"After this dance was over the Count rose, and he and his guests retired to rest. The fiddler was given a purse full of money, and the Count gave orders that he should be served refreshment in the kitchen.
"Elisinde went up to her bedroom, which overlooked the garden. She threw the window wide open and looked out into the starry darkness. It was a breathless summer night. The air was full of warm scents. Lights still twinkled in the village; now and again a dog barked, otherwise everything was still. She leant out of the window, and cried bitterly because her lot was loathsome to her, and she had not a friend in the world to whom she could confide her sorrow.
"While she was thus sobbing she heard a rustling in the bushes beneath; she looked down and she saw a face looking up towards her, a beautiful face, glistening in the moonlight. It was the fiddler.
"'Elisinde,' he called to her in a low voice, 'if you want to escape I have the means. Come with me; I love you, and I will save you from your doom.'
"'I would come with you to the end of the world,' she said, 'but how can I get away from this castle?'
"He threw a rope ladder up to her. 'Make it fast to the bar,' he said, 'and let yourself down.'
"She let herself down into the garden. 'We can easily climb the wall with this,' he said; 'but before you come I must tell you that if you will be my bride your life will be hard and full of misery. Think before you come.'
"'Rather all the misery in the world,' she said, 'than the awful doom that awaits me here. Besides which I love you, and we shall be very happy.'
"They scaled the wall, and on the other side of it the fiddler had two horses, waiting tied to the gate. They galloped through many villages, and by the dawn they had reached a village far beyond the Count's lands. Here they stopped at an inn, and they were married by the priest that day. But they did not stop in this village; they sought a further country, beyond reach of all pursuit. They settled in a village, and the fiddler earned his bread by his fiddling, and Elisinde kept their cottage neat and clean. For awhile they were as happy as the day was long; the fiddler found favour everywhere by his fiddling, and Elisinde ingratiated herself by her gentle ways. But one day when Elisinde was lying in bed and the fiddler had lulled her to sleep with his music, some neighbours, attracted by the sound, passed the cottage and looked in at the window. And to their astonishment they saw the fiddler sitting by a bed on which lay what seemed to them to be a sleeping princess; and the whole cottage was full of dazzling light, and the fiddler's face shone, and his hair and his eyes glittered like gold. They went away much frightened, and told the whole village the news.
"Now there were already not a few of the villagers who looked askance on the fiddler; and this incident set all the evil and envious tongues wagging. When the fiddler went to play the next day at the inn men turned away from him, and a child in the street threw a stone at him. Presently he was warned that he had better swiftly fly or else he would be drowned as a sorcerer.
"So he and Elisinde fled in the night to a neighbouring village. But soon the dark rumours followed them, and they were forced to flee once more. This happened again and again, till at last in the whole country there was not a village which would receive them, and one night they were obliged to take refuge in a barn, for Elisinde was expecting the birth of her child. That night their child was born, a beautiful little boy, and an hour afterwards Elisinde smiled and died.
"All that night the villagers heard from afar a piteous wailing music, infinitely sad and beautiful, and those that heard it shuddered and crossed themselves.
"The next day the villagers sought the barn, for they had resolved to drown the sorcerer; but he was not there. All they found was the dead body of Elisinde, and a little baby lying on some straw. The body of Elisinde was covered with roses. And this was strange, for it was midwinter. The fiddler had disappeared and was never heard of again, and an old wood-cutter, who was too old to know any better, took charge of the baby.
"I will tell you what happened to it another day."
* * * * *
"We wish to hear the end of your story," said the ex-Prime Minister to the flute-player.
"Yes," said the scholar, "and I want to know who the fiddler was."
This conversation took place at the Green Tower two weeks after the gathering I have already described. The same people were present; but there was another guest, namely, the musician, who, unlike the flute-player, was not an amateur.
"The child of Elisinde and the fiddler," began the flute-player, "was, as I have already told you, a boy. The woodcutter who took pity on him was old and childless. He brought the baby to his hut, and gave it over to the care of his wife. At first she pretended to be angry, and said that nothing would persuade her to have anything to do with the child, and that it was all they could do to feed themselves without picking up waifs in the gutter; but she ended by looking after the baby with the utmost tenderness and care, and by loving it as much as if it had been her own child. The baby was christened Franz. As soon as he was able to walk and talk there were two things about him which were remarkable. The first was his hair, which glittered like sunlight; the second was his fondness for all musical sounds. When he was four years old he had made himself a flute out of a reed, and on this he played all day, imitating the song of the birds. He was in his sixth year when an event happened which changed his life. He was sitting in front of the woodcutter's cottage one day, when a bright cavalcade passed him. It was a nobleman from a neighbouring castle, who was travelling to the city with his retainers. Among these was a Kapellmeister, who organised the music of this nobleman's household. The moment he caught sight of Franz and heard his piping, he stopped, and asked who he was.
"The woodcutter's wife told him the story of the finding of the waif, to which both the nobleman and himself listened with great interest. The Kapellmeister said that they should take the child with them; that he should be attached to the nobleman's house and trained as a member of his choir or his string band, according to his capacities. The nobleman, who was passionately fond of music, and extremely particular with regard to the manner of its performance, was delighted with the idea. The offer was made to the woodcutter and his wife, and although she cried a good deal they were both forced to recognise that they had no right to interfere with the child's good fortune. Moreover, the gift of a purse full of gold (which the nobleman gave them) did not make the matter more distasteful.
"Finally it was settled that the child should go with the nobleman then and there; and Franz took leave of his adopted parents, not without many and bitter tears being shed on both sides.
"Franz travelled with the nobleman to a large city, and he became a member—the youngest—of the nobleman's household. He was taught his letters, which he learnt with ease, and the rudiments of music, which he absorbed with such astounding rapidity, that the Kapellmeister said that it seemed as if he already knew everything that was taught him. When he was seven years old, he could not only play several instruments, but he composed fugues and sonatas. When the nobleman invited the magnates of the place to listen to his musicians, Franz, the prodigy, was the centre of interest, and very soon he became the talk of the town. At the age of ten he was an accomplished organ player, and he played with skill on the flute and the clavichord.
"He grew up a tall and handsome lad, with clear, dreamy eyes, and hair that continued to glitter like sunlight. He was happy in the nobleman's household, for the nobleman and his wife were kind people; like the woodcutter they were childless and came to look upon him as their own child. He was a quiet youth, and so deeply engrossed in his music and his studies that he seemed to be quite unaware of the outside world and its inhabitants and its doings. But although he led a retired, studious life, his fame had got abroad and had even reached the Emperor's ears.
"When Franz was seventeen years old it happened that the Court was in need of an organist. The Emperor's curiosity had been aroused by what he had heard of Franz, and one fine day the youth was summoned to Court to play before his Majesty. This he did with such success that he was appointed organist of the Court on the spot.
"He was sad at leaving the nobleman, but there was nothing to be done. The Emperor's wish was law. He became Court organist and he played the organ in the Imperial chapel during Mass on Sundays. As before, he spent all his leisure time in composing music.
"Now the Emperor had a daughter called Kunigmunde, who was beautiful and wildly romantic. She was immediately spellbound by Franz's music, and he became the lodestar of her dreams. Often in the afternoon she would steal up to the organ loft, where he was playing alone, and sit for hours listening to his improvisations. They did not speak to each other much, but ever since Franz had set eyes on her something new had entered into his soul and spoke in his music, something tremulous and strange and wonderful.
"For a year Franz's life ran placidly and smoothly. He was made much of, praised and petted; but now, as before, he seemed quite unaware of the outside world and its doings, and he moved in a world of his own, only he was no longer alone in his secret habitation, it was inhabited by another shape, the beautiful dark-haired Princess Kunigmunde, and in her honour he composed songs, minuets, sonatas, hymns, and triumphal marches. As was only natural, there were not wanting at Court persons who were envious of Franz, his talent, and his good fortune. And among them there was a musician, a tenor in the Imperial choir, called Albrecht, who hated Franz with his whole heart. He was a dark-eyed, dark-haired creature, slightly deformed; he limped, and he had a sinister look as though of a satyr. Nevertheless he was highly gifted and composed music of his own which, although it was not radiant like that of Franz, was full of brilliance and not without a certain compelling power. Albrecht revolved in his mind how he might ruin Franz. He tried to excite the envy of the courtiers against him, but Franz was such a modest fellow, so kindly and good-natured, that it was not easy to make people dislike him. Nevertheless there were many who were tired of hearing him praised, and many who were secretly tired of the perpetual beauty and radiance of Franz's music, and wished for something new even though it should be ugly.
"An opportunity soon presented itself for Albrecht to carry out his evil and envious designs. The Court Kapellmeister died, and not long after this event a great feast was to be held at Court to celebrate Princess Kunigmunde's birthday. The Emperor had offered a prize, a wreath of gilt laurels, as well as the post of Court Kapellmeister to him who should compose the most beautiful piece of music in his daughter's honour. Franz seemed so certain of success that nobody even dared to compete with him except Albrecht.
"When the hour of the contest came—it took place in the great throne-room before the Emperor, the Empress, their sons, their daughters, and the whole court after the banquet—Franz was the first to display his work. He sat down at the clavichord and sang what he had composed in honour of the Princess. He had made three little songs for her. Franz had not much voice, but it had a peculiar wail in it, and he sang, like the born and trained musician that he was, with that absolute mastery over his means, that certain perfection of utterance, that power of conveying, to the shade of a shade, the inmost spirit and meaning of the music which only belong to those great and rare artists whose perfect art is alive with the inspiration that cannot be learnt.
"The first song he sang was the call of a home-going shepherd to his flock on the hills at sunset, and when he sang it he brought the largeness of the dying evening and the solemn hills into the elegant throne-room. The second song was the cry of a lonely fisherman on the river at midnight, and as he sang it he brought the mystery of broad starlit waters into the taper-lit, gilded hall. The third song was the song of the happy lover in the orchard at dawn. And when he sang it he brought the smell of dewy leaves and grass, the soaring radiance of spring and early morning, to that powdered and silken assembly. The Court applauded him, but they were astonished and slightly disappointed, for they had expected something grand and complicated, and not three simple tunes. But the nobleman who had educated Franz, and his Kapellmeister, who were among the guests, wept tears in silence.
"Albrecht followed him. The swarthy singer sat down to the instrument and struck a ringing chord. He had a pure and infinitely powerful tenor voice, clear as crystal, loud as a clarion, strong, rich, and rippling. He sang a love-song he had composed himself. He called it 'The Homage of King Pan to the Princess.' It was voluptuous and vehement and sweet as honey, full of bold conceits and audacious turns and trills, which startled the audience and took their breath away. He sang his song with almost devilish skill and power; and his warm, captivating voice rang through the room and shook the tall window-panes, and finally died away like the vibrations of a great bell. The whole Court shouted, delirious with applause, and unanimously declared him to be the victor. A witty courtier said that Marsyas had avenged himself on Apollo; but the nobleman and his Kapellmeister snorted and sniffed and said nothing. Albrecht was given the prize and appointed Kapellmeister to the Court without further discussion.
"When the ceremony was over, Franz, who was indifferent to his defeat, went to the chapel of the palace, and lighting a candle, walked up into the organ loft. There he played to himself another song, a hymn he had composed in honour of Princess Kunigmunde. It was filled with rapture and a breathless wonder, and in it his inmost soul spoke its unuttered love. He had not sung this song in public, it was too sacred. As he played and sang to himself in a low voice he was aware of a soft footstep. He started and looked round, and there was the Princess, bright in silk and jewels, with a pink rose in her powdered hair. She took this rose and laid it lightly on the black keys.
"'That is the prize,' she said. 'You won it, and I want to thank you. I never knew music could be so beautiful.'
"Franz looked at her, and said 'Thank you.' He had risen from his seat and was about to go, but the light of his candle caught Princess Kunigmunde's brown eyes (which were wet with tears), and something rose like fire in his breast and made him forget his bashfulness, his respect, and his sense of decorum.
"'Come with me,' he said, in a broken voice. 'Let us fly from this Court to the hills and be happy.'
"But the Princess shook her head sadly, and said: 'Alas! It is impossible. I am betrothed to the King of the Two Sicilies.'
"Then Franz mastered himself once more, and said: 'Of course, it is impossible. I was mad.'
"The Princess kissed her hand to him and fled.
"At that moment Franz heard a noise in the nave of the chapel; he looked over the gallery of the organ loft, and saw sidling away in the darkness the dim figure of a deformed man.
"That night Princess Kunigmunde had a strange dream. She thought she was transported into a beautiful southern country where the azure sky seemed to scintillate with the dust of myriads and myriads of diamonds, and to sparkle with sunlight like dancing wine. The low blue hills were bare and sparsely clothed with delicate trees, and the fields, sprinkled with innumerable red, yellow, white and purple flowers, were bright as fabulous Persian carpets. On a grassy knoll before her the rosy columns of a temple shone in the gleaming dust of the atmosphere. Beside her there was a running stream, on the bank of which grew a bay-tree. There was a chirping of grasshoppers in the air, a noise of bees, and a delicious warm smell of burnt grass and thyme and mint.
"Near the stream a man was standing; he was an ordinary man, and yet he seemed to tower above the landscape without being unusually tall; his hair was bright as gold, and his eyes, more lustrous still, reflected the silvery blue sky and shone like opals. In his hands he held a golden lyre, and around him a warm golden cloud seemed to rise, on a transparent aura of light, like the glow of the sunset. In front of him there stood a creature of the woods, a satyr, with pointed ears, cloven hoofs, and human eyes, in his hairy hands holding a flute made out of a reed.
"Presently the satyr breathed on his flute and a wonderful note trembled in the air, soft, low, and liquid. The note was followed by others, and a stillness fell upon Nature; the birds ceased to sing, the grasshoppers were still, the bees paused. All Nature was listening and the Princess was conscious in her dream that there were others besides herself listening, unseen shapes and sightless phantoms; a crowd, a multitude of attentive ghosts, that were hidden from her sight. The melody rose and swelled in stillness; it was melting and ravishing and bold with a human audacity. As she listened it reminded her of something; she felt she had heard such sounds before, though she could not remember where and when. But suddenly it flashed across her that the music resembled Albrecht's song; it was Albrecht's song, only transfigured as it were, and a thousand times more beautiful in her dream than in reality. More beautiful, and at the same time as though it belonged to the days of youth and spring which Albrecht had never known. The satyr ceased playing and the pleasant noises of the world began once more. The shining figure who stood before him looked on the satyr with divine scorn and smiled a radiant, merciless smile. Then he struck his lyre and Nature once more was dumb.
"But this time the magic was of another kind and a thousand times more mighty; a song rose into the air which leapt and soared like a flame, imperious as the flashing of a sword, triumphant as the waving of a banner, wonderful as the dawn and fresh as the laughing sea. And once more Princess Kunigmunde was aware that the music was familiar to her. She had heard something like it in the chapel that evening, when in the darkness Franz had played and sung the hymn that he had composed in her honour. Only now it was more than human, unearthly and divine. As soon as he ceased an eclipse seemed to darken the world, a thick cloud of rolling darkness; there was a crash of thunder, a flash of lightning, and out of the blackness came a piteous, human cry, the cry of a creature in anguish, and then a faint moaning.
"Presently all was still, but the dark cloud remained, and she heard a mocking laugh and the accents of a clear, scornful voice (she recognised the voice, it was the voice of Albrecht), and the voice said: 'Thou hast conquered, Apollo, and cruelly hast thou used thy victory; and cruelly has thou punished me for daring to challenge thy divine skill. It was mad indeed to compete with a god; and yet shall I avenge my wrong and thy harshness shall recoil on thee. For not even gods can be unjust with impunity, and the Fates are above us all. And I shall be avenged; for all thy sons shall suffer what I have suffered; and there is not one of them that shall escape the doom and not share the fate of Marsyas the Satyr, whom thou didst cruelly slay. The music and the skill which shall be their inheritance shall be the cause to them of sorrow and grief unending and pitiless pain and misery. Their life shall be as bitter to them as my death has been to me. Their music shall fill the world with sweetness and ravish the ears of listening nations, but to them it shall bring no joy; for life like a cruel blade shall flay and lay bare their hearts, and sorrow like a searching wind shall play upon their souls and make them tremble, even as the scabbard of my body trembled in the breeze; and just as from that trembling husk of what was once myself there came forth sweet sounds, so shall it be with their souls, shivering and trembling in the cold wind of life. Music shall come from them, but this music shall be born of agony; nor shall they utter a single note that is not begotten of sorrow or pain. And so shall the children of Apollo suffer and share the pain of Marsyas.
"The voice died away, and a pitiful wail was heard as of a wind blowing through the reeds of a river. And the Princess awoke, trembling with fear of some unknown and impending disaster.
"The next morning Franz, as he walked into the chapel to practice on the organ, was met by two soldiers, who bade him follow them, and he was shut up in the prison of the palace. No word of explanation was given him; nor had he any idea what the crime might be of which he was accused, or of his ultimate fate. But in the evening, when the gaoler's daughter brought him his food, she made him a sign, and he found in his loaf of bread a rose, a file, and a tiny scroll, on which the following words were written; 'Albrecht denounced you. Fly for your life. K.' Later, when the gaolers had gone to sleep, the gaoler's daughter stole to his cell. She brought him a rope, and a purse full of silver. He filed the bars and let himself down into a narrow street of the city.
"By the time the sun rose he had left the city far behind him. He journeyed on and on till he passed the frontier of the Emperor's dominions and reached a neighbouring State. By the time he came to a city he had spent his money, and he was in rags and tatters; nevertheless, he managed to earn his bread by making music in the streets, and after a time a well-to-do citizen who noticed him took him into his house and entrusted him with the task of teaching music to his sons and of playing him to sleep in the evening. Franz spent his leisure hours in composing an opera called 'The Death of Adonis,' into which he poured all the music of his soul, all his love, his sorrow, and his infinite desire. He lived for this only, and during all the hours he spent when he was not working at his opera he was like a man in a dream, unconscious of the realities around him. In a year his opera was finished. He took it to the Intendant of the Ducal Theatre in the city and played it to him, and the Intendant, greatly pleased, determined to have it performed without delay. The best singers were allotted parts in it, and it was performed before the Arch-Duke and his Court, and a multitude of people.
"The music told the story of Franz's love; it was bright with all his dreams, and sorrowful with his great despair. Never had such music been heard; so sweet, so sunlit in its joys, so radiant in its sadness. But the Arch-Duke and his Court, startled by the new accent of this music, and influenced by the local and established musicians, who were envious of this newcomer, listened in frigid silence, so that the common people in the gallery dared not show signs of their delight. In fact, the opera was a complete failure. Public opinion followed the Court, and found no words, bad or strong enough to condemn what they called the new-fangled rubbish. Among those who blamed the new work there was none so bitter as the citizen whose children Franz had been teaching. For this man considered himself to be a genius, and was inordinately vain, and his ignorance was equal to his conceit. He dismissed Franz from his service. All doors were now closed to him, and being on the verge of starvation he was reduced to earning his bread in the streets by playing his pipe. This also proved unsuccessful, and it was with difficulty that he earned a few pence every day.
"At last he burnt all his manuscripts, and went into the hills; the hill people welcomed him, but their kindness came too late; his heart was broken, and when sickness came to him with the winter snow, he had no longer any strength to resist it. The peasants found him one day lying cold and stiff in his hut. They buried him on the hill-side. The night of his funeral a strange fiddler with a shining face was seen standing beside his grave and playing the most lovely tunes on a violin.
"The name of Franz was soon forgotten, but although he died obscure and penniless he left a rich legacy. For he taught the hill-people three songs, the songs he had sung at Court in honour of Princess Kunigmunde, and they never died. They spread from the hills to the plains, from the plains to the river, from the river to the woods, and indeed you can still hear them on the hills of the north, on the great broad rivers of the east, and in the orchards of the south."
A CHINAMAN ON OXFORD
"Yes, I am a student," said the Chinaman, "And I came here to study the English manners and customs."
We were seated on the top of the electric tram which goes to Hampton Court. It was a bitterly cold spring day. The suburbs of London were not looking their best.
"I spent three days at Oxford last week," he said.
"It's a beautiful place, is it not?" I remarked.
The Chinaman smiled. "The country which you see from the windows of the railway carriages," he said, "on the way from Oxford to London strikes me as being beautiful. It reminded me of the Chinese Plain, only it is prettier. But the houses at Oxford are hideous: there is no symmetry about them. The houses in this country are like blots on the landscape. In China the houses are made to harmonise with the landscape just as trees do."
"What did you see at Oxford?" I asked.
"I saw boat races," he said, "and a great many ignorant old men."
"What did you think of that?"
"I think," he said, "the young people seemed to enjoy it, and if they enjoy it they are quite right to do it. But the way the older men talk about these things struck me as being foolish. They talk as if these games and these sports were a solemn affair, a moral or religious question; they said the virtues and the prowess of the English race were founded on these things. They said that competition was the mainspring of life; they seemed to think exercise was the goal of existence. A man whom I saw there and who, I learnt, had been chosen to teach the young on account of his wisdom, told me that competition trained the man to sharpen his faculties; and that the tension which it provoked is in itself a useful training. I do not believe this. A cat or a boa constrictor will lie absolutely idle until it perceives an object worthy of its appetite; it will then catch it and swallow it, and once more relapse into repose without thinking of keeping itself 'in training.' But it will lie dormant and rise to the occasion when it occurs. These people who talked of games seem to me to undervalue repose. They forget that repose is the mother of action, and exercise only a frittering away of the same."
"What did you think," I asked, "of the education that the students at Oxford receive?"
"I think," said the Chinaman, "that inasmuch as the young men waste their time in idleness they do well; for the wise men who are chosen to instruct the young at your places of learning, are not always wise. I visited a professor of Oriental languages. His servant asked me to wait, and after I had waited three quarters of an hour, he sent word to say that he had tried everywhere to find the professor in the University who spoke French, but that he had not been able to find him. And so he asked me to call another day. I had dinner in a college hall. I found that the professors talked of many things in such a way as would be impossible to children of five and six in our country. They are quite ignorant of the manners and customs of the people of other European countries. They pronounce Greek and Latin and even French in the same way as English. I mentioned to one of them that I had been employed for some time in the Chinese Legation; he asked me if I had had much work to do. I said yes, the work had been heavy. 'But,' he observed, 'I suppose a great deal of the work is carried on directly between the Governments and not through the Ambassadors.' I cannot conceive what he meant or how such a thing could be possible, or what he considered the use and function of Embassies and Legations to be. They most of them seemed to take for granted that I could not speak English: some of them addressed me in a kind of baby language; one of them spoke French. The professor who spoke to me in this language told me that the French possessed no poetical literature, and he said the reason of this was that the French language was a bastard language; that it was, in fact, a kind of pidgin Latin. He said when a Frenchman says a girl is 'beaucoup belle,' he is using pidgin Latin. The courtesy due to a host prevented me from suggesting that if a Frenchman said 'beaucoup belle' he would be talking pidgin French.
"Another professor said to me that China would soon develop if she adopted a large Imperial ideal, and that in time the Chinese might attain to a great position in the world, such as the English now held. He said the best means of bringing this about would be to introduce cricket and football into China. I told him that I thought this was improbable, because if the Chinese play games, they do not care who is the winner; the fun of the game is to us the improvisation of it as opposed to the organisation which appeals to the people here. Upon which he said that cricket was like a symphony of music. In a symphony every instrument plays its part in obedience to one central will, not for its individual advantage, but in order to make a beautiful whole. 'So it is with our games,' he said, 'every man plays his part not for the sake of personal advantage, but so that his side may win; and thus the citizen is taught to sink his own interests in those of the community.' I told him the Chinese did not like symphonies, and Western music was intolerable to them for this very reason. Western musicians seem to us to take a musical idea which is only worthy of a penny whistle (and would be very good indeed if played on a penny whistle!); and they sit down and make a score of it twenty yards broad, and set a hundred highly-trained and highly-paid musicians to play it. It is the contrast between the tremendous apparatus and waste of energy on one side, and the light and playful character of the business itself on the other which makes me, a Chinaman, as incapable of appreciating your complicated games as I am of appreciating the complicated symphonies of the Germans or the elaborate rules which their students make with regard to the drinking of beer. We like a man for taking his fun and not missing a joke when he finds it by chance on his way, but we cannot understand his going out of his way to prepare a joke and to make arrangements for having some fun at a certain fixed date. This is why we consider a wayside song, a tune that is heard wandering in the summer darkness, to be better than twenty concerts."
"What did that professor say?" I asked.
"He said that if I were to stay long enough in England and go to a course of concerts at the Chelsea Town Hall, I would soon learn to think differently. And that if cricket and football were introduced into China, the Chinese would soon emerge out of their backwardness and barbarism and take a high place among the enlightened nations of the world. I thought to myself as he said this that your games are no doubt an excellent substitute for drill, but if we were to submit to so complicated an organisation it would be with a purpose: in order to turn the Europeans out of China, for instance; but that organisation without a purpose would always seem to us to be stupid, and we should no more dream of organising our play than of organising a stroll in the twilight to see the Evening Star, or the chase of a butterfly in the spring. If we were to decide on drill it would be drill with a vengeance and with a definite aim; but we should not therefore and thereby destroy our play. Play cannot exist for us without fun, and for us the open air, the fields, and the meadows are like wine: if we feel inclined, we roam and jump about in them, but we should never submit to standing to attention for hours lest a ball should escape us. Besides which, we invented the foundations of all our games many thousand of years ago. We invented and played at 'Diabolo' when the Britons were painted blue and lived in the woods. The English knew how to play once, in the days of Queen Elizabeth; then they had masques and madrigals and Morris dances and music. A gentleman was ashamed if he did not speak six or seven languages, handle the sword with a deadly dexterity, play chess, and write good sonnets. Men were broken on the wheel for an idea: they were brave, cultivated, and gay; they fought, they played, and they wrote excellent verse. Now they organise games and lay claim to a special morality and to a special mission; they send out missionaries to civilise us savages; and if our people resent having an alien creed stuffed down their throats, they take our hand and burn our homes in the name of Charity, Progress, and Civilisation. They seek for one thing—gold; they preach competition, but competition for what? For this: who shall possess the most, who shall most successfully 'do' his neighbour. These ideals and aims do not tempt us. The quality of the life is to us more important than the quantity of what is done and achieved. We live, as we play, for the sake of living. I did not say this to the professors because we have a proverb that when you are in a man's country you should not speak ill of it. I say it to you because I see you have an inquiring mind, and you will feel it more insulting to be served with meaningless phrases and empty civilities than with the truth, however bitter. For those who have once looked the truth in the face cannot afterwards be put off with false semblances."
"You speak true words," I said, "but what do you like best in England?"
"The gardens," he answered, "and the little yellow flowers that are sprinkled like stars on your green grass."
"And what do you like least in England?"
"The horrible smells," he said.
"Have you no smells in China?" I asked.
"Yes," he replied, "we have natural smells, but not the smell of gas and smoke and coal which sickens me here. It is strange to me that people can find the smell of human beings disgusting and be able to stand the foul stenches of a London street. This very road along which we are now travelling (we were passing through one of the less beautiful portions of the tramway line) makes me homesick for my country. I long to see a Chinese village once more built of mud and fenced with mud, muddy-roaded and muddy-baked, with a muddy little stream to be waded across or passed by stepping on stones; with a delicate one-storeyed temple on the water-eaten bank, and green poppy fields round it; and the women in dark blue standing at the doorways, smoking their pipes; and the children, with three small budding pigtails on the head of each, clinging to them; and the river fringed with a thousand masts: the boats, the houseboats, the barges and the ships in the calm, wide estuaries, each with a pair of huge eyes painted on the front bow. And the people: the men working at their looms and whistling a happy tune out of the gladness of their hearts. And everywhere the sense of leisure, the absence of hurry and bustle and confusion; the dignity of manners and the grace of expression and of address. And, above all, the smell of life everywhere."
"I admit," I said, "that our streets smell horribly of smoke and coal, but surely our people are clean?"
"Yes," he said, "no doubt; but you forget that to us there is nothing so intolerably nasty as the smell of a clean white man!"
John Fletcher was an overworked minor official in a Government office. He lived a lonely life, and had done so ever since he had been a boy. At school he had mixed little with his fellow school-boys, and he took no interest in the things that interested them, that is to say, games. On the other hand, although he was what is called "good at work," and did his lessons with facility and ease, he was not a literary boy, and did not care for books. He was drawn towards machinery of all kinds, and spent his spare time in dabbling in scientific experiments or in watching trains go by on the Great Western line. Once he blew off his eyebrows while making some experiment with explosive chemicals; his hands were always smudged with dark, mysterious stains, and his room was like that of a mediaeval alchemist, littered with retorts, bottles, and test-glasses. Before leaving school he invented a flying machine (heavier than air), and an unsuccessful attempt to start it on the high road caused him to be the victim of much chaff and ridicule.
When he left school he went to Oxford. His life there was as lonely as it had been at school. The dirty, untidy, ink-stained, and chemical-stained little boy grew up into a tall, lank, slovenly-dressed man, who kept entirely to himself, not because he cherished any dislike or disdain for his fellow-creatures, but because he seemed to be entirely absorbed in his own thoughts and isolated from the world by a barrier of dreams.
He did well at Oxford, and when he went down he passed high into the Civil Service and became a clerk in a Government office. There he kept as much to himself as ever. He did his work rapidly and well, for this man, who seemed so slovenly in his person, had an accurate mind, and was what was called a good clerk, although his incurable absent-mindedness once or twice caused him to forget certain matters of importance.
His fellow clerks treated him as a crank and as a joke, but none of them, try as they would, could get to know him or win his confidence. They used to wonder what Fletcher did with his spare time, what were his pursuits, what were his hobbies, if he had any. They suspected that Fletcher had some hobby of an engrossing kind, since in everyday life he conveyed the impression of a man who is walking in his sleep, who acts mechanically and automatically. Somewhere else, they thought, in some other circumstances, he must surely wake up and take a living interest in somebody or in something.
Yet had they followed him home to his small room in Canterbury-mansions they would have been astonished. For when he returned from the office after a hard day's work he would do nothing more engrossing than slowly to turn over the leaves of a book in which there were elaborate drawings and diagrams of locomotives and other kinds of engines. And on Sunday he would take a train to one of the large junctions and spend the whole day in watching express trains go past, and in the evening would return again to London.
One day after he had returned from the office somewhat earlier than usual, he was telephoned for. He had no telephone in his own room, but he could use a public telephone which was attached to the building. He went into the small box, but found on reaching the telephone that he had been cut off by the exchange. He imagined that he had been rung up by the office, so he asked to be given their number. As he did so his eye caught an advertisement which was hung just over the telephone. It was an elaborate design in black and white, pointing out the merits of a particular kind of soap called the Venus: a classical lady, holding a looking-glass in one hand and a cake of this invaluable soap in the other, was standing in a sphere surrounded by pointed rays, which was no doubt intended to represent the most brilliant of the planets.
Fletcher sat down on the stool and took the receiver in his hand. As he did so he had for one second the impression that the floor underneath him gave way and that he was falling down a precipice. But before he had time to realise what was happening the sensation of falling left him; he shook himself as though he had been asleep, and for one moment a faint recollection as though of the dreams of the night twinkled in his mind, and vanished beyond all possibility of recall. He said to himself that he had had a long and curious dream, and he knew that it was too late to remember what it had been about. Then he opened his eyes wide and looked round him.
He was standing on the slope of a hill. At his feet there was a kind of green moss, very soft to tread on. It was sprinkled here and there with light red, wax-like flowers such as he had never seen before. He was standing in an open space; beneath him there was a plain covered with what seemed to be gigantic mushrooms, much taller than a man. Above him rose a mass of vegetation, and over all this was a dense, heavy, streaming cloud faintly glimmering with a white, silvery light which seemed to be beyond it.
He walked towards the vegetation, and soon found himself in the middle of a wood, or rather of a jungle. Tangled plants grew on every side; large hanging creepers with great blue flowers hung downwards. There was a profound stillness in this wood; there were no birds singing and he heard not the slightest rustle in the rich undergrowth. It was oppressively hot and the air was full of a pungent, aromatic sweetness. He felt as though he were in a hot-house full of gardenias and stephanotis. At the same time the atmosphere of the place was pleasant to him. It was neither strange nor disagreeable. He felt at home in this green shimmering jungle and in this hot, aromatic twilight, as though he had lived there all his life.
He walked mechanically onwards as if he were going to a definite spot of which he knew. He walked fast, but in spite of the oppressive atmosphere and the thickness of the growth he grew neither hot nor out of breath; on the contrary, he took pleasure in the motion, and the stifling, sweet air seemed to invigorate him. He walked steadily on for over three hours, choosing his way nicely, avoiding certain places and seeking others, following a definite path and making for a definite goal. During all this time the stillness continued unbroken, nor did he meet a single living thing, either bird or beast.
After he had been walking for what seemed to him several hours, the vegetation grew thinner, the jungle less dense, and from a more or less open space in it he seemed to discern what might have been a mountain entirely submerged in a multitude of heavy grey clouds. He sat down on the green stuff which was like grass and yet was not grass, at the edge of the open space whence he got this view, and quite naturally he picked from the boughs of an overhanging tree a large red, juicy fruit, and ate it. Then he said to himself, he knew not why, that he must not waste time, but must be moving on.
He took a path to the right of him and descended the sloping jungle with big, buoyant strides, almost running; he knew the way as though he had been down that path a thousand times. He knew that in a few moments he would reach a whole hanging garden of red flowers, and he knew that when he had reached this he must again turn to the right. It was as he thought: the red flowers soon came to view. He turned sharply, and then through the thinning greenery he caught sight of an open plain where more mushrooms grew. But the plain was as yet a great way off, and the mushrooms seemed quite small.
"I shall get there in time," he said to himself, and walked steadily on, looking neither to the right nor to the left. It was evening by the time he reached the edge of the plain: everything was growing dark. The endless vapours and the high banks of cloud in which the whole of this world was sunk grew dimmer and dimmer. In front of him was an empty level space, and about two miles further on the huge mushrooms stood out, tall and wide like the monuments of some prehistoric age. And underneath them on the soft carpet there seemed to move a myriad vague and shadowy forms.
"I shall get there in time," he thought. He walked on for another half hour, and by this time the tall mushrooms were quite close to him, and he could see moving underneath them, distinctly now, green, living creatures like huge caterpillars, with glowing eyes. They moved slowly and did not seem to interfere with each other in any way. Further off, and beyond them, there was a broad and endless plain of high green stalks like ears of green wheat or millet, only taller and thinner.
He ran on, and now at his very feet, right in front of him, the green caterpillars were moving. They were as big as leopards. As he drew nearer they seemed to make way for him, and to gather themselves into groups under the thick stems of the mushrooms. He walked along the pathway they made for him, under the shadow of the broad, sunshade-like roofs of these gigantic growths. It was almost dark now, yet he had no doubt or difficulty as to finding his way. He was making for the green plain beyond. The ground was dense with caterpillars; they were as plentiful as ants in an ant's nest, and yet they never seemed to interfere with each other or with him; they instinctively made way for him, nor did they appear to notice him in any way. He felt neither surprise nor wonder at their presence.
It grew quite dark; the only lights which were in this world came from the twinkling eyes of the moving figures, which shone like little stars. The night was no whit cooler than the day. The atmosphere was as steamy, as dense and as aromatic as before. He walked on and on, feeling no trace of fatigue or hunger, and every now and then he said to himself: "I shall be there in time." The plain was flat and level, and covered the whole way with the mushrooms, whose roofs met and shut out from him the sight of the dark sky.
At last he came to the end of the plain of mushrooms and reached the high green stalks he had been making for. Beyond the dark clouds a silver glimmer had begun once more to show itself. "I am just in time," he said to himself, "the night is over, the sun is rising."
At that moment there was a great whirr in the air, and from out of the green stalks rose a flight of millions and millions of enormous broad-winged butterflies of every hue and description—silver, gold, purple, brown and blue. Some with dark and velvety wings like the Purple Emperor, or the Red Admiral, others diaphanous and iridescent as dragon-flies. Others again like vast soft and silvery moths. They rose from every part of that green plain of stalks, they filled the sky, and then soared upwards and disappeared into the silvery cloudland.
Fletcher was about to leap forward when he heard a voice in his ear saying—
"Are you 6493 Victoria? You are talking to the Home Office."
* * * * *
As soon as Fletcher heard the voice of the office messenger through the telephone he instantly realised his surroundings, and the strange experience he had just gone through, which had seemed so long and which in reality had been so brief, left little more impression on him than that which remains with a man who has been immersed in a brown study or who has been staring at something, say a poster in the street, and has not noticed the passage of time.
The next day he returned to his work at the office, and his fellow-clerks, during the whole of the next week, noticed that he was more zealous and more painstaking than ever. On the other hand, his periodical fits of abstraction grew more frequent and more pronounced. On one occasion he took a paper to the head of the department for signature, and after it had been signed, instead of removing it from the table, he remained staring in front of him, and it was not until the head of the department had called him three times loudly by name that he took any notice and regained possession of his faculties. As these fits of absent-mindedness grew to be somewhat severely commented on, he consulted a doctor, who told him that what he needed was change of air, and advised him to spend his Sundays at Brighton or at some other bracing and exhilarating spot. Fletcher did not take the doctor's advice, but continued spending his spare time as he did before, that is to say, in going to some big junction and watching the express trains go by all day long.
One day while he was thus employed—it was Sunday, in August of 19—, when the Egyptian Exhibition was attracting great crowds of visitors—and sitting, as was his habit, on a bench on the centre platform of Slough Station, he noticed an Indian pacing up and down the platform, who every now and then stopped and regarded him with peculiar interest, hesitating as though he wished to speak to him. Presently the Indian came and sat down on the same bench, and after having sat there in silence for some minutes he at last made a remark about the heat.
"Yes," said Fletcher, "it is trying, especially for people like myself, who have to remain in London during these months."
"You are in an office, no doubt," said the Indian.
"Yes," said Fletcher.
"And you are no doubt hard worked."
"Our hours are not long," Fletcher replied, "and I should not complain of overwork if I did not happen to suffer from—well, I don't know what it is, but I suppose they would call it nerves."
"Yes," said the Indian, "I could see that by your eyes."
"I am a prey to sudden fits of abstraction," said Fletcher, "they are growing upon me. Sometimes in the office I forget where I am altogether for a space of about two or three minutes; people are beginning to notice it and to talk about it. I have been to a doctor, and he said I needed change of air. I shall have my leave in about a month's time, and then perhaps I shall get some change of air, but I doubt if it will do me any good. But these fits are annoying, and once something quite uncanny seemed to happen to me."
The Indian showed great interest and asked for further details concerning this strange experience, and Fletcher told him all that he could recall—for the memory of it was already dimmed—of what had happened when he had telephoned that night.
The Indian was thoughtful for a while after hearing this tale. At last he said: "I am not a doctor, I am not even what you call a quack doctor—I am a mere conjurer, and I gain my living by conjuring tricks and fortune-telling at the Exhibition which is going on in London. But although I am a poor man and an ignorant man, I have an inkling, a few sparks in me of ancient knowledge, and I know what is the matter with you."
"What is it?" asked Fletcher.
"You have the power, or something has the power," said the Indian, "of detaching you from your actual body, and your astral body has been into another planet. By your description I think it must be the planet Venus. It may happen to you again, and for a longer period—for a very much longer period."
"Is there anything I can do to prevent it?" asked Fletcher.
"Nothing," said the Indian. "You can try change of air if you like, but," he said with a smile, "I do not think it will do you much good."
At that moment a train came in, and the Indian said good-bye and jumped into it.
On the next day, which was Monday, when Fletcher got to the office it was necessary for him to use the telephone with regard to some business. No sooner had he taken the receiver off the telephone than he vividly recalled the minute details of the evening he had telephoned, when the strange experience had come to him. The advertisement of Venus Soap that had hung in the telephone box in his house appeared distinctly before him, and as he thought of that he once more experienced a falling sensation which lasted only a fraction of a second, and rubbing his eyes he awoke to find himself in the tepid atmosphere of a green and humid world.
This time he was not near the wood, but on the sea-shore. In front of him was a grey sea, smooth as oil and clouded with steaming vapours, and behind him the wide green plain stretched into a cloudy distance. He could discern, faint on the far-off horizon, the shadowy forms of the gigantic mushrooms which he knew, and on the level plain which reached the sea beach, but not so far off as the mushrooms, he could plainly see the huge green caterpillars moving slowly and lazily in an endless herd. The sea was breaking on the sand with a faint moan. But almost at once he became aware of another sound, which came he knew not whence, and which was familiar to him. It was a low whistling noise, and it seemed to come from the sky.
At that moment Fletcher was seized by an unaccountable panic. He was afraid of something; he did not know what it was, but he knew, he felt absolutely certain, that some danger, no vague calamity, no distant misfortune, but some definite physical danger was hanging over him and quite close to him—something from which it would be necessary to run away, and to run fast in order to save his life. And yet there was no sign of danger visible, for in front of him was the motionless oily sea, and behind him was the empty and silent plain. It was then he noticed that the caterpillars were fast disappearing, as if into the earth: he was too far off to make out how.
He began to run along the coast. He ran as fast as he could, but he dared not look round. He ran back from the coast to the plain, from which a white mist was rising. By this time every single caterpillar had disappeared. The whistling noise continued and grew louder.
At last he reached the wood and bounded on, trampling down long trailing grasses and tangled weeds through the thick, muggy gloom of those endless aisles of jungle. He came to a somewhat open space where there was the trunk of a tree larger than the others; it stood by itself and disappeared into the tangle of creepers above. He thought he would climb the tree, but the trunk was too wide, and his efforts failed. He stood by the tree trembling and panting with fear. He could not hear a sound, but he felt that the danger, whatever it was, was at hand.
It grew darker and darker. It was night in the forest. He stood paralysed with terror; he felt as though bound hand and foot, but there was nothing to be done except to wait until his invisible enemy should choose to inflict his will on him and achieve his doom. And yet the agony of this suspense was so terrible that he felt that if it lasted much longer something must inevitably break inside him . . . and just as he was thinking that eternity could not be so long as the moments he was passing through, a blessed unconsciousness came over him. He woke from this state to find himself face to face with one of the office messengers, who said to him that he had been given his number two or three times but had taken no notice of it.
Fletcher executed his commission and then went upstairs to his office. His fellow-clerks at once asked what had happened to him, for he was looking white. He said that he had a headache and was not feeling quite himself, but made no further explanations.
This last experience changed the whole tenor of his life. When fits of abstraction had occurred to him before he had not troubled about them, and after his first strange experience he had felt only vaguely interested; but now it was a different matter. He was consumed with dread lest the thing should occur again. He did not want to get back to that green world and that oily sea; he did not want to hear the whistling noise, and to be pursued by an invisible enemy. So much did the dread of this weigh on him that he refused to go to the telephone lest the act of telephoning should set alight in his mind the train of associations and bring his thoughts back to his dreadful experience.
Shortly after this he went for leave, and following the doctor's advice he spent it by the sea. During all this time he was perfectly well, and was not once troubled by his curious fits. He returned to London in the autumn refreshed and well.
On the first day that he went to the office a friend of his telephoned to him. When he was told that the line was being held for him he hesitated, but at last he went down to the telephone office.
He remained away twenty minutes. Finally his prolonged absence was noticed, and he was sent for. He was found in the telephone room stiff and unconscious, having fallen forward on the telephone desk. His face was quite white, and his eyes wide open and glazed with an expression of piteous and harrowing terror. When they tried to revive him their efforts were in vain. A doctor was sent for, and he said that Fletcher had died of heart disease.
Before the bell had time to sound the alarm a huge pillar of smoke and flame, leaping high in the breathless August night, told the whole village the news of the fire. Men, women, and children hurried to the burning place. The firemen galloped down the rutty road with their barrels of water and hand-pumps, yelling. The bell rang, with hurried, throbbing beats. The fire, which was further off than it seemed to be at first sight, was in the middle of the village. Two houses were burning—a house built of bricks and a wooden cottage. The flame was prodigious: it soared into the sky like the eruption of a volcano, and the wooden cottage, with its flat logs and blazing roof, looked like a sacrificial pyre consuming the body of some warrior or Viking. In the light of the flames the soft sky, which was starless and flooded with stillness by the large full moon, had turned from blue to green. A dense crowd had gathered round the burning houses.
The firemen, working like bees, were doing what they could to extinguish the flames and to prevent the fire spreading. Volunteers from the crowd helped them. One man climbed up on the edge of the wooden house, where the flames had been overcome, and shovelled earth from the roof on the little flames, which were leaping like earth spirits from the ground. His wife stood below and called on him in forcible language to descend from such a dangerous place. The crowd jeered at her fears, and she spoke her mind to them in frank and unvarnished terms. It was St. John the Baptist's Day. Some of the men had been celebrating the feast by drinking. One of them, out of the fulness of his heart, cried out: "Oh, how happy I am! I'm drunk, and there's a fire, and all at the same time!" But most of the crowd—they looked like black shadows against the glare—looked on quietly, every now and then making comments on the situation. One of the peasants tried to knock down the burning house with an axe. He failed. Someone not far off was playing an accordion and singing a monotonous rhythmical song.
Amidst the shifting crowd of shadows I noticed a strange figure, who beckoned to me. "I see you are short-sighted," he said, "let me lend you a glass." His voice sounded thin and distant, and he handed me a piece of glass which seemed to be more opaque than transparent. I looked through it and I noticed a difference in things:
The cottages had disappeared; in their place were great high buildings with lofty porticos, broad columns and carved friezes, but flames were leaping round them, intenser and greater than before, and the noise of the fire had increased. In front of me was an open court, in the centre of which was an altar, and to the right of this altar stood an old bay-tree. An old man and a grey-haired woman were clinging to this altar; it was drenched with blood, and on the steps of it lay several bodies of young men clothed in armour, but squalid with dust and blood.
I had scarcely become aware of the scene before a great cloud of smoke passed through the court, and when it rose I saw there had been another change: in that few moments' space the fire seemed to have wrought incredible havoc. Nothing was left of all the tall pillared buildings, the friezes and the porticos, the altar, the bay-tree and the bodies—nothing but the pile of logs which vomited a rolling cloud of flame and smoke into the sky. The moon was still shining calmly, and the sky was softer and greener. On the ground there were hundreds of dead and dying men; the dying were groaning in their agony. Far away on the horizon there was a thin line of light, a faint trembling thread as though of foam, and I seemed to hear the moaning of the sea.
All at once a woman walked in front of the burning pile. She was tall, and silken folds clothed the perfect lines of her body and fell straight to the ground. She walked royally, and when she moved her gestures were like the rhythm of majestic music. The firelight shone on her hair, which was bound with a narrow golden band. Her hair was like a cloud of spun sunshine, and it seemed brighter than the flames. She was walking with downcast eyes, but presently she looked up. Her face was calm, and faultless as skilfully-hewn marble, and it seemed to be made of some substance different from the clay which goes to the making of men and women. It was not an angel's face; it was not a divine face; neither was it a wicked face, nor had it anything cruel, nor anything of the siren or the witch. Love and pleasure seemed to have moulded the flower-like lips; but an infinite carelessness shone in the still blue eyes. They seemed like two seas that had never known what winds and tempests mean, but which bask for ever under unruffled skies lulled by a slumber-scented breeze.
She looked up at the fire and smiled, and at that smile one thought the heavens must open and the stars break into song, so marvellous was its loveliness, so infinitely radiant the glory of it. She was a woman, and yet more than a woman, a creature of the earth, yet fashioned of pearls and dew and the petals of flowers: delicate as a gossamer, and yet radiant with the flush of life, soft as the twilight, and glowing with the blood of the ruby; and, above all things, serene, calm, aloof, and unruffled like the silver moon. When the dying men saw her smile they raised their eyes towards her, and one could see that there shone in them a strange and wonderful happiness. And when they had looked they fell back and died.
Then a cloud of smoke blinded me. When it rose the full moon was still shining in a sky even bluer and softer than it had yet been. The fire was further off, but it had spread. The whole village was on fire; but the village had grown; it seemed endless, and covered several hills. Right in front of me was a grove of cypresses, dark against the intense glow of the flames, which leapt all round in the distance: a huge circle of light, a chain of fiery tongues and dancing lightnings.
We were on the top of a hill, and we looked down into a place where tall buildings and temples stood, where the fire had not penetrated. This place was crowded with men, women and children. It was the same shifting crowd of shadows: some shouting, some gesticulating, some looking on indifferent. And straight in front of me was a short, dark, and rather fat man with a low forehead, deep-set eyes, and a heavy jaw. He was crowned with a golden wreath, and he was twanging a kind of harp. In the distance suddenly the cypress trees became alive with huge flaring torches, which lit the garden like Bengal lights. The man threw down his harp and clapped his hands in ecstasy at the bright fireworks. Again a cloud of smoke obscured everything.
When it lifted I was in the village once more, and once more it was different. It was on fire, and it seemed infinitely larger and more straggling than when I had arrived. The moon was still in the sky, but the air had a chilly touch. Instead of one church there was an infinite number of churches, for in the glare countless minarets and small cupolas were visible. There was no crowd, no voices, and no shouting; only a long line of low, blazing wooden houses. The place was deserted and silent save for the crackling blaze. Then down the street a short, fat man on horseback rode towards us. He was riding a white horse. He wore a grey overcoat and a cocked hat. I became aware of a rhythmical tramping: a noise of hundreds and hundreds of hoofs, a champing of bits, and the tramp of innumerable feet and the rumble of guns. In the distance there was a hill with crenelated battlements round it; it was crowned with the domes and minarets of several churches, taller and greater than all the other churches in sight. These minarets shone out clean-cut and distinct against the ruddy sky.
The short man on horseback looked back for a moment at this hill. He took a pinch of snuff.
When the ancient gods were turned out of Olympus, and the groan of dying Pan shook the world like an earthquake, none of the fallen deities was so disconsolate as Proserpine. She wandered across the world, assuming now this shape and now that, but nowhere could she find a resting-place or a home. In the Southern country which she regarded as her own, whatever shape or disguise she assumed, whether that of a gleaner or of an old woman begging for alms, the country people would scent something uncanny about her and chase her from the place. Thus it was that she left the Southern country, which she loved; she said farewell to the azure skies, the hills covered with corn and fringed everywhere with rose bushes, the white oxen, the cypress, the olive, the vine, the croaking frogs, and the million fireflies; and she sought the green pastures and the woods of a Northern country.
One evening, not long after her arrival (it was Midsummer Eve), as she was wandering in a thick wood, she noticed that the trees and the under-growth were twinkling with a myriad soft flames which reminded her of the fireflies of her own country, and presently she perceived that these flames were stars which, soft as dew and bright as moonbeams, formed the diadems crowning the hair of unearthly shapes. These shapes were like those of men and maidens, transfigured and rendered strange and delicate, as light as foam, and radiant as dragonflies hovering over a pool. They were rimmed with rainbow-coloured films, and sometimes they flew and sometimes they danced, but they rarely seemed to touch the ground. And as Proserpine approached them, in the sad majesty of her fallen divinity, they gathered round her in a circle and bowed down before her. And one of them, taller than the rest, advanced towards her and said:—
"We are the Fairies, and for a long time we have been mournful, for we have lost our Queen, our beautiful Queen. She loved a mortal, and on this account she was banished from Fairyland, nor may she ever revisit the haunt and the kingdom that were hers. But Merlin, the oldest and the wisest of the wizards, told us we should find another Queen, and that we should know her by the poppies in her hair, the whiteness of her brow, and the stillness of her eyes, and with or without such tokens we should know, as soon as we set eyes on her, that it was she and no other who was to be our Queen. And now we know that it was you and no other. Therefore shall you be our Queen and rule over us until he comes who, Merlin said, shall conquer your kingdom and deliver its secrets to the mortal world. Then shall you abandon the kingdom of the Fairies—the everlasting Limbo shall receive you."
* * * * *
It was one summer's day a long time ago, many and many years after Proserpine had become Queen of the Fairies, that a butcher's apprentice called William was enjoying a holiday, and strolling in the woods with no other purpose than to stroll and enjoy the fresh air and the cool leaves and the song of the birds. William loved the sights and sounds of the country; unlike many boys of his age, he was not deeply versed in the habits of birds and beasts, but devoted his spare time to reading such books as he could borrow from the village schoolmaster whose school he had lately left to go into trade, or to taking part in the games of his companions, for he loved human fellowship and the talk and laughter of his fellow-creatures.
The day was hot—it was Midsummer Day—and William, having stumbled on a convenient mound, fell asleep. And he dreamt a curious dream. He thought he saw a beautiful maiden walking towards him. She was tall, and clothed in dark draperies, and her hair was bound with a coronal of scarlet flowers, her face was pale and lustrous, and he could not see her eyes because they were veiled. She approached him and said:—
"You are he who has been chosen to try to conquer my kingdom, which is faery, and to possess it: if, indeed, you are able to endure the fierce ordeal and to perform the three dreadful tasks which have been appointed. If he who sets out to conquer my kingdom should fail in any one of the three tasks he dies, and the world hears of him no more. Many have tried and failed."
And William said he would try with all his might to conquer the faery kingdom, and he asked what the three tasks might be.
The maiden, who was none other than Proserpine, Queen of the Fairies, told him that the first task was to pluck the crystal apple from the laughing tree, and second to pluck the blood-red rose from the fiery rose tree, and the third to cull the white poppy from the quiet fields. William asked her how he was to set about these tasks. Proserpine told him that he had but to accept the quest and all would be made clear. So he accepted the quest without further talk.
Immediately Proserpine vanished, and William found himself in a large green garden of fruit trees, and in the distance he heard the noise of rippling laughter. He walked along many paths to the place whence he thought the laughter came, until he found a large fruit tree which grew by itself. It was laden with fruit, and from one of its boughs hung a crystal apple which shone with all the colours of the rainbow.
But the tree was guarded by a hideous old hag, covered with sores and leprous scales, loathsome to behold. And a laughing voice came from the tree saying: "He who would pluck the crystal apple must embrace its guardian." And William looked at her and felt no loathing but rather a deep pity, so that tears welled in his eyes and dropped on her, and he took her face in his hands to embrace her, and as he did so she changed into a beautiful maiden with veiled eyes, who plucked the crystal apple from the tree and gave it to him and vanished.
Then the garden changed its semblance, and all around him there seemed to be a hedge of smoking thorns and before him a fiery tree on which blood-red roses shone like rubies. The tree was guarded by a maiden with long grey eyes and flowing hair, and of spun moonshine, beautiful exceedingly, and a moaning voice came from the tree, saying: "He who would pluck the rose must slay its guardian." On the grass beneath the tree lay an unsheathed sword. William took the sword in his hands, but the maiden looked at him piteously and wept, so that he hesitated; then, hardening himself, he plunged the sword into her heart and a great moan was heard, and the fire disappeared, and only a withered rose-tree stood before him. Then he heard the voice say that he must pierce his own heart with a thorn from the tree and let the blood fall upon its roots. This he did, and as he did so he felt the sharpness of Death, as though the last dreadful moment had come; but as the drops of blood fell on the roots the beautiful maiden with veiled eyes, whom he had seen before stood before him and gave him the blood-red rose, and she touched his wound and straightway it was healed.
Then the garden vanished altogether, and he stood before a dark porch and a gate beyond which he caught a pale glimmer. And by the porch stood a terrible shape: a hooded skeleton bearing a scythe, with white sockets of fire which had no eyes in them but which were so terrible that no mortal could look on them and live. And here he heard a voice saying: "He who would cull the white poppy must look into the eyes of its guardian and take the scythe from the bony hands." And William seized the scythe and an icy darkness descended upon him, and he felt dizzy and faint; yet he persisted and wrestled with the skeleton, although the darkness seemed to be overwhelming him. He tore the hood from the bony head and looked boldly into the fiery sockets.
Then with a crash of thunder the skeleton vanished, and the maiden with veiled eyes led him through the gate into the quiet fields, and there he culled the white poppy. Then the maiden turned to him and unveiled herself, and it was Proserpine, the Queen of the Fairies.
"You have conquered," she said, "and the faery kingdom is yours for ever, and you shall visit it and dwell in it whenever you desire, and reveal its sounds and its sights to the mortals of the world: and in my kingdom you shall see, as though in a mirror, the pageant of mankind, the scroll of history, and the story of man which is writ in brave, golden and glowing letters, of blood and tears and fire. And there is nothing in the soul of man that shall be hid from you; and you shall speak the secrets of my kingdom to mortal men with a voice of gold and of honey. And when you grow weary of life you shall withdraw for ever into the island of faery voices which lies in the heart of my kingdom. And as for me I go to the everlasting Limbo."
Then Proserpine vanished, and William awoke from his dream, and went home to his butcher's shop.
Soon after this he left his native village and went to London, where he became well known; although how his surname shall be spelt is a matter of dispute, some spelling it Shakespeare, some Shakespere, and some Shaksper.
Ferroll was an intellectual, and he prided himself on the fact. At Cambridge he had narrowly missed being a Senior Wrangler, and his principal study there had been Lunar Theory. But when he went down from Cambridge for good, being a man of some means, he travelled. For a year he was an honorary Attache at one of the big Embassies. He finally settled in London with a vague idea of some day writing a magnum opus about the stupidity of mankind; for he had come to the conclusion by the age of twenty-five that all men were stupid, irreclaimably, irredeemably stupid; that everything was wrong; that all literature was really bad, all art much overrated, and all music tedious in the long run.
The years slipped by and he never began his magnum opus; he joined a literary club instead and discussed the current topic of the day. Sometimes he wrote a short article; never in the daily Press, which he despised, nor in the reviews (for he never wrote anything as long as a magazine article), but in a literary weekly he would express in weary and polished phrases the unemphatic boredom or the mitigated approval with which the works of his fellow-men inspired him. He was the kind of man who had nothing in him you could positively dislike, but to whom you could not talk for five minutes without having a vague sensation of blight. Things seemed to shrivel up in his presence as though they had been touched by an insidious east wind, a subtle frost, a secret chill. He never praised anything, though he sometimes condescended to approve. The faint puffs of blame in which he more generally indulged were never sharp or heavy, but were like the smoke rings of a cigarette which a man indolently smoking blows from time to time up to the ceiling.
He lived in rooms in the Temple. They were comfortably, not luxuriously furnished; a great many French books—French was the only modern language worth reading he used to say—a few modern German etchings, a low Turkish divan, and some Egyptian antiquities, made up the furniture of his two sitting-rooms. Above all things he despised Greek art; it was, he said decadent. The Egyptians and the Germans were, in his opinion, the only people who knew anything about the plastic arts, whereas the only music he could endure was that of the modern French School. Over his chimney-piece there was a large German landscape in oils, called "Im Walde"; it represented a wood at twilight in the autumn, and if you looked at it carefully and for a long time you saw that the objects depicted were meant to be trees from which the leaves were falling; but if you looked at the picture carelessly and from a distance, it looked like a man-of-war on a rough sea, for which it was frequently taken, much to Ferrol's annoyance.
One day an artist friend of his presented him with a small Chinese god made of crystal; he put this on his chimney-piece. It was on the evening of the day on which he received this gift that he dined, together with a friend named Sledge who had travelled much in Eastern countries, at his club. After dinner they went to Ferrol's rooms to smoke and to talk. He wanted to show Sledge his antiquities, which consisted of three large Egyptian statuettes, a small green Egyptian god, and the Chinese idol which he had lately been given. Sledge, who was a middle-aged, bearded man, frank and unconventional, examined the antiquities with care, pronounced them to be genuine, and singled out for special praise the crystal god.
"Your things are very good," he said, "very good. But don't you really mind having all these things about you?"
"Why should I mind?" asked Ferrol.
"Well, you have travelled a good deal, haven't you?"
"Yes," said Ferrol, "I have travelled; I have been as far east as Nijni-Novgorod to see the Fair, and as far west as Lisbon."
"I suppose," said Sledge, "you were a long time in Greece and Italy?"
"No," said Ferrol, "I have never been to Greece. Greek art distresses me. All classical art is a mistake and a superstition."
"Talking of superstition," said Sledge, "you have never been to the Far East, have you?"
"No," Ferrol answered, "Egypt is Eastern enough for me, and cannot be bettered."
"Well," said Sledge, "I have been in the Far East. I have lived there many years. I am not a superstitious man; but there is one thing I would not do in any circumstances whatsoever, and that is to keep in my sitting-room the things you have got there."
"But why?" asked Ferrol.
"Well," said Sledge, "nearly all of them have come from the tombs of the dead, and some of them are gods. Such things may have attached to them heaven knows what spooks and spirits."
Ferrol shut his eyes and smiled, a faint, seraphic smile. "My dear boy," he said, "you forget. This is the Twentieth Century."
"And you," answered Sledge, "forget that the things you have here were made before the Twentieth Century. B.C."
"You don't seriously mean," said Ferrol, "that you attach any importance to these—" he hesitated.
"Children's stories?" suggested Sledge.
"I have lived long enough in the East," said Sledge, "to know that the sooner you learn to believe children's stories the better."
"I am afraid, then," said Ferrol, with civil tolerance, "that our points of view are too different for us to discuss the matter." And they talked of other things until late into the night.
Just as Sledge was leaving Ferrol's rooms and had said "Good-night," he paused by the chimney-piece, and, pointing to the tiny Ikon which was lying on it, asked: "What is that?"
"Oh, that's nothing," said Ferrol, "only a small Ikon I bought for twopence at the Fair of Nijni-Novgorod."
Sledge said "Good-night" again, but when he was on the stairs he called back: "In any case remember one thing, that East is East and West is West. Don't mix your deities."
Ferrol had not the slightest idea what he was alluding to, nor did he care. He dismissed the matter from his mind.
The next day he spent in the country, returning to London late in the evening. As he entered his rooms the first thing which met his eye was that his great picture, "Im Walde," which he considered to be one of the few products of modern art that a man who respected himself could look at without positive pain in the eyes, had fallen from its place over the chimney-piece to the floor in front of the fender, and the glass was shattered into a thousand fragments. He was much vexed. He sought the cause of the accident. The nail was a strong one, and it was still in its place. The picture had been hung by a wire; the wire seemed strong also and was not broken. He concluded that the picture must have been badly balanced and that a sudden shock such a door banging had thrown it over. He had no servant in his rooms, and when he had gone out that morning he had locked the door, so no one could have entered his rooms during his absence.
Next morning he sent for a framemaker and told him to mend the frame as soon as possible, to make the wire strong, and to see that the picture was firmly fixed on the wall. In two or three days' time the picture returned and was once more hung on the wall over the chimney-piece immediately above the little crystal Chinese god. Ferrol supervised the hanging of the picture in person. He saw that the nail was strong, and firmly fixed in the wall; he took care that the wire left nothing to be desired and was properly attached to the rings of the picture.
The picture was hung early one morning. That day he went to play golf. He returned at five o'clock, and again the first thing which met his eye was the picture. It had again fallen down, and this time it had brought with it in its fall the small Chinese god, which was broken in two. The glass had again been shattered to bits, and the picture itself was somewhat damaged. Everything else on the chimney-piece, that is to say, a few matchboxes and two candle-sticks, had also been thrown to the ground—everything with the exception of the little Ikon he had bought at Nijni-Novgorod, a small object about two inches square on which two Saints were pictured. This still rested in its place against the wall.
Ferrol investigated the disaster. The nail was in its place in the wall; the wire at the back of the picture was not broken or damaged in any way. The accident seemed to him quite inexplicable. He was greatly annoyed. The Chinese god was a valuable thing. He stood in front of the chimney-piece contemplating the damage with a sense of great irritation.
"To think that everything should have been broken except this beastly little Ikon!" he said to himself. "I wonder whether that was what Sledge meant when he said I should not mix my deities."
Next morning he sent again for the framemaker, and abused him roundly. The framemaker said he could not understand how the accident had happened. The nail was an excellent nail, the picture, Mr. Ferrol must admit, had been hung with great care before his very eyes and under his own direct and personal supervision. What more could be done?
"It's something to do with the balance," said Ferrol. "I told you that before. The picture is half spoiled now."
The framemaker said the damage would not show once the glass was repaired, and took the picture away again to mend it. A few days later it was brought back. Two men came to fix it this time; steps were brought and the hanging lasted about twenty minutes. Nails were put under the picture; it was hung by a double wire. All accidents in the future seemed guarded against.
The following morning Ferrol telephoned to Sledge and asked him to dine with him. Sledge was engaged to dine out that evening, but said that he would look in at the Temple late after dinner.
Ferrol dined alone at the Club; he reached his rooms about half-past nine; he made up a blazing fire and drew an armchair near it. He lit a cigarette, made some Turkish coffee, and took down a French novel. Every now and then he looked up at his picture. No damage was visible; it looked, he thought, as well as ever. In the place of the Chinese idol he had put his little green Egyptian god on the chimney-piece. The candlesticks and the Ikon were still in their places.
"After all," thought Ferrol, "I did wrong to have any Chinese art in the place at all. Egyptian things are the only things worth having. It is a lesson to me not to dabble with things out of my period."
After he had read for about a quarter of an hour he fell into a doze.
* * * * *
Sledge arrived at the rooms about half-past ten, and an ugly sight met his eyes. There had been an accident. The picture over the chimney-piece had fallen down right on Ferrol. His face was badly cut. They put Ferrol to bed, and his wounds were seen to and everything that was necessary was done. A nurse was sent for to look after him, and Sledge decided to stay in the house all night. After all the arrangements had been made, the doctor, before he went away, said to Sledge: "He will recover all right, he is not in the slightest danger; but I don't know who is to break the news to him."
"What is that?" asked Sledge.
"He will be quite blind," said the doctor.
Then the doctor went away, and Sledge sat down in front of the fire. The broken glass had been swept up. The picture had been placed on the Oriental divan, and as Sledge looked at the chimney-piece he noticed that the little Ikon was still in its place. Something caught his eye just under the low fender in front of the fireplace. He bent forward and picked up the object.
It was Ferrol's green Egyptian god, which had been broken into two pieces.
To Jack Gordon
Hart Minor and Smith were behind-hand with their sums. It was Hart Minor's first term: Smith had already been one term at school. They were in the fourth division at St. James's. A certain number of sums in short division had to be finished. Hart Minor and Smith got up early to finish these sums before breakfast, which was at half-past seven. Hart Minor divided slowly, and Smith reckoned quickly. Smith finished his sums with ease. When half-past seven struck, Hart Minor had finished four of them and there was still a fifth left: 3888 had to be divided by 36; short division had to be employed. Hart Minor was busily trying to divide 3888 by 4 and by 9; he had got as far as saying, "Four's into 38 will go six times and two over; four's into twenty-eight go seven times; four's into eight go twice." He was beginning to divide 672 by 9, an impossible task, when the breakfast bell rang, and Smith said to him: "Come on!"
"I can't," said Hart Minor, "I haven't finished my sum."
Smith glanced at his page and said: "Oh that's all right, don't you see? The answer's 108."
Hart Minor wrote down 108 and put a large R next to the sum, which meant Right.
The boys went in to breakfast. After breakfast they returned to the fourth division schoolroom, where they were to be instructed in arithmetic for an hour by Mr. Whitehead. Mr. Whitehead called for the sums. He glanced through Smith's and found them correct, and then through Hart Minor's. His attention was arrested by the last division.
"What's this?" he demanded. "Four's into thirty-eight don't go six times. You've got the right answer and the wrong working. What does this mean?" And Mr. Whitehead bit his knuckles savagely. "Somebody," he said, "has been helping you."
Hart Minor owned that he had received help from Smith. Mr. Whitehead shook him violently, and said, "Do you know what this means?"
Hart Minor had no sort of idea as to the inner significance of his act, except that he had finished his sums.
"It means," said Mr. Whitehead, "that you're a cheat and a thief: you've been stealing marks. For the present you can stand on the stool of penitence and I'll see what is to be done with you later."
The stool of penitence was a high, three-cornered stool, very narrow at the top. When boys in this division misbehaved themselves they had to stand on it during the rest of the lesson in the middle of the room.
Hart Minor fetched the stool of penitence and climbed up on it. It wobbled horribly.
After the lesson, which was punctuated throughout by Mr. Whitehead with bitter comments on the enormity of theft, the boys went to chapel. Smith and Hart were in the choir: they wore white surplices which were put on in the vestry. Hart Minor, who knew that he was in for a terrific row of some kind, thought he observed something unusual in the conduct of the masters who were assembled in the vestry. They were all tittering. Mr. Whitehead seemed to be convulsed with uncontrollable laughter. The choir walked up the aisle. Hart Minor noticed that all the boys in the school, and the servants who sat behind them, and the master's wife who sat in front, and the organist who played the harmonium, were all staring at him with unwonted interest; the boys were nudging each other: he could not understand why.
When the service, which lasted twenty minutes, was over, and the boys came out of chapel, Hart Minor was the centre of a jeering crowd of boys. He asked Smith what the cause of this was, and Smith confessed to him that before going into chapel Mr. Whitehead had pinned on his back a large sheet of paper with "Cheat" written on it, and had only removed it just before the procession walked up the aisle, hence the interest aroused. But, contrary to his expectation, nothing further occurred; none of the masters alluded to his misdemeanour, and Hart Minor almost thought that the incident was closed—almost, and yet really not at all; he tried to delude himself into thinking the affair would blow over, but all the while at the bottom of his heart sat a horrible misgiving.
Every Monday there was in this school what was called "reading over." The boys all assembled in the library and the Head Master, standing in front of his tall desk, summoned each division before him in turn. The marks of the week were read out and the boys took places, moving either up or down according to their marks; so that a boy who was at the top of his division one week might find himself at the bottom the next week, and vice versa.
On the Sunday after the incident recorded, the boys of the fourth division were sitting in their schoolroom before luncheon, in order to write their weekly letter home. This was the rule of the school. Mr. Whitehead sat at his desk and talked in a friendly manner to the boys. He was writing his weekly report in the large black report book that was used for reading over. Mr. Whitehead was talking in a chaffing way as to who was his favourite boy.
"You can tell your people," he said to Hart Minor, "that my favourite is old Polly." Polly was Hart Minor's nickname, which was given to him owing to his resemblance to a parrot. Hart Minor was much pleased at this friendly attitude, and began to think that the unpleasant incident of the week had been really forgotten and that the misgiving which haunted him night and day was a foolish delusion.
"We shall soon be writing the half-term reports," said Mr. Whitehead. "You've all been doing well, especially old Polly: you can put that in your letter," he said to Hart Minor. "I'm very much pleased with you," and he chuckled.
On Monday morning at eleven o'clock was reading over. When the fourth division were called up, the Head Master paused, looked down the page, then at the boys, then at the book once more; then he frowned. There was a second pause, then he read out in icy tones:—
"I'm sorry to say that Smith and Hart Minor have been found guilty of gross dishonesty; they combined—in fact they entered into a conspiracy, to cheat, to steal marks and obtain by unfair means, a higher place and an advantage which was not due to them."
The Head Master paused. "Hart Minor and Smith," he continued, "go to the bottom of the division. Smith," he added, "I'm astounded at you. Your conduct in this affair is inexplicable. If it were not for your previous record and good conduct, I should have you severely flogged; and if Hart Minor were not a new boy, I should treat him in the same way and have him turned out of the choir. (The choir had special privileges.) As it is, you shall lose, each of you, 200 marks, and I shall report the whole matter in detail to your parents in your half-term report, and if anything of the sort ever occurs again, you shall be severely punished. You have been guilty of an act for which, were you not schoolboys, but grown up, you would be put in prison. It is this kind of thing that leads people to penal servitude."
After the reading over was finished and the lessons that followed immediately on it, and the boys went out to wash their hands for luncheon, the boys of the second division crowded round Hart Minor and asked him how he could have perpetrated such a horrible and daring crime. The matter, however, was soon forgotten by the boys, but Hart Minor had not heard the last of it. On the following Sunday in chapel, at the evening service, the Head Master preached a sermon. He chose as his text "Thou shalt not steal!" The eyes of the whole school were fixed on Smith and Hart Minor. The Head Master pointed out in his discourse that one might think at first sight that boys at a school might not have the opportunity to violate the tremendous Commandments; but, he said, this was not so. The Commandments were as much a living actuality in school life as they were in the larger world. Coming events cast their shadows before them; the child was the father of the man; what a boy was at school, such would he be in after life. Theft, the boys perhaps thought, was not a sin which immediately concerned them. But there were things which were morally the same if not worse than the actual theft of material and tangible objects—dishonesty in the matter of marks, for instance, and cheating in order to gain an undue advantage over one's fellow-schoolboys. A boy who was guilty of such an act at school would probably end by being a criminal when he went out into the larger world. The seeds of depravity were already sown; the tree whose early shoots were thus blemished would probably be found to be rotten when it grew up; and for such trees and for such noxious growths there could only be one fate—to be cut down and cast into the unquenchable fire!
In Hart Minor's half-term report, which was sent home to his parents, it was stated that he had been found guilty of the meanest and grossest dishonesty, and that should it occur again he would be first punished and finally expelled.
He had long ago retired from public life, and in his Tuscan villa, where he now lived quite alone, seldom seeing his friends, he never regretted the strenuous days of his activity. He had done his work well; he had been more than a competent public servant; as Pro-Consul he proved a pillar of strength to the State, a man whose name at one time was on men's lips as having left plenty where he had found dearth, and order and justice where corruption, oppression, and anarchy, had once run riot. His retirement had been somewhat of a surprise to his friends, for although he was ripe in years, his mental powers were undiminished and his body was active and vigorous. But his withdrawal from public life was due not so much to fatigue or to a longing for leisure as to a lack of sympathy, which he felt to be growing stronger and stronger as the years went by, with the manners and customs, the mode of thought, and the manner of living of the new world and the new generation which was growing up around him. Nurtured as he had been in the old school and the strong traditions which taught an austere simplicity of life, a contempt for luxury and show, he was bewildered and saddened by the rapid growth of riches, the shameless worship of wealth, the unrestrained passion for amusement at all costs, the thirst for new sensations, and the ostentatious airs of the youth of the day, who seemed to be born disillusioned and whose palates were jaded before they knew the taste of food. He found much to console him in literature, not only in the literature of the past but in the literature of his day, but here again he was beset with misgivings and haunted by forebodings. He felt that the State had reached its zenith both in material prosperity and intellectual achievement, and that all the future held in reserve was decline and decay. This thought was ever present with him; in the vast extension of empire he foresaw the inevitable disintegration, and he wondered in a melancholy fashion what would be the fate of mankind when the Empire, dismembered and rotten, should become the prey of the Barbarians.