[Transcribers note: Several original spelling, punctuation and hyphenation inconsistencies have been rationalised.]
IN THE YULE-LOG GLOW
CHRISTMAS TALES FROM 'ROUND THE WORLD
"Sic as folk tell ower at a winter ingle" Scott
EDITED BY HARRISON S. MORRIS
THREE VOLUMES IN ONE.
J. B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
Copyright, 1891, by J. B. Lippincott Company.
Printed by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.
If, gentle reader, you will step across this threshold, now, as the moon rises in the keen Christmas air, and will find a place by the ruddy ingle within-doors, you may hear, if you will, a Babel of voices from many lands, telling over the adventures of the road and falling into the good-fellowship of the happy Christmas season.
Here from the north, with his ample furs thrown back, sits the Russian in friendly talk with a gay little wanderer from Sicilian valleys. There, with elbow crooked by a foaming tankard, leans the German, narrating his perils and pleasures to a gallant Frenchman and a sunbrowned Spaniard who smoke and chatter together as now and then Mynheer stops for a pull at his pipe.
A Swede, Norwegians, an Englishman or two, and even a happy-go-lucky American, are clustered about the Yule-log; for the place you have entered is the common-room of the wide world.
As you slip the latch and take your seat, some traveller calls out: A Merry Christmas! Another cries: A story, a story! and so they fall to, each from his own scrip taking forth a native tale,—and so they sit the midnight out listening and talking in turn; while the good cheer goes round in endless abundance and laughter and song make interludes for the varied narratives.
CONTENTS OF BOOK I.
The Three Kings of Cologne
A modern version of an old English Chronicle.
By Harrison S. Morris.
The Three Christmas Masses
From the French of Alphonse Daudet.
By Harrison S. Morris.
A Russian Christmas Party[A]
By Count Leon Tolstoi.
From the German of Georg Schuster.
A Tale of a Turkey
By Harrison S. Morris.
A Still Christmas[B]
By Agnes Repplier.
From the Norwegian of Bjoernson.
Christmas in the Desert
By Matilda Betham Edwards.
[A] By courtesy of Messrs. W. S. Gottsberger & Co.
[B] By courtesy of "The Catholic World."
ILLUSTRATIONS, BOOK I.
The Yule-log Glow Frontispiece.
The Cavalier From France
My Little Sister Mary
A Tale Spoken by a Graybeard Out of the East.
"Gracious powers! Perhaps you are a hundred years old, now I think of it! You look more than a hundred. Yes, you may be a thousand years old for what I know."
THE THREE KINGS OF COLOGNE.
A CHRISTMAS TALE FROM AN OLD ENGLISH CHRONICLE.
(Written by John of Hildesheim in the Fourteenth Century.)
Here followeth the manner and form of seeking and offering; and also of the burying and translations of the three Holy and Worshipful Kings of Cologne: Jaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.
Now when the Children of Israel were gone out of Egypt and had won and made subject to them Jerusalem and all the land lying about, so that no man durst set against them in all that country for dread that they had of them; then was there a little hill called Vaws, which was also called the Hill of Victory, and on this hill the ward of them of Ind was ordained and kept by divers sentinels by night and by day against the Children of Israel, and afterward against the Romans; so that if any people at any time purposed with strong hand to enter into the country of the Kingdom of Ind, anon, sentinels of other hills about, through tokens, warned the keepers on the hill of Vaws. And by night they made a great fire and by day they made a great smoke, for that hill Vaws passeth the height of all other hills in all the East. Wherefore, when any such token was seen, then all manner of men made ready to defend themselves from the enemy that approached.
Now in the time when Balaam prophesied of the Star that should betoken the coming of Christ, all the great lords and all the other people of Ind and in the East desired greatly to see the Star of which he spake, and gave gifts to the keepers of the hill of Vaws, and moreover hired them with great rewards, that, if it so were, they saw by day or by night, far or near, any light or any star in the air other than was seen beforetime, anon they should show and send them word. And thus was it that for so long a time the fame of this Star was borne through all the lands of the East; until, of the name of the hill of Vaws, arose up a worshipful and a great kindred in Ind, which is called the progeny of Vaws even unto this day; and there is not a more mighty kindred in all the kingdoms of the East; for this worshipful kindred came first from the King's blood that was named Melchior, that offered gold to our Lord, as ye shall hereafter learn.
In the year of our Lord 1200, when the city of Acon, that in this country is called Akers, flourished and stood in virtue, joy, and prosperity, and was inhabited richly with worshipful princes, and lords, and divers orders of men of religion, and all manner of men of all nations and tongues, so that there was no city like unto it in nobility and might; then, because of its great name and of the marvels that were there, the greatest of birth that were of the progeny of Vaws came out of Ind unto Acon; and when they saw there all things more wonderful than in Ind; then, because of delight, they abode there and made a fair and strong castle for any king or lord. And they brought with them out of the East many rich and wonderful ornaments and jewels. And among all other jewels, they brought a diadem of gold arrayed with precious stones and pearls, and about its edge stood letters of Chaldaic, and a star made like after the Star that appeared to the Three Kings of the East when they sought God, with a sign of the cross, beside. And that diadem was Melchior's, the king of Nubia and of Araby, that offered gold to the Babe in the manger. And afterward the master of the Order of Templars received this same diadem of gold and many other precious jewels; but when that Order was destroyed the diadem and precious ornaments were lost, and have never been found unto this day. Wherefore there was great sorrow made in all the country for a long time after.
But these same princes of Vaws brought with them out of Ind books written in Hebrew and Chaldaic, concerning the life and deeds of these three blessed Kings, which books were afterward translated into the French tongue: and so, from these books, and from hearsay, and sight, and also from sermons and homilies out of divers other works, the story here written hath been brought together into one book.
And you shall understand that the old kindred of Vaws beareth always in its banner, unto this day, a star with a sign of the cross, made after the same manner as it appeared to the three blessed Kings.
Now it so happened that after Balaam had prophesied of this Star, the more it was sought for the more its fame increased through the land of Ind and Chaldee, and all the people desired to see it.
So they ordained twelve of the wisest and greatest clerks of astronomy that were in all that country about, and gave them great hire to keep watch upon this hill of Vaws for the Star that was prophesied of Balaam. And the cause that there were ordained twelve men was, that if one man died another should be put in his stead; and also that some should keep watch at one time and some another—nevertheless the people looked not only after the Star, but after the Man who was betokened by the Star, the which Man should be Lord of all folk.
And they of Ind and Chaldee who came often into Jerusalem because of merchandise and also for disport—the which, for the most part, be learned in astronomy—said that in Ind were many stars in the firmament that might not be seen by night in Jerusalem; but, specially on this hill of Vaws in clear weather, were seen many and divers strange stars that at the foot of the hill were not seen. Yet this hill of Vaws hath no more breadth than a little chapel is made upon, the which the three worshipful kings did build of stone and timber. And there be about this hill many steps upon which men go up to the chapel on high, and also there grew many good trees and herbs and divers spices all about the hill—for else men might not well go upon this hill because it is so high and so narrow. There is also a pillar of stone made above this chapel, of wondrous height, and in the head of the pillar standeth a great star, well made of gilt, and which turneth with the wind as a vane: and through the light of the sun by day, and of the moon by night, this star gives light a great way about the country. And many other marvels are spoken of this hill of Vaws, the which were long to tell.
Now when the time of grace was come, that God would have mercy on all mankind, in which time the Father of Heaven sent down his Son to take flesh and blood and to be born a man for salvation of all the world: in that time Octavianus, that was Emperor of Rome, sent out a commandment that all the people within his empire should be counted and taxed; and every man went forth from his dwelling-place into his native country. Then came Joseph up from Nazareth unto Bethlehem the city of David, because he was of the household and race of King David, and with him came Mary that was his wife, and also great with child.
And you shall understand that Bethlehem was never of much reputation, neither a place of great quantity. It hath a good site and good ground, for there be many caves and dens under the earth thereabout; and it is distant from Jerusalem but two little miles; and it is but a castle, but is called a city because King David was born there. And in that town was sometime a house which belonged to Isai, the father of David, where David was born and anointed into the kingdom of Israel by Samuel the prophet. And in this same dwelling was the Son of Heaven born of Mary.
And this same house was at the end of a street that was in that time called the Covered Street, because, to keep out the great heat and burning of the sun, this street was canopied above with black cloths and other things,—for such is the use in that country always. And here was wont to be great bargaining, or a fair once a week of old clothes; and specially of trees or timber, by the little house which stood before a den under the earth, made and shaped like a little cellar, where Isai and others that dwelt there after him put certain necessaries that belonged to the household, against the heat of the sun. It is also the manner in all that country that there be certain houses, the which be called there alchan, that we call hostelries, and in these houses be mules, horses, asses, and camels always ready, that, if so that any merchant or any man that travelled by the way, be it far or near, need any beast for himself, or for his merchandise, then he goeth to such a house and there he may hire a horse, or what beast that he will, for a certain price. And when he hath such a beast then he goeth from that city to another, where to abide and rest him for a time. Then he dischargeth his beast of his burden, and so sendeth him to a house called there also alchan; and the master of the house giveth his beast meat, and, when he may, he sendeth it home to the same place that it came from.
And such a house was, before the birth of Christ, in the place where Christ was born; but, about the time of the Nativity, that house was all destroyed, insomuch that there was nothing left but broken walls on every side, and a little cave under earth, and a little unthrifty house before the cave: and there men sold bread on the same ground; for it is the usage in all that country that all the bread that is sold shall be brought unto a certain place.
Now when Octavianus had sent out a commandment as it is aforesaid, then went Joseph and Mary riding on an ass, late in the eventide, toward the city of Bethlehem, and because they came so late, and all places were occupied with pilgrims and other men, and also because they came in poor array and went about the city, none would receive them, and specially, men say, because that Mary, a young woman, sitting upon an ass, heavy and sorry, and full weary of the way, was near to the time of bearing of her child. Then Joseph led his wife into this shed that none took keep of, down into the little dark house, and there our Lord, Jesus Christ, the same night was born of the Virgin, without any disease or sorrow of her body, for salvation of all mankind.
And in that house, before the cave of old time, was left a manger of the length of a fathom, made in the wall; and to that same manger was an ox of a poor man tied, that none might harbor. And beside that ox Joseph tied his ass, and in that same manger Mary wrapped her blessed Son in cloths and laid Him on high before the ass and the ox,—for there was none other place.
And shepherds were fast by in the same country keeping their sheep in the night, and an angel of Heaven came and stood beside them with a great light, wherefore they were in much dread. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid, for I tell you a great joy that shall be to all people, for this day is born to us our Lord, Christ, in the city of David, and this shall be to you a token: Ye shall find a young child wrapped in cloths and put in a manger." And then suddenly there came a great multitude of angels of Heaven praising God, who said: "Joy be to God on high and peace in earth to men of good will."
Now the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds that night when Christ was born is but half a mile from Bethlehem, and in that same place David, when he was a child, fed sheep and kept them from the bear and the lion.
Some books say that the shepherds in that country, twice in the year, are wont to keep their sheep in the night, and, therein, times be when the day and the night are both of one length. And you shall understand that the land about Bethlehem is all mountainous for the most part, so that in some places a man shall not well know winter from summer, and in some places it is right cold, and some it is both winter and summer at one time, and sometimes on the mountains, in parts of the East, men shall find snow in the month of August, and that snow is gathered by them that dwell about, and put in caves, and afterward it is borne to the market, where the great lords of the country will buy it, and take it to their houses, and set it in a basin upon their board to make their drink cold.
In September and October, when the sun cometh a little low in that country, then seeds and all manner of herbs commonly begin to wax in the fields, as in this country herbs begin to grow in March and April; also in some parts of the East they reap corn in April and in March, but most in May, as in some places the ground is higher, in some places lower; but beside Bethlehem are many more places of good pasture and of flat ground than elsewhere: insomuch that at Christmas-tide barley beginneth to ear and to wax ripe; and then men send thither, from divers countries, their horses and mules, to make them fat: and that time we call among us Christmas, they call, in their language, the time of herbage. And forasmuch as when Christ was born, peace was in all the world, and betwixt Bethlehem and that place where the angel appeared to the shepherds was but half a mile and a little way more, and also there was no great cold thereabout, therefore the shepherds, all that winter night and day, now in one place, now in another, dwelled there with their sheep, and so they do yet to this day.
Now when Christ was born of the Virgin Mary for salvation of all mankind, then His Star, that was prophesied of Balaam and long awaited and looked for by the twelve astronomers on the hill of Vaws, at that same night and at that same hour, began to arise in the manner of a sun, bright shining; and so after, in the form of an eagle, it ascended above the hill of Vaws. And all that day in highest air it abode without moving, insomuch that when the sun was most hot and most high there was no difference in shining betwixt them.
But when the day of the Nativity was passed, the Star ascended up into the firmament, and it was nothing like to stars that be painted in divers places, for it had right many long streaks and beams, more burning and lighter than a brand of fire; and, as an eagle flying and beating the air with his wings, right so the streaks and beams of the Star stirred it about. And it had in itself the form and likeness of a young child, and above him a sign of the holy cross, and a voice was heard in the Star, saying: "This day is born to us the King of Jews that folk have awaited, and Lord is of them. Go and seek Him and do Him worship!"
Then all the people, both man and woman, of all the country about, when they saw this wonderful and marvellous Star and also heard the voice out of the Star, were greatly aghast and had wonder thereof; but yet they knew well that it was the Star that was prophesied by Balaam, and long time was desired of all the people in that country.
Now when the three worshipful Kings who in that time reigned in Ind, Chaldee, and Persia were informed, by the astronomers, of this Star, they were right glad that they had grace to see the Star in their days. Wherefore these three worshipful Kings, though each of them was far from the other, and none knew of the other's purpose, yet in the same hour the Star appeared to all three, and then they ordained and purposed them, with great and rich gifts and many rich and diverse ornaments that belong to a king's array, and also with mules and camels and horses charged with treasure, and with a great multitude of people, to go seek and worship the Lord and King of the Jews that was new born, as the voice of the Star had commanded. And furthermore they arrayed themselves the much more honestly and worshipfully, because they knew well that he was a worthier King than any of them was.
And you shall understand that there be three Indias, of which these three lords were kings; and all the lands for the most part are islands, and there are also there great waters and wildernesses full of wild and perilous beasts and horrible serpents, and there grow also reeds so high and so great that men make thereof houses and ships. And these isles are divided every one by itself far from the others, so that only with great travail shall a man pass from one kingdom to another.
Now, in the first Ind was the land of Nubia, and therein reigned King Melchior, in the time that Christ was born. Therein also is the land of Araby, in which is the hill Sinai: and a man may lightly sail by the Red Sea out of Egypt and Syria into Ind. In this land is found gold wonderfully red, like thin and small roots, and that gold is the best that is in the world. Herein is also a hill called Bena, where is found a precious stone, called smaragd.
In the second Ind was the kingdom of Godolia, of which Balthazar was king when Christ was born; and this Balthazar offered incense to the Babe; for in this land many more good spices grow than in all the countries of the East, and especially incense, more than in all places of the world; and it droppeth down out of certain trees in the manner of gum.
In the third Ind was the kingdom of Thaars. Of that kingdom was Jaspar king at the birth of Christ. And Jaspar offered myrrh to the young Child, and in this land is the isle of Egrisoulla, where groweth myrrh more plentifully than in any place of the world, and it waxeth like ears of corn that are burnt with the weather, and right thick; and when it is ripe it is so soft that it cleaveth to men's clothes as they go by the way.
Now when these three worshipful Kings were passed forth out of their kingdoms, the Star evenly went before each King and his people, and when they stood still and rested the Star stood still, and when they went forward again the Star always went before them in virtue and strength, and gave light all the way. And, as it is written before, in the time that Christ was born there was peace in all the world, wherefore in all the cities and towns which they went through there was no gate shut neither by night nor by day; and all men of the cities and towns that these worthy Kings went through in the night were wonderfully aghast and passingly marvelled thereof, for they saw kings and vast multitudes go by in great haste; but they knew not what they were, nor whence they came, nor whither they should go. On the morrow the way was greatly befouled with horses' hoofs, whereof they were in much doubt what it might mean, and great altercation was among them for a long time.
Furthermore, these Kings rode forth over hills, waters, valleys, plains, and other divers and perilous places without hindrance or disease, for all the way seemed to them plain and even, and they never took shelter by night nor by day; nor ever rested; nor did their horses or other beasts ever eat or drink till they had come to Bethlehem; and all this time seemed to them but a day.
And thus, through the mercy of God and the leading of the Star, they came unto Jerusalem and Bethlehem the thirteenth day after Christ was born, at the uprising of the sun, whereof is no doubt: for they found Mary and her son in the same place where the Child was born, and laid in the manger.
But when the three blessed Kings, with their host and company were almost come to Jerusalem, saving but two miles, then a great and dark cloud held all the earth, and in that dark cloud they lost the Star. And Melchior with his people was come fast by Jerusalem beside the hill of Calvary, where Christ was afterward crucified; and there the King abode in a cloud of fog and in darkness.
At that time the hill of Calvary was a rock of twelve degrees high, where thieves and other men for divers trespasses were put to death; and there was beside this hill a place where three highways met together. But because of the darkness of the cloud, and also because they knew not the way, they abode there, and went no further at that time.
And next came Balthazar, and he abode under the same cloud, beside the Mount of Olives in a little town that is called Galilee.
Then, when the two Kings were come to these places, the cloud began to ascend and wax clear, yet the Star appeared not. But when they saw that they were near to the city of Jerusalem, knowing not each other, they took their way thither with all their folk; and when they came where the three ways met, then also appeared King Jaspar with all his host. And so these three glorious Kings, each with his host and burdens and beasts, met together in the highway beside the Hill of Calvary. And, notwithstanding that none of them ever before had seen the other, nor knew him, nor had heard of his coming, yet, at their meeting, each one with reverence and joy kissed the other. And they were of diverse language, yet all, seeming, used the same tongue.
So, afterward, when they had spoken together and each had told his purpose and the cause of his journey, and the cause of all was learned to be the same, then they were much more glad and more fervent. And so they rode forth, and suddenly, at the uprising of the sun, they came into the city of Jerusalem. And when they knew that this was the city which the Chaldeans of old time had besieged and destroyed, they were right glad, expecting to have found the King born in that city. But Herod and all his people were greatly disturbed at their sudden coming, for their company and beasts of burden were of so great a number that the city might not receive them, but for the most part they lay without the gates all about, whereof Isaias prophesied: "The strength of folk cometh to thee—that is to say, to the City of Jerusalem—great plenty of camels shall do thee service, and dromedaries of Madyan and Effa shall come to thee. All men shall come from Saba, bringing gold and incense and showing praise to God."
So, these three worshipful Kings, when they were come into the city, asked of the people concerning the Child that was born; and, when Herod heard this, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him, and he gathered together all his princes and priests and asked them where Christ should be born, and they said: "In Bethlehem of Judea." Then Herod privily summoned to him these three Kings, and learned of them the time that the Star appeared, and so sent them forth unto Bethlehem, saying: "Go and inquire busily of this Child, and when you have found Him, come and tell me, that I may go and do Him worship."
Now when these three Kings were informed of the birth of Christ and of the place where He was born, and so were passed out of Jerusalem, then the Star appeared to them again as it did erst, and went before them till they came to Bethlehem. And fast by that place were the shepherds to whom the angel appeared with great light, showing them the birth of Christ. And the three Kings spake with them, and when the shepherds saw the Star they run together and told how the angel had appeared to them, and furthermore all that the angel had spoken to them. And the Kings were wondrous glad, and with good cheer heard and took consideration of the shepherds' words; and so from witness, and from the words of the shepherds and from the voice of the angel that was heard out of the Star, they had no doubt of the thing. Then anon, when they knew that they were come to Bethlehem, they got down from their horses and changed all their array, and clothed themselves in the best and richest that they had, as kings should be clothed—and always the Star went forth before them.
Now the nearer the Kings came to the place where Christ was born the brighter shined the Star, and they entered Bethlehem the sixth hour of the day. And then they rode through the covered street till they came before that little house. And there the Star stood still, and then descended and shone with so great a light that the little house and the cave within were full of radiance, till anon the Star again went upward into the air, and stood still always above the same place, yet the light ever remained in the house where Christ and Mary were. So as it is said in the Gospel: "They went into the house and found the Child, and fell down and worshipped Him, and offered to Him gifts of gold, myrrh, and incense."
Of this example came afterward a usage, that in all the countries of the East no man should go into the presence of the Sultan, but he brought gold or silver or somewhat else in his hands; and, also, ere he spoke to the Sultan he should kiss the ground, and this is a custom which is used in all the countries of the East to this day. But the Franciscan friars, when they approached the Sultan, offered to him only pears or apples, for they might not touch gold nor silver; and these offerings were received by the Sultan with all reverence and meekness.
Now on the day that the three Kings sought Christ and worshipped Him, He was a little child of thirteen days old, and He was somewhat fat, and lay wrapped in poor clothes in the hay of the manger up to His arms. And Mary, His Mother, as it is written in divers books, was, in person, fleshy and somewhat brown. In the presence of the three Kings she was covered with a poor white mantle, which she held close before her with her left hand. Her head was concealed altogether, save her face, with a linen cloth; and she sat upon the manger and with her right hand held up the young Child's head. And the Kings worshipped Him and kissed His hand devoutly and laid their gifts beside His head.
But what was done with these gifts, ye shall learn hereafter.
Now Melchior, that offered gold to the Holy Child, was the least in stature and person of the three Kings. Balthazar, that offered incense, was of a medium stature; and Jaspar, that offered myrrh, was most in person; whereof is no doubt, for the prophet saith: "Before Him shall fall down Ethiops, and His enemies shall lick the earth. They shall come to Thee that betrayed Thee, and they shall worship the steps of Thy feet." And having regard to the stature of men of that time these Kings were right little of person, insomuch that all manner of people marvelled at them. And this showed well that they were come from far out of the East, for the nearer toward the uprising of the sun that men be born, the less they be of stature and be feebler and more tender.
And you shall understand that these three Kings brought out of their lands many gifts and rich ornaments which King Alexander left in Ind, in Chaldee, and in Persia; and all the ornaments which Queen Saba found in Solomon's temple, and divers vessels that were of the king's house and the Temple of God in Jerusalem, which, in the time of its destruction, were borne into their countries by the Persians and Chaldeans, and many other jewels, both gold and silver, and precious stones, brought they with them to offer to Christ. But when they found our Lord laid on high in the manger and in poor cloths, and the Star that gave so great light in all the place, that it seemed as though they stood in a furnace of fire, then these Kings were so sore afraid that, of all the rich jewels and ornaments they brought with them, they chose nothing, when their treasury was opened, but what came first to their hands, for Melchior took a round apple of gold, as much as a man might hold in his hand, and thirty gilt pennies, and these he offered to our Lord. Balthazar took out of his treasury incense; and Jaspar took out myrrh, as it came first, and that he offered, with weeping and tears.
And the Kings were so aghast and so devout and fervent in their oblations, that to all the words that Mary said they gave but little consideration, save only that to every King as he offered his gifts she bowed down her head meekly, and said, "Deo gracias:" that is to say, "I thank God."
When these three Kings had thus performed their way and will, and done all things that they came for, then, as mankind asketh and would, they and all their men and beasts began to eat, and drink, and sleep, and betook them to rest and sport all that day in Bethlehem. For, as is said before, they had neither eaten nor drunk during thirteen days. And then they meekly told to all men in that city how wonderfully the Star had brought them thither from the furthest part of the world.
Now, as the Evangelist saith: A command came to these Kings in their sleep that they should not return again to Herod, and so, by another way, they went home to their kingdoms. But the Star that went before them, appeared no more. And so these three Kings, that suddenly met together at the Mount of Calvary, rode home together with great joy and honor, and rested by the way as men should do.
And they rode through the provinces that Holofernes of old time had traversed with all his hosts, and the people supposed that Holofernes had come again, for as they journeyed into any town they were meekly and worshipfully received, and evermore they told what they had seen, done, and heard, so that their name and praise were never after forgot. But the way that before had taken only thirteen days, through leading of the Star, they found now to take two years, which was ordained, that all men should know what difference is between God's working and man's.
Now, when Herod and the scribes heard that the Kings were gone home again, and came not to him as he had bade them, then, of much envy and malice, he pursued them a great way; and always he found the people bless them, and praise them, and tell of their nobility. Wherefore Herod burnt and destroyed all the land that was under his power where the Kings had ridden, and especially Tharsis and Cilicia, for he charged them that they had suffered the three Kings privily to pass across the sea in their ships. And Herod's envy was great when he heard how marvellously the Kings had come out of their lands in thirteen days through leading of the Star, and how, afterward, they went home again, without the Star, through guides and interpreters,—yet no man could tell, for wonder, how night and day they passed by; and for this reason the paynims, who had no knowledge of Holy Writ, nor of the birth of Christ, called these three Kings Magos; that is to say, Wise Men of the East.
Now, when the Kings were come with great travail to the Hill of Vaws, they made there, as is aforesaid, a fair chapel in worship of the Child they had sought. Also they made a covenant to meet together at the same place once in the year; and there they ordained their burial. Then all the princes and lords and worshipful knights of their kingdoms, hearing of the return of these three Kings, anon rode forth to them with great, solemnity and met them at the place aforesaid, and with meekness and humility received them. And when they heard how wonderfully God had wrought for their Kings, they held them in more reverence, love, and dread forever after.
So, when the Kings had done what they would, they took leave of each other, and each one, with his people, rode home to his own land with great joy.
And when they were come into their own realms, they preached to all the people what they had seen and done on their journey; and they made in their temples a star after the likeness of that which appeared to them, wherefore many paynims left their errors and worshipped the Holy Child.
And thus these three worshipful Kings dwelt in their kingdoms in honest and devout conversation until the coming of St. Thomas, the apostle.
Now, after the three Kings had gone forth from Bethlehem, there began to wax, all about, a great fame for Mary and her Child, and for the Kings of the East. Wherefore, Mary, in dread of persecution, fled out of the little house where Christ was born, and went to another dark cave and there abode; and divers men and women loved her and ministered to her all manner of necessaries. But when she went out of the little house, Mary forgot and left behind her her smock and the clothes in which Christ was wrapped, folded together and laid in the manger; and there they were, whole and fresh, in the same place to the time when St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, came thither, long after.
Anon so great was grown Mary's fame that she durst not abide longer there for dread of Herod and the Jews, and an angel appeared to Joseph, saying: "Arise, and take the Child and His mother and flee into Egypt, and tarry there till I summon thee, for it is to come that Herod shall seek the Child to slay Him." Then Joseph arose and took the Child and His mother and went into Egypt in the night, and there he remained until Herod died. And Mary and her Son dwelt in Egypt seven years.
And it is told that by the road which Mary journeyed thither and came back again, grew roses, which are called the Roses of Jericho, and they grow in no other place. The shepherds of that country, in following their sheep, gather these roses in their season, and sell them to pilgrims, and thus they be borne into divers lands. And the place where Mary dwelt is now a garden where groweth balm, and to every bush a Christian man, among the Sultan's prisoners, is assigned to protect it and keep it clean; for when a paynim keepeth them, anon the bushes wax dry and grow no more. And this balm hath many virtues the which were long to tell; but all men in the East believe truly that the place bears such a virtue of growing balm because Mary dwelt there seven years, and washed and bathed her Son in its wells of water.
And as to the gifts which the three Kings gave to Christ: the thirty gilt pennies of Melchior were made of old by Thara, father of Abraham, and Abraham bare them with him when he went on pilgrimage out of the land of Chaldee into Ebron, which was then called Arabia, and there he bought with them a burial-place for himself, his wife, and his children, Isaac and Jacob. In exchange for the same thirty pieces Joseph was sold by his brethren to merchants of Egypt. Afterward, when Jacob died, they were sent to the land of Sheba to buy divers spices and ornaments for his sepulture, and so they were put into the king's treasury of that land. Then by process of time, in Solomon's reign, the Queen of Sheba offered these thirty gilt pennies, with many rich jewels, in the Temple at Jerusalem; but in the time of Roboam, King Solomon's son, when Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple despoiled, they were carried to the King of Arabia, and were put into his treasury with other spoils from the Temple.
And Melchior offered these same thirty pieces to Christ, because they were of the finest gold, and the best that he had. But when Mary went into Egypt she lost all the gifts of the three Kings by the way, bound all in one cloth together. And it happened there was a shepherd who had so great an infirmity that no leech might heal him, and all that he had he paid to the leeches to be whole,—yet it might not be. But, on a time, as he went into the fields with his sheep, he found these thirty gilt pennies, with incense and myrrh, bound all in a cloth together, and he kept them privily to himself, until, hearing tell of a holy prophet that healed all men of their infirmities by a word, he came to Christ and prayed Him for grace and help; and, being healed, he offered the gold, and incense, and myrrh to Him with good devotion. And when Christ saw the thirty gilt pennies and precious herbs He knew them well, and bade the shepherd go into the Temple and offer them upon the altar.
Now, when the priest saw such oblations laid upon the altar he marvelled much, and took all three things and put them in the common treasury. And afterward, when Judas Iscariot came into the Temple to make covenant with the Princes of the Law to betray his master, they gave him for his pay the same thirty pieces of gold, and for them Judas sold his Master. And after Christ was crucified, then Judas repented, and went to the Temple and cast down to the Princes of the Law the thirty pieces. And with fifteen of these gilt pennies the Jews bought a field of burial for pilgrims; and the other fifteen they gave to the knights who kept the sepulchre of Christ.
And the reason these thirty gilt pennies were called silver in the Gospel, notwithstanding they were fine gold, is, that it is the common usage in that country so to call them, as men in this country call gold from beyond the sea scutys, motouns or florins; moreover in the East the same print is made in gold and silver and copper, and the print on the thirty pieces is this: on one side is a king's head crowned, and on the other are written letters in Chaldaic, which men now cannot read. And many marvels are told of these pieces of gold which were long to tell.
Now when Our Lord was ascended into heaven, then he sent St. Thomas, his apostle, into Ind, to preach there God's word. And as St. Thomas went about in the temples he found a star in every one, painted after the manner of the Star that appeared to the three Kings when Christ was born, in which Star was a sign of the Cross and a Child above. And when St. Thomas saw this he asked of the bishops what it was, and they told him that such a Star of old time appeared on the Hill of Vaws in token of a Child that was born who should be king of the Jews, as was heard spoken out of the same Star.
And when St. Thomas had preached and taught the people the understanding of this Star and of the Cross and the Child, then he went to the kingdoms of the three Kings, and he found them whole of body and of a great age. And St. Thomas christened these three Kings and all their people, and the Kings began anon to preach with the Apostle, and when they had converted the people to the law of Christ he ordained them to be Archbishops. And after this St. Thomas was slain, and in all that country where he was martyred both men and women have visages shaped like hounds, yet they be not hairy—and they are so unto this day.
Now under the Hill of Vaws St. Thomas and these three Kings had made a rich city and called it Sewill, and this city is the best and richest city in all the country of Ind to this day; and therein is the habitation of Prester John that is called lord of Ind, and there dwelleth also the Patriarch of Ind who is called Thomas, in worship of St. Thomas and for an everlasting memorial. And when all things were disposed by these three Kings they went to the city of Sewill, and there they lived twelve years.
And a little before the feast of Christ's nativity, when these years were drawn to an end, there appeared a wonderful star above this city and the Kings knew that their time was nigh when they should pass out of this world. Then of one assent they ordained a fair and large tomb for their burial in the church they had made in the city; and in the feast of Christmas they did, solemnly, God's service.
And in the feast of the Circumcision, Melchior, King of Araby, laid him down before all his people and without any disease yielded up his spirit, in the year of his age one hundred and sixteen. Then in the feast of Epiphany, five days thereafter, Balthazar, King of Godolie and Saba, died in the year of his age one hundred and twelve. And then Jaspar the third king, the sixth day after was taken into everlasting joy, and they were all buried in the same tomb that they had ordained; and the Star that appeared over the city before their death, abode always till their bodies were translated unto Cologne, as they of Ind tell.
Now after much time had passed, Queen Helen, the mother of the glorious Emperor Constantine, began to think greatly of the bodies of these three Kings, and she arrayed her with certain people and went into the land of Ind. And she had much praise among the people because of the finding of Mary's smock and the cloths that Christ was wound in in his childhood; and seeing that she was worshipped of all people, the Patriarch Thomas and Prester John, took counsel of other lords and princes and gave her the bodies of King Melchior and King Balthazar. But the Nestorines had borne the body of the third king, King Jaspar, into the isle of Egrisoulla. And these Nestorines were the worst heretics of the world. For the most part they were black Ethiops, who painted Christ and His Mother Mary and the three Kings in their churches all in black, and the Devil all white, in despite of all other Christian men. But because Queen Helen wished not that the three Kings should be parted, she made many prayers and gave great gifts to the chief lords of the isle of Egrisoulla, and thus anon did she get the body of King Jaspar.
And you shall understand that after she had found the bodies of all these three Kings, Queen Helen put them into one chest and arrayed it with great riches, and she brought them unto Constantinople with joy and reverence, and laid them in a church that is called St. Sophia; and this church King Constantine did make—and he alone, with a little child, set up all the pillars of marble.
Now after the death of this worshipful King Constantine and Queen Helen aforesaid, there began a new persecution of heresy against the Christian faith, and of death against them that would maintain the law of Christ. The Greeks forsook the Church and chose a Patriarch for themselves, whom they yet obey until this day.
Now in this persecution the bodies and the relics of the three holy Kings were put at no reverence, but utterly set at naught. For the Saracens and Turks at this time won with strong battle the lands of Greece and Armenia, and destroyed a great part of these lands.
Then came an Emperor of Rome who was called Mauricius, and through the help of them of Milan he recovered all these lands again, and, as is said among men in that country, through counsel of this Emperor the bodies of the three Kings were carried unto Milan, and they were there laid with all solemnity and worship in a fair church which is called after St. Eustorgio, because he had asked the bodies from the Emperor, and being granted them had sent them unto Milan.
Then afterward by process of time, it happed that the city of Milan began to rebel against the Emperor, who was called Frederick I., and this Emperor sent to the Archbishop of Cologne, who was called Rainald, for help. Then this Archbishop, through help of divers lords of the land of Milan, took the city of Milan and destroyed a great part thereof. And the chief men of the city took the bodies of the three Kings and hid them privily in the earth.
Now among all others there was in Milan a lord named Asso, and the Emperor hated him more than all the rest of its people. So it happed that in the destruction of the city the Archbishop won Asso's palace through strong hand, and lived therein a great while, for Asso was taken and put into prison.
Then, anon, Asso sent privily by his keepers to the Archbishop of Cologne and prayed him that he would come and speak with him, and it was granted that Asso should go to the Archbishop. And when he was come to him, he prayed him that, if he would get him grace of the Emperor and his love and the restoration of his lordship, he would give him the bodies of the three Kings.
When the Archbishop heard this, he went to the Emperor and prayed for Lord Asso, and got him grace and love. And when this was done, Asso brought, secretly, the three bodies of the Kings to the Archbishop of Cologne.
Then the Archbishop sent the bodies forth, by private means, a great way out of the city of Milan, whereupon he went to the Emperor anew and prayed him that he would grant him these three bodies, and the Emperor did so with good will. Then the Archbishop openly, with great solemnity and procession, brought the three holy Kings unto Cologne, and there put them in the fair church of St. Peter, worshipfully; and all the people of the country, with all the reverence they might, received these holy relics; and there they are kept and beholden of all manner of nations unto this day.
* * * * *
Thus endeth the translation of these Three Worshipful Kings: Melchior, Balthazar, and Jaspar.
A French Yeoman's Legend.
"He laughed fit to make the plates rattle, his little brown eyes twinkling all the while."
THE THREE CHRISTMAS MASSES.
"Two truffled turkeys, Garrigou?"
"Yes, reverend Father, two magnificent turkeys stuffed with truffles. There's no mistake, for I helped to stuff them myself. The flesh almost cracked as they roasted, it was so tight—so——"
"Holy Virgin! and I, who love truffles as——Hurry; give me my surplice, Garrigou. And what else besides the turkeys; what else did you see in the kitchen?"
"Oh! all sorts of good things. Since noon we've done nothing but pluck pheasants, pewits, wood-hens, and heath-cocks. Feathers are scattered thick. Then from the pond they've brought eels and golden carp and trout, and——"
"What size are the trout, Garrigou?"
"Oh, as big as that! reverend Father. Enormous!"
"Heavens, I seem to see them! Have you put the wine in the flasks?"
"Yes, reverend Father, I've put the wine in the flasks. But what's a mouthful or two as you go to midnight Mass! You should see the dining-hall in the chateau, full of decanters that sparkle with wine of every color. And the silver dishes, above all the ornamented ones; the flowers; the candlesticks! I never saw anything to equal it. Monsieur the Marquis has invited all the nobility of the neighborhood. You will be at least forty at table, without counting either the bailiff or the notary. Ah! it will make you very happy to be there, reverend Father. Why, only to smell the delicious turkeys—the odor of truffles pursues me even yet. Muh!"
"Come, come, Garrigou, you must guard against the sin of greediness, and especially on the night of the Nativity. Quickly, now, light the candles and sound the first bell for Mass; midnight is very near, and we must not be late."
This conversation was held on Christmas night, in the year of grace sixteen hundred and sixteen, between the reverend Dom Balaguere, formerly prior of Barnabites, now chaplain in the service of the Sires de Trinquelague, and his clerk Garrigou; or at least what he supposed was his clerk Garrigou, because you will learn that the devil had that night taken on the round face and wavering traits of the young sacristan, the better to tempt the reverend Father to commit the dreadful sin of gluttony. Now, while the supposed Garrigou (hum! hum!) rung, with all his might, the bells of the seignorial chapel, the reverend Father put on his chasuble in the little sacristy of the chateau; and, his mind already becoming troubled by the gastronomic descriptions he had heard, he repeated to himself:
"Roasted turkeys; golden carp; trout as large as that!"
Outside, the night wind blew, scattering the music of the bells, and one by one lights began to appear in the shadows about the flanks of Mont Ventoux, upon the summit of which rose the ancient towers of Trinquelague. These lights were carried by the farmers on their way to attend midnight Mass at the chateau. They climbed the paths in groups of five or six, the father leading, lantern in hand, the women enveloped in their big brown mantles, where their infants nestled for shelter. In spite of the hour and the cold all these honest people marched cheerfully on, sustained by the thought that when they came out from the Mass they would find, as they did each year, tables spread for them below in the kitchens. Now and again on the rough ascent, the coach of some seigneur, preceded by torch-bearing porters, reflected in its glasses the cold moonlight; or, maybe, a mule trotted along shaking his bells, and in the light of the lanterns covered with frost, the farmers recognized their bailiff and saluted him as he passed:
"Good-evening, good-evening, Master Arnoton."
"Good-evening, good-evening, my children."
The night was clear, the stars were polished with cold, the wind stung, and a fine sleet, which glistened on the clothes without wetting them, kept faithfully the tradition of Christmases white with snow. Raised there aloft, the chateau appeared like the goal of all things, with its enormous mass of towers and gables, the belfry of its chapel mounting into the blue-black sky, and a crowd of small lights that winked, went and came, twinkled at all the windows, and seemed, on the sombre background of the building, like sparks running through the cinders of burnt paper. Once past the drawbridge and the postern, it was necessary, in order to gain the chapel, to traverse the first courtyard, full of coaches, of valets, of sedan-chairs, and bright with the flare of torches and the fires of the kitchens. There was the click of the turnspits, the crash of stewpans, the noises of glass and silver preparing for the dinner. From below, a warm vapor, which smelt of roasting meat and the strong herbs of curious sauces, whispered to the farmers, to the chaplain, to the bailiff—to all the world:
"What a revel we are going to have after Mass!"
Drelindin din! Drelindin din! Midnight Mass is about to begin. In the chapel of the chateau, a miniature cathedral with arches intercrossed and a wainscot of oak mounting as high as the walls, all the hangings have been arranged, all the candles lit.
And what a host of people! And what toilettes! First, seated in the sculptured stall which surrounds the choir, behold the Sire de Trinquelague in a suit of salmon-colored taffeta; and next to him all the invited nobles. Facing these, on a prie-dieu trimmed with velvet, is the old dowager Marquise in her robe of fire-colored brocade, and the young Dame de Trinquelague, surmounted by a huge head-dress of lace, made in the latest fashion of the French court. Further down, dressed in black, with vast pointed perukes and shaven faces, are the bailiff, Thomas Arnoton, and the notary, Master Ambroy, two grave objects among the flowing silks and figured damasks. Then come the fat majordomos, the pages, the grooms, the attendants; dame Barbe, all her keys suspended at her side on a ring of thin silver. At the bottom of the hall, on the benches, are the Servants, the yeomen with their families; and lastly, beyond, all about the doors as they open and shut discretely, are the scullions, who steal in, between two sauces, to get a little of the Mass, carrying an odor of the revelry into the church, all in its gay attire and warm with so many burning candles.
Is it a glimpse of their little white caps that distracts the celebrant of the Mass? Or, it may be the clangor made by Garrigou's bells, that pulsating sound which shakes the altar with an infernal vibration and seems to say all the time:
"Hurry up, hurry up. We'll soon be done; we'll soon be at table!"
The fact is, that each time it sounds—that peal of the devil—the chaplain forgets his Mass and thinks of nothing but the coming revel. He pictures to himself the uproar of the kitchens; the furnace heated like a blacksmith's forge; the vapor of opening trenchers, and in that vapor two magnificent turkeys, buttered, tender, bursting with truffles.
Or, perhaps he saw pass the files of little pages bearing dishes enveloped in tempting steam, and, with them, entered the grand saloon already prepared for the feast. O deliciousness! behold the immense table all set and sparkling; the peacocks in their plumes; the pheasants with their open wings of reddish-brown; the ruby-colored flagons; the pyramids of fruit peeping from green branches; and those marvellous fish of which Garrigou told (ah! well, yes, Garrigou!) held aloft on a bed of fennel, the mother-of-pearl scales as bright as when they came from the water, with a bouquet of odorous herbs in their monster-like nostrils. So distinct is the vision of these marvels, that it seems to Dom Balaguere as if all the wonderful dishes are served before him on the embroideries of the altar-cloth; and two or three times, in place of Dominus vobiscum, he is surprised to find himself repeating the Benedicite. Saving these slight mistakes, the holy man does his office very conscientiously, without skipping a line, without omitting a genuflexion; and all goes well enough as far as the end of the first Mass; because, you know, on Christmas night the same celebrant must repeat three consecutive Masses.
"One!" said the chaplain, with a sigh of relief; then, without losing a minute, he made a sign to his clerk—or the person he believed to be his clerk, and——
Drelindin din! Drelindin din!
The second Mass begins, and with it begins also the sin of Dom Balaguere.
"Hurry, hurry, let's get done," cries the thin voice of Garrigou's bell, and this time the unlucky priest, abandoning himself to the demon of gluttony, rushes through the missal, devouring its pages with all the avidity of an overcharged appetite. Frantically he bows; arises; makes the signs of the cross, goes through the genuflexions, abbreviates all his gestures, the sooner to be finished. Scarcely does he extend his arms to the Gospel, or strike his breast where it is required. Between the clerk and him it is a race which shall jabber the faster. Verse and response hurry each other, tumble over each other. The words, hardly pronounced, because it takes too much time to open the mouth, become incomprehensible murmurs.
Oremus ps—ps—ps— Mea culpa—pa—pa—.
Like hard-working vintagers pressing grapes in a vat, both wade through the Latin of the Mass, splashing it on all sides.
"Dom—scum!" says Balaguere.
"Stutuo!" responds Garrigou, and all the while the damnable chime sounds in their ears, like those little bells put on the post-horses to make them gallop more swiftly. Believe me, under such conditions a low Mass is vastly expedited!
"Two!" said the chaplain, all out of breath; then without taking time to breathe, red, perspiring, he tumbled down the stairs of the altar.
Drelindin din! Drelindin din! The third Mass begins.
Only a step or so and then the dining-hall! but, alas, the nearer the revel approaches, the more the unfortunate Balaguere is seized with the very folly of impatience and greediness. His vision accentuates it; the golden carp, the roast turkeys are there. He may touch them—he may—Oh, Holy Virgin! the dishes steam; the wines send forth sweet odors; and shaking out its reckless song, the bell cries to him:
"Hurry up, hurry up; still faster, still faster!"
But how can he go any faster? He scarcely moves his lips, he pronounces fully not a single word. He tries to cheat the good God altogether of His Mass, and that is what brings his ruin. By temptation upon temptation, he begins to jump one verse, then two. Then the epistle is too long—he does not finish it; skims the Gospel, passes by the creed without even entering, skips the pater, salutes from afar the preface, and by bounds and jumps precipitates himself into eternal damnation, always following the infamous Garrigou (vade retro, Satanas), who seconds him with marvellous skill; tucks up his chasuble, turns the leaves two by two, disarranges the music-desk, reverses the flagons, and unceasingly rings the bell more and more vigorously, more and more quickly.
You should have seen what a figure all the assistants cut. Obliged to follow, like mimics, a Mass of which they did not understand a word, some rose when others kneeled, or seated themselves when others stood, and all the actors in this singular office mixed themselves on the benches in numberless contrary attitudes.
The star of Christmas, on its journey through the heavens yonder by the little manger, paled with astonishment at the confusion.
"The Abbe's in a dreadful hurry: I can't follow him at all," said the aged dowager, shaking her head-dress with bewilderment. Master Arnoton, his great steel spectacles on his nose, searched in his prayer-book where the deuce the words could be. But, after all, that gallant host, which itself was thinking only of the feast, was far from being vexed because the Mass rode post; and when Balaguere, with beaming countenance, turned toward the assembly crying with all his might, Ite missa est, with a single voice they returned, Deo gratias, so joyously, so fervently, that one might have thought them already at table responding to the first toast of the night.
Five minutes later the crowd of seigneurs was seated in the grand dining-hall, the chaplain in the midst of them. The chateau, illuminated from top to bottom, echoed with songs, cries, laughter, uproar, and the venerable Dom Balaguere planted his fork in the wing of a wood-hen, drowning the remorse of his sin under floods of wine of the Pope and the sweet juices of the meats.
So much did he eat and drink, that the poor holy man died in the night of a terrible attack of sickness, without having even time to repent. Then near the morning he arrived in heaven with all the savor of the feast still about him and I leave you to imagine how he was received:
"Retire from my sight, evil Christian!" said the Sovereign Judge, "thy fault is dark enough to efface a whole life of virtue. Ah, thou hast robbed me of a Mass to-night. Thou shalt pay me back three hundred in its place, and thou shalt not enter into Paradise unless thou shalt have celebrated in thy proper chapel these three hundred Christmas Masses in the presence of all those who have sinned by thy fault and with thee."
This, then, is the true legend of Dom Balaguere as they tell it in the land of olives. To-day the chateau of Trinquelague is no more, but the chapel still stands erect on the summit of Mont Ventoux, in a grove of green oaks. The wind beats its disjointed portal; the grass creeps across its threshold; the birds have built in the angles of the altar and in the embrasures of the high windows, whence the colored panes have long ago vanished. But it appears that every year at Christmas, a supernatural light runs about these ruins, and that, in going to Mass or feast, the peasants see the chapel illuminated by invisible candles which burn brightly even through the wind and snow.
You may laugh if you will, but a vine-dresser of the neighborhood named Garrigue, without doubt a descendant of Garrigou, has assured me that one Christmas night, finding himself a little so-so-ish, he became lost on the mountain beside Trinquelague, and behold what he saw! At eleven o'clock, nothing. All was silent, dark, lifeless. Suddenly, toward midnight, a chime sounded up above from a clock, an old, old chime which seemed six leagues away. Pretty soon, on the ascending road, Garrigue saw lights trembling in the uncertain shadows. Under the porch of the chapel somebody walked, somebody whispered:
"Good-evening, Master Arnoton."
"Good-evening, good-evening, my children."
When the whole company was entered, my vine-dresser, who was exceedingly brave, approached stealthily, and peeping through the broken door saw a strange spectacle. All those who had passed him were ranged about the choir, in the ruined nave, as if the ancient benches still existed. Beautiful dames in brocade with coifs of lace; seigneurs bedizzened from top to toe; peasants in flowered jackets like those of our grandfathers,—everything with an ancient air, faded, dusty, worn-out. Now and then the night-birds, habitual dwellers in the chapel, awakened by all these lights, winged about the candles, whose flames mounted straight and vague as if they burnt behind gauze. And what amused Garrigue most was a certain personage with great steel spectacles, who shook at each instant his high black peruke, on which one of the birds had alighted and entangled itself, silently beating its wings.
At the farthest end, a little old man of boyish size, on his knees in the midst of the choir, pulled desperately at the chimeless and silent bell; while a priest attired in ancient gold, went and came before the altar reciting orisons of which one heard not a single word. Surely, that was Dom Balaguere in the act of saying his third low Mass.
A Love-Passage from a Wandering Cossack.
"Dressed in his everlasting blue frock, he sat near the fire playing cards."
A RUSSIAN CHRISTMAS PARTY.
Count Rostow's affairs were going from bad to worse. He was of a warm, generous nature, with unlimited faith in his servants, and hence was blind to the mismanagement and dishonesty which had sapped his fortune. The possessor of a handsome establishment at the Russian capital, Moscow, the owner of rich provincial estates, and the inheritor of a noble name and wealth, he was nevertheless on the verge of ruin. He had given up his appointment as Marechal de la Noblesse, which he had gone to his seat of Otradnoe to assume, because it entailed too many expenses; and yet there was no improvement in the state of his finances.
Nicolas and Natacha, his son and daughter, often found their father and mother in anxious consultation, talking in low tones of the sale of their Moscow house or of their property in the neighborhood. Having thus retired into private life, the count now gave neither fetes nor entertainments. Life at Otradnoe was much less gay than in past years; still, the house and domain were as full of servants as ever, and twenty persons or more sat down to dinner daily. These were dependants, friends, and intimates, who were regarded almost as part of the family, or at any rate seemed unable to tear themselves away from it: among them a musician named Dimmler and his wife, Ioghel the dancing-master and his family, and old Mlle. Below, former governess of Natacha and Sonia, the count's niece and adopted child, and now the tutor of Petia, his younger son; besides others who found it simpler to live at the count's expense than at their own. Thus, though there were no more festivities, life was carried on almost as expensively as of old, and neither the master nor the mistress ever imagined any change possible. Nicolas, again, had added to the hunting establishment; there were still fifty horses in the stables, still fifteen drivers; handsome presents were given on all birthdays and fete days, which invariably wound up as of old with a grand dinner to all the neighborhood; the count still played whist or boston, invariably letting his cards be seen by his friends, who were always ready to make up his table, and relieve him without hesitation of the few hundred roubles which constituted their principal income. The old man marched on blindfold through the tangle of his pecuniary difficulties, trying to conceal them, and only succeeding in augmenting them; having neither the courage nor the patience to untie the knots one by one.
The loving heart by his side foresaw their children's ruin, but she could not accuse her husband, who was, alas! too old for amendment; she could only seek some remedy for the disaster. From her woman's point of view there was but one: Nicolas's marriage, namely, with some rich heiress. She clung desperately to this last chance of salvation; but if her son should refuse the wife she should propose to him, every hope of reinstating their fortune would vanish. The young lady whom she had in view was the daughter of people of the highest respectability, whom the Rostows had known from her infancy: Julie Karaguine, who, by the death of her second brother, had suddenly come into great wealth.
The countess herself wrote to Mme. Karaguine to ask her whether she could regard the match with favor, and received a most flattering answer. Indeed, Mme. Karaguine invited Nicolas to her house at Moscow, to give her daughter an opportunity of deciding for herself.
Nicolas had often heard his mother say, with tears in her eyes, that her dearest wish was to see him married. The fulfilment of this wish would sweeten her remaining days, she would say, adding covert hints as to a charming girl who would exactly suit him. One day she took the opportunity of speaking plainly to him of Julie's charms and merits, and urged him to spend a short time in Moscow before Christmas. Nicolas, who had no difficulty in guessing what she was aiming at, persuaded her to be explicit on the matter, and she owned frankly that her hope was to see their sinking fortunes restored by his marriage with her dear Julie!
"Then, mother, if I loved a penniless girl, you would desire me to sacrifice my feelings and my honor—to marry solely for money?"
"Nay, nay; you have misunderstood me," she said, not knowing how to excuse her mercenary hopes. "I wish only for your happiness!" And then, conscious that this was not her sole aim, and that she was not perfectly honest, she burst into tears.
"Do not cry, mamma; you have only to say that you really and truly desire it, and you know I would give my life to see you happy; that I would sacrifice everything, even my feelings."
But this was not his mother's notion. She asked no sacrifice, she would have none; she would sooner have sacrificed herself, if it had been possible.
"Say no more about it; you do not understand," she said, drying away her tears.
"How could she think of such a marriage?" thought Nicolas. "Does she think that because Sonia is poor I do not love her? And yet I should be a thousand times happier with her than with a doll like Julie."
He stayed in the country, and his mother did not revert to the subject. Still, as she saw the growing intimacy between Nicolas and Sonia, she could not help worrying Sonia about every little thing, and speaking to her with colder formality. Sometimes she reproached herself for these continual pin-pricks of annoyance, and was quite vexed with the poor girl for submitting to them with such wonderful humility and sweetness, for taking every opportunity of showing her devoted gratitude, and for loving Nicolas with a faithful and disinterested affection which commanded her admiration.
Just about this time a letter came from Prince Andre, dated from Rome, whither he had gone to pass the year of probation demanded by his father as a condition to giving consent to his son's marriage with the Countess Natacha. It was the fourth the Prince had written since his departure. He ought long since to have been on his way home, he said, but the heat of the summer had caused the wound he had received at Austerlitz to reopen, and this compelled him to postpone his return till early in January.
Natacha, though she was so much in love that her very passion for Prince Andre had made her day-dreams happy, had hitherto been open to all the bright influences of her young life; but now, after nearly four months of parting, she fell into a state of extreme melancholy, and gave way to it completely. She bewailed her hard fate, she bewailed the time that was slipping away and lost to her, while her heart ached with the dull craving to love and be loved. Nicolas, too, had nearly spent his leave from his regiment, and the anticipation of his departure added gloom to the saddened household.
Christmas came; but, excepting the pompous high Mass and the other religious ceremonies, the endless string of neighbors and servants with the regular compliments of the season, and the new gowns which made their first appearance on the occasion, nothing more than usual happened on that day, or more extraordinary than twenty degrees of frost, with brilliant sunshine, a still atmosphere, and at night a glorious starry sky.
After dinner, on the third day of Christmas-tide, when every one had settled into his own corner once more, ennui reigned supreme throughout the house. Nicolas, who had been paying a round of visits in the neighborhood, was fast asleep in the drawing-room. The old count had followed his example in his room. Sonia, seated at a table in the sitting-room, was copying a drawing. The countess was playing out a "patience," and Nastacia Ivanovna, the old buffoon, with his peevish face, sitting in a window with two old women, did not say a word.
Natacha came into the room, and, after leaning over Sonia for a minute or two to examine her work, went over to her mother and stood still in front of her.
The countess looked up. "Why are you wandering about like a soul in torment? What do you want?" she said.
"Want! I want him!" replied Natacha, shortly, and her eyes glowed. "Now, here—at once!"
Her mother gazed at her anxiously.
"Do not look at me like that; you will make me cry."
"Sit down here."
"Mamma, I want him, I want him! Why must I die of weariness?" Her voice broke and tears started from her eyes. She hastily quitted the drawing-room and went to the housekeeper's room, where an old servant was scolding one of the girls who had just come in breathless from out-of-doors.
"There is a time for all things," growled the old woman. "You have had time enough for play."
"Oh, leave her in peace, Kondratievna," said Natacha. "Run away, Mavroucha—go."
Pursuing her wandering, Natacha went into the hall; an old man-servant was playing cards with two of the boys. Her entrance stopped their game and they rose. "And what am I to say to these?" thought she.
"Nikita, would you please go—what on earth can I ask for?—go and find me a cock; and you, Micha, a handful of corn."
"A handful of corn?" said Micha, laughing.
"Go, go at once," said the old man.
"And you, Fedor, can you give me a piece of chalk?"
Then she went on to the servants' hall and ordered the samovar to be got ready, though it was not yet tea-time; she wanted to try her power over Foka, the old butler, the most morose and disobliging of all the servants. He could not believe his ears, and asked her if she really meant it. "What next will our young lady want?" muttered Foka, affecting to be very cross.
No one gave so many orders as Natacha, no one sent them on so many errands at once. As soon as a servant came in sight she seemed to invent some want or message; she could not help it. It seemed as though she wanted to try her power over them; to see whether, some fine day, one or another would not rebel against her tyranny; but, on the contrary, they always flew to obey her more readily than any one else.
"And now what shall I do, where can I go?" thought she, as she slowly went along the corridor, where she presently met the buffoon.
"Nastacia Ivanovna," said she, "if I ever have children, what will they be?"
"You! Fleas and grasshoppers, you may depend upon it!"
Natacha went on. "Good God! have mercy, have mercy!" she said to herself. "Wherever I go it is always, always the same. I am so weary; what shall I do?"
Skipping lightly from step to step, she went to the upper story and dropped in on the Ioghels. Two governesses were sitting chatting with M. and Mme. Ioghel; dessert, consisting of dried fruit, was on the table, and they were eagerly discussing the cost of living at Moscow and Odessa. Natacha took a seat for a moment, listened with pensive attention, and then jumped up again. "The island of Madagascar!" she murmured, "Ma-da-gas-car!" and she separated the syllables. Then she left the room without answering Mme. Schoss, who was utterly mystified by her strange exclamation.
She next met Petia and a companion, both very full of some fireworks which were to be let off that evening. "Petia!" she exclaimed, "carry me down-stairs!" And she sprang upon his back, throwing her arms round his neck; and, laughing and galloping, they thus scrambled along to the head of the stairs.
"Thank you, that will do. Madagascar!" she repeated; and, jumping down, she ran down the flight.
After thus inspecting her dominions, testing her power, and convincing herself that her subjects were docile, and that there was no novelty to be got out of them, Natacha settled herself in the darkest corner of the music-room with her guitar, striking the bass strings, and trying to make an accompaniment to an air from an opera that she and Prince Andre had once heard together at St. Petersburg. The uncertain chords which her unpractised fingers sketched out would have struck the least experienced ear as wanting in harmony and musical accuracy, while to her excited imagination they brought a whole train of memories. Leaning against the wall and half hidden by a cabinet, with her eyes fixed on a thread of light that came under the door from the rooms beyond, she listened in ecstasy and dreamed of the past.
Sonia crossed the room with a glass in her hand. Natacha glanced round at her and again fixed her eyes on the streak of light. She had the strange feeling of having once before gone through the same experience—sat in the same place, surrounded by the same details, and watching Sonia pass carrying a tumbler. "Yes, it was exactly the same," she thought.
"Sonia, what is this tune?" she said, playing a few notes.
"What, are you there?" said Sonia, startled. "I do not know," she said, coming closer to listen, "unless it is from 'La Tempete';" but she spoke doubtfully.
"It was exactly so," thought Natacha. "She started as she came forward, smiling so gently; and I thought then, as I think now, that there is something in her which is quite lacking in me. No," she said aloud, "you are quite out; it is the chorus from the 'Porteur d'Eau'—listen," and she hummed the air. "Where are you going?"
"For some fresh water to finish my drawing."
"You are always busy and I never. Where is Nicolas?"
"Asleep, I think."
"Go and wake him, Sonia. Tell him to come and sing."
Sonia went, and Natacha relapsed into dreaming and wondering how it had all happened. Not being able to solve the puzzle, she drifted into reminiscence once more. She could see him—him—and feel his impassioned eyes fixed on her face. "Oh, make haste back! I am so afraid he will not come yet! Besides, it is all very well, but I am growing old; I shall be quite different from what I am now! Who knows? Perhaps he will come to-day! Perhaps he is here already! Here in the drawing-room. Perhaps he came yesterday and I have forgotten."
She rose, laid down the guitar, and went into the next room. All the household party were seated round the tea-table,—the professors, the governesses, the guests; the servants were waiting on one and another—but there was no Prince Andre.
"Ah, here she is," said her father. "Come and sit down here." But Natacha stopped by her mother without heeding his bidding.
"Oh, mamma, bring him to me, give him to me soon, very soon," she murmured, swallowing down a sob. Then she sat down and listened to the others. "Good God! always the same people! always the same thing! Papa holds his cup as he always does, and blows his tea to cool it as he did yesterday, and as he will to-morrow."
She felt a sort of dull rebellion against them all; she hated them for always being the same.
After tea Sonia, Natacha, and Nicolas huddled together in their favorite, snug corner of the drawing-room; that was where they talked freely to each other.
"Do you ever feel," Natacha asked her brother, "as if there was nothing left to look forward to; as if you had had all your share of happiness, and were not so much weary as utterly dull?"
"Of course I have. Very often I have seen my friends and fellow-officers in the highest spirits and been just as jolly myself, and suddenly have been struck so dull and dismal, have so hated life, that I have wondered whether we were not all to die at once. I remember one day, for instance, when I was with the regiment; the band was playing, and I had such a fit of melancholy that I never even thought of going to the promenade."
"How well I understand that! I recollect once," Natacha went on, "once when I was a little girl, I was punished for having eaten some plums, I think. I had not done it, and you were all dancing, and I was left alone in the school-room. How I cried! cried because I was so sorry for myself, and so vexed with you all for making me so unhappy."
"I remember; and I went to comfort you and did not know how; we were funny children then; I had a toy with bells that jingled, and I made you a present of it."
"Do you remember," said Natacha, "long before that, when we were no bigger than my hand, my uncle called us into his room, where it was quite dark, and suddenly we saw——"
"A negro!" interrupted Nicolas, smiling at her recollection. "To be sure. I can see him now; and to this day I wonder whether it was a dream or a reality, or mere fancy invented afterwards."
"He had white teeth and stared at us with his black eyes."
"Do you remember him, Sonia?"
"Yes, yes—but very dimly."
"But papa and mamma have always declared that no negro ever came to the house. And the eggs; do you remember the eggs we used to roll up at Easter; and one day how two little grinning old women came up through the floor and began to spin round the table?"
"Of course. And how papa used to put on his fur coat and fire off his gun from the balcony. And don t you remember——?" And so they went on recalling, one after the other, not the bitter memories of old age, but the bright pictures of early childhood, which float and fade on a distant horizon of poetic vagueness, midway between reality and dreams. Sonia remembered being frightened once at the sight of Nicolas in his braided jacket, and her nurse promising her that she should some day have a frock trimmed from top to bottom.
"And they told me you had been found in the garden under a cabbage," said Natacha. "I dared not say it was not true, but it puzzled me tremendously."
A door opened, and a woman put in her head, exclaiming, "Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, they have fetched the cock!"
"I do not want it now; send it away again, Polia." said Natacha.
Dimmler, who had meanwhile come into the room, went up to the harp, which stood in a corner, and in taking off the cover made the strings ring discordantly.
"Edward Karlovitch, play my favorite nocturne—Field's," cried the countess, from the adjoining room.
Dimmler struck a chord. "How quiet you young people are," he said, addressing them.
"Yes, we are studying philosophy," said Natacha, and they went on talking of their dreams.
Dimmler had no sooner begun his nocturne than Natacha, crossing the room on tiptoe, seized the wax-light that was burning on the table and carried it into the next room; then she stole back to her seat, it was now quite dark in the larger room, especially in their corner, but the silvery moonbeams came in at the wide windows and lay in broad sheets on the floor.
"Do you know," whispered Natacha, while Dimmler, after playing the nocturne, let his fingers wander over the strings, uncertain what to play next, "when I go on remembering one thing beyond another, I go back so far, so far, that at last I remember things that happened before I was born, and——"
"That is metempsychosis," interrupted Sonia, with a reminiscence of her early lessons. "The Egyptians believed that our souls had once inhabited the bodies of animals, and would return to animals again after our death."
"I do not believe that," said Natacha, still in a low voice, though the music had ceased. "But I am quite sure that we were angels once, somewhere there beyond, or, perhaps, even here; and that is the reason we remember a previous existence."
"May I join the party?" asked Dimmler, coming towards them.
"If we were once angels, how is it that we have fallen lower?"
"Lower? Who says that it is lower? Who knows what I was?" Natacha retorted with full conviction. "Since the soul is immortal, and I am to live forever in the future, I must have existed in the past, so I have eternity behind me, too."
"Yes; but it is very difficult to conceive of that eternity," said Dimmler, whose ironical smile had died away.
"Why?" asked Natacha. "After to-day comes to-morrow, and then the day after, and so on forever; yesterday has been, to-morrow will be——"
"Natacha, now it is your turn; sing me something," said her mother. "What are you doing in that corner like a party of conspirators?"
"I am not at all in the humor, mamma," said she; nevertheless she rose. Nicolas sat down to the piano; and standing, as usual, in the middle of the room, where the voice sounded best, she sang her mother's favorite ballad.
Though she had said she was not in the humor, it was long since Natacha had sung so well as she did that evening, and long before she sang so well again. Her father, who was talking over business with Mitenka in his room, hurriedly gave him some final instructions as soon as he heard the first note, as a schoolboy scrambles through his tasks to get to his play; but as the steward did not go, he sat in silence, listening, while Mitenka, too, standing in his presence, listened with evident satisfaction. Nicolas did not take his eyes off his sister's face, and only breathed when she took breath. Sonia was under the spell of that exquisite voice and thinking of the gulf of difference that lay between her and her friend, full conscious that she could never exercise such fascination. The old countess had paused in her "patience,"—a sad, fond smile played on her lips, her eyes were full of tears, and she shook her head, remembering her own youth, looking forward to her daughter's future and reflecting on her strange prospects of marriage.
Dimmler, sitting by her side, listened with rapture, his eyes half closed.
"She really has a marvellous gift!" he exclaimed. "She has nothing to learn,—such power, such sweetness, such roundness!"
"And how much I fear for her happiness!" replied the countess, who in her mother's heart could feel the flame that must some day be fatal to her child's peace.
Natacha was still singing when Petia dashed noisily into the room to announce, in triumphant tones, that a party of mummers had come.
"Idiot!" exclaimed Natacha, stopping short, and, dropping into a chair, she began to sob so violently that it was some time before she could recover herself. "It is nothing, mamma, really nothing at all," she declared, trying to smile. "Only Petia frightened me; nothing more." And her tears flowed afresh.
All the servants had dressed up, some as bears, Turks, tavern-keepers, or fine ladies; others as mongrel monsters. Bringing with them the chill of the night outside, they did not at first venture any farther than the hall; by degrees, however, they took courage; pushing each other forward for self-protection, they all soon came into the music-room. Once there, their shyness thawed; they became expansively merry, and singing, dancing, and sports were soon the order of the day. The countess, after looking at them and identifying them all, went back into the sitting-room, leaving her husband, whose jovial face encouraged them to enjoy themselves.
The young people had all vanished; but half an hour later an old marquise with patches appeared on the scene—none other than Nicolas; Petia as a Turk; a clown—Dimmler; a hussar—Natacha; and a Circassian—Sonia. Both the girls had blackened their eyebrows and given themselves mustaches with burned cork.
After being received with well-feigned surprise, and recognized more or less quickly, the children, who were very proud of their costumes, unanimously declared that they must go and display them elsewhere. Nicolas, who was dying to take them all for a long drive en troika,[C] proposed that, as the roads were in splendid order, they should go, a party of ten, to the Little Uncle's.
[C] A team of three horses harnessed abreast.
"You will disturb the old man, and that will be all," said the countess. "Why, he has not even room for you all to get into the house! If you must go out, you had better go to the Melukows'."
Mme. Melukow was a widow living in the neighborhood; her house, full of children of all ages, with tutors and governesses, was distant only four versts from Otradnoe.
"A capital idea, my dear," cried the count, enchanted. "I will dress up in costume and go, too. I will wake them up, I warrant you!"
But this did not at all meet his wife's views. Perfect madness! For him to go out with his gouty feet in such cold weather was sheer folly! The count gave way, and Mme. Schoss volunteered to chaperon the girls. Sonia's was by far the most successful disguise; her fierce eyebrows and mustache were wonderfully becoming, her pretty features gained expression, and she wore the dress of a man with unexpected swagger and smartness. Something in her inmost soul told her that this evening would seal her fate.
In a few minutes four sleighs with three horses abreast to each, their harness jingling with bells, drew up in a line before the steps, the runners creaking and crunching over the frozen snow. Natacha was the foremost, and the first to tune her spirits to the pitch of this carnival freak. This mirth, in fact, proved highly infectious, and reached its height of tumult and excitement when the party went down the steps and packed themselves into the sleighs, laughing and shouting to each other at the top of their voices. Two of the sleighs were drawn by light cart-horses, to the third the count's carriage horses were harnessed, and one of these was reputed a famous trotter from Orlow's stable; the fourth sleigh, with its rough-coated, black shaft-horse, was Nicolas's private property. In his marquise costume, over which he had thrown his hussar's cloak, fastened with a belt round the waist, he stood gathering up the reins. The moon was shining brightly, reflected in the plating of the harness and in the horses' anxious eyes as they turned their heads in uneasy amazement at the noisy group that clustered under the dark porch. Natacha, Sonia, and Mme. Schoss, with two women servants, got into Nicolas's sleigh; Dimmler and his wife, with Petia, into the count's; the rest of the mummers packed into the other sleighs.
"Lead the way, Zakhare!" cried Nicolas, to his father's coachman, promising himself the pleasure of outstripping him presently; the count's sleigh swayed and strained, the runners, which the frost had already glued to the ground, creaked, the bells rang out, the horses closed up for a pull, and off they went over the glittering, hard snow, flinging it up right and left like spray of powdered sugar. Nicolas started next, and the others followed along the narrow way, with no less jingling and creaking. While they drove under the wall of the park the shadows of the tall, skeleton trees lay on the road, checkering the broad moonlight; but as soon as they had left it behind them, the wide and spotless plain spread on all sides, its whiteness broken by myriads of flashing sparks and spangles of reflected light. Suddenly a rut caused the foremost sleigh to jolt violently, and then the others in succession; they fell away a little, their intrusive clatter breaking the supreme and solemn silence of the night.
"A hare's tracks!" exclaimed Natacha, and her voice pierced the frozen air like an arrow.
"How light it is, Nicolas," said Sonia. Nicolas turned round to look at the pretty face with its black mustache, under the sable hood, looking at once so far away and so close in the moonshine. "It is not Sonia at all," he said, smiling.
"Why, what is the matter?"
"Nothing," said he, returning to his former position.
When they got out on the high-road, beaten and ploughed by horses' hoofs and polished with the tracks of sleighs, his steeds began to pull and go at a great pace. The near horse, turning away his head, was galloping rather wildly, while the horse in the shafts pricked his ears and still seemed to doubt whether the moment for a dash had come. Zakhare's sleigh, lost in the distance, was no more than a black spot on the white snow, and as he drew farther away the ringing of the bells was fainter and fainter; only the shouts and songs of the maskers rang through the calm, clear night.
"On you go, my beauties!" cried Nicolas, shaking the reins and raising his whip. The sleigh seemed to leap forward, but the sharp air that cut their faces and the flying pace of the two outer horses alone gave them any idea of the speed they were making. Nicolas glanced back at the other two drivers; they were shouting and urging their shaft-horses with cries and cracking of whips, so as not to be quite left behind; Nicolas's middle horse, swinging steadily along under the shaft-bow, kept up his regular pace, quite ready to go twice as fast the moment he should be called upon.
They soon overtook the first troika, and after going down a slope they came upon a wide cross-road running by the side of a meadow.
"Where are we, I wonder," thought Nicolas; "this must be the field and slope by the river. No—I do not know where we are! This is all new and unfamiliar to me! God only knows where we are! But no matter!" And smacking his whip with a will, he went straight ahead. Zakhare held in his beasts for an instant, and turned his face, all fringed with frost, to look at Nicolas, who came flying onward.
"Steady there, sir!" cried the coachman, and leaning forward, with a click of his tongue he urged his horses in their turn to their utmost speed. For a few minutes the sleighs ran equal, but before long, in spite of all Zakhare could do, Nicolas gained on him and at last flew past him like a lightning flash; a cloud of fine snow, kicked up by the horses, came showering down on the rival sleigh; the women squeaked, and the two teams had a struggle for the precedence, their shadows crossing and mingling on the snow.