ORPHEUS IN MAYFAIR
AND OTHER STORIES AND SKETCHES
BY MAURICE BARING
TO ETHEL SMYTH
Most of the stories and sketches in this book have appeared in the Morning
Post. One of them was published in the Westminster Gazette. I
have to thank the editors and proprietors concerned for their kindness in
allowing me to republish them.
ORPHEUS IN MAYFAIR
THE CRICKET MATCH AN INCIDENT AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL
THE SHADOW OF A MIDNIGHT A GHOST STORY
THE FLUTE OF CHANG LIANG
"WHAT IS TRUTH?"
THE SPIDER'S WEB
EDWARD II. AT BERKELEY CASTLE BY AN EYE-WITNESS
THE MAN WHO GAVE GOOD ADVICE
THE OLD WOMAN
DR. FAUST'S LAST DAY
THE FLUTE-PLAYER'S STORY
A CHINAMAN ON OXFORD
ORPHEUS IN MAYFAIR
Heraclius Themistocles Margaritis was a professional musician. He was a
singer and a composer of songs; he wrote poetry in Romaic, and composed
tunes to suit rhymes. But it was not thus that he earned his daily bread,
and he was poor, very poor. To earn his livelihood he gave lessons, music
lessons during the day, and in the evening lessons in Greek, ancient and
modern, to such people (and these were rare) who wished to learn these
languages. He was a young man, only twenty-four, and he had married,
before he came of age, an Italian girl called Tina. They had come to
England in order to make their fortune. They lived in apartments in the
Hereford Road, Bayswater.
They had two children, a little girl and a little boy; they were very much
in love with each other, as happy as birds, and as poor as church mice.
For Heraclius Themistocles got but few pupils, and although he had sung in
public at one or two concerts, and had not been received unfavourably, he
failed to obtain engagements to sing in private houses, which was his
ambition. He hoped by this means to become well known, and then to be able
to give recitals of his own where he would reveal to the world those tunes
in which he knew the spirit of Hellas breathed. The whole desire of his
life was to bring back and to give to the world the forgotten but undying
Song of Greece. In spite of this, the modest advertisement which was to be
found at concert agencies announcing that Mr. Heraclius Themistocles
Margaritis was willing to attend evening parties and to give an exhibition
of Greek music, ancient and modern, had as yet met with no response. After
he had been a year in England the only steps towards making a fortune were
two public performances at charity matinees, one or two pupils in
pianoforte playing, and an occasional but rare engagement for stray pupils
at a school of modern languages.
It was in the middle of the second summer after his arrival that an
incident occurred which proved to be the turning point of his career. A
London hostess was giving a party in honour of a foreign Personage. It had
been intimated that some kind of music would be expected. The hostess had
neither the means nor the desire to secure for her entertainment stars of
the first magnitude, but she gathered together some lesser lights—a
violinist, a pianist, and a singer of French drawing-room melodies. On the
morning of the day on which her concert was to be given, the hostess
received a telegram from the singer of French drawing-room melodies to say
that she had got a bad cold, and could not possibly sing that night. The
hostess was in despair, but a musical friend of hers came to the rescue,
and promised to obtain for her an excellent substitute, a man who sang
When Margaritis received the telegram from Arkwright's Agency that he was
to sing that night at A—— House, he was overjoyed, and could
scarcely believe his eyes. He at once communicated the news to Tina, and
they spent hours in discussing what songs he should sing, who the good
fairy could have been who recommended him, and in building castles in the
air with regard to the result of this engagement. He would become famous;
they would have enough money to go to Italy for a holiday; he would give
concerts; he would reveal to the modern world the music of Hellas.
About half-past four in the afternoon Margaritis went out to buy himself
some respectable evening studs from a large emporium in the neighbourhood.
When he returned, singing and whistling on the stairs for joy, he was met
by Tina, who to his astonishment was quite pale, and he saw at a glance
that something had happened.
"They've put me off!" he said. "Or it was a mistake. I knew it was too
good to be true."
"It's not that," said Tina, "it's Carlo!" Carlo was their little boy, who
was nearly four years old.
"What?" said Margaritis.
Tina dragged him into their little sitting-room. "He is ill," she said,
"very ill, and I don't know what's the matter with him."
Margaritis turned pale. "Let me see him," he said. "We must get a doctor."
"The doctor is coming: I went for him at once," she said. And then they
walked on tiptoe into the bedroom where Carlo was lying in his cot,
tossing about, and evidently in a raging fever. Half an hour later the
doctor came. Margaritis and Tina waited, silent and trembling with
anxiety, while he examined the child. At last he came from the bedroom
with a grave face. He said that the child was very seriously ill, but that
if he got through the night he would very probably recover.
"I must send a telegram," said Margaritis to Tina. "I cannot possibly go."
Tina squeezed his hand, and then with a brave smile she went back to the
Margaritis took a telegraph form out of a shabby leather portfolio, sat
down before the dining-table on which the cloth had been laid for tea (for
the sitting-room was the dining-room also), and wrote out the telegram.
And as he wrote his tears fell on the writing and smudged it. His grief
overcame him, and he buried his face in his hands and sobbed. "What the
Fates give with one hand," he thought to himself, "they take away with
another!" Then he heard himself, he knew not why, invoking the gods of
Greece, the ancient gods of Olympus, to help him. And at that moment the
whole room seemed to be filled with a strange light, and he saw the
wonderful figure of a man with a shining face and eyes that seemed
infinitely sad and at the same time infinitely luminous. The figure held a
lyre, and said to him in Greek:—
"It is well. All will be well. I will take your place at the concert!"
When the vision had vanished, the half written telegram on his table had
The party at A—— House that night was brilliant rather than
large. In one of the drawing-rooms there was a piano, in front of which
were six or seven rows of gilt chairs. The other rooms were filled with
shifting groups of beautiful women, and men wearing orders and medals.
There was a continuous buzz of conversation, except in the room where the
music was going on; and even there in the background there was a subdued
whispering. The violinist was playing some elaborate nothings, and
displaying astounding facility, but the audience did not seem to be much
interested, for when he stopped, after some faint applause, conversation
broke loose like a torrent.
"I do hope," said some one to the lady next him, "that the music will be
over soon. One gets wedged in here, one doesn't dare move, and one had to
put up with having one's conversation spoilt and interrupted."
"It's an extraordinary thing," answered the lady, "that nobody dares give
a party in London without some kind of entertainment. It is such a
At that moment the fourth and last item on the programme began, which was
called "Greek Songs by Heraclius Themistocles Margaritis."
"He certainly looks like a Greek," said the lady who had been talking; "in
fact if his hair was cut he would be quite good-looking."
"It's not my idea of a Greek," whispered her neighbour. "He is too fair. I
thought Greeks were dark."
"Hush!" said the lady, and the first song began. It was a strange thread
of sound that came upon the ears of the listeners, rather high and
piercing, and the accompaniment (Margaritis accompanied himself) was
twanging and monotonous like the sound of an Indian tom-tom. The same
phrase was repeated two or three times over, the melody seemed to consist
of only a very few notes, and to come over and over again with
extraordinary persistence. Then the music rose into a high shrill call and
"What has happened?" asked the lady. "Has he forgotten the words?"
"I think the song is over," said the man. "That's one comfort at any rate.
I hate songs which I can't understand."
But their comments were stopped by the beginning of another song. The
second song was soft and very low, and seemed to be almost entirely on one
note. It was still shorter than the first one, and ended still more
"I don't believe he's a Greek at all," said the man. "His songs are just
like the noise of bagpipes."
"I daresay he's a Scotch," said the lady. "Scotchmen are very clever. But
I must say his songs are short."
An indignant "Hush!" from a musician with long hair who was sitting not
far off heralded the beginning of the third song. It began on a high note,
clear and loud, so that the audience was startled, and for a moment or two
there was not a whisper to be heard in the drawing-room. Then it died away
in a piteous wail like the scream of a sea-bird, and the high insistent
note came back once more, and this process seemed to be repeated several
times till the sad scream prevailed, and stopped suddenly. A little
desultory clapping was heard, but it was instantly suppressed when the
audience became aware that the song was not over.
"He's going on again," whispered the man. A low, long note was heard like
the drone of a bee, which went on, sometimes rising and sometimes getting
lower, like a strange throbbing sob; and then once more it ceased. The
audience hesitated a moment, being not quite certain whether the music was
really finished or not. Then when they saw Margaritis rise from the piano,
some meagre well-bred applause was heard, and an immense sigh of relief.
The people streamed into the other rooms, and the conversation became loud
The lady who had talked went quickly into the next room to find out what
was the right thing to say about the music, and if possible to get the
opinion of a musician.
Sir Anthony Holdsworth, who had translated Pindar, was talking to Ralph
Enderby, who had written a book on "Modern Greek Folk Lore."
"It hurts me," said Sir Anthony, "to hear ancient Greek pronounced like
that. It is impossible to distinguish the words; besides which its wrong
to pronounce ancient Greek like modern Greek. Did you understand it?"
"No," said Ralph Enderby, "I did not. If it is modern Greek it was
certainly wrongly pronounced. I think the man must be singing some kind of
Asiatic dialect—unless he's a fraud."
Hard by there was another group discussing the music: Blythe, the musical
critic, and Lawson, who had the reputation of being a great connoisseur.
"He's distinctly clever," Blythe was saying; "the songs are amusing
'pastiches' of Eastern folk song."
"Yes, I think he's clever," said Lawson, "but there's nothing original in
it, and besides, as I expect you noticed, two of the songs were gross
plagiarisms of De Bussy."
"Clever, but not original," said the lady to herself. "That's it." And two
hostesses who had overheard this conversation made up their minds to get
Margaritis for their parties, for they scented the fact that he would
ultimately be talked about. But most of the people did not discuss the
music at all.
As soon as the music had stopped, James Reddaway, who was a Member of
Parliament, left the house and went home. He was engrossed in politics,
and had little time at his disposal for anything else. As soon as he got
home he went up to his wife's bedroom; she had not been able to go to the
party owing to a sudden attack of neuralgia. She asked him to tell her all
"Well," he said, "there were the usual people there, and there was some
music: some violin and piano playing, to which I didn't listen. After that
a man sang some Greek songs, and a curious thing happened to me. When it
began I felt my head swimming, and then I entirely lost account of my
surroundings. I forgot the party, the drawing-room and the people, and I
seemed to be sitting on the rocks of a cliff near a small bay; in front of
me was the sea: it was a kind of blue green, but far more blue or at least
of quite a different kind of blue than any I have seen. It was
transparent, and the sky above it was like a turquoise. Behind me the
cliff merged into a hill which was covered with red and white flowers, as
bright as a Persian carpet. On the beach in front, a tall man was
standing, wading in the water, little bright waves sparkling round his
feet. He was tall and dark, and he was spearing a lot of little silver
fish which were lying on the sand with a small wooden trident; and
somewhere behind me a voice was singing. I could not see where it came
from, but it was wonderfully soft and delicious, and a lot of wild bees
came swarming over the flowers, and a green lizard came right up close to
me, and the air was burning hot, and there was a smell of thyme and mint
in it. And then the song stopped, and I came to myself, and I was back
again in the drawing-room. Then when the man began to sing again, I again
lost consciousness, and I seemed to be in a dark orchard on a breathless
summer night. And somewhere near me there was a low white house with an
opening which might have been a window, shrouded by creepers and growing
things. And in it there was a faint light. And from the house came the
sound of a sad love-song; and although I had never heard the song before I
understood it, and it was about the moon and the Pleiads having set, and
the hour passing, and the voice sang, 'But I sleep alone!' And this was
repeated over and over again, and it was the saddest and most beautiful
thing I had ever heard. And again it stopped, and I was back again in the
drawing-room. Then when the singer began his third song I felt cold all
over, and at the same time half suffocated, as people say they feel when
they are nearly drowning. I realised that I was in a huge, dark, empty
space, and round me and far off in front of me were vague shadowy forms;
and in the distance there was something which looked like two tall
thrones, pillared and dim. And on one of the thrones there was the dark
form of a man, and on the other a woman like a queen, pale as marble, and
unreal as a ghost, with great grey eyes that shone like moons. In front of
them was another form, and he was singing a song, and the song was so sad
and so beautiful that tears rolled down the shadowy cheeks of the ghosts
in front of me. And all at once the singer gave a great cry of joy, and
something white and blinding flashed past me and disappeared, and he with
it. But I remained in the same place with the dark ghosts far off in front
of me. And I seemed to be there an eternity till I heard a cry of
desperate pain and anguish, and the white form flashed past me once more,
and vanished, and with it the whole thing, and I was back again in the
drawing-room, and I felt faint and giddy, and could not stay there any
THE CRICKET MATCH AN INCIDENT AT A PRIVATE SCHOOL
To Winston Churchill
It was a Saturday afternoon in June. St. James's School was playing a
cricket match against Chippenfield's. The whole school, which consisted of
forty boys, with the exception of the eleven who were playing in the
match, were gathered together near the pavilion on the steep, grassy bank
which faced the cricket ground. It was a swelteringly hot day. One of the
masters was scoring in the pavilion; two of the boys sat under the post
and board where the score was recorded in big white figures painted on the
black squares. Most of the boys were sitting on the grass in front of the
St. James's won the toss and went in first. After scoring 5 for the first
wicket they collapsed; in an hour and five minutes their last wicket fell.
They had only made 27 runs. Fortune was against St. James's that day.
Hitchens, their captain, in whom the school confidently trusted, was
caught out in his first over. And Wormald and Bell minor, their two best
men, both failed to score.
Then Chippenfield's went in. St. James's fast bowlers, Blundell and
Anderson minor, seemed unable to do anything against the Chippenfield's
batsmen. The first wicket went down at 70.
The boys who were looking on grew listless: three of them, Gordon, Smith,
and Hart minor, wandered off from the pavilion further up the slope of the
hill, where there was a kind of wooden scaffolding raised for letting off
fireworks on the 5th of November. The headmaster, who was a fanatical
Conservative, used to burn on that anniversary effigies of Liberal
politicians such as Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Chamberlain, who was at that
time a Radical; while the boys whose politics were Conservative, and who
formed the vast majority, cheered, and kicked the Liberals, of whom there
were only eight.
Smith, Gordon, and Hart minor, three little boys aged about eleven, were
in the third division of the school. They were not in the eleven, nor had
they any hopes of ever attaining that glory, which conferred the privilege
of wearing white flannel instead of grey flannel trousers, and a white
flannel cap with a red Maltese cross on it. To tell the truth, the
spectacle of this seemingly endless game, in which they did not have even
the satisfaction of seeing their own side victorious, began to weigh on
They climbed up on to the wooden scaffolding and organised a game of their
own, an utterly childish game, which consisted of one boy throwing some
dried horse chestnuts from the top of the scaffolding into the mouth of
the boy at the bottom. They soon became engrossed in their occupation, and
were thoroughly enjoying themselves, when one of the masters, Mr.
Whitehead by name, came towards them with a face like thunder, biting his
knuckles, a thing which he did when he was very angry.
"Go indoors at once," he said. "Go up to the third division school-room
and do two hours' work. You can copy out the Greek irregular verbs."
The boys, taken completely by surprise, but accepting this decree as they
accepted everything else, because it never occurred to them it could be
otherwise, trotted off, not very disconsolate, to the school-room. It was
very hot out of doors; it was cool in the third division school-room.
They got out their steel pens, their double-lined copy books, and began
mechanically copying out the Greek irregular verbs, with which they were
so superficially familiar, and from which they were so fundamentally
"Whitey," said Gordon, "was in an awful wax!"
"I don't care," said Smith. "I'd just as soon sit here as look on at that
"But why," said Hart, "have we got to do two hours' work?"
"Oh," said Gordon, "he's just in a wax, that's all."
And the matter was not further discussed. At six o'clock the boys had tea.
The cricket match had, of course, resulted in a crushing and overwhelming
defeat for St. James's. The rival eleven had been asked to tea; there were
cherries for tea in their honour.
When Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor entered the dining-room they at once
perceived that an atmosphere of gloom and menacing storm was overhanging
the school. Their spirits had hitherto been unflagging; they sat next to
each other at the tea-table, but no sooner had they sat down than they
were seized by that terrible, uncomfortable feeling so familiar to
schoolboys, that something unpleasant was impending, some crime, some
accusation; some doom, the nature of which they could not guess, was lying
in ambush. This was written on the headmaster's face. The headmaster sat
at a square table in the centre of the dining-room. The boys sat round on
the further side of three tables which formed the three sides of the
The meal passed in gloomy silence. Gordon, Smith and Hart began a fitful
conversation, but a message was immediately passed up to them from Mr.
Whitehead, who sat at the bottom of one of the tables, to stop talking. At
the end of tea the guests filed out of the room.
The headmaster stood up and rapped on his table with a knife.
"The whole school," he said, "will come to the library in ten minutes'
The boys left the dining-room. They began to whisper to one another with
bated breath. "What's the matter?" And the boys of the second division
shook their heads ominously, and pointing to Gordon, Smith, and Hart,
said: "You're in for it this time!" The boys of the first division were
too important to take any notice of the rest of the school, and retired to
the first division school-room in dignified silence.
Ten minutes later the whole school was assembled in the library, from
which one flight of stairs led to the upper storeys. The staircase was
shrouded from view by a dark curtain hanging from a Gothic arch; it was
through this curtain that the headmaster used dramatically to appear on
important occasions, and it was up this staircase that boys guilty of
cardinal offences were led off to corporal punishment.
The boys waited in breathless silence. Acute suspense was felt by the
whole school, but by none so keenly as by Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor.
These three little boys felt perfectly sick with fear of the unknown and
the terror of having in some unknown way made themselves responsible for
the calamity which would perhaps vitally affect the whole school.
Presently a rustle was heard, and the headmaster swept down the staircase
and through the curtain, robed in the black silk gown of an LL.D. He stood
at a high desk which was placed opposite the staircase in front of the
boys, who sat, in the order of their divisions, on rows of chairs. The
three assistant masters walked in from a side door, also in their gowns,
and took seats to the right and left of the headmaster's desk. There was a
The headmaster began to speak in grave and icily cold tones; his face was
contracted by a permanent frown.
"I had thought," he said, "that there were in this school some boys who
had a notion of gentlemanly behaviour, manly conduct, and common decency.
I see that I was mistaken. The behaviour of certain of you to-day—I
will not mention them because of their exceeding shame, but you will all
know whom I mean. . . ." At this moment all the boys turned round and
looked hard at Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor, who blushed scarlet, and
whose eyes filled with tears. . . . "The less said about the matter the
better," continued the headmaster, "but I confess that it is difficult for
me to understand how any one, however young, can be so hardened and so
wanton as to behave in the callous and indecent way in which certain of
you—I need not mention who—have behaved to-day. You have
disgraced the school in the eyes of strangers; you have violated the laws
of hospitality and courtesy; you have shown that in St. James's there is
not a gleam of patriotism, not a spark of interest in the school, not a
touch of that ordinary common English manliness, that sense for the
interests of the school and the community which makes Englishmen what they
are. The boys who have been most guilty in this matter have already been
punished, and I do not propose to punish them further; but I had intended
to take the whole school for an expedition to the New Forest next week.
That expedition will be put off: in fact it will never take place. Only
the eleven shall go, and I trust that another time the miserable idlers
and loafers who have brought this shame, this disgrace on the school, who
have no self-respect and no self-control, who do not know how to behave
like gentlemen, who are idle, vulgar and depraved, will learn by this
lesson to mend their ways and to behave better in the future. But I am
sorry to say that it is not only the chief offenders, who, as I have
already said, have been punished, who are guilty in the matter. Many of
the other boys, although they did not descend to the depths of vulgar
behaviour reached by the culprits I have mentioned, showed a considerable
lack of patriotism by their apathy and their lack of attention while the
cricket match was proceeding this afternoon. I can only hope this may be a
lesson to you all; but while I trust the chief offenders will feel
specially uncomfortable, I wish to impress upon you that you are all, with
the exception of the eleven, in a sense guilty."
With these words the headmaster swept out of the room.
The boys dispersed in whispering groups. Gordon, Smith, and Hart minor,
when they attempted to speak, were met with stony silence; they were
boycotted and cut by the remaining boys.
Gordon and Smith slept in two adjoining cubicles, and in a third adjoining
cubicle was an upper division boy called Worthing. That night, after they
had gone to bed, Gordon asked Worthing whether, among all the guilty, one
just man had not been found.
"Surely," he said, "Campbell minor, who put up the score during the
cricket match, was attentive right through the game, and wouldn't he be
allowed to go to the New Forest with the eleven?"
"No," said Worthing, "he whistled twice."
"Oh!" said Gordon, "I didn't know that. Of course, he can't go!"
THE SHADOW OF A MIDNIGHT A GHOST STORY
It was nine o'clock in the evening. Sasha, the maid, had brought in the
samovar and placed it at the head of the long table. Marie Nikolaevna, our
hostess, poured out the tea. Her husband was playing Vindt with his
daughter, the doctor, and his son-in-law in another corner of the room.
And Jameson, who had just finished his Russian lesson—he was working
for the Civil Service examination—was reading the last number of the
"Have you found anything interesting, Frantz Frantzovitch?" said Marie
Nikolaevna to Jameson, as she handed him a glass of tea.
"Yes, I have," answered the Englishman, looking up. His eyes had a clear
dreaminess about them, which generally belongs only to fanatics or
visionaries, and I had no reason to believe that Jameson, who seemed to be
common sense personified, was either one or the other. "At least," he
continued, "it interests me. And it's odd—very odd."
"What is it?" asked Marie Nikolaevna.
"Well, to tell you what it is would mean a long story which you wouldn't
believe," said Jameson; "only it's odd—very odd."
"Tell us the story," I said.
"As you won't believe a word of it," Jameson repeated, "it's not much use
my telling it."
We insisted on hearing the story, so Jameson lit a cigarette, and began:—
"Two years ago," he said, "I was at Heidelberg, at the University, and I
made friends with a young fellow called Braun. His parents were German,
but he had lived five or six years in America, and he was practically an
American. I made his acquaintance by chance at a lecture, when I first
arrived, and he helped me in a number of ways. He was an energetic and
kind-hearted fellow, and we became great friends. He was a student, but he
did not belong to any Korps or Bursenschaft, he was working
hard then. Afterwards he became an engineer. When the summer Semester
came to an end, we both stayed on at Heidelberg. One day Braun suggested
that we should go for a walking tour and explore the country. I was only
too pleased, and we started. It was glorious weather, and we enjoyed
ourselves hugely. On the third night after we had started we arrived at a
village called Salzheim. It was a picturesque little place, and there was
a curious old church in it with some interesting tombs and relics of the
Thirty Years War. But the inn where we put up for the night was even more
picturesque than the church. It had been a convent for nuns, only the
greater part of it had been burnt, and only a quaint gabled house, and a
kind of tower covered with ivy, which I suppose had once been the belfry,
remained. We had an excellent supper and went to bed early. We had been
given two bedrooms, which were airy and clean, and altogether we were
satisfied. My bedroom opened into Braun's, which was beyond it, and had no
other door of its own. It was a hot night in July, and Braun asked me to
leave the door open. I did—we opened both the windows. Braun went to
bed and fell asleep almost directly, for very soon I heard his snores.
"I had imagined that I was longing for sleep, but no sooner had I got into
bed than all my sleepiness left me. This was odd, because we had walked a
good many miles, and it had been a blazing hot day, and up till then I had
slept like a log the moment I got into bed. I lit a candle and began
reading a small volume of Heine I carried with me. I heard the clock
strike ten, and then eleven, and still I felt that sleep was out of the
question. I said to myself: 'I will read till twelve and then I will
stop.' My watch was on a chair by my bedside, and when the clock struck
eleven I noticed that it was five minutes slow, and set it right. I could
see the church tower from my window, and every time the clock struck—and
it struck the quarters—the noise boomed through the room.
"When the clock struck a quarter to twelve I yawned for the first time,
and I felt thankful that sleep seemed at last to be coming to me. I left
off reading, and taking my watch in my hand I waited for midnight to
strike. This quarter of an hour seemed an eternity. At last the hands of
my watch showed that it was one minute to twelve. I put out my candle and
began counting sixty, waiting for the clock to strike. I had counted a
hundred and sixty, and still the clock had not struck. I counted up to
four hundred; then I thought I must have made a mistake. I lit my candle
again, and looked at my watch: it was two minutes past twelve. And still
the clock had not struck!
"A curious uncomfortable feeling came over me, and I sat up in bed with my
watch in my hand and longed to call Braun, who was peacefully snoring, but
I did not like to. I sat like this till a quarter past twelve; the clock
struck the quarter as usual. I made up my mind that the clock must have
struck twelve, and that I must have slept for a minute—at the same
time I knew I had not slept—and I put out my candle. I must have
fallen asleep almost directly.
"The next thing I remember was waking with a start. It seemed to me that
some one had shut the door between my room and Braun's. I felt for the
matches. The match-box was empty. Up to that moment—I cannot tell
why—something—an unaccountable dread—had prevented me
looking at the door. I made an effort and looked. It was shut, and through
the cracks and through the keyhole I saw the glimmer of a light. Braun had
lit his candle. I called him, not very loudly: there was no answer. I
called again more loudly: there was still no answer.
"Then I got out of bed and walked to the door. As I went, it was gently
and slightly opened, just enough to show me a thin streak of light. At
that moment I felt that some one was looking at me. Then it was instantly
shut once more, as softly as it had been opened. There was not a sound to
be heard. I walked on tiptoe towards the door, but it seemed to me that I
had taken a hundred years to cross the room. And when at last I reached
the door I felt I could not open it. I was simply paralysed with fear. And
still I saw the glimmer through the key-hole and the cracks.
"Suddenly, as I was standing transfixed with fright in front of the door,
I heard sounds coming from Braun's room, a shuffle of footsteps, and
voices talking low but distinctly in a language I could not understand. It
was not Italian, Spanish, nor French. The voices grew all at once louder;
I heard the noise of a struggle and a cry which ended in a stifled groan,
very painful and horrible to hear. Then, whether I regained my
self-control, or whether it was excess of fright which prompted me, I
don't know, but I flew to the door and tried to open it. Some one or
something was pressing with all its might against it. Then I screamed at
the top of my voice, and as I screamed I heard the cock crow.
"The door gave, and I almost fell into Braun's room. It was quite dark.
But Braun was waked by my screams and quietly lit a match. He asked me
gently what on earth was the matter. The room was empty and everything was
in its place. Outside the first greyness of dawn was in the sky.
"I said I had had a nightmare, and asked him if he had not had one as
well; but Braun said he had never slept better in his life.
"The next day we went on with our walking tour, and when we got back to
Heidelberg Braun sailed for America. I never saw him again, although we
corresponded frequently, and only last week I had a letter from him, dated
Nijni Novgorod, saying he would be at Moscow before the end of the month.
"And now I suppose you are all wondering what this can have to do with
anything that's in the newspaper. Well, listen," and he read out the
following paragraph from the Rouskoe Slovo:—
"Samara, II, ix. In the centre of the town, in the Hotel —,
a band of armed swindlers attacked a German engineer
named Braun and demanded money. On his refusal one of the
robbers stabbed Braun with a knife. The robbers, taking the
money which was on him, amounting to 500 roubles, got away.
Braun called for assistance, but died of his wounds in the
night. It appears that he had met the swindlers at a
"Since I have been in Russia," Jameson added, "I have often thought that I
knew what language it was that was talked behind the door that night in
the inn at Salzheim, but now I know it was Russian."
Jean Francois was a vagabond by nature, a balladmonger by profession. Like
many poets in many times, he found that the business of writing verse was
more amusing than lucrative; and he was constrained to supplement the
earnings of his pen and his guitar by other and more profitable work. He
had run away from what had been his home at the age of seven (he was a
foundling, and his adopted father was a shoe-maker), without having learnt
a trade. When the necessity arose he decided to supplement the art of
balladmongering by that of stealing. He was skilful in both arts: he wrote
verse, sang ballads, picked pockets (in the city), and stole horses (in
the country) with equal facility and success. Some of his verse has
reached posterity, for instance the "Ballads du Paradis Peint," which he
wrote on white vellum, and illustrated himself with illuminations in red,
blue and gold, for the Dauphin. It ends thus in the English version of a
Prince, do not let your nose, your Royal nose,
Your large Imperial nose get out of joint;
Forbear to criticise my perfect prose—
Painting on vellum is my weakest point.
Again, the ballade of which the "Envoi" runs:—
Prince, when you light your pipe with radium spills,
Especially invented for the King—
Remember this, the worst of human ills:
Life without matches is a dismal thing,
is, in reality, only a feeble adaptation of his "Priez pour feu le vrai
tresor de vie."
But although Jean Francois was not unknown during his lifetime, and
although, as his verse testifies, he knew his name would live among those
of the enduring poets after his death, his life was one of rough hardship,
brief pleasures, long anxieties, and constant uncertainty. Sometimes for a
few days at a time he would live in riotous luxury, but these rare epochs
would immediately be succeeded by periods of want bordering on starvation.
Besides which he was nearly always in peril of his life; the shadow of the
gallows darkened his merriment, and the thought of the wheel made bitter
his joy. Yet in spite of this hazardous and harassing life, in spite of
the sharp and sudden transitions in his career, in spite of the menace of
doom, the hint of the wheel and the gallows, his fund of joy remained
undiminished, and this we see in his verse, which reflects with equal
vividness his alternate moods of infinite enjoyment and unmitigated
despair. For instance, the only two triolets which have survived from his
"Trente deux Triolets joyeux and tristes" are an example of his twofold
temperament. They run thus in the literal and exact translations of them
made by an eminent official:—
I wish I was dead,
And lay deep in the grave.
I've a pain in my head,
I wish I was dead.
In a coffin of lead—
With the Wise and the Brave—
I wish I was dead,
And lay deep in the grave.
This passionate utterance immediately preceded, in the original text, the
following verses in which his buoyant spirits rise once more to the
Thank God I'm alive
In the light of the Sun!
It's a quarter to five;
Thank God I'm alive!
Now the hum of the hive
Of the world has begun,
Thank God I'm alive
In the light of the Sun!
A more plaintive, in fact a positively wistful note, which is almost
incongruous amongst the definite and sharply defined moods of Jean
Francois, is struck in the sonnet of which only the first line has reached
us: "I wish I had a hundred thousand pounds." ("Voulentiers serais pauvre
avec dix mille escus.") But in nearly all his verse, whether joyous as in
the "Chant de vin et vie," or gloomy as in the "Ballade des Treize
Pendus," there is a curious recurrent aspiration towards a warm fire, a
sure and plentiful supper, a clean bed, and a long, long sleep. Whether
Jean Francois moped or made merry, and in spite of the fact that he
enjoyed his roving career and would not have exchanged it for the throne
of an Emperor or the money-bags of Croesus, there is no doubt that he
experienced the burden of an immense fatigue. He was never quite warm
enough; always a little hungry; and never got as much sleep as he desired.
A place where he could sleep his fill represented the highest joys of
Heaven to him; and he looked forward to Death as a traveller looks forward
to a warm inn where (its terrible threshold once passed), a man can sleep
the clock round. Witness the sonnet which ends (the translation is mine):—
For thou has never turned
A stranger from thy gates or hast denied,
O hospitable Death, a place to rest.
And it is of his death and not of his life or works which I wish to tell,
for it was singular. He died on Christmas Eve, 1432. The winter that year
in the north of France was, as is well known, terrible for its severe
cold. The rich stayed at home, the poor died, and the unfortunate third
estate of gipsies, balladmongers, tinkers, tumblers, and thieves had no
chance of displaying their dexterity. In fact, they starved. Ever since
the 1st of December Jean Francois had been unable to make a silver penny
either by his song or his sleight of hand. Christmas was drawing near, and
he was starving; and this was especially bitter to him, as it was his
custom (for he was not only a lover of good cheer, but a good Catholic and
a strict observer of fasts and feasts) to keep the great day of
Christendom fittingly. This year he had nothing to keep it with. Luck
seemed to be against him; for three days before Christmas he met in a dark
side street of the town the rich and stingy Sieur de Ranquet. He picked
the pocket of that nobleman, but owing to the extreme cold his fingers
faltered, and he was discovered. He ran like a hare and managed easily
enough to outstrip the miser, and to conceal himself in a den where he was
well known. But unfortunately the matter did not end there. The Sieur de
Ranquet was influential at Court; he was implacable as well as avaricious,
and his disposition positively forbade him to forgive any one who had
nearly picked his pocket. Besides which he knew that Jean had often stolen
his horses. He made a formal complaint at high quarters, and a warrant was
issued against Jean, offering a large sum in silver coin to the man who
should bring him, alive or dead, to justice.
Now the police were keenly anxious to make an end of Jean. They knew he
was guilty of a hundred thefts, but such was his skill that they had never
been able to convict him; he had often been put in prison, but he had
always been released for want of evidence. This time no mistake was
possible. So Jean, aware of the danger, fled from the city and sought a
gipsy encampment in a neighbouring forest, where he had friends. These
gipsy friends of his were robbers, outlaws, murderers and horse-stealers
all of them, and hardened criminals; they called themselves gipsies, but
it was merely a courtesy title.
On Christmas Eve—it was snowing hard—Jean was walking through
the forest towards the town, ready for a desperate venture, for in the
camp they were starving, and he was sick almost to death of his hunted,
miserable life. As he plunged through the snow he heard a moan, and he saw
a child sitting at the roots of a tall tree crying. He asked what was the
matter. The child—it was a little boy about five years old—said
that it had run away from home because its nurse had beaten it, and had
lost its way.
"Where do you live?" asked Jean.
"My father is the Sieur de Ranquet," said the child.
At that moment Jean heard the shouts of his companions in the distance.
"I want to go home," said the little boy quietly. "You must take me home,"
and he put his hand into Jean's hand and looked up at him and smiled.
Jean thought for a moment. The boy was richly dressed; he had a large ruby
cross hanging from a golden collar worth many hundred gold pieces. Jean
knew well what would happen if his gipsy companions came across the child.
They would kill it instantly.
"All right," said Jean, "climb on my back."
The little boy climbed on to his back, and Jean trudged through the snow.
In an hour's time they reached the Sieur de Ranquet's castle; the place
was alive with bustling men and flaring torches, for the Sieur's heir had
The Sieur looked at Jean and recognised him immediately. Jean was a public
character, and especially well known to the Sieur de Ranquet. A few words
were whispered. The child was sent to bed, and the archers civilly lead
Jean to his dungeon. Jean was tired and sleepy. He fell asleep at once on
the straw. They told him he would have to get up early the next morning,
in time for a long, cold journey. The gallows, they added, would be ready.
But in the night Jean dreamed a dream: he saw a child in glittering
clothes and with a shining face who came into the dungeon and broke the
The child said: "I am little St. Nicholas, the children's friend, and I
think you are tired, so I'm going to take you to a quiet place."
Jean followed the child, who led him by the hand till they came to a nice
inn, very high up on the top of huge mountains. There was a blazing log
fire in the room, a clean warm bed, and the windows opened on a range of
snowy mountains, bright as diamonds. And the stars twinkled in the sky
like the candles of a Christmas tree.
"You can go to bed here," said St. Nicholas, "nobody will disturb you, and
when you do wake you will be quite happy and rested. Good-night, Jean."
And he went away.
The next day in the dawn, when the archers came to fetch Jean, they found
he was fast asleep. They thought it was almost a pity to wake him, because
he looked so happy and contented in his sleep; but when they tried they
found it was impossible.
THE FLUTE OF CHANG LIANG
To P. Kershaw
The village was called Moe-tung. It was on the edge of the big main road
which leads from Liao-yang to Ta-shi-chiao. It consisted of a few baked
mud-houses, a dilapidated temple, a wall, a clump of willows, and a pond.
One of the houses I knew well; in its square open yard, in which the rude
furniture of toil lay strewn about, I had halted more than once for my
midday meal, when riding from Liao-yang to the South. I had been
entertained there by the owner of the house, a brawny husbandman and his
fat brown children, and they had given me eggs and Indian corn. Now it was
empty; the house was deserted; the owner, his wife and his children, had
all gone, to the city probably, to seek shelter. We occupied the house;
and the Cossacks at once made a fire with the front door and any fragments
of wood they could find. The house was converted into a stable and a
kitchen, and the officers' quarters were established in another smaller
building across the road, on the edge of a great plain, which was bright
green with the standing giant millet.
This smaller cottage had an uncultivated garden in front of it, and a kind
of natural summer-house made by the twining of a pumpkin plant which
spread its broad leaves over some stakes. We lay down to rest in this
garden. About five miles to the north of us was the town of Liao-yang; to
the east in the distance was a range of pale blue hills, and immediately
in front of us to the south, and scarcely a mile off, was the big hill of
Sho-shantze. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, and we had been on the
move since two o'clock in the morning. The Cossacks brought us tea and
pancakes, and presently news came from the town that the big battle would
be fought the next day: the big battle; the real battle, which had been
expected for so long and which had been constantly put off. There was a
complete stillness everywhere. The officers unpacked their valises and
their camp-beds. Every one arranged his bed and his goods in his chosen
place, and it seemed as if we had merely begun once more to settle down
for a further period of siesta in the long picnic which had been going on
for the last two months. Nobody was convinced in spite of the authentic
news which we had received, that the Japanese would attack the next day.
The sunset faded into a twilight of delicious summer calm.
From the hills in the east came the noise of a few shots fired by the
batteries there, and a captive balloon soared slowly, like a soap-bubble,
into the eastern sky. I walked into the village; here and there fires were
burning, and I was attracted by the sight of the deserted temple in which
the wooden painted gods were grinning, bereft of their priest and of their
accustomed dues. I sat down on the mossy steps of the little wooden
temple, and somewhere, either from one of the knolls hard by or from one
of the houses, came the sound of a flute, or rather of some primitive
wooden pipe, which repeated over and over again a monotonous and
piercingly sad little tune. I wondered whether it was one of the soldiers
playing, but I decided this could not be the case, as the tune was more
eastern than any Russian tune. On the other hand, it seemed strange that
any Chinaman should be about. The tune continued to break the perfect
stillness with its iterated sadness, and a vague recollection came into my
mind of a Chinese legend or poem I had read long ago in London, about a
flute-player called Chang Liang. But I could not bring my memory to work;
its tired wheels all seemed to be buzzing feebly in different directions,
and my thoughts came like thistledown and seemed to elude all efforts of
concentration. And so I capitulated utterly to my drowsiness, and fell
asleep as I sat on the steps of the temple.
I thought I had been sleeping for a long time and had woken before the
dawn: the earth was misty, although the moon was shining; and I was no
longer in the temple, but back once more at the edge of the plain. "They
must have fetched me back while I slept," I thought to myself. But when I
looked round I saw no trace of the officers, nor of the Cossacks, nor of
the small house and the garden, and, stranger still, the millet had been
reaped and the plain was covered with low stubble, and on it were pitched
some curiously-shaped tents, which I saw were guarded by soldiers. But
these soldiers were Chinamen, and yet unlike any Chinamen I had ever seen;
for some of them carried halberds, the double-armed halberds of the period
of Charles I., and others, halberds with a crescent on one side, like
those which were used in the days of Henry VII. And I then noticed that a
whole multitude of soldiers were lying asleep on the ground, armed with
two-edged swords and bows and arrows. And their clothes seemed unfamiliar
and brighter than the clothes which Chinese soldiers wear nowadays.
As I wondered what all this meant, a note of music came stealing through
the night, and at first it seemed to be the same tune as I heard in the
temple before I dropped off to sleep; but presently I was sure that this
was a mistake, for the sound was richer and more mellow, and like that of
a bell, only of an enchanted bell, such as that which is fabled to sound
beneath the ocean. And the music seemed to rise and fall, to grow clear
and full, and just as it was floating nearer and nearer, it died away in a
sigh: but as it did so the distant hills seemed to catch it and to send it
back in the company of a thousand echoes, till the whole night was filled
and trembling with an unearthly chorus. The sleeping soldiers gradually
stirred and sat listening spellbound to the music. And in the eyes of the
sentries, who were standing as motionless as bronze statues in front of
the tents, I could see the tears glistening. And the whole of the sleeping
army awoke from its slumber and listened to the strange sound. From the
tents came men in glittering silks (the Generals, I supposed) and listened
also. The soldiers looked at each other and said no word. And then all at
once, as though obeying some silent word of command given by some unseen
captain, one by one they walked away over the plain, leaving their tents
behind them. They all marched off into the east, as if they were following
the music into the heart of the hills, and soon, of all that great army
which had been gathered together on the plain, not one man was left. Then
the music changed and seemed to grow different and more familiar, and with
a start I became aware that I had been asleep and dreaming, and that I was
sitting on the temple steps once more in the twilight, and that not far
off, round a fire, some soldiers were singing. It was a dream, and my
sleep could not have been a long one, for it was still twilight and the
darkness had not yet come.
Fully awake now, I remembered clearly the old legend which had haunted me,
and had taken shape in my dream. It was that of an army which on the night
before the battle had heard the flute of Chang Liang. By his playing he
had brought before the rude soldiers the far-off scenes of their
childhood, which they had not looked upon for years—the sights and
sounds of their homes, the faces and the spots which were familiar to them
and dear. And they, as they heard this music, and felt these memories well
up in their hearts, were seized with a longing and a desire for home so
potent and so imperative that one by one they left the battlefield in
silence, and when the enemy came at the dawn, they found the plain
deserted and empty, for in one minute the flute of Chang Liang had stolen
the hearts of eight thousand men.
And I felt certain that I had heard the flute of Chang Liang this night
and that the soldiers had heard it too; for now round a fire a group of
them were listening to the song of one of their comrades, a man from the
south, who was singing of the quiet waters of the Don, and of a Cossack
who had come back to his native land after many days and found his true
love wedded to another. I felt it was the flute of Chang Liang which had
prompted the southerner to sing, and without doubt the men saw before them
the great moon shining over the broad village street in the dark July and
August nights, and heard the noise of dancing and song and the cheerful
rhythmic accompaniment of the concertina. Or (if they came from the south)
they saw the smiling thatched farms, whitewashed, or painted in light
green distemper, with vines growing on their walls; or again, they felt
the smell of the beanfields in June, and saw in their minds' eye the
panorama of the melting snows, when at a fairy touch the long winter is
defeated, the meadows are flooded, and the trees seem to float about in
the shining water like shapes invoked by a wizard. They saw these things
and yearned towards them with all their hearts, here in this uncouth
country where they were to fight a strange people for some unaccountable
reason. But Chang Liang had played his flute to them in vain. It was in
vain that he had tried to lure them back to their homes, and in vain that
he had melted their hearts with the memories of their childhood. For the
battle began at dawn the next morning, and when the enemy attacked they
found an army there to meet them; and the battle lasted for two days on
this very spot; and many of the men to whom Chang Liang had brought back
through his flute the sights and the sounds of their childhood, were fated
never to hear again those familiar sounds, nor to see the land and the
faces which they loved.
"WHAT IS TRUTH?"
To E. I. Huber
Sitting opposite me in the second-class carriage of the express train
which was crawling at a leisurely pace from Moscow to the south was a
little girl who looked as if she were about twelve years old, with her
mother. The mother was a large fair-haired person, with a good-natured
expression. They had a dog with them, and the little girl, whose whole
face twitched every now and then from St. Vitus' dance, got out at nearly
every station to buy food for the dog. On the same side of the carriage,
in the opposite corner, another lady (thin, fair, and wearing a pince-nez)
was reading the newspaper. She and the mother of the child soon made
friends over the dog. That is to say, the dog made friends with the
strange lady and was reproved by its mistress, and the strange lady said:
"Please don't scold him. He is not in the least in my way, and I like
dogs." They then began to talk.
The large lady was going to the country. She and her daughter had been
ordered to go there by the doctor. She had spent six weeks in Moscow under
medical treatment, and they had now been told to finish this cure with a
thorough rest in the country air. The thin lady asked her the name of her
doctor, and before ascertaining what was the disease in question,
recommended another doctor who had cured a friend of hers, almost as
though by miracle, of heart disease. The large lady seemed interested and
wrote down the direction of the marvellous physician. She was herself
suffering, she said, from a nervous illness, and her daughter had St.
Vitus' dance. They were so far quite satisfied with their doctor. They
talked for some time exclusively about medical matters, comparing notes
about doctors, diseases, and remedies. The thin lady said she had been
cured of all her ills by aspirin and cinnamon.
In the course of the conversation the stout lady mentioned her husband,
who, it turned out, was the head of the gendarmerie in a town in Siberia,
not far from Irkutsk. This seemed to interest the thin lady immensely. She
at once asked what were his political views, and what she herself thought
The large lady seemed to be reluctant to talk politics and evaded the
questions for some time, but after much desultory conversation, which
always came back to the same point, she said:—
"My husband is a Conservative; they call him a 'Black Hundred,' but it's
most unfair and untrue, because he is a very good man and very just. He
has his own opinions and he is sincere. He does not believe in the
revolution or in the revolutionaries. He took the oath to serve the
Emperor when everything went quietly and well, and now, although I have
often begged him to leave the Service, he says it would be very wrong to
leave just because it is dangerous. 'I have taken the oath,' he says, 'and
I must keep it.'"
Here she stopped, but after some further questions on the part of the thin
lady, she said: "I never had time or leisure to think of these questions.
I was married when I was sixteen. I have had eight children, and they all
died one after the other except this one, who was the eldest. I used to
see political exiles and prisoners, and I used to feel sympathy for them.
I used to hear about people being sent here and there, and sometimes I
used to go down on my knees to my husband to do what he could for them,
but I never thought about there being any particular idea at the back of
all this." Then after a short pause she added: "It first dawned on me at
Moscow. It was after the big strike, and I was on my way home. I had been
staying with some friends in the country, and I happened by chance to see
the funeral of that man Bauman, the doctor, who was killed. I was very
much impressed when I saw that huge procession go past, all the men
singing the funeral march, and I understood that Bauman himself had
nothing to do with it. Who cared about Bauman? But I understood that he
was a symbol. I saw that there must be a big idea which moves all these
people to give up everything, to go to prison, to kill, and be killed. I
understood this for the first time at that funeral. I cried when the crowd
went past. I understood there was a big idea, a great cause behind it all.
Then I went home.
"There were disorders in Siberia: you know in Siberia we are much freer
than you are. There is only one society. The officials, the political
people, revolutionaries, exiles, everybody, in fact, all meet constantly.
I used to go to political meetings, and to see and talk with the Liberal
and revolutionary leaders. Then I began to be disappointed because what
had always struck me as unjust was that one man, just because he happened
to be, say, Ivan Pavlovitch, should be able to rule over another man who
happened to be, say, Ivan Ivanovitch. And now that these Republics were
being made, it seemed that the same thing was beginning all over again—that
all the places of authority were being seized and dealt out amongst
another lot of people who were behaving exactly like those who had
authority before. The arbitrary authority was there just the same, only it
had changed hands, and this puzzled me very much, and I began to ask
myself, 'Where is the truth?'"
"What did your husband think?" asked the thin lady.
"My husband did not like to talk about these things," she answered. "He
says, 'I am in the Service, and I have to serve. It is not my business to
"But all those Republics didn't last very long," rejoined the thin lady.
"No," continued the other; "we never had a Republic, and after a time they
arrested the chief agitator, who was the soul of the revolutionary
movement in our town, a wonderful orator. I had heard him speak several
times and been carried away. When he was arrested I saw him taken to
prison, and he said 'Good-bye' to the people, and bowed to them in the
street in such an exaggerated theatrical way that I was astonished and
felt uncomfortable. Here, I thought, is a man who can sacrifice himself
for an idea, and who seemed to be thoroughly sincere, and yet he behaves
theatrically and poses as if he were not sincere. I felt more puzzled than
ever, and I asked my husband to let me go and see him in prison. I thought
that perhaps after talking to him I could solve the riddle, and find out
once for all who was right and who was wrong. My husband let me go, and I
was admitted into his cell.
"'You know who I am,' I said, 'since I am here, and I am admitted inside
these locked doors?' He nodded. Then I asked him whether I could be of any
use to him. He said that he had all that he wanted; and like this the ice
was broken, and I asked him presently if he believed in the whole
movement. He said that until the 17th of October, when the Manifesto had
been issued, he had believed with all his soul in it; but the events of
the last months had caused him to change his mind. He now thought that the
work of his party, and, in fact, the whole movement, which had been going
on for over fifty years, had really been in vain. 'We shall have,' he
said, 'to begin again from the very beginning, because the Russian people
are not ready for us yet, and probably another fifty years will have to go
by before they are ready.'
"I left him very much perplexed. He was set free not long afterwards, in
virtue of some manifesto, and because there had been no disorders in our
town and he had not been the cause of any bloodshed. Soon after he came
out of prison my husband met him, and he said to my husband: 'I suppose
you will not shake hands with me?' And my husband replied: 'Because our
views are different there is no reason why both of us should not be honest
men,' and he shook hands with him."
The conversation now became a discussion about the various ideals of
various people and parties holding different political views. The large
lady kept on expressing the puzzled state of mind in which she was.
The whole conversation, of which I have given a very condensed report, was
spread over a long time, and often interrupted. Later they reached the
subject of political assassination, and the large lady said:—
"About two months after I came home that year, one day when I was out
driving with my daughter in a sledge the revolutionaries fired six shots
at us from revolvers. We were not hit, but one bullet went through the
coachman's cap. Ever since then I have had nervous fits and my daughter
has had St. Vitus' dance. We have to go to Moscow every year to be
treated. And it is so difficult. I don't know how to manage. When I am at
home I feel as if I ought to go, and when I am away I never have a
moment's peace, because I cannot help thinking the whole time that my
husband is in danger. A few weeks after they shot at us I met some of the
revolutionary party at a meeting, and I asked them why they had shot at
myself and my daughter. I could have understood it if they had shot at my
husband. But why at us? He said: 'When the wood is cut down, the chips fly
about.'[*] And now I don't know what to think about it all.
[*] A Russian proverb.
"Sometimes I think it is all a mistake, and I feel that the
revolutionaries are posing and playing a part, and that so soon as they
get the upper hand they will be as bad as what we have now; and then I say
to myself, all the same they are acting in a cause, and it is a great
cause, and they are working for liberty and for the people. And, then,
would the people be better off if they had their way? The more I think of
it the more puzzled I am. Who is right? Is my husband right? Are they
right? Is it a great cause? How can they be wrong if they are imprisoned
and killed for what they believe? Where is the truth, and what is truth?"
Mrs. Bergmann was a widow. She was American by birth and marriage, and
English by education and habits. She was a fair, beautiful woman, with
large eyes and a white complexion. Her weak point was ambition, and
ambition with her took the form of luncheon-parties.
It was one summer afternoon that she was seized with the great idea of her
life. It consisted in giving a luncheon-party which should be more
original and amusing than any other which had ever been given in London.
The idea became a mania. It left her no peace. It possessed her like venom
or like madness. She could think of nothing else. She racked her brains in
imagining how it could be done. But the more she was harassed by this aim
the further off its realisation appeared to her to be. At last it began to
weigh upon her. She lost her spirits and her appetite; her friends began
to remark with anxiety on the change in her behaviour and in her looks.
She herself felt that the situation was intolerable, and that success or
suicide lay before her.
One evening towards the end of June, as she was sitting in her lovely
drawing-room in her house in Mayfair, in front of her tea-table, on which
the tea stood untasted, brooding over the question which unceasingly
tormented her, she cried out, half aloud:—
"I'd sell my soul to the devil if he would give me what I wish."
At that moment the footman entered the room and said there was a gentleman
downstairs who wished to speak with her.
"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Bergmann.
The footman said he had not caught the gentleman's name, and he handed her
a card on a tray.
She took the card. On it was written:—
MR. NICHOLAS L. SATAN,
I, Pandemonium Terrace,
BURNING MARLE, HELL.
Telephone, No. I Central.
"Show him up," said Mrs. Bergmann, quite naturally, as though she had been
expecting the visitor. She wondered at her own behaviour, and seemed to
herself to be acting inevitably, as one does in dreams.
Mr. Satan was shown in. He had a professional air about him, but not of
the kind that suggests needy or even learned professionalism. He was dark;
his features were sharp and regular, his eyes keen, his complexion pale,
his mouth vigorous, and his chin prominent. He was well dressed in a frock
coat, black tie, and patent leather boots. He would never have been taken
for a conjurer or a shop-walker, but he might have been taken for a
slightly depraved Art-photographer who had known better days. He sat down
near the tea-table opposite Mrs. Bergmann, holding his top hat, which had
a slight mourning band round it, in his hand.
"I understand, madam," he spoke with an even American intonation, "you
wish to be supplied with a guest who will make all other luncheon-parties
look, so to speak, like thirty cents."
"Yes, that is just what I want," answered Mrs. Bergmann, who continued to
be surprised at herself.
"Well, I reckon there's no one living who'd suit," said Mr. Satan, "and
I'd better supply you with a celebrity of a former generation." He
then took out a small pocket-book from his coat pocket, and quickly
turning over its leaves he asked in a monotonous tone: "Would you like a
Philosopher? Anaxagoras, Aristotle, Aurelius, M.?"
"Oh! no," answered Mrs. Bergmann with decision, "they would ruin any
"A Saint?" suggested Mr. Satan, "Antony, Ditto of Padua, Athanasius,
"Good heavens, no," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"A Theologian, good arguer?" asked Mr. Satan, "Aquinas, T?"
"No," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann, "for heaven's sake don't always give me
the A's, or we shall never get on to anything. You'll be offering me Adam
and Abel next."
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Satan, "Latimer, Laud—Historic
Interest, Church and Politics combined," he added quickly.
"I don't want a clergyman," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"Artist?" said Mr. Satan, "Andrea del Sarto, Angelo, M., Apelles?"
"You're going back to the A's," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann.
"Bellini, Benvenuto Cellini, Botticelli?" he continued imperturbably.
"What's the use of them when I can get Sargent every day?" asked Mrs.
"A man of action, perhaps? Alexander, Bonaparte, Caesar, J., Cromwell, O.,
"Too heavy for luncheon," she answered, "they would do for dinner."
"Plain statesman? Bismarck, Count; Chatham, Lord; Franklin, B; Richelieu,
"That would make the members of the Cabinet feel uncomfortable," she said.
"A Monarch? Alfred; beg pardon, he's an A. Richard III., Peter the Great,
Louis XI., Nero?"
"No," said Mrs. Bergmann. "I can't have a Royalty. It would make it too
"I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a highwayman: Dick Turpin; or a
housebreaker: Jack Sheppard or Charles Peace?"
"Oh! no," said Mrs. Bergmann, "they might steal the Sevres."
"A musician? Bach or Beethoven?" he suggested.
"He's getting into the B's now," thought Mrs. Bergmann. "No," she added
aloud, "we should have to ask him to play, and he can't play Wagner, I
suppose, and musicians are so touchy."
"I think I have it," said Mr. Satan, "a wit: Dr. Johnson, Sheridan, Sidney
"We should probably find their jokes dull now," said Mrs. Bergmann,
"Miscellaneous?" inquired Mr. Satan, and turning over several leaves of
his notebook, he rattled out the following names: "Alcibiades, kind of
statesman; Beau Brummel, fop; Cagliostro, conjurer; Robespierre,
politician; Charles Stuart, Pretender; Warwick, King-maker; Borgia, A.,
Pope; Ditto, C., toxicologist; Wallenstein, mercenary; Bacon, Roger, man
of science; Ditto, F., dishonest official; Tell, W., patriot; Jones, Paul,
pirate; Lucullus, glutton; Simon Stylites, eccentric; Casanova, loose
liver; Casabianca, cabin-boy; Chicot, jester; Sayers, T., prize-fighter;
Cook, Captain, tourist; Nebuchadnezzar, food-faddist; Juan, D., lover;
Froissart, war correspondent; Julian, apostate?"
"Don't you see," said Mrs. Bergmann, "we must have some one everybody has
"David Garrick, actor and wit?" suggested Mr. Satan.
"It's no good having an actor nobody has seen act," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"What about a poet?" asked Mr. Satan, "Homer, Virgil, Dante, Byron,
"Shakespeare!" she cried out, "the very thing. Everybody has heard of
Shakespeare, more or less, and I expect he'd get on with everybody, and
wouldn't feel offended if I asked Alfred Austin or some other poet to meet
him. Can you get me Shakespeare?"
"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, "day and date?"
"It must be Thursday fortnight," said Mrs. Bergmann. "And what, ah—er—your
"The usual terms," he answered. "In return for supernatural service
rendered you during your lifetime, your soul reverts to me at your death."
Mrs. Bergmann's brain began to work quickly. She was above all things a
practical woman, and she immediately felt she was being defrauded.
"I cannot consent to such terms," she said. "Surely you recognise the
fundamental difference between this proposed contract and those which you
concluded with others—with Faust, for instance? They sold the full
control of their soul after death on condition of your putting yourself at
their entire disposal during the whole of their lifetime, whereas you ask
me to do the same thing in return for a few hours' service. The proposal
Mr. Satan rose from his chair. "In that case, madam," he said, "I have the
honour to wish you a good afternoon."
"Stop a moment," said Mrs. Bergmann, "I don't see why we shouldn't arrive
at a compromise. I am perfectly willing that you should have the control
over my soul for a limited number of years—I believe there are
precedents for such a course—let us say a million years."
"Ten million," said Mr. Satan, quietly but firmly.
"In that case," answered Mrs. Bergmann, "we will take no notice of leap
year, and we will count 365 days in every year."
"Certainly," said Mr. Satan, with an expression of somewhat ruffled
dignity, "we always allow leap year, but, of course, thirteen years will
count as twelve."
"Of course," said Mrs. Bergmann with equal dignity.
"Then perhaps you will not mind signing the contract at once," said Mr.
Satan, drawing from his pocket a type-written page.
Mrs. Bergmann walked to the writing-table and took the paper from his
"Over the stamp, please," said Mr. Satan.
"Must I—er—sign it in blood?" asked Mrs. Bergmann,
"You can if you like," said Mr. Satan, "but I prefer red ink; it is
quicker and more convenient."
He handed her a stylograph pen.
"Must it be witnessed?" she asked.
"No," he replied, "these kind of documents don't need a witness."
In a firm, bold handwriting Mrs. Bergmann signed her name in red ink
across the sixpenny stamp. She half expected to hear a clap of thunder and
to see Mr. Satan disappear, but nothing of the kind occurred. Mr. Satan
took the document, folded it, placed it in his pocket-book, took up his
hat and gloves, and said:
"Mr. William Shakespeare will call to luncheon on Thursday week. At what
hour is the luncheon to be?"
"One-thirty," said Mrs. Bergmann.
"He may be a few minutes late," answered Mr. Satan. "Good afternoon,
madam," and he bowed and withdrew.
Mrs. Bergmann chuckled to herself when she was alone. "I have done him,"
she thought to herself, "because ten million years in eternity is nothing.
He might just as well have said one second as ten million years, since
anything less than eternity in eternity is nothing. It is curious how
stupid the devil is in spite of all his experience. Now I must think about
The morning of Mrs. Bergmann's luncheon had arrived. She had asked
thirteen men and nine women.
But an hour before luncheon an incident happened which nearly drove Mrs.
Bergmann distracted. One of her guests, who was also one of her most
intimate friends, Mrs. Lockton, telephoned to her saying she had quite
forgotten, but she had asked on that day a man to luncheon whom she did
not know, and who had been sent to her by Walford, the famous professor.
She ended the message by saying she would bring the stranger with her.
"What is his name?" asked Mrs. Bergmann, not without intense irritation,
meaning to put a veto on the suggestion.
"His name is——" and at that moment the telephone communication
was interrupted, and in spite of desperate efforts Mrs. Bergmann was
unable to get on to Mrs. Lockton again. She reflected that it was quite
useless for her to send a message saying that she had no room at her
table, because Angela Lockton would probably bring the stranger all the
same. Then she further reflected that in the excitement caused by the
presence of Shakespeare it would not really much matter whether there was
a stranger there or not. A little before half-past one the guests began to
arrive. Lord Pantry of Assouan, the famous soldier, was the first comer.
He was soon followed by Professor Morgan, an authority on Greek
literature; Mr. Peebles, the ex-Prime Minister; Mrs. Hubert Baldwin, the
immensely popular novelist; the fascinating Mrs. Rupert Duncan, who was
lending her genius to one of Ibsen's heroines at that moment; Miss Medea
Tring, one of the latest American beauties; Corporal, the
portrait-painter; Richard Giles, critic and man of letters; Hereward
Blenheim, a young and rising politician, who before the age of thirty had
already risen higher than most men of sixty; Sir Horace Silvester,
K.C.M.G., the brilliant financier, with his beautiful wife Lady Irene;
Professor Leo Newcastle, the eminent man of science; Lady Hyacinth
Gloucester, and Mrs. Milden, who were well known for their beauty and
charm; Osmond Hall, the paradoxical playwright; Monsieur Faubourg, the
psychological novelist; Count Sciarra, an Italian nobleman, about fifty
years old, who had written a history of the Popes, and who was now staying
in London; Lady Herman, the beauty of a former generation, still extremely
handsome; and Willmott, the successful actor-manager. They were all
assembled in the drawing-room upstairs, talking in knots and groups, and
pervaded by a feeling of pleasurable excitement and expectation, so much
so that conversation was intermittent, and nearly everybody was talking
about the weather. The Right Hon. John Lockton, the eminent lawyer, was
the last guest to arrive.
"Angela will be here in a moment," he explained; "she asked me to come on
Mrs. Bergmann grew restless. It was half-past one, and no Shakespeare. She
tried to make her guests talk, with indifferent success. The expectation
was too great. Everybody was absorbed by the thought of what was going to
happen next. Ten minutes passed thus, and Mrs. Bergmann grew more and more
At last the bell rang, and soon Mrs. Lockton walked upstairs, leading with
her a quite insignificant, ordinary-looking, middle-aged, rather portly
man with shiny black hair, bald on the top of his head, and a blank,
"I'm so sorry to be so late, Louise, dear," she said. "Let me introduce
Mr. —— to you." And whether she had forgotten the name or not,
Mrs. Bergmann did not know or care at the time, but it was mumbled in such
a manner that it was impossible to catch it. Mrs. Bergmann shook hands
with him absent-mindedly, and, looking at the clock, saw that it was ten
minutes to two.
"I have been deceived," she thought to herself, and anger rose in her
breast like a wave. At the same time she felt the one thing necessary was
not to lose her head, or let anything damp the spirits of her guests.
"We'll go down to luncheon directly," she said. "I'm expecting some one
else, but he probably won't come till later." She led the way and
everybody trooped downstairs to the dining-room, feeling that
disappointment was in store for them. Mrs. Bergmann left the place on her
right vacant; she did not dare fill it up, because in her heart of hearts
she felt certain Shakespeare would arrive, and she looked forward to a coup
de theatre, which would be quite spoilt if his place was occupied. On
her left sat Count Sciarra; the unknown friend of Angela Lockton sat at
the end of the table next to Willmott.
The luncheon started haltingly. Angela Lockton's friend was heard saying
in a clear voice that the dust in London was very trying.
"Have you come from the country?" asked M. Faubourg. "I myself am just
returned from Oxford, where I once more admired your admirable English
lawns—vos pelouses seculaires."
"Yes," said the stranger, "I only came up to town to-day, because it seems
indeed a waste and a pity to spend the finest time of the year in London."
Count Sciarra, who had not uttered a word since he had entered the house,
turned to his hostess and asked her whom she considered, after herself, to
be the most beautiful woman in the room, Lady Irene, Lady Hyacinth, or
"Mrs. Milden," he went on, "has the smile of La Gioconda, and hands and
hair for Leonardo to paint. Lady Gloucester," he continued, leaving out
the Christian name, "is English, like one of Shakespeare's women,
Desdemona or Imogen; and Lady Irene has no nationality, she belongs to the
dream worlds of Shelley and D'Annunzio: she is the guardian Lady of
Shelley's 'Sensitiva,' the vision of the lily. 'Quale un vaso liturgico
d'argento.' And you, madame, you take away all my sense of criticism.
'Vous me troublez trop pour que je definisse votre genre de beaute.'"
Mrs. Milden was soon engaged in a deep tete-a-tete with Mr. Peebles, who
was heard every now and then to say, "Quite, quite," Miss Tring was
holding forth to Silvester on French sculpture, and Silvester now and
again said: "Oh! really!" in the tone of intense interest which his
friends knew indicated that he was being acutely bored. Lady Hyacinth was
discussing Socialism with Osmond Hall, Lady Herman was discussing the
theory of evolution with Professor Newcastle, Mrs. Lockton, the question
of the French Church, with Faubourg; and Blenheim was discharging molten
fragments of embryo exordiums and perorations on the subject of the stage
to Willmott; in fact, there was a general buzz of conversation.
"Have you been to see Antony and Cleopatra?" asked Willmott of the
"Yes," said the neighbour, "I went last night; many authors have treated
the subject, and the version I saw last night was very pretty. I couldn't
get a programme so I didn't see who——"
"I think my version," interrupted Willmott, with pride, "is admitted to be
"Ah! it is your version!" said the stranger. "I beg your pardon, I think
you treated the subject very well."
"Yes," said Willmott, "it is ungrateful material, but I think I made
something fine of it."
"No doubt, no doubt," said the stranger.
"Do tell us," Mrs. Baldwin was heard to ask M. Faubourg across the table,
"what the young generation are doing in France? Who are the young
"There are no young novelists worth mentioning," answered M. Faubourg.
Miss Tring broke in and said she considered "Le Visage Emerveille," by the
Comtesse de Noailles, to be the most beautiful book of the century, with
the exception, perhaps, of the "Tagebuch einer Verlorenen."
But from the end of the table Blenheim's utterance was heard
preponderating over that of his neighbours. He was making a fine speech on
the modern stage, comparing an actor-manager to Napoleon, and commenting
on the campaigns of the latter in detail.
Quite heedless of this Mr. Willmott was carrying on an equally impassioned
but much slower monologue on his conception of the character of Cyrano de
Bergerac, which he said he intended to produce. "Cyrano," he said, "has
been maligned by Coquelin. Coquelin is a great artist, but he did not
understand Cyrano. Cyrano is a dreamer, a poet; he is a martyr of thought
like Tolstoi, a sacrifice to wasted, useless action, like Hamlet; he is a
Moliere come too soon, a Bayard come too late, a John the Baptist of the
stage, calling out in vain in the wilderness—of bricks and mortar;
he is misunderstood;—an enigma, an anachronism, a premature herald,
a false dawn."
Count Sciarra was engaged in a third monologue at the head of the table.
He was talking at the same time to Mrs. Bergmann, Lady Irene, and Lady
Hyacinth about the devil. "Ah que j'aime le diable!" he was saying in low,
tender tones. "The devil who creates your beauty to lure us to
destruction, the devil who puts honey into the voice of the siren, the
"Che i marinari in mezzo il mar dismaga"
(and he hummed this line in a sing-song two or three times over)—"the
devil who makes us dream and doubt, and who made life interesting by
persuading Eve to eat the silver apple—what would life have been if
she had not eaten the apple? We should all be in the silly trees of the
Garden of Eden, and I should be sitting next to you" (he said to Mrs.
Bergmann), "without knowing that you were beautiful; que vous etes belle
et que vous etes desirable; que vous etes puissante et caline, que je fais
naufrage dans une mer d'amour—e il naufragio m'e dolce in questo
mare—en un mot, que je vous aime."
"Life outside the garden of Eden has many drawbacks," said Mrs. Bergmann,
who, although she was inwardly pleased by Count Sciarra's remarks, saw by
Lady Irene's expression that she thought he was mad.
"Aucun 'drawback,'" answered Sciarra, "n'egalerait celui de comtempler les
divins contours feminins sans un frisson. Pensez donc si Madame Bergmann——"
"Count Sciarra," interrupted Mrs. Bergmann, terrified of what was coming
next, "do tell me about the book you are writing on Venice."
Mrs. Lockton was at that moment discussing portraiture in novels with M.
Faubourg, and during a pause Miss Tring was heard to make the following
remark: "And is it true M. Faubourg, that 'Cecile' in 'La Mauvaise Bonte'
is a portrait of some one you once loved and who treated you very badly?"
M. Faubourg, a little embarrassed, said that a creative artist made a
character out of many originals.
Then, seeing that nobody was saying a word to his neighbour, he turned
round and asked him if he had been to the Academy.
"Yes," answered the stranger; "it gets worse every year doesn't it?"
"But Mr. Corporal's pictures are always worth seeing," said Faubourg.
"I think he paints men better than women," said the stranger; "he doesn't
flatter people, but of course his pictures are very clever."
At this moment the attention of the whole table was monopolised by Osmond
Hall, who began to discuss the scenario of a new play he was writing. "My
play," he began, "is going to be called 'The King of the North Pole.' I
have never been to the North Pole, and I don't mean to go there. It's not
necessary to have first-hand knowledge of technical subjects in order to
write a play. People say that Shakespeare must have studied the law,
because his allusions to the law are frequent and accurate. That does not
prove that he knew law any more than the fact that he put a sea in Bohemia
proves that he did not know geography. It proves he was a dramatist. He
wanted a sea in Bohemia. He wanted lawyer's 'shop.' I should do just the
same thing myself. I wrote a play about doctors, knowing nothing about
medicine: I asked a friend to give me the necessary information.
Shakespeare, I expect, asked his friends to give him the legal information
Every allusion to Shakespeare was a stab to Mrs. Bergmann.
"Shakespeare's knowledge of the law is very thorough," broke in Lockton.
"Not so thorough as the knowledge of medicine which is revealed in my
play," said Hall.
"Shakespeare knew law by intuition," murmured Willmott, "but he did not
guess what the modern stage would make of his plays."
"Let us hope not," said Giles.
"Shakespeare," said Faubourg, "was a psychologue; he had the power, I
cannot say it in English, de deviner ce qu'il ne savait pas en puisant
dans le fond et le trefond de son ame."
"Gammon!" said Hall; "he had the power of asking his friends for the
information he required."
"Do you really think," asked Giles, "that before he wrote 'Time delves the
parallel on beauty's brow,' he consulted his lawyer as to a legal metaphor
suitable for a sonnet?"
"And do you think," asked Mrs. Duncan, "that he asked his female relations
what it would feel like to be jealous of Octavia if one happened to be
"Shakespeare was a married man," said Hall, "and if his wife found the
MSS. of his sonnets lying about he must have known a jealous woman."
"Shakespeare evidently didn't trouble his friends for information on
natural history, not for a playwright," said Hall. "I myself should not
mind what liberty I took with the cuckoo, the bee, or even the basilisk. I
should not trouble you for accurate information on the subject; I should
not even mind saying the cuckoo lays eggs in its own nest if it suited the
The whole of this conversation was torture to Mrs. Bergmann.
"Shakespeare," said Lady Hyacinth, "had a universal nature; one can't help
thinking he was almost like God."
"That's what people will say of me a hundred years hence," said Hall;
"only it is to be hoped they'll leave out the 'almost.'"
"Shakespeare understood love," said Lady Herman, in a loud voice; "he knew
how a man makes love to a woman. If Richard III. had made love to me as
Shakespeare describes him doing it, I'm not sure that I could have
resisted him. But the finest of all Shakespeare's men is Othello. That's a
real man. Desdemona was a fool. It's not wonderful that Othello didn't see
through Iago; but Desdemona ought to have seen through him. The stupidest
woman can see through a clever man like him; but, of course, Othello was a
"Yes," broke in Mrs. Lockton, "if Napoleon had married Desdemona he would
have made Iago marry one of his sisters."
"I think Desdemona is the most pathetic of Shakespeare's heroines," said
Lady Hyacinth; "don't you think so, Mr. Hall?"
"It's easy enough to make a figure pathetic, who is strangled by a
nigger," answered Hall. "Now if Desdemona had been a negress Shakespeare
would have started fair."
"If only Shakespeare had lived later," sighed Willmott, "and understood
the condition of the modern stage, he would have written quite
"If Shakespeare had lived now he would have written novels," said
"Yes," said Mrs. Baldwin, "I feel sure you are right there."
"If Shakespeare had lived now," said Sciarra to Mrs. Bergmann, "we
shouldn't notice his existence; he would be just un monsieur comme tout le
monde—like that monsieur sitting next to Faubourg," he added in a
"The problem about Shakespeare," broke in Hall, "is not how he wrote his
plays. I could teach a poodle to do that in half an hour. But the problem
is—What made him leave off writing just when he was beginning to
know how to do it? It is as if I had left off writing plays ten years
"Perhaps," said the stranger, hesitatingly and modestly, "he had made
enough money by writing plays to retire on his earnings and live in the
Nobody took any notice of this remark.
"If Bacon was really the playwright," said Lockton, "the problem is a very
"If Bacon had written Shakespeare's plays," said Silvester, "they wouldn't
have been so bad."
"There seems to me to be only one argument," said Professor Morgan, "in
favour of the Bacon theory, and that is that the range of mind displayed
in Shakespeare's plays is so great that it would have been child's play
for the man who wrote Shakespeare's plays to have written the works of
"Yes," said Hall, "but because it would be child's play for the man who
wrote my plays to have written your works and those of Professor Newcastle—which
it would—it doesn't prove that you wrote my plays."
"Bacon was a philosopher," said Willmott, "and Shakespeare was a poet—a
dramatic poet; but Shakespeare was also an actor, an actor-manager, and
only an actor-manager could have written the plays."
"What do you think of the Bacon theory?" asked Faubourg of the stranger.
"I think," said the stranger, "that we shall soon have to say eggs and
Shakespeare instead of eggs and Bacon."
This remark caused a slight shudder to pass through all the guests, and
Mrs. Bergmann felt sorry that she had not taken decisive measures to
prevent the stranger's intrusion.
"Shakespeare wrote his own plays," said Sciarra, "and I don't know if he
knew law, but he knew le coeur de la femme. Cleopatra bids her
slave find out the colour of Octavia's hair; that is just what my wife, my
Angelica, would do if I were to marry some one in London while she was at
"Mr. Gladstone used to say," broke in Lockton, "that Dante was inferior to
Shakespeare, because he was too great an optimist."
"Dante was not an optimist," said Sciarra, "about the future life of
politicians. But I think they were both of them pessimists about man and
both optimists about God."
"Shakespeare," began Blenheim; but he was interrupted by Mrs. Duncan who
"I wish he were alive now and would write me a part, a real woman's part.
The women have so little to do in Shakespeare's plays. There's Juliet; but
one can't play Juliet till one's forty, and then one's too old to look
fourteen. There's Lady Macbeth; but she's got nothing to do except walk in
her sleep and say, 'Out, damned spot!' There were not actresses in his
days, and of course it was no use writing a woman's part for a boy."
"You should have been born in France," said Faubourg, "Racine's women are
created for you to play."
"Ah! you've got Sarah," said Mrs. Duncan, "you don't want anyone else."
"I think Racine's boring," said Mrs. Lockton, "he's so artificial."
"Oh! don't say that," said Giles, "Racine is the most exquisite of poets,
so sensitive, so acute, and so harmonious."
"I like Rostand better," said Mrs. Lockton.
"Rostand!" exclaimed Miss Tring, in disgust, "he writes such bad verses—du
caoutchouc—he's so vulgar."
"It is true," said Willmott, "he's an amateur. He has never written
professionally for his bread but only for his pleasure."
"But in that sense," said Giles, "God is an amateur."
"I confess," said Peebles, "that I cannot appreciate French poetry. I can
read Rousseau with pleasure, and Bossuet; but I cannot admire Corneille
"Everybody writes plays now," said Faubourg, with a sigh.
"I have never written a play," said Lord Pantry.
"Nor I," said Lockton.
"But nearly everyone at this table has," said Faubourg. "Mrs. Baldwin has
written 'Matilda,' Mr. Giles has written a tragedy called 'Queen Swaflod,'
I wrote a play in my youth, my 'Le Menetrier de Parme'; I'm sure Corporal
has written a play. Count Sciarra must have written several; have you ever
written a play?" he said, turning to his neighbour, the stranger.
"Yes," answered the stranger, "I once wrote a play called 'Hamlet.'"
"You were courageous with such an original before you," said Faubourg,
"Yes," said the stranger, "the original was very good, but I think," he
added modestly, "that I improved upon it."
"Encore un faiseur de paradoxes!" murmured Faubourg to himself in disgust.
In the meantime Willmott was giving Professor Morgan the benefit of his
views on Greek art, punctuated with allusions to Tariff Reform and
devolution for the benefit of Blenheim.
Luncheon was over and cigarettes were lighted. Mrs. Bergmann had quite
made up her mind that she had been cheated, and there was only one thing
for which she consoled herself, and that was that she had not waited for
luncheon but had gone down immediately, since so far all her guests had
kept up a continuous stream of conversation, which had every now and then
become general, though they still every now and then glanced at the empty
chair and wondered what the coming attraction was going to be. Mrs. Milden
had carried on two almost interrupted tete-a-tetes, first with one of her
neighbours, then with the other. In fact everybody had talked, except the
stranger, who had hardly spoken, and since Faubourg had turned away from
him in disgust, nobody had taken any further notice of him.
Mrs. Baldwin, remarking this, good-naturedly leant across the table and
asked him if he had come to London for the Wagner cycle.
"No," he answered, "I came for the Horse Show at Olympia."
At this moment Count Sciarra, having finished his third cigarette, turned
to his hostess and thanked her for having allowed him to meet the most
beautiful women of London in the most beautiful house in London, and in
the house of the most beautiful hostess in London.
"J'ai vu chez vous," he said, "le lys argente et la rose blanche, mais
vous etes la rose ecarlate, la rose d'amour dont le parfum vivra dans mon
coeur comme un poison dore (and here he hummed in a sing-song):—
'Io son, cantava, Io son, dolce sirena' Addio, dolce sirena."
Then he suddenly and abruptly got up, kissed his hostess's hand vehemently
three times, and said he was very sorry, but he must hasten to keep a
pressing engagement. He then left the room.
Mrs. Bergmann got up and said, "Let us go upstairs." But the men had most
of them to go, some to the House of Commons, others to fulfil various
The stranger thanked Mrs. Bergmann for her kind hospitality and left. And
the remaining guests, seeing that it was obvious that no further
attraction was to be expected, now took their leave reluctantly and went,
feeling that they had been cheated.
Angela Lockton stayed a moment.
"Who were you expecting, Louise, dear?" she asked.
"Only an old friend," said Mrs. Bergmann, "whom you would all have been
very glad to see. Only as he doesn't want anybody to know he's in London,
I couldn't tell you all who he was."
"But tell me now," said Mrs. Lockton; "you know how discreet I am."
"I promised not to, dearest Angela," she answered; "and, by the way, what
was the name of the man you brought with you?"
"Didn't I tell you? How stupid of me!" said Mrs. Lockton. "It's a very
easy name to remember: Shakespeare, William Shakespeare."
To Cecilia Fisher
"The King said that nobody had ever danced as I danced to-night," said
Columbine. "He said it was more than dancing, it was magic."
"It is true," said Harlequin, "you never danced like that before."
But Pierrot paid no heed to their remarks, and stared vacantly at the sky.
They were sitting on the deserted stage of the grass amphitheatre where
they had been playing. Behind them were the clumps of cypress trees which
framed a vista of endless wooden garden and formed their drop scene. They
were sitting immediately beneath the wooden framework made of two upright
beams and one horizontal, which formed the primitive proscenium, and from
which little coloured lights had hung during the performance. The King and
Queen and their lords and ladies who had looked on at the living puppet
show had all left the amphitheatre; they had put on their masks and their
dominoes, and were now dancing on the lawns, whispering in the alleys and
the avenues, or sitting in groups under the tall dark trees. Some of them
were in boats on the lake, and everywhere one went, from the dark
boscages, came sounds of music, thin, tinkling tunes played on guitars by
skilled hands, and the bird-like twittering and whistling of flageolets.
"The King said I looked like a moon fairy," said Columbine to Pierrot.
Pierrot only stared in the sky and laughed inanely. "If you persist in
slighting me like this," she whispered in his ear, in a whisper which was
like a hiss, "I will abandon you for ever. I will give my heart to
Harlequin, and you shall never see me again." But Pierrot continued to
stare at the sky, and laughed once more inanely. Then Columbine got up,
her eyes flashing with rage; taking Harlequin by the arm she dragged him
swiftly away. They danced across the grass semi-circle of the amphitheatre
and up the steps away into the alleys. Pierrot was left alone with
Pantaloon, who was asleep, for he was old and clowning fatigued him. Then
Pierrot left the amphitheatre also, and putting a black mask on his face
he joined the revellers who were everywhere dancing, whispering, talking,
and making music in subdued tones. He sought out a long lonely avenue, in
one side of which there nestled, almost entirely concealed by bushes and
undergrowth, a round open Greek temple. Right at the end of the avenue a
foaming waterfall splashed down into a large marble basin, from which a
tall fountain rose, white and ghostly, and made a sobbing noise. Pierrot
went towards the temple, then he turned back and walked right into the
undergrowth through the bushes, and lay down on the grass, and listened to
the singing of the night-jar. The whole garden that night seemed to be
sighing and whispering; there was a soft warm wind, and a smell of mown
hay in the air, and an intoxicating sweetness came from the bushes of
syringa. Columbine and Harlequin also joined the revellers. They passed
from group to group, with aimless curiosity, pausing sometimes by the
artificial ponds and sometimes by the dainty groups of dancers, whose
satin and whose pearls glimmered faintly in the shifting moonlight, for
the night was cloudy. At last they too were tired of the revel, they
wandered towards a more secluded place and made for the avenue which
Pierrot had sought. On their way they passed through a narrow grass walk
between two rows of closely cropped yew hedges. There on a marble seat a
tall man in a black domino was sitting, his head resting on his hands; and
between the loose folds of his satin cloak, one caught the glint of
precious stones. When they had passed him Columbine whispered to
Harlequin: "That is the King. I caught sight of his jewelled collar." They
presently found themselves in the long avenue at the end of which were the
waterfall and the fountain. They wandered on till they reached the Greek
temple, and there suddenly Columbine put her finger on her lips. Then she
led Harlequin back a little way and took him round through the undergrowth
to the back of the temple, and, crouching down in the bushes, bade him
look. In the middle of the temple there was a statue of Eros holding a
torch in his hands. Standing close beside the statue were two figures, a
man dressed as a Pierrot, and a beautiful lady who wore a grey satin
domino. She had taken off her mask and pushed back the hood from her hair,
which was encircled by a diadem made of something shining and silvery, and
a ray of moonlight fell on her face, which was as delicate as the petal of
a flower. Pierrot was masked; he was holding her hand and looking into her
eyes, which were turned upwards towards his.
"It is the Queen!" whispered Columbine to Harlequin. And once more putting
her finger on her lips, she deftly led him by the hand and noiselessly
threaded her way through the bushes and back into the avenue, and without
saying a word ran swiftly with him to the place where they had seen the
King. He was still there, alone, his head resting upon his hands.
In the temple the Queen was upbraiding her lover for his temerity in
having crossed the frontier into the land from which he had been banished
for ever, and for having dared to appear at the court revel disguised as
Pierrot. "Remember," she was saying, "the enemies that surround us, the
dreadful peril, and the doom that awaits us." And her lover said: "What is
doom, and what is death? You whispered to the night and I heard. You
sighed and I am here!" He tore the mask from his face, and the Queen
looked at him and smiled. At that moment a rustle was heard in the
undergrowth, and the Queen started back from him, whispering: "We are
betrayed! Fly!" And her lover put on his mask and darted through the
undergrowth, following a path which he and no one else knew, till he came
to an open space where his squire awaited him with horses, and they
galloped away safe from all pursuit.
Then the King walked into the temple and led the Queen back to the palace
without saying a word; but the whole avenue was full of dark men bearing
torches and armed with swords, who were searching the undergrowth. And
presently they found Pierrot who, ignorant of all that had happened, had
been listening all night to the song of the night-jar. He was dragged to
the palace and cast into a dungeon, and the King was told. But the revel
did not cease, and the dancing and the music continued softly as before.
The King sent for Columbine and told her she should have speech with
Pierrot in his prison, for haply he might have something to confess to
her. And Columbine was taken to Pierrot's dungeon, and the King followed
her without her knowing it, and concealed himself behind the door, which
he set ajar.
Columbine upbraided Pierrot and said: "All this was my work. I have always
known that you loved the Queen. And yet for the sake of past days, tell me
the truth. Was it love or a joke, such as those you love to play?"
Pierrot laughed inanely. "It was a joke," he said. "It is my trade to make
jokes. What else can I do?"
"You love the Queen nevertheless," said Columbine, "of that I am sure, and
for that I have had my revenge."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed again.
And though she talked and raved and wept, she could get no other answer
from him. Then she left him, and the King entered the dungeon.
"I have heard what you said," said the King, "but to me you must tell the
truth. I do not believe it was you who met the Queen in the temple; tell
me the truth, and your life shall be spared."
"It was a joke," said Pierrot, and he laughed. Then the King grew fierce
and stormed and threatened. But his rage and threats were in vain! for
Pierrot only laughed. Then the King appealed to him as man to man and
implored him to tell him the truth; for he would have given his kingdom to
believe that it was the real Pierrot who had met the Queen and that the
adventure had been a joke. Pierrot only repeated what he had said, and
laughed and giggled inanely.
At dawn the prison door was opened and three masked men led Pierrot out
through the courtyard into the garden. The revellers had gone home, but
here and there lights still twinkled and flickered and a stray note or two
of music was still heard. Some of the latest of the revellers were going
home. The dawn was grey and chilly; they led Pierrot through the alleys to
the grass amphitheatre, and they hanged him on the horizontal beam which
formed part of the primitive proscenium where he and Columbine had danced
so wildly in the night. They hanged him and his white figure dangled from
the beam as though he were still dancing; and the new Pierrot, who was
appointed the next day, was told that such would be the fate of all
mummers who went too far, and whose jokes and pranks overstepped the
limits of decency and good breeding.
The Referendarius had three junior clerks to carry on the business
of his department, and they in their turn were assisted by two scribes,
who did most of the copying and kept the records. The work of the
Department consisted in filing and annotating the petitions and cases
which were referred from the lower Courts, through the channel of the Referendarius,
to the Emperor.
The three clerks and their two scribes occupied a high marble room in the
spacious office. It was as yet early in April, but, nevertheless, the sun
out of doors was almost fierce. The high marble rooms of the office were
cool and stuffy at the same time, and the spring sunshine without, the
soft breeze from the sea, the call of the flower-sellers in the street,
and the lazy murmur of the town had, in these shaded, musty, and
parchment-smelling halls, diffused an atmosphere of laziness which
inspired the clerks in question with an overwhelming desire to do nothing.
There was, indeed, no pressing work on hand. Only from time to time the Referendarius,
who occupied a room to himself next door to theirs, would communicate with
them through a hole in the wall, demanding information on some point or
asking to be supplied with certain documents. Then the clerks would make a
momentary pretence of being busy, and ultimately the scribes would find
either the documents or the information which were required.
As it was, the clerks were all of them engaged in occupations which were
remote from official work. The eldest of them, Cephalus by name—a
man who was distinguished from the others by a certain refined sobriety
both in his dark dress and in his quiet demeanour—was reading a
treatise on algebra; the second, Theophilus, a musician, whose tunic was
as bright as his flaming hair, was mending a small organ; and the third,
Rufinus, a rather pale, short-sighted, and untidy youth, was scribbling on
a tablet. The scribes were busy sorting old records and putting them away
in their permanent places.
Presently an official strolled in from another department. He was a
middle-aged, corpulent, and cheerful-looking man, dressed in gaudy
coloured tissue, on which all manner of strange birds were depicted. He
was bursting with news.
"Phocas is going to win," he said. "It is certain."
Cephalus looked vaguely up from his book and said: "Oh!"
Theophilus and Rufinus paid no attention to the remark.
"Well," continued the new-comer cheerfully, "Who will come to the races
As soon as he heard the word races, Rufinus looked up from his scribbling.
"I will come," he said, "if I can get leave."
"I did not know you cared for that sort of thing," said Cephalus.
Rufinus blushed and murmured something about going every now and then. He
walked out of the room, and sought the Referendarius in the next
room. This official was reading a document. He did not look up when
Rufinus entered, but went on with his reading. At last, after a prolonged
interval, he turned round and said: "What is it?"
"May I go to the races?" asked Rufinus.
"Well," said the high official, "what about your work?"
"We've finished everything," said the clerk.
The Head of the Department assumed an air of mystery and coughed.
"I don't think I can very well see my way to letting you go," he said. "I
am very sorry," he added quickly, "and if it depended on me you should go
at once. But He," he added—he always alluded to the Head of the
Office as He—"does not like it. He may come in at any moment and
find you gone. No; I'm afraid I can't let you go to-day. Now, if it had
been yesterday you could have gone."
"I should only be away an hour," said Rufinus, tentatively.
"He might choose just that hour to come round. If it depended only on me
you should go at once," and he laughed and slapped Rufinus on the back,
The clerk did not press the point further.
"You'd better get on with that index," said the high official as Rufinus
He told the result of his interview to his sporting friend, who started
out by himself to the Hippodrome.
Rufinus settled down to his index. But he soon fell into a mood of
abstraction. The races and the games did not interest him in the least. It
was something else which attracted him. And, as he sat musing, the vision
of the Hippodrome as he had last seen it rose clearly before him. He saw
the seaweed-coloured marble; the glistening porticoes, adorned with the
masterpieces of Greece, crowded with women in gemmed embroideries and men
in white tunics hemmed with broad purple; he saw the Generals with their
barbaric officers—Bulgarians, Persians, Arabs, Slavs—the long
line of savage-looking prisoners in their chains, and the golden
breastplates of the standard-bearers. He saw the immense silk velum
floating in the azure air over that rippling sea of men, those hundreds of
thousands who swarmed on the marble steps of the Hippodrome. He saw the
Emperor in his high-pillared box, on his circular throne of dull gold,
surrounded by slaves fanning him with jewel-coloured plumes, and fenced
round with golden swords.
And opposite him, on the other side of the Stadium, the Empress, mantled
in a stiff pontifical robe, laden with heavy embroidered stuffs, her
little head framed like a portrait in a square crown of gold and diamonds,
whence chains of emeralds hung down to her breast; motionless as an idol,
impassive as a gilded mummy.
He saw the crowd of gorgeous women, grouped like Eastern flowers around
her: he saw one woman. He saw one form as fresh as a lily of the valley,
all white amidst that hard metallic splendour; frail as a dewy anemone,
slender as the moist narcissus. He saw one face like the chalice of a
rose, and amidst all those fiery jewels two large eyes as soft as dark
violets. And the sumptuous Court, the plumes, the swords, the standards,
the hot, vari-coloured crowd melted away and disappeared, so that when the
Emperor rose and made the sign of the Cross over his people, first to the
right, and then to the left, and thirdly over the half-circle behind him,
and the singers of Saint Sofia and the Church of the Holy Apostles mingled
their bass chant with the shrill trebles of the chorus of the Hippodrome,
to the sound of silver organs, he thought that the great hymn of praise
was rising to her and to her alone; and that men had come from the
uttermost parts of the earth to pay homage to her, to sing her praise, to
kneel to her—to her, the wondrous, the very beautiful: peerless,
A voice, followed by a cough, called from the hole in the wall; but
Rufinus paid no heed, so deeply sunk was he in his vision.
"Rufinus, the Chief is calling you," said Cephalus.
Rufinus started, and hurried to the hole in the wall. The Head of the
Department gave him a message for an official in another department.
Rufinus hurried with the message downstairs and delivered it. On his way
back he passed the main portico on the ground floor. He walked out into
the street: it was empty. Everybody was at the games.
A dark-skinned country girl passed him singing a song about the swallow
and the spring. She was bearing a basket full of anemones, violets,
narcissi, wild roses, and lilies of the valley.
"Will you sell me your flowers?" he asked, and he held out a silver coin.
"You are welcome to them," said the girl. "I do not need your money."
He took the flowers and returned to the room upstairs. The flowers filled
the stuffy place with an unwonted and wonderful fragrance.
Then he sat down and appeared to be once more busily engrossed in his
index. But side by side with the index he had a small tablet, and on this,
every now and then, he added or erased a word to a short poem. The sense
of it was something like this:—
Rhodocleia, flowers of spring
I have woven in a ring;
Take this wreath, my offering, Rhodocleia.
Here's the lily, here the rose
Her full chalice shall disclose;
Here's narcissus wet with dew,
Windflower and the violet blue.
Wear the garland I have made;
Crowned with it, put pride away;
For the wreath that blooms must fade;
Thou thyself must fade some day, Rhodocleia.
THE SPIDER'S WEB
To K. L.
He heard the bell of the Badia sound hour after hour, and still sleep
refused its solace. He got up and looked through the narrow window. The
sky in the East was soft with that luminous intensity, as of a melted
sapphire, that comes just before the dawn. One large star was shining next
to the paling moon. He watched the sky as it grew more and more
transparent, and a fresh breeze blew from the hills. It was the second
night that he had spent without sleeping, but the weariness of his body
was as nothing compared with the aching emptiness which possessed his
spirit. Only three days ago the world had seemed to him starred and gemmed
like the Celestial City—an enchanted kingdom, waiting like a
sleeping Princess for the kiss of the adventurous conqueror; and now the
colours had faded, the dream had vanished, the sun seemed to be deprived
of his glory, and the summer had lost its sweetness.
His eye fell upon some papers which were lying loose upon his table. There
was an unfinished sonnet which he had begun three days ago. The octet was
finished and the first two lines of the sestet. He would never finish it
now. It had no longer any reason to be; for it was a cry to ears which
were now deaf, a question, an appeal, which demanded an answering smile, a
consenting echo; and the lips, the only lips which could frame that
answer, were dumb. He remembered that Casella, the musician, had asked him
a week ago for the text of a canzone which he had repeated to him
one day. He had promised to let him have it. The promise had entirely gone
out of his mind. Then he reflected that because the ship of his hopes and
dreams had been wrecked there was no reason why he should neglect his
obligations to his fellow-travellers on the uncertain sea.
He sat down and transcribed by the light of the dawn in his exquisite
handwriting the stanzas which had been the fruit of a brighter day. And
the memory of this dead joy was exceedingly bitter to him, so that he sat
musing for some time on the unutterable sadness which the ghosts of
perished joys bring to man in his misery, and a line of Virgil buzzed in
his brain; but not, as of yore, did it afford him the luxury of causeless
melancholy, but like a cruel finger it touched his open wound. The
ancients, he thought, knew how to bear misfortune.
Levius fit patientia
Quidquid corrigere est nefas.
As the words occurred to him he thought how much better equipped he was
for the bitter trial, since had he not the certain hope of another life,
and of meeting his beloved in the spaces of endless felicity? Surely then
he should be able to bear his sorrow with as great a fortitude as the
pagan poets, who looked forward to nothing but the dust; to whom the
fabled dim country beyond the Styx was a cheerless dream, and to whom a
living dog upon the earth was more worthy of envy than the King of all
Elysium. He must learn of the ancients.
The magic of the lemon-coloured dawn had vanished now before the swift
daylight. Many bells were ringing in the city, and the first signs of life
were stirring in the streets. He searched for a little book, and read of
the consolation which Cicero gave to Laelius in the De Amicitia.
But he had not read many lines before he closed the book. His wound was
too fresh for the balm of reason and philosophy.
"Later," he thought, "this will strengthen and help me, but not to-day;
to-day my wound must bleed and be allowed to bleed, for all the philosophy
in the world cannot lessen the fact that yesterday she was and to-day she
He felt a desire to escape from his room, which had been the chapel of
such holy prayers, the shrine where so many fervent tapers of hope had
burnt, where so sweet an incense of dream had risen. He left his room and
hurried down the narrow stone stairs into the street. As he left the house
he turned to his right and walked on till he reached Or San Michele; there
he turned to his right again and walked straight on till he reached the
churches of Santa Reparata and San Giovanni. He entered San Giovanni and
said a brief prayer; then he took the nearest street, east of Santa
Reparata, to the Porta a ballo, and found himself beyond the walls of the
city. He walked towards Fiesole.
The glory of the sunrise was still in the sky, the fragrance of the
dawning summer (it was the 11th of June) was in the air. He walked towards
the East. The corn on the hills was green, and pink wild roses fringed
every plot of wheat. The grass was wet with dew. The city glittered in the
plain beneath, clean and fresh in the dazzling air; it seemed a part of
the pageant of summer, an unreal piece of imagery, distinct and clear-cut,
yet miraculous, like a mirage seen in mid-ocean. "Truly," he thought,
"this is the city of the flower, and the lily is its fitting emblem."
But while his heart went out towards his native town he felt a sharp pang
as he remembered that the flower of flowers, the queen of the lilies, had
been mowed down by the scythe, and the city which to him had heretofore
been an altar was now a tomb. The lovely Virgilian dirge,
Manibus date lilia plenis . . .
His saltem accumulem donis et fungar inani
rang in his ears, and he thought that he too must bring a gift and scatter
lilies on her grave; handfuls of lilies; but they must be unfading
flowers, wet with immortal tears. He pondered on this gift. It must be a
gift of song, a temple built in verse. But he was still unsatisfied. No
dirge, however tender and solemn; no elegy, however soft and majestic; no
song, however piteous, could be a sufficient offering for the glorious
being who had died in her youth and beauty. But what could he fashion or
build? He thought with envy of Arnolfo and of Giotto: the one with his
bricks could have built a tomb which would prove to be one of the wonders
of the world, and the other with his brush could have fixed her features
for ever, for the wonder of future generations. And yet was not his
instrument the most potent of all, his vehicle the most enduring? Stones
decayed, and colours faded, but verse remained, outliving bronze and
marble. Yes, his monument should be more lasting than all the masterpieces
of Giotto, than all the proud designs of Arnolfo; but how should it be?
He had reached a narrow lane at the foot of a steep hill covered with corn
and dotted with olives. He lay down under a hedge in the shade. The sun
was shining on two large bramble bushes which grew on the hedge opposite
him. Above him, on his right, was a tall cypress tree standing by itself,
and the corn plots stretched up behind him till they reached the rocky
summits tufted with firs. Between the two bramble bushes a spider had spun
a large web, and he was sitting in the midst of it awaiting his prey. But
the bramble and the web were still wet with the morning dew, whose little
drops glistened in the sunshine like diamonds. Every tiny thread and
filament of the web was dewy and lit by the newly-awakened sun. He lay on
his back in the shade and pondered on the shape and nature of his gift of
song, and on the deathless flowers that he must grow and gather and lay
upon her tomb.
The spider's web caught his eye, and from where he lay the sight was
marvellous. The spider seemed like a small globe of fire in the midst of a
number of concentric silvery lines studded with dewy gems; it was like a
miniature sun in the midst of a system of gleaming stars. The delicate web
with its shining films and dewdrops seemed to him as he lay there to be a
vision of the whole universe, with all its worlds and stars revolving
around the central orb of light. It was as though a veil had been torn
away and he were looking on the naked glory of the spheres, the heart of
Heaven, the very home of God.
He looked and looked, his whole spirit filled with ineffable awe and
breathless humility. He lay gazing on the chance miracle of nature till a
passing cloud obscured the sun, and the spider's web wore once more its
ordinary appearance. Then he arose with tears in his eyes and gave a great
sigh of thankfulness.
"I have found it," he thought, "I will say of her what has never yet been
said of any woman. I will paint all Hell, all Purgatory, and all that is
in them, to make more glorious the glory of her abode, and I will reveal
to man that glory. I will show her in the circle of spotless flame, among
the rivers and rings of eternal light, which revolve around the inmost
heart, the fiery rose, and move obedient to the Love which moves the sun."
And his thought shaped itself into verse and he murmured to himself:
L'amor che muove il sole e l'altre stelle.
EDWARD II. AT BERKELEY CASTLE BY AN EYE-WITNESS (With apologies to Mr. H.
The King had not slept for three nights. He looked at his face in the
muddy pool of water which had settled in the worn flagstones of his prison
floor, and noticed that his beard was of a week's growth. Beads of sweat
stood on his forehead, and his eyes were bloodshot. In the room next door,
which was the canteen, the soldiers were playing on a drum. Over the tall
hills the dawn was ruffling the clouds. There was a faint glimmer on the
waters of the river. The footsteps of the gaolers were heard on the outer
rampart. At seven o'clock they brought the King a good dinner: they
allowed him burgundy from France, and yellow mead, and white bread baked
in the ovens of the Abbey, although he was constrained to drink out of
pewter, and plates were forbidden him. Eustace, his page, timidly offered
him music. The King bade him sing the "Lay of the Sussex Lass," which
Triumphant, oh! triumphant now she stands,
Above my Sussex, and above my sea!
She stretches out her thin ulterior hands
Across the morning . . .
But the King, to whom memories were portentous, called for another song
and Eustace sang a stave of that ballad which was made on the Pyrenees,
and which is still unfinished (for the modern world has no need of these
things), telling of how Lord Raymond drank in a little tent with
Enormous through the morning the tall battalions run:
The men who fought with Charlemagne are very dearly done;
The wine is dark beneath the night, the stars are in the sky,
The hammer's in the blacksmith's hand in case he wants to try.
We'll ride to Fontarabia, we'll storm the stubborn wall,
And I call.
And Uriel and his Seraphim are hammering a shield;
And twice along the valley has the horn of Roland pealed;
And Cleopatra on the Nile, Iseult in Brittany,
And Lancelot in Camelot, and Drake upon the sea;
And behind the young Republic are the fellows with the flag,
And I brag!
The King listlessly opened his eyes and said that he had no stomach for
such song, and from the next door came the mutter of the drums. For on
that night—which was Candlemas—Thursday, or as we should now
call it "Friday"—the gaolers were keeping holiday, and drinking
English beer brewed in Sussex; for the beer of West England was not to
their liking, as any one who has walked down the old Roman Road through
Daglingworth, Brimpsfield, and Birdlip towards Cardigan on a warm summer's
day can know. For a man may tramp that road and stop and ask for drink at
an inn, and receive nothing but Imperialist whisky, and drinks that annoy
rather than satisfy the great thirst of a Christian.
Outside, a little breeze had crept out of the West. The morning star was
paling over the Quantock Hills, and the King was mortally weary. "This day
three years ago," he thought, "I was spurred and harnessed for the lists
in a tunic of mail, with an emerald on my shoulder-strap, and I was
tilting with my lord of Cleremont before Queen Isabella of France. The
birds were singing in Touraine, and the sun was beating on the lists; and
the minstrels of Val-es-Dunes were chanting the song of the men who died
for the Faith when they stormed Jerusalem. What is the lilt of that song,"
said the King, "which the singers of Val-es-Dunes sang?" And Eustace
pondered, for his memory was weak and he was overwrought by nights of
watching and days of vigilance; but presently he touched his strings and
The captains came from Normandy
In clamorous ships across the sea;
And from the trees in Gascony
The masts were cloven, tall and free.
And Turpin swung the helm and sang;
And stars like all the bells at Brie
From cloudy steeples rang.
The rotten leaves are whirling down
Dishevelled from September's crown;
The Emperors have left the town;
The Weald of Sussex, burnt and brown,
Is trampled by the kings.
And Harmuth gallops up the Down,
And, as he rides, he sings.
He sings of battles and of wine,
Of boats that leap the bellowing brine,
Of April eyes that smile and shine,
Of Raymond and Lord Catiline
And Carthage by the sea,
Of saints, and of the Muses Nine
That dwell in Gascony.
And to the King, as he heard this stave, came visions of his youth; of how
he had galloped from Woodstock to Stonesfield on a night of June within
eleven hours, with a company of minstrels, and of how during that long
feast at Arundel he made a song in the vernacular in praise of St. Anselm.
And he remembered that he owed a candle to that saint. For he had vowed
that if the wife of Westermain should meet him after the tournament he
would burn a tall candle at Canterbury before Michaelmas. But this had
escaped his mind, for it had been tossed hither and thither during days of
conflict which had come later, and he was not loth to believe that the
neglect of this service and the idle vow had been corner-stone of his
misfortunes, and had helped to bring about his miserable plight.
While these threads of memory glimmered in his mind the small tallow
rush-light which lit the dungeon flickered and went out. The chapel clock
struck six. The King made a gesture which meant that the time of music was
over, and Eustace went back to the canteen, where the men of the guard
were playing at dice by the light of smoky rush-lights. The King lay down
on his wooden pallet, whose linen was delicate and of lawn, embroidered
with his own cipher and crown. The pillow, which was stuffed with scented
rushes, was delicious to the cheek, and yielding.
All that night in London Queen Isabella had been waiting for the news from
France. A storm was blowing across the Channel, and the ships (their
pilots were Germans, and bungled in reading the stars) making for the port
turned back towards Dunquerque. It was a storm such as, if you are in a
small boat, turns you back from Broughty Ferry to the Goodwin Sands. The
Queen, who took counsel of no one, was in two minds as to her daring deed,
and her hostage trembled in an uncertain grasp. In Saxony the banished
favourites talked wildly, cursing the counsels of London; but Saxony was
heedless and unmoved. And Piers Gaveston spoke heated words in vain.
The King, who was in that lethargic state of slumber, between sleep and
waking, heard a shuffle of steps beyond the door; a cold sweat broke once
more on his forehead, and he waved his left hand listlessly. Outside the
sun had risen, and a broad daylight flooded the wet meadows and the
brimming tide of the Severn, catching the sails of the boats that were
heeling and trembling on the ripple of the water, which was stirred by the
South wind. The King looked towards the window with weariness, expecting,
as far as his lethargy allowed, the advent of another monotonous day.
The door opened. The faces he saw by the gaoler's torch were not those he
expected. The King, I say, looked towards them, and his hands trembled,
and the moisture on them glistened. They were dark, and one of them was
concealed by a silken mask.
Three men entered the dungeon. In the hands of the foremost of the three
glowed a red-hot iron, which was to be the manner of his doom.
"Perhaps we had better not land after all," said Lewis as he was stepping
into the boat; "we can explore this island on our way home."
"We had much better land now," said Stewart; "we shall get to Teneriffe
to-morrow in any case. Besides, an island that's not on the chart is too
exciting a thing to wait for."
Lewis gave in to his younger companion, and the two ornithologists, who
were on their way to the Canary Islands in search of eggs, were rowed to
"They had better fetch us at sunset," said Lewis as they landed.
"Perhaps we shall stay the night," responded Stewart.
"I don't think so," said Lewis; but after a pause he told the sailors that
if they should be more than half an hour late they were not to wait, but
to come back in the morning at ten. Lewis and Stewart walked from the
sandy bay up a steep basaltic cliff which sloped right down to the beach.
"The island is volcanic," said Stewart.
"All the islands about here are volcanic," said Lewis. "We shan't be able
to climb much in this heat," he added.
"It will be all right when we get to the trees," said Stewart. Presently
they reached the top of the cliff. The basaltic rock ceased and an open
grassy incline was before them covered with myrtle and cactus bushes; and
further off a thick wood, to the east of which rose a hill sparsely dotted
with olive trees. They sat down on the grass, panting. The sun beat down
on the dry rock; there was not a cloud in the sky nor a ripple on the
emerald sea. In the air there was a strange aromatic scent; and the
stillness was heavy.
"I don't think it can be inhabited," said Lewis.
"Perhaps it's merely a volcanic island cast up by a sea disturbance,"
"Look at those trees," said Lewis, pointing to the wood in the distance.
"What about them?" asked Stewart.
"They are oak trees," said Lewis. "Do you know why I didn't want to land?"
he asked abruptly. "I am not superstitious, you know, but as I got into
the boat I distinctly heard a voice calling out: 'Don't land!'"
Stewart laughed. "I think it was a good thing to land," he said. "Let's go
They walked towards the wood, and the nearer they got to it the more their
surprise increased. It was a thick wood of large oak trees which must
certainly have been a hundred years old. When they had got quite close to
it they paused.
"Before we explore the wood," said Lewis, "let us climb the hill and see
if we can get a general view of the island."
Stewart agreed, and they climbed the hill in silence. When they reached
the top they found it was not the highest point of the island, but only
one of several hills, so that they obtained only a limited view. The
valleys seemed to be densely wooded, and the oak wood was larger than they
had imagined. They laid down and rested and lit their pipes.
"No birds," remarked Lewis gloomily.
"I haven't seen one—the island is extraordinarily still," said
Stewart. The further they had penetrated inland the more oppressive and
sultry the air had become; and the pungent aroma they had noticed directly
was stronger. It was like that of mint, and yet it was not mint; and
although sweet it was not agreeable. The heat seemed to weigh even on
Stewart's buoyant spirits, for he sat smoking in silence, and no longer
urged Lewis to continue their exploration.
"I think the island is inhabited," said Lewis, "and that the houses are on
the other side. There are some sheep and some goats on that hill opposite.
Do you see?"
"Yes," said Stewart, "I think they are mouflon, but I don't think the
island is inhabited all the same." No sooner were the words out of his
mouth than he started, and rising to his feet, cried: "Look there!" and he
pointed to a thin wreath of smoke which was rising from the wood. Their
languor seemed to leave them, and they ran down the hill and reached the
wood once more. Just as they were about to enter it Lewis stooped and
pointed to a small plant with white flowers and three oval-shaped leaves
rising from the root.
"What's that?" he asked Stewart, who was the better botanist of the two.
The flowers were quite white, and each had six pointed petals.
"It's a kind of garlic, I think," said Stewart. Lewis bent down over it.
"It doesn't smell," he said. "It's not unlike moly (Allium flavum),
only it's white instead of yellow, and the flowers are larger. I'm going
to take it with me." He began scooping away the earth with a knife so as
to take out the plant by the roots. After he had been working for some
minutes he exclaimed: "This is the toughest plant I've ever seen; I can't
get it out." He was at last successful, but as he pulled the root he gave
a cry of surprise.
"There's no bulb," he said. "Look! Only a black root."
Stewart examined the plant. "I can't make it out," he said.
Lewis wrapped the plant in his handkerchief and put it in his pocket. They
entered the wood. The air was still more sultry here than outside, and the
stillness even more oppressive. There were no birds and not a vestige of
"This exploration is evidently a waste of time as far as birds are
concerned," remarked Lewis. At that moment there was a rustle in the
undergrowth, and five pigs crossed their path and disappeared, grunting.
Lewis started, and for some reason he could not account for, shuddered; he
looked at Stewart, who appeared unconcerned.
"They are not wild," said Stewart. They walked on in silence. The place
and its heavy atmosphere had again affected their spirits. When they spoke
it was almost in a whisper. Lewis wished they had not landed, but he could
give no reason to himself for his wish. After they had been walking for
about twenty minutes they suddenly came on an open space and a low white
house. They stopped and looked at each other.
"It's got no chimney!" cried Lewis, who was the first to speak. It was a
one-storeyed building, with large windows (which had no glass in them)
reaching to the ground, wider at the bottom than at the top. The house was
overgrown with creepers; the roof was flat. They entered in silence by the
large open doorway and found themselves in a low hall. There was no
furniture and the floor was mossy.
"It's rather like an Egyptian tomb," said Stewart, and he shivered. The
hall led into a further room, which was open in the centre to the sky,
like the impluvium of a Roman house. It also contained a square
basin of water, which was filled by water bubbling from a lion's mouth
carved in stone. Beyond the impluvium there were two smaller rooms,
in one of which there was a kind of raised stone platform. The house was
completely deserted and empty. Lewis and Stewart said little; they
examined the house in silent amazement.
"Look," said Lewis, pointing to one of the walls. Stewart examined the
wall and noticed that there were traces on it of a faded painted
"It's like the wall paintings at Pompeii," he said.
"I think the house is modern," remarked Lewis. "It was probably built by
some eccentric at the beginning of the nineteenth century, who did it up
in Empire style."
"Do you know what time it is?" said Stewart, suddenly. "The sun has set
and it's growing dark."
"We must go at once," said Lewis, "we'll come back here to-morrow." They
walked on in silence. The wood was dim in the twilight, a fitful breeze
made the trees rustle now and again, but the air was just as sultry as
ever. The shapes of the trees seemed fantastic and almost threatening in
the dimness, and the rustle of the leaves was like a human moan. Once or
twice they seemed to hear the grunting of pigs in the undergrowth and to
catch sight of bristly backs.
"We don't seem to be getting any nearer the end," said Stewart after a
time. "I think we've taken the wrong path." They stopped. "I remember that
tree," said Stewart, pointing to a twisted oak; "we must go straight on
from there to the left." They walked on and in ten minutes' time found
themselves once more at the back of the house. It was now quite dark.
"We shall never find the way now," said Lewis. "We had better sleep in the
house." They walked through the house into one of the furthest rooms and
settled themselves on the mossy platform. The night was warm and starry,
the house deathly still except for the splashing of the water in the
"We shan't get any food," Lewis said.
"I'm not hungry," said Stewart, and Lewis knew that he could not have
eaten anything to save his life. He felt utterly exhausted and yet not at
all sleepy. Stewart, on the other hand, was overcome with drowsiness. He
lay down on the mossy platform and fell asleep almost instantly. Lewis lit
a pipe; the vague forebodings he had felt in the morning had returned to
him, only increased tenfold. He felt an unaccountable physical discomfort,
an inexplicable sensation of uneasiness. Then he realised what it was. He
felt there was someone in the house besides themselves, someone or
something that was always behind him, moving when he moved and watching
him. He walked into the impluvium, but heard nothing and saw
nothing. There were none of the thousand little sounds, such as the
barking of a dog, or the hoot of a night-bird, which generally complete
the silence of a summer night. Everything was uncannily still. He returned
to the room. He would have given anything to be back on the yacht, for
besides the physical sensation of discomfort and of the something watching
him he also felt the unmistakable feeling of impending danger that had
been with him nearly all day.
He lay down and at last fell into a doze. As he dozed he heard a subdued
noise, a kind of buzzing, such as is made by a spinning wheel or a shuttle
on a loom, and more strongly than ever he felt that he was being watched.
Then all at once his body seemed to grow stiff with fright. He saw someone
enter the room from the impluvium. It was a dim, veiled figure, the
figure of a woman. He could not distinguish her features, but he had the
impression that she was strangely beautiful; she was bearing a cup in her
hands, and she walked towards Stewart and bent over him, offering him the
Something in Lewis prompted him to cry out with all his might: "Don't
drink! Don't drink!" He heard the words echoing in the air, just as he had
heard the voice in the boat; he felt that it was imperative to call out,
and yet he could not: he was paralysed; the words would not come. He
formed them with his lips, but no sound came. He tried with all his might
to rise and scream, and he could not move. Then a sudden cold faintness
came upon him, and he remembered no more till he woke and found the sun
shining brightly. Stewart was lying with his eyes closed, moaning loudly
in his sleep.
Lewis tried to wake him. He opened his eyes and stared with a fixed,
meaningless stare. Lewis tried to lift him from the platform, and then a
horrible thing happened. Stewart struggled violently and made a snarling
noise, which froze the blood in Lewis's veins. He ran out of the house
with cold beads of sweat on his forehead. He ran through the wood to the
shore, and there he found the boat. He rowed back to the yacht and fetched
some quinine. Then, together with the skipper, the steward, and some other
sailors, he returned to the ominous house. They found it empty. There was
no trace of Stewart. They shouted in the wood till they were hoarse, but
no answer broke the heavy stillness.
Then sending for the rest of the crew, Lewis organised a regular search
over the whole island. This lasted till sunset, and they returned in the
evening without having found any trace of Stewart or of any other human
being. In the night a high wind rose, which soon became a gale; they were
obliged to weigh anchor so as not to be dashed against the island, and for
twenty-four hours they underwent a terrific tossing. Then the storm
subsided as quickly as it had come.
They made for the island once more and reached the spot where they had
anchored three days before. There was no trace of the island. It had
When they reached Teneriffe the next day they found that everybody was
talking of the great tidal wave which had caused such great damage and
destruction in the islands.
THE MAN WHO GAVE GOOD ADVICE
To Henry Cust
When he was a child his baby brother came to him one day and said that
their elder brother, who was grown up, had got a beautiful small ship in
his room. Should he ask him for it? The child who gave good advice said:
"No, if you ask him for it he will say you are a spoilt child; but go and
play in his room with it before he gets up in the morning, and he will
give it to you." The baby brother followed this advice, and sure enough
two days afterwards he appeared triumphant in the nursery with the ship in
his hands, saying: "He said I might choose, the ship or the picture-book."
Now the picture-book was a coloured edition of Baron Munchausen's
adventures; the boy who gave good advice had seen it and hankered for it.
As the baby brother had refused it there could be no harm in asking for
it, so the next time his elder brother sent him on an errand (it was to
fetch a pin-cushion from his room) judging the moment to be propitious, he
said to him: "May I have the picture-book that baby wouldn't have?" "I
don't like little boys who ask," answered the big brother, and there the
The child who gave good advice went to school. There was a rage for stag
beetles at the school; the boys painted them and made them run races on a
chessboard. They imagined—rightly or wrongly—that some stag
beetles were much faster than others. A little boy called Bell possessed
the stag beetle which was the favourite for the coming races. Another boy
called Mason was consumed with longing for this stag beetle; and Bell had
said he would give it to him in exchange for Mason's catapult, which was
famous in the school for the unique straightness of its two prongs. Mason
went to the boy who gave good advice and asked him for his opinion. "Don't
swap it for your catty," said the boy who gave good advice, "because
Bell's stag beetle may not win after all; and even if it does stag beetles
won't be the rage for very long; but a catty is always a catty, and yours
is the best in the school." Mason took the advice. When the races came
off, the stag beetles were so erratic that no prize was awarded, and they
immediately ceased to be the rage. The rage for stag beetles was succeeded
by a rage for secret alphabets. One boy invented a secret alphabet made of
simple hieroglyphics, which was imparted only to a select few, who spent
their spare time in corresponding with each other by these cryptic signs.
The boy who gave good advice was not of those initiated into the mystery
of the cypher, and he longed to be. He made several overtures, but they
were all rejected, the reason being that boys of the second division could
not let a "third division squit" into their secret. At last the boy who
gave good advice offered to one of the initiated the whole of his stamp
collection in return for the secret of the alphabet. This offer was
accepted. The boy took the stamp collection, but the boy who gave good
advice received in return not the true alphabet but a sham one especially
manufactured for him. This he found out later; but recriminations were
useless; besides which the rage for secret alphabets soon died out and was
replaced by a rage for aquariums, newts, and natterjack toads.
The boy went to a public school. He was a fag. His fag-master had two
fags. One morning the other fag came to the boy who gave good advice and
said: "Clarke (he was the fag-master) told me three days ago to clean his
football boots. He's been 'staying out' and hasn't used them, and I
forgot. He'll want them to-day, and now there isn't time. I shall pretend
I did clean them."
"No, don't do that," said the boy who gave good advice, "because if you
say you have cleaned them he will lick you twice as much for having
cleaned them badly—say you forgot." The advice was taken, and the
fag-master merely said: "Don't forget again." A little later the
fag-master had some friends to tea, and told the boy who gave good advice
to boil him six eggs for not more than three minutes and a half. The boy
who gave good advice, while they were on the fire, took part in a rag that
which was going on in the passage; the result was that the eggs remained
seven minutes in boiling water. They were hard. When the fag-master
pointed this out and asked his fag what he meant by it, the boy who gave
good advice persisted in his statement that they had been exactly three
minutes and a half in the saucepan, and that he had timed them by his
watch. So the fag-master caned him for telling lies.
The boy who gave good advice grew into a man and went to the university.
There he made friends with a man called Crawley, who went to a
neighbouring race meeting one day and lost two or three hundred pounds.
"I must raise the money from a money-lender somehow," said Crawley to the
man who gave good advice, "and on no account must the Master hear of it or
he would send me down; or write home, which would be worse."
"On the contrary," said the man who gave good advice, "you must go
straight to the Master and tell him all about it. He will like you twice
as much for ever afterwards; he never minds people getting into scrapes
when he happens to like them, and he likes you and believes you have a
great career before you."
Crawley went to the Master of the college and made a clean breast of it.
The Master told him he had been foolish—very foolish; but he
arranged the whole matter in such a manner that it never came to the ears
of Crawley's extremely violent-tempered and puritanical father.
The man who gave good advice got a "First" in Mods, and everyone felt
confident he would get a first in Greats; he did brilliantly in nearly all
his papers; but during the Latin unseen a temporary and sudden lapse of
memory came over him and he forgot the English for manubioe, which
the day before he had known quite well means prize-money. In fact the word
was written on the first page of his note-book. The word was in his brain,
but a small shutter had closed on it for the moment and he could not
recall it. He looked over his neighbour's shoulder. His neighbour had
translated it "booty." He copied the word mechanically, knowing it was
wrong. As he did so he was detected and accused of cribbing. He denied the
charge, the matter was investigated, the papers were compared, and the man
who gave good advice was disqualified. In all his other papers he had done
incomparably better than anyone else.
When he left Oxford the man who gave good advice went into a Government
office. He had not been in it long before he perceived that by certain
simple reforms the work of the office could be done twice as effectually
and half as expensively. He embodied these reforms in a memorandum and
they were not long afterwards adopted. He became private secretary to
Snipe, a rising politician and persuaded him to change his party and his
politics. Snipe, owing to this advice, became a Cabinet Minister, and the
man who gave good advice, having inherited some money, stood for
Parliament himself. He stood as a Conservative at a General Election and
spoke eloquently to enthusiastic meetings. The wire-pullers prophecied an
overwhelming majority, when shortly before the poll, at one of his
meetings, he suddenly declared himself to be an Independent, and made a
speech violently in favour of Home Rule and conscription. The result was
that the Liberal Imperialist got in by a huge majority, and the man who
gave good advice was pelted with rotten eggs.
After this the man who gave good advice abandoned politics and took to
finance; in this branch of human affairs he made the fortune of several of
his friends, preventing some from putting their money in alluring South
African schemes, and advising others to risk theirs on events which seemed
to him certain, such as the election of a President or the short-lived
nature of a revolution; events which he foresaw with intuition amounting
to second-sight. At the same time he lost nearly all his own money by
investing it in a company which professed to have discovered a manner—cheap
and rapid—of transforming copper into platinum. He made the fortune
of a publisher by insisting on the publication of a novel which six
intelligent men had declared to be unreadable. It was called "The
Conscience of John Digby," and when published it sold by thousands and
tens of thousands. But he lost the handsome reward he received for this
service by publishing at his own expense, on magnificent paper, an edition
of Rabelais' works in their original tongue. He frequently spotted winners
for his friends and for himself, but any money that he won at a race
meeting he invariably lost coming home in the train on the Three Card
Nor did he lose touch with politicians, and this brought about the final
catastrophe. A great friend of his, the eminent John Brooke, had the
chance of becoming Prime Minister. Parties were at that time in a state of
confusion. The question was, should his friend ally himself with or sever
himself for ever from Mr. Capax Nissy, the leader of the Liberal
Aristocracy Party, who seemed to have a large following? His friend, John
Brooke, gave a small dinner to his most intimate friends in order to talk
over the matter. The man who gave good advice was so eloquent, so cogent
in his reasoning, so acute in his perception, that he persuaded Brooke to
sever himself for ever from Capax Nissy. He persuaded all who were
present, with the exception of Mr. Short-Sight, a pig-headed man who
reasoned falsely. So annoyed did the man who gave good advice become with
Short-Sight, and so excited in his vexation, that he finally lost his
self-control, and hit him as hard as he could on the head—after
Short-Sight had repeated a groundless assertion for the seventh time—with
Short-Sight died, and the man who gave good advice was convicted of wilful
murder. He gave admirable advice to his counsel, but threw away his own
case as soon as he entered the box himself, which he insisted on doing. He
was hanged in gaol at Reading. Many people whom he had benefited in
various ways visited him in prison, among others John Brooke, the Prime
Minister. It is said that he would certainly have been reprieved but for
the intemperate and inexcusable letters he wrote to the Home Secretary
"It's a great tragedy—he was a clever man," said Brooke after dinner
when they were discussing the misfortune at Downing Street; "a very clever
man, but he had no judgment."
"No," said Snipe, the man whose private secretary the man who gave good
advice had been, "That's it. It's an awful thing—but he had no
Peter, or Petrushka, which was the name he was known by, was the
carpenter's mate; his hair was like light straw, and his eyes were mild
and blue. He was good at his trade; a quiet and sober youth; thoughtful,
too, for he knew how to read and had read several books when he was still
a boy. A translation of "Monte Cristo" once fell into his hands, and this
story had kindled his imagination and stirred in him the desire to travel,
to see new countries and strange people. He had made up his mind to leave
the village and to try his luck in one of the big towns, when, before he
was eighteen, something happened to him which entirely changed the colour
of his thoughts and the range of his desires. It was an ordinary
experience enough: he fell in love. He fell in love with Tatiana, who
worked in the starch factory. Tatiana's eyes were grey, her complexion was
white, her features small and delicate, and her hair a beautiful dark
brown with gold lights and black shadows in it; her movements were quick
and her glance keen; she was like a swallow.
It happened when the snows melted and the meadows were flooded; the first
fine day in April. The larks were singing over the plains, which were
beginning to show themselves once more under the melting snow; the sun
shone on the large patches of water, and turned the flooded meadows in the
valley into a fantastic vision. It was on a Sunday after church that this
new thing happened. He had often seen Tatiana before: that day she was
different and new to him. It was as if a bandage had been taken from his
eyes, and at the same moment he realised that Tatiana was a new Tatiana.
He also knew that the old world in which he had lived hitherto had
crumbled to pieces; and that a new world, far brighter and more wonderful,
had been created for him. As for Tatiana, she loved him at once. There was
no delay, no hesitation, no misunderstandings, no doubt: and at the first
not much speech; but first love came to them straight and swift, with the
first sunshine of the spring, as it does to the birds.
All the spring and summer they kept company and walked out together in the
evenings. When the snows entirely melted and the true spring came, it came
with a rush; in a fortnight's time all the trees except the ash were
green, and the bees boomed round the thick clusters of pear-blossom and
apple-blossom, which shone like snow against the bright azure. During that
time Petrushka and Tatiana walked in the apple orchard in the evening and
they talked to each other in the divinest of all languages, the language
of first love, which is no language at all but a confused medley and
murmur of broken phrases, whisperings, twitterings, pauses, and silences—a
language so wonderful that it cannot be put down into speech or words,
although Shakespeare and the very great poets translate the spirit of it
into music, and the great musicians catch the echo of it in their song.
Then a fortnight later, when the woods were carpeted and thick with lilies
of the valley, Petrushka and Tatiana walked in the woods and picked the
last white violets, and later again they sought the alleys of the
landlord's property, where the lilac bushes were a mass of blossom and
fragrance, and there they listened to the nightingale, the bird of spring.
Then came the summer, the fragrance of the beanfields, and the ripening of
corn and the wonderful long twilights, and July, when the corn, ripe and
tall and stiff, changed the plains into a vast rippling ocean of gold.
After the harvest, at the very beginning of autumn, they were to be
married. There had been a slight difficulty about money. Tatiana's father
had insisted that Petrushka should produce a certain not very large sum;
but the difficulty had been overcome and the money had been found. There
were no more obstacles, everything was smooth and settled. Petrushka no
longer thought of travels in foreign lands; he had forgotten the old
dreams which "Monte Cristo" had once kindled in him.
It was in the middle of August that the carpenter received instructions
from the landowner to make some wooden steps and a small raft and to fix
them up on the banks of the river for the convenience of bathers. It did
not take the carpenter and Petrushka long to make these things, and one
afternoon Petrushka drove down to the river to fix them in their place.
The river was broad, the banks were wooded with willow trees, and the
undergrowth was thick, for the woods reached to the river bank, which was
flat, but which ended sheer above the water over a slope of mud and roots,
so that a bather needed steps or a raft or a springboard, so as to dive or
to enter and leave the water with comfort.
Petrushka put the steps in their place—which was where the wood
ended—and made fast the floating raft to them. Not far from the bank
the ground was marshy and the spot was suspected by some people of being
haunted by malaria. It was a still, sultry day. The river was like oil,
the sky clouded but not entirely overclouded, and among the high banks of
grey cloud there were patches of blue.
When Petrushka had finished the job, he sat on the wooden steps, and
rolling some tobacco into a primitive cigarette, contemplated the grey,
oily water and the willow trees. It was too late in the year, he thought,
to make a bathing place. He dipped his hand in the water: it was cold, but
not too cold. Yet in a fortnight's time it would not be pleasant to bathe.
However, people had their whims, and he mused on the scheme of the
universe which ordained that certain people should have whims, and that
others should humour those whims whether they liked it or not. Many people—many
of his fellow-workers—talked of the day when the universal levelling
would take place and when all men could be equal. Petrushka did not much
believe in the advent of that day; he was not quite sure whether he
ardently desired it; in any case, he was very happy as he was.
At that moment he heard two sharp short sounds, less musical than a pipe
and not so loud or harsh as a scream. He looked up. A kingfisher had flown
across the oily water. Petrushka shouted; and the kingfisher skimmed over
the water once more and disappeared in the trees on the other side of the
river. Petrushka rolled and lit another cigarette. Presently he heard the
two sharp sounds once more, and the kingfisher darted again across the
water: a bit of fish was in its beak. It disappeared into the bank of the
river on the same side on which Petrushka was sitting, only lower down.
"Its nest must be there," thought Petrushka, and he remembered that he had
heard it said that no one had ever been able to carry off a kingfisher's
nest intact. Why should he not be the first person to do so? He was
skilful with his fingers, his touch was sure and light. It was evidently a
carpenter's job, and few carpenters had the leisure or opportunity to look
for kingfishers' nests. What a rare present it would be for Tatiana—a
whole kingfisher's nest with every bone in it intact.
He walked stealthily through the bushes down the bank of the river, making
as little noise as possible. He thought he had marked the spot where the
kingfisher had dived into the bank. As he walked, the undergrowth grew
thicker and the path darker, for he had reached the wood, on the outskirts
and end of which was the spot where he had made the steps. He walked on
and on without thinking, oblivious of his surroundings, until he suddenly
realised that he had gone too far. Moreover, he must have been walking for
some time, for it was getting dark, or was it a thunder-shower? The air,
too, was unbearably sultry; he stopped and wiped his forehead with a big
print handkerchief. It was impossible to reach the bank from the place
where he now stood, as he was separated from it by a wide ditch of
stagnant water. He therefore retraced his footsteps through the wood. It
grew darker and darker; it must be, he thought, the evening deepening and
All at once he started; he had heard a sound, a high pipe. Was it the
kingfisher? He paused and listened. Distinctly, and not far off in the
undergrowth, he heard a laugh, a woman's laugh. It flashed across his mind
that it might be Tatiana, but it was not her laugh. Something rustled in
the bushes to the left of him; he followed the rustling and it led him
through the bushes—he had now passed the ditch—to the river
bank. The sun had set behind the woods from which he had just emerged; the
sky was as grey as the water, and there was no reflection of the sunset in
the east. Except the water and the trees he saw nothing; there was not a
sound to be heard, not a ripple on the river, not a whisper from the
Then all at once the stillness was broken again by quick rippling laughs
immediately behind him. He turned sharply round, and saw a woman in the
bushes: her eyes were large and green and sad; her hair straggling and
dishevelled; she was dressed in reeds and leaves; she was very pale. She
stared at him fixedly, and smiled, showing gleaming teeth, and when she
smiled there was no light nor laughter in her eyes, which remained sad and
green and glazed like those of a drowned person. She laughed again and ran
into the bushes. Petrushka ran after her, but although he was quite close
to her he lost all trace of her immediately. It was as if she had vanished
under the earth or into the air.
"It's a Russalka," thought Petrushka, and he shivered. Then he added to
himself, with the pride of the new scepticism he had learnt from the
factory hands: "There is no such thing; only women believe in such things.
It was some drunken woman."
Petrushka walked quickly back to the edge of the wood, where he had left
his cart, and drove home. The next day was Sunday, and Tatiana noticed
that he was different—moody, melancholy, and absent-minded. She
asked him what was the matter; he said his head ached. Towards five
o'clock he told her—they were standing outside her cottage—that
he was obliged to go to the river to work.
"To-day is holiday," she said quietly.
"I left something there yesterday: one of my tools. I must fetch it," he
Tatiana looked at him, and her intuition told her, firstly, that this was
not true, and, secondly, that it was not well for Petrushka to go to the
river. She begged him not to go. Petrushka laughed and said he would be
back quickly. Tatiana cried, and implored him on her knees not to go. Then
Petrushka grew irritable and almost rough, and told her not to vex him
with foolishness. Reluctantly and sadly she gave in at last.
Petrushka went to the river, and Tatiana watched him go with a heavy
heart. She felt quite certain some disaster was about to happen.
At seven o'clock Petrushka had not yet returned, and he did not return
that night. The next morning the carpenter and two others went to the
river to look for him. They found his body in the shallow water, entangled
in the ropes of the raft he had made. He had been drowned, no doubt, in
setting the raft straight.
During all that Sunday night, Tatiana had said no word, nor had she moved
from her doorstep: it was only when they brought back the dripping body to
the village that she stirred, and when she saw it she laughed a dreadful
laugh, and the spirit went from her eyes, leaving a fixed stare.
THE OLD WOMAN
The old woman was spinning at her wheel near a fire of myrtle boughs which
burnt fragrantly in the open yard. Through the stone columns the sea was
visible, smooth, dark, and blue; the low sun bathed the brown hills of the
coast in a golden mist. It was December. The shepherds were driving home
their flocks, the work of the day was done, and a noise of light laughter
and rippling talk came from the Slaves' quarter.
In the middle of the stone-flagged yard two little boys were playing at
quoits. Their eyes and hair were as dark as their brown skin, which had
been tanned by the sun. In one of the corners of the yard a fair-haired,
blue-eyed girl was nursing a kitten and singing it to sleep. The old woman
was singing too, or rather humming a tune to herself as she turned her
wheel. She was very old: her hair was white and silvery, and her face was
furrowed by a hundred wrinkles. Her eyes were blue as the sky, and perhaps
they had once been full of fire and laughter, but all that had been
quenched and washed out long ago, and Time, with his noiseless chisel, had
sharpened her delicate features and hollowed out her cheeks, which were as
white as ivory. But her hands as they twisted the wood were the hands of a
young woman, and seemed as though they had been fashioned by a rare
craftsman, so perfect were they in shape and proportion, as firm as carved
marble, as delicate as flowers.
The sun sank behind the hills of the coast, and a flood of scarlet light
spread along the West just above them, melting higher up into orange, and
still higher into a luminous blue, which turned to green later as the
evening deepened. The air was cool and sharp, and the little boys, who had
finished their game, drew near to the fire.
"Tell us a story," said the elder of the two boys, as they curled
themselves up at the feet of the old woman.
"You know all my stories," she said.
"That doesn't matter," said the boy. "You can tell us an old one."
"Well," said the old woman, "I suppose I must. There was once upon a time
a King and a Queen who had three sons and one daughter." At the sound of
these words the little girl ran up and nestled in the folds of the old
woman's long cloak.
"No, not that one," one of the little boys interrupted, "tell us about the
Queen without a heart." So the old woman began and said:—
"There was once upon a time a King and a Queen who had one daughter, and
they invited all the gods and goddesses to the feast which they gave in
honour of the birth of their child. The gods and goddesses came and gave
the child every gift they could think of; she was to be the most beautiful
woman in the whole world, she was to dance like the West wind, to laugh
like the stream, and to sing like the lark. Her hair should be made of
sunshine, and her eyes should be as the sea in midsummer. She should excel
in all things, in knowledge, in wit, and in skill; she should be fleet of
foot, a cunning harp-player, adept at all manner of woman-like crafts, and
deft with the needle and the spinning-wheel, and at the loom. Zeus himself
gave her stateliness and majesty, the Lord of the Sun gave a voice as of a
golden flute; Poseidon gave her the laughter of all the waves of the sea,
the King of the Underworld gave her a red ruby to wear on her breast more
precious than all the gems of the world. Artemis gave her swiftness and
radiance, Persephone the fragrance and the freshness of all the flowers of
spring; Pallas Athene gave her curious knowledge and pleasant speech; and,
lastly, the Seaborn Goddess breathed upon her and gave her the beauty of
the rose, the pearl, the dew, and the shells and the foam of the sea. But,
alas! the King and Queen had forgotten to ask one guest. The Goddess of
Envy and Discord had been left out, and she came unbidden, and when all
the gods and goddesses had given their gifts, she said: 'I too have a gift
to give, a gift that will be more precious to her than any. I will give
her a heart that shall be proof against all the onsets of the world.' So
saying the Goddess of Envy took away the child's heart and put in its
place a heart of stone, hard as adamant, bright and glittering as a gem.
And the Goddess of Envy went her way mocking. The King and Queen were
greatly concerned, and they asked the gods and goddesses whether their
daughter would ever recover her human heart. They were told that the
Goddess of Envy would be obliged to give back the child's heart to the man
who loved her enough to seek and to find it, and this would surely happen;
but when and how it was forbidden to them to reveal.
"The child grew up and became the wonder of the world. She was married to
a powerful King, and they lived in peace and plenty until the Goddess of
Envy once more troubled the child's life. For owing to her subtle planning
a Prince was promised for wife the fairest woman in the world, and he took
the wife of the powerful King and carried her away to Asia to the
six-gated city. The King prepared a host of ships and armed men and sailed
to Asia to win back his wife. And he and his army fought for ten years
until the six-gated city was taken, and he brought his wife home once
more. Now during all the time the war lasted, although the whole world was
filled with the fame of the King's wife and of her beauty, there was not
found one man who was willing to seek for her heart and to find it, for
some gave no credence to the tale, and others, believing it, reasoned that
the quest might last a life-time, and that by the time they accomplished
it the King's wife would be an old woman, and there would be fairer women
in the world. Others, again, could not believe that in so perfect a woman
there could be any fault; they vowed her heart must be one with her
matchless beauty, and they said that even if the tale were true, they
preferred to worship her as she was, and they would not have her be
otherwise or changed by a hair's breadth for all the world. Some, indeed,
did set out upon the quest, but abandoned it soon from weariness and
returned to bask in the beauty of the great Queen.
"The years went by. The Queen journeyed to Egypt, to the mountains of the
South, and the cities of the desert; to the Pillars of Hercules and to the
islands of the West. Wherever she went her fame spread like fire, and men
fought and died for a glimpse of her marvellous beauty; and wherever she
passed she left behind her strife and sorrow like a burning trail. After
many voyages she returned home and lived prosperously. The King her
husband died, her children grew up and married and bore children
themselves, and she continued to live peacefully in her palace. Her fame
and her glory brought her neither joy nor sorrow, nor did she heed the
spell that she cast on the hearts of men.
"One day a harp-player came to her palace and sang and played before her;
he made music so ravishing and so sad that all who heard him wept save the
Queen, who listened and smiled, listless and indifferent. But her smile
filled him with such a passion of wonder and worship that he resolved to
rest no more until he had found her heart, for he knew the tale. So he
sought the whole world over in vain; and for years and years he roamed the
world fruitlessly. At last one day in a far country he found a little bird
in a trap and he set it free, and in return the bird promised him that he
should find the Queen's heart. All he had to do was to go home and to seek
the Queen's palace. So the harper went home to the Queen's palace, and
when he reached it he found the Queen had grown old; her hair was grey and
there were lines on her cheek. But she smiled on him, and he knelt down
before her, for he loved her more than ever, and to him she was as
beautiful as ever she had been. At that moment, for the first time in her
life the Queen's eyes filled with tears, for her heart had been given back
to her. And that is all the story."
"And what happened to the harper?" asked one of the little boys.
"He lived in the palace and played to the Queen till he died."
"And is the story true?" asked the other little boy.
"Yes," said the old woman, "quite true."
The boys jumped up and kissed the old woman, and the elder of them,
growing pensive, said:—
"Grandmother, were you ever young yourself?"
"Yes, my child," said the old woman, smiling, "I was once young—a
very long time ago."
She got up, for the twilight had come and it was almost dark. She walked
into the house, and as she rose she was neither bowed nor bent, but she
trod the ground with a straightness which was not stiff but full of grace,
and she moved royally like a goddess. As she walked past the smoking
flames the children noticed that large tears were welling from her eyes
and trickling down her faded cheek.
DR. FAUST'S LAST DAY
The Doctor got up at dawn, as was his wont, and as soon as he was dressed
he sat down at his desk in his library overlooking the sea, and immersed
himself in the studies which were the lodestar of his existence. His hours
were mapped out with rigid regularity like those of a school-boy, and his
methodical life worked as though by clockwork. He rose at dawn and read
without interruption until eight o'clock. He then partook of some light
food (he was a strict vegetarian), after which he walked in the garden of
his house, overlooking the Bay of Naples, until ten. From ten to twelve he
received sick people, peasants from the village, or any visitors that
needed his advice or his company. At twelve he ate a frugal meal. From one
o'clock until three he enjoyed a siesta. At three he resumed his studies,
which continued without interruption until six when he partook of a second
meal. At seven he took another stroll in the village or by the seashore
and remained out of doors until nine. He then withdrew into his study, and
at midnight went to bed.
It was, perhaps, the extreme regularity of his life, combined with the
strict diet which he observed, that accounted for his good health. This
day was his seventieth birthday, and his body was as vigorous and his mind
as alert as they had been in his fortieth year. His thick hair and beard
were scarcely grey, and the wrinkles on his white, thoughtful face were
rare. Yet the Doctor, when questioned as to the secret of his
youthfulness, being like many learned men fond of a paradox, used to reply
that diet and regularity had nothing to do with it, and that the Southern
sun and the climate of the Neapolitan coast, which he had chosen among all
places to be the abode of his old age, were in reality responsible for his
"I lead a regular life," he used to say, "not in order to keep well, but
in order to get through my work. Unless my hours were mapped out regularly
I should be the prey of every idler in the place and I should never get
any work done at all."
On this day, as it was his seventieth birthday, the Doctor had asked a few
friends to share his mid-day meal, and when he returned from his morning
stroll he sent for his housekeeper to give her a few final instructions.
The housekeeper, who was a voluble Italian peasant-woman, after receiving
his orders, handed him a piece of paper on which a few words were scrawled
in reddish-brown ink, saying it had been left by a Signore.
"What Signore?" asked the Doctor, as he perused the document, which
consisted of words in the German tongue to the effect that the writer
regretted his absence from the Doctor's feast, but would call at midnight.
It was not signed.
"He was a Signore, like all Signores," said the housekeeper; "he just left
the letter and went away."
The Doctor was puzzled, and in spite of much cross-examination he was
unable to extract anything more beyond the fact that he was a "Signore."
"Shall I lay one place less?" asked the housekeeper.
"Certainly not," said the Doctor. "All my guests will be present." And he
threw the piece of paper on the table.
The housekeeper left the room, but she had not been gone many minutes
before she returned and said that Maria, the wife of the late Giovanni,
the baker, wished to speak to him. The Doctor nodded, and Maria burst into
the room, sobbing.
When her tears had somewhat subsided she told her story in broken
sentences. Her daughter, Margherita, who was seventeen years old, had been
allowed to spend the summer at Sorrento with her late father's sister.
There, it appeared, she had met a "Signore," who had given her jewels,
made love to her, promised her marriage, and held clandestine meetings
with her. Her aunt professed now to have been unaware of this; but Maria
assured the Doctor that her sister-in-law, who had the evil eye and had
more than once trafficked with Satan, must have had knowledge of the
business, even if she were not directly responsible, which was highly
probable. In the meantime Margherita's brother Anselmo had returned from
the wars in the North, and, discovering the truth, had sworn to kill the
Signore unless he married Margherita.
"And what do you wish me to do?" asked the Doctor, after he had listened
to the story.
"Anything, anything," she answered, "only calm my son Anselmo or else
there will be a disaster."
"Who is the Signore?" asked the Doctor.
"The Conte Guido da Siena," she answered.
The Doctor reflected a moment, and then said: "I will see what can be
done. The matter can be arranged. Send your son to me later." And then,
after scolding Maria for not having taken proper care of her daughter, he
sent her away.
As he did so he caught sight of the dirty piece of paper on his table. For
one second he had the impression that the letters on it were written in
blood, and he shivered, but the momentary hallucination and sense of
discomfort passed immediately.
At mid-day the guests arrived. They consisted of Dr. Cornelius, Vienna's
most learned scholar; Taddeo Mainardi, the painter; a Danish student from
the University of Wittenberg; a young English nobleman, who was travelling
in Italy; and Guido da Siena, philosopher and poet, who was said to be the
handsomest man in Italy. The Doctor set before his guests a precious wine
from Cyprus, in which he toasted them, although as a rule he drank only
water. The meal was served in the cool loggia overlooking the bay, and the
talk, which was of the men and books of many climes, flowed like a
rippling stream on which the sunshine of laughter lightly played.
The student asked the Doctor whether in Italy men of taste took any
interest in the recent experiments of a French Huguenot, who professed to
be able to send people into a trance. Moreover, the patient when in the
trance, so it was alleged, was able to act as a bridge between the
material and the spiritual worlds, and the dead could be summoned and made
to speak through the unconscious patient.
"We take no thought of such things here," said the Doctor. "In my youth,
when I studied in the North, experiments of that nature exercised a
powerful sway over my mind. I dabbled in alchemy; I tried and indeed
considered that I succeeded in raising spirits and visions; but two things
are necessary for such a study: youth, and the mists of the Northern
country. Here the generous sun kills such phantasies. There are no
phantoms here. Moreover, I am convinced that in all such experiments
success depends on the state of mind of the inquirer, which not only
persuades, but indeed compels itself by a strange magnetic quality to see
the vision it desires. In my youth I considered that I had evoked visions
of Satan and Helen of Troy, and what not—such things are fit for the
young. We greybeards have more serious things to occupy us, and when a man
has one foot in the grave, he has no time to waste."
"To my mind," said the painter, "this world has sufficient beauty and
mystery to satisfy the most ardent inquirer."
"But," said the Englishman, "is not this world a phantom and a dream as
insubstantial as the visions of the ardent mind?"
"Men and women are the only study fit for a man," interrupted Guido, "and
as for the philosopher's stone I have found it. I found it some months ago
in a garden at Sorrento. It is a pearl radiant with all the hues of the
"With regard to that matter," said the Doctor, "we will have some talk
later. The wench's brother has returned from the war. We must find her a
"You misunderstand me," said Guido. "You do not think I am going to throw
my precious pearl to the swine? I have sworn to wed Margherita, and wed
her I shall, and that swiftly."
"Such an act of folly would only lead," said the Doctor, "to your
unhappiness and to hers. It is the selfish act of a fool. You must not
think of it."
"Ah!" said Guido, "you are young at seventy, Doctor, but you were old at
twenty-five, and you cannot know what these things mean."
"I was young in my day," said the Doctor, "and I found many such pearls;
believe me, they are all very well in their native shell. To move them is
to destroy their beauty."
"You do not understand," said Guido. "I have loved countless times; but
she is different. You never felt the revelation of the real, true thing
that is different from all the rest and transforms a man's life."
"No," said the Doctor, "I confess that to me it was always the same
thing." And for the second time that day the Doctor shivered, he knew not
Soon after the meal was over the guests departed, and although the Doctor
detained Guido and endeavoured to persuade him to listen to the voice of
reason and commonsense, his efforts were in vain. Guido had determined to
"Besides which, if I left her now, I should bring shame and ruin on her,"
The Doctor started—a familiar voice seemed to whisper in his ear:
"She is not the first one." A strange shudder passed through him, and he
distinctly heard a mocking voice laughing. "Go your way," he said, "but do
not come and complain to me if you bring unhappiness on yourself and her."
Guido departed and the Doctor retired to enjoy his siesta.
For the first time during all the years he had lived at Naples the Doctor
was not able to sleep. "This and the hallucinations I have suffered from
to-day come from drinking that Cyprus wine," he said to himself.
He lay in the darkened room tossing uneasily on his bed and sleep would
not come to him. Stranger still, before his eyes fiery letters seemed to
dance before him in the air. At seven o'clock he went out into the garden.
Never had he beheld a more glorious evening. He strolled down towards the
seashore and watched the sunset. Mount Vesuvius seemed to have dissolved
into a rosy haze; the waves of the sea were phosphorescent. A fisherman
was singing in his boat. The sky was an apocalypse of glory and peace.
The Doctor sighed and watched the pageant of light until it faded and the
stars lit up the magical blue darkness. Then out of the night came another
song—a song which seemed familiar to the Doctor, although for the
moment he could not place it, about a King in the Northern Country who was
faithful to the grave and to whom his dying mistress a golden beaker gave.
"Strange," thought the Doctor, "it must come from some Northern fishing
smack," and he went home.
He sat reading in his study until midnight, and for the first time in
thirty years he could not fix his mind on his book. For the vision of the
sunset and the song of the Northern fisherman, which in some unaccountable
way brought back to him the days of his youth, kept on surging up in his
Twelve o'clock struck. He rose to go to bed, and as he did so he heard a
loud knock at the door.
"Come in," said the Doctor, but his voice faltered ("the Cyprus wine
again!" he thought), and his heart beat loudly.
The door opened and an icy draught blew into the room. The visitor
beckoned, but spoke no word, and Doctor Faust rose and followed him into
the outer darkness.
THE FLUTE-PLAYER'S STORY
There is a village in the South of England not far from the sea, which
possesses a curious inn called "The Green Tower." Why it is called thus,
nobody knows. This inn must in days gone by have been the dwelling of some
well-to-do squire, but nothing now remains of its former prosperity,
except the square grey tower, partially covered with ivy, from which it
takes its name. The inn stands on the roadside, on the brow of a hill, and
at the top of the tower there is a room with four large windows, whence
you can see all over the wooded country. The ex-Prime Minister of a
foreign state, who had been driven from office and home by a revolution,
happening to pass the night in the inn and being of an eccentric
disposition, was so much struck with this room that he secured it,
together with two bedrooms, permanently for himself. He determined to
spend the rest of his life here, and as he was within certain limits not
unsociable, he invited his friends to come and stay with him on any
Saturday they pleased, without giving him notice.
Thus it happened that of a Saturday and Sunday there was nearly always a
mixed gathering of men at "The Green Tower", and after they had dined they
would sit in the tower room and drink old Southern wines from the ex-Prime
Minister's country, and talk, or tell each other stories. But the ex-Prime
Minister made it a stringent rule that at least one guest should tell one
story during his stay, for while he had been Prime Minister a Court
official had been in his service whose only duty it was to tell him a
story every evening, and this was the only thing he regretted of all his
On this particular Sunday, besides myself, the clerk, the flute-player,
the wine merchant (the friends of the ex-Prime Minister were exceedingly
various), and the scholar were present. They were smoking in the tower
room. It was summer, and the windows were wide open. Every inch of wall
which was not occupied by the windows was crowded with books. The clerk
was turning over the leaves of the ex-Prime Minister's stamp collection
(which was magnificent), the flute-player was reading the score of
Handel's flute sonatas (which was rare), the scholar was reading a
translation in Latin hexameters of the "Ring and the Book" (which the
ex-Prime Minister has written in his spare moments), and the wine merchant
was drinking generously of a curious red wine, which was very old.
"I think," said the ex-Prime Minister, "that the flute-player has never
yet told us a story."
The guests knew that this hint was imperative, and so putting away the
score, the flute-player said: "My story is called, 'The Fiddler.'" And he
"This happened a long time ago in one of the German-speaking countries of
the Holy Roman Empire. There was a Count who lived in a large castle. He
was rich, powerful, and the owner of large lands. He had a wife, and one
daughter, who was dazzlingly beautiful, and she was betrothed to the
eldest son of a neighbouring lord. When I say betrothed, I mean that her
parents had arranged the marriage. She herself—her name was Elisinde—had
had no voice in the matter, and she disliked, or rather loathed, her
future husband, who was boorish, sullen, and ill-tempered; he cared for
nothing except hunting and deep drinking, and had nothing to recommend him
but his ducats and his land. But it was quite useless for Elisinde to cry
or protest. Her parents had settled the marriage and it was to be. She
understood this herself very well.
"All the necessary preparations for the wedding, which was to be held on a
splendid scale, were made. There was to be a whole week of feasting; and
tumblers and musicians came from distant parts of the country to take part
in the festivities and merry-making. In the village, which was close to
the castle, a fair was held, and the musicians, tumblers, and mountebanks,
who had thronged to it, performed in front of the castle walls for the
amusement of the Count's guests.
"Among these strolling vagabonds was a fiddler who far excelled all the
others in skill. He drew the most ravishing tones from his instrument,
which seemed to speak in trills as liquid as those of the nightingale, and
in accents as plaintive as those of a human voice. And one of the inmates
of the castle was so much struck by the performance of this fiddler that
he told the Count of it, and the fiddler was commanded to come and play at
the Castle, after the banquet which was to be held on the eve of the
wedding. The banquet took place in great pomp and solemnity, and lasted
for many hours. When it was over the fiddler was summoned to the large
hall and bidden to play before the Lords and Ladies.
"The fiddler was a strange looking, tall fellow with unkempt fair hair,
and eyes that glittered like gold; but as he was dressed in tattered
uncouth rags (and they were his best too) he cut an extraordinary and
almost ridiculous figure amongst that splendid jewelled gathering. The
guests tittered when they saw him. But as soon as he began to play, their
tittering ceased, for never had they heard such music.
"He played—in view of the festive occasion—a joyous melody.
And, as he played, the air seemed full of sunlight, and the smell of wine
vats and the hum of bees round ripe fruit. The guests could not keep still
in their places, and at last the Count gave orders for a general dance.
The hall was cleared, and soon all the guests were breathlessly dancing to
the divine lilt of the fiddler's melody. All except Elisinde who, when her
betrothed came forward to lead her to the dance, pleaded fatigue, and
remained seated in her chair, pale and distraught, and staring at the
fiddler. This did not, to tell the truth, displease her betrothed, who was
a clumsy dancer and had no ear for music. Breathless at last with
exhaustion the guests begged the untiring fiddler to pause while they
rested for a moment to get their breath.
"And while they were resting the fiddler played another tune. This time it
was a sad tune: a low, soft tune, liquid and lovely as a human voice. A
great hush came on the company. It seemed as if after the heat and
splendour of a summer's day the calm of evening had fallen; the quiet of
the dusk, when the moon rises in the sky, still faintly yellow in the west
with the ebb of sunset, and pours on the stiff cornfields its cool,
silvery frost; and the trees quiver, as though they felt the freshness and
were relieved, and a breeze comes, almost imperceptible and not strong
enough to shake the boughs, from the sea; and a bird, hidden somewhere in
the leaves, sings a throbbing song.
"Everyone was spellbound, but none so much as Elisinde. The music seemed
to be speaking straight to her, to pierce the very core of her heart. It
was an inarticulate language which she understood better than any words.
She heard a lonely spirit crying out to her, that it understood her sorrow
and shared her pain. And large tears poured down her cheeks.
"The fiddler stopped playing, and for a moment or two no one spoke. At
last Elisinde's betrothed gave a great yawn, and the spell was broken.
"'You play very well—very well, indeed,' said the Count.
"'But that sad music is, I think, rather out of place to-day,' said the
"'Yes, let us have another cheerful tune,' said the Count.
"The fiddler struck up once more and played another dance. This time there
was an almost elfish magic in his melody. It took you captive; it was
irresistible; it called and commanded and compelled; you longed to follow,
follow, anywhere, over the hills, over the sea, to the end of the world.
"Elisinde rose from her chair as though the spirit of the music beckoned
her, but looking round she saw no partner to her taste. She sat down again
and stared at the fiddler. His eyes were fixed on her, and as she looked
at him his squalor and rags seemed to fade away and his blue eyes that
glittered like gold seemed to grow larger, and his hair to grow brighter
till it shone like fire. And he seemed to be caught in a rosy cloud of
light: tall, splendid, young, and glowing like a god.
"After this dance was over the Count rose, and he and his guests retired
to rest. The fiddler was given a purse full of money, and the Count gave
orders that he should be served refreshment in the kitchen.
"Elisinde went up to her bedroom, which overlooked the garden. She threw
the window wide open and looked out into the starry darkness. It was a
breathless summer night. The air was full of warm scents. Lights still
twinkled in the village; now and again a dog barked, otherwise everything
was still. She leant out of the window, and cried bitterly because her lot
was loathsome to her, and she had not a friend in the world to whom she
could confide her sorrow.
"While she was thus sobbing she heard a rustling in the bushes beneath;
she looked down and she saw a face looking up towards her, a beautiful
face, glistening in the moonlight. It was the fiddler.
"'Elisinde,' he called to her in a low voice, 'if you want to escape I
have the means. Come with me; I love you, and I will save you from your
"'I would come with you to the end of the world,' she said, 'but how can I
get away from this castle?'
"He threw a rope ladder up to her. 'Make it fast to the bar,' he said,
'and let yourself down.'
"She let herself down into the garden. 'We can easily climb the wall with
this,' he said; 'but before you come I must tell you that if you will be
my bride your life will be hard and full of misery. Think before you
"'Rather all the misery in the world,' she said, 'than the awful doom that
awaits me here. Besides which I love you, and we shall be very happy.'
"They scaled the wall, and on the other side of it the fiddler had two
horses, waiting tied to the gate. They galloped through many villages, and
by the dawn they had reached a village far beyond the Count's lands. Here
they stopped at an inn, and they were married by the priest that day. But
they did not stop in this village; they sought a further country, beyond
reach of all pursuit. They settled in a village, and the fiddler earned
his bread by his fiddling, and Elisinde kept their cottage neat and clean.
For awhile they were as happy as the day was long; the fiddler found
favour everywhere by his fiddling, and Elisinde ingratiated herself by her
gentle ways. But one day when Elisinde was lying in bed and the fiddler
had lulled her to sleep with his music, some neighbours, attracted by the
sound, passed the cottage and looked in at the window. And to their
astonishment they saw the fiddler sitting by a bed on which lay what
seemed to them to be a sleeping princess; and the whole cottage was full
of dazzling light, and the fiddler's face shone, and his hair and his eyes
glittered like gold. They went away much frightened, and told the whole
village the news.
"Now there were already not a few of the villagers who looked askance on
the fiddler; and this incident set all the evil and envious tongues
wagging. When the fiddler went to play the next day at the inn men turned
away from him, and a child in the street threw a stone at him. Presently
he was warned that he had better swiftly fly or else he would be drowned
as a sorcerer.
"So he and Elisinde fled in the night to a neighbouring village. But soon
the dark rumours followed them, and they were forced to flee once more.
This happened again and again, till at last in the whole country there was
not a village which would receive them, and one night they were obliged to
take refuge in a barn, for Elisinde was expecting the birth of her child.
That night their child was born, a beautiful little boy, and an hour
afterwards Elisinde smiled and died.
"All that night the villagers heard from afar a piteous wailing music,
infinitely sad and beautiful, and those that heard it shuddered and
"The next day the villagers sought the barn, for they had resolved to
drown the sorcerer; but he was not there. All they found was the dead body
of Elisinde, and a little baby lying on some straw. The body of Elisinde
was covered with roses. And this was strange, for it was midwinter. The
fiddler had disappeared and was never heard of again, and an old
wood-cutter, who was too old to know any better, took charge of the baby.
"I will tell you what happened to it another day."
"We wish to hear the end of your story," said the ex-Prime Minister to the
"Yes," said the scholar, "and I want to know who the fiddler was."
This conversation took place at the Green Tower two weeks after the
gathering I have already described. The same people were present; but
there was another guest, namely, the musician, who, unlike the
flute-player, was not an amateur.
"The child of Elisinde and the fiddler," began the flute-player, "was, as
I have already told you, a boy. The woodcutter who took pity on him was
old and childless. He brought the baby to his hut, and gave it over to the
care of his wife. At first she pretended to be angry, and said that
nothing would persuade her to have anything to do with the child, and that
it was all they could do to feed themselves without picking up waifs in
the gutter; but she ended by looking after the baby with the utmost
tenderness and care, and by loving it as much as if it had been her own
child. The baby was christened Franz. As soon as he was able to walk and
talk there were two things about him which were remarkable. The first was
his hair, which glittered like sunlight; the second was his fondness for
all musical sounds. When he was four years old he had made himself a flute
out of a reed, and on this he played all day, imitating the song of the
birds. He was in his sixth year when an event happened which changed his
life. He was sitting in front of the woodcutter's cottage one day, when a
bright cavalcade passed him. It was a nobleman from a neighbouring castle,
who was travelling to the city with his retainers. Among these was a
Kapellmeister, who organised the music of this nobleman's household. The
moment he caught sight of Franz and heard his piping, he stopped, and
asked who he was.
"The woodcutter's wife told him the story of the finding of the waif, to
which both the nobleman and himself listened with great interest. The
Kapellmeister said that they should take the child with them; that he
should be attached to the nobleman's house and trained as a member of his
choir or his string band, according to his capacities. The nobleman, who
was passionately fond of music, and extremely particular with regard to
the manner of its performance, was delighted with the idea. The offer was
made to the woodcutter and his wife, and although she cried a good deal
they were both forced to recognise that they had no right to interfere
with the child's good fortune. Moreover, the gift of a purse full of gold
(which the nobleman gave them) did not make the matter more distasteful.
"Finally it was settled that the child should go with the nobleman then
and there; and Franz took leave of his adopted parents, not without many
and bitter tears being shed on both sides.
"Franz travelled with the nobleman to a large city, and he became a member—the
youngest—of the nobleman's household. He was taught his letters,
which he learnt with ease, and the rudiments of music, which he absorbed
with such astounding rapidity, that the Kapellmeister said that it seemed
as if he already knew everything that was taught him. When he was seven
years old, he could not only play several instruments, but he composed
fugues and sonatas. When the nobleman invited the magnates of the place to
listen to his musicians, Franz, the prodigy, was the centre of interest,
and very soon he became the talk of the town. At the age of ten he was an
accomplished organ player, and he played with skill on the flute and the
"He grew up a tall and handsome lad, with clear, dreamy eyes, and hair
that continued to glitter like sunlight. He was happy in the nobleman's
household, for the nobleman and his wife were kind people; like the
woodcutter they were childless and came to look upon him as their own
child. He was a quiet youth, and so deeply engrossed in his music and his
studies that he seemed to be quite unaware of the outside world and its
inhabitants and its doings. But although he led a retired, studious life,
his fame had got abroad and had even reached the Emperor's ears.
"When Franz was seventeen years old it happened that the Court was in need
of an organist. The Emperor's curiosity had been aroused by what he had
heard of Franz, and one fine day the youth was summoned to Court to play
before his Majesty. This he did with such success that he was appointed
organist of the Court on the spot.
"He was sad at leaving the nobleman, but there was nothing to be done. The
Emperor's wish was law. He became Court organist and he played the organ
in the Imperial chapel during Mass on Sundays. As before, he spent all his
leisure time in composing music.
"Now the Emperor had a daughter called Kunigmunde, who was beautiful and
wildly romantic. She was immediately spellbound by Franz's music, and he
became the lodestar of her dreams. Often in the afternoon she would steal
up to the organ loft, where he was playing alone, and sit for hours
listening to his improvisations. They did not speak to each other much,
but ever since Franz had set eyes on her something new had entered into
his soul and spoke in his music, something tremulous and strange and
"For a year Franz's life ran placidly and smoothly. He was made much of,
praised and petted; but now, as before, he seemed quite unaware of the
outside world and its doings, and he moved in a world of his own, only he
was no longer alone in his secret habitation, it was inhabited by another
shape, the beautiful dark-haired Princess Kunigmunde, and in her honour he
composed songs, minuets, sonatas, hymns, and triumphal marches. As was
only natural, there were not wanting at Court persons who were envious of
Franz, his talent, and his good fortune. And among them there was a
musician, a tenor in the Imperial choir, called Albrecht, who hated Franz
with his whole heart. He was a dark-eyed, dark-haired creature, slightly
deformed; he limped, and he had a sinister look as though of a satyr.
Nevertheless he was highly gifted and composed music of his own which,
although it was not radiant like that of Franz, was full of brilliance and
not without a certain compelling power. Albrecht revolved in his mind how
he might ruin Franz. He tried to excite the envy of the courtiers against
him, but Franz was such a modest fellow, so kindly and good-natured, that
it was not easy to make people dislike him. Nevertheless there were many
who were tired of hearing him praised, and many who were secretly tired of
the perpetual beauty and radiance of Franz's music, and wished for
something new even though it should be ugly.
"An opportunity soon presented itself for Albrecht to carry out his evil
and envious designs. The Court Kapellmeister died, and not long after this
event a great feast was to be held at Court to celebrate Princess
Kunigmunde's birthday. The Emperor had offered a prize, a wreath of gilt
laurels, as well as the post of Court Kapellmeister to him who should
compose the most beautiful piece of music in his daughter's honour. Franz
seemed so certain of success that nobody even dared to compete with him
"When the hour of the contest came—it took place in the great
throne-room before the Emperor, the Empress, their sons, their daughters,
and the whole court after the banquet—Franz was the first to display
his work. He sat down at the clavichord and sang what he had composed in
honour of the Princess. He had made three little songs for her. Franz had
not much voice, but it had a peculiar wail in it, and he sang, like the
born and trained musician that he was, with that absolute mastery over his
means, that certain perfection of utterance, that power of conveying, to
the shade of a shade, the inmost spirit and meaning of the music which
only belong to those great and rare artists whose perfect art is alive
with the inspiration that cannot be learnt.
"The first song he sang was the call of a home-going shepherd to his flock
on the hills at sunset, and when he sang it he brought the largeness of
the dying evening and the solemn hills into the elegant throne-room. The
second song was the cry of a lonely fisherman on the river at midnight,
and as he sang it he brought the mystery of broad starlit waters into the
taper-lit, gilded hall. The third song was the song of the happy lover in
the orchard at dawn. And when he sang it he brought the smell of dewy
leaves and grass, the soaring radiance of spring and early morning, to
that powdered and silken assembly. The Court applauded him, but they were
astonished and slightly disappointed, for they had expected something
grand and complicated, and not three simple tunes. But the nobleman who
had educated Franz, and his Kapellmeister, who were among the guests, wept
tears in silence.
"Albrecht followed him. The swarthy singer sat down to the instrument and
struck a ringing chord. He had a pure and infinitely powerful tenor voice,
clear as crystal, loud as a clarion, strong, rich, and rippling. He sang a
love-song he had composed himself. He called it 'The Homage of King Pan to
the Princess.' It was voluptuous and vehement and sweet as honey, full of
bold conceits and audacious turns and trills, which startled the audience
and took their breath away. He sang his song with almost devilish skill
and power; and his warm, captivating voice rang through the room and shook
the tall window-panes, and finally died away like the vibrations of a
great bell. The whole Court shouted, delirious with applause, and
unanimously declared him to be the victor. A witty courtier said that
Marsyas had avenged himself on Apollo; but the nobleman and his
Kapellmeister snorted and sniffed and said nothing. Albrecht was given the
prize and appointed Kapellmeister to the Court without further discussion.
"When the ceremony was over, Franz, who was indifferent to his defeat,
went to the chapel of the palace, and lighting a candle, walked up into
the organ loft. There he played to himself another song, a hymn he had
composed in honour of Princess Kunigmunde. It was filled with rapture and
a breathless wonder, and in it his inmost soul spoke its unuttered love.
He had not sung this song in public, it was too sacred. As he played and
sang to himself in a low voice he was aware of a soft footstep. He started
and looked round, and there was the Princess, bright in silk and jewels,
with a pink rose in her powdered hair. She took this rose and laid it
lightly on the black keys.
"'That is the prize,' she said. 'You won it, and I want to thank you. I
never knew music could be so beautiful.'
"Franz looked at her, and said 'Thank you.' He had risen from his seat and
was about to go, but the light of his candle caught Princess Kunigmunde's
brown eyes (which were wet with tears), and something rose like fire in
his breast and made him forget his bashfulness, his respect, and his sense
"'Come with me,' he said, in a broken voice. 'Let us fly from this Court
to the hills and be happy.'
"But the Princess shook her head sadly, and said: 'Alas! It is impossible.
I am betrothed to the King of the Two Sicilies.'
"Then Franz mastered himself once more, and said: 'Of course, it is
impossible. I was mad.'
"The Princess kissed her hand to him and fled.
"At that moment Franz heard a noise in the nave of the chapel; he looked
over the gallery of the organ loft, and saw sidling away in the darkness
the dim figure of a deformed man.
"That night Princess Kunigmunde had a strange dream. She thought she was
transported into a beautiful southern country where the azure sky seemed
to scintillate with the dust of myriads and myriads of diamonds, and to
sparkle with sunlight like dancing wine. The low blue hills were bare and
sparsely clothed with delicate trees, and the fields, sprinkled with
innumerable red, yellow, white and purple flowers, were bright as fabulous
Persian carpets. On a grassy knoll before her the rosy columns of a temple
shone in the gleaming dust of the atmosphere. Beside her there was a
running stream, on the bank of which grew a bay-tree. There was a chirping
of grasshoppers in the air, a noise of bees, and a delicious warm smell of
burnt grass and thyme and mint.
"Near the stream a man was standing; he was an ordinary man, and yet he
seemed to tower above the landscape without being unusually tall; his hair
was bright as gold, and his eyes, more lustrous still, reflected the
silvery blue sky and shone like opals. In his hands he held a golden lyre,
and around him a warm golden cloud seemed to rise, on a transparent aura
of light, like the glow of the sunset. In front of him there stood a
creature of the woods, a satyr, with pointed ears, cloven hoofs, and human
eyes, in his hairy hands holding a flute made out of a reed.
"Presently the satyr breathed on his flute and a wonderful note trembled
in the air, soft, low, and liquid. The note was followed by others, and a
stillness fell upon Nature; the birds ceased to sing, the grasshoppers
were still, the bees paused. All Nature was listening and the Princess was
conscious in her dream that there were others besides herself listening,
unseen shapes and sightless phantoms; a crowd, a multitude of attentive
ghosts, that were hidden from her sight. The melody rose and swelled in
stillness; it was melting and ravishing and bold with a human audacity. As
she listened it reminded her of something; she felt she had heard such
sounds before, though she could not remember where and when. But suddenly
it flashed across her that the music resembled Albrecht's song; it was
Albrecht's song, only transfigured as it were, and a thousand times more
beautiful in her dream than in reality. More beautiful, and at the same
time as though it belonged to the days of youth and spring which Albrecht
had never known. The satyr ceased playing and the pleasant noises of the
world began once more. The shining figure who stood before him looked on
the satyr with divine scorn and smiled a radiant, merciless smile. Then he
struck his lyre and Nature once more was dumb.
"But this time the magic was of another kind and a thousand times more
mighty; a song rose into the air which leapt and soared like a flame,
imperious as the flashing of a sword, triumphant as the waving of a
banner, wonderful as the dawn and fresh as the laughing sea. And once more
Princess Kunigmunde was aware that the music was familiar to her. She had
heard something like it in the chapel that evening, when in the darkness
Franz had played and sung the hymn that he had composed in her honour.
Only now it was more than human, unearthly and divine. As soon as he
ceased an eclipse seemed to darken the world, a thick cloud of rolling
darkness; there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and out of
the blackness came a piteous, human cry, the cry of a creature in anguish,
and then a faint moaning.
"Presently all was still, but the dark cloud remained, and she heard a
mocking laugh and the accents of a clear, scornful voice (she recognised
the voice, it was the voice of Albrecht), and the voice said: 'Thou hast
conquered, Apollo, and cruelly hast thou used thy victory; and cruelly has
thou punished me for daring to challenge thy divine skill. It was mad
indeed to compete with a god; and yet shall I avenge my wrong and thy
harshness shall recoil on thee. For not even gods can be unjust with
impunity, and the Fates are above us all. And I shall be avenged; for all
thy sons shall suffer what I have suffered; and there is not one of them
that shall escape the doom and not share the fate of Marsyas the Satyr,
whom thou didst cruelly slay. The music and the skill which shall be their
inheritance shall be the cause to them of sorrow and grief unending and
pitiless pain and misery. Their life shall be as bitter to them as my
death has been to me. Their music shall fill the world with sweetness and
ravish the ears of listening nations, but to them it shall bring no joy;
for life like a cruel blade shall flay and lay bare their hearts, and
sorrow like a searching wind shall play upon their souls and make them
tremble, even as the scabbard of my body trembled in the breeze; and just
as from that trembling husk of what was once myself there came forth sweet
sounds, so shall it be with their souls, shivering and trembling in the
cold wind of life. Music shall come from them, but this music shall be
born of agony; nor shall they utter a single note that is not begotten of
sorrow or pain. And so shall the children of Apollo suffer and share the
pain of Marsyas.
"The voice died away, and a pitiful wail was heard as of a wind blowing
through the reeds of a river. And the Princess awoke, trembling with fear
of some unknown and impending disaster.
"The next morning Franz, as he walked into the chapel to practice on the
organ, was met by two soldiers, who bade him follow them, and he was shut
up in the prison of the palace. No word of explanation was given him; nor
had he any idea what the crime might be of which he was accused, or of his
ultimate fate. But in the evening, when the gaoler's daughter brought him
his food, she made him a sign, and he found in his loaf of bread a rose, a
file, and a tiny scroll, on which the following words were written;
'Albrecht denounced you. Fly for your life. K.' Later, when the gaolers
had gone to sleep, the gaoler's daughter stole to his cell. She brought
him a rope, and a purse full of silver. He filed the bars and let himself
down into a narrow street of the city.
"By the time the sun rose he had left the city far behind him. He
journeyed on and on till he passed the frontier of the Emperor's dominions
and reached a neighbouring State. By the time he came to a city he had
spent his money, and he was in rags and tatters; nevertheless, he managed
to earn his bread by making music in the streets, and after a time a
well-to-do citizen who noticed him took him into his house and entrusted
him with the task of teaching music to his sons and of playing him to
sleep in the evening. Franz spent his leisure hours in composing an opera
called 'The Death of Adonis,' into which he poured all the music of his
soul, all his love, his sorrow, and his infinite desire. He lived for this
only, and during all the hours he spent when he was not working at his
opera he was like a man in a dream, unconscious of the realities around
him. In a year his opera was finished. He took it to the Intendant of the
Ducal Theatre in the city and played it to him, and the Intendant, greatly
pleased, determined to have it performed without delay. The best singers
were allotted parts in it, and it was performed before the Arch-Duke and
his Court, and a multitude of people.
"The music told the story of Franz's love; it was bright with all his
dreams, and sorrowful with his great despair. Never had such music been
heard; so sweet, so sunlit in its joys, so radiant in its sadness. But the
Arch-Duke and his Court, startled by the new accent of this music, and
influenced by the local and established musicians, who were envious of
this newcomer, listened in frigid silence, so that the common people in
the gallery dared not show signs of their delight. In fact, the opera was
a complete failure. Public opinion followed the Court, and found no words,
bad or strong enough to condemn what they called the new-fangled rubbish.
Among those who blamed the new work there was none so bitter as the
citizen whose children Franz had been teaching. For this man considered
himself to be a genius, and was inordinately vain, and his ignorance was
equal to his conceit. He dismissed Franz from his service. All doors were
now closed to him, and being on the verge of starvation he was reduced to
earning his bread in the streets by playing his pipe. This also proved
unsuccessful, and it was with difficulty that he earned a few pence every
"At last he burnt all his manuscripts, and went into the hills; the hill
people welcomed him, but their kindness came too late; his heart was
broken, and when sickness came to him with the winter snow, he had no
longer any strength to resist it. The peasants found him one day lying
cold and stiff in his hut. They buried him on the hill-side. The night of
his funeral a strange fiddler with a shining face was seen standing beside
his grave and playing the most lovely tunes on a violin.
"The name of Franz was soon forgotten, but although he died obscure and
penniless he left a rich legacy. For he taught the hill-people three
songs, the songs he had sung at Court in honour of Princess Kunigmunde,
and they never died. They spread from the hills to the plains, from the
plains to the river, from the river to the woods, and indeed you can still
hear them on the hills of the north, on the great broad rivers of the
east, and in the orchards of the south."
A CHINAMAN ON OXFORD
"Yes, I am a student," said the Chinaman, "And I came here to study the
English manners and customs."
We were seated on the top of the electric tram which goes to Hampton
Court. It was a bitterly cold spring day. The suburbs of London were not
looking their best.
"I spent three days at Oxford last week," he said.
"It's a beautiful place, is it not?" I remarked.
The Chinaman smiled. "The country which you see from the windows of the
railway carriages," he said, "on the way from Oxford to London strikes me
as being beautiful. It reminded me of the Chinese Plain, only it is
prettier. But the houses at Oxford are hideous: there is no symmetry about
them. The houses in this country are like blots on the landscape. In China
the houses are made to harmonise with the landscape just as trees do."
"What did you see at Oxford?" I asked.
"I saw boat races," he said, "and a great many ignorant old men."
"What did you think of that?"
"I think," he said, "the young people seemed to enjoy it, and if they
enjoy it they are quite right to do it. But the way the older men talk
about these things struck me as being foolish. They talk as if these games
and these sports were a solemn affair, a moral or religious question; they
said the virtues and the prowess of the English race were founded on these
things. They said that competition was the mainspring of life; they seemed
to think exercise was the goal of existence. A man whom I saw there and
who, I learnt, had been chosen to teach the young on account of his
wisdom, told me that competition trained the man to sharpen his faculties;
and that the tension which it provoked is in itself a useful training. I
do not believe this. A cat or a boa constrictor will lie absolutely idle
until it perceives an object worthy of its appetite; it will then catch it
and swallow it, and once more relapse into repose without thinking of
keeping itself 'in training.' But it will lie dormant and rise to the
occasion when it occurs. These people who talked of games seem to me to
undervalue repose. They forget that repose is the mother of action, and
exercise only a frittering away of the same."
"What did you think," I asked, "of the education that the students at
"I think," said the Chinaman, "that inasmuch as the young men waste their
time in idleness they do well; for the wise men who are chosen to instruct
the young at your places of learning, are not always wise. I visited a
professor of Oriental languages. His servant asked me to wait, and after I
had waited three quarters of an hour, he sent word to say that he had
tried everywhere to find the professor in the University who spoke French,
but that he had not been able to find him. And so he asked me to call
another day. I had dinner in a college hall. I found that the professors
talked of many things in such a way as would be impossible to children of
five and six in our country. They are quite ignorant of the manners and
customs of the people of other European countries. They pronounce Greek
and Latin and even French in the same way as English. I mentioned to one
of them that I had been employed for some time in the Chinese Legation; he
asked me if I had had much work to do. I said yes, the work had been
heavy. 'But,' he observed, 'I suppose a great deal of the work is carried
on directly between the Governments and not through the Ambassadors.' I
cannot conceive what he meant or how such a thing could be possible, or
what he considered the use and function of Embassies and Legations to be.
They most of them seemed to take for granted that I could not speak
English: some of them addressed me in a kind of baby language; one of them
spoke French. The professor who spoke to me in this language told me that
the French possessed no poetical literature, and he said the reason of
this was that the French language was a bastard language; that it was, in
fact, a kind of pidgin Latin. He said when a Frenchman says a girl is
'beaucoup belle,' he is using pidgin Latin. The courtesy due to a host
prevented me from suggesting that if a Frenchman said 'beaucoup belle' he
would be talking pidgin French.
"Another professor said to me that China would soon develop if she adopted
a large Imperial ideal, and that in time the Chinese might attain to a
great position in the world, such as the English now held. He said the
best means of bringing this about would be to introduce cricket and
football into China. I told him that I thought this was improbable,
because if the Chinese play games, they do not care who is the winner; the
fun of the game is to us the improvisation of it as opposed to the
organisation which appeals to the people here. Upon which he said that
cricket was like a symphony of music. In a symphony every instrument plays
its part in obedience to one central will, not for its individual
advantage, but in order to make a beautiful whole. 'So it is with our
games,' he said, 'every man plays his part not for the sake of personal
advantage, but so that his side may win; and thus the citizen is taught to
sink his own interests in those of the community.' I told him the Chinese
did not like symphonies, and Western music was intolerable to them for
this very reason. Western musicians seem to us to take a musical idea
which is only worthy of a penny whistle (and would be very good indeed if
played on a penny whistle!); and they sit down and make a score of it
twenty yards broad, and set a hundred highly-trained and highly-paid
musicians to play it. It is the contrast between the tremendous apparatus
and waste of energy on one side, and the light and playful character of
the business itself on the other which makes me, a Chinaman, as incapable
of appreciating your complicated games as I am of appreciating the
complicated symphonies of the Germans or the elaborate rules which their
students make with regard to the drinking of beer. We like a man for
taking his fun and not missing a joke when he finds it by chance on his
way, but we cannot understand his going out of his way to prepare a joke
and to make arrangements for having some fun at a certain fixed date. This
is why we consider a wayside song, a tune that is heard wandering in the
summer darkness, to be better than twenty concerts."
"What did that professor say?" I asked.
"He said that if I were to stay long enough in England and go to a course
of concerts at the Chelsea Town Hall, I would soon learn to think
differently. And that if cricket and football were introduced into China,
the Chinese would soon emerge out of their backwardness and barbarism and
take a high place among the enlightened nations of the world. I thought to
myself as he said this that your games are no doubt an excellent
substitute for drill, but if we were to submit to so complicated an
organisation it would be with a purpose: in order to turn the Europeans
out of China, for instance; but that organisation without a purpose would
always seem to us to be stupid, and we should no more dream of organising
our play than of organising a stroll in the twilight to see the Evening
Star, or the chase of a butterfly in the spring. If we were to decide on
drill it would be drill with a vengeance and with a definite aim; but we
should not therefore and thereby destroy our play. Play cannot exist for
us without fun, and for us the open air, the fields, and the meadows are
like wine: if we feel inclined, we roam and jump about in them, but we
should never submit to standing to attention for hours lest a ball should
escape us. Besides which, we invented the foundations of all our games
many thousand of years ago. We invented and played at 'Diabolo' when the
Britons were painted blue and lived in the woods. The English knew how to
play once, in the days of Queen Elizabeth; then they had masques and
madrigals and Morris dances and music. A gentleman was ashamed if he did
not speak six or seven languages, handle the sword with a deadly
dexterity, play chess, and write good sonnets. Men were broken on the
wheel for an idea: they were brave, cultivated, and gay; they fought, they
played, and they wrote excellent verse. Now they organise games and lay
claim to a special morality and to a special mission; they send out
missionaries to civilise us savages; and if our people resent having an
alien creed stuffed down their throats, they take our hand and burn our
homes in the name of Charity, Progress, and Civilisation. They seek for
one thing—gold; they preach competition, but competition for what?
For this: who shall possess the most, who shall most successfully 'do' his
neighbour. These ideals and aims do not tempt us. The quality of the life
is to us more important than the quantity of what is done and achieved. We
live, as we play, for the sake of living. I did not say this to the
professors because we have a proverb that when you are in a man's country
you should not speak ill of it. I say it to you because I see you have an
inquiring mind, and you will feel it more insulting to be served with
meaningless phrases and empty civilities than with the truth, however
bitter. For those who have once looked the truth in the face cannot
afterwards be put off with false semblances."
"You speak true words," I said, "but what do you like best in England?"
"The gardens," he answered, "and the little yellow flowers that are
sprinkled like stars on your green grass."
"And what do you like least in England?"
"The horrible smells," he said.
"Have you no smells in China?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "we have natural smells, but not the smell of gas and
smoke and coal which sickens me here. It is strange to me that people can
find the smell of human beings disgusting and be able to stand the foul
stenches of a London street. This very road along which we are now
travelling (we were passing through one of the less beautiful portions of
the tramway line) makes me homesick for my country. I long to see a
Chinese village once more built of mud and fenced with mud, muddy-roaded
and muddy-baked, with a muddy little stream to be waded across or passed
by stepping on stones; with a delicate one-storeyed temple on the
water-eaten bank, and green poppy fields round it; and the women in dark
blue standing at the doorways, smoking their pipes; and the children, with
three small budding pigtails on the head of each, clinging to them; and
the river fringed with a thousand masts: the boats, the houseboats, the
barges and the ships in the calm, wide estuaries, each with a pair of huge
eyes painted on the front bow. And the people: the men working at their
looms and whistling a happy tune out of the gladness of their hearts. And
everywhere the sense of leisure, the absence of hurry and bustle and
confusion; the dignity of manners and the grace of expression and of
address. And, above all, the smell of life everywhere."
"I admit," I said, "that our streets smell horribly of smoke and coal, but
surely our people are clean?"
"Yes," he said, "no doubt; but you forget that to us there is nothing so
intolerably nasty as the smell of a clean white man!"
John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office. He
lived a lonely life, and had done so ever since he had been a boy. At
school he had mixed little with his fellow school-boys, and he took no
interest in the things that interested them, that is to say, games. On the
other hand, although he was what is called "good at work," and did his
lessons with facility and ease, he was not a literary boy, and did not
care for books. He was drawn towards machinery of all kinds, and spent his
spare time in dabbling in scientific experiments or in watching trains go
by on the Great Western line. Once he blew off his eyebrows while making
some experiment with explosive chemicals; his hands were always smudged
with dark, mysterious stains, and his room was like that of a mediaeval
alchemist, littered with retorts, bottles, and test-glasses. Before
leaving school he invented a flying machine (heavier than air), and an
unsuccessful attempt to start it on the high road caused him to be the
victim of much chaff and ridicule.
When he left school he went to Oxford. His life there was as lonely as it
had been at school. The dirty, untidy, ink-stained, and chemical-stained
little boy grew up into a tall, lank, slovenly-dressed man, who kept
entirely to himself, not because he cherished any dislike or disdain for
his fellow-creatures, but because he seemed to be entirely absorbed in his
own thoughts and isolated from the world by a barrier of dreams.
He did well at Oxford, and when he went down he passed high into the Civil
Service and became a clerk in a Government office. There he kept as much
to himself as ever. He did his work rapidly and well, for this man, who
seemed so slovenly in his person, had an accurate mind, and was what was
called a good clerk, although his incurable absent-mindedness once or
twice caused him to forget certain matters of importance.
His fellow clerks treated him as a crank and as a joke, but none of them,
try as they would, could get to know him or win his confidence. They used
to wonder what Fletcher did with his spare time, what were his pursuits,
what were his hobbies, if he had any. They suspected that Fletcher had
some hobby of an engrossing kind, since in everyday life he conveyed the
impression of a man who is walking in his sleep, who acts mechanically and
automatically. Somewhere else, they thought, in some other circumstances,
he must surely wake up and take a living interest in somebody or in
Yet had they followed him home to his small room in Canterbury-mansions
they would have been astonished. For when he returned from the office
after a hard day's work he would do nothing more engrossing than slowly to
turn over the leaves of a book in which there were elaborate drawings and
diagrams of locomotives and other kinds of engines. And on Sunday he would
take a train to one of the large junctions and spend the whole day in
watching express trains go past, and in the evening would return again to
One day after he had returned from the office somewhat earlier than usual,
he was telephoned for. He had no telephone in his own room, but he could
use a public telephone which was attached to the building. He went into
the small box, but found on reaching the telephone that he had been cut
off by the exchange. He imagined that he had been rung up by the office,
so he asked to be given their number. As he did so his eye caught an
advertisement which was hung just over the telephone. It was an elaborate
design in black and white, pointing out the merits of a particular kind of
soap called the Venus: a classical lady, holding a looking-glass in one
hand and a cake of this invaluable soap in the other, was standing in a
sphere surrounded by pointed rays, which was no doubt intended to
represent the most brilliant of the planets.
Fletcher sat down on the stool and took the receiver in his hand. As he
did so he had for one second the impression that the floor underneath him
gave way and that he was falling down a precipice. But before he had time
to realise what was happening the sensation of falling left him; he shook
himself as though he had been asleep, and for one moment a faint
recollection as though of the dreams of the night twinkled in his mind,
and vanished beyond all possibility of recall. He said to himself that he
had had a long and curious dream, and he knew that it was too late to
remember what it had been about. Then he opened his eyes wide and looked
He was standing on the slope of a hill. At his feet there was a kind of
green moss, very soft to tread on. It was sprinkled here and there with
light red, wax-like flowers such as he had never seen before. He was
standing in an open space; beneath him there was a plain covered with what
seemed to be gigantic mushrooms, much taller than a man. Above him rose a
mass of vegetation, and over all this was a dense, heavy, streaming cloud
faintly glimmering with a white, silvery light which seemed to be beyond
He walked towards the vegetation, and soon found himself in the middle of
a wood, or rather of a jungle. Tangled plants grew on every side; large
hanging creepers with great blue flowers hung downwards. There was a
profound stillness in this wood; there were no birds singing and he heard
not the slightest rustle in the rich undergrowth. It was oppressively hot
and the air was full of a pungent, aromatic sweetness. He felt as though
he were in a hot-house full of gardenias and stephanotis. At the same time
the atmosphere of the place was pleasant to him. It was neither strange
nor disagreeable. He felt at home in this green shimmering jungle and in
this hot, aromatic twilight, as though he had lived there all his life.
He walked mechanically onwards as if he were going to a definite spot of
which he knew. He walked fast, but in spite of the oppressive atmosphere
and the thickness of the growth he grew neither hot nor out of breath; on
the contrary, he took pleasure in the motion, and the stifling, sweet air
seemed to invigorate him. He walked steadily on for over three hours,
choosing his way nicely, avoiding certain places and seeking others,
following a definite path and making for a definite goal. During all this
time the stillness continued unbroken, nor did he meet a single living
thing, either bird or beast.
After he had been walking for what seemed to him several hours, the
vegetation grew thinner, the jungle less dense, and from a more or less
open space in it he seemed to discern what might have been a mountain
entirely submerged in a multitude of heavy grey clouds. He sat down on the
green stuff which was like grass and yet was not grass, at the edge of the
open space whence he got this view, and quite naturally he picked from the
boughs of an overhanging tree a large red, juicy fruit, and ate it. Then
he said to himself, he knew not why, that he must not waste time, but must
be moving on.
He took a path to the right of him and descended the sloping jungle with
big, buoyant strides, almost running; he knew the way as though he had
been down that path a thousand times. He knew that in a few moments he
would reach a whole hanging garden of red flowers, and he knew that when
he had reached this he must again turn to the right. It was as he thought:
the red flowers soon came to view. He turned sharply, and then through the
thinning greenery he caught sight of an open plain where more mushrooms
grew. But the plain was as yet a great way off, and the mushrooms seemed
"I shall get there in time," he said to himself, and walked steadily on,
looking neither to the right nor to the left. It was evening by the time
he reached the edge of the plain: everything was growing dark. The endless
vapours and the high banks of cloud in which the whole of this world was
sunk grew dimmer and dimmer. In front of him was an empty level space, and
about two miles further on the huge mushrooms stood out, tall and wide
like the monuments of some prehistoric age. And underneath them on the
soft carpet there seemed to move a myriad vague and shadowy forms.
"I shall get there in time," he thought. He walked on for another half
hour, and by this time the tall mushrooms were quite close to him, and he
could see moving underneath them, distinctly now, green, living creatures
like huge caterpillars, with glowing eyes. They moved slowly and did not
seem to interfere with each other in any way. Further off, and beyond
them, there was a broad and endless plain of high green stalks like ears
of green wheat or millet, only taller and thinner.
He ran on, and now at his very feet, right in front of him, the green
caterpillars were moving. They were as big as leopards. As he drew nearer
they seemed to make way for him, and to gather themselves into groups
under the thick stems of the mushrooms. He walked along the pathway they
made for him, under the shadow of the broad, sunshade-like roofs of these
gigantic growths. It was almost dark now, yet he had no doubt or
difficulty as to finding his way. He was making for the green plain
beyond. The ground was dense with caterpillars; they were as plentiful as
ants in an ant's nest, and yet they never seemed to interfere with each
other or with him; they instinctively made way for him, nor did they
appear to notice him in any way. He felt neither surprise nor wonder at
It grew quite dark; the only lights which were in this world came from the
twinkling eyes of the moving figures, which shone like little stars. The
night was no whit cooler than the day. The atmosphere was as steamy, as
dense and as aromatic as before. He walked on and on, feeling no trace of
fatigue or hunger, and every now and then he said to himself: "I shall be
there in time." The plain was flat and level, and covered the whole way
with the mushrooms, whose roofs met and shut out from him the sight of the
At last he came to the end of the plain of mushrooms and reached the high
green stalks he had been making for. Beyond the dark clouds a silver
glimmer had begun once more to show itself. "I am just in time," he said
to himself, "the night is over, the sun is rising."
At that moment there was a great whirr in the air, and from out of the
green stalks rose a flight of millions and millions of enormous
broad-winged butterflies of every hue and description—silver, gold,
purple, brown and blue. Some with dark and velvety wings like the Purple
Emperor, or the Red Admiral, others diaphanous and iridescent as
dragon-flies. Others again like vast soft and silvery moths. They rose
from every part of that green plain of stalks, they filled the sky, and
then soared upwards and disappeared into the silvery cloudland.
Fletcher was about to leap forward when he heard a voice in his ear saying—
"Are you 6493 Victoria? You are talking to the Home Office."
As soon as Fletcher heard the voice of the office messenger through the
telephone he instantly realised his surroundings, and the strange
experience he had just gone through, which had seemed so long and which in
reality had been so brief, left little more impression on him than that
which remains with a man who has been immersed in a brown study or who has
been staring at something, say a poster in the street, and has not noticed
the passage of time.
The next day he returned to his work at the office, and his fellow-clerks,
during the whole of the next week, noticed that he was more zealous and
more painstaking than ever. On the other hand, his periodical fits of
abstraction grew more frequent and more pronounced. On one occasion he
took a paper to the head of the department for signature, and after it had
been signed, instead of removing it from the table, he remained staring in
front of him, and it was not until the head of the department had called
him three times loudly by name that he took any notice and regained
possession of his faculties. As these fits of absent-mindedness grew to be
somewhat severely commented on, he consulted a doctor, who told him that
what he needed was change of air, and advised him to spend his Sundays at
Brighton or at some other bracing and exhilarating spot. Fletcher did not
take the doctor's advice, but continued spending his spare time as he did
before, that is to say, in going to some big junction and watching the
express trains go by all day long.
One day while he was thus employed—it was Sunday, in August of 19—,
when the Egyptian Exhibition was attracting great crowds of visitors—and
sitting, as was his habit, on a bench on the centre platform of Slough
Station, he noticed an Indian pacing up and down the platform, who every
now and then stopped and regarded him with peculiar interest, hesitating
as though he wished to speak to him. Presently the Indian came and sat
down on the same bench, and after having sat there in silence for some
minutes he at last made a remark about the heat.
"Yes," said Fletcher, "it is trying, especially for people like myself,
who have to remain in London during these months."
"You are in an office, no doubt," said the Indian.
"Yes," said Fletcher.
"And you are no doubt hard worked."
"Our hours are not long," Fletcher replied, "and I should not complain of
overwork if I did not happen to suffer from—well, I don't know what
it is, but I suppose they would call it nerves."
"Yes," said the Indian, "I could see that by your eyes."
"I am a prey to sudden fits of abstraction," said Fletcher, "they are
growing upon me. Sometimes in the office I forget where I am altogether
for a space of about two or three minutes; people are beginning to notice
it and to talk about it. I have been to a doctor, and he said I needed
change of air. I shall have my leave in about a month's time, and then
perhaps I shall get some change of air, but I doubt if it will do me any
good. But these fits are annoying, and once something quite uncanny seemed
to happen to me."
The Indian showed great interest and asked for further details concerning
this strange experience, and Fletcher told him all that he could recall—for
the memory of it was already dimmed—of what had happened when he had
telephoned that night.
The Indian was thoughtful for a while after hearing this tale. At last he
said: "I am not a doctor, I am not even what you call a quack doctor—I
am a mere conjurer, and I gain my living by conjuring tricks and
fortune-telling at the Exhibition which is going on in London. But
although I am a poor man and an ignorant man, I have an inkling, a few
sparks in me of ancient knowledge, and I know what is the matter with
"What is it?" asked Fletcher.
"You have the power, or something has the power," said the Indian, "of
detaching you from your actual body, and your astral body has been into
another planet. By your description I think it must be the planet Venus.
It may happen to you again, and for a longer period—for a very much
"Is there anything I can do to prevent it?" asked Fletcher.
"Nothing," said the Indian. "You can try change of air if you like, but,"
he said with a smile, "I do not think it will do you much good."
At that moment a train came in, and the Indian said good-bye and jumped
On the next day, which was Monday, when Fletcher got to the office it was
necessary for him to use the telephone with regard to some business. No
sooner had he taken the receiver off the telephone than he vividly
recalled the minute details of the evening he had telephoned, when the
strange experience had come to him. The advertisement of Venus Soap that
had hung in the telephone box in his house appeared distinctly before him,
and as he thought of that he once more experienced a falling sensation
which lasted only a fraction of a second, and rubbing his eyes he awoke to
find himself in the tepid atmosphere of a green and humid world.
This time he was not near the wood, but on the sea-shore. In front of him
was a grey sea, smooth as oil and clouded with steaming vapours, and
behind him the wide green plain stretched into a cloudy distance. He could
discern, faint on the far-off horizon, the shadowy forms of the gigantic
mushrooms which he knew, and on the level plain which reached the sea
beach, but not so far off as the mushrooms, he could plainly see the huge
green caterpillars moving slowly and lazily in an endless herd. The sea
was breaking on the sand with a faint moan. But almost at once he became
aware of another sound, which came he knew not whence, and which was
familiar to him. It was a low whistling noise, and it seemed to come from
At that moment Fletcher was seized by an unaccountable panic. He was
afraid of something; he did not know what it was, but he knew, he felt
absolutely certain, that some danger, no vague calamity, no distant
misfortune, but some definite physical danger was hanging over him and
quite close to him—something from which it would be necessary to run
away, and to run fast in order to save his life. And yet there was no sign
of danger visible, for in front of him was the motionless oily sea, and
behind him was the empty and silent plain. It was then he noticed that the
caterpillars were fast disappearing, as if into the earth: he was too far
off to make out how.
He began to run along the coast. He ran as fast as he could, but he dared
not look round. He ran back from the coast to the plain, from which a
white mist was rising. By this time every single caterpillar had
disappeared. The whistling noise continued and grew louder.
At last he reached the wood and bounded on, trampling down long trailing
grasses and tangled weeds through the thick, muggy gloom of those endless
aisles of jungle. He came to a somewhat open space where there was the
trunk of a tree larger than the others; it stood by itself and disappeared
into the tangle of creepers above. He thought he would climb the tree, but
the trunk was too wide, and his efforts failed. He stood by the tree
trembling and panting with fear. He could not hear a sound, but he felt
that the danger, whatever it was, was at hand.
It grew darker and darker. It was night in the forest. He stood paralysed
with terror; he felt as though bound hand and foot, but there was nothing
to be done except to wait until his invisible enemy should choose to
inflict his will on him and achieve his doom. And yet the agony of this
suspense was so terrible that he felt that if it lasted much longer
something must inevitably break inside him . . . and just as he was
thinking that eternity could not be so long as the moments he was passing
through, a blessed unconsciousness came over him. He woke from this state
to find himself face to face with one of the office messengers, who said
to him that he had been given his number two or three times but had taken
no notice of it.
Fletcher executed his commission and then went upstairs to his office. His
fellow-clerks at once asked what had happened to him, for he was looking
white. He said that he had a headache and was not feeling quite himself,
but made no further explanations.
This last experience changed the whole tenor of his life. When fits of
abstraction had occurred to him before he had not troubled about them, and
after his first strange experience he had felt only vaguely interested;
but now it was a different matter. He was consumed with dread lest the
thing should occur again. He did not want to get back to that green world
and that oily sea; he did not want to hear the whistling noise, and to be
pursued by an invisible enemy. So much did the dread of this weigh on him
that he refused to go to the telephone lest the act of telephoning should
set alight in his mind the train of associations and bring his thoughts
back to his dreadful experience.
Shortly after this he went for leave, and following the doctor's advice he
spent it by the sea. During all this time he was perfectly well, and was
not once troubled by his curious fits. He returned to London in the autumn
refreshed and well.
On the first day that he went to the office a friend of his telephoned to
him. When he was told that the line was being held for him he hesitated,
but at last he went down to the telephone office.
He remained away twenty minutes. Finally his prolonged absence was
noticed, and he was sent for. He was found in the telephone room stiff and
unconscious, having fallen forward on the telephone desk. His face was
quite white, and his eyes wide open and glazed with an expression of
piteous and harrowing terror. When they tried to revive him their efforts
were in vain. A doctor was sent for, and he said that Fletcher had died of
Before the bell had time to sound the alarm a huge pillar of smoke and
flame, leaping high in the breathless August night, told the whole village
the news of the fire. Men, women, and children hurried to the burning
place. The firemen galloped down the rutty road with their barrels of
water and hand-pumps, yelling. The bell rang, with hurried, throbbing
beats. The fire, which was further off than it seemed to be at first
sight, was in the middle of the village. Two houses were burning—a
house built of bricks and a wooden cottage. The flame was prodigious: it
soared into the sky like the eruption of a volcano, and the wooden
cottage, with its flat logs and blazing roof, looked like a sacrificial
pyre consuming the body of some warrior or Viking. In the light of the
flames the soft sky, which was starless and flooded with stillness by the
large full moon, had turned from blue to green. A dense crowd had gathered
round the burning houses.
The firemen, working like bees, were doing what they could to extinguish
the flames and to prevent the fire spreading. Volunteers from the crowd
helped them. One man climbed up on the edge of the wooden house, where the
flames had been overcome, and shovelled earth from the roof on the little
flames, which were leaping like earth spirits from the ground. His wife
stood below and called on him in forcible language to descend from such a
dangerous place. The crowd jeered at her fears, and she spoke her mind to
them in frank and unvarnished terms. It was St. John the Baptist's Day.
Some of the men had been celebrating the feast by drinking. One of them,
out of the fulness of his heart, cried out: "Oh, how happy I am! I'm
drunk, and there's a fire, and all at the same time!" But most of the
crowd—they looked like black shadows against the glare—looked
on quietly, every now and then making comments on the situation. One of
the peasants tried to knock down the burning house with an axe. He failed.
Someone not far off was playing an accordion and singing a monotonous
Amidst the shifting crowd of shadows I noticed a strange figure, who
beckoned to me. "I see you are short-sighted," he said, "let me lend you a
glass." His voice sounded thin and distant, and he handed me a piece of
glass which seemed to be more opaque than transparent. I looked through it
and I noticed a difference in things:
The cottages had disappeared; in their place were great high buildings
with lofty porticos, broad columns and carved friezes, but flames were
leaping round them, intenser and greater than before, and the noise of the
fire had increased. In front of me was an open court, in the centre of
which was an altar, and to the right of this altar stood an old bay-tree.
An old man and a grey-haired woman were clinging to this altar; it was
drenched with blood, and on the steps of it lay several bodies of young
men clothed in armour, but squalid with dust and blood.
I had scarcely become aware of the scene before a great cloud of smoke
passed through the court, and when it rose I saw there had been another
change: in that few moments' space the fire seemed to have wrought
incredible havoc. Nothing was left of all the tall pillared buildings, the
friezes and the porticos, the altar, the bay-tree and the bodies—nothing
but the pile of logs which vomited a rolling cloud of flame and smoke into
the sky. The moon was still shining calmly, and the sky was softer and
greener. On the ground there were hundreds of dead and dying men; the
dying were groaning in their agony. Far away on the horizon there was a
thin line of light, a faint trembling thread as though of foam, and I
seemed to hear the moaning of the sea.
All at once a woman walked in front of the burning pile. She was tall, and
silken folds clothed the perfect lines of her body and fell straight to
the ground. She walked royally, and when she moved her gestures were like
the rhythm of majestic music. The firelight shone on her hair, which was
bound with a narrow golden band. Her hair was like a cloud of spun
sunshine, and it seemed brighter than the flames. She was walking with
downcast eyes, but presently she looked up. Her face was calm, and
faultless as skilfully-hewn marble, and it seemed to be made of some
substance different from the clay which goes to the making of men and
women. It was not an angel's face; it was not a divine face; neither was
it a wicked face, nor had it anything cruel, nor anything of the siren or
the witch. Love and pleasure seemed to have moulded the flower-like lips;
but an infinite carelessness shone in the still blue eyes. They seemed
like two seas that had never known what winds and tempests mean, but which
bask for ever under unruffled skies lulled by a slumber-scented breeze.
She looked up at the fire and smiled, and at that smile one thought the
heavens must open and the stars break into song, so marvellous was its
loveliness, so infinitely radiant the glory of it. She was a woman, and
yet more than a woman, a creature of the earth, yet fashioned of pearls
and dew and the petals of flowers: delicate as a gossamer, and yet radiant
with the flush of life, soft as the twilight, and glowing with the blood
of the ruby; and, above all things, serene, calm, aloof, and unruffled
like the silver moon. When the dying men saw her smile they raised their
eyes towards her, and one could see that there shone in them a strange and
wonderful happiness. And when they had looked they fell back and died.
Then a cloud of smoke blinded me. When it rose the full moon was still
shining in a sky even bluer and softer than it had yet been. The fire was
further off, but it had spread. The whole village was on fire; but the
village had grown; it seemed endless, and covered several hills. Right in
front of me was a grove of cypresses, dark against the intense glow of the
flames, which leapt all round in the distance: a huge circle of light, a
chain of fiery tongues and dancing lightnings.
We were on the top of a hill, and we looked down into a place where tall
buildings and temples stood, where the fire had not penetrated. This place
was crowded with men, women and children. It was the same shifting crowd
of shadows: some shouting, some gesticulating, some looking on
indifferent. And straight in front of me was a short, dark, and rather fat
man with a low forehead, deep-set eyes, and a heavy jaw. He was crowned
with a golden wreath, and he was twanging a kind of harp. In the distance
suddenly the cypress trees became alive with huge flaring torches, which
lit the garden like Bengal lights. The man threw down his harp and clapped
his hands in ecstasy at the bright fireworks. Again a cloud of smoke
When it lifted I was in the village once more, and once more it was
different. It was on fire, and it seemed infinitely larger and more
straggling than when I had arrived. The moon was still in the sky, but the
air had a chilly touch. Instead of one church there was an infinite number
of churches, for in the glare countless minarets and small cupolas were
visible. There was no crowd, no voices, and no shouting; only a long line
of low, blazing wooden houses. The place was deserted and silent save for
the crackling blaze. Then down the street a short, fat man on horseback
rode towards us. He was riding a white horse. He wore a grey overcoat and
a cocked hat. I became aware of a rhythmical tramping: a noise of hundreds
and hundreds of hoofs, a champing of bits, and the tramp of innumerable
feet and the rumble of guns. In the distance there was a hill with
crenelated battlements round it; it was crowned with the domes and
minarets of several churches, taller and greater than all the other
churches in sight. These minarets shone out clean-cut and distinct against
the ruddy sky.
The short man on horseback looked back for a moment at this hill. He took
a pinch of snuff.
When the ancient gods were turned out of Olympus, and the groan of dying
Pan shook the world like an earthquake, none of the fallen deities was so
disconsolate as Proserpine. She wandered across the world, assuming now
this shape and now that, but nowhere could she find a resting-place or a
home. In the Southern country which she regarded as her own, whatever
shape or disguise she assumed, whether that of a gleaner or of an old
woman begging for alms, the country people would scent something uncanny
about her and chase her from the place. Thus it was that she left the
Southern country, which she loved; she said farewell to the azure skies,
the hills covered with corn and fringed everywhere with rose bushes, the
white oxen, the cypress, the olive, the vine, the croaking frogs, and the
million fireflies; and she sought the green pastures and the woods of a
One evening, not long after her arrival (it was Midsummer Eve), as she was
wandering in a thick wood, she noticed that the trees and the under-growth
were twinkling with a myriad soft flames which reminded her of the
fireflies of her own country, and presently she perceived that these
flames were stars which, soft as dew and bright as moonbeams, formed the
diadems crowning the hair of unearthly shapes. These shapes were like
those of men and maidens, transfigured and rendered strange and delicate,
as light as foam, and radiant as dragonflies hovering over a pool. They
were rimmed with rainbow-coloured films, and sometimes they flew and
sometimes they danced, but they rarely seemed to touch the ground. And as
Proserpine approached them, in the sad majesty of her fallen divinity,
they gathered round her in a circle and bowed down before her. And one of
them, taller than the rest, advanced towards her and said:—
"We are the Fairies, and for a long time we have been mournful, for we
have lost our Queen, our beautiful Queen. She loved a mortal, and on this
account she was banished from Fairyland, nor may she ever revisit the
haunt and the kingdom that were hers. But Merlin, the oldest and the
wisest of the wizards, told us we should find another Queen, and that we
should know her by the poppies in her hair, the whiteness of her brow, and
the stillness of her eyes, and with or without such tokens we should know,
as soon as we set eyes on her, that it was she and no other who was to be
our Queen. And now we know that it was you and no other. Therefore shall
you be our Queen and rule over us until he comes who, Merlin said, shall
conquer your kingdom and deliver its secrets to the mortal world. Then
shall you abandon the kingdom of the Fairies—the everlasting Limbo
shall receive you."
It was one summer's day a long time ago, many and many years after
Proserpine had become Queen of the Fairies, that a butcher's apprentice
called William was enjoying a holiday, and strolling in the woods with no
other purpose than to stroll and enjoy the fresh air and the cool leaves
and the song of the birds. William loved the sights and sounds of the
country; unlike many boys of his age, he was not deeply versed in the
habits of birds and beasts, but devoted his spare time to reading such
books as he could borrow from the village schoolmaster whose school he had
lately left to go into trade, or to taking part in the games of his
companions, for he loved human fellowship and the talk and laughter of his
The day was hot—it was Midsummer Day—and William, having
stumbled on a convenient mound, fell asleep. And he dreamt a curious
dream. He thought he saw a beautiful maiden walking towards him. She was
tall, and clothed in dark draperies, and her hair was bound with a coronal
of scarlet flowers, her face was pale and lustrous, and he could not see
her eyes because they were veiled. She approached him and said:—
"You are he who has been chosen to try to conquer my kingdom, which is
faery, and to possess it: if, indeed, you are able to endure the fierce
ordeal and to perform the three dreadful tasks which have been appointed.
If he who sets out to conquer my kingdom should fail in any one of the
three tasks he dies, and the world hears of him no more. Many have tried
And William said he would try with all his might to conquer the faery
kingdom, and he asked what the three tasks might be.
The maiden, who was none other than Proserpine, Queen of the Fairies, told
him that the first task was to pluck the crystal apple from the laughing
tree, and second to pluck the blood-red rose from the fiery rose tree, and
the third to cull the white poppy from the quiet fields. William asked her
how he was to set about these tasks. Proserpine told him that he had but
to accept the quest and all would be made clear. So he accepted the quest
without further talk.
Immediately Proserpine vanished, and William found himself in a large
green garden of fruit trees, and in the distance he heard the noise of
rippling laughter. He walked along many paths to the place whence he
thought the laughter came, until he found a large fruit tree which grew by
itself. It was laden with fruit, and from one of its boughs hung a crystal
apple which shone with all the colours of the rainbow.
But the tree was guarded by a hideous old hag, covered with sores and
leprous scales, loathsome to behold. And a laughing voice came from the
tree saying: "He who would pluck the crystal apple must embrace its
guardian." And William looked at her and felt no loathing but rather a
deep pity, so that tears welled in his eyes and dropped on her, and he
took her face in his hands to embrace her, and as he did so she changed
into a beautiful maiden with veiled eyes, who plucked the crystal apple
from the tree and gave it to him and vanished.
Then the garden changed its semblance, and all around him there seemed to
be a hedge of smoking thorns and before him a fiery tree on which
blood-red roses shone like rubies. The tree was guarded by a maiden with
long grey eyes and flowing hair, and of spun moonshine, beautiful
exceedingly, and a moaning voice came from the tree, saying: "He who would
pluck the rose must slay its guardian." On the grass beneath the tree lay
an unsheathed sword. William took the sword in his hands, but the maiden
looked at him piteously and wept, so that he hesitated; then, hardening
himself, he plunged the sword into her heart and a great moan was heard,
and the fire disappeared, and only a withered rose-tree stood before him.
Then he heard the voice say that he must pierce his own heart with a thorn
from the tree and let the blood fall upon its roots. This he did, and as
he did so he felt the sharpness of Death, as though the last dreadful
moment had come; but as the drops of blood fell on the roots the beautiful
maiden with veiled eyes, whom he had seen before stood before him and gave
him the blood-red rose, and she touched his wound and straightway it was
Then the garden vanished altogether, and he stood before a dark porch and
a gate beyond which he caught a pale glimmer. And by the porch stood a
terrible shape: a hooded skeleton bearing a scythe, with white sockets of
fire which had no eyes in them but which were so terrible that no mortal
could look on them and live. And here he heard a voice saying: "He who
would cull the white poppy must look into the eyes of its guardian and
take the scythe from the bony hands." And William seized the scythe and an
icy darkness descended upon him, and he felt dizzy and faint; yet he
persisted and wrestled with the skeleton, although the darkness seemed to
be overwhelming him. He tore the hood from the bony head and looked boldly
into the fiery sockets.
Then with a crash of thunder the skeleton vanished, and the maiden with
veiled eyes led him through the gate into the quiet fields, and there he
culled the white poppy. Then the maiden turned to him and unveiled
herself, and it was Proserpine, the Queen of the Fairies.
"You have conquered," she said, "and the faery kingdom is yours for ever,
and you shall visit it and dwell in it whenever you desire, and reveal its
sounds and its sights to the mortals of the world: and in my kingdom you
shall see, as though in a mirror, the pageant of mankind, the scroll of
history, and the story of man which is writ in brave, golden and glowing
letters, of blood and tears and fire. And there is nothing in the soul of
man that shall be hid from you; and you shall speak the secrets of my
kingdom to mortal men with a voice of gold and of honey. And when you grow
weary of life you shall withdraw for ever into the island of faery voices
which lies in the heart of my kingdom. And as for me I go to the
Then Proserpine vanished, and William awoke from his dream, and went home
to his butcher's shop.
Soon after this he left his native village and went to London, where he
became well known; although how his surname shall be spelt is a matter of
dispute, some spelling it Shakespeare, some Shakespere, and some Shaksper.
Ferroll was an intellectual, and he prided himself on the fact. At
Cambridge he had narrowly missed being a Senior Wrangler, and his
principal study there had been Lunar Theory. But when he went down from
Cambridge for good, being a man of some means, he travelled. For a year he
was an honorary Attache at one of the big Embassies. He finally settled in
London with a vague idea of some day writing a magnum opus about
the stupidity of mankind; for he had come to the conclusion by the age of
twenty-five that all men were stupid, irreclaimably, irredeemably stupid;
that everything was wrong; that all literature was really bad, all art
much overrated, and all music tedious in the long run.
The years slipped by and he never began his magnum opus; he joined
a literary club instead and discussed the current topic of the day.
Sometimes he wrote a short article; never in the daily Press, which he
despised, nor in the reviews (for he never wrote anything as long as a
magazine article), but in a literary weekly he would express in weary and
polished phrases the unemphatic boredom or the mitigated approval with
which the works of his fellow-men inspired him. He was the kind of man who
had nothing in him you could positively dislike, but to whom you could not
talk for five minutes without having a vague sensation of blight. Things
seemed to shrivel up in his presence as though they had been touched by an
insidious east wind, a subtle frost, a secret chill. He never praised
anything, though he sometimes condescended to approve. The faint puffs of
blame in which he more generally indulged were never sharp or heavy, but
were like the smoke rings of a cigarette which a man indolently smoking
blows from time to time up to the ceiling.
He lived in rooms in the Temple. They were comfortably, not luxuriously
furnished; a great many French books—French was the only modern
language worth reading he used to say—a few modern German etchings,
a low Turkish divan, and some Egyptian antiquities, made up the furniture
of his two sitting-rooms. Above all things he despised Greek art; it was,
he said decadent. The Egyptians and the Germans were, in his opinion, the
only people who knew anything about the plastic arts, whereas the only
music he could endure was that of the modern French School. Over his
chimney-piece there was a large German landscape in oils, called "Im
Walde"; it represented a wood at twilight in the autumn, and if you looked
at it carefully and for a long time you saw that the objects depicted were
meant to be trees from which the leaves were falling; but if you looked at
the picture carelessly and from a distance, it looked like a man-of-war on
a rough sea, for which it was frequently taken, much to Ferrol's
One day an artist friend of his presented him with a small Chinese god
made of crystal; he put this on his chimney-piece. It was on the evening
of the day on which he received this gift that he dined, together with a
friend named Sledge who had travelled much in Eastern countries, at his
club. After dinner they went to Ferrol's rooms to smoke and to talk. He
wanted to show Sledge his antiquities, which consisted of three large
Egyptian statuettes, a small green Egyptian god, and the Chinese idol
which he had lately been given. Sledge, who was a middle-aged, bearded
man, frank and unconventional, examined the antiquities with care,
pronounced them to be genuine, and singled out for special praise the
"Your things are very good," he said, "very good. But don't you really
mind having all these things about you?"
"Why should I mind?" asked Ferrol.
"Well, you have travelled a good deal, haven't you?"
"Yes," said Ferrol, "I have travelled; I have been as far east as
Nijni-Novgorod to see the Fair, and as far west as Lisbon."
"I suppose," said Sledge, "you were a long time in Greece and Italy?"
"No," said Ferrol, "I have never been to Greece. Greek art distresses me.
All classical art is a mistake and a superstition."
"Talking of superstition," said Sledge, "you have never been to the Far
East, have you?"
"No," Ferrol answered, "Egypt is Eastern enough for me, and cannot be
"Well," said Sledge, "I have been in the Far East. I have lived there many
years. I am not a superstitious man; but there is one thing I would not do
in any circumstances whatsoever, and that is to keep in my sitting-room
the things you have got there."
"But why?" asked Ferrol.
"Well," said Sledge, "nearly all of them have come from the tombs of the
dead, and some of them are gods. Such things may have attached to them
heaven knows what spooks and spirits."
Ferrol shut his eyes and smiled, a faint, seraphic smile. "My dear boy,"
he said, "you forget. This is the Twentieth Century."
"And you," answered Sledge, "forget that the things you have here were
made before the Twentieth Century. B.C."
"You don't seriously mean," said Ferrol, "that you attach any importance
to these—" he hesitated.
"Children's stories?" suggested Sledge.
"I have lived long enough in the East," said Sledge, "to know that the
sooner you learn to believe children's stories the better."
"I am afraid, then," said Ferrol, with civil tolerance, "that our points
of view are too different for us to discuss the matter." And they talked
of other things until late into the night.
Just as Sledge was leaving Ferrol's rooms and had said "Good-night," he
paused by the chimney-piece, and, pointing to the tiny Ikon which was
lying on it, asked: "What is that?"
"Oh, that's nothing," said Ferrol, "only a small Ikon I bought for
twopence at the Fair of Nijni-Novgorod."
Sledge said "Good-night" again, but when he was on the stairs he called
back: "In any case remember one thing, that East is East and West is West.
Don't mix your deities."
Ferrol had not the slightest idea what he was alluding to, nor did he
care. He dismissed the matter from his mind.
The next day he spent in the country, returning to London late in the
evening. As he entered his rooms the first thing which met his eye was
that his great picture, "Im Walde," which he considered to be one of the
few products of modern art that a man who respected himself could look at
without positive pain in the eyes, had fallen from its place over the
chimney-piece to the floor in front of the fender, and the glass was
shattered into a thousand fragments. He was much vexed. He sought the
cause of the accident. The nail was a strong one, and it was still in its
place. The picture had been hung by a wire; the wire seemed strong also
and was not broken. He concluded that the picture must have been badly
balanced and that a sudden shock such a door banging had thrown it over.
He had no servant in his rooms, and when he had gone out that morning he
had locked the door, so no one could have entered his rooms during his
Next morning he sent for a framemaker and told him to mend the frame as
soon as possible, to make the wire strong, and to see that the picture was
firmly fixed on the wall. In two or three days' time the picture returned
and was once more hung on the wall over the chimney-piece immediately
above the little crystal Chinese god. Ferrol supervised the hanging of the
picture in person. He saw that the nail was strong, and firmly fixed in
the wall; he took care that the wire left nothing to be desired and was
properly attached to the rings of the picture.
The picture was hung early one morning. That day he went to play golf. He
returned at five o'clock, and again the first thing which met his eye was
the picture. It had again fallen down, and this time it had brought with
it in its fall the small Chinese god, which was broken in two. The glass
had again been shattered to bits, and the picture itself was somewhat
damaged. Everything else on the chimney-piece, that is to say, a few
matchboxes and two candle-sticks, had also been thrown to the ground—everything
with the exception of the little Ikon he had bought at Nijni-Novgorod, a
small object about two inches square on which two Saints were pictured.
This still rested in its place against the wall.
Ferrol investigated the disaster. The nail was in its place in the wall;
the wire at the back of the picture was not broken or damaged in any way.
The accident seemed to him quite inexplicable. He was greatly annoyed. The
Chinese god was a valuable thing. He stood in front of the chimney-piece
contemplating the damage with a sense of great irritation.
"To think that everything should have been broken except this beastly
little Ikon!" he said to himself. "I wonder whether that was what Sledge
meant when he said I should not mix my deities."
Next morning he sent again for the framemaker, and abused him roundly. The
framemaker said he could not understand how the accident had happened. The
nail was an excellent nail, the picture, Mr. Ferrol must admit, had been
hung with great care before his very eyes and under his own direct and
personal supervision. What more could be done?
"It's something to do with the balance," said Ferrol. "I told you that
before. The picture is half spoiled now."
The framemaker said the damage would not show once the glass was repaired,
and took the picture away again to mend it. A few days later it was
brought back. Two men came to fix it this time; steps were brought and the
hanging lasted about twenty minutes. Nails were put under the picture; it
was hung by a double wire. All accidents in the future seemed guarded
The following morning Ferrol telephoned to Sledge and asked him to dine
with him. Sledge was engaged to dine out that evening, but said that he
would look in at the Temple late after dinner.
Ferrol dined alone at the Club; he reached his rooms about half-past nine;
he made up a blazing fire and drew an armchair near it. He lit a
cigarette, made some Turkish coffee, and took down a French novel. Every
now and then he looked up at his picture. No damage was visible; it
looked, he thought, as well as ever. In the place of the Chinese idol he
had put his little green Egyptian god on the chimney-piece. The
candlesticks and the Ikon were still in their places.
"After all," thought Ferrol, "I did wrong to have any Chinese art in the
place at all. Egyptian things are the only things worth having. It is a
lesson to me not to dabble with things out of my period."
After he had read for about a quarter of an hour he fell into a doze.
Sledge arrived at the rooms about half-past ten, and an ugly sight met his
eyes. There had been an accident. The picture over the chimney-piece had
fallen down right on Ferrol. His face was badly cut. They put Ferrol to
bed, and his wounds were seen to and everything that was necessary was
done. A nurse was sent for to look after him, and Sledge decided to stay
in the house all night. After all the arrangements had been made, the
doctor, before he went away, said to Sledge: "He will recover all right,
he is not in the slightest danger; but I don't know who is to break the
news to him."
"What is that?" asked Sledge.
"He will be quite blind," said the doctor.
Then the doctor went away, and Sledge sat down in front of the fire. The
broken glass had been swept up. The picture had been placed on the
Oriental divan, and as Sledge looked at the chimney-piece he noticed that
the little Ikon was still in its place. Something caught his eye just
under the low fender in front of the fireplace. He bent forward and picked
up the object.
It was Ferrol's green Egyptian god, which had been broken into two pieces.
To Jack Gordon
Hart Minor and Smith were behind-hand with their sums. It was Hart Minor's
first term: Smith had already been one term at school. They were in the
fourth division at St. James's. A certain number of sums in short division
had to be finished. Hart Minor and Smith got up early to finish these sums
before breakfast, which was at half-past seven. Hart Minor divided slowly,
and Smith reckoned quickly. Smith finished his sums with ease. When
half-past seven struck, Hart Minor had finished four of them and there was
still a fifth left: 3888 had to be divided by 36; short division had to be
employed. Hart Minor was busily trying to divide 3888 by 4 and by 9; he
had got as far as saying, "Four's into 38 will go six times and two over;
four's into twenty-eight go seven times; four's into eight go twice." He
was beginning to divide 672 by 9, an impossible task, when the breakfast
bell rang, and Smith said to him: "Come on!"
"I can't," said Hart Minor, "I haven't finished my sum."
Smith glanced at his page and said: "Oh that's all right, don't you see?
The answer's 108."
Hart Minor wrote down 108 and put a large R next to the sum, which meant
The boys went in to breakfast. After breakfast they returned to the fourth
division schoolroom, where they were to be instructed in arithmetic for an
hour by Mr. Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead called for the sums. He glanced
through Smith's and found them correct, and then through Hart Minor's. His
attention was arrested by the last division.
"What's this?" he demanded. "Four's into thirty-eight don't go six times.
You've got the right answer and the wrong working. What does this mean?"
And Mr. Whitehead bit his knuckles savagely. "Somebody," he said, "has
been helping you."
Hart Minor owned that he had received help from Smith. Mr. Whitehead shook
him violently, and said, "Do you know what this means?"
Hart Minor had no sort of idea as to the inner significance of his act,
except that he had finished his sums.
"It means," said Mr. Whitehead, "that you're a cheat and a thief: you've
been stealing marks. For the present you can stand on the stool of
penitence and I'll see what is to be done with you later."
The stool of penitence was a high, three-cornered stool, very narrow at
the top. When boys in this division misbehaved themselves they had to
stand on it during the rest of the lesson in the middle of the room.
Hart Minor fetched the stool of penitence and climbed up on it. It wobbled
After the lesson, which was punctuated throughout by Mr. Whitehead with
bitter comments on the enormity of theft, the boys went to chapel. Smith
and Hart were in the choir: they wore white surplices which were put on in
the vestry. Hart Minor, who knew that he was in for a terrific row of some
kind, thought he observed something unusual in the conduct of the masters
who were assembled in the vestry. They were all tittering. Mr. Whitehead
seemed to be convulsed with uncontrollable laughter. The choir walked up
the aisle. Hart Minor noticed that all the boys in the school, and the
servants who sat behind them, and the master's wife who sat in front, and
the organist who played the harmonium, were all staring at him with
unwonted interest; the boys were nudging each other: he could not
When the service, which lasted twenty minutes, was over, and the boys came
out of chapel, Hart Minor was the centre of a jeering crowd of boys. He
asked Smith what the cause of this was, and Smith confessed to him that
before going into chapel Mr. Whitehead had pinned on his back a large
sheet of paper with "Cheat" written on it, and had only removed it just
before the procession walked up the aisle, hence the interest aroused.
But, contrary to his expectation, nothing further occurred; none of the
masters alluded to his misdemeanour, and Hart Minor almost thought that
the incident was closed—almost, and yet really not at all; he tried
to delude himself into thinking the affair would blow over, but all the
while at the bottom of his heart sat a horrible misgiving.
Every Monday there was in this school what was called "reading over." The
boys all assembled in the library and the Head Master, standing in front
of his tall desk, summoned each division before him in turn. The marks of
the week were read out and the boys took places, moving either up or down
according to their marks; so that a boy who was at the top of his division
one week might find himself at the bottom the next week, and vice versa.
On the Sunday after the incident recorded, the boys of the fourth division
were sitting in their schoolroom before luncheon, in order to write their
weekly letter home. This was the rule of the school. Mr. Whitehead sat at
his desk and talked in a friendly manner to the boys. He was writing his
weekly report in the large black report book that was used for reading
over. Mr. Whitehead was talking in a chaffing way as to who was his
"You can tell your people," he said to Hart Minor, "that my favourite is
old Polly." Polly was Hart Minor's nickname, which was given to him owing
to his resemblance to a parrot. Hart Minor was much pleased at this
friendly attitude, and began to think that the unpleasant incident of the
week had been really forgotten and that the misgiving which haunted him
night and day was a foolish delusion.
"We shall soon be writing the half-term reports," said Mr. Whitehead.
"You've all been doing well, especially old Polly: you can put that in
your letter," he said to Hart Minor. "I'm very much pleased with you," and
On Monday morning at eleven o'clock was reading over. When the fourth
division were called up, the Head Master paused, looked down the page,
then at the boys, then at the book once more; then he frowned. There was a
second pause, then he read out in icy tones:—
"I'm sorry to say that Smith and Hart Minor have been found guilty of
gross dishonesty; they combined—in fact they entered into a
conspiracy, to cheat, to steal marks and obtain by unfair means, a higher
place and an advantage which was not due to them."
The Head Master paused. "Hart Minor and Smith," he continued, "go to the
bottom of the division. Smith," he added, "I'm astounded at you. Your
conduct in this affair is inexplicable. If it were not for your previous
record and good conduct, I should have you severely flogged; and if Hart
Minor were not a new boy, I should treat him in the same way and have him
turned out of the choir. (The choir had special privileges.) As it is, you
shall lose, each of you, 200 marks, and I shall report the whole matter in
detail to your parents in your half-term report, and if anything of the
sort ever occurs again, you shall be severely punished. You have been
guilty of an act for which, were you not schoolboys, but grown up, you
would be put in prison. It is this kind of thing that leads people to
After the reading over was finished and the lessons that followed
immediately on it, and the boys went out to wash their hands for luncheon,
the boys of the second division crowded round Hart Minor and asked him how
he could have perpetrated such a horrible and daring crime. The matter,
however, was soon forgotten by the boys, but Hart Minor had not heard the
last of it. On the following Sunday in chapel, at the evening service, the
Head Master preached a sermon. He chose as his text "Thou shalt not
steal!" The eyes of the whole school were fixed on Smith and Hart Minor.
The Head Master pointed out in his discourse that one might think at first
sight that boys at a school might not have the opportunity to violate the
tremendous Commandments; but, he said, this was not so. The Commandments
were as much a living actuality in school life as they were in the larger
world. Coming events cast their shadows before them; the child was the
father of the man; what a boy was at school, such would he be in after
life. Theft, the boys perhaps thought, was not a sin which immediately
concerned them. But there were things which were morally the same if not
worse than the actual theft of material and tangible objects—dishonesty
in the matter of marks, for instance, and cheating in order to gain an
undue advantage over one's fellow-schoolboys. A boy who was guilty of such
an act at school would probably end by being a criminal when he went out
into the larger world. The seeds of depravity were already sown; the tree
whose early shoots were thus blemished would probably be found to be
rotten when it grew up; and for such trees and for such noxious growths
there could only be one fate—to be cut down and cast into the
In Hart Minor's half-term report, which was sent home to his parents, it
was stated that he had been found guilty of the meanest and grossest
dishonesty, and that should it occur again he would be first punished and
He had long ago retired from public life, and in his Tuscan villa, where
he now lived quite alone, seldom seeing his friends, he never regretted
the strenuous days of his activity. He had done his work well; he had been
more than a competent public servant; as Pro-Consul he proved a pillar of
strength to the State, a man whose name at one time was on men's lips as
having left plenty where he had found dearth, and order and justice where
corruption, oppression, and anarchy, had once run riot. His retirement had
been somewhat of a surprise to his friends, for although he was ripe in
years, his mental powers were undiminished and his body was active and
vigorous. But his withdrawal from public life was due not so much to
fatigue or to a longing for leisure as to a lack of sympathy, which he
felt to be growing stronger and stronger as the years went by, with the
manners and customs, the mode of thought, and the manner of living of the
new world and the new generation which was growing up around him. Nurtured
as he had been in the old school and the strong traditions which taught an
austere simplicity of life, a contempt for luxury and show, he was
bewildered and saddened by the rapid growth of riches, the shameless
worship of wealth, the unrestrained passion for amusement at all costs,
the thirst for new sensations, and the ostentatious airs of the youth of
the day, who seemed to be born disillusioned and whose palates were jaded
before they knew the taste of food. He found much to console him in
literature, not only in the literature of the past but in the literature
of his day, but here again he was beset with misgivings and haunted by
forebodings. He felt that the State had reached its zenith both in
material prosperity and intellectual achievement, and that all the future
held in reserve was decline and decay. This thought was ever present with
him; in the vast extension of empire he foresaw the inevitable
disintegration, and he wondered in a melancholy fashion what would be the
fate of mankind when the Empire, dismembered and rotten, should become the
prey of the Barbarians.
It was in the winter of the second year after his retirement that his
melancholy increased to a pitch of almost intolerable heaviness. That
winter was an extraordinarily mild one, and even during the coldest month
he strolled every evening after he had supped on the terrace walk which
was before the portico. He was strolling one night on the terrace
pondering on the fate of mankind, and more especially on the life—if
there was such a thing—beyond the grave. He was not a superstitious
man, but, saturated with tradition, he was a scrupulous observer of
religious feast, custom, and ritual. He had lately been disturbed by what
he considered to be an ill-favoured omen. One night—it was twelve
nights ago he reckoned—the statues of Pan and Apollo, standing in
his dining-room, which was at the end of the portico, had fallen to the
ground without any apparent cause and had been shattered into fragments.
And it had seemed to him that the crash of this accident was immediately
followed by a low and prolonged wail, which appeared to come from nowhere
in particular and yet to fill the world; the noise of the moan had seemed
to be quite close to him, and as it died away its echo had seemed to be
miles and miles distant. He thought it had been a hallucination, but that
same night a still stranger thing happened. After the accident, which had
wakened the whole household, he had been unable to go to sleep again and
he had gone from his sleeping chamber into an adjoining room, and,
lighting a lamp, had taken down and read out of the "Iliad" of Homer.
After he had been reading for about half an hour he heard a voice calling
him very distinctly by his name, but as soon as the sound had ceased he
was not quite certain whether he had heard it or not. At that moment one
of his slaves, who had been born in the East, entered the room and asked
him what he required, saying that he had heard his master calling loudly.
What these signs and portents signified he had no idea; perhaps, he mused,
they mean my own death, which is of no consequence; or perhaps—which
may the Fates forfend—some disaster to an absent friend or even to
the State. But so far—and twelve days had passed since he had seen
these strange manifestations—he had received no news which confirmed
As he was thus musing he looked up at the sky, and he noticed the presence
of a new and unfamiliar star, which he had never seen before. He was a
close observer of the heavens and learned in astronomy, and he felt quite
certain that he had never seen this star before. It was a star of peculiar
radiance, large and white—almost blue in its whiteness—it
shone in the East, and seemed to put all the other stars to shame by its
overwhelming radiance and purity. While he was thus gazing at the star it
seemed to him as though a great darkness had come upon the world. He heard
a low muttering sound as of a distant earthquake, and this was quickly
followed by the tramping of innumerable armies. He knew that the end had
come. It is the Barbarians, he thought, who have already conquered the
world. Rome has fallen never to rise again; Rome has shared the fate of
Troy and Carthage, of Babylon, and Memphis; Rome is a name in an old
wife's tale; and little savage children shall be given our holy trophies
for playthings, and shall use our ruined temples and our overthrown
palaces as their playground. And so sharp was the vividness of his vision
that he wondered what would happen to his villa, and whether or no the
Barbarians would destroy the image of Ceres on the terrace, which he
especially cherished, not for its beauty but because it had belonged to
his father and to his grandfather before him.
An eternity seemed to pass, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of the armies of
those untrained hordes which were coming from the North and overrunning
the world seemed to get nearer and nearer. He wondered what they would do
with him; he had no place for fear in his heart, but he remembered that on
the portico in the morning his freedman's child had been playing with the
pieces of a broken jar, a copper coin, and a dog made of terra-cotta. He
remembered the child's brown eyes and curly hair, its smile, its laughter,
and lisping talk—it was a piece of earth and sun—and he
thought of the spears of the Barbarians, and then shifted his thoughts
because they sickened him.
Then, just when he thought the heavy footsteps had reached the approach of
his villa, the vision changed. The noise of tramping ceased, and through
the thick darkness there pierced the radiance of the star: the strange
star he had seen that night. The world seemed to awake from a dark
slumber. The ruins rose from the dust and took once more a stately shape,
even lordlier than before. Rome had risen from the dead, and once more she
dominated the world like a starry diadem. Before him he seemed to see the
pillars and the portals of a huge temple, more splendid and gorgeous than
the Temples of Caesar. The gates were wide open, and from within came a
blare of trumpets. He saw a kneeling multitude; and soldiers with shining
breastplates, far taller than the legionaries of Caesar, were keeping a
way through the dense crowd, while the figure of an aged man—was it
the Pontifex Maximus, he wondered?—was borne aloft in a chair over
Then once more the vision changed. At least the temple seemed to grow
wider, higher, and lighter; the crowd vanished; it seemed to him as though
a long corridor of light was opening on some ultimate and mysterious
doorway. At last this doorway was opened, and he saw distinctly before him
a dark and low manger where oxen and asses were stalled. It was littered
with straw. He could hear the peaceful beasts munching their food.
In the corner lay a woman, and in her arms was a child and his face shone
like the sun and lit up the whole place, in which there were neither
torches nor lamps. The door of the manger was ajar, and through it he saw
the sky and the strange star still shining brightly. He heard a voice, the
same voice which he had heard twelve nights before; but the voice was not
calling him, it was singing a song, and the song was as it were a part of
a larger music, a symphony of clear voices, more joyous and different from
anything he had ever heard.
The vision vanished altogether; he was standing once more under the
portico amongst the surroundings which were familiar to him. The strange
star was still shining in the sky. He went back through the folding-doors
of the piazza into the dining-room. His gloom and his perplexity had been
lifted from him; he felt quite happy; he could not have explained why. He
called his slave and told him to get plenty of provisions on the morrow,
for he expected friends to dinner. He added that he wanted nothing further
and that the slaves could go to bed.
To Henry de C. Ward
His name was Chun Wa; possibly there was some more of it, but that is all
I can remember. He was about four or five years old, and I made his
acquaintance the day we arrived at the temple. It was at the end of
September. We had left Mukden in order to take part in what they said was
going to be a great battle. I don't know what the village was called at
which we arrived on the second day of our march. I can only remember that
it was a beautiful and deliciously quiet spot, and that we established
ourselves in a temple; that is to say not actually in the temple itself,
but in the house of the priest. He was a Buddhist who looked after the
deities of the place, which were made of carved and painted wood, and
lived in a small pagoda. The building consisted of three quadrangles
surrounded by a high stone wall. The first of these quadrangles, which you
entered from the road, reminded me of the yard in front of any farm. There
was a good deal of straw lying about, some broken ploughshares, buckets,
wooden bowls, spades, and other implements of toil. A few hens hurried
about searching for grains here and there; a dog was sleeping in the sun.
At the further end of the yard a yellow cat seemed to have set aside a
space for its exclusive use. This farmyard was separated from the next
quadrangle by the house of the priest, which occupied the whole of the
second enclosure; that is to say the living rooms extended right round the
quadrangle, leaving a square and open space in the centre. The part of the
house which separated the second quadrangle from the next consisted solely
of a roof supported by pillars, making an open verandah, through which
from the second enclosure you saw into the third. The third enclosure was
a garden, consisting of a square grass plot and some cypress trees. At the
further end of the garden was the temple itself.
We arrived in the afternoon. We were met by an elderly man, the priest,
who put the place at our disposal and established us in the rooms situated
in the second quadrangle to the east and west. He himself and his family
lived in the part of the house which lay between the farmyard and the
second enclosure. The Cossacks of the battery with which I was living
encamped in a field on the other side of the farmyard, but the treasure
chest was placed in the farmyard itself, and a sentry stood near it with a
The owner of the house had two sons. One of them, aged about thirteen, had
something to do with the temple services, and wore a kind of tunic made of
white silk. The second was Chun Wa. It was when the sentry went on guard
that we first made the acquaintance of Chun Wa. His cheeks were round and
fat, and his face seemed to bulge out towards the base. His little eyes
were soft and brown and twinkled like onyxes. His tiny little hands were
most beautifully shaped, and this child moved about the farmyard with the
dignity of an Emperor and the serenity of a great Pontiff. Gravely and
without a smile he watched the Cossacks unharnessing their horses,
lighting a fire and arranging the officers' kit.
He walked up to the sentry who was standing near the treasure chest, a
big, grey-eyed Cossack with a great tuft of fair hair, and the expression
of a faithful retriever, and in a tone of indescribable contempt, Chun Wa
said "Ping!" "Ping" in Chinese means soldier-man, and if you wish to
express your contempt for a man there is no word in the whole of the
Chinese language which expresses it so fully and so emphatically as the
The Cossack smiled on Chun Wa and called him by a long list of endearing
diminutives, but Chun Wa took no notice, and retired into the inner part
of the house as if he had determined to pay no more attention to the
barbarous intruders. The next day, however, curiosity got the better of
him, and he could not resist inspecting the yard, and observing the doings
of the foreign devils. And one of the Cossacks—his name was Lieskov
and he looked after my mule—made friends with Chun Wa. He made
friends with him by playing with the dog. The dog, like most Chinese dogs,
was dirty, distrustful, and not used to being played with; he slunk away
if you called him, and if you took any notice of him he evidently expected
to be beaten, kicked, or to have stones thrown at him. He was too thin to
be eaten. But Lieskov tamed the dog and taught him how to play, and the
big Cossack used to roll on the ground while the dog pretended to bite
him, until Chun Wa forgot his dignity, his contempt, and his superior
culture, and smiled. I remember coming home that very afternoon from a
short stroll with one of the officers, and we found Lieskov lying fast
asleep in the farmyard right across the steps of the door through which we
wanted to go, and Chun Wa and the dog were sitting beside him. We woke him
up and the officer asked him why he had gone to sleep.
"I was playing with the dog, your honour," he said, "and I played so hard
that I was exhausted and fell asleep."
After that Chun Wa made friends with everybody, officers and men, and he
ruled the battery like an autocrat. He ruled by charm and a thousand
winning ways. But his special friend was Lieskov, who carried the child
about on his back, performed many droll antics to amuse him, and taught
him words of pidgin Russian. Among other things he made him a kite—a
large and beautiful kite—out of an old piece of yellow silk, shaped
like a butterfly. And Chun Wa's brother flew this kite with wonderful
skill, so that it looked like a glittering golden bird hovering in the
I forget how long we stayed at this temple, whether it was three days or
four days; possibly it was not so long, but it seemed like many months, or
rather it seemed at the same time very long and very short, like a
pleasant dream. The weather was so soft and so fine, the sunshine so
bright, the air so still, that had not the nights been chilly we should
never have dreamt that it was autumn. It seemed rather as though the
spring had been unburied and had returned to the earth by mistake. And all
this time fighting was going on to the east of us. The battle of Sha-Ho
had begun, but we were in the reserve, in what they called the deepest
reserve, and we heard no sound of firing, neither did we receive any news
of it. We seemed to be sheltered from the world in an island of dreamy
lotus-eating; and the only noise that reached us was the sound of the
tinkling gongs of the temple. We lived a life of absolute indolence,
getting up with the sun, eating, playing cards, strolling about on the
plains where the millet had now been reaped, eating again and going to bed
about nine o'clock in the evening. Our chief amusement was to talk with
Chun Wa and to watch the way in which he treated the Cossacks, who had
become his humble slaves. I am sure there was not one of the men who would
not have died gladly for Chun Wa.
One afternoon, just as we were finishing our midday meal, we received
orders to start. We were no longer in the reserve; we were needed further
on. Everything was packed up in a hurry, and by half-past two the whole
battery was on the march, and we left the lovely calm temple, the cypress
trees, the chiming gongs, and Chun Wa. The idyll was over, the reality was
about to begin. As we left the place Chun Wa stood by the gate, dignified,
and grave as usual. In one hand he held his kite, and in the other a paper
flower, and he gave this flower to Lieskov.
Next day we arrived at another village, and from there we were sent still
further on, to a place whence, from the hills, all the fighting that was
going on in the centre of that big battle was visible. From half-past six
in the morning until sunset the noise of the artillery never ceased, and
all night long there was a rattle of rifle firing. The troops which were
in front drew each day nearer to us. Another two days passed; the battery
took part in the action, some of the men were killed, and some of the men
and the officers were wounded, and we retreated to the River Sha-Ho. Then
just as we thought a final retreat was about to take place, a retreat
right back to Mukden, we recrossed the river, took part in another action,
and then a great stillness came. The battle was practically over. The
advance of the enemy had ceased, and we were ordered to go to a certain
We started, and on our way we passed through the village where we had
lived before the battle began. The place was scarcely recognisable. It was
quite deserted; some of the houses looked like empty shells or husks, as
though the place had suffered from earthquake. A dead horse lay across the
road just outside the farmyard.
One of the officers and myself had the curiosity to go into the temple
buildings where we had enjoyed such pleasant days. They were deserted.
Part of the inner courtyard was all scorched and crumbled as if there had
been a fire. The straw was still lying about in the yard, and the
implements of toil. The actual temple itself at the end of the grassy plot
remained untouched, and the grinning gods inside it were intact; but the
dwelling rooms of our host were destroyed, and the rooms where we had
lived ourselves were a mass of broken fragments, rubbish, and dust. The
place had evidently been heavily shelled. There was not a trace of any
human being, save that in the only room which remained undestroyed, on the
matting of the hard Khang—that is the divan which stretches
like a platform across three-quarters of every Chinese room—lay the
dead body of a Chinese coolie. The dog, the cat, and the hens had all
We only remained a moment or two in the place, and as we left it the
officer pulled my sleeve and pointed to a heap of rubbish near the gate.
There, amidst some broken furniture, a mass of refuse, burned and
splintered wood, lay the tattered remains of a golden kite.