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A CRYSTAL AGE
BY W. H. HUDSON
We came to a large portico-like place open on three sides to the air, the roof being supported by slender columns. We were now on the opposite side of the house and looked upon the river, which was not more than a couple of hundred yards from the terrace or platform on which it stood. The ground here sloped rapidly to the banks, and, like that in the front, was a wilderness with rock and patches of tall fern and thickets of thorn and bramble, with a few trees of great size. Nor was wild life wanting in this natural park; some deer were feeding near the bank, while on the water numbers of wild duck and other water-fowl were disporting themselves, splashing and flapping over the surface and uttering shrill cries.
The people of the house were already assembled, standing and sitting by the small tables. There was a lively hum of conversation, which ceased on my entrance; then those who were sitting stood up and the whole company fixed its eyes on me, which was rather disconcerting.
The old gentleman, standing in the midst of the people, now bent on me a long, scrutinizing gaze; he appeared to be waiting for me to speak, and, finding that I remained silent, he finally addressed me with solemnity. "Smith," he said—and I did not like it—"the meeting with you today was to me and to all of us a very strange experience: I little thought that an even stranger one awaited me, that before you break bread in this house in which you have found shelter, I should have to remind you that you are now in a house."
"Yes, I know I am," I said, and then added: "I'm sure, sir, I appreciate your kindness in bringing me here."
He had perhaps expected something more or something entirely different from me, as he continued standing with his eyes fixed on me. Then with a sigh, and looking round him, he said in a dissatisfied tone: "My children, let us begin, and for the present put out of our minds this matter which has been troubling us."
He then motioned me to a seat at his own table, where I was pleased to have a place since the lovely Yoletta was also there.
I am not particular about what I eat, as with me good digestion waits on appetite, and so long as I get a bellyful—to use a good old English word—I am satisfied. On this particular occasion, with or without a pretty girl at the table, I could have consumed a haggis—that greatest abomination ever invented by flesh-eating barbarians—I was so desperately hungry. It was therefore a disappointment when nothing more substantial than a plate of whitey-green, crisp-looking stuff resembling endive, was placed before me by one of the picturesque handmaidens. It was cold and somewhat bitter to the taste, but hunger compelled me to eat it even to the last green leaf; then, when I began to wonder if it would be right to ask for more, to my great relief other more succulent dishes followed, composed of various vegetables. We also had some pleasant drinks, made, I suppose, from the juices of fruits, but the delicious alcoholic sting was not in them. We had fruits, too, of unfamiliar flavors, and a confection of crushed nuts and honey.
We sat at table—or tables—a long time, and the meal was enlivened with conversation; for all now appeared in a cheerful frame of mind, notwithstanding the melancholy event which had occupied them during the day. It was, in fact, a kind of supper, and the one great meal of the day: the only other meals being a breakfast, and at noon a crust of brown bread, a handful of dried fruit, and drink of milk.
At the conclusion of the repast, during which I had been too much occupied to take notice of everything that passed, I observed that a number of small birds had flown in, and were briskly hopping over the floor and tables, also perching quite fearlessly on the heads or shoulders of the company, and that they were being fed with the fragments. I took them to be sparrows and things of that kind, but they did not look altogether familiar to me. One little fellow, most lively in his motions, was remarkably like my old friend the robin, only the bosom was more vivid, running almost into orange, and the wings and tail were tipped with the same hue, giving it quite a distinguished appearance. Another small olive-green bird, which I at first took for a green linnet, was even prettier, the throat and bosom being of a most delicate buff, crossed with a belt of velvet black. The bird that really seemed most like a common sparrow was chestnut, with a white throat and mouse-colored wings and tail. These pretty little pensioners systematically avoided my neighborhood, although I tempted them with crumbs and fruit; only one flew onto my table, but had no sooner done so than it darted away again, and out of the room, as if greatly alarmed. I caught the pretty girl's eye just then, and having finished eating, and being anxious to join the conversation, for I hate to sit silent when others are talking. I remarked that it was strange the little birds so persistently avoided me.
"Oh no, not at all strange," she replied, with surprising readiness, showing that she too had noticed it. "They are frightened at your appearance."
"I must indeed appear strange to them," said I, with some bitterness, and recalling the adventures of the morning. "It is to me a new and very painful experience to walk about the world frightening men, cattle, and birds; yet I suppose it is entirely due to the clothes I am wearing—and the boots. I wish some kind person would suggest a remedy for this state of things; for just now my greatest desire is to be dressed in accordance with the fashion."
"Allow me to interrupt you for one moment, Smith," said the old gentleman, who had been listening attentively to my words. "We understood what you said so well on this occasion that it seems a pity you should suddenly again render yourself unintelligible. Can you explain to us what you mean by dressing in accordance with the fashion?"
"My meaning is, that I simply desire to dress like one of yourselves, to see the last of these uncouth garments." I could not help putting a little vicious emphasis on that hateful word.
He inclined his head and said, "Yes?"
Thus encouraged, I dashed boldly into the middle of matter; for now, having dined, albeit without wine, I was inflamed with an intense craving to see myself arrayed in their rich, mysterious dress. "This being so," I continued, "may I ask you if it is in your power to provide me with the necessary garments, so that I may cease to be an object of aversion and offense to every living thing and person, myself included?"
A long and uncomfortable silence ensued, which was perhaps not strange, considering the nature of the request. That I had blundered once more seemed likely enough, from the general suspense and the somewhat alarmed expression of the old gentleman's countenance; nevertheless, my motives had been good: I had expressed my wish in that way for the sake of peace and quietness, and fearing that if I had asked to be directed to the nearest clothing establishment, a new fit of amazement would have been the result.
Finding the silence intolerable, I at length ventured to remark that I feared he had not understood me to the end.
"Perhaps not," he answered gravely. "Or, rather let me say, I hope not."
"May I explain my meaning?" said I, greatly distressed.
"Assuredly you may," he replied with dignity. "Only before you speak, let me put this plain question to you: Do you ask us to provide you with garments—that is to say, to bestow them as a gift on you?"
"Certainly not!" I exclaimed, turning crimson with shame to think that they were all taking me for a beggar. "My wish is to obtain them somehow from somebody, since I cannot make them for myself, and to give in return their full value."
I had no sooner spoken than I greatly feared that I had made matters worse; for here was I, a guest in the house, actually offering to purchase clothing—ready-made or to to order—from my host, who, for all I knew, might be one of the aristocracy of the country. My fears, however, proved quite groundless.
"I am glad to hear your explanation," he answered, "for it has completely removed the unpleasant impression caused by your former words. What can you do in return for the garments you are anxious to possess? And here, let me remark, I approve highly of your wish to escape, with the least possible delay, from your present covering. Do you wish to confine yourself to the finishing of some work in a particular line—as wood-carving, or stone, metal, clay or glass work; or in making or using colors? or have you only that general knowledge of the various arts which would enable you to assist the more skilled in preparing materials?"
"No, I am not an artist," I replied, surprised at his question. "All I can do is to buy the clothes—to pay for them in money."
"What do you mean by that? What is money?"
"Surely——" I began, but fortunately checked myself in time, for I had meant to suggest that he was pulling my leg. But it was really hard to believe that a person of his years did not know what money was. Besides, I could not answer the question, having always abhorred the study of political economy, which tells you all about it; so that I had never learned to define money, but only how to spend it. Presently I thought the best way out of the muddle was to show him some, and I accordingly pulled out my big leather book-purse from my breast pocket. It had an ancient, musty smell, like everything else about me, but seemed pretty heavy and well-filled, and I proceeded to open it and turn the contents on the table. Eleven bright sovereigns and three half-crowns or florins, I forget which, rolled out; then, unfolding the papers, I discovered three five-pound Bank of England notes.
"Surely this is very little for me to have about me!" said I, feeling greatly disappointed. "I fancy I must have been making ducks and drakes of a lot of cash before—before—well, before I was—I don't know what, or when, or where."
Little notice was taken of this somewhat incoherent speech, for all were now gathering round the table, examining the gold and notes with eager curiosity. At length the old gentleman, pointing to the gold pieces, said: "What are these?"
"Sovereigns," I answered, not a little amused. "Have you never seen any like them before?"
"Never. Let me examine them again. Yes, these eleven are of gold. They are all marked alike, on one side with a roughly-executed figure of a woman's head, with the hair gathered on its summit in a kind of ball. There are also other things on them which I do not understand."
"Can you not read the letters?" I asked.
"No. The letters—if these marks are letters—are incomprehensible to me. But what have these small pieces of metal to do with the question of your garments? You puzzle me."
"Why, everything. These pieces of metal, as you call them, are money, and represent, of course, so much buying power. I don't know yet what your currency is, and whether you have the dollar or the rupee"—here I paused, seeing that he did not follow me. "My idea is this," I resumed, and coming down to very plain speaking: "I can give one of these five-pound notes, or its equivalent in gold, if you prefer that—five of these sovereigns, I mean—for a suit of clothes such as you all wear."
So great was my desire to possess the clothes that I was about to double the offer, which struck me as poor, and add that I would give ten sovereigns; but when I had spoken he dropped the piece he held in his hand upon the table, and stared fixedly at me, assisted by all the others. Presently, in the profound silence which ensued, a low, silvery gurgling became audible, as of some merry mountain burn—a sweet, warbling sound, swelling louder by degrees until it ended in a long ringing peal of laughter.
This was from the girl Yoletta. I stared at her, surprised at her unseasonable levity; but the only effect of my doing so was a general explosion, men and women joining in such a tempest of merriment that one might have imagined they had just heard the most wonderful joke ever invented since man acquired the sense of the ludicrous.
The old gentleman was the first to recover a decent gravity, although it was plain to see that he struggled severely at intervals to prevent a relapse.
"Smith," said he, "of all the extraordinary delusions you appear to be suffering from, this, that you can have garments to wear in return for a small piece of paper, or for a few bits of this metal, is the most astounding! You cannot exchange these trifles for clothes, because clothes are the fruit of much labor of many hands."
"And yet, sir, you said you understood me when I proposed to pay for the things I require," said I, in an aggrieved tone. "You seemed even to approve of the offer I made. How, then, am I to pay for them if all I possess is not considered of any value?"
"All you possess!" he replied. "Surely I did not say that! Surely you possess the strength and skill common to all men, and can acquire anything you wish by the labor of your hands."
I began once more to see light, although my skill, I knew, would not count for much. "Ah yes," I answered: "to go back to that subject, I do not know anything about wood-carving or using colors, but I might be able to do something—some work of a simpler kind."
"There are trees to be felled, land to be plowed, and many other things to be done. If you will do these things some one else will be released to perform works of skill; and as these are the most agreeable to the worker, it would please us more to have you labor in the fields than in the workhouse."
"I am strong," I answered, "and will gladly undertake labor of the kind you speak of. There is, however, one difficulty. My desire is to change these clothes for others which will be more pleasing to the eye, at once; but the work I shall have to do in return will not be finished in a day. Perhaps not in—well, several days."
"No, of course not," said he. "A year's labor will be necessary to pay for the garments you require."
This staggered me; for if the clothes were given to me at the beginning, then before the end of the year they would be worn to rags, and I should make myself a slave for life. I was sorely perplexed in mind, and pulled about this way and that by the fear of incurring a debt, and the desire to see myself (and to be seen by Yoletta) in those strangely fascinating garments. That I had a decent figure, and was not a bad-looking young fellow, I was pretty sure; and the hope that I should be able to create an impression (favorable, I mean) on the heart of that supremely beautiful girl was very strong in me. At all events, by closing with the offer I should have a year of happiness in her society, and a year of healthy work in the fields could not hurt me, or interfere much with my prospects. Besides, I was not quite sure that my prospects were really worth thinking about just now. Certainly, I had always lived comfortably, spending money, eating and drinking of the best, and dressing well—that is, according to the London standard. And there was my dear old bachelor Uncle Jack—John Smith, Member of Parliament for Wormwood Scrubbs. That is to say, ex-Member; for, being a Liberal when the great change came at the last general election, he was ignominiously ousted from his seat, the Scrubbs proving at the finish a bitter place to him. He was put out in more ways than one, and tried to comfort himself by saying that there would soon be another dissolution—thinking of his own, possibly, being an old man. I remembered that I had rather looked forward to such a contingency, thinking how pleasant it would be to have all that money, and cruise about the world in my own yacht, enjoying myself as I knew how. And really I had some reason to hope. I remember he used to wind up the talk of an evening when I dined with him (and got a check) by saying: "My boy, you have talents, if you'd only use 'em." Where were those talents now? Certainly they had not made me shine much during the last few hours.
Now, all this seemed unsubstantial, and I remembered these things dimly, like a dream or a story told to me in childhood; and sometimes, when recalling the past, I seemed to be thinking about ancient history—Sesostris, and the Babylonians and Assyrians, and that sort of thing. And, besides, it would be very hard to get back from a place where even the name of London was unknown. And perhaps, if I ever should succeed in getting back, it would only be to encounter a second Roger Tichborne case, or to be confronted with the statute of limitations. Anyhow, a year could not make much difference, and I should also keep my money, which seemed an advantage, though it wasn't much. I looked up: they were all once more studying the coins and notes, and exchanging remarks about them.
"If I bind myself to work one year," said I, "shall I have to wait until the end of that time before I get the clothes?"
The reply to this question, I thought, would settle the matter one way or the other.
"No," said he. "It is your wish, and also ours, that you should be differently clothed at once, and the garments you require would be made for you immediately."
"Then," said I, taking the desperate plunge, "I should like to have them as soon as possible, and I am ready to commence work at once."
"You shall commence to-morrow morning," he answered, smiling at my impetuosity. "The daughters of the house, whose province it is to make these things, shall also suspend other work until your garments are finished. And now, my son, from this evening you are one of the house and one of us, and the things which we possess you also possess in common with us."
I rose and thanked him. He too rose, and, after looking round on us with a fatherly smile, went away to the interior of the house.
A CRYSTAL AGE
BY W. H. HUDSON
We ascended the steps, and passing through the portico went into the hall by what seemed to me a doorless way. It was not really so, as I discovered later; the doors, of which there were several, some of colored glass, others of some other material, were simply thrust back into receptacles within the wall itself, which was five or six feet thick. The hall was the noblest I had ever seen; it had a stone and bronze fireplace some twenty or thirty feet long on one side, and several tall arched doorways on the other. The spaces between the doors were covered with sculpture, its material being a blue-gray stone combined or inlaid with a yellow metal, the effect being indescribably rich. The floor was mosaic of many dark colors, but with no definite pattern, and the concave roof was deep red in color. Though beautiful, it was somewhat somber, as the light was not strong. At all events, that is how it struck me at first on coming in from the bright sunlight. Nor, it appeared, was I alone in experiencing such a feeling. As soon as we were inside, the old gentleman, removing his cap and passing his thin fingers through his white hair, looked around him, and addressing some of the others, who were bringing in small round tables and placing them about the hall, said: "No, no; let us sup this evening where we can look at the sky."
The tables were immediately taken away.
Now some of those who were in the hall or who came in with the tables had not attended the funeral, and these were all astonished on seeing me. They did not stare at me, but I, of course, saw the expression on their faces, and noticed that the others who had made my acquaintance at the grave-side whispered in their ears to explain my presence. This made me extremely uncomfortable, and it was a relief when they began to go out again.
One of the men was seated near me; he was of those who had assisted in carrying the corpse, and he now turned to me and remarked: "You have been a long time in the open air, and probably feel the change as much as we do."
I assented, and he rose and walked away to the far end of the hall, where a great door stood facing the one by which we had entered. From the spot where I was—a distance of forty or fifty feet, perhaps—this door appeared to be of polished slate of a very dark gray, its surface ornamented with very large horse-chestnut leaves of brass or copper, or both, for they varied in shade from bright yellow to deepest copper-red. It was a double door with agate handles, and, first pressing on one handle, then on the other, he thrust it back into the walls on either side, revealing a new thing of beauty to my eyes, for behind the vanished door was a window, the sight of which came suddenly before me like a celestial vision. Sunshine, wind, cloud and rain had evidently inspired the artist who designed it, but I did not at the time understand the meaning of the symbolic figures appearing in the picture. Below, with loosened dark golden-red hair and amber-colored garments fluttering in the wind, stood a graceful female figure on the summit of a gray rock; over the rock, and as high as her knees, slanted the thin branches of some mountain shrub, the strong wind even now stripping them of their remaining yellow and russet leaves, whirling them aloft and away. Round the woman's head was a garland of ivy leaves, and she was gazing aloft with expectant face, stretching up her arms, as if to implore or receive some precious gift from the sky. Above, against the slaty-gray cloud-wrack, four exquisite slender girl-forms appeared, with loose hair, silver-gray drapery and gauzy wings as of ephemerae, flying in pursuit of the cloud. Each carried a quantity of flowers, shaped like lilies, in her dress, held up with the left hand; one carried red lilies, another yellow, the third violet, and the last blue; and the gauzy wings and drapery of each was also touched in places with the same hue as the flowers she carried. Looking back in their flight they were all with the disengaged hand throwing down lilies to the standing figure.
This lovely window gave a fresh charm to the whole apartment, while the sunlight falling through it served also to reveal other beauties which I had not observed. One that quickly drew and absorbed my attention was a piece of statuary on the floor at some distance from me, and going to it I stood for some time gazing on it in the greatest delight. It was a statue about one-third the size of life, of a young woman seated on a white bull with golden horns. She had a graceful figure and beautiful countenance; the face, arms and feet were alabaster, the flesh tinted, but with colors more delicate than in nature. On her arms were broad golden armlets, and the drapery, a long flowing robe, was blue, embroidered with yellow flowers. A stringed instrument rested on her knee, and she was represented playing and singing. The bull, with lowered horns, appeared walking; about his chest hung a garland of flowers mingled with ears of yellow corn, oak, ivy, and various other leaves, green and russet, and acorns and crimson berries. The garland and blue dress were made of malachite, lapis lazuli, and various precious stones.
"Aha, my fair Phoenician, I know you well!" thought I exultingly, "though I never saw you before with a harp in your hand. But were you not gathering flowers, O lovely daughter of Agenor, when that celestial animal, that masquerading god, put himself so cunningly in your way to be admired and caressed, until you unsuspiciously placed yourself on his back? That explains the garland. I shall have a word to say about this pretty thing to my learned and very superior host."
The statue stood on an octagonal pedestal of a highly polished slaty-gray stone, and on each of its eight faces was a picture in which one human figure appeared. Now, from gazing on the statue itself I fell to contemplating one of these pictures with a very keen interest, for the figure, I recognized, was a portrait of the beautiful girl Yoletta. The picture was a winter landscape. The earth was white, not with snow, but with hoar frost; the distant trees, clothed by the frozen moisture as if with a feathery foliage, looked misty against the whitey-blue wintry sky. In the foreground, on the pale frosted grass, stood the girl, in a dark maroon dress, with silver embroidery on the bosom, and a dark red cap on her head. Close to her drooped the slender terminal twigs of a tree, sparkling with rime and icicle, and on the twigs were several small snow-white birds, hopping and fluttering down towards her outstretched hand; while she gazed up at them with flushed cheeks, and lips parting with a bright, joyous smile.
Presently, while I stood admiring this most lovely work, the young man I have mentioned as having raised Yoletta from the ground at the grave came to my side and remarked, smiling: "You have noticed the resemblance."
"Yes, indeed," I returned; "she is painted to the life."
"This is not Yoletta's portrait," he replied, "though it is very like her;" and then, when I looked at him incredulously, he pointed to some letters under the picture, saying: "Do you not see the name and date?"
Finding that I could not read the words, I hazarded the remark that it was Yoletta's mother, perhaps.
"This portrait was painted four centuries ago," he said, with surprise in his accent; and then he turned aside, thinking me, perhaps, a rather dull and ignorant person.
I did not want him to go away with that impression, and remarked, pointing to the statue I have spoken of: "I fancy I know very well who that is—that is Europa."
"Europa? That is a name I never heard; I doubt that any one in the house ever bore it." Then, with a half-puzzled smile, he added: "How could you possibly know unless you were told? No, that is Mistrelde. It was formerly the custom of the house for the Mother to ride on a white bull at the harvest festival. Mistrelde was the last to observe it."
"Oh, I see," I returned lamely, though I didn't see at all. The indifferent way in which he spoke of centuries in connection with this brilliant and apparently fresh-painted picture rather took me aback.
Presently he condescended to say something more. Pointing to the marks or characters which I could not read, he said: "You have seen the name of Yoletta here, and that and the resemblance misled you. You must know that there has always been a Yoletta in this house. This was the daughter of Mistrelde, the Mother, who died young and left but eight children; and when this work was made their portraits were placed on the eight faces of the pedestal."
"Thanks for telling me," I said, wondering if it was all true, or only a fantastic romance.
He then motioned me to follow him, and we quitted that room where it had been decided that we were not to sup.
A CRYSTAL AGE
BY W. H. HUDSON
The thrilling, pathetic tone in which these words were uttered affected me not a little; and when the ceremony was over I continued staring vacantly at the speaker, ignorant of the fact that the beautiful young girl had her wide-open, startled eyes fixed on the bush which, I vainly imagined, concealed me from view.
All at once she cried out: "Oh, father, look there! Who is that strange-looking man watching us from behind the bushes?"
They all turned, and then I felt that fourteen or fifteen pairs of very keen eyes were on me, seeing me very plainly indeed, for in my curiosity and excitement I had come out from the thicker bushes to place myself behind a ragged, almost leafless shrub, which afforded the merest apology for a shelter. Putting a bold face on the matter, although I did not feel very easy, I came out and advanced to them, removing my battered old hat on the way, and bowing repeatedly to the assembled company. My courteous salutation was not returned; but all, with increasing astonishment pictured on their faces, continued staring at me as if they were looking on some grotesque apparition. Thinking it best to give an account of myself at once, and to apologize for intruding on their mysteries, I addressed myself to the old man:
"I really beg your pardon," I said, "for having disturbed you at such an inconvenient time, and while you are engaged in these—these solemn rites; but I assure you, sir, it has been quite accidental. I happened to be walking here when I saw you coming, and thought it best to step out of the way until—well, until the funeral was over. The fact is, I met with a serious accident in the mountains over there. I fell down into a ravine, and a great heap of earth and stones fell on and stunned me, and I do not know how long I lay there before I recovered my senses. I daresay I am trespassing, but I am a perfect stranger here, and quite lost, and—and perhaps a little confused after my fall, and perhaps you will kindly tell me where to go to get some refreshment, and find out where I am."
"Your story is a very strange one," said the old man in reply, after a pause of considerable duration. "That you are a perfect stranger in this place is evident from your appearance, your uncouth dress, and your thick speech."
His words made me blush hotly, although I should not have minded his very personal remarks much if that beautiful girl had not been standing there listening to everything. My uncouth garments, by the way, were made by a fashionable West End tailor, and fitted me perfectly, although just now they were, of course, very dirty. It was also a surprise to hear that I had a thick speech, since I had always been considered a remarkably clear speaker and good singer, and had frequently both sung and recited in public, at amateur entertainments.
After a distressing interval of silence, during which they all continued regarding me with unabated curiosity, the old gentleman condescended to address me again and asked me my name and country.
"My country," said I, with the natural pride of a Briton, "is England, and my name is Smith."
"No such country is known to me," he returned; "nor have I ever heard such a name as yours."
I was rather taken aback at his words, and yet did not just then by any means realize their full import. I was thinking only about my name; for without having penetrated into any perfectly savage country, I had been about the world a great deal for a young man, visiting the Colonies, India, Yokohama, and other distant places, and I had never yet been told that the name of Smith was an unfamiliar one.
"I hardly know what to say," I returned, for he was evidently waiting for me to add something more to what I had stated. "It rather staggers me to hear that my name-well, you have not heard of me, of course, but there have been a great many distinguished men of the same name: Sydney Smith, for instance, and—and several others." It mortified me just then to find that I had forgotten all the other distinguished Smiths.
He shook his head, and continued watching my face.
"Not heard of them!" I exclaimed. "Well, I suppose you have heard of some of my great countrymen: Beaconsfield, Gladstone, Darwin, Burne-Jones, Ruskin, Queen Victoria, Tennyson, George Eliot, Herbert Spencer, General Gordon, Lord Randolph Churchill—"
As he continued to shake his head after each name I at length paused.
"Who are all these people you have named?" he asked.
"They are all great and illustrious men and women who have a world-wide reputation," I answered.
"And are there no more of them—have you told me the names of all the great people you have ever known or heard of?" he said, with a curious smile.
"No, indeed," I answered, nettled at his words and manner. "It would take me until to-morrow to name all the great men I have ever heard of. I suppose you have heard the names of Napoleon, Wellington, Nelson, Dante, Luther, Calvin, Bismarck, Voltaire?"
He still shook his head.
"Well, then," I continued, "Homer, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Confucius, Zoroaster, Plato, Shakespeare." Then, growing thoroughly desperate, I added in a burst: "Noah, Moses, Columbus, Hannibal, Adam and Eve!"
"I am quite sure that I have never heard of any of these names," he answered, still with that curious smile. "Nevertheless I can understand your surprise. It sometimes happens that the mind, owing an an imperfect adjustment of its faculties, resembles the uneducated vision in its method of judgment, regarding the things which are near as great and important, and those further away as less important, according to their distance. In such a case the individuals one hears about or associates with, come to be looked upon as the great and illustrious beings of the world, and all men in all places are expected to be familiar with their names. But come, my children, our sorrowful task is over, let us now return to the house. Come with us, Smith, and you shall have the refreshment you require."
I was, of course, pleased with the invitation, but did not relish being addressed as "Smith," like some mere laborer or other common person tramping about the country.
The long disconcerting scrutiny I had been subjected to had naturally made me very uncomfortable, and caused me to drop a little behind the others as we walked towards the house. The old man, however, still kept at my side; but whether from motives of courtesy, or because he wished to badger me a little more about my uncouth appearance and defective intellect, I was not sure. I was not anxious to continue the conversation, which had not proved very satisfactory; moreover, the beautiful girl I have already mentioned so frequently, was now walking just before me, hand in hand with the young man who had raised her from the ground. I was absorbed in admiration of her graceful figure, and—shall I be forgiven for mentioning such a detail?—her exquisitely rounded legs under her brief and beautiful garments. To my mind the garment was quite long enough. Every time I spoke, for my companion still maintained the conversation and I was obliged to reply, she hung back a little to catch my words. At such times she would also turn her pretty head partially round so as to see me: then her glances, beginning at my face, would wander down to my legs, and her lips would twitch and curl a little, seeming to express disgust and amusement at the same time. I was beginning to hate my legs, or rather my trousers, for I considered that under them I had as good a pair of calves as any man in the company.
Presently I thought of something to say, something very simple, which my dignified old friend would be able to answer without intimating that he considered me a wild man of the woods or an escaped lunatic.
"Can you tell me," I said pleasantly, "what is the name of your nearest town or city? how far it is from this place, and how I can get there?"
At this question, or series of questions, the young girl turned quite round, and, waiting until I was even with her, she continued her walk at my side, although still holding her companion's hand.
The old man looked at me with a grave smile—that smile was fast becoming intolerable—and said: "Are you so fond of honey, Smith? You shall have as much as you require without disturbing the bees. They are now taking advantage of this second spring to lay by a sufficient provision before winter sets in."
After pondering some time over these enigmatical words, I said: "I daresay we are at cross purposes again. I mean," I added hurriedly, seeing the inquiring look on his face, "that we do not exactly understand each other, for the subject of honey was not in my thoughts."
"What, then, do you mean by a city?" he asked.
"What do I mean? Why, a city, I take it, is nothing more than a collection or congeries of houses—hundreds and thousands, or hundreds of thousands of houses, all built close together, where one can live very comfortably for years without seeing a blade of grass."
"I am afraid," he returned, "that the accident you met with in the mountains must have caused some injury to your brain; for I cannot in any other way account for these strange fantasies."
"Do you mean seriously to tell me, sir, that you have never even heard of the existence of a city, where millions of human beings live crowded together in a small space? Of course I mean a small space comparatively; for in some cities you might walk all day without getting into the fields; and a city like that might be compared to a beehive so large that a bee might fly in a straight line all day without getting out of it."
It struck me the moment I finished speaking that this comparison was not quite right somehow; but he did not ask me to explain: he had evidently ceased to pay any attention to what I said. The girl looked at me with an expression of pity, not to say contempt, and I felt at the same time ashamed and vexed. This served to rouse a kind of dogged spirit in me, and I returned to the subject once more.
"Surely," I said, "you have heard of such cities as Paris, Vienna, Rome, Athens, Babylon, Jerusalem?"
He only shook his head, and walked on in silence.
"And London! London is the capital of England. Why," I exclaimed, beginning to see light, and wondering at myself for not having seen it sooner, "you are at present talking to me in the English language."
"I fail to understand your meaning, and am even inclined to doubt that you have any," said he, a little ruffled. "I am addressing you in the language of human beings—that is all."
"Well, it seems awfully puzzling," said I; "but I hope you don't think I have been indulging in—well, tarradiddles." Then, seeing that I was making matters no clearer, I added: "I mean that I have not been telling untruths."
"I could not think that," he answered sternly. "It would indeed be a clouded mind which could mistake mere disordered fancies for willful offenses against the truth. I have no doubt that when you have recovered from the effects of your late accident these vain thoughts and imaginations will cease to trouble you."
"And in the meantime, perhaps, I had better say as little as possible," said I, with considerable temper. "At present we do not seem able to understand each other at all."
"You are right, we do not," he said; and then added with a grave smile, "although I must allow that this last remark of yours is quite intelligible."
"I'm glad of that," I returned. "It is distressing to talk and not to be understood; it is like men calling to each other in a high wind, hearing voices but not able to distinguish words."
"Again I understand you," said he approvingly; while the beautiful girl bestowed on me the coveted reward of a smile, which had no pity or contempt in it.
"I think," I continued, determined to follow up this new train of ideas on which I had so luckily stumbled, "that we are not so far apart in mind after all. About some things we stand quite away from each other, like the widely diverging branches of a tree; but, like the branches, we have a meeting-place, and this is, I fancy, in that part of our nature where our feelings are. My accident in the hills has not disarranged that part of me, I am sure, and I can give you an instance. A little while ago when I was standing behind the bushes watching you all, I saw this young lady——"
Here a look of surprise and inquiry from the girl warned me that I was once more plunging into obscurity.
"When I saw you," I continued, somewhat amused at her manner, "cast yourself on the earth to kiss the cold face of one you had loved in life, I felt the tears of sympathy come to my own eyes."
"Oh, how strange!" she exclaimed, flashing on me a glance from her green, mysterious eyes; and then, to increase my wonder and delight, she deliberately placed her hand in mine.
"And yet not strange," said the old man, by way of comment on her words.
"It seemed strange to Yoletta that one so unlike us outwardly should be so like us in heart," remarked the young man at her side.
There was something about this speech which I did not altogether like, though I could not detect anything like sarcasm in the tone of the speaker.
"And yet," continued the lovely girl, "you never saw him living—never heard his sweet voice, which still seems to come back to me like a melody from the distance."
"Was he your father?" I asked.
The question seemed to surprise her very much. "He is our father," she returned, with a glance at the old gentleman, which seemed strange, for he certainly looked aged enough to be her great-grandfather.
He smiled and said: "You forget, my daughter, that I am as little known to this stranger to our country as all the great and illustrious personages he has mentioned are to us."
At this point I began to lose interest in the conversation. It was enough for me to feel that I held that precious hand in mine, and presently I felt tempted to administer a gentle squeeze. She looked at me and smiled, then glanced over my whole person, the survey finishing at my boots, which seemed to have a disagreeable fascination for her. She shivered slightly, and withdrew her hand from mine, and in my heart I cursed those rusty, thick-soled monstrosities in which my feet were cased. However, we were all on a better footing now; and I resolved for the future to avoid all dangerous topics, historical and geographical, and confine myself to subjects relating to the emotional side of our natures.
At the end our way to the house was over a green turf, among great trees as in a park; and as there was no road or path, the first sight of the building seen near, when we emerged from the trees, came as a surprise. There were no gardens, lawns, inclosures or hedges near it, nor cultivation of any kind. It was like a wilderness, and the house produced the effect of a noble ruin. It was a hilly stone country where masses of stone cropped out here and there among the woods and on the green slopes, and it appeared that the house had been raised on the natural foundation of one of these rocks standing a little above the river that flowed behind it. The stone was gray, tinged with red, and the whole rock, covering an acre or so of ground, had been worn or hewn down to form a vast platform which stood about a dozen feet above the surrounding green level. The sloping and buttressed sides of the platform were clothed with ivy, wild shrubs, and various flowering plants. Broad, shallow steps led up to the house, which was all of the same material—reddish-gray stone; and the main entrance was beneath a lofty portico, the sculptured entablature of which was supported by sixteen huge caryatides, standing on round massive pedestals. The building was not high as a castle or cathedral; it was a dwelling-place, and had but one floor, and resembled a ruin to my eyes because of the extreme antiquity of its appearance, the weather-worn condition and massiveness of the sculptured surfaces, and the masses of ancient ivy covering it in places. On the central portion of the building rested a great dome-shaped roof, resembling ground glass of a pale reddish tint, producing the effect of a cloud resting on the stony summit of a hill.
I remained standing on the grass about thirty yards from the first steps after the others had gone in, all but the old gentleman, who still kept with me. By-and-by, withdrawing to a stone bench under an oak-tree, he motioned to me to take a seat by his side. He said nothing, but appeared to be quietly enjoying my undisguised surprise and admiration.
"A noble mansion!" I remarked at length to my venerable host, feeling, Englishman-like, a sudden great access of respect towards the owner of a big house. Men in such a position can afford to be as eccentric as they like, even to the wearing of Carnivalesque garments, burying their friends or relations in a park, and shaking their heads over such names as Smith or Shakespeare. "A glorious place! It must have cost a pot of money, and taken a long time to build."
"What you mean by a pot of money I do not know," said he. "When you add a long time to build, I am also puzzled to understand you. For are not all houses, like the forest of trees, the human race, the world we live in, eternal?"
"If they stand forever they are so in one sense, I suppose," I answered, beginning to fear that I had already unfortunately broken the rule I had so recently laid down for my own guidance. "But the trees of the forest, to which you compare a house, spring from seed, do they not? and so have a beginning. Their end also, like the end of man, is to die and return to the dust."
"That is true," he returned; "it is, moreover, a truth which I do not now hear for the first time; but it has no connection with the subject we are discussing. Men pass away, and others take their places. Trees also decay, but the forest does not die, or suffer for the loss of individual trees; is it not the same with the house and the family inhabiting it, which is one with the house, and endures forever, albeit the members composing it must all in time return to the dust?"
"Is there no decay, then, of the materials composing a house?"
"Assuredly there is! Even the hardest stone is worn in time by the elements, or by the footsteps of many generations of men; but the stone that decays is removed, and the house does not suffer."
"I have never looked at it quite in this light before," said I. "But surely we can build a house whenever we wish!"
"Build a house whenever we wish!" he repeated, with that astonished look which threatened to become the permanent expression of his face—so long as he had me to talk with, at any rate.
"Yes, or pull one down if we find it unsuitable—" But his look of horror here made me pause, and to finish the sentence I added: "Of course, you must admit that a house had a beginning?"
"Yes; and so had the forest, the mountain, the human race, the world itself. But the origin of all these things is covered with the mists of time."
"Does it never happen, then, that a house, however substantially built—"
"However what! But never mind; you continue to speak in riddles. Pray, finish what you were saying."
"Does it never happen that a house is overthrown by some natural force—by floods, or subsidence of the earth, or is destroyed by lightning or fire?"
"No!" he answered, with such tremendous emphasis that he almost made me jump from my seat. "Are you alone so ignorant of these things that you speak of building and of pulling down a house?"
"Well, I fancied I knew a lot of things once," I answered, with a sigh. "But perhaps I was mistaken—people often are. I should like to hear you say something more about all these things—I mean about the house and the family, and the rest of it."
"Are you not, then, able to read—have you been taught absolutely nothing?"
"Oh yes, certainly I can read," I answered, joyfully seizing at once on the suggestion, which seemed to open a simple, pleasant way of escape from the difficulty. "I am by no means a studious person; perhaps I am never so happy as when I have nothing to read. Nevertheless, I do occasionally look into books, and greatly appreciate their gentle, kindly ways. They never shut themselves up with a sound like a slap, or throw themselves at your head for a duffer, but seem silently grateful for being read, even by a stupid person, and teach you very patiently, like a pretty, meek-spirited young girl."
"I am very pleased to hear it," said he. "You shall read and learn all these things for yourself, which is the best method. Or perhaps I ought rather to say, you shall by reading recall them to your mind, for it is impossible to believe that it has always been in its present pitiable condition. I can only attribute such a mental state, with its disordered fancies about cities, or immense hives of human beings, and other things equally frightful to contemplate, and its absolute vacancy concerning ordinary matters of knowledge, to the grave accident you met with in the hills. Doubtless in falling your head was struck and injured by a stone. Let us hope that you will soon recover possession of your memory and other faculties. And now let us repair to the eating-room, for it is best to refresh the body first, and the mind afterwards."
A CRYSTAL AGE
BY W. H. HUDSON
Romances of the future, however fantastic they may be, have for most of us a perennial if mild interest, since they are born of a very common feeling—a sense of dissatisfaction with the existing order of things, combined with a vague faith in or hope of a better one to come. The picture put before us is false; we knew it would be false before looking at it, since we cannot imagine what is unknown any more than we can build without materials. Our mental atmosphere surrounds and shuts us in like our own skins; no one can boast that he has broken out of that prison. The vast, unbounded prospect lies before us, but, as the poet mournfully adds, "clouds and darkness rest upon it." Nevertheless we cannot suppress all curiosity, or help asking one another, What is your dream—your ideal? What is your News from Nowhere, or, rather, what is the result of the little shake your hand has given to the old pasteboard toy with a dozen bits of colored glass for contents? And, most important of all, can you present it in a narrative or romance which will enable me to pass an idle hour not disagreeably? How, for instance, does it compare in this respect with other prophetic books on the shelf?
I am not referring to living authors; least of all to that flamingo of letters who for the last decade or so has been a wonder to our island birds. For what could I say of him that is not known to every one—that he is the tallest of fowls, land or water, of a most singular shape, and has black-tipped crimson wings folded under his delicate rose-colored plumage? These other books referred to, written, let us say, from thirty or forty years to a century or two ago, amuse us in a way their poor dead authors never intended. Most amusing are the dead ones who take themselves seriously, whose books are pulpits quaintly carved and decorated with precious stones and silken canopies in which they stand and preach to or at their contemporaries.
In like manner, in going through this book of mine after so many years I am amused at the way it is colored by the little cults and crazes, and modes of thought of the 'eighties of the last century. They were so important then, and now, if remembered at all, they appear so trivial! It pleases me to be diverted in this way at "A Crystal Age"—to find, in fact, that I have not stood still while the world has been moving.
This criticism refers to the case, the habit, of the book rather than to its spirit, since when we write we do, as the red man thought, impart something of our souls to the paper, and it is probable that if I were to write a new dream of the future it would, though in some respects very different from this, still be a dream and picture of the human race in its forest period.
Alas that in this case the wish cannot induce belief! For now I remember another thing which Nature said—that earthly excellence can come in no way but one, and the ending of passion and strife is the beginning of decay. It is indeed a hard saying, and the hardest lesson we can learn of her without losing love and bidding good-by forever to hope.
W. H. H.
A CRYSTAL AGE
I do not quite know how it happened, my recollection of the whole matter ebbing in a somewhat clouded condition. I fancy I had gone somewhere on a botanizing expedition, but whether at home or abroad I don't know. At all events, I remember that I had taken up the study of plants with a good deal of enthusiasm, and that while hunting for some variety in the mountains I sat down to rest on the edge of a ravine. Perhaps it was on the ledge of an overhanging rock; anyhow, if I remember rightly, the ground gave way all about me, precipitating me below. The fall was a very considerable one—probably thirty or forty feet, or more, and I was rendered unconscious. How long I lay there under the heap of earth and stones carried down in my fall it is impossible to say: perhaps a long time; but at last I came to myself and struggled up from the debris, like a mole coming to the surface of the earth to feel the genial sunshine on his dim eyeballs. I found myself standing (oddly enough, on all fours) in an immense pit created by the overthrow of a gigantic dead tree with a girth of about thirty or forty feet. The tree itself had rolled down to the bottom of the ravine; but the pit in which it had left the huge stumps of severed roots was, I found, situated in a gentle slope at the top of the bank! How, then, I could have fallen seemingly so far from no height at all, puzzled me greatly: it looked as if the solid earth had been indulging in some curious transformation pranks during those moments or minutes of insensibility. Another singular circumstance was that I had a great mass of small fibrous rootlets tightly woven about my whole person, so that I was like a colossal basket-worm in its case, or a big man-shaped bottle covered with wicker-work. It appeared as if the roots had grown round me! Luckily they were quite sapless and brittle, and without bothering my brains too much about the matter, I set to work to rid myself of them. After stripping the woody covering off, I found that my tourist suit of rough Scotch homespun had not suffered much harm, although the cloth exuded a damp, moldy smell; also that my thick-soled climbing boots had assumed a cracked rusty appearance as if I had been engaged in some brick-field operations; while my felt hat was in such a discolored and battered condition that I felt almost ashamed to put it on my head. My watch was gone; perhaps I had not been wearing it, but my pocket-book in which I had my money was safe in my breast pocket.
Glad and grateful at having escaped with unbroken bones from such a dangerous accident, I set out walking along the edge of the ravine, which soon broadened to a valley running between two steep hills; and then, seeing water at the bottom and feeling very dry, I ran down the slope to get a drink. Lying flat on my chest to slake my thirst animal fashion, I was amazed at the reflection the water gave back of my face: it was, skin and hair, thickly encrusted with clay and rootlets! Having taken a long drink, I threw off my clothes to have a bath; and after splashing about for half an hour managed to rid my skin of its accumulations of dirt. While drying in the wind I shook the loose sand and clay from my garments, then dressed, and, feeling greatly refreshed, proceeded on my walk.
For an hour or so I followed the valley in its many windings, but, failing to see any dwelling-place, I ascended a hill to get a view of the surrounding country. The prospect which disclosed itself when I had got a couple of hundred feet above the surrounding level, appeared unfamiliar. The hills among which I had been wandering were now behind me; before me spread a wide rolling country, beyond which rose a mountain range resembling in the distance blue banked-up clouds with summits and peaks of pearly whiteness. Looking on this scene I could hardly refrain from shouting with joy, so glad did the sunlit expanse of earth, and the pure exhilarating mountain breeze, make me feel. The season was late summer—that was plain to see; the ground was moist, as if from recent showers, and the earth everywhere had that intense living greenness with which it reclothes itself when the greater heats are over; but the foliage of the woods was already beginning to be touched here and there with the yellow and russet hues of decay. A more tranquil and soul-satisfying scene could not be imagined: the dear old mother earth was looking her very best; while the shifting golden sunlight, the mysterious haze in the distance, and the glint of a wide stream not very far off, seemed to spiritualize her "happy autumn fields," and bring them into a closer kinship with the blue over-arching sky. There was one large house or mansion in sight, but no town, nor even a hamlet, and not one solitary spire. In vain I scanned the horizon, waiting impatiently to see the distant puff of white steam from some passing engine. This troubled me not a little, for I had no idea that I had drifted so far from civilization in my search for specimens, or whatever it was that brought me to this pretty, primitive wilderness. Not quite a wilderness, however, for there, within a short hour's walk of the hill, stood the one great stone mansion, close to the river I had mentioned. There were also horses and cows in sight, and a number of scattered sheep were grazing on the hillside beneath me.
Strange to relate, I met with a little misadventure on account of the sheep—an animal which one is accustomed to regard as of a timid and inoffensive nature. When I set out at a brisk pace to walk to the house I have spoken of, in order to make some inquiries there, a few of the sheep that happened to be near began to bleat loudly, as if alarmed, and by and by they came hurrying after me, apparently in a great state of excitement. I did not mind them much, but presently a pair of horses, attracted by their bleatings, also seemed struck at my appearance, and came at a swift gallop to within twenty yards of me. They were magnificent-looking brutes, evidently a pair of well-groomed carriage horses, for their coats, which were of a fine bronze color, sparkled wonderfully in the sunshine. In other respects they were very unlike carriage animals, for they had tails reaching to the ground, like funeral horses, and immense black leonine manes, which gave them a strikingly bold and somewhat formidable appearance. For some moments they stood with heads erect, gazing fixedly at me, and then simultaneously delivered a snort of defiance or astonishment, so loud and sudden that it startled me like the report of a gun. This tremendous equine blast brought yet another enemy on the field in the shape of a huge milk-white bull with long horns: a very noble kind of animal, but one which I always prefer to admire from behind a hedge, or at a distance through a field-glass. Fortunately his wrathful mutterings gave me timely notice of his approach, and without waiting to discover his intentions, I incontinently fled down the slope to the refuge of a grove or belt of trees clothing the lower portion of the hillside. Spent and panting from my run, I embraced a big tree, and turning to face the foe, found that I had not been followed: sheep, horses, and bull were all grouped together just where I had left them, apparently holding a consultation, or comparing notes.
The trees where I had sought shelter were old, and grew here and there, singly or in scattered groups: it was a pretty wilderness of mingled tree, shrub and flower. I was surprised to find here some very large and ancient-looking fig-trees, and numbers of wasps and flies were busy feeding on a few over-ripe figs on the higher branches. Honey-bees also roamed about everywhere, extracting sweets from the autumn bloom, and filling the sunny glades with a soft, monotonous murmur of sound. Walking on full of happy thoughts and a keen sense of the sweetness of life pervading me, I presently noticed that a multitude of small birds were gathering about me, flitting through the trees overhead and the bushes on either hand, but always keeping near me, apparently as much excited at my presence as if I had been a gigantic owl, or some such unnatural monster. Their increasing numbers and incessant excited chirping and chattering at first served to amuse, but in the end began to irritate me. I observed, too, that the alarm was spreading, and that larger birds, usually shy of men—pigeons, jays, and magpies, I fancied they were—now began to make their appearance. Could it be, thought I with some concern, that I had wandered into some uninhabited wilderness, to cause so great a commotion among the little feathered people? I very soon dismissed this as an idle thought, for one does not find houses, domestic animals, and fruit-trees in desert places. No, it was simply the inherent cantankerousness of little birds which caused them to annoy me. Looking about on the ground for something to throw at them, I found in the grass a freshly-fallen walnut, and, breaking the shell, I quickly ate the contents. Never had anything tasted so pleasant to me before! But it had a curious effect on me, for, whereas before eating it I had not felt hungry, I now seemed to be famishing, and began excitedly searching about for more nuts. They were lying everywhere in the greatest abundance; for, without knowing it, I had been walking through a grove composed in large part of old walnut-trees. Nut after nut was picked up and eagerly devoured, and I must have eaten four or five dozen before my ravenous appetite was thoroughly appeased. During this feast I had paid no attention to the birds, but when my hunger was over I began again to feel annoyed at their trivial persecutions, and so continued to gather the fallen nuts to throw at them. It amused and piqued me at the same time to see how wide of the mark my missiles went. I could hardly have hit a haystack at a distance of ten yards. After half an hour's vigorous practice my right hand began to recover its lost cunning, and I was at last greatly delighted when of my nuts went hissing like a bullet through the leaves, not further than a yard from the wren, or whatever the little beggar was, I had aimed at. Their Impertinences did not like this at all; they began to find out that I was a rather dangerous person to meddle with: their ranks were broken, they became demoralized and scattered, in all directions, and I was finally left master of the field.
"Dolt that I am," I suddenly exclaimed, "to be fooling away my time when the nearest railway station or hotel is perhaps twenty miles away."
I hurried on, but when I got to the end of the grove, on the green sward near some laurel and juniper bushes, I came on an excavation apparently just made, the loose earth which had been dug out looking quite fresh and moist. The hole or foss was narrow, about five feet deep and seven feet long, and looked, I imagined, curiously like a grave. A few yards away was a pile of dry brushwood, and some faggots bound together with ropes of straw, all apparently freshly cut from the neighboring bushes. As I stood there, wondering what these things meant, I happened to glance away in the direction of the house where I intended to call, which was not now visible owing to an intervening grove of tall trees, and was surprised to discover a troop of about fifteen persons advancing along the valley in my direction. Before them marched a tall white-bearded old man; next came eight men, bearing a platform on their shoulders with some heavy burden resting upon it; and behind these followed the others. I began to think that they were actually carrying a corpse, with the intention of giving it burial in that very pit beside which I was standing; and, although it looked most unlike a funeral, for no person in the procession wore black, the thought strengthened to a conviction when I became able to distinguish a recumbent, human-like form in a shroud-like covering on the platform. It seemed altogether a very unusual proceeding, and made me feel extremely uncomfortable; so much so that I considered it prudent to step back behind the bushes, where I could watch the doings of the processionists without being observed.
Led by the old man—who carried, suspended by thin chains, a large bronze censer, or brazier rather, which sent out a thin continuous wreath of smoke—they came straight on to the pit; and after depositing their burden on the grass, remained standing for some minutes, apparently to rest after their walk, all conversing together, but in subdued tones, so that I could not catch their words, although standing within fifteen yards of the grave. The uncoffined corpse, which seemed that of a full-grown man, was covered with a white cloth, and rested on a thick straw mat, provided with handles along the sides. On these things, however, I bestowed but a hasty glance, so profoundly absorbed had I become in watching the group of living human beings before me; for they were certainly utterly unlike any fellow-creatures I had ever encountered before. The old man was tall and spare, and from his snowy-white majestic beard I took him to be about seventy years old; but he was straight as an arrow, and his free movements and elastic tread were those of a much younger man. His head was adorned with a dark red skull-cap, and he wore a robe covering the whole body and reaching to the ankles, of a deep yellow or rhubarb color; but his long wide sleeves under his robe were dark red, embroidered with yellow flowers. The other men had no covering on their heads, and their luxuriant hair, worn to the shoulders, was, in most cases, very dark. Their garments were also made in a different fashion, and consisted of a kilt-like dress, which came half-way to the knees, a pale yellow shirt fitting tight to the skin, and over it a loose sleeveless vest. The entire legs were cased in stockings, curious in pattern and color. The women wore garments resembling those of the men, but the tight-fitting sleeves reached only half-way to the elbow, the rest of the arm being bare; and the outergarment was all in one piece, resembling a long sleeveless jacket, reaching below the hips. The color of their dresses varied, but in most cases different shades of blue and subdued yellow predominated. In all, the stockings showed deeper and richer shades of color than the other garments; and in their curiously segmented appearance, and in the harmonious arrangement of the tints, they seemed to represent the skins of pythons and other beautifully variegated serpents. All wore low shoes of an orange-brown color, fitting closely so as to display the shape of the foot.
From the moment of first seeing them I had had no doubt about the sex of the tall old leader of the procession, his shining white beard being as conspicuous at a distance as a shield or a banner; but looking at the others I was at first puzzled to know whether the party was composed of men or women, or of both, so much did they resemble each other in height, in their smooth faces, and in the length of their hair. On a closer inspection I noticed the difference of dress of the sexes; also that the men, if not sterner, had faces at all events less mild and soft in expression than the women, and also a slight perceptible down on the cheeks and upper lip.
After a first hasty survey of the group in general, I had eyes for only one person in it—a fine graceful girl about fourteen years old, and the youngest by far of the party. A description of this girl will give some idea, albeit a very poor one, of the faces and general appearance of this strange people I had stumbled on. Her dress, if a garment so brief can be called a dress, showed a slaty-blue pattern on a straw-colored ground, while her stockings were darker shades of the same colors. Her eyes, at the distance I stood from her, appeared black, or nearly black, but when seen closely they proved to be green—a wonderfully pure, tender sea-green; and the others, I found, had eyes of the same hue. Her hair fell to her shoulders; but it was very wavy or curly, and strayed in small tendril-like tresses over her neck, forehead and cheeks; in color it was golden black—that is, black in shade, but when touched with sunlight every hair became a thread of shining red-gold; and in some lights it looked like raven-black hair powdered with gold-dust. As to her features, the forehead was broader and lower, the nose larger, and the lips more slender, than in our most beautiful female types. The color was also different, the delicately molded mouth being purple-red instead of the approved cherry or coral hue; while the complexion was a clear dark, and the color, which mantled the cheeks in moments of excitement, was a dim or dusky rather than a rosy red.
The exquisite form and face of this young girl, from the first moment of seeing her, produced a very deep impression; and I continued watching her every movement and gesture with an intense, even a passionate interest. She had a quantity of flowers in her hand; but these sweet emblems, I observed, were all gayly colored, which seemed strange, for in most places white flowers are used in funeral ceremonies. Some of the men who had followed the body carried in their hands broad, three-cornered bronze shovels, with short black handles, and these they had dropped upon the grass on arriving at the grave. Presently the old man stooped and drew the covering back from the dead one's face—a rigid, marble-white face set in a loose mass of black hair. The others gathered round, and some standing, others kneeling, bent on the still countenance before them a long earnest gaze, as if taking an eternal farewell of one they had deeply loved. At this moment the the beautiful girl I have described all at once threw herself with a sobbing cry on her knees before the corpse, and, stooping, kissed the face with passionate grief. "Oh, my beloved, must we now leave you alone forever!" she cried between the sobs that shook her whole frame. "Oh, my love—my love—my love, will you come back to us no more!"
The others all appeared deeply affected at her grief, and presently a young man standing by raised her from the ground and drew her gently against his side, where for some minutes she continued convulsively weeping. Some of the other men now passed ropes through the handles of the straw mat on which the corpse rested, and raising it from the platform lowered it into the foss. Each person in turn then advanced and dropped some flowers into the grave, uttering the one word "Farewell" as they did so; after which the loose earth was shoveled in with the bronze implements. Over the mound the hurdle on which the straw mat had rested was then placed, the dry brushwood and faggots heaped over it and ignited with a coal from the brazier. White smoke and crackling flames issued anon from the pile, and in a few moments the whole was in a fierce blaze.
Standing around they all waited in silence until the fire had burnt itself out; then the old man advancing stretched his arms above the white and still smoking ashes and cried in a loud voice: "Farewell forever, O well beloved son! With deep sorrow and tears we have given you back to Earth; but not until she has made the sweet grass and flowers grow again on this spot, scorched and made desolate with fire, shall our hearts be healed of their wound and forget their grief."
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned.
Those who felt this sensation of awe, could not explain whence it arose: some attributed it to the dead grey eye, which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention.
In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a wanner tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection: Lady Mercer, who had been the mockery of every monster shewn in drawing-rooms since her marriage, threw herself in his way, and did all but put on the dress of a mountebank, to attract his notice -- though in vain; -- when she stood before him, though his eyes were apparently fixed upon hers, still it seemed as if they were unperceived; -- even her unappalled impudence was baffled, and she left the field. But though the common adultress could not influence even the guidance of his eyes, it was not that the female sex was indifferent to him: yet such was the apparent caution with which he spoke to the virtuous wife and innocent daughter, that few knew he ever addressed himself to females. He had, however, the reputation of a winning tongue; and whether it was that it even overcame the dread of his singular character, or that they were moved by his apparent hatred of vice, he was as often among those females who form the boast of their sex from their domestic virtues, as among those who sully it by their vices.
About the same time, there came to London a young gentleman of the name of Aubrey: he was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood. Left also to himself by guardians, who thought it their duty merely to take care of his fortune, while they relinquished the more important charge of his mind to the care of mercenary subalterns, he cultivated more his imagination than his judgment. He had, hence, that high romantic feeling of honour and candour, which daily ruins so many milliners' apprentices. He believed all to sympathise with virtue, and thought that vice was thrown in by Providence merely for the picturesque effect of the scene, as we see in romances: he thought that the misery of a cottage merely consisted in the vesting of clothes, which were as warm, but which were better adapted to the painter's eye by their irregular folds and various coloured patches.
He thought, in fine, that the dreams of poets were the realities of life. He was handsome, frank, and rich: for these reasons, upon his entering into the gay circles, many mothers surrounded him, striving which should describe with least truth their languishing or romping favourites: the daughters at the same time, by their brightening countenances when he approached, and by their sparkling eyes, when he opened his lips, soon led him into false notions of his talents and his merit. Attached as he was to the romance of his solitary hours, he was startled at finding, that, except in the tallow and wax candles that flickered, not from the presence of a ghost, but from want of snuffing, there was no foundation in real life for any of that congeries of pleasing pictures and descriptions contained in those volumes, from which he had formed his study. Finding, however, some compensation in his gratified vanity, he was about to relinquish his dreams, when the extraordinary being we have above described, crossed him in his career.
He watched him; and the very impossibility of forming an idea of the character of a man entirely absorbed in himself, who gave few other signs of his observation of external objects, than the tacit assent to their existence, implied by the avoidance of their contact: allowing his imagination to picture every thing that flattered its propensity to extravagant ideas, he soon formed this object into the hero of a romance, and determined to observe the offspring of his fancy, rather than the person before him. He became acquainted with him, paid him attentions, and so far advanced upon his notice, that his presence was always recognised. He gradually learnt that Lord Ruthven's affairs were embarrassed, and soon found, from the notes of preparation in ---- Street, that he was about to travel.
Desirous of gaining some information respecting this singular character, who, till now, had only whetted his curiosity, he hinted to his guardians, that it was time for him to perform the tour, which for many generations has been thought necessary to enable the young to take some rapid steps in the career of vice towards putting themselves upon an equality with the aged, and not allowing them to appear as if fallen from the skies, whenever scandalous intrigues are mentioned as the subjects of pleasantry or of praise, according to the degree of skill shewn in carrying them on. They consented: and Aubrey immediately mentioning his intentions to Lord Ruthven, was surprised to receive from him a proposal to join him. Flattered such a mark of esteem from him, who, apparently, had nothing in common with other men, he gladly accepted it, and in a few days they had passed the circling waters.
Hitherto, Aubrey had had no opportunity of studying Lord Ruthven's character, and now he found, that, though many more of his actions were exposed to his view, the results offered different conclusions from the apparent motives to his conduct. His companion was profuse in his liberality; -- the idle, the vagabond, and the beggar, received from his hand more than enough to relieve their immediate wants. But Aubrey could not avoid remarking, that it was not upon the virtuous, reduced to indigence by the misfortunes attendant even upon virtue, that he bestowed his alms; -- these were sent from the door with hardly suppressed sneers; but when the profligate came to ask something, not to relieve his wants, but to allow him to wallow in his lust, to sink him still deeper in his iniquity, he was sent away with rich charity. This was, however, attributed by him to the greater importunity of the vicious, which generally prevails over the retiring bashfulness of the virtuous indigent.
There was one circumstance about the charity of his Lordship, which was still more impressed upon his mind: all those upon whom it was bestowed, inevitably found that there was a curse upon it, for they were all either led to the scaffold, or sunk to the lowest and the most abject misery. At Brussels and other towns through which they passed, Aubrey was surprised at the apparent eagerness with which his companion sought for the centres of all fashionable vice; there he entered into all the spirit of the faro table: he betted and always gambled with success, except where the known sharper was his antagonist, and then he lost even more than he gained; but it was always with the same unchanging face, with which he generally watched the society around: it was not, however, so when he encountered the rash youthful novice, or the luckless father of a numerous family; then his very wish seemed fortune's law -- this apparent abstractedness of mind was laid aside, and his eyes sparkled with more fire than that of the cat whilst dallying with the half-dead mouse.
In every town, he left the formerly affluent youth, torn from the circle he adorned, cursing, in the solitude of a dungeon, the fate that had drawn him within the reach of this fiend; whilst many a father sat frantic, amidst the speaking looks of mute hungry children, without a single farthing of his late immense wealth, wherewith to buy even sufficient to satisfy their present craving. Yet he took no money from the gambling table; but immediately lost, to the ruiner of many, the last gilder he had just snatched from the convulsive grasp of the innocent: this might but be the result of a certain degree of knowledge, which was not, however, capable of combating the cunning of the more experienced. Aubrey often wished to represent this to his friend, and beg him to resign that charity and pleasure which proved the ruin of all, and did not tend to his own profit; but he delayed it -- for each day he hoped his friend would give him some opportunity of speaking frankly and openly to him; however, this never occurred. Lord Ruthven in his carriage, and amidst the various wild and rich scenes of nature, was always the same: his eye spoke less than his lip; and though Aubrey was near the object of his curiosity, he obtained no greater gratification from it than the constant excitement of vainly wishing to break that mystery, which to his exalted imagination began to assume the appearance of something supernatural.
They soon arrived at Rome, and Aubrey for a time lost sight of his companion; he left him in daily attendance upon the morning circle of an Italian countess, whilst he went in search of the memorials of another almost deserted city. Whilst he was thus engaged, letters arrived from England, which he opened with eager impatience; the first was from his sister, breathing nothing but affection; the others were from his guardians, the latter astonished him; if it had before entered into his imagination that there was an evil power resident in his companion these seemed to give him almost sufficient reason for the belief. His guardians insisted upon his immediately leaving his friend, and urged that his character was dreadfully vicious, for that the possession of irresistible powers of seduction, rendered his licentious habits more dangerous to society. It had been discovered, that his contempt for the adultress had not originated in hatred of her character; but that he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation: in fine, that all those females whom he had sought, apparently on account of their virtue, had, since his departure, thrown even the mask aside, and had not scrupled to expose the whole deformity of their vices to the public gaze.
Aubrey determined upon leaving one, whose character had not shown a single bright point on which to rest the eye. He resolved to invent some plausible pretext for abandoning him altogether, purposing, in the mean while, to watch him more closely, and to let no slight circumstances pass by unnoticed. He entered into the same circle, and soon perceived, that his Lordship was endeavouring to work upon the inexperience of the daughter of the lady whose house he chiefly frequented. In Italy, it is seldom that an unmarried female is met with in society; he was therefore obliged to carry on his plans in secret; but Aubrey's eye followed him in all his windings, and soon discovered that an assignation had been appointed, which would most likely end in the ruin of an innocent, though thoughtless girl.
Losing no time, he entered the apartment of Lord Ruthven, and abruptly asked him his intentions with respect to the lady, informing him at the same time that he was aware of his being about to meet her that very night. Lord Ruthven answered, that his intentions were such as he supposed all would have upon such an occasion; and upon being pressed whether he intended to marry her, merely laughed. Aubrey retired; and, immediately writing a note, to say, that from that moment he must decline accompanying his Lordship in the remainder of their proposed tour, he ordered his servant to seek other apartments, and calling upon the mother of the lady informed her of all he knew, not only with regard to her daughter, but also concerning the character of his Lordship. The assignation was prevented. Lord Ruthven next day merely sent his servant to notify his complete assent to a separation; but did not hint any suspicion of his plans having been foiled by Aubrey's interposition.
Having left Rome, Aubrey directed his steps towards Greece, and crossing the Peninsula, soon found himself at Athens. He then fixed residence in the house of a Greek; and soon occupied himself in tracing the faded records of ancient glory upon monuments that apparently, ashamed of chronicling the deeds of freemen only before slaves, had hidden themselves beneath the sheltering soil or many coloured lichen. Under the same roof as himself, existed a being, so beautiful and delicate, that she might have formed the model for a painter, wishing to portray on canvass the promised hope of the faithful in Mahomet's paradise, save that her eyes spoke too much mind for any one to think she could belong to those who had no souls. As she danced upon the plain, or tripped along the mountain's side, one would have thought the gazelle a poor type of her beauties; for who would have exchanged her eye, apparently the eye of animated nature, for that sleepy luxurious look of the animal suited but to the taste of an epicure. The light step of Ianthe often accompanied Aubrey in his search after antiquities, and often would the unconscious girl, engaged in the pursuit of a Kashmere butterfly, show the whole beauty of her form, boating as it were upon the wind, to the eager gaze of him, who forgot the letters he had just decyphered upon an almost effaced tablet, in the contemplation of her sylph-like figure.
Often would her tresses falling, as she flitted around, exhibit in the sun's ray such delicately brilliant and swiftly fading hues, as might well excuse the forgetfulness of the antiquary, who let escape from his mind the very object he had before thought of vital importance to the proper interpretation of a passage in Pausanias. But why attempt to describe charms which all feel, but none can appreciate? -- It was innocence, youth, and beauty, unaffected by crowded drawing-rooms and stifling balls. Whilst he drew those remains of which he wished to preserve a memorial for his future hours, she would stand by, and watch the magic effects of his pencil, in tracing the scenes of her native place; she would then describe to him the circling dance upon the open plain, would paint to him in all the glowing colours of youthful memory, the marriage pomp she remembered viewing in her infancy; and then, turning to subjects that had evidently made a greater impression upon her mind, would tell him all the supernatural tales of her nurse.
Her earnestness and apparent belief of what she narrated, excited the interest even of Aubrey; and often as she told him the tale of the living vampyre, who had passed years amidst his friends, and dearest ties, forced every year, by feeding upon the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence for the ensuing months, his blood would run cold, whilst he attempted to laugh her out of such idle and horrible fantasies; but Ianthe cited to him the names of old men, who had at last detected one living among themselves, after several of their near relatives and children had been found marked with the stamp of the fiend's appetite; and when she found him so incredulous, she begged of him to believe her, for it had been remarked, that those who had dared to question their existence, always had some proof given, which obliged them, with grief and heartbreaking, to confess it was true. She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and his horror was increased by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her, that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven.
Aubrey began to attach himself more and more to Ianthe; her innocence, so contrasted with all the affected virtues of the women among whom he had sought for his vision of romance, won his heart and while he ridiculed the idea of a young man of English habits, marrying an uneducated Greek girl, still he found himself more and more attached to the almost fairy form before him. He would tear himself at times from her, and, forming a plan for some antiquarian research, would depart, determined not to return until his object was attained; but he always found it impossible to fix his attention upon the ruins around him, whilst in his mind he retained an image that seemed alone the rightful possessor of his thoughts. Ianthe was unconscious of his love, and was ever the same frank infantile being he had first known.
She always seemed to part from him with reluctance; but it was because she had no longer any one with whom she could visit her favourite haunts, whilst her guardian was occupied in sketching or uncovering some fragment which had yet escaped the destructive hand of time. She had appealed to her parents on the subject of Vampyres, and they both, with several present, affirmed their existence, pale with horror at the very name. Soon after, Aubrey determined to proceed upon one of his excursions, which was to detain him for a few hours; when they heard the name of the place, they all at once begged of him not to return at night, as he must necessarily pass through a wood, where no Greek would ever remain, after the day had closed, upon any consideration. They described it as the resort of the vampyres in their nocturnal orgies and denounced the most heavy evils as impending upon him who dared to cross their path. Aubrey made light of their representations, and tried to laugh them out of the idea; but when he saw them shudder at his daring thus to mock a superior, infernal power, the very name of which apparently made their blood freeze, he was silent.
Next morning Aubrey set off upon his excursion unattended; he was surprised to observe the melancholy face of his host, and was concerned to find that his words, mocking the belief of those horrible fiends, had inspired them with such terror. When he was about to depart, Ianthe came to the side of his horse, and earnestly begged of him to return, ere night allowed the power of these beings to be put in action; -- he promised. He was, however, so occupied in his research, that he did not perceive that day-light would soon end, and that in the horizon there was one of those specks which, in the warmer climates, so rapidly gather into a tremendous mass, and pour all their rage upon the devoted country. -- He at last, however, mounted his horse, determined to make up by speed for his delay: but it was too late. Twilight, in these southern climates, is almost unknown; immediately the sun sets, night begins: and ere he had advanced far, the power of the storm was above -- its echoing thunders had scarcely an interval of rest; -- its thick heavy rain forced its way through the canopying foliage, whilst the blue forked lightning seemed to fall and radiate at his very feet. Suddenly his horse took fright, and he was carried with dreadful rapidity through the entangled forest.
The animal at last, through fatigue, stopped, and he found, by the glare of lightning, that he was in the neighbourhood of a hovel that hardly lifted itself up from the masses of dead leaves and brushwood which surrounded it. Dismounting, he approached, hoping to find some one to guide him to the town, or at least trusting to obtain shelter from the pelting of the storm. As he approached, the thunders, for a moment silent, allowed him to hear the dreadful shrieks of a woman mingling with the stifled, exultant mockery of a laugh, continued in one almost unbroken sound; -- he was startled: but, roused by the thunder which again rolled over his head, he, with a sudden effort, forced open the door of the hut. He found himself in utter darkness: the sound, however, guided him. He was apparently unperceived; for, though he called, still the sounds continued, and no notice was taken of him. He found himself in contact with some one, whom he immediately seized; when a voice cried, "Again baffled!" to which a loud laugh succeeded; and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled; but it was in vain: he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground: -- his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hands upon his throat when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him; -- he instantly rose, and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of branches, as he broke through the wood, was no longer heard.
The storm was now still; and Aubrey, incapable of moving, was soon heard by those without. They entered; the light of their torches fell upon mud walls, and the thatch loaded on every individual straw with heavy flakes of soot. At the desire of Aubrey they searched for her who had attracted him by her cries; he was again left in darkness; but what was his horror, when the light of the torches once more burst upon him, to perceive the airy form of his fair conductress brought in a lifeless corpse. He shut his eyes, hoping that it was but a vision arising from his disturbed imagination; but he again saw the same form, when he unclosed them, stretched by his side.
There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: -- upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: -- to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, "A Vampyre! a Vampyre!" A litter was quickly formed, and Aubrey was laid by the side of her who had lately been to him the object of so many bright and fairy visions, now fallen; with the flower of life that had died within her. He knew not what his thoughts were -- his mind was benumbed and seemed to shun reflection and take refuge in vacancy; -- he held almost unconsciously in his hand a naked dagger of a particular construction, which had been found in the hut.
They were soon met by different parties who had been engaged in the search of her whom a mother had missed. Their lamentable cries as they approached the city, forewarned the parents of some dreadful catastrophe. -- To describe their grief would be impossible; but when they ascertained the cause of their child's death, they looked at Aubrey and pointed to the corpse. They were inconsolable; both died brokenhearted.
Aubrey being put to bed was seized with a most violent fever, and was often delirious; in these intervals he would call upon Lord Ruthven and upon Ianthe -- by some unaccountable combination he seemed to beg of his former companion to spare the being he loved. At other times he would imprecate maledictions upon his head, and curse him as her destroyer.
Lord Ruthven chanced at this time to arrive at Athens, and from whatever motive, upon hearing of the state of Aubrey, immediately placed himself in the same house, and became his constant attendant. When the latter recovered from his delirium, he was horrified and startled at the sight of him whose image he had now combined with that of a Vampyre; but Lord Ruthven, by his kind words, implying almost repentance for the fault that had caused their separation, and still more by the attention, anxiety, and care which he showed, soon reconciled him to his presence.
His lordship seemed quite changed; he no longer appeared that apathetic being who had so astonished Aubrey; but as soon as his convalescence began to be rapid, he again gradually retired into the same state of mind, and Aubrey perceived no difference from the former man, except that at times he was surprised to meet his gaze fixed intently upon him, with a smile of malicious exultation playing upon his lips: he knew not why, but this smile haunted him. During the last stage of the invalid's recovery, Lord Ruthven was apparently engaged in watching the tideless waves raised by the cooling breeze, or in marking the progress of those orbs, circling, like our world, the moveless sun; -- indeed, he appeared to wish to avoid the eyes of all.
Aubrey's mind, by this shock, was much weakened, and that elasticity of spirit which had once so distinguished him now seemed to have fled for ever. He was now as much a lover of solitude and silence as Lord Ruthven; but much as he wished for solitude, his mind could not find it in the neighbourhood of Athens; if he sought it amidst the ruins he had formerly frequented, Ianthe's form stood by his side; -- if he sought it in the woods, her light step would appear wandering amidst the underwood, in quest of the modest violet; then suddenly turning round, would show, to his wild imagination, her pale face and wounded throat, with a meek smile upon her lips. He determined to fly scenes, every feature of which created such bitter associations in his mind. He proposed to Lord Ruthven, to whom he held himself bound by the tender care he had taken of him during his illness, that they should visit those parts of Greece neither had yet seen.
They travelled in every direction, and sought every spot to which a recollection could be attached: but though they thus hastened from place to place, yet they seemed not to heed what they gazed upon. They heard much of robbers, but they gradually began to slight these reports, which they imagined were only the invention of individuals, whose interest it was to excite the generosity of those whom they defended from pretended dangers. In consequence of thus neglecting the advice of the inhabitants, on one occasion they travelled with only a few guards, more to serve as guides than as a defence. Upon entering, however, a narrow defile, at the bottom of which was the bed of a torrent, with large masses of rock brought down from the neighbouring precipices, they had reason to repent their negligence; for scarcely were the whole of the party engaged in the narrow pass, when they were startled by the whistling of bullets close to their heads, and by the echoed report of several guns. In an instant their guards had left them, and, placing themselves behind rocks, had begun to fire in the direction whence the report came. Lord Ruthven and Aubrey, imitating their example, retired for a moment behind the sheltering turn of the defile: but ashamed of being thus detained by a foe, who with insulting shouts bade them advance, and being exposed to unresisting slaughter, if any of the robbers should climb above and take them in the rear, they determined at once to rush forward in search of the enemy. Hardly had they lost the shelter of rock, when Lord Ruthven received a shot in the shoulder, which brought him to the ground. Aubrey hastened to his assistance; and, no longer heeding the contest or his own peril, was soon surprised by seeing the robbers' faces around him -- his guards having, upon Lord Ruthven's being wounded, immediately thrown up their arms and surrendered.
By promises of great reward, Aubrey soon induced them to convey his wounded friend to a neighbouring cabin; and having agreed upon a ransom, he was no more disturbed by their presence -- they being content merely to guard the entrance till their comrade should return with the promised sum, for which he had an order. Lord Ruthven's strength rapidly decreased; in two days mortification ensued, and death seemed advancing with hasty steps.
His conduct and appearance had not changed; he seemed as unconscious of pain as he had been of the objects about him: but towards the close of the last evening, his mind became apparently uneasy, and his eye often fixed upon Aubrey, who was induced to offer his assistance with more than usual earnestness -- "Assist me! you may save me -- you may do more than that -- I mean not life, I heed the death of my existence as little as that of the passing day; but you may save my honour, your friend's honour." -- "How? tell me how? I would do any thing," replied Aubrey. -- "I need but little, my life ebbs apace -- I cannot explain the whole -- but if you would conceal all you know of me, my honour were free from stain in the world's mouth -- and if my death were unknown for some time in England -- I -- I -- but life." -- "It shall not be known." -- "Swear!" cried the dying man raising himself with exultant violence. "Swear by all your soul reveres, by all your nature fears, swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see." -- His eyes seemed bursting from their sockets; "I swear!" said Aubrey; he sunk laughing upon his pillow, and breathed no more.
Aubrey retired to rest, but did not sleep; the many circumstances attending his acquaintance with this man rose upon his mind, and he knew not why; when he remembered his oath a cold shivering came over him, as if from the presentiment of something horrible awaiting him. Rising early in the morning, he was about to enter the hovel in which he had left the corpse, when a robber met him, and informed him that it was no longer there, having been conveyed by himself and comrades, upon his retiring, to the pinnacle of a neighbouring mount, according to a promise they had given his lordship, that it should be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon that rose after his death. Aubrey astonished, and taking several of the men, determined to go and bury it upon the spot where it lay. But, when he had mounted to the summit he found no trace of either the corpse or the clothes, though the robbers swore they pointed out the identical rock on which they had laid the body. For a time his mind was bewildered in conjectures, but he at last returned, convinced that they had buried the corpse for the sake of the clothes.
Weary of a country in which he had met with such terrible misfortunes, and in which all apparently conspired to heighten that superstitious melancholy that had seized upon his mind, he resolved to leave it, and soon arrived at Smyrna. While waiting for a vessel to convey him to Otranto, or to Naples, he occupied himself in arranging those effects he had with him belonging to Lord Ruthven. Amongst other things there was a case containing several weapons of offence, more or less adapted to ensure the death of the victim. There were several daggers and ataghans. Whilst turning them over, and examining their curious forms, what was his surprise at finding a sheath apparently ornamented in the same style as the dagger discovered in the fatal hut; -- he shuddered; hastening to gain further proof, he found the weapon, and his horror may be imagined when he discovered that it fitted, though peculiarly shaped, the sheath he held in his hand. His eyes seemed to need no further certainty -- they seemed gazing to be bound to the dagger, yet still he wished to disbelieve; but the particular form, the same varying tints upon the haft and sheath were alike in splendour on both, and left no room for doubt; there were also drops of blood on each.
He left Smyrna, and on his way home, at Rome, his first inquiries were concerning the lady he had attempted to snatch from Lord Ruthven's seductive arts. Her parents were in distress, their fortune ruined, and she had not been heard of since the departure of his lordship. Aubrey's mind became almost broken under so many repeated horrors; he was afraid that this lady had fallen a victim to the destroyer of Ianthe. He became morose and silent; and his only occupation consisted in urging the speed of the postilions, as if he were going to save the life of some one he held dear. He arrived at Calais; a breeze, which seemed obedient to his will, soon wafted him to the English shores; and he hastened to the mansion of his fathers, and there, for a moment, appeared to lose, in the embraces and caresses of his sister, all memory of the past. If she before, by her infantine caresses, had gained his affection, now that the woman began to appear, she was still more attaching as a companion.
Miss Aubrey had not that winning grace which gains the gaze and applause of the drawing-room assemblies. There was none of that light brilliancy which only exists in the heated atmosphere of a crowded apartment. Her blue eye was never lit up by the levity of the mind beneath. There was a melancholy charm about it which did not seem to arise from misfortune, but from some feeling within, that appeared to indicate a soul conscious of a brighter realm. Her step was not that light footing, which strays where'er a butterfly or a colour may attract -- it was sedate and pensive. When alone, her face was never brightened by the smile of joy; but when her brother breathed to her his affection, and would in her presence forget those griefs she knew destroyed his rest, who would have exchanged her smile for that of the voluptuary? It seemed as if those eyes, that face were then playing in the light of their own native sphere.
She was yet only eighteen, and had not been presented to the world, it having been thought by her guardians more fit that her presentation should be delayed until her brother's return from the continent, when he might be her protector. It was now, therefore, resolved that the next drawing-room, which was fast approaching, should be the epoch of her entry into the "busy scene." Aubrey would rather have remained in the mansion of his fathers, and feed upon the melancholy which overpowered him. He could not feel interest about the frivolities of fashionable strangers, when his mind had been so torn by the events he had witnessed; but he determined to sacrifice his own comfort to the protection of his sister. They soon arrived in town, and prepared for the next day, which had been announced as a drawing- room.
The crowd was excessive -- a drawing-room had not been held for long time, and all who were anxious to bask in the smile of royalty, hastened thither. Aubrey was there with his sister. While he was standing in a corner by himself, heedless of all around him, engaged in the remembrance that the first time he had seen Lord Ruthven was in that very place -- he felt himself suddenly seized by the arm, and a voice he recognized too well, sounded in his ear -- "Remember your oath." He had hardly courage to turn, fearful of seeing a spectre that would blast him, when he perceived, at a little distance, the same figure which had attracted his notice on this spot upon his first entry into society. He gazed till his limbs almost refusing to bear their weight, he was obliged to take the arm of a friend, and forcing a passage through the crowd, he threw himself into his carriage, and was driven home. He paced the room with hurried steps, and fixed his hands upon his head, as if he were afraid his thoughts were bursting from his brain. Lord Ruthven again before him -- circumstances started up in dreadful array -- the dagger -- his oath. -- He roused himself, he could not believe it possible -- the dead rise again! -- He thought his imagination had conjured up the image his mind was resting upon.
It was impossible that it could be real -- he determined, therefore, to go again into society; for though he attempted to ask concerning Lord Ruthven, the name hung upon his lips and he could not succeed in gaining information. He went a few nights after with his sister to the assembly of a near relation. Leaving her under the protection of a matron, he retired into a recess, and there gave himself up to his own devouring thoughts. Perceiving, at last, that many were leaving, he roused himself, and entering another room, found his sister surrounded by several, apparently in earnest conversation; he attempted to pass and get near her, when one, whom he requested to move, turned round, and revealed to him those features he most abhorred. He sprang forward, seized his sister's arm, and, with hurried step, forced her towards the street: at the door he found himself impeded by the crowd of servants who were waiting for their lords; and while he was engaged in passing them, he again heard that voice whisper close to him -- "Remember your oath!" -- He did not dare to turn, but, hurrying his sister, soon reached home.
Aubrey became almost distracted. If before his mind had been absorbed by one subject, how much more completely was it engrossed now that the certainty of the monster's living again pressed upon his thoughts. His sister's attentions were now unheeded, and it was in vain that she intreated him to explain to her what had caused his abrupt conduct. He only uttered a few words, and those terrified her. The more he thought, the more he was bewildered. His oath startled him; -- was he then to allow this monster to roam, bearing ruin upon his breath, amidst all he held dear, and not avert its progress? His very sister might have been touched by him. But even if he were to break his oath, and disclose his suspicions, who would believe him? He thought of employing his own hand to free the world from such a wretch; but death, he remembered, had been already mocked. For days he remained in state; shut up in his room, he saw no one, and ate only when his sister came, who, with eyes streaming with tears, besought him, for her sake, to support nature.
At last, no longer capable of bearing stillness and solitude, he left his house, roamed from street to street, anxious to fly that image which haunted him. His dress became neglected, and he wandered, as often exposed to the noon-day sun as to the mid-night damps. He was no longer to be recognized; at first he returned with evening to the house; but at last he laid him down to rest wherever fatigue overtook him. His sister, anxious for his safety, employed people to follow him; but they were soon distanced by him who fled from a pursuer swifter than any -- from thought. His conduct, however, suddenly changed. Struck with the idea that he left by his absence the whole of his friends, with a fiend amongst them, of whose presence they were unconscious, he determined to enter again into society, and watch him closely, anxious to forewarn, in spite of his oath, all whom Lord Ruthven approached with intimacy. But when he entered into a room, his haggard and suspicious looks were so striking, his inward shuddering so visible, that his sister was at last obliged to beg of him to abstain from seeking, for her sake, a society which affected him so strongly. When, however, remonstrance proved unavailing, the guardians thought proper to interpose, and, fearing that his mind was becoming alienated, they thought it high time to resume again that trust which had been before imposed upon them by Aubrey's parents.
Desirous of saving him from the injuries and sufferings he had daily encountered in his wanderings, and of preventing him from exposing to the general eye those marks of what they considered folly, they engaged a physician to reside in the house, and take constant care of him. He hardly appeared to notice it, so completely was his mind absorbed by one terrible subject. His incoherence became at last so great that he was confined to his chamber. There he would often lie for days, incapable of being roused. He had become emaciated, his eyes had attained a glassy lustre; -- the only sign of affection and recollection remaining displayed itself upon the entry of his sister; then he would sometimes start, and, seizing her hands, with looks that severely afflicted her, he would desire her not to touch him. "Oh, do not touch him -- if your love for me is aught, do not go near him!" When, however, she inquired to whom he referred, his only answer was, "True! true!" and again he sank into a state, whence not even she could rouse him. This lasted many months: gradually, however, as the year was passing, his incoherences became less frequent, and his mind threw off a portion of its gloom, whilst his guardians observed, that several times in the day he would count upon his fingers a definite number, and then smile.
The time had nearly elapsed, when, upon the last day of the year, one of his guardians entering his room, began to converse with his physician upon the melancholy circumstance of Aubrey's being in so awful a situation, when his sister was going next day to be married. Instantly Aubrey's attention was attracted; he asked anxiously to whom. Glad of this mark of returning intellect, of which they feared he had been deprived, they mentioned the name of the Earl of Marsden. Thinking this was a young Earl whom he had met with in society, Aubrey seemed pleased, and astonished them still more by his expressing his intention to be present at the nuptials, and desiring to see his sister. They answered not, but in a few minutes his sister was with him.
He was apparently again capable of being affected by the influence of her lovely smile; for he pressed her to his breast, and kissed her cheek, wet with tears, flowing at the thought of her brother's being once more alive to the feelings of affection. He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what was his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the resemblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her; -- then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he -- But he could not advance -- it seemed as if that voice again bade him remember his oath -- he turned suddenly round, thinking Lord Ruthven was near him but saw no one.
In the meantime the guardians and physician, who had heard the whole, and thought this was but a return of his disorder, entered, and forcing him from Miss Aubrey, desired her to leave him. He fell upon his knees to them, he implored, he begged of them to delay but for one day. They, attributing this to the insanity they imagined had taken possession of his mind endeavoured to pacify him, and retired.
Lord Ruthven had called the morning after the drawing-room, and had been refused with every one else. When he heard of Aubrey's ill health, he readily understood himself to be the cause of it; but when he learned that he was deemed insane, his exultation and pleasure could hardly be concealed from those among whom he had gained this information. He hastened to the house of his former companion, and, by constant attendance, and the pretence of great affection for the brother and interest in his fate, he gradually won the ear of Miss Aubrey. Who could resist his power? His tongue had dangers and toils to recount -- could speak of himself as of an individual having no sympathy with any being on the crowded earth, save with her to whom he addressed himself; -- could tell how, since he knew her, his existence had begun to seem worthy of preservation, if it were merely that he might listen her soothing accents; -- in fine, he knew so well how to use the serpent's art, or such was the will of fate, that he gained her affections. The title of the elder branch falling at length to him, he obtained an important embassy, which served as an excuse for hastening the marriage (in spite of her brother's deranged state), which was to take place the very day before his departure for the continent.
Aubrey, when he was left by the physician and his guardians, attempted to bribe the servants, but in vain. He asked for pen and paper; it was given him; he wrote a letter to his sister, conjuring her, as she valued her own happiness, her own honour, and the honour of those now in the grave, who once held her in their arms as their hope and the hope of their house, to delay but for a few hours that marriage, on which he denounced the most heavy curses. The servants promised they would deliver it; but giving it to the physician, he thought it better not to harass any more the mind of Miss Aubrey by, what he considered, the ravings of a maniac. Night passed on without rest to the busy inmates of the house; and Aubrey heard, with a horror that may more easily be conceived than described, the notes of busy preparation. Morning came, and the sound of carriages broke upon his ear.
Aubrey grew almost frantic. The curiosity of the servants at last overcame their vigilance; they gradually stole away, leaving him in the custody of an helpless old woman. He seized the opportunity, with one bound was out of the room, and in a moment found himself in the apartment where all were nearly assembled. Lord Ruthven was the first to perceive him: he immediately approached, and, taking his arm by force, hurried him from the room, speechless with rage.
When on the staircase, Lord Ruthven whispered in his ear -- "Remember your oath, and know, if not my bride to day, your sister is dishonoured. Women are frail!" So saying, he pushed him towards his attendants, who, roused by the old woman, had come in search of him. Aubrey could no longer support himself; his rage not finding vent, had broken a blood-vessel, and he was conveyed to bed. This was not mentioned to his sister, who was not present when he entered, as the physician was afraid of agitating her. The marriage was solemnized, and the bride and bridegroom left London.
Aubrey's weakness increased; the effusion of blood produced symptoms of the near approach of death. He desired his sister's guardians might be called, and when the midnight hour had struck, he related composedly what the reader has perused -- he died immediately after.
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late.
Lord Ruthven had disappeared,
and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!
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