E-text prepared by Al Haines
The Works of Eugene Field
The Writings in Prose and Verse of Eugene Field
THE HOLY CROSS AND OTHER TALES
[Frontispiece: "Presently the whole company was moved by a gentle pity." Drawn by S. W. Van Schaik.]
Charles Scribner's Sons New York 1911
Copyright, 1893, by Eugene Field.
Copyright, 1896, by Julia Sutherland Field.
DEDICATED WITH LOVE
AND GRATITUDE TO
ROSWELL MARTIN FIELD
To this volume as it was originally issued have been added five Tales, beginning with "The Platonic Bassoon," which are characteristic of the various moods, serious, gay, or pathetic, out of which grew the best work of the author's later years.
ALAS, POOR YORICK!
In paying a tribute to the mingled mirth and tenderness of Eugene Field—the poet of whose going the West may say, "He took our daylight with him"—one of his fellow journalists has written that he was a jester, but not of the kind that Shakespeare drew in Yorick. He was not only,—so the writer implied,—the maker of jibes and fantastic devices, but the bard of friendship and affection, of melodious lyrical conceits; he was the laureate of children—dear for his "Wynken, Blynken and Nod" and "Little Boy Blue"; the scholarly book-lover, withal, who relished and paraphrased his Horace, who wrote with delight a quaint archaic English of his special devising; who collected rare books, and brought out his own "Little Books" of "Western Verse" and "Profitable Tales" in high-priced limited editions, with broad margins of paper that moths and rust do not corrupt, but which tempts bibliomaniacs to break through and steal.
For my own part, I would select Yorick as the very forecast, in imaginative literature, of our various Eugene. Surely Shakespeare conceived the "mad rogue" of Elsinore as made up of grave and gay, of wit and gentleness, and not as a mere clown or "jig maker." It is true that when Field put on his cap and bells, he too was "wont to set the table on a roar," as the feasters at a hundred tables, from "Casey's Table d'Hote" to the banquets of the opulent East, now rise to testify. But Shakespeare plainly reveals, concerning Yorick, that mirth was not his sole attribute,—that his motley covered the sweetest nature and the tenderest heart. It could be no otherwise with one who loved and comprehended childhood and whom the children loved. And what does Hamlet say?—"He hath borne me upon his back a thousand times . . . Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft!" Of what is he thinking but of his boyhood, before doubts and contemplation wrapped him in the shadow, and when in his young grief or frolic the gentle Yorick, with his jest, his "excellent fancy," and his songs and gambols, was his comrade?
Of all moderns, then, here or in the old world, Eugene Field seems to be most like the survival, or revival, of the ideal jester of knightly times; as if Yorick himself were incarnated, or as if a superior bearer of the bauble at the court of Italy, or of France, or of English King Hal, had come to life again—as much out of time as Twain's Yankee at the Court of Arthur; but not out of place,—for he fitted himself as aptly to his folk and region as Puck to the fays and mortals of a wood near Athens. In the days of divine sovereignty, the jester, we see, was by all odds the wise man of the palace; the real fools were those he made his butt—the foppish pages, the obsequious courtiers, the swaggering guardsmen, the insolent nobles, and not seldom majesty itself. And thus it is that painters and romancers have loved to draw him. Who would not rather be Yorick than Osric, or Touchstone than Le Beau, or even poor Bertuccio than one of his brutal mockers? Was not the redoubtable Chicot, with his sword and brains, the true ruler of France? To come to the jesters of history—which is so much less real than fiction—what laurels are greener than those of Triboulet, and Will Somers, and John Heywood—dramatist and master of the king's merry Interludes? Their shafts were feathered with mirth and song, but pointed with wisdom, and well might old John Trussell say "That it often happens that wise counsel is more sweetly followed when it is tempered with folly, and earnest is the less offensive if it be delivered in jest."
Yes, Field "caught on" to his time—a complex American, with the obstreperous bizarrerie of the frontier and the artistic delicacy of our oldest culture always at odds within him—but he was, above all, a child of nature, a frolic incarnate, and just as he would have been in any time or country. Fortune had given him that unforgettable mummer's face,—that clean-cut, mobile visage,—that animated natural mask! No one else had so deep and rich a voice for the rendering of the music and pathos of a poet's lines, and no actor ever managed both face and voice better than he in delivering his own verses merry or sad. One night, he was seen among the audience at "Uncut Leaves," and was instantly requested to do something towards the evening's entertainment. As he was not in evening dress, he refused to take the platform, but stood up in the lank length of an ulster, from his corner seat, and recited "Dibdin's Ghost" and "Two Opinions" in a manner which blighted the chances of the readers that came after him. It is true that no clown ever equalled the number and lawlessness of his practical jokes. Above all, every friend that he had—except the Dean of his profession, for whom he did exhibit unbounded and filial reverence—was soon or late a victim of his whimsicality, or else justly distrusted the measure of Field's regard for him. Nor was the friendship perfected until one bestirred himself to pay Eugene back in kind. As to this, I am only one of scores now speaking from personal experience. There seemed to be no doubt in his mind that the victim of his fun, even when it outraged common sensibilities, must enjoy it as much as he. Who but Eugene, after being the welcome guest, at a European capital, of one of our most ambitious and refined ambassadors, would have written a lyric, sounding the praises of a German "onion pie," ending each stanza with
Ach, Liebe! Ach, mein Gott!
and would have printed it in America, with his host's initials affixed?
My own matriculation at Eugene's College of Unreason was in this wise. In 1887, Mr. Ben Ticknor, the Boston publisher, was complaining that he needed some new and promising authors to enlarge his book-list. The New York "Sun" and "Tribune" had been copying Field's rhymes and prose extravaganzas—the former often very charming, the latter the broadest satire of Chicago life and people. I suggested to Mr. Ticknor that he should ask the poet-humorist to collect, for publication in book-form, the choicest of his writings thus far. To make the story brief, Mr. Field did so, and the outcome—at which I was somewhat taken aback—was the remarkable book, "Culture's Garland," with its title imitated from the sentimental "Annuals" of long ago, and its cover ornamented with sausages linked together as a coronal wreath! The symbol certainly fitted the greater part of the contents, which ludicrously scored the Chicago "culture" of that time, and made Pullman, Armour, and other commercial magnates of the Lakeside City special types in illustration. All this had its use, and many of the sufferers long since became the farceur's devoted friends. The Fair showed the country what Chicago really was and is. Certainly there is no other American city where the richest class appear so enthusiastic with respect to art and literature. "The practice of virtue makes men virtuous," and even if there was some pretence and affectation in the culture of ten years ago, it has resulted in as high standards of taste as can elsewhere be found. Moreover, if our own "four hundred" had even affected, or made it the fashion to be interested in, whatever makes for real culture, the intellectual life of this metropolis would not now be so far apart from the "social swim." There were scattered through "Culture's Garland" not a few of Field's delicate bits of verse. In some way he found that I had instigated Mr. Ticknor's request, and, although I was thinking solely of the publisher's interests, he expressed unstinted gratitude. Soon afterwards I was delighted to receive from him a quarto parchment "breviary," containing a dozen ballads, long and short, engrossed in his exquisitely fine handwriting, and illuminated with colored borders and drawings by the poet himself. It must have required days for the mechanical execution, and certainly I would not now exchange it for its weight in diamonds. This was the way our friendship began. It was soon strengthened by meetings and correspondence, and never afterwards broken.
Some years ago, however, I visited Chicago, to lecture, at the invitation of its famous social and literary "Twentieth Century Club." This was Eugene's opportunity, and I ought not to have been as dumfounded as I was, one day, when our evening papers copied from the "Chicago Record" a "very pleasant joke" at the expense of his town and myself! It was headed: "Chicago Excited! Tremendous Preparations for His Reception," and went on to give the order and route of a procession that was to be formed at the Chicago station and escort me to my quarters—stopping at Armour's packing-yards and the art-galleries on the way. It included the "Twentieth Century Club" in carriages, the "Browning Club" in busses, and the "Homer Club" in drays; ten millionnaire publishers, and as many pork-packers, in a chariot drawn by white horses, followed by not less than two hundred Chicago poets afoot! I have no doubt that Eugene thought I would enjoy this kind of advertisement as heartily as he did. If so, he lacked the gift of putting himself in the other man's place. But his sardonic face, a-grin like a school-boy's, was one with two others which shone upon me when I did reach Chicago, and my pride was not wounded sufficiently to prevent me from enjoying the restaurant luncheon to which he bore me off in triumph. I did promise to square accounts with him, in time, and this is how I fulfilled my word. The next year, at a meeting of a suburban "Society of Authors," a certain lady-journalist was chaffed as to her acquaintanceship with Field, and accused of addressing him as "Gene." At this she took umbrage, saying: "It's true we worked together on the same paper for five years, but he was always a perfect gentleman. I never called him 'Gene.'" This was reported by the press, and gave me the refrain for a skit entitled "Katharine and Eugenio:"
Five years she sate a-near him Within that type-strewn loft; She handed him the paste-pot, He passed the scissors oft; They dipped in the same inkstand That crowned their desk between, Yet—he never called her Katie, She never called him "Gene."
Though close—ah! close—the droplight That classic head revealed, She was to him Miss Katharine, He—naught but Mister Field; Decorum graced his upright brow And thinned his lips serene, And, though he wrote a poem each hour, Why should she call him "Gene?"
She gazed at his sporadic hair— She knew his hymns by rote; They longed to dine together At Casey's table d'hote; Alas, that Fortune's "hostages"— But let us draw a screen! He dared not call her Katie; How could she call him "Gene?"
I signed my verses "By one of Gene's Victims"; they appeared in The Tribune, and soon were copied by papers in every part of the country. Other stanzas, with the same refrain, were added by the funny men of the southern and western press, and it was months before 'Gene' saw the last of them. The word "Eugenio," which was the name by which I always addressed him in our correspondence, left him in no doubt as to the initiator of the series, and so our "Merry War" ended, I think, with a fair quittance to either side.
Grieving, with so many others, over Yorick's premature death, it is a solace for me to remember how pleasant was our last interchange of written words. Not long ago, he was laid very low by pneumonia, but recovered, and before leaving his sickroom wrote me a sweetly serious letter—with here and there a sparkle in it—but in a tone sobered by illness, and full of yearning for a closer companionship with his friends. At the same time he sent me the first editions, long ago picked up, of all my earlier books, and begged me to write on their fly-leaves. This I did; with pains to gratify him as much as possible, and in one of the volumes wrote this little quatrain:
TO EUGENE FIELD
Death thought to claim you in this year of years, But Fancy cried—and raised her shield between— "Still let men weep, and smile amid their tears; Take any two beside, but spare Eugene!"
In view of his near escape, the hyperbole, if such there was, might well be pardoned, and it touched Eugene so manifestly that—now that the eddy indeed has swept him away, and the Sabine Farm mourns for its new-world Horace—I cannot be too thankful that such was my last message to him.
Eugene Field was so mixed a compound that it will always be impossible quite to decide whether he was wont to judge critically of either his own conduct or his literary creations. As to the latter, he put the worst and the best side by side, and apparently cared alike for both. That he did much beneath his standard, fine and true at times,—is unquestionable, and many a set of verses went the rounds that harmed his reputation. On the whole, I think this was due to the fact that he got his stated income as a newspaper poet and jester, and had to furnish his score of "Sharps and Flats" with more or less regularity. For all this, he certainly has left pieces, compact of the rarer elements, sufficient in number to preserve for him a unique place among America's most original characters, scholarly wits, and poets of brightest fancy. Yorick is no more! But his genius will need no chance upturning of his grave-turf for its remembrance. When all is sifted, its fame is more likely to strengthen than to decline.
EDMUND CLARENCE STEDMAN.
[Originally contributed to the "Souvenir Book" of the N.Y. Hebrew Fair, December, 1895.]
THE HOLY CROSS
THE ROSE AND THE THRUSH
THE PAGAN SEAL-WIFE
FLAIL, TRASK, AND BISLAND
THE TOUCH IN THE HEART
DANIEL AND THE DEVIL
FELICE AND PETIT-POULAIN
THE PLATONIC BASSOON
HAWAIIAN FOLK TALES
LUTE BAKER AND HIS WIFE EM
JOEL'S TALK WITH SANTA CLAUS
THE LONESOME LITTLE SHOE
THE HOLY CROSS
Whilst the noble Don Esclevador and his little band of venturesome followers explored the neighboring fastnesses in quest for gold, the Father Miguel tarried at the shrine which in sweet piety they had hewn out of the stubborn rock in that strangely desolate spot. Here, upon that serene August morning, the holy Father held communion with the saints, beseeching them, in all humility, to intercede with our beloved Mother for the safe guidance of the fugitive Cortes to his native shores, and for the divine protection of the little host, which, separated from the Spanish army, had wandered leagues to the northward, and had sought refuge in the noble mountains of an unknown land. The Father's devotions were, upon a sudden, interrupted by the approach of an aged man who toiled along the mountain-side path,—a man so aged and so bowed and so feeble that he seemed to have been brought down into that place, by means of some necromantic art, out of distant centuries. His face was yellow and wrinkled like ancient parchment, and a beard whiter than Samite streamed upon his breast, whilst about his withered body and shrunken legs hung faded raiment which the elements had corroded and the thorns had grievously rent. And as he toiled along, the aged man continually groaned, and continually wrung his palsied hands, as if a sorrow, no lighter than his years, afflicted him.
"In whose name comest thou?" demanded the Father Miguel, advancing a space toward the stranger, but not in threatening wise; whereat the aged man stopped in his course and lifted his eyebrows, and regarded the Father a goodly time, but he spake no word.
"In whose name comest thou?" repeated the priestly man. "Upon these mountains have we lifted up the cross of our blessed Lord in the name of our sovereign liege, and here have we set down a tabernacle to the glory of the Virgin and of her ever-blessed son, our Redeemer and thine,—whoso thou mayest be!"
"Who is thy king I know not," quoth the aged man, feebly; "but the shrine in yonder wall of rock I know; and by that symbol which I see therein, and by thy faith for which it stands, I conjure thee, as thou lovest both, give me somewhat to eat and to drink, that betimes I may go upon my way again, for the journey before me is a long one."
These words spake the old man in tones of such exceeding sadness that the Father Miguel, touched by compassion, hastened to meet the wayfarer, and, with his arms about him, and with whisperings of sweet comfort, to conduct him to a resting-place. Coarse food in goodly plenty was at hand; and it happily fortuned, too, that there was a homely wine, made by Pietro del y Saguache himself, of the wild grapes in which a neighboring valley abounded. Of these things anon the old man partook, greedily but silently, and all that while he rolled his eyes upon the shrine; and then at last, struggling to his feet, he made as if to go upon his way.
"Nay," interposed the Father Miguel, kindly; "abide with us a season. Thou art an old man and sorely spent. Such as we have thou shalt have, and if thy soul be distressed, we shall pour upon it the healing balm of our blessed faith."
"Little knowest thou whereof thou speakest," quoth the old man, sadly. "There is no balm can avail me. I prithee let me go hence, ere, knowing what manner of man I am, thou hatest me and doest evil unto me." But as he said these words he fell back again even then into the seat where he had sat, and, as through fatigue, his hoary head dropped upon his bosom.
"Thou art ill!" cried the Father Miguel, hastening to his side. "Thou shalt go no farther this day! Give me thy staff,"—and he plucked it from him.
Then said the old man: "As I am now, so have I been these many hundred years. Thou hast heard tell of me,—canst thou not guess my name; canst thou not read my sorrow in my face and in my bosom? As thou art good and holy through thy faith in that symbol in yonder shrine, hearken to me, for I will tell thee of the wretch whom thou hast succored. Then, if it be thy will, give me thy curse and send me on my way."
Much marvelled the Father Miguel at these words, and he deemed the old man to be mad; but he made no answer. And presently the old man, bowing his head upon his hands, had to say in this wise:—
"Upon a time," he quoth, "I abided in the city of the Great King,—there was I born and there I abided. I was of good stature, and I asked favor of none. I was an artisan, and many came to my shop, and my cunning was sought of many,—for I was exceeding crafty in my trade; and so, therefore, speedily my pride begot an insolence that had respect to none at all. And once I heard a tumult in the street, as of the cries of men and boys commingled, and the clashing of arms and staves. Seeking to know the cause thereof, I saw that one was being driven to execution,—one that had said he was the Son of God and the King of the Jews, for which blasphemy and crime against our people he was to die upon the cross. Overcome by the weight of this cross, which he bore upon his shoulders, the victim tottered in the street and swayed this way and that, as though each moment he were like to fall, and he groaned in sore agony. Meanwhile about him pressed a multitude that with vast clamor railed at him and scoffed him and smote him, to whom he paid no heed; but in his agony his eyes were alway uplifted to heaven, and his lips moved in prayer for them that so shamefully entreated him. And as he went his way to Calvary, it fortuned that he fell and lay beneath the cross right at my very door, whereupon, turning his eyes upon me as I stood over against him, he begged me that for a little moment I should bear up the weight of the cross whilst that he wiped the sweat from off his brow. But I was filled with hatred, and I spurned him with my foot, and I said to him: 'Move on, thou wretched criminal, move on. Pollute not my doorway with thy touch,—move on to death, I command thee!' This was the answer I gave to him, but no succor at all. Then he spake to me once again, and he said: 'Thou, too, shalt move on, O Jew! Thou shalt move on forever, but not to death!' And with these words he bore up the cross again and went upon his way to Calvary.
"Then of a sudden," quoth the old man, "a horror filled my breast, and a resistless terror possessed me. So was I accursed forevermore. A voice kept saying always to me: 'Move on, O Jew! move on forever!' From home, from kin, from country, from all I knew and loved I fled; nowhere could I tarry,—the nameless horror burned in my bosom, and I heard continually a voice crying unto me: 'Move on, O Jew! move on forever!' So, with the years, the centuries, the ages, I have fled before that cry and in that nameless horror; empires have risen and crumbled, races have been born and are extinct, mountains have been cast up and time hath levelled them,—still I do live and still I wander hither and thither upon the face of the earth, and am an accursed thing. The gift of tongues is mine,—all men I know, yet mankind knows me not. Death meets me face to face, and passes me by; the sea devours all other prey, but will not hide me in its depths; wild beasts flee from me, and pestilences turn their consuming breaths elsewhere. On and on and on I go,—not to a home, nor to my people, nor to my grave, but evermore into the tortures of an eternity of sorrow. And evermore I feel the nameless horror burn within, whilst evermore I see the pleading eyes of him that bore the cross, and evermore I hear his voice crying: 'Move on, O Jew! move on forevermore!'"
"Thou art the Wandering Jew!" cried the Father Miguel.
"I am he," saith the aged man. "I marvel not that thou dost revolt against me, for thou standest in the shadow of that same cross which I have spurned, and thou art illumined with the love of him that went his way to Calvary. But I beseech thee bear with me until I have told thee all,—then drive me hence if thou art so minded."
"Speak on," quoth the Father Miguel.
Then said the Jew: "How came I here I scarcely know; the seasons are one to me, and one day but as another; for the span of my life, O priestly man! is eternity. This much know you: from a far country I embarked upon a ship,—I knew not whence 't was bound, nor cared I. I obeyed the voice that bade me go. Anon a mighty tempest fell upon the ship and overwhelmed it. The cruel sea brought peace to all but me; a many days it tossed and buffeted me, then with a cry of exultation cast me at last upon a shore I had not seen before, a coast far, far westward whereon abides no human thing. But in that solitude still heard I from within the awful mandate that sent me journeying onward, 'Move on, O Jew! move on;' and into vast forests I plunged, and mighty plains I traversed; onward, onward, onward I went, with the nameless horror in my bosom, and—that cry, that awful cry! The rains beat upon me; the sun wrought pitilessly with me; the thickets tore my flesh; and the inhospitable shores bruised my weary feet,—yet onward I went, plucking what food I might from thorny bushes to stay my hunger, and allaying my feverish thirst at pools where reptiles crawled. Sometimes a monster beast stood in my pathway and threatened to devour me; then would I spread my two arms thus, and welcome death, crying: 'Rend thou this Jew in twain, O beast! strike thy kindly fangs deep into this heart,—be not afeard, for I shall make no battle with thee, nor any outcry whatsoever!' But, lo, the beast would cower before me and skulk away. So there is no death for me; the judgment spoken is irrevocable; my sin is unpardonable, and the voice will not be hushed!"
Thus and so much spake the Jew, bowing his hoary head upon his hands. Then was the Father Miguel vastly troubled; yet he recoiled not from the Jew,—nay, he took the old man by the hand and sought to soothe him.
"Thy sin was most heinous, O Jew!" quoth the Father; "but it falleth in our blessed faith to know that whoso repenteth of his sin, what it soever may be, the same shall surely be forgiven. Thy punishment hath already been severe, and God is merciful, for even as we are all his children, even so his tenderness to us is like unto the tenderness of a father unto his child—yea, and infinitely tenderer and sweeter, for who can estimate the love of our heavenly Father? Thou didst deny thy succor to the Nazarene when he besought it, yet so great compassion hath he that if thou but callest upon him he will forget thy wrong,—leastwise will pardon it. Therefore be thou persuaded by me, and tarry here this night, that in the presence of yonder symbol and the holy relics our prayers may go up with thine unto our blessed Mother and to the saints who haply shall intercede for thee in Paradise. Rest here, O sufferer,—rest thou here, and we shall presently give thee great comfort." The Jew, well-nigh fainting with fatigue, being persuaded by the holy Father's gentle words, gave finally his consent unto this thing, and went anon unto the cave beyond the shrine, and entered thereinto, and lay upon a bed of skins and furs, and made as if to sleep. And when he slept his sleep was seemingly disturbed by visions, and he tossed as doth an one that sees full evil things, and in that sleep he muttered somewhat of a voice he seemed to hear, though round about there was no sound whatsoever, save only the soft music of the pine-trees on the mountain-side. Meanwhile in the shrine, hewn out of those rocks, did the Father Miguel bow before the sacred symbol of his faith and plead for mercy for that same Jew that slumbered anear. And when, as the deepening blue mantle of night fell upon the hilltops and obscured the valleys round about, Don Esclevador and his sturdy men came clamoring along the mountain-side, the holy Father met them a way off and bade them have regard to the aged man that slept in yonder cave. But when he told them of that Jew and of his misery and of the secret causes thereof, out spake the noble Don Esclevador, full hotly,—
"By our sweet Christ," he cried, "shall we not offend our blessed faith and do most impiously in the Virgin's sight if we give this harbor and this succor unto so vile a sinner as this Jew that hath denied our dear Lord!"
Which words had like to wrought great evil with the Jew, for instantly the other men sprang forward as if to awaken the Jew and drive him forth into the night. But the Father Miguel stretched forth his hands and commanded them to do no evil unto the Jew, and so persuasively did he set forth the godliness and the sweetness of compassion that presently the whole company was moved with a gentle pity toward that Jew. Therefore it befell anon, when night came down from the skies and after they had feasted upon their homely food as was their wont, that they talked of the Jew, and thinking of their own hardships and misfortunes (whereof it is not now to speak), they had all the more compassion to that Jew, which spake them passing fair, I ween.
Now all this while lay the Jew upon the bed of skins and furs within the cave, and though he slept (for he was exceeding weary), he tossed continually from side to side, and spoke things in his sleep, as if his heart were sorely troubled, and as if in his dreams he beheld grievous things. And seeing the old man, and hearing his broken speech, the others moved softly hither and thither and made no noise soever lest they should awaken him. And many an one—yes, all that valiant company bowed down that night before the symbol in the shrine, and with sweet reverence called upon our blessed Virgin to plead in the cause of that wretched Jew. Then sleep came to all, and in dreams the noble Don Esclevador saw his sovereign liege, and kneeled before his throne, and heard his sovereign liege's gracious voice; in dreams the heartweary soldier sailed the blue waters of the Spanish main, and pressed his native shore, and beheld once again the lovelight in the dark eyes of her that awaited him; in dreams the mountain-pines were kissed of the singing winds, and murmured drowsily and tossed their arms as do little children that dream of their play; in dreams the Jew swayed hither and thither, scourged by that nameless horror in his bosom, and seeing the pleading eyes of our dying Master, and hearing that awful mandate: "Move on, O Jew! move on forever!" So each slept and dreamed his dreams,—all slept but the Father Miguel, who alone throughout the night kneeled in the shrine and called unto the saints and unto our Mother Mary in prayer. And his supplication was for that Jew; and the mists fell upon that place and compassed it about, and it was as if the heavens had reached down their lips to kiss the holy shrine. And suddenly there came unto the Jew a quiet as of death, so that he tossed no more in his sleep and spake no word, but lay exceeding still, smiling in his sleep as one who sees his home in dreams, or his mother, or some other such beloved thing.
It came to pass that early in the morning the Jew came from the cavern to go upon his way, and the Father Miguel besought him to take with him a goodly loaf in his wallet as wise provision against hunger. But the Jew denied this, and then he said: "Last night while I slept methought I stood once more in the city of the Great King,—ay, in that very doorway where I stood, swart and lusty, when I spurned him that went his way to Calvary. In my bosom burned the terror as of old, and my soul was consumed of a mighty anguish. None of those that passed in that street knew me; centuries had ground to dust all my kin. 'O God!' I cried in agony, 'suffer my sin to be forgotten,—suffer me to sleep, to sleep forever beneath the burden of the cross I sometime spurned!' As I spake these words there stood before me one in shining raiment, and lo! 't was he who bore the cross to Calvary! His eyes that had pleaded to me on a time now fell compassionately upon me, and the voice that had commanded me move on forever, now broke full sweetly on my ears: 'Thou shalt go on no more, O Jew, but as thou hast asked, so shall it be, and thou shalt sleep forever beneath the cross.' Then fell I into a deep slumber, and, therefrom but just now awaking, I feel within me what peace bespeaketh pardon for my sin. This day am I ransomed; so suffer me to go my way, O holy man."
So went the Jew upon his way, not groaningly and in toilsome wise, as was his wont, but eagerly, as goeth one to meet his bride, or unto some sweet reward. And the Father Miguel stood long, looking after him and being sorely troubled in mind; for he knew not what interpretation he should make of all these things. And anon the Jew was lost to sight in the forest.
But once, a little space thereafter, while that Jose Conejos, the Castilian, clambered up the yonder mountain-side, he saw amid the grasses there the dead and withered body of an aged man, and thereupon forthwith made he such clamor that Don Esclevador hastened thither and saw it was the Jew; and since there was no sign that wild beasts had wrought evil with him, it was declared that the Jew had died of age and fatigue and sorrow, albeit on the wrinkled face there was a smile of peace that none had seen thereon while yet the Jew lived. And it was accounted to be a most wondrous thing that, whereas never before had flowers of that kind been seen in those mountains, there now bloomed all round about flowers of the dye of blood, which thing the noble Don Esclevador took full wisely to be a symbol of our dear Lord's most precious blood, whereby not only you and I but even the Jew shall be redeemed to Paradise.
Within the spot where they had found the Jew they buried him, and there he sleeps unto this very day. Above the grave the Father Miguel said a prayer; and the ground of that mountain they adjudged to be holy ground; but over the grave wherein lay the Jew they set up neither cross nor symbol of any kind, fearing to offend their holy faith.
But that very night, when that they were returned unto their camp half a league distant, there arose a mighty tempest, and there was such an upheaval and rending of the earth as only God's hand could make; and there was a crashing and a groaning as if the world were smitten in twain, and the winds fled through the valleys in dismay, and the trees of the forest shrieked in terror and fell upon their faces. Then in the morning when the tempest ceased and all the sky was calm and radiant they saw that an impassable chasm lay between them and that mountain-side wherein the Jew slept the sleep of death; that God had traced with his finger a mighty gulf about that holy ground which held the bones of the transgressor. Between heaven and earth hung that lonely grave, nor could any foot scale the precipice that guarded it; but one might see that the spot was beautiful with kindly mountain verdure and that flowers of blood-red dye bloomed in that lonely place.
This was the happening in a summer-time a many years ago; to the mellow grace of that summer succeeded the purple glory of the autumn, and then came on apace the hoary dignity of winter. But the earth hath its resurrection too, and anon came the beauteous spring-time with warmth and scents and new life. The brooks leapt forth once more from their hiding-places, the verdure awaked, and the trees put forth their foliage. Then from the awful mountain peaks the snow silently and slowly slipped to the valleys, and in divers natural channels went onward and ever downward to the southern sea, and now at last 't was summer-time again and the mellow grace of August brooded over the earth. But in that yonder mountain-side had fallen a symbol never to be removed,—ay, upon that holy ground where slept the Jew was stretched a cross, a mighty cross of snow on which the sun never fell and which no breath of wind ever disturbed. Elsewhere was the tender warmth of verdure and the sacred passion of the blood-red flowers, but over that lonely grave was stretched the symbol of him that went his way to Calvary, and in that grave slept the Jew.
Mightily marvelled Don Esclevador and his warrior host at this thing; but the Father Miguel knew its meaning; for he was minded of that vision wherein it was foretold unto the Jew that, pardoned for his sin, he should sleep forever under the burden of the cross he spurned. All this the Father Miguel showed unto Don Esclevador and the others, and he said: "I deem that unto all ages this holy symbol shall bear witness of our dear Christ's mercy and compassion. Though we, O exiled brothers, sleep in this foreign land in graves which none shall know, upon that mountain height beyond shall stretch the eternal witness to our faith and to our Redeemer's love, minding all that look thereon, not of the pains and the punishments of the Jew, but of the exceeding mercy of our blessed Lord, and of the certain eternal peace that cometh through his love!"
How long ago these things whereof I speak befell, I shall not say. They never saw—that Spanish host—they never saw their native land, their sovereign liege, their loved ones' faces again; they sleep, and they are dust among those mighty mountains in the West. Where is the grave of the Father Miguel, or of Don Esclevador, or of any of the valiant Spanish exiles, it is not to tell; God only knoweth, and the saints: all sleep in the faith, and their reward is certain. But where sleepeth the Jew all may see and know; for on that awful mountain-side, in a spot inaccessible to man, lieth the holy cross of snow. The winds pass lightly over that solemn tomb, and never a sunbeam lingereth there. White and majestic it lies where God's hands have placed it, and its mighty arms stretch forth as in a benediction upon the fleeting dust beneath.
So shall it bide forever upon that mountain-side, and the memory of the Jew and of all else human shall fade away and be forgotten in the surpassing glory of the love and the compassion of him that bore the redeeming burden to Calvary.
THE ROSE AND THE THRUSH
There was none other in the quiet valley so happy as the rose-tree,—none other so happy unless perchance it was the thrush who made his home in the linden yonder. The thrush loved the rose-tree's daughter, and he was happy in thinking that some day she would be his bride. Now the rose-tree had many daughters, and each was beautiful; but the rose whom the thrush loved was more beautiful than her sisters, and all the wooers came wooing her until at last the fair creature's head was turned, and the rose grew capricious and disdainful. Among her many lovers were the south wind and the fairy Dewlove and the little elf-prince Beambright and the hoptoad, whom all the rest called Mr. Roughbrown. The hoptoad lived in the stone-wall several yards away; but every morning and evening he made a journey to the rose-tree, and there he would sit for hours gazing with tender longings at the beautiful rose, and murmuring impassioned avowals. The rose's disdain did not chill the hoptoad's ardor. "See what I have brought you, fair rose," he would say. "A beautiful brown beetle with golden wings and green eyes! Surely there is not in all the world a more delicious morsel than a brown beetle! Or, if you but say the word, I will fetch you a tender little fly, or a young gnat,—see, I am willing to undergo all toils and dangers for your own sweet sake."
Poor Mr. Roughbrown! His wooing was very hopeless. And all the time he courted the imperious rose, who should be peeping at him from her home in the hedge but as plump and as sleek a little Miss Dormouse as ever you saw, and her eyes were full of envy.
"If Mr. Roughbrown had any sense," she said to herself, "he would waste no time on that vain and frivolous rose. He is far too good a catch for her."
The south wind was forever sighing and sobbing about. He lives, you know, very many miles from here. His home is beyond a great sea; in the midst of a vast desert there is an oasis, and it is among the palm-trees and the flowers of this oasis that the south wind abides. When spring calls from the North, "O south wind, where are you? Come hither, my sunny friend!" the south wind leaps from his couch in the far-off oasis, and hastens whither the spring-time calls. As he speeds across the sea the mermaids seek to tangle him in their tresses, and the waves try to twine their white arms about him; but he shakes them off and laughingly flies upon his way. Wheresoever he goes he is beloved. With their soft, solemn music the pine-trees seek to detain him; the flowers of earth lift up their voices and cry, "Abide with us, dear spirit,"—but to all he answers: "The spring-time calls me in the North, and I must hasten whither she calls." But when the south wind came to the rose-tree he would go no farther; he loved the rose, and he lingered about her with singing and sighing and protestations.
It was not until late in the evening that Dewlove and the elf-prince appeared. Just as the moon rolled up in the horizon and poured a broad streak of silver through the lake the three crickets went "Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp," and then out danced Dewlove and Beambright from their hiding-places. The cunning little fairy lived under the moss at the foot of the oak-tree; he was no bigger than a cambric needle,—but he had two eyes, and in this respect he had quite the advantage of the needle. As for the elf-prince, his home was in the tiny, dark subterranean passage which the mole used to live in; he was plump as a cupid, and his hair was long and curly, although if you force me to it I must tell you that the elf-prince was really no larger than your little finger,—so you will see that so far as physical proportions were concerned Dewlove and Beambright were pretty well matched. Merry, merry fellows they were, and I should certainly fail most lamentably did I attempt to tell you how prettily they danced upon the greensward of the meadowlands throughout the summer nights. Sometimes the other fairies and elves joined them,—delicate little lady fairies with gossamer wings, and chubby little lady elves clad in filmy spider webs,—and they danced and danced and danced, while the three crickets went "Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp," all night long. Now it was very strange—was it not?—that instead of loving one of these delicate little lady fairies, or one of these chubby little lady elves, both Dewlove and Beambright loved the rose. Yet, she was indeed very beautiful.
The thrush did not pester the rose with his protestations of love. He was not a particularly proud fellow, but he thought too much of the rose to vex her with his pleadings. But all day long he would perch in the thicket and sing his songs as only a thrush can sing to the beautiful rose he loves. He sung, we will say, of the forests he had explored, of the famous river he had once seen, of the dew which the rose loved, of the storm-king that slew the old pine and made his cones into a crown,—he sung of a thousand things which we might not understand, but which pleased the rose because she understood them. And one day the thrush swooped down from the linden upon a monstrous devil's darning-needle that came spinning along and poised himself to stab the beautiful rose. Yes, like lightning the thrush swooped down on this murderous monster, and he bit him in two, and I am glad of it, and so are you if your heart be not wholly callous.
"How comes it," said the rose-tree to the thrush that day,—"how comes it that you do not woo my daughter? You have shown that you love her; why not speak to her?"
"No, I will wait," answered the thrush. "She has many wooers, and each wooes her in his own way. Let me show her by my devotion that I am worthy of her, and then perchance she will listen kindly to me when I speak to her."
The rose-tree thought very strange of this; in all her experience of bringing out her fair daughters into society she had never before had to deal with so curious a lover as the thrush. She made up her mind to speak for him.
"My daughter," said she to the rose, "the thrush loves you; of all your wooers he is the most constant and the most amiable. I pray that you will hear kindly to his suit."
The rose laughed carelessly,—yes, merrily,—as if she heeded not the heartache which her indifference might cause the honest thrush.
"Mother," said the rose, "these suitors are pestering me beyond all endurance. How can I have any patience with the south wind, who is forever importuning me with his sentimental sighs and melancholy wheezing? And as for that old hoptoad, Mr. Roughbrown,—why, it is a husband I want, not a father!"
"Prince Beambright pleases you, then?" asked the rose-tree.
"He is a merry, capering fellow," said the daughter, "and so is his friend Dewlove; but I do not fancy either. And as for the thrush who sends you to speak for him,—why, he is quite out of the question, I assure you. The truth is, mother, that I am to fill a higher station than that of bride to any of these simple rustic folk. Am I not more beautiful than any of my companions, and have I not ambitions above all others of my kind?"
"Whom have you seen that you talk so vain-gloriously?" cried the rose-tree in alarm. "What flattery has instilled into you this fatal poison?"
"Have you not seen the poet who comes this way every morning?" asked the rose. "His face is noble, and he sings grandly to the pictures Nature spreads before his eyes. I should be his bride. Some day he will see me; he will bear me away upon his bosom; he will indite to me a poem that shall live forever!"
These words the thrush heard, and his heart sank within him. If his songs that day were not so blithe as usual it was because of the words that the rose had spoken. Yet the thrush sang on, and his song was full of his honest love.
It was the next morning that the poet came that way. He lived in the city, but each day he stole away from the noise and crowd of the city to commune with himself and with Nature in the quiet valley where bloomed the rose-tree, where the thrush sung, and where dwelt the fays and the elves of whom it has been spoken. The sun shone fiercely; withal the quiet valley was cool, and the poet bared his brow to the breeze that swept down the quiet valley from the lake over yonder.
"The south wind loves the rose! Aha, aha, foolish brother to love the rose!"
This was what the breeze said, and the poet heard it. Then his eyes fell upon the rose-tree and upon her blooming daughters.
"The hoptoad loves the rose! Foolish old Roughbrown to love the rose, aha, aha!"
There was a malicious squeakiness in this utterance,—of course it came from that envious Miss Dormouse, who was forever peeping out of her habitation in the hedge.
"What a beautiful rose!" cried the poet, and leaping over the old stone-wall he plucked the rose from the mother-tree,—yes, the poet bore away this very rose who had hoped to be the poet's bride.
Then the rose-tree wept bitterly, and so did her other daughters; the south wind wailed, and the old hoptoad gave three croaks so dolorous that if you had heard them you would have said that his heart was truly broken. All were sad,—all but the envious dormouse, who chuckled maliciously, and said it was no more than they deserved.
The thrush saw the poet bearing the rose away, yet how could the fluttering little creature hope to prevail against the cruel invader? What could he do but twitter in anguish? So there are tragedies and heartaches in lives that are not human.
As the poet returned to the city he wore the rose upon his breast. The rose was happy, for the poet spoke to her now and then, and praised her loveliness, and she saw that her beauty had given him an inspiration.
"The rose despised my brother! Aha, aha, foolish rose,—but she shall wither!"
It was the breeze that spake; far away from the lake in the quiet valley its voice was very low, but the rose heard and trembled.
"It's a lie," cried the rose. "I shall not die. The poet loves me, and I shall live forever upon his bosom."
Yet a singular faintness—a faintness never felt before—came upon the rose; she bent her head and sighed. The heat—that was all—was very oppressive, and here at the entrance to the city the tumult aroused an aggravating dust. The poet seemed suddenly to forget the rose. A carriage was approaching, and from the carriage leaned a lady, who beckoned to the poet. The lady was very fair, and the poet hastened to answer her call. And as he hastened the rose fell from his bosom into the hot highway, and the poet paid no heed. Ascending into the carriage with the lady (I am sure she must have been a princess!) the poet was whirled away, and there in the stifling dust lay the fainting rose, all stained and dying.
The sparrows flew down and pecked at her inquisitively; the cruel wagons crushed her beneath their iron wheels; careless feet buffeted her hither and thither. She was no longer a beautiful rose; no, nor even a reminiscence of one,—simply a colorless, scentless, ill-shapen mass.
But all at once she heard a familiar voice, and then she saw familiar eyes. The voice was tender and the eyes were kindly.
"O honest thrush," cried the rose, "is it you who have come to reproach me for my folly?"
"No, no, dear rose," said the thrush, "how should I speak ill to you? Come, rest your poor head upon my breast, and let me bear you home."
"Let me rather die here," sighed the rose, "for it was here that my folly brought me. How could I go back with you whom I never so much as smiled upon? And do they not hate and deride me in the valley? I would rather die here in misery than there in shame!"
"Poor, broken flower, they love you," urged the thrush. "They grieve for you; let me bear you back where the mother-tree will shade you, and where the south wind will nurse you—for—for he loves you."
So the thrush bore back the withering rose to her home in the quiet valley.
"So she has come back, has she?" sneered the dormouse. "Well, she has impudence, if nothing else!"
"She was pretty once," said the old hoptoad; "but she lost her opportunity when I made up my mind to go wooing a certain glossy damsel in the hedge."
The rose-tree reached out her motherly arms to welcome her dying daughter, and she said: "Rest here, dear one, and let me rock you to repose."
It was evening in the quiet valley now. Where was the south wind that he came not with his wooing? He had flown to the North, for that day he had heard the spring-time's voice a-calling, and he went in answer to its summons. Everything was still. "Chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp, chirp-chirp," piped the three crickets, and forthwith the fairy boy and the elf-prince danced from their habitations. Their little feet tinkled over the clover and the daisies.
"Hush, little folk," cried the rose-tree. "Do not dance to-night,—the rose is dying."
But they danced on. The rose did not hear them; she heard only the voice of the thrush, who perched in the linden yonder, and, with a breaking heart, sung to the dying flower.
THE PAGAN SEAL-WIFE
It is to tell of Harold, the son of Egbert, the son of Ib; comely was he to look upon, and a braver than he lived not in these islands, nor one more beloved of all people. But it chanced upon a time, while he was still in early manhood, that a grievous sorrow befell him; for on a day his mother Eleanor came to her end in this full evil wise. It was her intent to go unto the neighboring island, where grazed the goats and the kine, and it fortuned that, as she made her way thither in the boat, she heard sweet music, as if one played upon a harp in the waters, and, looking over the side of the boat, she beheld down in the waters a sea-maiden making those exceeding pleasant sounds. And the sea-maiden ceased to play, and smiled up at Eleanor, and stretched up her hands and besought Eleanor to pluck her from the sea into the boat, which seeking to do, Eleanor fell headlong into the waters, and was never thereafter seen either alive or dead by any of her kin. Now under this passing heavy grief Egbert, the son of Ib, being old and spent by toil, brake down, and on a night died, making with his latest breath most heavy lamentation for Eleanor, his wife; so died he, and his soul sped, as they tell, to that far northern land where the souls of the departed make merry all the night, which merriment sendeth forth so vast and so beautiful a light that all the heavens are illumined thereby. But Harold, the son of Egbert and of Eleanor, was left alone, having neither brother, nor sister, nor any of kin, save an uncle abiding many leagues distant in Jutland. Thereupon befell a wonderful thing; if it had not happened it would not be told. It chanced that, on a certain evening in the summer-time, Harold walked alone where a Druid circle lay coiled like a dark serpent on a hillside; his heart was filled with dolor, for he thought continually of Eleanor, his mother, and he wept softly to himself through love of that dear mother. While thus he walked in vast heaviness of soul, he was beheld of Membril, the fairy that with her goodly subjects dwelt in the ruin of the Pict's house hard by the Druid circle. And Membril had compassion upon Harold, and upon the exceeding fine down of a tiny sea-bird she rode out to meet him, and it was before his eyes as if a star shined out of a mist in his pathway. So it was that Membril the fairy made herself known to him, and having so done, she said and she sung:
I am Membril, queen of Fay, That would charm thy grief away! Thou art like the little bark Drifting in the cold and dark,— Drifting through the tempest's roar To a rocky, icy shore; All the torment dost thou feel Of the spent and fearful seal Wounded by the hunter's steel. I am Membril,—hark to me: Better times await on thee! Wouldst thou clasp thy mother dear,— Strange things see and stranger hear? Straight betake thee to thy boat And to yonder haven float,— Go thy way, and silent be,— It is Membril counsels thee; Go thy way, and thou shalt see!
Great marvel had Harold to this thing; nevertheless he did the bidding of Membril the fairy, and it was full wisely done. And presently he came to where his boat lay, half on the shore and half in the waters, and he unloosed the thong that held it, and entered into the boat; but he put neither hand to the oars thereof, for he was intent to do the bidding of Membril the fairy. Then as if of its own accord, or as if the kindly waves themselves bore it along, the boat moved upon the waters and turned toward the yonder haven whereof it was said and sung. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows fell from the hilltops in their sleep and lay, as they had been little weary children, in the valleys and upon the shore, and they were rocked in the cradles of those valleys, and the waters along the shore sung softly to them. Upon the one side lay the island where grazed the goats and the kine, and upon the other side lay the island where Harold and other people abode; between these islands crept the sea with its gentle murmurings, and upon this sea drifted the boat bearing Harold to the yonder haven. Now the haven whereunto the course lay brooded almost beneath the shadow of the Stennis stones, and the waters thereof were dark, as if, forsooth, the sea frowned whensoever it saw those bloody stones peering down into its tranquil bosom. And some said that the place was haunted, and that upon each seventh night came thereunto the spirits of them that had been slain upon those stones, and waved their ghostly arms and wailed grievously; but of latter times none believeth this thing to be true.
It befell that, coming into the haven and bearing toward the shore thereof, Harold was 'ware of sweet music, and presently he saw figures as of men and women dancing upon the holm; but neither could he see who these people were, nor could he tell wherefrom the music came. But such fair music never had he heard before, and with great marvel he came from the boat into the cluster of beech-trees that stood between the haven and that holm where the people danced. Then of a sudden Harold saw twelve skins lying upon the shore in the moonlight; and they were the comeliest and most precious sealskins that ever he saw, and he coveted them. So presently he took up one of the sealskins and bore it with him into his boat, and pushed the boat from the shore into the waters of the haven again, and, so doing, there was such plashing of the waters that those people dancing upon the fair green holm became 'ware of Harold's presence, and were afeared, so that, ceasing from their sport, they made haste down to the shore and did on the skins and dived into the waters with shrill cries. But there was one of them that could not do so, because Harold bore off that skin wherewith she was wont to begird herself, and when she found it not she wailed and wept and besought Harold to give her that skin again,—and, lo! it was Eleanor, the wife of Egbert! Now when Harold saw that it was his mother that so entreated him he was filled with wonder, and he drew nearer the shore to regard her and to hear her words, for he loved her passing well. But he denied her that skin, knowing full well that so soon as she possessed it she would leave him and he should never again behold her. Then Eleanor related to him how that she had been drowned in the sea through treachery of the harp-maiden, and how that the souls of drowned people entered into the bodies of seals, nor were permitted to return to earth, save only one night in every month, at which time each recovered his human shape and was suffered to dance in the moonlight upon the fair green holm from the hour of sunset unto the hour of sunrise.
"Give me the skin, I pray thee," she cried, "for if the sun came upon me unawares I should crumble into dust before thine eyes, and that moment would a curse fall upon you. I am happy as I am; the sea and those who dwell therein are good to me,—give me the skin, I beseech thee, that I may return whence I came, and thereby shall a great blessing accrue to thee and thine."
But Harold said: "Nay, mother, I were a fool to part so cheerfully with one whom I love dearer than life itself! I shall not let you go so easily; you shall come with me to our home, where I have lived alone too long already. I shall be alone no longer,—come with me, I say, for I will not deliver up this skin, nor shall any force wrest it from me!"
Then Eleanor, his mother, reasoned a space with him, and anon she showed him the folly of his way; but still he hung his head upon his breast and was loath to do her bidding, until at last she sware unto him that if he gave to her that skin he should, upon the next dancing night, have to wife the most beautiful maiden in the world, and therefore should be alone in the world no more. To this presently Harold gave assent, and then Eleanor, his mother, bade him come to that same spot one month hence, and do what she should then bid him do. Receiving, therefore, the skin from him, she folded it about her and threw herself into the sea, and Harold betook himself unto his home.
Now wit ye well that full wearily dragged the days and the nights until that month was spent; but now at last it was the month of August, and upon the night of the seventh day thereof ended the season of waiting. It is to tell that upon that night came Harold, the son of Egbert, from his hut, and stood on the threshold thereof, and awaited the rising of the moon from out the silver waters yonder. While thus he stood there appeared unto him Membril the fairy, and smiling upon him she said and she sung:—
I am Membril, queen of Fay, Come to urge thee on thy way; Haste to yonder haven-side Where awaits thy promised bride; Daughter of a king is she,— Many leagues she comes to thee, Thine and only thine to be. Haste and see, then come again To thy pretty home, and, when Smiles the sun on earth once more, Will come knocking at thy door; Open then, and to thy breast Clasp whom thou shalt love the best! It is Membril counsels thee,— Haste and see what thou shalt see!
Now by this thing was Harold mightily rejoiced, and he believed it to be truth that great good was in store for him; for he had seen pleasant things in the candle a many nights, and the smoke from his fire blew cheerily and lightly to the westward, and a swan had circled over his house that day week, and in his net each day for twice seven days had he drawn from the sea a fish having one golden eye and one silver eye: which things, as all men know, portend full goodly things, or else they portend nothing at all whatsoever. So, being pleasantly minded, Harold returned in kind unto Membril, the fairy queen, that bespoke him so courteously, and to her and to them that bore her company he said and he sung:—
Welcome, bonnie queen of Fay! For thou speakest pleasing words; Thou shalt have a gill of whey And a thimblefull of curds; In this rose is honey-dew That a bee hath brought for you!
Welcome, bonnie queen of Fay! Call thy sisters from the gloam, And, whilst I am on my way, Feast and frolic in my home,— Kiss the moonbeams, blanching white, Shrinking, shivering with affright!
Welcome, all, and have no fear,— There is flax upon the sill, No foul sprite can enter here,— Feast and frolic as you will; Feast and frisk till break of day,— Welcome, little folk of Fay!
Thus having said and thus having sung, Harold went upon his way, and came to his boat and entered into it and journeyed to the haven where some time he had seen and discoursed with Eleanor, his mother. His course to this same haven lay, as before, over the waters that stole in between the two islands from the great sea beyond. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows rolled from the hilltops in their sleep and lay like little weary children in the valleys and upon the shore, and they were rocked in the cradles of those valleys, and the waters along the shore sung softly to them. Upon this hand lay the island where the goats and the kine found sweet pasturage, and upon the other hand stretched the island where people abode, and where the bloody Stennis stones rebuked the smiling sky, and where ghosts walked and wailed and waved their white arms in the shadows of those haunted ruins where once upon a time the Picts had dwelt. And Harold's heart was full of joy, the more in especial when, as he bore nigh unto the haven, he heard sweet music and beheld a goodly company of people that danced in the moonlight upon the fair green holm. Then, when presently his boat touched the inner shore of the haven, and he departed therefrom and drew the boat upon the shore, he saw wherefrom issued the beautiful music to which the people danced; he saw that the waters reached out their white fingers and touched the kale and the fair pebbles and the brittle shells and the moss upon the beach, and these things gave forth sweet sounds, which were as if a thousand attuned harps vied with the singing of the summer-night winds. Then, as before, Harold saw sealskins lying upon the shore, and presently came Eleanor, his mother, and pointing to a certain fair velvet skin, she said: "Take that fair velvet skin into thy boat and speed with all haste to thy home. To-morrow at sunrise thy bride shall come knocking at thy door. And so, farewell, my son,—oh, Harold, my only son!" Which saying, Eleanor, the wife of Egbert, drew a skin about her and leapt into the sea; nor was she ever thereafter beholden of human eyes.
Then Harold took up the fair velvet skin to which his mother had directed him, and he bore it away with him in his boat. So softly went he upon the waters that none of them that danced upon the fair green holm either saw or heard him. Still danced they on to the sweet music made by the white fingers of the waves, and still shone the white moon upon the fair green holm where they so danced.
Now when came Harold to his home, bearing the precious skin with him, he saw the fairies at play upon the floor of his hut, and they feared no evil, for there was barley strewn upon the sill so that no wicked sprite could enter there. And when Membril, the fairy queen, saw him bringing the skin that he had found upon the shore, she bade him good welcome, and she said and she sung:—
I am Membril, queen of Fay,— Ponder well what words I say; Hide that fair and velvet skin Some secluded spot within; In the tree where ravens croak,— In the hollow of the oak, In the cave with mosses lined, In the earth where none may find; Hide it quick and hide it deep,— So secure shall be thy sleep, Thine shall bride and blessings be, Thine a fair posterity,— So doth Membril counsel thee!
So, pondering upon this counsel and thinking well of it, Harold took the fair velvet skin and hid it, and none knew where it was hid,—none save only the raven that lived in the hollow oak. And when he had so done he returned unto his home and lay upon his bed and slept. It came to pass that early upon the morrow, when the sun made all the eastward sky blush for the exceeding ardor of his morning kiss, there came a knocking at the door of Harold's hut, and Harold opened the door, and lo! there stood upon the threshold the fairest maiden that eyes ever beheld. Unlike was she to maidens dwelling in those islands, for her hair was black as the waters of the long winter night, and her eyes were as the twin midnight rocks that look up from the white waves of the moonlit sea in yonder reef; withal was she most beautiful to look upon, and her voice was as music that stealeth to one over pleasant waters.
The maiden's name was Persis, and she was the daughter of a Pagan king that ruled in a country many, many—oh, many leagues to the southward of these islands, in a country where unicorns and dragons be, and where dwelleth the phoenix and hippogriffins and the cockatrix, and where bloometh a tree that runneth blood, and where mighty princes do wondrous things. Now it fortuned that the king was minded to wed his daughter Persis unto a neighboring prince, a high and mighty prince, but one whom Persis loved not, neither could she love. So for the first time Persis said, "Nay, I will not," unto her father's mandate, whereat the king was passing wroth, and he put his daughter in a place that was like a jail to her, for it was where none might see her, and where she might see none,—none but those that attended upon her. This much told Persis, the Pagan princess, unto Harold, and then, furthermore, she said: "The place wherein I was put by the king, my father, was hard by the sea, and oftentimes I went thereon in my little boat, and once, looking down from that boat into the sea, I saw the face of a fair young man within a magic mirror that was held up in the waters of the sea by two ghostly hands, and the fair young man moved his lips and smiled at me, and methought I heard him say: 'Come, be my bride, O fair and gentle Persis!' But, vastly afeared, I cried out and put back again to shore. Yet in my dreams I saw that face and heard that voice, nor could I find any rest until I came upon the sea again in hope to see the face and hear the voice once more. Then, that second time, as I looked into the sea, another face came up from below and lifted above the waters, and a woman's voice spake thus to me: 'I am mother of him that loveth thee and whom thou lovest; his face hast thou seen in the mirror, and of thee I have spoken to him; come, let me bear thee as a bride to him!' And in that moment a faintness came upon me and I fell into her arms, and so was I drowned (as men say), and so was I a seal a little space until last dancing night, when, lo! some one brought me to life again, and one that said her name was Membril showed me the way unto thy door. And now I look upon thy face in truth, and thou art he who shall have me to his wife, for thou art he whose face I saw within the mirror which the ghostly hands bore up to me that day upon the sea!"
Great then was Harold's joy, and he folded her in his arms, and he spake sweet words to her, and she was content. So they were wed that very day, and there came to do them honor all the folk upon these islands: Dougal and Tam and Ib and Robbie and Nels and Gram and Rupert and Rolf and many others and all their kin, and they made merry, and it was well. And never spake the Pagan princess of that soft velvet skin which Harold had hid away,—never spake she of it to him or to any other one.
It is to tell that to Harold and to Persis were born these children, and in this order: Egbert and Ib (that was nicknamed the Strong) and Harold and Joan and Tam and Annie and Rupert the Fair and Flocken and Elsa and Albert and Theodoric,—these eleven children were born unto them in good time; and right fair children were they to see, comely and stout, yet sweetly minded withal. And prosperous times continually befell Harold; his herds multiplied, and the fish came into his nets, so that presently there was none other richer than he in all that country, and he did great good with his riches, for he had compassion to the poor. So Harold was beloved of all, and all spake full fairly of his wife,—how that she cared for his little ones, and kept the house, and did deeds of sweet charity among the needy and distressed,—ay, so was Persis, the wife of Harold, beloved of all, and by none other more than by Harold, who was wont to say that Persis had brought him all he loved best: his children, his fortune, his happiness, and, best of all, herself. So now they were wed twice seven years, and in that time was Persis still as young and fair to look upon as when she came to Harold's door for the first time and knocked. This I account to be a marvel, but still more a marvel was it that in all these years spake she never a word of that soft velvet skin which Harold took and hid,—never a word to him nor to any one else. But the soft velvet skin lay meanwhile in the hollow of the oak, and in the branches of that tree perched a raven that croaked and croaked and croaked.
Now it befell upon a time that a ship touched at that island, and there came therefrom men that knelt down upon the shore and made strange prayers to a strange God, and forthwith uplifted in that island a symbol of wood in the similitude of a cross. Straightway went Harold with the rest to know the cause thereof, being fearful lest for this impiety their own gods, whom they served diligently, should send hail and fire upon them and their herds. But those that had come in the ship spake gently with them and showed themselves to be peaceful folk whose God delighted not in wars, but rather in gentleness and love. How it was, I, knowing not, cannot say, but presently the cause of that new God, whose law was gentleness and love, waxed mightily, and the people came from all around to kiss that cross and worship it. And among them came Harold, for in his heart had dawned the light of a new wisdom, and he knew the truth as we know it, you and I. So Harold was baptized in the Christian faith, he and his children; but Persis, his wife, was not baptized, for she was the daughter of a Pagan king, and she feared to bring evil upon those she loved by doing any blasphemous thing. Right sorely grieved was Harold because of this, and oftentimes he spake with her thereof, and oftentimes he prayed unto his God and ours to incline her mind toward the cross, which saveth all alike. But Persis would say: "My best beloved, let me not do this thing in haste, for I fear to vex thy God since I am a Pagan and the daughter of a Pagan king, and therefore have not within me the light that there is in thee and thy kind. Perchance (since thy God is good and gracious) the light will come to me anon, and shine before mine eyes as it shineth before thine. I pray thee, let me bide my time." So spake Persis, and her life ever thereafter was kind and charitable, as, soothly, it had ever before been, and she served Harold, her husband, well, and she was beloved of all, and a great sweetness came to all out of her daily life.
It fortuned, upon a day whilst Harold was from home, there was knocking at the door of their house, and forthwith the door opened and there stood in the midst of them one clad all in black and of rueful countenance. Then, as if she foresaw evil, Persis called unto her little ones and stood between them and that one all in black, and she demanded of him his name and will. "I am the Death-Angel," quoth he, "and I come for the best-beloved of thy lambs!"
Now Theodoric was that best-beloved; for he was her very little one, and had always slept upon her bosom. So when she heard those words she made a great outcry, and wrestled with the Death-Angel, and sought to stay him in his purpose. But the Death-Angel chilled her with his breath, and overcame her, and prevailed against her; and he reached into the midst of them and took Theodoric in his arms and folded him upon his breast, and Theodoric fell asleep there, and his head dropped upon the Death-Angel's shoulder. But in her battle for the child, Persis catched at the chain about the child's neck, and the chain brake and remained in her hand, and upon the chain was the little cross of fair alabaster which an holy man had put there when Theodoric was baptized. So the Death-Angel went his way with that best-beloved lamb, and Persis fell upon her face and wailed.
The years went on and all was well upon these islands. Egbert became a mighty fisherman, and Ib (that was nicknamed the Strong) wrought wondrous things in Norroway, as all men know; Joan was wed to Cuthbert the Dane, and Flocken was wooed of a rich man's son of Scotland. So were all things for good and for the best, and it was a marvel to all that Persis, the wife of Harold, looked still to be as young and beautiful as when she came from the sea to be her husband's bride. Her life was full of gentleness and charity, and all folk blessed her. But never in all these years spake she aught to any one of the fair velvet skin; and through all the years that skin lay hid in the hollow of the oak-tree, where the raven croaked and croaked and croaked.
At last upon a time a malady fell upon Persis, and a strange light came into her eyes, and naught they did was of avail to her. One day she called Harold to her, and said: "My beloved, the time draweth near when we twain must part. I pray thee, send for the holy man, for I would fain be baptized in thy faith and in the faith of our children." So Harold fetched the holy man, and Persis, the daughter of the Pagan king, was baptized, and she spake freely and full sweetly of her love to Jesus Christ, her Saviour, and she prayed to be taken into his rest. And when she was baptized, there was given to her the name of Ruth, which was most fairly done, I trow, for soothly she had been the friend of all.
Then, when the holy man was gone, she said to her husband: "Beloved, I beseech thee go to yonder oak-tree, and bring me from the hollow thereof the fair velvet skin that hath lain therein so many years."
Then Harold marvelled, and he cried: "Who told thee that the fair velvet skin was hidden there?"
"The raven told me all," she answered; "and had I been so minded I might have left thee long ago,—thee and our little ones. But I loved thee and them, and the fair velvet skin hath been unseen of me."
"And wouldst thou leave us now?" he cried. "Nay, it shall not be! Thou shalt not see that fair velvet skin, for this very day will I cast it into the sea!"
But she put an arm about his neck and said: "This night, dear one, we part; but whether we shall presently be joined together in another life I know not, neither canst thou say; for I, having been a Pagan and the daughter of a Pagan king, may by my birth and custom have so grievously offended our true God that even in his compassion and mercy he shall not find pardon for me. Therefore I would have thee fetch—since I shall die this night and do require of thee this last act of kindness—I would have thee fetch that same fair velvet skin from yonder oak-tree, and wrap me therein, and bear me hence, and lay me upon the green holm by the farther haven, for this is dancing night, and the seal-folk shall come from the sea as is their wont. Thou shalt lay me, so wrapped within that fair velvet skin, upon that holm, and thou shalt go a space aside and watch throughout the night, coming not anear me (as thou lovest me!) until the dawn breaks, nor shalt thou make any outcry, but thou shalt wait until the night is sped. Then, when thou comest at daybreak to the holm, if thou findest me in the fair velvet skin thou shalt know that my sin hath been pardoned; but if I be not there thou may'st know that, being a Pagan, the seal-folk have borne me back into the sea unto my kind. Thus do I require of thee; swear so to do, and let thy beloved bless thee."
So Harold swore to do, and so he did. Straightway he went to the oak-tree and took from the hollow thereof the fair velvet skin; seeing which deed, the raven flew away and was never thereafter seen in these islands. And with a heavy heart, and with full many a caress and word of love, did Harold bind his fair wife in that same velvet skin, and he bore her to his boat, and they went together upon the waters; for he had sworn so to do. His course unto the haven lay as before over the waters that stole in between the two islands from the great troubled sea beyond. Fair shone the moon, and the night was passing fair; the shadows lay asleep, like little weary children, in the valleys, and the waters moaned, and the winds rebuked the white fingers that stretched up from the waves to clutch them. And when they were come to the inner shore of the haven, Harold took his wife and bore her up the bank and laid her where the light came down from the moon and slept full sweetly upon the fragrant sward. Then, kissing her, he went his way and sat behind the Stennis stones a goodly space beyond, and there he kept his watch, as he had sworn to do.
Now wit ye well a grievous heavy watch it was that night, for his heart yearned for that beloved wife that lay that while upon the fair green holm,—ay, never before had night seemed so long to Harold as did that dancing night when he waited for the seal-folk to come where the some-time Pagan princess lay wrapped in the fair velvet skin. But while he watched and waited, Membril, the fairy queen, came and brought others of her kind with her, and they made a circle about Harold, and threw around him such a charm that no evil could befall him from the ghosts and ghouls that in their shrouds walked among those bloody stones and wailed wofully and waved their white arms. For Membril, coming to Harold in the similitude of a glow-worm, made herself known to him, and she said and she sung:
Loving heart, be calm a space In this gloomy vigil place; Though these confines haunted be Naught of harm can come to thee— Nothing canst thou see or hear Of the ghosts that stalk anear, For around thee Membril flings Charms of Fay and fairy rings.
Nothing daunted was Harold by thoughts of evil monsters, and naught recked he of the uncanny dangers of that haunted place; but he addressed these words to Membril and her host, and he said and he sung:
Tell me if thy piercing eyes See the inner haven shore. There my Own Beloved lies, With the cowslips bending o'er: Speed, O gentle folk of Fay! And in guise of cowslips say I shall love my love for aye!
Even so did Membril and the rest; and presently they returned, and they brought these words unto Harold, saying and singing them:—
We as cowslips in that place Clustered round thy dear one's face, And we whispered to her there Those same words we went to bear; And she smiled and bade us then Bear these words to thee again: "Die we shall, and part we may,— Love is love and lives for aye!"
Then of a sudden there was a tumult upon the waters, as if the waters were troubled, and there came up out of the waters a host of seals that made their way to the shore and cast aside their skins and came forth in the forms of men and of women, for they were the drowned folk that were come, as was their wont, to dance in the moonlight upon the fair green holm. At that moment the waters stretched out their white fingers and struck the kale and the pebbles and the soft moss upon the beach, for they sought to make music for the seal-folk to dance thereby; but the music that was made was not merry nor gleeful, but was passing gruesome and mournful. And presently the seal-folk came where lay the wife of Harold wrapped in the fair velvet skin, and they knew her of old, and they called her by what name she was known to them, "Persis! Persis!" over and over again, and there was great wailing among the seal-folk for a mighty space; and the seal-folk danced never at all that night, but wailed about the wife of Harold, and called "Persis! Persis!" over and over again, and made great moan. And at last all was still once more, for the seal-folk, weeping and clamoring grievously, went back into the sea, and the sea sobbed itself to sleep.
Mindful of the oath he swore, Harold dared not go down to that shore, but he besought Membril, the queen of Fay, to fetch him tidings from his beloved, whether she still lay upon the holm, or whether the seal-folk had borne her away with them into the waters of the deep. But Membril might not go, nor any of her host, for already the dawn was in the east and the kine were lowing on yonder slope. So Harold was left alone a tedious time, until the sun looked upon the earth, and then, with clamoring heart, Harold came from the Stennis stones and leapt downward to the holm where his beloved had lain that weary while. Then he saw that the fair velvet skin was still there, and presently he saw that within the skin his beloved still reposed. He called to her, but she made no answer; with exceeding haste he kneeled down and did off the fair velvet skin, and folded his beloved to his breast. The sun shone full upon her glorious face and kissed away the dew that clung to her white cheeks.
"Thou art redeemed, O my beloved!" cried Harold; but her lips spake not, and her eyes opened not upon him. Yet on the dead wife's face was such a smile as angels wear, and it told him that they should meet again in a love that knoweth no fear of parting. And as Harold held her to his bosom and wailed, there fell down from her hand what she had kept with her to the last, and it lay upon the fair green holm,—the little alabaster cross which she had snatched from Theodoric's neck that day the Death-Angel bore the child away.
It was to tell of Harold, the son of Egbert, the son of Ib, and of Persis, his wife, daughter of the Pagan king; and it hath been told. And there is no more to tell, for the tale is ended.
 Orkney Folk-Lore.
FLAIL, TRASK, AND BISLAND
My quondam friends, Flail, Trask, and Bisland, are no more; they are dead, and with them has gone out of existence as gross an imposition as the moral cowardice of man were capable of inventing, constructing, and practising.
When Alice became my wife she knew that I was a lover and collector of books, but, being a young thing, she had no idea of the monstrous proportions which bibliomania, unchecked, is almost certain to acquire. Indeed, the dear girl innocently and rapturously encouraged this insidious vice. "Some time," she used to say, "we shall have a house of our own, and then your library shall cover the whole top-floor, and the book-cases shall be built in the walls, and there shall be a lovely blue-glass sky-light," etc. Moreover, although she could not tell the difference between an Elzevir and a Pickering, or between a folio and an octavo, Alice was very proud of our little library, and I recall now with real delight the times I used to hear her showing off those precious books to her lady callers. Alice made up for certain inaccuracies of information with a distinct enthusiasm and garrulity that never failed to impress her callers deeply. I was mighty proud of Alice; I was prepared to say, paraphrasing Sam Johnson's remark about the Scotchman, "A wife can be made much of, if caught young."
It was not until after little Grolier and little Richard de Bury were born to us that Alice's regard for my pretty library seemed to abate. I then began to realize the truth of what my bachelor friend Kinzie had often declared,—namely, that the chief objection to children was that they weaned the collector from his love of books. Grolier was a mischievous boy, and I had hard work trying to convince his mother that he should by no means be allowed to have his sweet but destructive will with my Bewicks and Bedfords. Thumb and finger marks look well enough in certain places, but I protested that they did not enhance the quaint beauty of an old wood-cut, a delicate binding, or a wide margin. And Richard de Bury—a lovely little 16mo of a child—was almost as destructive as his older brother. The most painful feature of it all to me then was that their mother actually protected the toddling knaves in their vandalism. I never saw another woman change so as Alice did after those two boys came to us. Why, she even suggested to me one day that when we did build our new house we should devote the upper story thereof not to library but to nursery purposes!
Things gradually got to the pass that I began to be afraid to bring books into the house. At first Alice used to reproach me indirectly by eying the new book jealously, and hinting in a subtle, womanly way that Grolier needed new shoes, or that Richard was sadly in need of a new cap. Presently, encouraged by my lamb-like reticence, Alice began to complain gently of what she termed my extravagance, and finally she fell into the pernicious practice of berating me roundly for neglecting my family for the selfish—yes, the cruel—gratification of a foolish fad, and then she would weep and gather up the two boys and wonder how soon we should all be in the poorhouse.
I have spoken of my bachelor friend, Kinzie; there was a philosopher for you, and his philosophy was all the sweeter because it had never been embittered by marital experience. I had confidence in Kinzie, and I told him all about the dilemma I was in. He pitied me and condoled with me, for he was a sympathetic man, and he was, too, as consistent a bibliomaniac as I ever met with. "Be of good cheer," said he, "we shall find a way out of all this trouble." And he suggested a way. I seized upon it as the proverbial drowning man is supposed to clutch at the proverbial straw.
The next time I took a bundle of books home I marched into the house boldly with them. Alice fetched a deep sigh. "Ah, been buying more books, have you?" she asked in a despairing tone.
"No, indeed," I answered triumphantly, "they were given to me,—a present from judge Trask. I'm in great luck, ain't I?"
Alice was almost as pleased as I was. The interest with which she inspected the lovely volumes was not feigned. "But who is Judge Trask?" she asked, as she read the autographic lines upon a flyleaf in each book. I explained glibly that the judge was a wealthy and cultured citizen who felt somewhat under obligation to me for certain little services I had rendered him one time and another. I was not to be trapped or cornered. I had learned my sinful lesson perfectly. Alice never so much as suspected me of evil.
The scheme worked so well that I pursued it with more or less diligence. I should say that about twice a week on an average a bundle of books came to the house "with the compliments" of either Judge Trask or Colonel Flail or Mr. Bisland. You can understand that I could not hope to play the Trask deception exclusively and successfully. I invented Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland, and I contrived to render them quite as liberal in their patronage as the mythical Judge Trask himself. Occasionally a donation came in, by way of variety, from Smeaton and Holbrook and Caswell and other solitary creations of my mendacious imagination, when I used to blind poor dear Alice to the hideous truth. Touching myself, I gave it out that I had abandoned book-buying, was convinced of the folly of the mania, had reformed, and was repentant. Alice loved me all the better for that, and she became once more the sweetest, most amiable little woman in all the world. She was inexpressibly happy in the fond delusion that I had become prudent and thrifty, and was putting money in bank for that home we were going to buy—sometime.
Meanwhile the names of Flail, Trask, and Bisland became household words with us. Occasionally Smeaton and Holbrook and Caswell were mentioned gratefully as some fair volume bearing their autograph was inspected; but, after all, Flail, Trask, and Bisland were the favorites, for it was from them that most of my beloved books came. Yes, Alice gradually grew to love those three myths; she loved them because they were good to me.
Alice had, like most others of her sex, a strong sense of duty. She determined to do something for my noble friends, and finally she planned a lovely little dinner whereat Judge Trask and Colonel Flail and Mr. Bisland were to be regaled with choicest viands of Alice's choice larder and with the sweetest speeches of Alice's graceful heart. I was authorized only to convey the invitations to this delectable banquet, and here was a pretty plight for a man to be in, surely enough! But my bachelor friend Kinzie (ough, the Mephisto!) helped me out. I reported back to Alice that Judge Trask was out of town, that Colonel Flail was sick abed with grip, and that Mr. Bisland was altogether too shy a man to think of venturing out to a dinner alone. Alice was dreadfully disappointed. Still there was consolation in feeling that she had done her duty in trying to do it.
Well, this system of deception and perjury went on a long time, Alice never suspecting any evil, but perfectly happy in my supposed reform and economy, and in the gracious liberality of those three Maecenas-like friends, Flail, Trask, and Bisland, who kept pouring in rare and beauteous old tomes upon me. She was joyous, too, in the prospect of that new house which we would soon be able to build, now that I had so long quit the old ruinous mania for book-buying! And I—wretch that I was—I humored her in this conceit; I heaped perjury upon perjury; lying and deception had become my second nature. Yet I loathed myself and I hated those books; they reproached me every time I came into their presence. So I was miserable and helpless; how hard it is to turn about when one once gets into the downward path! The shifts I was put to, and the desperate devices which I was forced to employ,—I shudder to recall them! Life became a constant, terrifying lie.
Thank Heaven, it is over now, and my face is turned the right way. A third little son was born to us. Alice was, oh! so very ill. When she was convalescing she said to me one day: "Hiram, I have been thinking it all over, and I've made up my mind that we must name the baby Trask Flail Bisland, after our three good friends."