With a heart of furious fancies, Whereof I am commander: With a burning spear, And a horse of air, To the wilderness I wander;
With a Knight of ghosts and shadows, I summoned am to Tourney: Ten leagues beyond The wide world's end; Methinks it is no journey.
—ANON. (Tom o' Bedlam).
His Travels and Adventures in the Rich, Strange, Scarce-Imaginable Regions of Romance
WALTER J. DE LA MARE
London John Murray, Albemarle Street, W.
Come hither, come hither, come hither!
II. LUCY GRAY
Oft I had heard of Lucy Gray; And, when I crossed the wild, I chanced to see at break of day The solitary child.
III. JANE EYRE
I used to rush into strange dreams at night: dreams ... where amidst unusual scenes ... I still again and again met Mr. Rochester;... and then the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand and cheek, loving him, being loved by him—the hope of passing a lifetime at his side, would be renewed, with all its first force and fire.
—CHARLOTTE BRONTE (Jane Eyre, Ch. xxxii.).
IV. JULIA, ELECTRA, DIANEME
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying: And this same flower that smiles to-day To-morrow will be dying.
The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun, The higher he's a-getting, The sooner will his race be run, And nearer he's to setting.
That age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer; But being spent, the worse, and worst Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time; And while ye may, go marry: For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry.
Now is the time when all the lights wax dim, And thou, Anthea, must withdraw from him Who was thy servant. Dearest, bury me Under the holy-oak or gospel tree;... Or, for mine honour, lay me in that tomb In which thy sacred relics shall have room: For my embalming, sweetest, there will be No spices wanting when I'm laid by thee.
V. NICK BOTTOM 43
BOT. A calendar, a calendar! look in the almanac; find out moonshine, find out moonshine.
—A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III., Sc. i.
VI. SLEEPING BEAUTY
VII. & VIII. LEMUEL GULLIVER
I must freely confess that since my last return some corruptions of my Yahoo nature have revived in me, by conversing with a few of your species, and particularly those of my own family, by an unavoidable necessity; else I should never have attempted so absurd a project as that of reforming the Yahoo race in this kingdom: but I have done with all such visionary schemes for ever.—Gulliver's Letter to his Cousin.
The first money I laid out was to buy two young stone horses, which I kept in a good stable, and next to them the groom is my greatest favourite; for I feel my spirits revived by the smell he contracts in the stable.
—SWIFT (A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms, Ch. xi.).
IX. & X. MISTRUST, OBSTINATE, LIAR, ETC.
And as he read he wept and trembled; and not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, "What shall I do?"...
The neighbours also came out to see him run; and as he ran, some mocked, others threatened, and some cried after him to return.
Now, after awhile, they perceived afar off, one coming softly and alone, all along the highway, to meet them.
—BUNYAN (The Pilgrim's Progress).
XI. LA BELLE DAME SANS MERCI
"O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing.
"O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, So haggard and so woe-begone? The squirrel's granary is full, And the harvest's done."
XII. SLEEP AND DEATH
Death will come when thou art dead, Soon, too soon— Sleep will come when thou art fled; Of neither would I ask the boon I ask of thee, beloved Night— Swift be thine approaching flight, Come soon, soon!
XIII. & XIV. A DOCTOR OF PHYSIC
Well, well, well,— ... God, God forgive us all!
—Macbeth, Act V., Sc. i.
XV. ANNABEL LEE
I was a child, and she was a child In this kingdom by the sea; And we loved with a love that was more than love— I and my Annabel Lee— With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven Coveted her and me.
—EDGAR ALLAN POE.
... Love hadde his dwellinge With-inne the subtile stremes of hir yen.
Book I., 304-5.
Y-wis, my dere herte, I am nought wrooth, Have here my trouthe and many another ooth; Now speek to me, for it am I, Criseyde!
Book III., 1110-2.
And fare now wel, myn owene swete herte!
Book V., 1421.
—CHAUCER (Troilus and Criseyde).
THE TRAVELLER TO THE READER
The traveller who presents himself in this little book feels how tedious a person he may prove to be. Most travellers, that he ever heard of, were the happy possessors of audacity and rigour, a zeal for facts, a zeal for Science, a vivid faith in powder and gold. Who, then, will bear for a moment with an ignorant, pacific adventurer, without even a gun?
He may, however, seem even more than bold in one thing, and that is in describing regions where the wise and the imaginative and the immortal have been before him. For that he never can be contrite enough. And yet, in spite of the renown of these regions, he can present neither map nor chart of them, latitude nor longitude: can affirm only that their frontier stretches just this side of Dream; that they border Impossibility; lie parallel with Peace.
But since it is his, and only his, journey and experiences, his wonder and delight in these lands that he tells of—a mere microcosm, as it were—he entreats forgiveness of all who love them and their people as much as he loves them—scarce "on this side idolatry."
Oh, what land is the Land of Dream?
I lived, then, in the great world once, in an old, roomy house beside a little wood of larches, with an aunt of the name of Sophia. My father and mother died a few days before my fourth birthday, so that I can conjure up only fleeting glimpses of their faces by which to remember what love was then lost to me. Both were youthful at death, but my Aunt Sophia was ever elderly. She was keen, and just, seldom less than kind; but a child was to her something of a little animal, and it was nothing more. In consequence, well fed, warmly clad, and in freedom, I grew up almost in solitude between my angels, hearkening with how simple a curiosity to that everlasting warfare of persuasion and compulsion, terror and delight.
Which of them it was that guided me, before even I could read, to the little room dark with holly trees that had been of old my uncle's library, I know not. Perhaps at the instant it chanced there had fallen a breathless truce between them, and I being solitary, my own instinct took me. But having once found that pictured haven, I had found somewhat of content.
I think half my youthful days passed in that low, book-walled chamber. The candles I burned through those long years of evening would deck Alps' hugest fir; the dust I disturbed would very easily fill again the measure that some day shall contain my own; and the small studious thumbmarks that paced, as if my footprints, leaf by leaf of that long journey, might be the history of life's experience in little,—from clearer, to clear, to faint—how very faint at last!
I do not remember ever to have been discovered in this retreat. I was (by nature) prompt at meals, and wary to be in bed at my hour, however transitory its occupation might be. Indeed, I very well recollect dawn painting the page my eyes dwelt on, surprising me with its mystery and stealth in a house as silent as the grave.
Thus entertained then by insubstantial society I grew up, and began to be old, before I had yet learned age is disastrous. And it was there, in that cold, bright chamber, one snowy twilight, first suddenly awoke in me an imperative desire for distant lands.
Even while little else than a child I had begun to cast my mind to travel. I doubt if ever Columbus suffered such vexation from an itch to be gone.
Now, it seemed clear to me after long brooding and musing that however beautiful were these regions of which I never wearied to read, and however wild and faithful and strange and lovely the people of the books, somewhere the former must remain yet, somewhere, in immortality serene, dwell they whom so many had spent life in dreaming of, and writing about.
In fact, take it for all in all, what could these authors have been at, if they laboured from dawn to midnight, from laborious midnight to dawn, merely to tell of what never was, and never by any chance could be? It was heaven-clear to me, solitary and a dreamer; let me but gain the key, I would soon unlock that Eden garden-door. Somewhere yet, I was sure, Imogen's mountains lift their chill summits into heaven; over haunted sea-sands Ariel flits; at his webbed casement next the stars Faust covets youth, till the last trump shall ring him out of dream.
It was on a blue March morning, with all the trees of my aunt's woods in a pale-green tumult of wind, that, quite unwittingly, I set out on a journey that has not yet come to an end.
There was a hint in the air at my waking, I fancied, not quite of mere earth, the perfume of the banners of Flora, of the mould where in melting snow the crocus blows. I looked from my window, and the western clouds drew gravely and loftily in the illimitable air towards the whistling house. Strange trumpets pealed in the wind. Even my poor, aged Aunt Sophia had changed with the universal change; her great, solitary face reminded me of some long-forgotten April.
And a little before eleven I saddled my uncle's old mare Rosinante (poor female jade to bear a name so glorious!), and rode out (as for how many fruitless seasons I had ridden out!), down the stony, nettle-narrowed path that led for a secret mile or more, beneath lindens, towards the hills.
Still thou art blest compared wi' me!
It is to be wondered at that in so bleak a wind I could possibly fall into reverie. But the habit was rooted deep in me; Rosinante was prosaic and trustworthy; the country for miles around familiar to me as the palm of my hand. Yet so deeply was I involved, and so steadily had we journeyed on, that when at last I lifted my eyes with a great sigh that was almost a sob, I found myself in a place utterly unknown to me.
But more inexplicable yet, not only was the place strange, but, by some incredible wizardry, Rosinante seemed to have carried me out of a March morning, blue and tumultuous and bleak, into the grey, sweet mist of a midsummer dawn.
I found that we were ambling languidly on across a green and level moor. Far away, whether of clouds or hills I could not yet tell, rose cold towers and pinnacles into the last darkness of night. Above us in the twilight invisible larks climbed among the daybeams, singing as they flew. A thick dew lay in beads on stick and stalk. We were alone with the fresh wind of morning and the clear pillars of the East.
On I went, heedless, curious, marvelling; my only desire to press forward to the goal whereto destiny was directing me. I suppose after this we had journeyed about an hour, and the risen sun was on the extreme verge of the gilded horizon, when I espied betwixt me and the deep woods that lay in the distance a little child walking.
She, at any rate, was not a stranger to this moorland. Indeed, something in her carriage, in the grey cloak she wore, in her light, insistent step, in the old lantern she carried, in the shrill little song she or the wind seemed singing, for a moment half impelled me to turn aside. Even Rosinante pricked forward her ears, and stooped her gentle face to view more closely this light traveller. And she pawed the ground with her great shoe, and gnawed her bit when I drew rein and leaned forward in the saddle to speak to the child.
"Is there any path here, little girl, that I may follow?" I said.
"No path at all," she answered.
"But how then do strangers find their way across the moor?" I said.
She debated with herself a moment. "Some by the stars, and some by the moon," she answered.
"By the moon!" I cried. "But at day, what then?"
"Oh, then, sir," she said, "they can see."
I could not help laughing at her demure little answers. "Why!" I exclaimed, "what a worldly little woman! And what is your name?"
"They call me Lucy Gray," she said, looking up into my face. I think my heart almost ceased to beat.
"Lucy Gray!" I repeated.
"Yes," she said most seriously, as if to herself, "in all this snow."
"'Snow,'" I said—"this is dewdrops shining, not snow."
She looked at me without flinching. "How else can mother see how I am lost?" she said.
"Why!" said I, "how else?" not knowing how to reach her bright belief. "And what are those thick woods called over there?"
She shook her head. "There is no name," she said.
"But you have a name—Lucy Gray; and you started out—do you remember?—one winter's day at dusk, and wandered on and on, on and on, the snow falling in the dark, till—Do you remember?"
She stood quite still, her small, serious face full to the east, striving with far-off dreams. And a merry little smile passed over her lips. "That will be a long time since," she said, "and I must be off home." And as if it had been but an apparition of my eyes that had beset and deluded me, she was gone; and I found myself sitting astride in the full brightness of the sun's first beams, alone.
What omen was this, then, that I should meet first a phantom on my journey? One thing only was clear: Rosinante could trust to her five wits better than I to mine. So leaving her to take what way she pleased, I rode on, till at length we approached the woods I had descried. Presently we were jogging gently down into a deep and misty valley flanked by bracken and pines, from which issued into the crisp air of morning a most delicious aromatic smell, that seemed at least to prove this valley not far remote from Araby.
I do not think I was disturbed, though I confess to having been a little amazed to see how profound this valley was into which we were descending, yet how swiftly climbed the sun, as if to pace with us so that we should not be in shadow, howsoever fast we journeyed. I was astonished to see flowers of other seasons than summer by the wayside, and to hear in June, for no other month could bear such green abundance, the thrush sing with a February voice. Here too, almost at my right hand, perched a score or more of robins, bright-dyed, warbling elvishly in chorus as if the may-boughs whereon they sat were white with hoarfrost and not buds. Birds also unknown to me in voice and feather I saw, and little creatures in fur, timid yet not wild; fruits, even, dangled from the trees, as if, like the bramble, blossom and seed could live here together and prosper.
Yet why should I be distracted by these things, thought I. I remembered Maundeville and Hithlodaye, Sindbad and Gulliver, and many another citizen of Thule, and was reassured. A man must either believe what he sees, or see what he believes; I know no other course. Why, too, should I mistrust the bounty of the present merely for the scarcity of the past? Not I!
I rode on, and it seemed had advanced but a few miles before the sun stood overhead, and it was noon. We were growing weary, I think, of sheer delight: Rosinante, with her mild face beneath its dark forelock gazing this side, that side, at the uncustomary landscape; and I ever peering forward beneath my hat in eagerness to descry some living creature a little bigger than these conies and squirrels, to prove me yet in lands inhabited. But the sun was wheeling headlong, and the stillness of late afternoon on the woods, when, dusty and parched and heavy, we came to a break in the thick foliage, and presently to a green gate embowered in box.
Thou art so true, that thoughts of thee suffice To make dreams truth, and fables histories.
I dismounted and, with the nose of my beast in my bosom, stood awhile gazing, in the half-dream weariness brings, across the valley at the dense forests that covered the hills. And while thus standing, doubtful whether to knock at the little gate or to ride on, it began to open, and a great particoloured dog looked out on us. There was certainly something unusual in the aspect of this animal, for though he lifted on us grave and sagacious eyes, he scarcely seemed to see us, manifested neither pleasure nor disapproval, neither wagged his tail to give us welcome nor yawned to display his armament. He seemed a kind of dream-dog, a dog one sees without zeal, and sees again partly with the eye, but most in recollection.
Thus however we stood, stranger, horse, and dog, till a morose voice called somewhere from beyond, "Pilot, sir, come here, Pilot." Semi-dog or no, he knew his master. Whereupon, tying up my dejected Rosinante to a ring in the gateway, I followed boldly after "Pilot" into that sequestered garden.
Meanwhile, however, he had disappeared—down a thick green alley to the left, I supposed. So I went forward by a clearer path, and when I had advanced a few paces, met face to face a lady whose dark eyes seemed strangely familiar to me.
She was evidently a little disquieted at meeting a stranger so unceremoniously, but stood her ground like a small, black, fearless note of interrogation.
I explained at once, therefore, as best I could, how I came to be there: described my journey, my bewilderment, and how that I knew not into what country nor company fate had beguiled me, except that the one was beautiful, and the other in some delightful way familiar, and I begged her to tell me where I really was, and how far from home, and of whom I was now beseeching forgiveness.
Her thoughts followed my every word, passing upon her face like shadows on the sea. I have never seen a listener so completely still and so completely engrossed in listening. And when I had finished, she looked aside with a transient, half-sly smile, and glanced at me again covertly, so that I could not see herself for seeing her eyes; and she laughed lightly.
"It is indeed a strange journey," she replied. "But I fear I cannot in the least direct you. I have never ventured my own self beyond the woods, lest—I should penetrate too far. But you are tired and hungry. Will you please walk on a few steps till you come to a stone seat? My name is Rochester—Jane Rochester"—she glanced up between the hollies with a sigh that was all but laughter—"Jane Eyre, you know."
I went on as she had bidden, and seated myself before an old, white, many-windowed house, squatting, like an owl at noon, beneath its green covert. In a few minutes the great dog with dripping jowl passed almost like reality, and after him his mistress, and on her arm her master, Mr. Rochester.
There seemed a night of darkness in that scarred face, and stars unearthly bright. He peered dimly at me, leaning heavily on Jane's arm, his left hand plunged into the bosom of his coat. And when he was come near, he lifted his hat to me with a kind of Spanish gravity.
"Is this the gentleman, Jane?" he enquired.
"He's young!" he muttered.
"For otherwise he would not be here," she replied.
"Was the gate bolted, then?" he asked.
"Mr. Rochester desires to know if you had the audacity, sir, to scale his garden wall," Jane said, turning sharply on me. "Shall I count the strawberries, sir?" she added over her shoulder."
"Jane, Jane!" he exclaimed testily. "I have no wish to be uncivil, sir. We are not of the world—a mere dark satellite. I am dim; and suspicious of strangers, as this one treacherous eye should manifest. I'll but ask your name, sir,—there are yet a few names left, once pleasing to my ear."
"My name is Brocken, sir—Henry Brocken," I answered.
"And—did you walk? Pah! there's the mystery! God knows how else you could have come, unless you are a modern Ganymede. Where then's your aquiline steed, sir? We have no neighbours here—none to stare, and pry, and prate, and slander."
I informed him that I was as ignorant as he what power had spirited me to his house, but that so far as obvious means went, my old horse was probably by this time fast asleep beside the green gate at which I had entered. Jane stood on tip-toe and whispered in his ear, and, nodding imperiously at him, withdrew into the house.
Complete silence fell between us after her departure. The woods stood dark and motionless in the yellow evening light. There was no sound of wind or water, no sound of voices or footsteps; only far away the clear, scarce-audible warbling of a sleepy bird.
"Well, sir," Mr. Rochester said suddenly, "I am bidden invite you to pass the night here. There are stranger inhabitants than Mr. and Mrs. Rochester in these regions you have by some means strayed into—wilder denizens, by much; for youth's seraphic finding. Not for mine, sir, I vow. Depart again in the morning, if you will: we shall neither of us be displeased by then to say farewell, I dare say. I do not seek company. My obscure shell is enough." I rose. "Sit down—sit down again, my dear sir; there's no mischief in the truth between two men of any world, I suppose, assuredly not of this. My wife will see to your comfort. There! hushie now, here he floats; sit still, sit still—I hear his wings. It is my 'Four Evangels,' sir!"
It was a sleek blackbird that had alighted and now set to singing on the topmost twig of a lofty pear-tree near by; and with his first note Jane reappeared. And while we listened, unstirring, to that rich, undaunted voice, I had good opportunity to observe her, and not, I think, without her knowledge, not even without her approval.
This, then, was the face that had returned wrath for wrath, remorse for remorse, passion for passion to that dark egotist Jane in the looking-glass. Yet who, thought I, could be else than beautiful with eyes that seemed to hide in fleeting cloud a flame as pure as amber? The arch simplicity of her gown, her small, narrow hands, the exquisite cleverness of mouth and chin, the lovely courage and sincerity of that yet-childish brow—it seemed even Mr. Rochester's "Four Evangels" out of his urgent rhetoric was summoning with reiterated persuasions, "Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre, Ja ... ne!"
Light faded from the woods; a faint wind blew cold upon our faces. Jane took Mr. Rochester's hand and looked into his face.
She turned to me. "Will you come in, Mr. Brocken? I have seen that your horse is made quite easy. He was fast asleep, poor fellow, as you surmised; and, I think, dreaming; for when I proffered him a lump of sugar, he thrust his nose into my face and breathed as if I were a peck of corn. The candles are lit, sir; supper is ready."
We went in slowly, and Jane bolted the door. "But who it is that can be bolted out," she said, "I know not; though there's much to bolt in. I have stood here, Mr. Brocken, on darker nights as still as this, and have heard what seemed to be the sea breaking, far away, leagues upon leagues beyond the forests—the gush forward, the protracted, heavy retreat,—listened till I could have wept to think that it was only my own poor furious heart beating. You may imagine, then, I push the bolts home."
"But why, Jane—why?" cried Mr. Rochester incredulously. "Violent fancies, child!"
"Why, sir, it was, I say, not the sea I heard, but a trickling tide one icy tap might stay, if it found but entry there."
"You talk wildly, Jane—wildly, wildly; the air's afloat with listeners; so it seems, so it seems. Had I but one clear lamp in this dark face!"
We sat down in the candle-lit twilight to supper. It was to me like the supper of a child, taken at peace in the clear beams, ere he descend into the shadow of sleep.
They sat, try as I would not to observe them, hand touching hand throughout the meal. But to me it was as if one might sit to eat before a great mountain ruffled with pines, and perpetually clamorous with torrents. All that Mr. Rochester said, every gesture, these were but the ghosts of words and movements. Behind them, gloomy, imperturbable, withdrawn, slumbered a strange, smouldering power. I began to see how very hotly Jane must love him, she who loved above all things storm, the winds of the equinox, the illimitable night-sky.
She begged him to take a little wine with me, and filled his glass till it burned like a ruby between their hands.
"It paints both our hands!" she cried glancing up at him.
"Ay, Janet," he answered; "but where is yours?"
"And what goal will you make for when you leave us," she enquired of me. "Is there anywhere else?" she added, lifting her slim eyebrows.
"I shall put trust in Chance," I replied, "which at least is steadfast in change. So long as it does not guide me back, I care not how far forward I go."
"You are right," she answered; "that is a puissant battlecry, here and hereafter."
Mr. Rochester rose hastily from his chair. "The candles irk me, Jane. I would like to be alone. Excuse me, sir." He left the room.
Jane lifted a dark curtain and beckoned me to bring the lights. She sat down before a little piano and desired me to sit beside her. And while she played, I know not what, but only it seemed old, well-remembered airs her mood suggested, she asked me many questions.
"And am I indeed only like that poor mad thing you thought Jane Eyre?" she said, "or did you read between?"
I answered that it was not her words, not even her thoughts, not even her poetry that was to me Jane Eyre.
"What then is left of me?" she enquired, stooping her eyes over the keys and smiling darkly. "Am I indeed so evanescent, a wintry wraith?"
"Well," I said, "Jane Eyre is left."
She pressed her lips together. "I see," she said brightly. "But then, was I not detestable too? so stubborn, so wilful, so demented, so—vain?"
"You were vain," I answered, "because—"
"Well?" she said, and the melody died out, and the lower voices of her music complained softly on.
"For a barrier," I answered.
"A barrier?" she cried.
"Why, yes," I said, "a barrier against cant, and flummery, and coldness, and pride, and against—why, against your own vanity too."
"That's really very clever—penetrating," she said; "and I really desired to know, not because I did not know already, but to know I knew all. You are a perspicacious observer, Mr. Brocken; and to be that is to be alive in a world of the moribund. But then too how high one must soar at times; for one must ever condescend in order to observe faithfully. At any rate, to observe all one must range at an altitude above all."
"And so," I said, "you have taken your praise from me—"
"But you are a man, and I a woman: we look with differing eyes, each sex to the other, and perceive by contrast. Else—why, how else could you forgive my presumption? He sees me as an eagle sees the creeping tortoise. I see him as the moon the sun, never weary of gazing. I borrow his radiance to observe him by. But I weary you with my garrulous tongue.... Have you no plan at all in your journey? 'Tis not the dangers, but to me the endless restlessness of such a venture—that 'Oh, where shall wisdom be found?'... Will you not pause?—stay with us a few days to consider again this rash journey? To each his world: it is surely perilous to transgress its fixed boundaries."
"Who knows?" I cried, rather arrogantly perhaps. "The sorcery that lured me hither may carry me as lightly back. But I have tasted honey and covet the hive."
She glanced sidelong at me with that stealthy gravity that lay under all her lightness.
"That delicious Rosinante!" she exclaimed softly.... "And I really believe too I must be the honey—or is it Mr. Rochester? Ah! Mr. Brocken, they call it wasp-honey when it is so bitter that it blisters the lips." She talked on gaily, as if she had forgotten I was but a stranger until now. Yet none the less she perceived presently my eyes ever and again fixed upon the little brooch of faintest gold hair at her throat, and flinched and paled, playing on in silence.
"Take the whole past," she continued abruptly, "spread it out before you, with all its just defeats, all its broken faith, and overweening hopes, its beauty, and fear, and love, and its loss—its loss; then turn and say: this, this only, this duller heart, these duller eyes, this contumacious spirit is all that is left—myself. Oh! who could wish to one so dear a destiny so dark?" She rose hastily from the piano. "Did I hear Mr. Rochester's step by the window?" she said.
I crossed the room and looked out into the night. The brightening moon hung golden in the dark clearness of the sky. Mr. Rochester stood motionless, Napoleon-wise, beneath the black, unstirring foliage. And before I could turn, Jane had begun to sing:—
You take my heart with tears; I battle uselessly; Reft of all hopes and doubts and fears, Lie quietly.
You veil my heart with cloud; Since faith is dim and blind, I can but grope perplex'd and bow'd, Seek till I find.
Yet bonds are life to me; How else could I perceive The love in each wild artery That bids me live?
Jane's was not a rich voice, nor very sweet, and yet I fancied no other voice than this could plead and argue quite so clearly and with such nimble insistency—neither of bird, nor child, nor brook; because, I suppose, it was the voice of Jane Eyre, and all that was Jane's seemed Jane's only.
The music ceased, the accompaniment died away; but Mr. Rochester stood immobile yet—a little darker night in that much deeper. When I turned, Jane was gone from the room. I sat down, my face towards the still candles, as one who is awake, yet dreams on. The faint scent of the earth through the open window; the heavy, sombre furniture; the daintiness and the alertness in the many flowers and few womanly gew-gaws: these too I shall remember in a tranquillity that cannot change.
A sudden, trembling glimmer at the window lit the garden and, instantaneously, the distant hills; lit also the figures of Jane and Mr. Rochester beneath the trees. They entered the house, and once more Jane drew the bolts against that phantom fear. A tinge of scarlet stood in her cheeks, an added lustre in her eyes. They were strange lovers, these two—like frost upon a cypress tree; yet summer lay all around us.
I bade them good night and ascended to the little room prepared for me. There was a great pincushion on the sprigged and portly toilet table, and I laboured till the constellations had changed beyond my window, in printing from a box of tiny pins upon that lavendered mound, "Ave, Ave, atque Vale!"
Far in the night a dreadful sound woke me. I rose and looked out of the window, and heard again, deep and reverberating, Pilot baying I know not what light minions of the moon. The Great Bear wheeled faintly clear in the dark zenith, but the borders of the east were grey as glass; and far away a fierce hound was answering from his echo-place in the gloom, as if the dread dog of Acheron kept post upon the hills.
A light tap woke me in the sunlight, and a lighter voice. Mr. Rochester took breakfast with us in a gloomy old dressing-room, moody and taciturn, unpacified by sleep. But Jane, whimsical and deft, had tied a yellow ribbon in the darkness of her hair.
Rosinante awaited me at the little green gate, eyeing forlornly the steep valley at her feet. And I rode on. The gate was shut on me; and Mr. Rochester again, perhaps, at his black ease.
I had jogged on, with that peculiar gravity age brings to equine hoofs, about a mile, when the buttress of a thick wall came into view abutting on the lane, and perched thereon what at first I deemed a coloured figment of the mist that festooned the branches and clung along the turf. But when I drew near I saw it was indeed a child, pink and gold and palest blue. And she raised changeling hands at me, and laughed and danced and chattered like the drops upon a waterfall; and clear as if a tiny bell had jingled I heard her cry.
And my heart smote me heavily since I had of my own courtesy not remembered Adele.
Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, tu-witta-woo.
It was yet early, and refreshing in the chequered shade. We plodded earnestly after our gaunt shadow in the dust, and ever downward, till at last we drew so near to the opposite steep that I could well nigh count its pines.
It was about the hour when birds seek shade and leave but few among their fellows to sing, that at a stone's throw from the foot of the hill I came to where a faint bridle-path diverged. And since it was smooth with moss, and Rosinante haply tired of pebbles; since any but the direct road seems ever the more delectable, I too turned aside, and broke into the woods through which this path meandered.
Maybe it is because all woods are enchanted that the path seemed more than many miles long. Often too we loitered, or stood, head by head, to listen, or to watch what might be after all only wings, mere sunbeams. Shall I say, then, that it began to be thorny, and, where the thorns were, pale with roses, when at length the knitted boughs gradually drew asunder, and I looked down between twitching, hairy ears upon a glade so green and tranquil, I deemed it must be the Garden of the Hesperides?
And because there ran a very welcome brook of water through this glade, I left Rosinante to follow whithersoever a sweet tooth might dictate, and climbed down into the weedy coolness at the waterbrink.
I confess I laughed to see so puckered a face as mine in the clear blue of the flowing water. But I dipped my hands and my head into the cold shallows none the less pleasantly, and was casting about for a deeper pool where I might bathe unscorned of the noonday, when I heard a light laughter behind me, and, turning cautiously, perceived under the further shadow of the glade three ladies sitting.
Not even vanity could persuade me that they were laughing at anything more grotesque than myself, so, putting a bold face on matters so humiliating, I sauntered as carelessly and loftily as I dared in their direction. My courage seemed to abash them a little; they gathered back their petticoats like birds about to fly. But at hint of a titter, they all three began gaily laughing again till their eyes sparkled brighter than ever, and their cheeks seemed shadows of the roses above their heads.
"Ladies," I began gravely, "I have left my horse, that is very old and very thirsty, above in the wood. Is there any path I may discover by which she may reach the water without offence?"
"Is she very old?" said one.
"She is very old," I said.
"But is she very thirsty?" said another.
"She is perhaps very thirsty," I said.
"Perhaps!" cried they all.
"Because, ladies," I replied, "being by nature of a timid tongue, and compelled to say something, and having nothing apt to say, I remembered my old Rosinante above in the wood."
They glanced each at each, and glanced again at me.
"But there is no path down that is not steep," said the fairest of the three.
"There never was a path, not even, we fear, for a traveller on foot," continued the second.
I waited in silence a moment. "Forgive me, then," I said; "I will offend no longer."
But this seemed far from their design.
"You see, being come," began the fairest again, "Julia thinks Fortune must have brought you. Are we not all between Fortune's finger and thumb?"
"If pinching is to prove anything," said the other.
"And Fortune is fickle, too," added Julia—"that's early wisdom; but not quite so fickle as you would wish to show her. Here we have sat in these mortal glades ever since our poor Herrick died. And here it seems we are like to sit till he rises again. It is all so—dubious. But since Electra has invited you to rest awhile, will you not really rest? There is shade as deep, and fruit to refresh you, in a little arbour yonder. Perhaps even Anthea will dip out of her weeping awhile if she hears that ... a poor old thirsty horse is tethered in the woods."
They rose up together with a prolonged rustling as of a peacock displaying his plumes; and I found myself irretrievably their captive.
Moreover, even if they were but sylphs and fantasies of the morning, they were fantasies lovely as even their master had portrayed; while the dells through which they led me were green and deep and white and golden with buds.
It was now, I suppose, about the middle of the morning, yet though the sun was high, his heat was that of dawn. Dawn lingered in the shadows, as snow when winter is over and gone, and dwelt among the sunbeams. Dew lay heavy on the grass, as the dainty heels of my captresses testified, yet they trod lightly upon daisies wide-open to the blue sky, while daffadowndillies stooped in a silence broken only by their laughter.
We came presently to a little stone summerhouse or arbour, enclustered with leaves and flowers of ivy and convolvulus, wherein two great dishes of cherries stood and bowls of honeycomb and sillabub.
There we sat down; but they kept me close too in the midst of the arbour, where perhaps I was not so ill-content to be as I should like to profess. How then could I else than bob for cherries as often as I dared, and prove my wit to conceal my hunger?
"And now, Sir Traveller," said she of the sparkling eyes, named Dianeme, "since we have got you safe, tell us of all we have never heard or seen!"
"And oh! are we forgot?" cried Electra, laying a lip upon a cherry.
"There's not a poet in his teens but warbles of you morn, noon, and night," I answered. "There's not a lover mad, young, true, and tender, but borrows your azure, and your rubies, and your roses, and your stars, to deck his sweetheart's name with."
"Boys perhaps," cried Julia softly, "but men soon forget."
"Youth never," I replied.
"Why 'Youth'?" said Dianeme. "Herrick was not always young."
"Ay, but all men once were young, please God," I said, "and youth is the only 'once' that's worth remembrance. Youth with the heart of youth adores you, ladies; because, when dreams come thick upon them, they catch your flying laughter in the woods. When the sun is sunk, and the stars kindle in the sky, then your eyes haunt the twilight. You come in dreams, and mock the waking. You the mystery; you the bravery and danger; you the long-sought; you the never-won; memories, hopes, songs ere the earth is mute. You will always be loved, believe me, O bright ladies, till youth fades, turns, and loves no more." And I gazed amazed on cherries of such potency as these.
"But once, sir," said Julia timidly, "we were not only loved but told we were loved."
"Where is the pleasure else?" cried Dianeme.
"Besides," said Electra, "Anthea says if we might but find where Styx flows one draught—my mere palmful—would be sweeter than all the poetry ever writ, save some."
"It is idle," cried Dianeme; "Herrick himself admired us most on paper."
"And ink makes a cross even of a kiss, that is very well known," said Julia.
"Ah!" said I, "all men have eyes; few see. Most men have tongues: there is but one Robin Herrick."
"I will tell you a secret," said Dianeme.
And as if a bird of the air had carried her voice, it seemed a hush fell on sky and greenery.
"We are but fairy-money all," she said, "an envy to see. Take us!—'tis all dry leaves in the hand. Herrick stole the honey, and the bees he killed. Blow never so softly on the tinder, it flames—and dies."
"I heard once," said Electra, with but a thought of pride, "that had I lived a little, little earlier, I might have been the Duchess of Malfi."
"I too, Flatterer," cried Julia, "I too—Desdemona slain by a blackamoor. To some it is the cold hills and the valleys 'green and sad,' and the sea-birds' wailing," she continued in a low, strange voice, "and to some the glens of heather, and the mountain-brooks, and the rowans. But, come to an end, what are we all? This man's eyes will tell ye! I would give white and red, nectar and snow and roses, and all the similes that ever were for—"
"For what?" said I.
"I think, for Robin Herrick," she said.
It was a lamentable confession, for that said, gravity fled away; and Electra fetched out a lute from a low cupboard in the arbour, and while she played Julia sang to a sober little melody I seemed to know of old:
Sighs have no skill To wake from sleep Love once too wild, too deep.
Gaze if thou will, Thou canst not harm Eyes shut to subtle charm.
Oh! 'tis my silence Shows thee false, Should I be silent else?
Haste thou then by! Shine not thy face On mine, and love's disgrace!
Whereat Dianeme lifted on me so naive an afflicted face I must needs beseech another song, despite my drowsy lids. Wherefore I heard, far away as it were, the plucking of the strings, and a voice betwixt dream and wake sing:
All sweet flowers Wither ever, Gathered fresh Or gathered never; But to live when love is gone!— Grieve, grieve, lute, sadly on!
All I had— 'Twas all thou gav'st me; That foregone, Ah! what can save me? If the exorcised spirit fly, Nought is left to love me by.
Take thy stars, My tears then leave me; Thine my bliss, As thine to grieve me; Take....
For then, so insidious was the music, and not quite of this earth the voice, my senses altogether forsook me, and I fell asleep.
Would that I could remember much else! But I confess it is the heart remembers, not the poor, pestered brain that has so many thoughts and but one troubled thinker. Indeed, were I now to be asked—Were the fingers cold of these bright ladies? Were their eyes blue, or hazel, or brown? or, haply, were Dianeme's that incomparable, dark, sparkling grey? Wore Julia azure, and Electra white? And was that our poet wrote our poet's only, or truly theirs, and so even more lovely?—I fear I could not tell.
I fell asleep; and when I awoke no lute was sounding. I was alone; and the arbour a little house of gloom on the borders of evening. I caught up yet one more handful of cherries, and stumbled out, heavy and dim, into a pale-green firmanent of buds and glow-worms, to seek the poor Rosinante I had so heedlessly deserted.
But I was gone but a little way when I was brought suddenly to a standstill by another sound that in the hush of the garden, in the bright languor after sleep, went to my heart: it was as if a child were crying.
I pushed through a thick and aromatic clump of myrtles, and peering between the narrow leaves, perceived the cold, bright face of a little marble god beneath willows; and, seated upon a starry bank near by, one whom by the serpentry of her hair and the shadow of her lips I knew to be Anthea.
"Why are you weeping?" I said.
"I was imitating a little brook," she said.
"It is late; the bat is up; yet you are alone," I said.
"Pan will protect me," she said.
"And nought else?"
She turned her face away. "None," she said. "I live among shadows. There was a world, I dreamed, where autumn follows summer, and after autumn, winter. Here it is always June, despite us both."
"What, then, would you have?" I said.
"Ask him," she replied.
But the little god looking sidelong was mute in his grey regard.
"Why do you not run away? What keeps you here?"
"You ask many questions, stranger! Who can escape? To live is to remember. To die—oh, who would forget! Even had I been weeping, and not merely mocking time away, would my tears be of Lethe at my mouth's corners? No," said Anthea, "why feign and lie? All I am is but a memory lovely with regret."
She rose, and the myrtles concealed her from me. And I, in the midst of the dusk where the tiny torches burned sadly—I turned to the sightless eyes of that smiling god.
What he knew, being blind, yet smiling, I seemed to know then. But that also I have forgotten.
I whistled softly and clearly into the air, and a querulous voice answered me from afar—the voice of a grasshopper—Rosinante's.
How should I your true love know From another one?
But even then she was difficult finding, so cunningly had ivy and blackberry and bindweed woven snares for the trespasser's foot.
But at last—not far from where we had parted—I found her, a pillar of smoke in the first shining of the moon. She turned large, smouldering eyes on me, her mane in elf locks, her flanks heaving and wet, her forelock frizzed like a colt's. Yet she showed only pleasure at seeing me, and so evident a desire to unburden the day's history, that I almost wished I might be Balaam awhile, and she—Dapple!
It would be idle to attempt to ride through these thick, glimmering brakes. The darkness was astir. And as the moon above the valley brightened, casting pale beams upon the folded roses and drooping branches, if populous dream did not deceive me, a tiny multitude was afoot in the undergrowth—small horns winding, wee tapers burning.
Presently as with Rosinante's nose at my shoulder we pushed slowly forward, a nightingale burst close against my ear into so passionate a descant I thought I should be gooseflesh to the end of my days.
The heedless tumult of her song seemed to give courage to sounds and voices much fainter. Soon a lovelit rival in some distant thicket broke into song, and far and near their voices echoed above the elfin din of timbrel and fife and hunting-horn. I began to wish the moon away that dazzled my eyes, yet could not muffle my ears.
In the heavy-laden boughs dim lanterns burned. There, indeed, when we dipped into the deeper umbrage of some loftier tree, I espied the pattering hosts—creatures my Dianeme might have threaded for a bangle, yet breeched and armed and fiercely martial.
Down, too, in a watery dell of harts-tongue, around the root of a swelling fungus, a lovely company floated of an insubstantiality subtile as taper-smoke, and of a beauty as remote as the babes in children's eyes.
We passed unheeded. Four bearded hoofs rose and fell upon the moss with all the circumspection snorting Rosinante could compass. But one might as well go snaring moonbeams as dream to crush such airy beings. Ever and again a gossamer company would soar like a spider on his magic thread, and float with a whisper of remotest music past my ear; or some bolder pigmy, out of the leaves we brushed in passing, skip suddenly across the rusty amphitheatre of my saddle into the further covert.
So we wandered on, baffled and confused, through a hundred pathless glens and dells till already gold had begun to dim the swelling moon's bright silver, and by the freshness and added sweetness of the air it seemed dawn must be near, when, on a sudden, a harsh, preposterous voice broke on my ear, and such a see-saw peal of laughter as I have never tittered in sheer fellowship with before, or since. We stood listening, and the voice broke out again.
"Tittany—nay, Tittany, you'll crack my sides with laughing. Have again at you! love your master and you'll wax nimble. Bottom will learn you all. Trust Time and Bottom; though in sooth your weeny Majesty is something less than natural. Drive thy straw deeper, Mounsieur Mustardseed! there squats a pestilent sweet notion in that chamber could spellican but set him capering. Prithee your mousemilk hand on this smooth brow, mistress! Your nectar throbbeth like a blacksmith's anvil. Master Moth, draw you these bristling lashes down, they mirk the stars and call yon nothing Quince to mind—a vain, official knave, in and out, to and fro, play or pleasure; and old Sam Snout, the wanton! Lad's days and all—'twas life, Tittany; and I was ever foremost. They'd bob and crook to me like spaniels at a trencher. Mine was the prettiest conceit, this way, that way, past all unravelling till envy stretched mine ears. Now I'm old dreams. Gone all men's joy, your worships, since Bully Bottom took to moonshine. Where floats your babe's-hand now, Dame Lovepip?"
There he lolled, immortal Bottom, propped on a bed of asphodel and moly that seemed to curd the moonshine; and at his side, Titania slim and scarlet, and shimmering like a bride-cake. The sky was dark above the tapering trees, but here in the secret woods light seemed to cling in flake and scarf. And it so chanced as our two noses leaned forward into his retreat that Bottom's head lolled back upon its pillow, and his bright, simple eyes stared deep into our own.
"Save me, ye shapes of nought," he bellowed, "no more, no more, for love's sake. I begin to see what men call red Beelzebub, and that's an end to all true fellowship. Whiffle your tufted bee's wing, Signior Cobweb, I beseech you—a little fiery devil with four eyes floats in my brain, and flame's a frisky bedfellow. Avaunt! avaunt ye! Would now my true friend Bottom the weaver were at my side. His was a courage to make princes great. Prithee, Queen Tittany, no more such cozening possets!"
I drew Rosinante back into the leaves.
"Droop now thy honeyed lids, my dearest love!" I heard a clear voice answer. "There's nought can harm thee in these silvered woods: no bird that pipes but love incites his throat, and never a dewdrop wells but whispers peace!"
"Ay, ay, 'tis very well, you have a gift, you have a gift, Tittany's for twisting words to sugarsticks. But la, there, what wots your trickling whey of that coal-piffling Prince of Flies! I'm Bottom the weaver, I am. He knows not his mother's ring-finger that knows not Nick Bottom. Back, back, ye jigging dreams! 'Tis Puckling nods. Ha' done, ha' done—there's no sweet sanity in an asshead more if I quaff their elvish ... Out now ... Ha' done, I say!"
Then indeed he slumbered truly, this engarlanded weaver, his lids concealing all bright speculation, his jowl of vanity (foe of the Philistine) at peace: and I might gaze unperceived. The moon filled his mossy cubicle with her untrembling beams, streamed upon blossoms sweet and heavy as Absalom's hair, while tiny plumes wafted into the night the scent of thyme and meadow-sweet.
I know not how long they would have kept me prisoner with their illusive music. I dared not move, scarce wink; for much as immortality may mollify hairiness, I had no wish to live too frank.
How, also, would this weaver who slumbered so cacophonously welcome a rival to his realms. I say I sat still, like Echo in the woods when none is calling; like too, I grant, one who ached not a little after jolts and jars and the phantasmal mists of this engendering air. But none stirred, nor went, nor came. So resting my hands cautiously on a little witch's guild of toadstools that squatted cold in shade, I lifted myself softly and stood alert.
And in a while out of that numerous company stepped one whom by his primrose face and mien I took to be Mounsieur Mustardseed, and I followed after him.
Care-charming Sleep ... ... sweetly thyself dispose On this afflicted prince!
Away with a blink of his queer green eye over his shoulder he sauntered by a devious path out of the dell. Forgetful of thorn and brier, trickery and wantonness, we clambered down after him, out of the moonlight, into a dark, clear alley, soundless and solitary amid these enchanted woods.
As I have said already, another air than that of night was abroad in the green-grey shadows of the woods. Yet between the lofty and heavy-hooded pines scarce a beam of dawn pierced downward.
Wider swept the avenue, but ever dusky and utterly silent. Deeper moss couched here; unfallen moondrops glistened; mistletoe palely sprouted from the gnarled boughs. Nor could I discern, though I searched close enough, elder or ash tree or bitter rue. We journeyed softly on till I lost all count of time, lost, too, all guidance; for as a flower falls had vanished Mustardseed.
Far away and ever increasing in volume I heard the trembling crash of some great water falling. What narrow isles of sky were visible between the branches lay sunless and still. Yet already, on a mantled pool we journeyed softly by, the waterlily was unfolding, the swan afloat in beauty.
In a dim, still light we at last slowly descended out of the darker glade into a garden of grey terraces and flowerless walks. Even Rosinante seemed perturbed by the stillness and solitude of this wild garden. She trod with cautious foot and peering eye the green, rainworn paths, that led us down presently to where beneath the vault of its trees a river flowed.
Surely I could not be mistaken that here a voice was singing as if out of the black water-deeps, so clear and hollow were the notes. I burst through the knotted stalks of the ivy, and stooping like some poor travesty of Narcissus, with shaded face pierced down deep—deep into eyes not my own, but violet and unendurable and strange—eyes of the living water-sprite drawing my wits from me, stilling my heart, till I was very near plunging into that crystal oblivion, to be fishes evermore.
But my fingers still grasped my friend's kind elf-locks, and her goose-nose brooded beside mine upon that water of undivulged delight. Out of the restless silence of the stream floated this long-drawn singing:
Pilgrim forget; in this dark tide Sinks the salt tear to peace at last; Here undeluding dreams abide, All sorrow past.
Nods the wild ivy on her stem; The voiceless bird broods on the bough; The silence and the song of them Untroubled now.
Free that poor captive's flutterings, That struggles in thy tired eyes, Solace its discontented wings, Quiet its cries!
Knells now the dewdrop to its fall, The sad wind sleeps no more to rove; Rest, for my arms ambrosial Ache for thy love!
I cannot think how one so meekened with hunger as I, resisted that water-troubled hair, eyes that yet haunt me, that heart-alluring voice.
"No, no," I said faintly, and the words of Anthea came unbidden to mind, "to sleep—oh! who would forget? You plead merely with some old dream of me—not all me, you know. Gold is but witchcraft. And as for sorrow—spread me a magical table in this nettle-garden, I'll leave all melancholy!"
I must indeed have been exhausted to chop logic with a water-witch. As well argue with minnows, entreat the rustling of ivy-leaves. It was Rosinante, wearying, I suppose, of the reflection of her own mild countenance, that drew me back from dream and disaster. She turned with arched neck seeking a more wholesome pasture than these deep mosses.
Leaving her then to her own devices, and yet hearkening after the voice of the charmer, I came out again into the garden, and perceived before me a dark palace with one lofty tower.
It seemed strange I had not seen the tower at my first coming into this wilderness. It stood with clustered summit and stooping gargoyles, appealing as it were to fear, in utter silence.
Though I knew it must be day, there was scarcely more than a green twilight around me, ever deepening, until at last I could but dimly discern the upper windows of the palace, and all sound waned but the roar of distant falling water.
Then it was I found that I was not alone in the garden. Two little leaden children stood in an attitude of listening on either side of the carved porch of the palace, and between them a figure that seemed to be watching me intently.
I looked and looked again—saw the green-grey folds, the tawny locks, the mistletoe, the unearthly eyes of this unstirring figure, yet, when I advanced but one strenuous pace, saw nought—only the little leaden boys and the porch between them.
These childish listeners, the straggling briers, the impenetrable thickets, the emerald gloaming, the marble stillness of the lofty lichenous tower: I took courage. Could such things be in else than Elfland? And she who out of beauty and being vanishes and eludes, what else could she be than one of Elfland's denizens from whom a light and credulous heart need fear nothing.
I trod like a shadow where the phantom had stood and opened the unused door. I was about to pass into the deeper gloom of the house when a hound appeared and stood regarding me with shining eyes in the faint gloaming. He was presently joined by one as light-footed, but milk-white and slimmer, and both turned their heads as if in question of their master, who had followed close behind them.
This personage, because of the gloom, or the better to observe the intruder on his solitude, carried a lantern whose beams were reflected upon himself, attired as he was from head to foot in the palest primrose, but with a countenance yet paler.
There was no hint of enmity or alarm or astonishment in the colourless eyes that were fixed composedly on mine, nothing but courtesy in his low voice.
"Back, Safte!—back, Sallow!" he cried softly to his hounds; "is this your civility? Indeed, sir," he continued to me, "it was all I could do to dissuade the creatures from giving tongue when you first appeared on the terrace of my solitary gardens. I heard too the water-sprite: she only sings when footsteps stray upon the banks." He smiled wanly, and his nose seemed even sharper in his pale face, and his yellow hair leaner about his shoulders. "I feared her voice might prove too persuasive, and deprive me of the first strange face I have seen these many decades gone."
I bowed and murmured an apology for my intrusion, just as I might perhaps to some apparition of nightmare that over-stayed its welcome.
"I beseech you, sir," he replied, "say no more! It may be I deemed you at first a visitor perchance even more welcome—if it be possible,... yet I know not that either. My name is Ennui,"—he smiled again—"Prince Ennui. You have, perchance, heard somewhere our sad story. This is the perpetual silence wherein lies that once-happy princess, my dear sister, Sleeping Beauty."
His voice seemed but an echo amongst the walls and arches of this old house, and he spoke with a suave enunciation as if in an unfamiliar tongue.
I replied that I had read the ever-lovely story of Sleeping Beauty, indeed knew it by heart, and assured him modestly that I had not the least doubt of a happy ending—"that is, if the author be the least authority."
He narrowed his lids. "It is a tradition," he replied; "meanwhile, the thickets broaden."
Whereupon I begged him to explain how it chanced that among that festive and animated company I had read of, he alone had resisted the wicked godmother's spell.
He smiled distantly, and bowed me into the garden.
"That is a simple thing," he said.
Yet for the life of me I could not but doubt all he told me. He who could pass spring on to spring, summer on to summer, in the company of beasts so sly and silent, so alert and fleet as these hounds of his, could not be quite the amiable prince he feigned to be. I began to wish myself in homelier places.
It seems that on the morning of the fatal spindle, he had gone coursing, with this Safte and Sallow and his horse named "Twilight," and after wearying and heating himself at the sport, a little after noon, leaving his attendants, had set out to return to the palace alone. But allured by the cool seclusion of a "lattice-arbour" in his path, he had gone in, and then and there, "Twilight" beneath the willows, his hounds at his feet, had fallen asleep.
Undisturbed, dreamless, "the unseemly hours sped light of foot." He awoke again, between sunset and dark; the owl astir; "the silver gnats yet netting the shadows," and so returned to the palace.
But the spell had fallen—king and courtier, queen and lady and page and scullion, hawk and hound, slept a sleep past waking—"while I, roamed and roam yet in a solitary watch beyond all sleeping. Wherefore, sir, I only of the most hospitable house in these lands am awake to bid you welcome. But as for that, a few dwindling and harsh fruits in my orchards, and the cold river water that my dogs lap with me, are all that is left to offer you. For I who never sleep am never hungry, and they who never wake—I presume—never thirst. Would, sir, it were otherwise! After such long silence, then, conceive how strangely falls your voice on ears that have heard only wings fluttering, dismal water-songs, and the yelp and quarrel and night-voice of unseen hosts in the forests."
He glanced at me with a mild austerity and again lowered his eyes. I cannot now but wonder how the rhythm of a voice so soft, so monotonous, could give such pleasure to the ear. I almost doubted my own eyes when I looked upon his yellow, on that unmoved, sad, mad, pale face.
I had no doubt of his dogs, however, and walked scarcely at ease beside him, while they, shadow-footed, closely followed us at heel.
"Prince Ennui" conducted me with shining lantern into a dense orchard thickly under-grown, marvellously green, with a small, hard fruit upon its branches, shaped like a medlar, of a crisp, sweet odour and, despite its hardness, a delicious taste. The interwoven twigs of the stooping trees were thickly nested; a veritable wilderness of moonlike and starry flowers ran all to seed amid the nettles and nightshade of this green silence. And while I ate—for I was hungry enough—Prince Ennui stood, his hand on Sallow's muzzle, lightly thridding the dusky labyrinths of the orchard with his faint green eyes.
Mine, too, were not less busy, but rather with its lord than with his orchard. And the strange thought entered my mind, Was he in very deed the incarnation of this solitude, this silence, this lawless abundance? Somewhere, in the green heats of summer, had he come forth, taken shape, exalted himself? What but vegetable ichor coursed through veins transparent as his? What but the swarming mysteries of these thick woods lurked in his brain? As for his hounds, theirs was the same stealth, the same symmetry, the same cold, secret unhumanity as his. Creatures begotten of moonlight on silence they seemed to me, with instincts past my workaday wits to conceive.
And Rosinante! I laughed softly to think of her staid bones beside the phantom creature this prince had called up to me at mention of "Twilight."
I ate because I was ravenously hungry, but also because, while eating, I was better at my ease.
Suddenly out of the stillness, like an arrow, Safte was gone; and far away beneath the motionless leaves a faint voice rang dwindling into silence. I shuddered at my probable fate.
Prince Ennui glanced lightly. "When the magic horn at last resounds," he said, "how strange a flight it will be! These thorny briers encroach ever nearer on my palace walls. I am a captive ever less at ease. Summer by summer the sun rises shorn yet closer of his beams, and now the lingering transit of the moon is but from one wood by a narrow crystal arch to another. They will have me yet, sir. How weary will the sleepy ones be of my uneasy footfall!"
And even as Safte slipped softly back to his watching mate, the patter and shrill menace of voices behind him hinted not all was concord between these hidden multitudes and their unseemly prince.
The master-stars shone earlier here; already sparkling above the tower was a canopy of clearest darkness spread, while the leafy fringes of the sky glowed yet with changing fires.
We returned to the lawns before the palace porch, and, with his lantern in his hand, the Prince signed to me to go in. I was not a little curious to view that enchanted household of which I had read so often and with so much delight as a child.
In the banqueting-hall only the matted windows were visible in the lofty walls. Prince Ennui held his lantern on high, and by its flame, and the faint light that flowed in from above, I could presently see, distinct in gloom, as many sleepers as even Night could desire.
Here they reclined just as sorcerous sleep had overtaken them. But how dimmed, how fallen! For Time that could not change the sleeper had changed with quiet skill all else. Tarnished, dusty, withered, overtaken, yellowed, and confounded lay banquet and cloth-of-gold, flagon, cup, fine linen, table, and stool. But in all the ruin, like buds of springtime in a bare wood, or jewels in ashes, slumbered youth and beauty and bravery and delight.
I lifted my eyes to the King. The gold of his divinity was fallen, his splendour quenched; but life's dark scrutiny from his face was gone. He made no stir at our light, slumbered untreasoned on. The lids of his Queen were lightlier sealed, only withheld beauty as a cloud the sky it hides. His courtiers flattered more elusively, being sincerely mute, and only a little red dust was all the wine left.
I seemed to hear their laughter clearer now that the jest was forgotten, and to admire better the pomp, and the mirth, and the grace, and the vanity, now that time had so far travelled from this little tumult once their triumph.
In a kind of furtive bravado, I paced the length of the long, thronged tables. Here sat a little prince that captivated me, dipping his fingers into his cup with a sidelong glance at his mother. There a high officer, I know not how magnificent and urgent when awake, slumbered with eyes wide open above his discouraged moustaches.
Simply for vanity of being awake in such a sleepy company, I strutted conceitedly to and fro. I bent deftly and pilfered a little cockled cherry from between the very fingertips of her whose heart was doubtless like its—quite hard. And the bright lips never said a word. I sat down, rather clownishly I felt, beside an aged and simpering chancellor that once had seemed wise, but now seemed innocent, nibbling a biscuit crisp as scandal. For after all the horn would sound. Childhood had been quite sure of that—needed not even the author's testimony. They were alert to rise, scattering all dust, victors over Time and outrageous Fortune.
Almost with a cry of apprehension I perceived again the solitary Prince. But he merely smiled faintly. "You see, sir," he said, "how weary must a guardianship be of them who never tire. The snow falls, and the bright light falls on all these faces; yet not even my Lady Melancholy stirs a dark lid. And all these dog-days—" He glanced at his motionless hounds. They raised languidly their narrow heads, whimpering softly, as if beseeching of their master that long-delayed supper—haplessly me. "No, no, sirs," said the Prince, as if he had read their desire as easily as he whom it so much concerned. "Guard, guard, and hearken. This gentleman is not the Prince we await, Sallow; not the Prince, Safte! And now, sir,"—he turned again to me—"there is yet one other sleeper—she who hath brought so much quietude on a festive house."
We climbed the staircase where dim light lay so invitingly, and came presently to a little darker chamber. Green, blunt things had pushed and burst through the casement. The air smelled faintly-sour of brier, and was as still as boughs of snow. There the not-unhappy Princess reclined before a looking-glass, whither I suppose she had run to view her own alarm when the sharp needle pierced her thumb. All alarm was stilled now on her face. She, one might think, of all that company of the sleepy, was the only one that dreamed. Her youthful lips lay a little asunder; the heavy beauty of her hair was parted on her forehead; her childish hands sidled together like leverets in her lap. "Why!" I cried aloud, almost involuntarily, "she breathes!"
And at sound of my voice the hounds leapt back; and, on a traveller's oath, I verily believe, once, and how swiftly, and how fearfully and brightly, those childish lids unsealed their light as of lilac that lay behind, glanced briefly, fleetingly, on one who had ventured so far, and fell again to rest.
"And when," I cried harshly, "when will that laggard burst through this agelong silence? Here's dust enough for all to see. And all this ruin, this inhospitable peace!"
Prince Ennui glanced strangely at me.
"I assure you, O suddenly enkindled," he said in his suave, monotonous voice, "it is not for my indifference he does not come. I would willingly sleep; these—my dear sister, all these old fineries and love-jinglers would as fain wake." He turned away his treacherous eyes from me. "Maybe the Lorelei hath snared him!..." he said, smiling.
I relished not at all the thought of sleeping in this mansion of sleep. Yet it seemed politic to refrain from giving offence to fangs apparently so eager to take it. Accordingly I followed this Ennui to a loftier chamber yet that he suggested for me.
Once there, however, and his soft footfall passed away, I looked about me, first to find a means for keeping trespassers from coming in, and next to find a means for getting myself out.
It was a long and arduous, but not a perilous, descent from the window by the thick-grown greenery that cumbered the walls. But I determined to wait awhile before venturing,—wait, too, till I could see plainly where Rosinante had made her night-quarters. By good fortune I discovered her beneath the greenish moon that hung amid mist above the forest, stretching a disconsolate neck at the waterside as if in search of the Lorelei.
When, as it seemed to me, it must be nearing dawn, though how the hours flitted so swiftly passed my comprehension, I very cautiously climbed out of my narrow window and descended slowly to the lawns beneath. My foot had scarcely touched ground when ringing and menacing from some dark gallery of the palace above me broke out a distant baying.
Nothing shall persuade me to tell how fast I ran; how feverishly I haled poor Rosinante out of sleep, and pushed her down into the deeps of that coal-black stream; with what agility I clambered into the saddle.
Yet I could not help commiserating the while the faithful soul who floated beneath me. The stream was swift but noiseless, the water rather rare than cold, yet, despite all the philosophy beaming out of her maidenly eyes across the smooth surface of the tide, Rosinante must have preferred from the bottom of her heart dry land.
I, too, momentarily, when I discovered that we were speedily approaching the roaring fall whose reverberations I had heard long since.
Out of the emerald twilight we floated from beneath the overarching thickets. Pale beams were striking from the risen sun upon the gliding surface, and dwelt in splendour where danger sat charioted beneath a palely gorgeous bow. Yet I doubt if ever mortal man swept on to defeat at last so rapturously as I.
The gloomier trees had now withdrawn from the banks of the river. A pale morning sky over-canopied the shimmering forests. Here rose the solitary tower where Echo tarried for the Hornblower. And straight before us, across that level floor, beyond a tremulous cloud of foam and light and colour, lurked the unseen, the unimaginable, the ever-dreamed-of, Death.
Heedless of Lorelei, heedless of all save the beauty and terror and glory in which they rode, down swept snorting ship and master to doom.
The crystal water jargoned past my saddle. Sky, earth, and tower, like the panorama of a dream, wheeled around me. Light blinded me; clamour deafened me; foam and the pure wave and cold darkness whelmed over me. We surged, paused, gazed, nodded, crashed:—and so an end to Ennui.
He loves to talk with marineres That come from a far countree.
—SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE.
How long my body was the sport of that foaming water I cannot tell. But when I again opened my eyes, I found, first, that the sun was shining dazzling clear high above me, and, next, that the delightful noise of running water babbled close against my ear. I lay upon a strip of warm sward by the river's brink. Near by me grew some rank-smelling waterside plant, and overhead the air seemed peopled with larks.
I crawled, confused and aching, to the water, and dipped my head and hands into the cold rills. This soon refreshed me, for the sun had, it would seem, long been dwelling on that passive corse of mine by the waterside and had parched it to the skin.
But it was some little while yet before my mind returned fully to what had passed, and so to my loss.
I sat looking at the grey, noisy water, almost incredulous that Rosinante could be gone. It might be that the same hand as must have drawn myself from drowning had snatched her bridle also out of Fate's grasp. Perhaps even now she was seeking her master by the greener pasture of the wide plains around me. Perhaps the far-off sea was her green sepulchre. But many waters cannot quench love. I faced, friendless and discomfited, a region as strange to me as the farther side of the moon.
Without more ado I rose, shook myself, and sadly began to go forward. But I had taken only a few steps along the banks of the stream—for here was fresh water, at least—when a sound like distant thunder rolled over these flat, green lands towards me, increasing steadily in volume.
I stood, lost in wonder, and presently, at the distance, perhaps, of a little less than a mile, descried an innumerable herd of horses streaming across these level pastures, and at the extremity, it seemed, of a wide ellipse, that had brought them near, and now was galloping them away.
My heart beat a little faster at this extraordinary spectacle. And while I stood in uncertainty gazing after the retreating concourse, I perceived a figure running towards me, lifting his hands and crying out in a voice sonorous and inhuman. He was of a stature much above my own, yet so gross in shape and immense of head he seemed at first almost dwarfish. He came to a stand twenty paces or so from me, on the ridge of a gentle inclination, and gazed down on me with wild, bright eyes. Even at this distance I could perceive the almost colourless lustre of his eyes beneath his thick locks of yellow hair. When he had taken his fill of me, he lifted his head again and cried out to me a few words of what certainly might be English, but was neither intelligible nor reassuring.
I stood my ground and stared him in the face, till I could see nothing but wind-blown yellow, and strange, brutal eyes. Then he advanced a little nearer. Whereupon I also raised my hand with a gesture like his own, and demanded loudly where I was, what was this place, and who was he. His very ears pricked forward, he listened so intently. He came nearer yet, then stayed, tossed his head into the air, whirled the long leather thong he carried above his head, and, signing to me to follow, set off with so swift and easy a stride as would soon have carried him out of sight, had he not turned and perceived how slowly I could follow him.
He slackened his pace then, and, thus running, we came in sight at length of what appeared to be a vast wooden shed, or barn, with one rude chimney, and surrounded by a thick fence, or stockade, many feet high and apparently of immense strength and stability.
In the gateway of this fence stood the master of these solitudes, his eyes fixed strangely on my coming with an intense, I had almost said incredulous, interest. Nor did he cease so to regard me, while the creature that had conducted me thither, told, I suppose, where he had found me, and poured out with childish zeal his own amazement and delight. By this time, too, his voice had begun to lose its first strangeness, and to take a meaning for me. And I was presently fully persuaded he spoke a kind of English, and that not unpleasingly, with a liquid, shrill, voluminous ease. His master listened patiently awhile, but at last bade his servant be silent, and himself addressed me.
"I am informed, Yahoo," he said with peculiar deliberation, "that you have been borne down into my meadows by the river, and fetched out thence by my servant. Be aware, then, that all these lands from horizon to horizon are mine and my people's. I desire no tidings of what follies may be beyond my boundaries, no aid, and no amity. I admit no trespasser here and will bear with none. It appears, however, that your life has passed beyond your own keeping: I may not, therefore, refuse you shelter and food, and to have you conducted in safety beyond my borders. Have the courtesy, then, to keep within shelter of these walls till the night be over. Else"—he gazed out across the verdant undulations—"else, Yahoo, I have no power to protect you."
He turned once more, and regarded me with a lofty yet tender recognition, as if, little though his speech might profess it, he very keenly desired my safety.
He then stepped aside and bade me rather sharply enter the gate before him. I tried to show none of the mistrust I felt at passing out of these open lands into this repellent yard. I glanced at the shock-haired creature, alert, half-human, beside me; across the limitless savannah around me, echoing yet, it seemed, with the rumour of innumerable hoofs; and bowing, as it were, to odds, I went in.
On the other hand, I felt my host had been frank with me. If this was indeed the same Lemuel Gulliver whose repute my infancy had prized so well, I need have no fear of blood and treachery at his hands, however primitive and disgusting his household, or distorted his intellect might be. He who had proved no tyrant in Lilliput, nor quailed before the enormities of Brobdingnag, might abhor the sight of me; he would not play me false.
His servant, or whatsoever else he might be, I considered not quite so calmly. Yet even in his broad countenance dwelt a something like bright honesty, less malice than simplicity.
Wherefore, I say, I ordered down my cowardice, and, looking both of them as squarely in the face as I knew how, passed out of the open into the appalling yard of this wooden house.
I say "appalling," but without much reason. Perhaps it was the unseemly hugeness of its balks, the foul piles of skins, the mounds of refuse that lay about within; perhaps the all-pervading beastly stench, the bareness and filthiness under so glassy-clear and fierce a sun that revolted me. All man's seemliness and affection for the natural things of earth were absent. Here was only a brutal and bald order, as of an intelligence like that of the yellow-locked, swift-footed creature behind me. Perhaps also it was the mere unfamiliarity of much I saw there that estranged me. All lay in neglect, cracked and marred with rough usage,—coarse strands of a kind of rope, strips of hide, gaping tubs, a huge and rusty brazier, and in one corner a great cage, many feet square and surmounted with an iron ring.
I know not. I almost desired Sallow at my side, and would to heaven Rosinante's nose lay in my palm.
Within the house a wood-fire burned in the sun, its smoke ascending to the roof, and flowing thence through a rude chimney. A pot steamed over the fire, burdening the air with a savour at first somewhat faint and disgusting,—perhaps because it was merely strange to me. The walls of this lofty room were of rough, substantial timber, bare and weatherproof; the floor was of the colour of earth, seemingly earth itself. A few rude stools, a bench, and a four-legged table stood beside the unshuttered window. And from this stretched the beauteous green of the grass-land or prairie beyond the stockade.
The house, then, was built on the summit of a gentle mound, and doubtless commanded from its upper window the extreme reaches of this sea of verdure.
I sat down where Mr. Gulliver directed me, and was not displeased with the warmth of the fire, despite the sun. I was cold after that long, watery lullaby, and cold too with exhaustion after running so far at the heels of the creature who had found me. And I dwelt in a kind of dream on the transparent flames, and watched vacantly the seething pot, and smelt till slowly appetite returned the smoke of the stuff that bubbled beneath its lid.
Mr. Gulliver himself brought me my platter of this pottage, and though it tasted of nothing in my experience—a kind of sweet, cloying meat—I was so tired of the fruits to which enterprise had as yet condemned me, I ate of it hungrily and heartily. Yet not so fast as that the young "Gulliver" had not finished his before me, and sat at length watching every mouthful I took from beneath his sun-enticing thatch of hair. Ever and again he would toss up his chin with a shrill guffaw, or stoop his head till his eyeballs were almost hidden beneath their thick lashes, so regarding me for minutes together with a delightful simulation of intelligence, yet with that peculiar wistful affection his master had himself exhibited at first sight of me.
But when our meal was done, Mr. Gulliver ordered him about his business. Without a murmur, with one last, long, brotherly glance at me, he withdrew. And presently after I heard from afar his high, melancholy "cooee," and the crack of his thong in the afternoon air as he hastened out to his charges.
My companion did not stir. Only the flames waved silently along the logs. The beam of sunlight drew across the floor. The crisp air of the pasture flowed through the window. What wonder, then, that, sitting on my stool, I fell asleep!
If I see all, ye're nine to ane!
I was awoke by a sustained sound as of an orator speaking in an unknown tongue, and found myself in a sunny-shadowy loft, whither I suppose I must have been carried in my sleep. In a delicious languor between sleeping and waking I listened with imperturbable curiosity awhile to that voice of the unknown. Indeed, I was dozing again when a different sound, enormous, protracted, abruptly aroused me. I got up, hot and trembling, not yet quite my own master, to discover its cause.
Through a narrow slit between the timbers I could view the country beneath me, far and wide. I saw near at hand the cumbrous gate of the stockade ajar, and at a little distance on the farther side Mr. Gulliver and his half-human servant standing. In front of them was an empty space—a narrow semicircle of which Gulliver was the centre. And beyond—wild-eyed, dishevelled, stretching their necks as if to see, inclining their heads as if to hearken, ranging in multitude almost to the sky's verge—stood assembled, it seemed to me, all the horses of the universe.
Even in my first sensation of fear admiration irresistibly stirred. The superb freedom of their unbridled heads, the sun-nurtured arrogance of their eyes, the tumultuous, sea-like tossing of crest and tail, their keenness and ardour and might, and also in simple truth their numbers—how could one marvel if this solitary fanatic dreamed they heard him and understood?
Unarmed, bareheaded, he faced the brutal discontent of his people. Words I could not distinguish; but there was little chance of misapprehending the haughty anguish with which he threatened, pleaded, cajoled. Clear and unfaltering his voice rose and fell. He dealt out fearlessly, foolishly, to that long-snouted, little-brained, wild-eyed multitude, reason beyond their instinct, persuasion beyond their savagery, love beyond their heed.
But even while I listened, one thing I knew those sleek malcontents heard too—the Spirit of man in that small voice of his—perplexed, perhaps, and perverted, and out of tether; but none the less unconquerable and sublime.
What less, thought I, than power unearthly could long maintain that stern, impassable barrier of green vacancy between their hoofs and him? And I suppose for the very reason that these were beasts of a long-sharpened sagacity, wild-hearted, rebellious, yet not the slaves of impulse, he yet kept himself their king who was, in fact, their captive.
"Houyhnhnms?" I heard him cry; "pah—Yahoos!" His voice fell; he stood confronting in silence that vast circumference of restless beauty. And again broke out inhuman, inarticulate, immeasurable revolt. Far across over the tossing host, rearing, leaping, craning dishevelled heads, went pealing and eddying that hostile, brutal voice.
Gulliver lifted his hand, and a tempestuous silence fell once more. "Yahoos! Yahoos!" he bawled again. Then he turned, and passed back into his hideous garden. The gate was barred and bolted behind him.
Thus loosed and unrestrained, surged as if the wind drove them, that concourse upon the stockade. Heavy though its timbers were, they seemed to stoop at the impact. A kind of fury rose in me. I lusted to go down and face the mutiny of the brutes; bit, and saddle, and scourge into obedience man's serfs of the centuries. I watched, on fire, the flame of the declining sun upon those sleek, vehement creatures of the dust. And then, I know not by what subtle irony, my zeal turned back—turned back and faded away into simple longing for my lost friend, my peaceful beast-of-evening, Rosinante. I sat down again in the litter of my bed and earnestly wished myself home; wished, indeed, if I must confess it, for the familiar face of my Aunt Sophia, my books, my bed. If these were this land's horses, I thought, what men might here be met! The unsavouriness, the solitude, the neighing and tumult and prancing induced in me nothing but dulness at last and disgust.
But at length, dismissing all such folly, at least from my face, I lifted the trap-door and descended the steep ladder into the room beneath.
Mr. Gulliver sat where I had left him. Defeat stared from his eyes. Lines of insane thought disfigured his face. Yet he sat, stubborn and upright, heedless of the uproar, heedless even that the late beams of the sun had found him out in his last desolation. So I too sat down without speech, and waited till he should come up out of his gloom, and find a friend in a stranger.
But day waned; the sunlight went out of the great wooden room; the tumult diminished; and finally silence and evening shadow descended on the beleaguered house. And I was looking out of the darkened window at a star that had risen and stood shining in the sky, when I was startled by a voice so low and so different from any I had yet heard that I turned to convince myself it was indeed Mr. Gulliver's.
"And the people of the Yahoos, Traveller," he said, "do they still lie, and flatter, and bribe, and spill blood, and lust, and covet? Are there yet in the country whence you come the breadless bellies, the sores and rags and lamentations of the poor? Ay, Yahoo, and do vicious men rule, and attain riches; and impious women pomp and flattery?—hypocrites, pandars, envious, treacherous, proud?" He stared with desolate sorrow and wrath into my eyes.
Words in disorder flocked to my tongue. I grew hot and eager, yet by some instinct held my peace. The fluttering of the dying flames, the starry darkness, silence itself; what were we who sat together? Transient shadows both, phantom, unfathomable, mysterious as these.
I fancied he might speak again. Once he started, raised his arm, and cried out as if acting again in dream some frenzy of the past. And once he wheeled on me extraordinary eyes, as if he half-recognised some idol of the irrevocable in my face. These were momentary, however. Gloom returned to his forehead, vacancy to his eyes.
I heard the outer gate flung open, and a light, strange footfall. So we seated ourselves, all three, for a while round the smouldering fire. Mr. Gulliver's servant scarcely took his eyes from my face. And, a little to my confusion, his first astonishment of me had now passed away, and in its stead had fallen such a gentleness and humour as I should not have supposed possible in his wild countenance. He busied himself over his strips of skin, but if he caught my eye upon his own he would smile out broadly, and nod his great, hairy head at me, till I fancied myself a child again and he some vast sweetheart of my nurse.
When we had supped (sitting together in the great room), I climbed the ladder into the loft and was soon fast asleep. But from dreams distracted with confusion I awoke at the first shafts of dawn. I stood beside the narrow window in the wall of the loft and watched the distant river change to silver, the bright green of the grass appear.
This seemed a place of few and timorous birds, and of fewer trees. But all across the dews of the grasses lay a tinge of powdered gold, as if yellow flowers were blooming in abundance there. I saw no horses, no sign of life; heard no sound but the cadent wail of the ash-grey birds in their flights. And when I turned my eyes nearer home, and compared the distant beauty of the forests and their radiant clouds with the nakedness and desolation here, I gave up looking from the window with a determination to be gone as soon as possible from a country so uncongenial.