will:
"So it was this man, who spent but one night with us, that stole your
love from me and your children! Did he make the Sign of the Cross? Did
you observe him closely? He was Satan! Only the devil could have stolen
you from me. Ever since his visit you have ceased to be father and
"Do you rebuke me," Balthazar asked, "for being superior to common men?"
And he poured out a tale of his achievements. In the height of his
passion for her Josephine had never seen his face so shining with
enthusiasm as it was now. Tears came into her eyes.
"I have combined chlorine and nitrogen," he rhapsodised; "I have
analysed endless substances. I have analysed tears! Tears are nothing
more than phosphate of lime, chloride of sodium, mucus, and water."
He ran on till she cried upon him to stop.
"You horrify me," she said, "with your blasphemies. What my love is----"
"Spiritualised matter, given off," replied Claes; "the secret, no doubt,
of the Absolute. If I am the first to find it out! Think of it! I will
make metals and diamonds. What Nature does I will do."
"You trespass on God!" Josephine exclaimed impatiently. "You deny God!
Ah, God has a force which you will never exercise!"
"What is that?" he demanded.
"Motion. Analysis is one thing, creation is another," she said. Her
pleadings were successful. Balthazar abandoned his researches, and the
family removed to the country. He was awakened by his wife's love to the
knowledge that he had brought his fortune to the verge of ruin. He
promised to abandon his experiments. As some amends, he threw himself
into preparations for a great ball at the Maison Claes in honour of his
wedding day. The festivity was saddened by the news of disaster to the
Grand Army at Beresina. One of the letters that arrived that day was
from the Polish officer, dying of his wounds, who sent Claes, as a
legacy, some of his ideas for discovering the Absolute. No one danced;
the fete was gloomy; only Marguerite shone like a lovely flower on the
anxious company. When the guests departed, Balthazar showed Josephine
the letter from the Pole. She did everything a woman could do to
distract his thoughts. She made the home life enchanting. She
entertained. She introduced the movement of the world into the great
house. In vain. Her husband's _ennui_ was terrible to behold. "I release
you from your promise," she said to him one day.
Balthazar returned with Lemulquinier to the attic, and the experiments
began anew. He was quite happy again.
A year passed; the Absolute was undiscovered. Once more ruin haunted the
state room of the Maison Claes. Josephine's confessor, the Abbe de
Solis, who had sold her jewels, now suggested selling some of the
Flemish pictures. Josephine explained the situation to her husband.
"What do you think?" he cried. "I am within an ace of finding the
Absolute. I have only to discover--"
Josephine broke down. She left her husband, and retired downstairs to
her children. The servants were summoned. Madame Claes looked like
death. Everybody was alarmed. Lemulquinier was told to go for the
priest. He said he had monsieur's orders to see to in the laboratory.
_III.--The Passing of Josephine_
It was the beginning of the end for Josephine. As she lay dying, she saw
judgment in the eyes of Marguerite--judgment on Balthazar. Her last days
were sorrowed by the thought that the children would condemn their
father. Balthazar came sometimes to sit with her, but he appeared to be
unaware of her situation. He was charming to the younger children, but
he was dead to the true condition of his wife.
One thing gave her peace. The Abbe de Solis brought his nephew to the
house, and this young man, Emmanuel, who was good and noble, evidently
created a favourable impression on Marguerite. The dying mother watched
the progress of this love story with affectionate satisfaction. It was
all she had to light her way to the grave. Pierquin told her that
Balthazar had ordered him to raise three hundred thousand francs on his
estate. She saw that ruin could not be averted; she lay at death's door,
deserted by the husband she still worshipped, thinking of the children
she had sacrificed. The noble character of Marguerite cheered her last
hours. In that child, she would live on and be a providence to the
One day she wrote a letter, addressed and sealed it, and showed it to
Marguerite. It was addressed: "To my daughter, Marguerite." She placed
it under her pillow, said she would rest, and presently fell into a deep
slumber. When she awoke, all her children were kneeling round her in
prayer, and with them was Emmanuel.
"The hour has come, dear children," she said gently, "when we must say
farewell. You are all here"--she looked about her--"and he..."
Marguerite sent Emmanuel for her father, and Balthazar's answer to the
summons was, "I am coming."
When Emmanuel returned, Madame Claes sent him for his uncle the priest,
bidding him take the two boys with him; then she turned to her
daughters. "God is taking me," she said. "What will become of you? When
I am gone, Marguerite, if you are ever in need of food, read this letter
which I have addressed to you. Love your father, but shield your sister
and your brothers. It may be your duty to withstand him. He will want
money; he will ask you for it. Do not forget your duty to your father,
but remember your duty to your sister and brothers. Your father would
not injure his children of set purpose. He is noble, he is good. He is
full of love for you. He is a great man working at a great task. Fill my
place. Do not cause him grief by reproaches; never judge him; be,
between him and those in your charge, a gentle mediator."
One of the servants had to go and bang on the laboratory door for Claes.
"Madame is dying!" cried the indignant old body. "They are waiting for
you to administer the last sacrament."
"I'll be there in a minute," answered Claes. When he entered the room,
the Abbe de Solis and the children were kneeling round the mother's bed.
His wife's face flushed at his entrance. With a loving smile, she asked:
"Were you on the point of resolving nitrogen?"
"I have done it!" he answered, with triumph; "nitrogen is made up of
oxygen and------" He stopped, checked by a murmur, which roused him from
his dream. "What did they say?" he asked. "Are you really worse? What
"This has happened," said the Abbe; "your wife is dying, and you have
Priest and children withdrew.
"What does he mean?" asked Claes.
"Dearest," she answered, "your love was my life; I could not live
He took her hand, and kissed it.
"When have I not loved you?" he asked.
She refused to utter a reproach. For her children's sake she told the
narrative of his six years' search for the Absolute, which had destroyed
her life and swallowed up two million francs, making him see the horror
of their desolation. "Have pity, have pity," she cried, "on our
Claes shouted for Lemulquinier, and bade him go instantly to the
laboratory and smash everything. "I abandon science for ever!" he cried.
"Too late!" sighed the dying woman; then she cried, "Marguerite!"
The child came from the doorway, horrified by the stricken face of her
mother. Once again the loved name was repeated, "Marguerite!" loudly, as
though to fix in her mind the charge laid upon her soul. It was the last
word uttered by Josephine. As the soul passed, Balthazar, from the foot
of the bed, looked up to the pillows where Marguerite was sitting, and
their eyes met. The father trembled.
In the sorrow of bereavement Marguerite discovered that she possessed
two friends--Pierquin the notary, and Emmanuel de Solis. Pierquin
thought it would be a suitable thing to save the wreckage of the estate
and marry the beautiful Marguerite, whose family was doubly noble.
Emmanuel offered to prepare Marguerite's brothers for college, with a
tact and a charm which declared a fine nature. Pierquin was a man of
business turned lover. Emmanuel was a lover turned by misfortune into a
man of action.
_IV.--The Hour of Darkness_
For some considerable time Balthazar avoided experimental chemistry, and
confined himself to theoretical speculations. He took long walks on the
ramparts; was gloomy, restless, and preoccupied at home. Marguerite
endeavoured to distract his thoughts. One day the old servant, Martha,
said to her: "All is over with us; master is on the road to hell again!"
And she pointed to clouds of smoke issuing from the laboratory chimney.
Marguerite lived as carefully as a nun; all expenses were cut down. She
denied herself ordinary comforts to prepare for the crash. Thanks to
Emmanuel, the boys were now advancing in their studies, and their future
was at least unclouded. But Balthazar had developed the gambler's
recklessness. He sold a forest; he mortgaged his house and silver; he
had no more food than a nigger who sells his wife for a glass of brandy
in the morning, and weeps over his loss at night. Once Marguerite spoke
to her father. She acknowledged that he was master, that his children
would obey him at all costs; but he must know that they scarcely had
bread in the house.
"Bread!" he cried; "no bread in the house of a Claes! Where is all our
She told him how he had sold everything.
"Then, how do we live?"
She held up her needle.
Time went on, and fresh debts hammered at the door of the Maison Claes.
At last Marguerite was obliged to face her father, and charge him with
"Madness!" he cried, firing up and springing to his feet. There was
something so majestic and commanding in his attitude that made
Marguerite tremble at his feet. "Your mother would never have used that
word; she always attached due importance to my scientific researches."
She could not bear his reproaches, and fled from him. She felt that the
time had come, for they were now on the verge of beggary, to break the
seal of her mother's letter. That letter expressed the most divine love,
praying that God would permit her spirit to be with Marguerite while she
read the words of this last message; and it told her that the Abbe
Solis, if living, or his nephew, held for her a sum of a hundred and
seventy thousand francs, and on this sum she must live, and leave her
father if he refused to abandon his researches. "I could never have said
these words," Josephine had written; "not even on the brink of the
grave." And she entreated her child to be reverent in withstanding her
father, and if resistance was inevitable to resist him on her knees. The
abbe was dead, but Emmanuel held the money. In their discussions about
the management of this sum, the two young people drew closer together.
The poor father, brought to ruin, confessed his madness, and uttered the
terrible despair of a beaten scientist. To comfort him, Marguerite said
that his debts would be paid with her money. His face lit up. "You have
money! Give it to me; I will make you rich." Once more the madness
Emmanuel came with three thousand ducats in his pockets. They were
hiding them in the hollow column of a pedestal, when, looking up,
Marguerite saw her father observing them. "I heard gold," he said,
advancing. To save her, Emmanuel lied. He sinned against his conscience
for her sake. The money, he said belonged to him, and he had lent it to
Marguerite. When he was gone, Claes said: "I must have that money."
"If you take it," answered Marguerite, "you will be a thief."
He knelt to her; she would not relent. He caressed her; she called God
to look down upon them if he stole the money. He rose, bade her a
sorrowful farewell, and left the room. Something warned her; she hurried
after him, to find him with a pistol at his head. "Take all I possess,"
she cried. Embracing her, he promised that if he failed this time he
would deliver himself into her hands.
Time passed and the Absolute was not discovered. A wealthy cousin of
Claes, M. Conyncks, came to Douai in his travelling carriage, and soon
after he and Marguerite journeyed to Paris. When she returned, it was to
announce that, through M. Conynck's influence, Balthazar had been
appointed receiver of taxes in Brittany, and must set out at once to
take up the appointment.
"You drive me out of my own house!" he exclaimed, with anger. At first
he refused to go, furious and indignant; but she persisted, and he had
to surrender. He went with Lemulquinier to his laboratory for the last
time. The two old men were very sad as they released the gases and
"Ah, look," said Claes, pausing before a capsule connected with the
wires of a battery; "if only we could watch out the end of this
experiment! Carbon and sulphur. Crystallisation should take place; the
carbon might certainly result in a crystal ..."
While Claes was in exile, fortune came to the family. The son Gabriel,
assisted by M. Conyncks, had made a large sum of money as the engineer
of a canal. Emmanuel de Solis had given Marguerite the fortune he
inherited from ancestors in Spain. Pierquin, who had turned his
attention to Marguerite's younger sister, had proved himself kind to the
family. Once again the Maison Claes was in prosperity, with pictures on
its walls, and with handsome furniture in its state apartments.
When Conyncks and Marguerite went to fetch the father, they found him
old and broken. The child was greatly touched by his appearance, and
questioned him alone. She discovered that instead of saving money, he
was heavily in debt, and that he had been seeking the Absolute as
industriously in Brittany as in the attic of the Maison Claes.
On his return, the old man brightened and became glad. The ancient home
gave him joy. He embraced his children, looked around the happy house of
his fathers, and exclaimed: "Ah, Josephine, if only you were here to
admire our Marguerite!" The marriages of Marguerite and Felicie, the
younger sister, were hurried forward. During the reading of the
contracts Lemulquinier suddenly burst into the room, crying: "Monsieur!
Claes whispered to his daughter that the servant had lent him all his
savings--20,000 francs--and had doubtless come to claim them on learning
that the master was once more a rich man. But Lemulquinier cried:
"Well?" demanded Claes.
In the trembling hand of the old servant lay a diamond. Claes rushed
"I went to the laboratory," began the servant--Claes looked up at him
quickly, as though to say: "You were the first to go there!"--"and I
found in the capsule we left behind us this diamond! The battery has
done it without our help!"
"Forgive me!" cried Claes, turning to his children and his guests. "This
will drive me mad! Cursed exile! God has worked in my laboratory, and I
was not there to see! A miracle has taken place! I might have seen it--I
have missed it for ever!" Suddenly he checked, and advancing to
Marguerite, presented her with the diamond. "My angel," he said gently,
"this belongs to you." Then, to the notary: "Let us proceed."
_V.--Discovery of the Absolute_
Happiness reigned in the Maison Claes, Balthazar conducted a few but
inexpensive experiments, and surrendered himself more and more to the
happiness of home life. It was as if the devil had been exorcised. The
death of relatives presently carried Emmanuel and Marguerite to Spain,
and their return was delayed by the birth of a child. When they did
arrive in Flanders, one morning towards the end of September, they found
the house in the Rue de Paris shut up, and a ring at the bell brought no
one to open the door. A shopkeeper near at hand said that M. Claes had
left the house with Lemulquinier about an hour ago. Emmanuel went in
search of them, while a locksmith opened the door of the Maison Claes.
The house was as if the Absolute in the form of fire had passed through
all its rooms. Pictures, furniture, carpets, hangings, carvings--all
were swept clean away. Marguerite wept as she looked about her, and
forgave her father. She went downstairs to await his coming. How he must
have suffered in this bare house! Fear filled her heart. Had his reason
failed him? Should she see him enter--a tottering and enfeebled old man,
broken by the sufferings which he had borne so proudly for science? As
she waited, the past rose before her eyes--the long past of struggle
against their enemy, the Absolute; the long past, when she was a child,
and her mother had been now so joyous and now so sorrowful.
But she did not realise the calamity of her father's tragedy--a tragedy
at once sublime and miserable. To the people of Douai he was not a
scientific genius wrestling with Nature for her hidden mysteries, but a
wicked old spendthrift, greedy like a miser for the Philosopher's Stone.
Everybody in Douai, from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie to the
people, knew all about old Claes, "the alchemist." His home was called
the "Devil's House." People pointed at him, shouted after him in the
street. Lemulquinier said that these were murmurs of applause for
It happened that on this morning of Marguerite's return, Balthazar and
Lemulquinier sat down on a bench in the Place Saint-Jacques to rest in
the sun. Some children passing to school saw the two old men, talked
about them, laughed together, and presently approached. One of them, who
carried a basket, and was eating a piece of bread and butter, said to
Lemulquinier: "Is it true you make diamonds and pearls?"
Lemulquinier patted the urchin's cheek.
"Yes, little fellow, it is true," he said. "Stick to your books, get
knowledge, and perhaps we will give you some."
They began to crowd round, and became more daring.
"You should show respect to a great man," said Lemulquinier. At this the
children laughed aloud, and began to shout: "Sorcerers! Old sorcerers!"
Lemulquinier sprang up with his stick raised, and the children, beating
a retreat, gathered up mud and stones. A workman, seeing Lemulquinier
making for the children with a stick, came to their rescue with the
dangerous cry: "Down with sorcerers!"
Thus emboldened, the children made a savage attack upon the two old men
with a shower of stones. At this moment Emmanuel came upon the scene. He
was too late. Claes had been suddenly jerked from the ideal world in
which he theorised and toiled into the real world of men. The shock was
too much for him; he sank into the arms of Lemulquinier, paralysed.
He lived in this condition for some time, expressing all his affection
and gratitude to Marguerite by pressing her hand with his cold fingers.
She refurnished the house, and surrounded him with comforts. His
children were affectionate to him. They came and sat by his bedside, and
took their meals in his room. His great happiness was listening to
Emmanuel's reading of the newspapers.
One night he became very much worse, and the doctor was summoned in
haste. The stricken man made violent efforts to speak. His lips
trembled, but no sound issued. His eyes were on fire with the thoughts
he could not utter. His face was haggard with agony. Drops of
perspiration oozed out of his forehead. His hands twitched convulsively
in the despair of his mind.
On the following morning his children saluted him with deepest and most
lingering love, knowing that the last hour was at hand. His face did not
light; he made none of his usual responses to their tender affection.
Pierquin signalled to Emmanuel, and he broke the wrapper of the
newspaper, and was about to read aloud in order to distract Claes, when
his eyes were arrested by the heading:
DISCOVERY OF THE ABSOLUTE
In a low voice he read the intelligence to his wife. It narrated that a
famous mathematician in Poland had made terms for selling the secret of
the Absolute, which he had discovered. As Emmanuel ceased to read,
Marguerite asked for the paper; but Claes had heard the almost whispered
Of a sudden the dying man lifted himself up on his elbows. To his
frightened family his glance was like the flash of lightning. The fringe
of hair above his forehead stood up; every line in his countenance
quivered with excitement, a thrill of passion moved across his face and
made it sublime.
He lifted a hand, which was clenched with excitement, and uttering the
cry of Archimedes--"Eureka!"--fell back with the heaviness of a dead
body, and expired with an agonised groan. His eyes, till the doctor
closed them, expressed a frenzied despair. It was his agony that he
could not bequeath to science the solution of the great riddle which was
only revealed to him as the veil was rent asunder by the hand of Death.
* * * * *
History of the Caliph Vathek
William Beckford, son of the famous Lord Mayor, was born at
Fonthill, Wiltshire, England, Sept. 29, 1759, and received his
education at first from a private tutor, and then at Geneva.
On coming of age, he inherited a million sterling and an
annual income of L100,000, and three years later he married
the fourth Earl of Aboyne's daughter, Lady Margaret Gordon,
who died in May, 1786. In 1787 Beckford's romance, the
"History of the Caliph Vathek," appeared in its original
French, an English translation of the work having been
published "anonymously and surreptitiously" in 1784. "Vathek"
was written by Beckford in 1781 or 1782 at a single sitting of
three days and two nights. Beckford was a great traveller and
a great connoisseur and collector both of pictures and of
books; and, apart from "Vathek" and some volumes of travels,
he is best known for having secluded himself for twenty years
in the magnificent residence which he built in Fonthill. He
died on May 2, 1844.
_I.--Vathek and the Magic Sabres_
Vathek, ninth caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of
Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun al Raschid. From an early accession
to the throne, and the talents he possessed to adorn it, his subjects
were induced to expect that his reign would be long and happy. His
figure was pleasing and majestic; but when he was angry one of his eyes
became so terrible that no person could bear it, and the wretch upon
whom it was fixed instantly fell backward, and sometimes expired. For
fear, however, of depopulating his dominions and making his palace
desolate, he but rarely gave way to his anger.
Being much addicted to the pleasures of the table, he sought by his
affability to procure agreeable companions; and he succeeded the better
as his generosity was unbounded, and his indulgences were unrestrained;
for he was by no means scrupulous, nor did he think, with the caliph
Omar Ben Abdalaziz, that it was necessary to make a hell of this world
to enjoy paradise in the next. He surpassed in magnificence all his
predecessors. The palace of Alkoremmi, which his father, Motassem, had
erected on the hill of Pied Horses, and which commanded the whole city
of Samarah was, in his idea, far too scanty. He added, therefore, five
wings, or rather other palaces, which he destined for the particular
gratification of each of his senses.
But the unquiet and impetuous disposition of the caliph would not allow
him to rest there; he had studied so much for amusement in the lifetime
of his father as to acquire a great deal of knowledge, though not a
sufficiency to satisfy himself--for he wished to know everything, even
sciences that did not exist. He was fond of engaging in disputes with
the learned and with the orthodox, but liked them not to push their
opposition with warmth; he stopped with presents the mouths of those
whose mouths could be stopped, while others, whom his liberality was
unable to subdue, he sent to prison to cool their blood, a remedy that
The great prophet Mohammed, whose vicars the caliphs are, beheld with
indignation from his abode in the seventh heaven the irreligious conduct
of such a vice-regent.
"Let us leave him to himself," said he to the genii, who are always
ready to receive his commands. "Let us see to what lengths his folly and
impiety will carry him. If he run into excess we shall know how to
chastise him. Assist him, therefore, to complete the tower which, in
imitation of Nimrod, he hath begun, not, like that great warrior, to
escape being drowned, but from the insolent curiosity of penetrating the
secrets of heaven; he will not divine the fate that awaits him."
The genii obeyed, and when the workmen had raised their structures a
cubit in the daytime, two cubits more were added in the night. Vathek
fancied that even invisible matter showed a forwardness to subserve his
designs, and his pride arrived at its height when, having ascended for
the first time the eleven thousand stairs of his tower, he cast his eyes
below and beheld men not larger than pismires, mountains than shells,
and cities than beehives. He now passed most of his nights on the summit
of his tower, till he became an adept in the mysteries of astrology, and
imagined that the planets had disclosed to him the most marvellous
adventures which were to be accomplished by an extraordinary personage
from a country altogether unknown.
Prompted by motives of curiosity, he had always been courteous to
strangers, but from this instant he redoubled his attention, and ordered
it to be announced by sound of trumpet through all the streets of
Samarah that no one of his subjects, on pain of displeasure, should
either lodge or detain a traveller, but forthwith bring him to the
Not long after this there arrived in the city a hideous man who to
Vathek's view displayed slippers which enabled the feet to walk, knives
that cut without a motion of the hand, and sabres which dealt the blow
at the person they were wished to strike, the whole enriched with gems
that were hitherto unknown. The sabres, whose blades emitted a dazzling
radiance, fixed more than all the caliph's attention, who promised
himself to decipher at his leisure the uncouth characters engraven on
their sides. Without, therefore, demanding their price, he ordered all
the coined gold to be brought from his treasury, and commanded the
merchant to take what he pleased. The stranger complied with modesty and
silence; but, having maintained an obstinate silence on all the points
on which the caliph questioned him, he was committed to prison, from
which he was found the next day to have vanished, leaving his keepers
Vathek was at first enraged, but having been comforted by his mother,
the Princess Carathis, who was a Greek and an adept in all the sciences
and systems of her country, he issued, at her suggestion, a proclamation
promising the liberality for which he was renowned to whoever should
decipher the characters on the sabres, and eventually had the
gratification of meeting with an old man, who read them as follows: "We
were made where everything good is made; we are the least of the wonders
of a place where all is wonderful, and deserving the sight of the first
potentate on earth." Unfortunately, however, when the old man was
ordered the next morning to re-read the inscription, he was then found
to interpret it as denouncing: "Woe to the rash mortal who seeks to know
that of which he should remain ignorant." "And woe to thee!" cried the
caliph, in a burst of indignation, and telling him to take his reward
_II.--The Caliph's Strange Adventures_
It was not long before Vathek discovered abundant reason for regretting
his precipitation. He plainly perceived that the characters on the
sabres changed every day; and the anxiety caused by his failure to
decipher them, or to read anything from the stars, brought on a fever,
which deprived him of his appetite, and tormented him with an absolutely
insatiable thirst. From this distress he was at length delivered by a
meeting with the stranger, who cured him by giving him to drink of a
phial of red and yellow mixture. But when this insolent person, at a
banquet given in his honour, burst into shouts of laughter on being
asked to declare of what drugs the salutary liquor had been compounded,
and from what place the sabres had come, Vathek kicked him from the
steps, and, repeating the blow, persisted with such assiduity as incited
all present to follow his example. The stranger collected into a ball,
rolled out of the palace, followed by Vathek, the court, and the whole
city, and, after passing through all the public places, rolled onwards
to the Plain of Catoul, traversed the valley at the foot of the mountain
of the Four Fountains, and bounded into the chasm formed there by the
continual fall of the waters.
Vathek would have followed the perfidious giaour had not an invisible
agency arrested his progress and that of the multitude; and he was so
much struck by the whole circumstance that he ordered his tents to be
pitched on the very edge of the precipice. After keeping several vigils
there, he was accosted one night by the voice of the giaour, who amid
the darkness caused by a total eclipse of the moon and the stars,
offered to bring him to the palace of subterranean fire, where he should
behold the treasures which the stars had promised him, and the talismans
that control the world, if he would abjure Mohammed, adore the
terrestrial influences, and satiate the stranger's thirst with the blood
of fifty of the most beautiful Samarahite boys.
The unhappy caliph lavished his promises in the utmost profusion, and by
arranging for the celebration near the chasm of some juvenile sports,
which were not concluded till twilight, was able to make the direful
libation. As the boys came up one by one to receive their prizes, he
pushed them into the gulf, the dreadful device being executed with so
much dexterity that the boy who was approaching him remained unconscious
of the fate of his forerunner.
The popular tumult roused by this atrocity having been appeased by the
princess, who possessed the most consummate skill in the art of
persuasion, there was offered on the tower a burnt sacrifice to the
infernal deities, the main ingredients of which were mummies,
rhinoceros' horns, oil of the most venomous serpents, various aromatic
woods, and one hundred and forty of the caliph's most faithful subjects.
These preliminaries having been settled, a parchment was discovered, in
which Vathek was thanked for his burnt offering, and told to set forth
with a magnificent retinue for Istakar, where he would receive the
diadem of Gian Ben Gian, the talismans of Soliman, and the treasures of
the pre-Adamite sultans. But he was warned not to enter any dwelling on
Vathek and the cavalcade set out, and for three days all went well. But
on the fourth a storm burst upon them, the frightful roar of wild beasts
resounded at a distance, and they soon perceived in the forest glaring
eyes that could only belong to devils or tigers. Fire destroyed their
provisions, and they would have starved had not two dwarfs, who dwelt as
hermits on the top of some rocks, received divine intimation of their
plight and revealed it to their emir, Fakreddin. The dwarfs were
entertained, caressed, and seated with great ceremony on little cushions
of state. But they clambered up the sides of the caliph's seat, and,
placing themselves each on one of his shoulders, began to whisper
prayers in his ears; and his patience was almost exhausted when the
acclamations of the troops announced the approach of Fakreddin. He
hastened to their assistance, but being punctiliously religious and
likewise a great dealer in compliments, he made an harangue five times
more prolix and insipid than his harbingers had already delivered.
At length, however, all got in motion, and they descended from the
heights to the valley by the large steps which the emir had cut in the
rocks, and reached a building of hewn stone overspread by palm-trees and
crowned with nine domes. Beneath one of these domes the caliph was
entertained with excellent sherbet, with sweetbreads stewed in milk of
almonds, and other delicacies of which he was amazingly fond.
But, unfortunately, the sight of the emir's young daughter tempted the
prophet's vice-regent to violate the rites of hospitality. Vathek fell
violently in love with Nouronihar, who was sprightly as an antelope and
full of wanton gaiety; and though she was contracted to her cousin and
dearly beloved companion Gulchenrouz, he demanded her hand from
Fakreddin, who, rather than force his daughter to break her affiances,
presented his sabre to Vathek. "Strike your unhappy host," he said. "He
has lived long enough if he sees the prophet's vice-regent violate the
rites of hospitality." Nouronihar fell down in a swoon, and of this
swoon the emir took advantage to carry out a scheme which should deliver
him from his difficulties. He gave out that both the children had died
from the effect of the caliph's glances, and, having administered to
them a narcotic powder that would give them the appearance of death for
three days, had them conveyed away to the shores of a desolate lake,
where, attended by the dwarfs, they were put upon a meagre diet and told
that they were in the other world, expiating the little faults of which
their love was the cause.
But Nouronihar, remembering a dream in which she was told that she was
destined to be the caliph's wife, and thereby to possess the carbuncle
of Giamsched, and the treasures of the pre-Adamite sultans, indulged
doubts on the mode of her being, and scarcely could believe that she was
dead. She rose one morning while all were asleep, and having wandered
some distance from the lake, discovered that she knew the district.
This fact, and a meeting with Vathek, convinced her that she was alive,
and, submitting to the caliph's embraces, she consented to become his
bride, and to go with him to the subterranean palace.
_III.--The Palace of Subterranean Fire_
When Princess Carathis heard of the dissolute conduct of her son she
sent for Morakanabad.
"Let me expire in flames," she cried.
Having said this, she whirled herself round in a magical way, striking
poor Morakanabad in such a way as caused him to recoil. Then she ordered
her great camel, Aboufaki, to be brought, and, attended by her two
hideous and one-eyed negresses, Nerkes and Cafour, set out to surprise
the lovers. She burst in upon them, foaming with indignation, and said
to Vathek: "Free thyself from the arms of this paltry doxy; drown her in
the water before me, and instantly follow my guidance." But Vathek
replied civilly, but decisively, that he was taking Nouronihar with him;
and the princess, having heard her declare that she would follow him
beyond the Kaf in the land of the Afrits, was appeased, and pronounced
Nouronihar a girl of both courage and science.
With a view, however, of preventing any further trouble arising from
Gulchenrouz, of whose affection for his cousin Vathek had informed her,
she sought to capture the boy, intending to sacrifice him to the giaour.
But as he was fleeing from her he fell into the arms of a genius, the
same good old genius who, happening on the cruel giaour at the instant
of his growling in the horrible chasm, had rescued the fifty little
victims which the impiety of Vathek had devoted to his maw. The genius
placed Gulchenrouz in a nest higher than the clouds, and there kept him
Nor was this the only hope of the princess's that was doomed to be
frustrated. She learnt from her astrolabes and instruments of magic that
Motavakel, availing himself of the disgust which was now inveterate
against his brother, had incited commotions among the populace, made
himself master of the palace, and actually invested the great tower. So
she reluctantly abandoned the idea of accompanying Vathek to Istakar,
and returned to Samarah; while he, attended by Nouronihar, resumed his
march and quickly reached the valley of Rocnabad. Here the poor Santons,
filled with holy energy, having bustled to light up wax torches in their
oratories and to expand the Koran on their ebony desks, went forth to
meet the caliph with baskets of honeycomb, dates, and melons. Vathek
gave them but a surly reception. "Fancy not," said he, "that you can
detain me; your presents I condescend to accept, but beg you will let me
be quiet, for I am not overfond of resisting temptation. Yet, as it is
not decent for personages so reverend to return on foot, and as you have
not the appearance of expert riders, my eunuchs shall tie you on your
asses, with the precaution that your backs be not turned towards me, for
they understand etiquette."
Even this outrage could not persuade Vathek's good genius to desert him,
and he made one final effort to save the caliph from the fate awaiting
him. Disguised as a shepherd, and pouring forth from his flute such
melodies as softened even the heart of Vathek, he confronted him in his
path, and warned him so solemnly against pursuing his journey that when
night fell almost every one of his attendants had deserted him. But
Vathek, in his obduracy, went on, and at length arrived at the mountain
which contains the vast ruins of Istakar and the entrance to the realm
Nouronihar and he, having ascended the steps of a vast staircase of
black marble, reached the terrace, which was flagged with squares of
marble and resembled a smooth expanse of water. There, by the moonlight,
they read an inscription which proclaimed that, despite the fact that
Vathek had violated the conditions of the parchment, he and Nouronihar
would be allowed to enter the palace of subterranean fire.
Scarcely had these words been read when the mountain trembled, and the
rock yawned and disclosed within it a staircase of polished marble, down
which they descended. At the bottom they found their way impeded by a
huge portal of ebony, which, opening at the giaour's command, revealed
to them a place which, though roofed with a vaulted ceiling, was so
spacious and lofty that at first they took it for an immeasurable plain.
In the midst of this immense hall a vast multitude was incessantly
passing, who severally kept their right hands on their hearts, without
once regarding anything about them. They had all the livid paleness of
death; their eyes, deep-sunk in their sockets, resembled those
phosphoric meteors that glimmer by night in places of interment. Some
stalked slowly along, absorbed in profound reverie; some, shrieking with
agony, ran furiously about like tigers wounded with poisonous arrows;
whilst others, grinding their teeth in rage, foamed along, more frantic
than the wildest maniacs. They all avoided each other, and, though
surrounded by a multitude that no one could number, each wandered at
random, unheedful of the rest, as if alone on a desert no foot had
Vathek and Nouronihar, frozen with terror at a sight so baleful,
demanded of the giaour what these appearances might mean, and why these
ambulating spectres never withdrew their hands from their hearts.
"Perplex not yourselves," replied he, bluntly, "with so much at once;
you will soon be acquainted with all. Let us haste and present you to
They continued their way through the multitude, and after some time
entered a vast tabernacle carpeted with the skins of leopards and filled
with an infinity of elders with streaming beards and Afrits in complete
armour, all of whom had prostrated themselves before the ascent of a
lofty eminence, on the top of which, upon a globe of fire, sat the
formidable Eblis. He received Vathek's and Nouronihar's homage, and
invited them to enjoy whatever the palace afforded--the treasures of the
pre-Adamite sultans and their bickering sabres and those talismans which
compel the Dives to open the subterranean expanses of the mountain of
The giaour then conducted them to a hall of great extent, covered with a
lofty dome, round which appeared fifty portals of bronze, secured with
as many fastenings of iron. A funereal gloom prevailed over the whole
scene. Here, upon two beds of incorruptible cedar, lay recumbent the
fleshless forms of pre-Adamite kings, who had been monarchs of the whole
earth; they still possessed enough of life to be conscious of their
deplorable condition; their eyes retained a melancholy motion; they
regarded each other with looks of the deepest dejection, each holding
his right hand motionless on his heart. Soliman Ben Daoud, the most
eminent of them, told Vathek the story of his great state, of his
worship of fire and the hosts of the sky, and of heaven's vengeance upon
him. "I am in torments, ineffable torments!" said he. "An unrelenting
fire preys upon my heart." Having uttered this exclamation, Soliman
raised his hands towards heaven in token of supplication, and the caliph
discerned through his bosom, which was as transparent as crystal, his
heart enveloped in flames. At a sight so full of horror, Nouronihar fell
back like one petrified into the arms of Vathek, who cried out with a
convulsive sob: "O Mohammed! remains there no more mercy?"
"None, none!" replied the malicious Dive. "Know, miserable prince, thou
art now in the abode of vengeance and despair! A few days are allotted
thee as respite, and then thy heart also shall be kindled like those of
the other worshippers of Eblis."
This, indeed, was the dreadful fate of Vathek and Nouronihar, a fate
indeed to which the Princess Carathis was also most righteously
condemned; for Vathek, knowing that the principles by which his mother
had perverted his youth had been the cause of his perdition, summoned
her to the palace of subterranean fire and enrolled her among the
votaries of Eblis. Carathis entered the dome of Soliman, and she too
marched in triumph through the vapour of perfumes.
* * * * *
Oroonoko: the Royal Slave
In her introduction to "Oroonoko," Mrs. Aphra Behn states
that her strange and romantic tale is founded on facts, of
many of which she was an eye-witness. This is true. She was
born at Wye, England, July 10, 1640, the daughter, it is said,
of a barber. As a child, she went out to Dutch Guiana, then an
English colony named after the Surinam River, returning to
England about 1658. After the death of her husband, in 1666,
she was dispatched as a spy to Antwerp by Charles II., and it
was she who first warned that monarch of the Dutch
Government's intention to send a fleet up the Thames. She died
on April 16, 1689, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. It was
while in Dutch Guiana that she met Oroonoko, in the
circumstances described in the story. No doubt she has
idealised her hero somewhat, but she does not seem to have
exaggerated the extraordinary adventures of the young African
chief. In the licentious age of the Restoration, when she had
become famous--or, rather, notorious--as a writer of unseemly
plays, she astonished the town, and achieved real fame by
relating the story of Oroonoko's life. There are few plots of
either plays or novels so striking as that of "Oroonoko." It
is the first of those romances of the outlands, which, from
the days of Defoe to the days of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, have
been one of the glories of English literature.
_I.--The Stolen Bride_
I do not pretend to entertain the reader with a feigned hero, whose
adventures I can manage according to my fancy. Of many of the events
here set down, I was an eye-witness, and what I did not see myself, I
learnt from the mouth of Oroonoko. When I made his acquaintance I was
living in that part of our South American colony called Surinam, which
we lately ceded to the Dutch--a great mistake, I think, for the land was
fertile, and the natives were friendly, and many Englishmen had set up
sugar plantations, which they worked by means of negroes. Most of these
slaves came from that part of Africa known as Coromantien. The
Coromantiens, being very warlike, were continually fighting other
nations, and they always had many captives ready to be sold as slaves to
The king of Coromantien was a hundred years of age. All his sons had
fallen in battle, and only one of them had left behind him an heir.
Oroonoko, as the young prince was called, was a very intelligent and
handsome negro, and as his grandfather engaged a Frenchman of wit and
learning to teach him, he received an education better than that of many
European princes. This I can speak of from my own knowledge, as I have
often conversed with him. He had a great admiration for the ancient
Romans; and in everything but the colour of his skin he reminded me of
those heroes of antiquity.
His nose was finely curved, and his lips, too, were well shaped, instead
of being thick as those of most Africans are. As the king of
Coromantien, by reason of his great age, was unable to bear arms, he
entrusted his chief headman with the duty of training Oroonoko in the
arts of war. For two years, the young prince was away fighting with a
powerful inland nation; the chief headman was killed in a fierce battle,
and Oroonoko succeeded him in the command of the army. He was then only
seventeen years of age, but he quickly brought the long war to a
successful conclusion, and returned home with a multitude of captives.
The greater part of these he gave to his grandfather, and the rest he
took to Imoinda, the daughter and only child of the chief headman, as
trophies of her father's victories.
Imoinda was a marvellously beautiful girl; her features, like those of
Oroonoko, were regular and noble, and more European than African. It was
a case of love at first sight on both sides, and the young prince
presented the lovely maiden with a hundred and fifty slaves, and
returned home in a fever of passion. It was necessary for him to obtain
his grandfather's consent to his marriage, but for some days he was so
perplexed by the flood of strange, new feelings surging in his young
heart that he remained silent and moody.
His followers, however, were loud in their praises of Imoinda. They
extolled her ravishing charms even in the presence of the old king, so
that nothing else was talked of but Imoinda. Oroonoko's love rapidly
became too strong for him to control, and one night he went secretly to
the house of his beloved, and wooed her with such fervency of soul that
even she was astonished by it. It was the savage custom of his country
for a king to have a hundred wives, as his grandfather had; but Oroonoko
was an enlightened and chivalrous man.
"Never, Imoinda," he cried, "shall you have a rival. You are the only
woman I shall love, the only woman I shall marry. Come, my darling, and
let us try and raise our people up by our example."
Imoinda was naturally overjoyed to become the wife of so noble and
cultivated a prince, and she waited the next morning in a state of
delicious excitement for Oroonoko to return and claim her as his bride.
But, to her dismay and horror, four headmen with their servants came at
daybreak to her house with a royal veil. This is a rudely embroidered
cloth which the king of Coromantien sends to any lady whom he has a mind
to make his wife. After she is covered with it, the maid is secured for
the king's otan, or harem, and it is death to disobey the royal summons.
Trembling and almost fainting, Imoinda was compelled to suffer herself
to be covered and led away to the old king. His imagination had been
excited by the wild way in which the followers of his grandson had
praised the beauty of the maiden, and, carried away by unnatural
jealousy, he had resolved, in a fit of madness, to possess her at all
costs. In spite of all he had heard, he was amazed by her loveliness.
Rising up from his throne, he came towards her with outstretched arms.
"I am already married," she cried, bursting into tears and throwing
herself at his feet. "Do not dishonour me! Let me return to my own
"Who has dared to marry the daughter of my chief headman without my
consent?" said the old king, his eyes rolling in anger. "Whoever he is,
he shall die at once."
Imoinda began to fear for Oroonoko, and tried to undo the effect of her
"He--he is not exactly my husband yet," she stammered. "But, oh, I love
him! I love him! And I have promised to marry him."
"That's nothing," said the king, his eyes now lighting up with pleasure.
"You must be my wife."
In the afternoon, Oroonoko, who had gone in search of Imoinda, returned.
Having heard that she had received the royal veil, he came in so violent
a rage that his men had great trouble to save him from killing himself.
"What can I do?" he cried desperately. "Even if I slew my grandfather, I
could not now make Imoinda my wife."
_II.--A White Man's Treachery_
By the custom of the country, it would have been so great a crime to
marry a woman whom Us grandfather had taken that Oroonoko's people would
probably have risen up against him. But one of his men pointed out that,
as Imoinda was his lawful wife by solemn contract, he was really the
injured man, and might, if he would, take her back--the breach of the
law being on his grandfather's side. Thereupon, the young prince
resolved to recover her, and in the night he entered the otan, or royal
harem, by a secret passage, and made his way to the apartment of
Imoinda. Had he found the old king there, he no doubt would have killed
him; but, happily, the lovely maid was alone, and quietly sleeping in
her bed. He softly awakened her, and she trembled with joy and fear at
his boldness. But they had not been long together when a sudden noise
was heard and a band of armed men with spears burst into the room.
"Back!" shouted the young prince, lifting up his battle-axe. "Back, all
of you! Do you not know Oroonoko?"
"Yes," said one of the men. "The king has sent us to take you, dead or
But when Oroonoko attacked them, they allowed him to fight his way out
of the otan, but tore the maid from his arms and took her to the king.
The old man was blind with rage, and, seizing a spear, he staggered to
his feet, determined to kill her by his own hand. But Imoinda was in no
mood to die. She knew that her lover had fled to his camp, and intended
to return at the head of a large army and rescue her by main force. If
she could only calm the anger of the old king for a few days, all would
be well. So, with the guile of a woman, she flung herself at the king's
feet, protesting in a flood of tears, that Oroonoko had broken into her
room and taken her by force.
"Very well," said the old king, with a cruel look in his eyes, "I will
forgive you. Having received the royal veil, you cannot marry my
grandson. On the other hand, since he has entered your room, you cannot
remain any longer in the otan. You must be sent out of the country."
And early the next morning some of his servants were commanded to dress
her so that she could not be recognised, and then she was carried down
to the shore and sold to the captain of a slave ship.
The king did not dare to tell his grandson that he had sold Imoinda as a
slave, for the Coromantiens justly reckon slavery as something worse
than death; so he sent a messenger to say that she was dead. At first,
Oroonoko was minded to attack his grandfather, but better feelings
prevailed; and he led his army against a hostile nation, resolved to
perish on the battlefield. So desperate was his courage that he defeated
his far more numerous foes, and took a great multitude of them captives.
Many of these he sold to the captain of a slave-ship, then lying off
Coromantien. When the bargain was concluded, the captain invited the
prince and all his attendants to a banquet on board his ship, and so
plied them with wine that, being unaccustomed to drink of this sort,
they were overcome by it.
When Oroonoko recovered his senses, he found himself chained up in a
dark room, and all his men were groaning in fetters around him. The
cunning slave-dealer had got out of paying for his cargo of slaves, and
increased their number by carrying off the young prince and his
companions. This was how I came to meet Oroonoko. The unscrupulous
slave-dealer brought him to Surinam, and sold him and seventeen of his
followers to our overseer, a young Cornishman named Trefry.
Trefry, a man of great wit and fine learning, was attracted by the noble
bearing of Oroonoko, and treated him more as a friend than as a servant.
And when, to his great astonishment, he found that the young prince was
his equal in scholarship, and could converse with him in English,
French, and Spanish, he asked him how it was he had become a slave.
Oroonoko then related the story of the slave-dealer's treachery, and
Trefry was so moved by it that he promised to find the means to free him
from slavery and enable him to return to Coromantien.
When Oroonoko arrived at our plantation, all our negroes left off work
and came to see him. When they saw that he was really the great prince
of Coromantien, who had conquered them in battle and sold them into
slavery, they cast themselves at his feet, crying out in their own
language: "Live, O king! Long live, O king!" They kissed his feet and
paid him divine homage--for such is the nature of this people, that
instead of bearing him any grudge for selling them into captivity, they
were filled with awe and veneration for him.
Mr. Trefry was glad to find Oroonoko's statement of his royal rank
confirmed by the adoration of all the slaves.
"There's one girl," he said, "who did not come to greet you. I am sure
you will be delighted to find you have so beautiful a subject. If it is
possible for anyone to console you for the loss of Imoinda, she will do
so. To tell the truth, I've been in love with her myself, but I found
that I could not win her."
"I do not want to see her," said Oroonoko. "If I go back to Coromantien,
I will not take any woman with me. I vowed to Imoinda that I would never
have any wife but her, and, though she is dead, I shall keep my vow."
The next morning Trefry took Oroonoko for a walk, and by design brought
him to the house of the beautiful slave.
"Clemene," he said, "did you not hear that one of the princes of your
people arrived in Surinam yesterday? However you may fly from all white
men, you surely ought to pay some respect to him."
Oroonoko started when a girl came out, with her head bowed down as if
she had resolved never to raise her eyes again to the face of a man.
"Imoinda! Imoinda!" Oroonoko cried after a moment's silence. "Imoinda!"
It was she. She looked up at the sound of his voice, and then tottered
and fell down in a swoon, and Oroonoko caught her in his arms. By
degrees she came to herself; and it is needless to tell with what
transport, what ecstasies of joy, the lovers beheld each other. Mr.
Trefry was infinitely pleased by this happy conclusion of the prince's
misadventures; and, leaving the lovers to themselves, he came to Parham
House, and gave me an account of all that had happened. In the
afternoon, to the great joy of all the negroes, Oroonoko and Imoinda
were married. I was invited to the wedding, and I assured Oroonoko that
he and his wife would be set free as soon as the lord-governor of the
colony returned to Surinam.
_III.--The Taint of Slavery_
Unhappily, the lord-governor was delayed for some months in the islands,
and Oroonoko became impatient. After the trick played upon him by the
captain of the slave-ship, he had become exceedingly suspicious of the
honesty and good faith of white men. He was afraid that the overseer
would keep him and his wife until their child was born, and make a slave
of it. At last, he grew so moody and sullen that many persons feared
that he would incite the negroes to a mutiny. In order to soothe the
prince, I invited him and Imoinda to stay at my house, where I
entertained them to the best of my ability.
"Surely," I said to him, "you do not suspect that we will break our word
with you? Only wait patiently, my friend, till the lord-governor
arrives, and you will be permitted to return to your own kingdom."
"You do not understand," Oroonoko replied. "I am angry with myself for
remaining so long a slave. What! Do you white people think that I, the
king of Coromantien, can be treated like the captives that I have taken
in war and sold to you? Had it not been for Imoinda, I would long since
have been free or dead."
Unfortunately, both for me and Oroonoko, my father, who had been
appointed lieutenant-general of the West Indies and Guiana, died at sea
on his way to Surinam, and the new lord-governor was long in arriving.
In the meantime, a child was born to Imoinda, and all the negroes, to
the number of 300, came together to celebrate the event. Oroonoko,
beside himself with anger, because his child had been born into slavery,
made a harangue to the assembled multitude.
"Why should we be slaves to these white men?" he cried. "Have they
conquered us nobly in battle? Are we become their captives by the chance
of war? No! We have been bought and sold, like monkeys or cattle, to a
set of cowards and rogues who have been driven out of their own country
by reason of their villainy! Shall we let vile creatures such as these
flog us and bruise us as they please?"
"No, no!" shouted the negroes. "Be our king, Oroonoko, and make us a
Thereupon he commanded them to seize what arms they could, and tie up
everything they wanted in their hammocks, and sling these over their
shoulders, and march out, with their wives and children. The next
morning, when the overseers went to call their slaves up to work, they
found they had fled. By noon, 600 militiamen set out in search of the
fugitives. The negroes were forced to travel slowly by reason of their
women and children; and at the end of two days the militiamen, led by
the new lord-governor, caught them up and surrounded them. In the battle
that ensued, several Englishmen were killed and a great many wounded;
but as they outnumbered the negroes, and were much better armed, they
defeated them. Even then Oroonoko would not surrender. But the
lord-governor parleyed with him, and promised that he would give him and
his wife and child a free passage to Coromantien in the first ship that
touched on the coast.
On this, Oroonoko surrendered. But, to his horror and surprise, he was
taken back to Surinam, and tied to a stake at the whipping-place, and
lashed until the very flesh was torn from his bones. His captors then
bound him in chains, and cast him into a prison. From this, however, he
was at last rescued by Mr. Trefry. But the shame and the torture had
unhinged his fine mind. He led Imoinda and his child into a forest, and
asked his wife whether she would prefer to remain the slave of the white
devils, or die at once by his hand. Imoinda begged him rather to kill
her, and Oroonoko did so. But, instead of putting an end to himself, the
prince determined to die fighting. He turned back from the forest,
fiercely resolved to search out the lord-governor, and slay him; but,
falling into the hands of the militiamen, he was killed in a very
I can only say that this negro was the noblest and gentlest man I ever
met. It needs more genius than I possess to praise him as he deserves;
yet I hope the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his
name survive to all ages, with that of the beautiful, brave, and
* * * * *
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
A Voyage to the Moon
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac has recently acquired a new lease
of fame as the hero of Edmond Rostand's romantic comedy.
Probably he is better known in France as a fighter than as a
wit and a poet. Born about 1620, he entered the Regiment of
the Guards in his nineteenth year, and quickly became renowned
for his bravery. He was an indefatigable duellist; when he was
about twenty years old, he found a hundred men assembled to
insult one of his friends, and he attacked them, killed two,
mortally wounded seven, and dispersed all the rest. He died at
Paris in 1655, struck by a huge beam falling into the street.
As an author he was strangely underrated by his
fellow-countrymen. Moliere was the only man who really
appreciated him. For some centuries his works have been more
esteemed in England than in France. Many English writers, from
Dean Swift to Samuel Butler, the author of "Erewhon," have
been inspired by his "Voyage to the Moon," the English
equivalent of the original title being, "Comic History of the
States and Empires of the Moon and the Sun." This entertaining
satire is as fresh as it was on the day it was written: flying
machines and gramophones, for instance, are curiously modern.
His inimitable inventiveness makes him the most delightful of
French writers between Montaigne and Moliere.
_I.--Arrival on the Moon_
After many experiments I constructed a flying machine, and, sitting on
top of it, I boldly launched myself in the air from the crest of a
mountain. I had scarcely risen more than half a mile when something went
wrong with my machine, and it shot back to the earth. But, to my
astonishment and joy, instead of descending with it, I continued to rise
through the calm, moonlight air. For three-quarters of an hour I mounted
higher and higher. Then suddenly all the weight of my body seemed to
fall upon my head. I was no longer rising quietly from the Earth, but
tumbling headlong on to the Moon. At last I crashed through a tree, and,
breaking my fall among its leafy, yielding boughs, I landed gently on
the grass below.
I found myself in the midst of a wild and beautiful forest, so full of
the sweet music of singing-birds that it seemed as if every leaf on
every tree had the tongue and figure of a nightingale. The ground was
covered with unknown, lovely flowers, with a magical scent. As soon as I
smelt it I became twenty years younger. My thin grey hairs changed into
thick, brown, wavy tresses; my wrinkled face grew fresh and rosy; and my
blood flowed through my veins with the speed and vigour of youth.
I was surprised to find no trace of human habitation in the forest. But
in wandering about I came upon two strong, great animals, about twelve
cubits long. One of them came towards me, and the other fled into the
forest. But it quickly returned with seven hundred other beasts. As they
approached me, I perceived that they were creatures with a human shape,
who, however, went on all-fours like some gigantic kind of monkey. They
shouted with admiration when they saw me; and one of them took me up by
the neck and flung me on his back, and galloped with me into a great
When I saw the splendid buildings of the city I recognised my mistake.
The four-footed creatures were really enormous men. Seeing that I went
on two legs, they would not believe that I was a man like themselves.
They thought I was an animal without any reasoning power, and they
resolved to send me to their queen, who was fond of collecting strange
and curious monsters.
All this, of course, I did not understand at the time. It took me some
months to learn their language. These men of the Moon have two dialects;
one for the nobility, the other for the common people. The language of
the nobility is a kind of music; it is certainly a very pleasant means
of expression. They are able to communicate their thoughts by lutes and
other musical instruments quite as well as by the voice.
When twenty or thirty of them meet together to discuss some matter, they
carry on the debate by the most harmonious concert it is possible to
The common people, however, talk by agitating different parts of their
bodies. Certain movements constitute an entire speech. By shaking a
finger, a hand, or an arm, for instance, they can say more than we can
in a thousand words. Other motions, such as a wrinkle on the forehead, a
shiver along a muscle, serve to design words. As they use all their body
in speaking in this fashion, they have to go naked in order to make
themselves clearly understood. When they are engaged in an exciting
conversation they seem to be creatures shaken by some wild fever.
Instead of sending me at once to the Queen of the Moon, the man who had
captured me earned a considerable amount of money by taking me every
afternoon to the houses of the rich people. There I was compelled to
jump and make grimaces, and stand in ridiculous attitudes in order to
amuse the crowds of guests who had been invited to see the antics of the
But one day, as my master was pulling the rope around my neck to make me
rise up and divert the company, a man came and asked me in Greek who I
was. Full of joy at meeting someone with whom I could talk, I related to
him the story of my voyage from the Earth.
"I cannot understand," I said, "how it was I rose up to the Moon when my
machine broke down and fell to the Earth."
"That is easily explained," he said. "You had got within the circle of
lunar influence, in which the Moon exerts a sort of sucking action on
the fat of the body. The same thing often happens to me. Like you, I am
a stranger on the Moon. I was born on the Sun, but, being of a roving
disposition, I like to explore one planet after another. I have
travelled a good deal in Europe, and conversed with several persons
whose names you no doubt know. I remember that I was once famous in
ancient Greece as the Demon of Socrates."
"Then you are a spirit?" I exclaimed.
"A kind of spirit," he replied. "I was one of the large company of the
Men of the Sun who used to inhabit the Earth under the names of oracles,
nymphs, woodland elves, and fairies. But we abandoned our world in the
reign of the Emperor Augustus; your people then became so gross and
stupid that we could no longer delight in their society. Since then I
have stayed on the Moon. I find its inhabitants more enlightened than
the inhabitants of the Earth."
"I don't!" I exclaimed. "Look how they treat me, as if I were a wild
beast! I am sure that if one of their men of science voyaged to the
Earth, he would be better received than I am here."
"I doubt it," said the Man of the Sun. "Your men of science would have
him killed, stuffed, and put in a glass case in a museum."
_II.--The Garb of Shame_
At this point our conversation was broken off by my keeper. He saw that
the company was tired of my talk, which seemed to them mere grunting. So
he pulled my rope, and made me dance and caper until the spectators
ached with laughter.
Happily, the next morning the Man of the Sun opened my cage and put me
on his back and carried me away.
"I have spoken to the King of the Moon," he said; "and he has commanded
that you should be taken to his court and examined by his learned
As my companion went on four feet, he was able to travel as fast as a
racehorse, and we soon arrived at another town, where we put up at an
inn for dinner. I followed him into a magnificently furnished hall, and
a servant asked me what I would begin with.
"Some soup," I replied.
I had scarcely pronounced the words when I smelt a very succulent broth.
I rose up to look for the source of this agreeable smell; but my
companion stopped me.
"What do you want to walk away for?" said he. "Stay and finish your
"But where is the soup?" I said.
"Ah," he replied. "This is the first meal you have had on the Moon. You
see, the people here only live on the smell of food. The fine, lunar art
of cookery consists in collecting the exhalations that come from cooked
meat, and bottling them up. Then, at meal-time, the various jars are
uncorked, one after the other, until the appetites of the diners are
"It is, no doubt, an exquisite way of eating," I said; "but I am afraid
I shall starve on it."
"Oh, no, you will not," said he. "You will soon find that a man can
nourish himself as well by his nose as by his mouth."
And so it was. After smelling for a quarter of an hour a variety of
rich, appetising vapours, I rose up quite satisfied.
In the afternoon I was taken to the palace of the king, and examined by
the greatest men of science on the Moon. In spite of all that my friend
had said on my behalf, I was adjudged to be a mere animal, and again
shut up in a cage. The king, queen, and courtiers spent a considerable
time every day watching me, and with the help of the Man of the Sun I
soon learned to speak a little of their, music-language. This caused a
great deal of surprise. Several persons began to think that I was really
a man who had been dwarfed and weakened from want of nourishment.
But the learned doctors again examined me, and decided that, as I did
not walk on four legs, I must be a new kind of featherless parrot.
Thereupon I was given a pole to perch on, instead of a nice warm bed to
lie in; and every day the queen's fowler used to come and whistle tunes
for me to learn. In the meantime, however, I improved my knowledge of
the language, and at last I spoke so well and intelligibly that all the
courtiers said that the learned doctors had been mistaken. One of the
queen's maids of honour not only thought that I was a man, but fell in
love with me. She often used to steal to my cage, and listen to my
stories of the customs and amusements of our world. She was so
interested that she begged me to take her with me if ever I found a way
of returning to the Earth.
In my examination by the learned doctors I had stated that their world
was but a Moon, and that the Moon from which I had come was really a
world. It was this which had made them angry against me. But my friend,
the Man of the Sun, at last prevailed upon the king to let me out of the
cage on my retracting my wicked heresy. I was clad in splendid robes,
and placed on a magnificent chariot to which four great noblemen were
harnessed, and led to the centre of the city, where I had to make the
"People, I declare to you that this Moon is not a Moon but a world; and
that the world I come from is not a world but a Moon. For this is what
the Royal Council believe that you ought to believe."
The Man of the Sun then helped me to descend from the chariot, and took
me quickly into a house, and stripped me of my gorgeous robes. "Why do
you do that?" I asked. "This is the most splendid dress I have ever seen
on the Moon."
"It is a garb of shame," said my companion. "You have this day undergone
the lowest degradation that can be imposed on a man. You committed an
awful crime in saying that the Moon was not a Moon. It is a great wonder
you were not condemned to die of old age."
"Die of old age?" I said.
"Yes," replied my companion. "Usually, when a Man of the Moon comes to
that time of life in which he feels that he is losing his strength of
mind and body, he invites all his friends to a banquet. After explaining
what little hope he has of adding anything to the fine actions of his
life, he asks for permission to depart. If he has led a bad life, he is
ordered to live; but if he has been a good man, his dearest friend
kisses him, and plunges a dagger in his heart."
As he was talking, the son of the man in whose house we were staying
entered the room. My companion quickly rose on his four feet, and made
the young man a profound bow. I asked him why he did this. He told me
that on the Moon parents obey their children, and old men are compelled
to show to young men the greatest respect.
"They are of opinion," said my companion, "that a strong and active
young man is more capable of governing a family than a dull, infirm
sexagenarian. I know that on your Earth old men are supposed to be wise
and prudent. But, as a matter of fact, their wisdom and prudence
consists merely of a timid frame of mind and a disinclination to take
The father then entered the room, and his son said to him in an angry
"Why have you not got our house ready to sail away? You know the walls
of the city have gone some hours ago. Bring me at once your image!"
The man brought a great wooden image of himself, and his son whipped it
furiously for a quarter of an hour.
"And now," said the young man at last, "go and hoist the sails at once!"
_III.--Marvels of the Moon_
There are two kinds of towns on the Moon: travelling towns and sedentary
towns. In the travelling towns, each house is built of very light wood,
and placed on a platform, beneath the four corners of which great wheels
are fixed. When the time arrives for a voyage to the seaside or the
forest, for a change of air, the townspeople hoist vast sails on the
roofs of their dwellings, and sail away altogether towards the new site.
In the sedentary towns, on the other hand, the houses are made with
great strong screws running from the cellars to the roofs, which enable
them to be raised or lowered at discretion. The depth of the cellar is
equal to the height of every house; in winter, the whole structure is
lowered below the surface of the ground; in spring, it is lifted up
again by means of the screw.
As, owing to the father's neglect, the house in which we were staying
could not set sail until the next day, my companion and I accepted an
invitation to stay the night there. Our host then sent for a doctor, who
prescribed what foods I should smell, and what kind of bed I should lie
"But I am not sick!" I said to the Man of the Sun.
"If you were," he replied, "the doctor would not have been sent for. On
the Moon, doctors are not paid to cure men, but to keep them in good
health. They are officers of the state, and, once a day, they call at
every house, and instruct the inmates how to preserve their natural
"I wish," I. said, "you could get him to order me a dozen roasted larks
instead of the mere smell of them. I should like to taste some solid
food just for a change."
He spoke to the doctor, and at a sign from him, our host took a gun and
led me into his garden.
"Are those the kind of birds you mean?" he said, pointing to a great
swarm of larks singing high up in the sky.
I replied that they were, and he shot at them, and thirty larks tumbled
over at our feet, not merely dead, but plucked, seasoned, and roasted.
"You see," said my host, "we mix with our gunpowder and shot a certain
composition which cooks as well as kills."
I picked up one of the birds and ate it. In sober truth, I have never
tasted on Earth anything so deliciously roasted.
When I had finished my repast, I was conducted to a little room, the
floor of which was strewn with fine orange blossoms about three feet
deep. The Men of the Moon always sleep on these thick, soft heaps of
fragrant flowers, which are chosen for them every day by their doctors.
Four servants came and undressed me, and gently rubbed my limbs and my
body, and in a few moments I was fast asleep.
Early next morning I was awakened by the Man of the Sun, who said to me:
"I know you are anxious to return to your Earth and relate the story of
all the strange and wonderful things you have seen on the Moon. If you
care to while away an hour or two over this book, I will prepare for
your return voyage."
The book which he put into my hand was an extraordinary object. It was a
kind of machine, full of delicate springs, and it looked like a new kind
of clock. In order to read it, you had to use, not your eyes, but your
ears. For on touching one of the springs, it began to speak like a man.
It was a history of the Sun, and I was still listening to it when my
"I am now ready," he said. "On what part of the Earth would you like to
"In Italy," I replied. "That will save me the cost and trouble of
travelling to Rome--a city I have always longed to see."
Taking me in his arms, the Man of the Sun rose swiftly up from the Moon
and carried me across the intervening space, and dropped me rather
roughly on a hill near Rome. When I turned to expostulate with him, I
found that he had disappeared.
* * * * *
Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson, one of the greatest Scandinavian
writers, was born at Kvikne, in the wild region of the Dovre
Mountains, Norway, Dec. 8, 1832. His father was the village
pastor. Six years later the family removed to Naesset, on the
west coast of Norway. From the grammar school at Molde young
Bjoernson went to the University of Christiania, and it was
then that he began to write verses and newspaper articles. At
Upsala, in 1856, he understood that he had a definite call to
literature, and at Copenhagen the following year he wrote his
first masterpiece "Synnove Solbakken." This was followed, in
1858, by "Arne," a story which not only brought him into the
front rank of contemporary writers, but also marked a new era
in Norwegian literature. From that time there has been a
succession of novels, short stories, and plays (Bjoernson on
two occasions has been the director of a theatre) from his
pen. A drama, "The King," produced in 1877, had an after
effect of immense political importance. It was undoubtedly an
attack on the ruler of Norway and Sweden, and every Norwegian
who wished his country to become an independent nation
welcomed Bjoernson as the leader of this new movement--with
what success there is now no need to relate, since it has
become a matter of history. Bjoernson died April 25, 1910.
_I.--The Little Song-Maker_
It was up at Kampen that Arne was born. His mother was Margit, the only
child at the little farm among the crags. When she was eighteen, she
stopped too long at a dance one evening; her friends had gone off
without her, so Margit thought the way home would be just as long
whether she waited till the end of the dance or not.
Thus it came about that Margit remained sitting there till Nils
Skraedder, the fiddler, suddenly laid aside his instrument, as was his
wont when he had had more than enough to drink, left the dancers to hum
their own tune, took hold of the prettiest girl he could find, and,
letting his feet keep as good time to the dance as music to a song,
jerked off with the heel of his boot the hat of the tallest man in the
room. "Ho!" laughed he.
As Margit walked home that night, the moon was making wondrous sport
over the snow. When she got to the loft where she slept, she could not
help looking out at it again.
Next time there was a dance in the parish, Margit was present. She did
not care much to dance that evening, but sat listening to the music. But
when the playing ceased the fiddler rose and went straight across to
Margit Kampen. She was scarcely aware of anything, but that she was
dancing with Nils Skraedder!
Before long the weather grew warmer, and there was no more dancing that
One Sunday, when the summer was getting on, Margit went to church with
her mother. When they were at home again her mother threw both her arms
around her. "Hide nothing from me, my child!" she cried.
Winter came again, but Margit danced no more. Nils Skraedder went on
playing, drank more than formerly, and wound up each party by dancing
with the prettiest girl there. It was said for certain that he could
have whichever he wished of the farmers' daughters, and that Birgit, the
daughter of Boeen, was sick for love of him.
Just about this time a child of the cotter's daughter at Kampen was
brought to be christened. It was given the name of Arne, and its father
was said to be Nils Skraedder.
The evening of that day saw Nils at a great wedding party. He would not
play, but drank all he could, and was dancing the whole time. But when
he asked Birgit Boeen for a dance, she refused him. He turned and took
hold of the first good-looking girl near. She, too, held back, and
answered a request he whispered in her ear with the words: "The dance
might go further than I should like."
At that Nils drew back, and danced the "Halling" alone. Then he went
into the barn, laid himself down, and wept.
Margit sat at home with her little boy. She heard about Nils going from
dance to dance, and it was not very long before Arne learnt that Nils
Skraedder was his father, and the kind of man he was.
It was when Arne was about six years old that two Americans, visiting
the place when a bridal party was going on, were so much struck by the
way Nils danced the "Halling" that they proposed to take him as their
servant, at whatever wages he wanted. They would call for him on their
way back in about a week's time. Nils was the hero of the evening.
The dance was resumed. Nils looked round at the girls, and went over to
Birgit Boeen. He held out his hand, and she put out hers. Then, turning
away with a laugh, he put his arm around the girl next to her, and
danced off with boisterous glee.
Birgit coloured, and a tall, quiet-looking man took her hand, and danced
away. Nils noticed it, and presently danced so hard against them that
both Birgit and her partner fell to the ground.
The quiet-looking man got up, went straight to Nils, took him by the
arm, and knocked him down with a blow over the eyes. Nils fell heavily,
tried to rise, and found that he couldn't--his back was badly hurt.
Meantime, at Kampen, no sooner had the grandmother succeeded in paying
off the last instalment of debt on the farm than she was stricken with
mortal sickness and died.
A fortnight after the funeral six men brought in a litter, and on the
litter lay Nils with his black hair and pale face.
In the springtime, a year after he had been brought to Kampen, Nils and
Margit were married. The fiddler's health was ruined, but he was able to
help in the fields, and look after things. Then, one Sunday afternoon,
when Nils and Arne were out together they saw a wedding procession,
fourteen carriages in all. Nils stood for a long time motionless after
the bride and bridegroom had passed, and for the rest of the day he was
sullen and angry. He went out before supper, and returned at midnight,
From that day Nils was constantly going into town and coming home drunk.
He reproached Margit for his wretched life; he cursed her, he struck
her, and beat her. Then would come fits of wild remorse.
As Arne grew up, Nils took him to dances, and the boy learnt to sing all
sorts of songs. His mother taught him to read, and when he was fifteen
he longed to travel and to write songs.
At home, things got worse. As Nils grew feebler he became more drunken
and violent, and often Arne would stay at home to amuse him in order
that Margit might have an hour's peace. Arne began to loathe his father;
but he kept this feeling to himself, as he did his love for his mother.
His one friend was Kristen, the eldest son of a sea-captain. With
Kristen, Arne could talk of books and travel. But there came a day when
Kristen went away to be a sailor, and Arne was left alone.
Life was very heavy for him. He made up songs and put his grief into
them. But for his mother, Arne would have left Kampen--he stood between
her and Nils.
One night, about this time, Nils came back late from a wedding-feast.
Margit had gone to bed, and Arne was reading. The boy helped his father
upstairs, and Nils began quoting texts from the Bible and cursing his
own downfall, shedding drunken tears. Presently he made his way to the
bed, and put his fingers on Margit's throat.
In vain the boy and his mother called on Nils to desist; the drunkard
took no notice. Arne rushed to a corner of the room and picked up an
axe; at the same moment Nils fell down, and, after a piercing shriek,
lay quite still.
All that night they watched by the dead. A feeling of relief came upon
"He fell of himself," Arne said simply, for at first his mother was
terrified by the sight of the axe.
"Remember, Arne, it's for your sake I've borne it all," Margit said,
weeping. "You must never leave me."
"Never, never," he answered fervently.
_II.--The Call of the Mountains_
Arne grew up reserved and shy; he went on tending the cattle and making
songs. He was now in his twentieth year. The pastor lent him books to
read, the only thing he cared for.
Many a time he would have liked to read aloud to his mother, but he
could not bring himself to do it. One of the songs he made at this time
The parish is all restless, but there's peace in grove and wood.
No beadle here impounds you, to suit his crabbed mood;
No strife profanes our little church, tho' there it rages high,
But then we have no little church, and that, perhaps, is why!
The folks round about got to hear of his songs, and would have been glad
to talk to him; but Arne was shy of people and disliked them, chiefly
because he thought they disliked him.
He gave up tending the cattle, and stayed at home, looking after the
farm. He was near his mother all day now, and she would give him dainty
meals. In his heart was a song with the refrain "Over the mountains
high!" Somehow, Arne could never finish this song.
There was a field labourer named Upland Knut, at whose side Arne often
worked. This man had neither parents nor friends, and when Arne said to
him, "Have you no one at all, then, to love you?" he answered, "Ah, no!
I have no one."
Arne thought of his own mother, and his heart was full of love to her.
What if he were to lose her because he had not sufficiently prized her,
he thought; and he rushed home, to find his mother sleeping gently like
Mother and son were much together in those days, and once they agreed to
go to a wedding at a neighbouring farm.
For the first time in his life Arne drank too much, and all next day he
lay in the barn. He was full of self-reproach, and it seemed to him that
cowardice was his besetting sin.
Cowardice had been his failing as a boy. It had prevented him taking his
mother's part against his father, from leaving home, from mixing with
people. Cowardice had made him drunk, and, but for his fear and
timidity, his verses would be better.
After searching everywhere for him, Margit eventually found him in the
barn. He tried to soothe her, and vowed that he would join his life more
closely to his mother's in future. What moved him was that his loving,
patient mother said that she had done a grievous wrong against him, and
implored his forgiveness.
"Of course, I forgive you," he said.
"God bless you, my dear, dear Arne."
From that day, Arne was not only happier at home, but he began to look
at other people more kindly, more with his mother's gentle eyes. But he
still went about alone, and a strange longing often possessed his soul.
One summer evening Arne had gone out to sit by the Black Lake, a piece
of water very dark and deep. He sat behind some bushes and looked out
over the water, and at the hills opposite, and at the homesteads in the
Presently he heard voices close beside him. A young girl, he made out,
was grumbling because she had got to leave the parsonage, where she had
been staying with Mathilde, the parson's daughter, and it was her father
who was taking her home. A third voice, sharp and strident, was heard.
"Hurry up, now, Baard; push off the boat, or we sha'n't be home
The rattle of cart-wheels followed, and Baard fetched a box out of the
cart, and carried it down to the boat.
Then Mathilde, the parson's daughter, came running up calling, "Eli!
The two girls wept in each other's arms.
"You must take this," said Mathilde, giving her friend a bird-cage.
"Mother wants you to. Yes, you must take Narrifas, and then you'll often
think of me."
"Eli! Come, come, Eli!" came the summons from the boat.
A moment after, and Arne saw the boat out in the water, Eli standing up
in the stern, holding the bird-cage and waving her hand to Mathilde. His
eyes followed the boat, and he watched it draw near to the land. He
could see the three forms mirrored in the water, and continued gazing
until they had left the boat and gone indoors at the biggest house on
the opposite side of the lake.
Mathilde had sat for some time by the landing stage, but she had left
now, and Arne was alone when Eli came out again for a last look across
the water. Arne could see her image in the lake. "Perhaps she sees me
now," he thought. Then, when the sun had set, he got up and went home,
feeling that all things were at peace.
Arne's fancies for some time now were of dreams of love and fair
maidens. Old ballads and romances mirrored them for him, as the water
had mirrored the young girl.
A two-fold longing--the yearning to have someone to love, and a desire
to do something great--sprang up together in his soul, and melted into
one. Again he began to work at the song, "Over the mountains high,"
altering it, and thinking each time, "One day it will carry me off." But
he never forgot his mother in his thoughts of travel, and decided that
he would send for her as soon as he had got a footing abroad.
There was in the parish a merry old fellow of the name of Ejnar Aasen.
He was well off, and, in spite of a lameness that made him use a crutch,
was fond of organising parties of children to go nutting. All the young
people called him "godfather."
Aasen liked Arne, and invited him to join in the next nutting party, and
though Arne blushed, and made excuses, he decided to go. He found
himself the only young man among many girls. They were not the maidens
of whom he had made songs, nor yet was he afraid of them. They were more
full of life than anything he had seen, and they could make merry over
anything. All of them laughed at Arne, as they caught at the branches,
because he was serious, so that he could not help laughing himself.
After a while they all sat on a large knoll, old Aasen in the middle,
and told stories. And then they were anxious to tell their dreams, but
this could be done only to one person, and Arne was trusted to hear the
dreams. The last of the girls to tell her dreams was called Eli, and she
was the girl he had seen in the boat.
Arne had to say which was the best dream, and as he said he wanted time
to think, they left him sitting on the knoll and trooped off with
godfather. Arne sat for some time, and the old yearnings to travel came
back, and drove him to his song, "Over the mountains high." Now, at
last, he had got the words; and taking paper out of his pocket, he wrote
the song through to the end. When he had finished he rose, and left the
paper on the knoll; and later, when he found he had forgotten it, he
went back. But the paper was gone.
One of the girls, who had returned to seek him, had found--not Arne, but
Whenever Arne mentioned his friend Kristen, and wondered why he never
heard from him, his mother left the room, and seemed unhappy for days
afterwards. He noticed, too, that she would get specially nice meals for
him at such times.
He had never been so gentle since his father's death as he was that
winter. On Sundays he would read a sermon to his mother, and go to
church with her; but she knew this was only to win her consent to his
going abroad in the spring. Upland Knut, who had always been alone, now
came to live at Kampen. Arne had become very skilful with axe and saw,
and that winter he was often busy at the parsonage as well as Kampen.
One day a messenger came from Boeen to ask him if he would go over there
for some carpentry work. He answered "Yes," without thinking about the
matter. As soon as the man had gone, his mother told him that it was
Baard Boeen who had injured his father; but Arne decided to go all the
It was a fine homestead, and Baard and Arne soon became on friendly
terms. He had many talks, too, with Eli, and at times would sing his own
songs to her, and afterwards feel ashamed.
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