The queen sighed, and the prince, perceiving that he was listened to, continued,—
"Who, in thy native shores, among the children of men, now claims the fairy's care? What cradle wouldst thou tend? On what maid wouldst thou shower thy rosy gifts? What barb wouldst thou haunt in his dreams? Poesy is fled the island, why shouldst thou linger behind? Time hath brought dull customs, that laugh at thy gentle being. Puck is buried in the harebell, he hath left no offspring, and none mourn for his loss; for night, which is the fairy season, is busy and garish as the day. What hearth is desolate after the curfew? What house bathed in stillness at the hour in which thy revels commence? Thine empire among men hath passed from thee, and thy race are vanishing from the crowded soil; for, despite our diviner nature, our existence is linked with man's. Their neglect is our disease, their forgetfulness our death. Leave then those dull, yet troubled scenes, that are closing round the fairy rings of thy native isle. These mountains, this herbage, these gliding waves, these mouldering ruins, these starred rivulets, be they, O beautiful fairy! thy new domain. Yet in these lands our worship lingers; still can we fill the thought of the young bard, and mingle with his yearnings after the Beautiful, the Unseen. Hither come the pilgrims of the world, anxious only to gather from these scenes the legends of Us; ages will pass away ere the Rhine shall be desecrated of our haunting presence. Come then, my queen, let this palace be thine own, and the moon that glances over the shattered towers of the Dragon Rock witness our nuptials and our vows!"
In such words the fairy prince courted the young queen, and while she sighed at their truth she yielded to their charm. Oh, still may there be one spot on the earth where the fairy feet may press the legendary soil! still be there one land where the faith of The Bright Invisible hallows and inspires! Still glide thou, O majestic and solemn Rhine, among shades and valleys, from which the wisdom of belief can call the creations of the younger world!
CHAPTER XI. WHEREIN THE READER IS MADE SPECTATOR WITH THE ENGLISH FAIRIES OF THE SCENES AND BEINGS THAT ARE BENEATH THE EARTH.
DURING the heat of next day's noon, Fayzenheim took the English visitors through the cool caverns that wind amidst the mountains of the Rhine. There, a thousand wonders awaited the eyes of the fairy queen. I speak not of the Gothic arch and aisle into which the hollow earth forms itself, or the stream that rushes with a mighty voice through the dark chasm, or the silver columns that shoot aloft, worked by the gnomes from the mines of the mountains of Taunus; but of the strange inhabitants that from time to time they came upon. They found in one solitary cell, lined with dried moss, two misshapen elves, of a larger size than common, with a plebeian working-day aspect, who were chatting noisily together, and making a pair of boots: these were the Hausmannen or domestic elves, that dance into tradesmen's houses of a night, and play all sorts of undignified tricks. They were very civil to the queen, for they are good-natured creatures on the whole, and once had many relations in Scotland. They then, following the course of a noisy rivulet, came to a hole from which the sharp head of a fox peeped out. The queen was frightened. "Oh, come on," said the fox, encouragingly, "I am one of the fairy race, and many are the gambols we of the brute-elves play in the German world of romance." "Indeed, Mr. Fox," said the prince, "you only speak the truth; and how is Mr. Bruin?" "Quite well, my prince, but tired of his seclusion; for indeed our race can do little or nothing now in the world; and lie here in our old age, telling stories of the past, and recalling the exploits we did in our youth,—which, madam, you may see in all the fairy histories in the prince's library."
"Your own love adventures, for instance, Master Fox," said the prince.
The fox snarled angrily, and drew in his head.
"You have displeased your friend," said Nymphalin.
"Yes; he likes no allusions to the amorous follies of his youth. Did you ever hear of his rivalry with the dog for the cat's good graces?"
"No; that must be very amusing."
"Well, my queen, when we rest by and by, I will relate to you the history of the fox's wooing."
The next place they came to was a vast Runic cavern, covered with dark inscriptions of a forgotten tongue; and sitting on a huge stone they found a dwarf with long yellow hair, his head leaning on his breast, and absorbed in meditation. "This is a spirit of a wise and powerful race," whispered Fayzenheim, "that has often battled with the fairies; but he is of the kindly tribe."
Then the dwarf lifted his head with a mournful air; and gazed upon the bright shapes before him, lighted by the pine torches that the prince's attendants carried.
"And what dost thou muse upon, O descendant of the race of Laurin?" said the prince.
"Upon TIME!" answered the dwarf, gloomily. "I see a River, and its waves are black, flowing from the clouds, and none knoweth its source. It rolls deeply on, aye and evermore, through a green valley, which it slowly swallows up, washing away tower and town, and vanquishing all things; and the name of the River is TIME."
Then the dwarf's head sank on his bosom, and he spoke no more.
The fairies proceeded. "Above us," said the prince, "rises one of the loftiest mountains of the Rhine; for mountains are the Dwarf's home. When the Great Spirit of all made earth, he saw that the hollows of the rocks and hills were tenantless, and yet that a mighty kingdom and great palaces were hid within them,—a dread and dark solitude, but lighted at times from the starry eyes of many jewels; and there was the treasure of the human world—gold and silver—and great heaps of gems, and a soil of metals. So God made a race for this vast empire, and gifted them with the power of thought, and the soul of exceeding wisdom, so that they want not the merriment and enterprise of the outer world; but musing in these dark caves is their delight. Their existence rolls away in the luxury of thought; only from time to time they appear in the world, and betoken woe or weal to men,—according to their nature, for they are divided into two tribes, the benevolent and the wrathful." While the prince spoke, they saw glaring upon them from a ledge in the upper rock a grisly face with a long matted beard. The prince gathered himself up, and frowned at the evil dwarf, for such it was; but with a wild laugh the face abruptly disappeared, and the echo of the laugh rang with a ghastly sound through the long hollows of the earth.
The queen clung to Fayzenheim's arm. "Fear not, my queen," said he. "The evil race have no power over our light and aerial nature; with men only they war; and he whom we have seen was, in the old ages of the world, one of the deadliest visitors to mankind."
But now they came winding by a passage to a beautiful recess in the mountain empire; it was of a circular shape of amazing height; in the midst of it played a natural fountain of sparkling waters, and around it were columns of massive granite, rising in countless vistas, till lost in the distant shade. Jewels were scattered round, and brightly played the fairy torches on the gem, the fountain, and the pale silver, that gleamed at frequent intervals from the rocks. "Here let us rest," said the gallant fairy, clapping his hands; "what, ho! music and the feast."
So the feast was spread by the fountain's side; and the courtiers scattered rose-leaves, which they had brought with them, for the prince and his visitor; and amidst the dark kingdom of the dwarfs broke the delicate sound of fairy lutes. "We have not these evil beings in England," said the queen, as low as she could speak; "they rouse my fear, but my interest also. Tell me, dear prince, of what nature was the intercourse of the evil dwarf with man?"
"You know," answered the prince, "that to every species of living thing there is something in common; the vast chain of sympathy runs through all creation. By that which they have in common with the beast of the field or the bird of the air, men govern the inferior tribes; they appeal to the common passions of fear and emulation when they tame the wild steed, to the common desire of greed and gain when they snare the fishes of the stream, or allure the wolves to the pitfall by the bleating of the lamb. In their turn, in the older ages of the world, it was by the passions which men had in common with the demon race that the fiends commanded or allured them. The dwarf whom you saw, being of that race which is characterized by the ambition of power and the desire of hoarding, appealed then in his intercourse with men to the same characteristics in their own bosoms,—to ambition or to avarice. And thus were his victims made! But, not now, dearest Nymphalin," continued the prince, with a more lively air,—"not now will we speak of those gloomy beings. Ho, there! cease the music, and come hither all of ye, to listen to a faithful and homely history of the Dog, the Cat, the Griffin, and the Fox."
CHAPTER XII. THE WOOING OF MASTER FOX.*
* In the excursions of the fairies, it is the object of the author to bring before the reader a rapid phantasmagoria of the various beings that belong to the German superstitions, so that the work may thus describe the outer and the inner world of the land of the Rhine. The tale of the Fox's Wooing has been composed to give the English reader an idea of a species of novel not naturalized amongst us, though frequent among the legends of our Irish neighbours; in which the brutes are the only characters drawn,—drawn too with shades of distinction as nice and subtle as if they were the creatures of the civilized world.
You are aware, my dear Nymphalin, that in the time of which I am about to speak there was no particular enmity between the various species of brutes; the dog and the hare chatted very agreeably together, and all the world knows that the wolf, unacquainted with mutton, had a particular affection for the lamb. In these happy days, two most respectable cats, of very old family, had an only daughter. Never was kitten more amiable or more seducing; as she grew up she manifested so many charms, that in a little while she became noted as the greatest beauty in the neighbourhood. Need I to you, dearest Nymphalin, describe her perfection? Suffice it to say that her skin was of the most delicate tortoiseshell, that her paws were smoother than velvet, that her whiskers were twelve inches long at the least, and that her eyes had a gentleness altogether astonishing in a cat. But if the young beauty had suitors in plenty during the lives of monsieur and madame, you may suppose the number was not diminished when, at the age of two years and a half, she was left an orphan, and sole heiress to all the hereditary property. In fine, she was the richest marriage in the whole country. Without troubling you, dearest queen, with the adventures of the rest of her lovers, with their suit and their rejection, I come at once to the two rivals most sanguine of success,—the dog and the fox.
Now the dog was a handsome, honest, straightforward, affectionate fellow. "For my part," said he, "I don't wonder at my cousin's refusing Bruin the bear, and Gauntgrim the wolf: to be sure they give themselves great airs, and call themselves 'noble,' but what then? Bruin is always in the sulks, and Gauntgrim always in a passion; a cat of any sensibility would lead a miserable life with them. As for me, I am very good-tempered when I'm not put out, and I have no fault except that of being angry if disturbed at my meals. I am young and good-looking, fond of play and amusement, and altogether as agreeable a husband as a cat could find in a summer's day. If she marries me, well and good; she may have her property settled on herself: if not, I shall bear her no malice; and I hope I sha'n't be too much in love to forget that there are other cats in the world."
With that the dog threw his tail over his back, and set off to his mistress with a gay face on the matter.
Now the fox heard the dog talking thus to himself, for the fox was always peeping about, in holes and corners, and he burst out a laughing when the dog was out of sight.
"Ho, ho, my fine fellow!" said he; "not so fast, if you please: you've got the fox for a rival, let me tell you."
The fox, as you very well know, is a beast that can never do anything without a manoeuvre; and as, from his cunning, he was generally very lucky in anything he undertook, he did not doubt for a moment that he should put the dog's nose out of joint. Reynard was aware that in love one should always, if possible, be the first in the field; and he therefore resolved to get the start of the dog and arrive before him at the cat's residence. But this was no easy matter; for though Reynard could run faster than the dog for a little way, he was no match for him in a journey of some distance. "However," said Reynard, "those good-natured creatures are never very wise; and I think I know already what will make him bait on his way."
With that, the fox trotted pretty fast by a short cut in the woods, and getting before the dog, laid himself down by a hole in the earth, and began to howl most piteously.
The dog, hearing the noise, was very much alarmed. "See now," said he, "if the poor fox has not got himself into some scrape! Those cunning creatures are always in mischief; thank Heaven, it never comes into my head to be cunning!" And the good-natured animal ran off as hard as he could to see what was the matter with the fox.
"Oh, dear!" cried Reynard; "what shall I do? What shall I do? My poor little sister has fallen into this hole, and I can't get her out; she'll certainly be smothered." And the fox burst out a howling more piteously than before.
"But, my dear Reynard," quoth the dog, very simply, "why don't you go in after your sister?"
"Ah, you may well ask that," said the fox; "but, in trying to get in, don't you perceive that I have sprained my back and can't stir? Oh, dear! what shall I do if my poor little sister is smothered!"
"Pray don't vex yourself," said the dog; "I'll get her out in an instant." And with that he forced himself with great difficulty into the hole.
Now, no sooner did the fox see that the dog was fairly in, than he rolled a great stone to the mouth of the hole and fitted it so tight, that the dog, not being able to turn round and scratch against it with his forepaws, was made a close prisoner.
"Ha, ha!" cried Reynard, laughing outside; "amuse yourself with my poor little sister, while I go and make your compliments to Mademoiselle the Cat."
With that Reynard set off at an easy pace, never troubling his head what became of the poor dog. When he arrived in the neighbourhood of the beautiful cat's mansion, he resolved to pay a visit to a friend of his, an old magpie that lived in a tree and was well acquainted with all the news of the place. "For," thought Reynard, "I may as well know the blind side of my mistress that is to be, and get round it at once."
The magpie received the fox with great cordiality, and inquired what brought him so great a distance from home.
"Upon my word," said the fox, "nothing so much as the pleasure of seeing your ladyship and hearing those agreeable anecdotes you tell with so charming a grace; but to let you into a secret—be sure it don't go further—"
"On the word of a magpie," interrupted the bird.
"Pardon me for doubting you," continued the fox; "I should have recollected that a pie was a proverb for discretion. But, as I was saying, you know her Majesty the lioness?"
"Surely," said the magpie, bridling.
"Well; she was pleased to fall in—that is to say—to—to—take a caprice to your humble servant, and the lion grew so jealous that I thought it prudent to decamp. A jealous lion is no joke, let me assure your ladyship. But mum's the word."
So great a piece of news delighted the magpie. She could not but repay it in kind, by all the news in her budget. She told the fox all the scandal about Bruin and Gauntgrim, and she then fell to work on the poor young cat. She did not spare her foibles, you may be quite sure. The fox listened with great attention, and he learned enough to convince him that however much the magpie might exaggerate, the cat was very susceptible to flattery, and had a great deal of imagination.
When the magpie had finished she said, "But it must be very unfortunate for you to be banished from so magnificent a court as that of the lion?"
"As to that," answered the fox, "I console myself for my exile with a present his Majesty made me on parting, as a reward for my anxiety for his honour and domestic tranquillity; namely, three hairs from the fifth leg of the amoronthologosphorus. Only think of that, ma'am!"
"The what?" cried the pie, cocking down her left ear.
"La!" said the magpie; "and what is that very long word, my dear Reynard?"
"The amoronthologosphorus is a beast that lives on the other side of the river Cylinx; it has five legs, and on the fifth leg there are three hairs, and whoever has those three hairs can be young and beautiful forever."
"Bless me! I wish you would let me see them," said the pie, holding out her claw.
"Would that I could oblige you, ma'am; but it's as much as my life's worth to show them to any but the lady I marry. In fact, they only have an effect on the fair sex, as you may see by myself, whose poor person they utterly fail to improve: they are, therefore, intended for a marriage present, and his Majesty the lion thus generously atoned to me for relinquishing the tenderness of his queen. One must confess that there was a great deal of delicacy in the gift. But you'll be sure not to mention it."
"A magpie gossip indeed!" quoth the old blab.
The fox then wished the magpie good night, and retired to a hole to sleep off the fatigues of the day, before he presented himself to the beautiful young cat.
The next morning, Heaven knows how! it was all over the place that Reynard the fox had been banished from court for the favour shown him by her Majesty, and that the lion had bribed his departure with three hairs that would make any lady whom the fox married young and beautiful forever.
The cat was the first to learn the news, and she became all curiosity to see so interesting a stranger, possessed of "qualifications" which, in the language of the day, "would render any animal happy!" She was not long without obtaining her wish. As she was taking a walk in the wood the fox contrived to encounter her. You may be sure that he made her his best bow; and he flattered the poor cat with so courtly an air that she saw nothing surprising in the love of the lioness.
Meanwhile let us see what became of his rival, the dog.
"Ah, the poor creature!" said Nymphalin; "it is easy to guess that he need not be buried alive to lose all chance of marrying the heiress."
"Wait till the end," answered Fayzenheim.
When the dog found that he was thus entrapped, he gave himself up for lost. In vain he kicked with his hind-legs against the stone,—he only succeeded in bruising his paws; and at length he was forced to lie down, with his tongue out of his mouth, and quite exhausted. "However," said he, after he had taken breath, "it won't do to be starved here, without doing my best to escape; and if I can't get out one way, let me see if there is not a hole at the other end." Thus saying, his courage, which stood him in lieu of cunning, returned, and he proceeded on in the same straightforward way in which he always conducted himself. At first the path was exceedingly narrow, and he hurt his sides very much against the rough stones that projected from the earth; but by degrees the way became broader, and he now went on with considerable ease to himself, till he arrived in a large cavern, where he saw an immense griffin sitting on his tail, and smoking a huge pipe.
The dog was by no means pleased at meeting so suddenly a creature that had only to open his mouth to swallow him up at a morsel; however, he put a bold face on the danger, and walking respectfully up to the griffin, said, "Sir, I should be very much obliged to you if you would inform me the way out of these holes into the upper world."
The griffin took the pipe out of his mouth, and looked at the dog very sternly.
"Ho, wretch!" said he, "how comest thou hither? I suppose thou wantest to steal my treasure; but I know how to treat such vagabonds as you, and I shall certainly eat you up.
"You can do that if you choose," said the dog; "but it would be very unhandsome conduct in an animal so much bigger than myself. For my own part, I never attack any dog that is not of equal size,—I should be ashamed of myself if I did. And as to your treasure, the character I bear for honesty is too well known to merit such a suspicion."
"Upon my word," said the griffin, who could not help smiling for the life of him, "you have a singularly free mode of expressing yourself. And how, I say, came you hither?"
Then the dog, who did not know what a lie was, told the griffin his whole history,—how he had set off to pay his court to the cat, and how Reynard the fox had entrapped him into the hole.
When he had finished, the griffin said to him, "I see, my friend, that you know how to speak the truth; I am in want of just such a servant as you will make me, therefore stay with me and keep watch over my treasure when I sleep."
"Two words to that," said the dog. "You have hurt my feelings very much by suspecting my honesty, and I would much sooner go back into the wood and be avenged on that scoundrel the fox, than serve a master who has so ill an opinion of me. I pray you, therefore, to dismiss me, and to put me in the right way to my cousin the cat."
"I am not a griffin of many words," answered the master of the cavern, "and I give you your choice,—be my servant or be my breakfast; it is just the same to me. I give you time to decide till I have smoked out my pipe."
The poor dog did not take so long to consider. "It is true," thought he, "that it is a great misfortune to live in a cave with a griffin of so unpleasant a countenance; but, probably, if I serve him well and faithfully, he'll take pity on me some day, and let me go back to earth, and prove to my cousin what a rogue the fox is; and as to the rest, though I would sell my life as dear as I could, it is impossible to fight a griffin with a mouth of so monstrous a size." In short, he decided to stay with the griffin.
"Shake a paw on it," quoth the grim smoker; and the dog shook paws.
"And now," said the griffin, "I will tell you what you are to do. Look here," and moving his tail, he showed the dog a great heap of gold and silver, in a hole in the ground, that he had covered with the folds of his tail; and also, what the dog thought more valuable, a great heap of bones of very tempting appearance. "Now," said the griffin, "during the day I can take very good care of these myself; but at night it is very necessary that I should go to sleep, so when I sleep you must watch over them instead of me."
"Very well," said the dog. "As to the gold and silver, I have no objection; but I would much rather that you would lock up the bones, for I'm often hungry of a night, and—"
"Hold your tongue," said the griffin.
"But, sir," said the dog, after a short silence, "surely nobody ever comes into so retired a situation! Who are the thieves, if I may make bold to ask?"
"Know," answered the griffin, "that there are a great many serpents in this neighbourhood. They are always trying to steal my treasure; and if they catch me napping, they, not contented with theft, would do their best to sting me to death. So that I am almost worn out for want of sleep."
"Ah," quoth the dog, who was fond of a good night's rest, "I don't envy you your treasure, sir."
At night, the griffin, who had a great deal of penetration, and saw that he might depend on the dog, lay down to sleep in another corner of the cave; and the dog, shaking himself well, so as to be quite awake, took watch over the treasure. His mouth watered exceedingly at the bones, and he could not help smelling them now and then; but he said to himself, "A bargain's a bargain, and since I have promised to serve the griffin, I must serve him as an honest dog ought to serve."
In the middle of the night he saw a great snake creeping in by the side of the cave; but the dog set up so loud a bark that the griffin awoke, and the snake crept away as fast as he could. Then the griffin was very much pleased, and he gave the dog one of the bones to amuse himself with; and every night the dog watched the treasure, and acquitted himself so well that not a snake, at last, dared to make its appearance,—so the griffin enjoyed an excellent night's rest.
The dog now found himself much more comfortable than he expected. The griffin regularly gave him one of the bones for supper; and, pleased with his fidelity, made himself as agreeable a master as a griffin could be. Still, however, the dog was secretly very anxious to return to earth; for having nothing to do during the day but to doze on the ground, he dreamed perpetually of his cousin the cat's charms, and, in fancy, he gave the rascal Reynard as hearty a worry as a fox may well have the honour of receiving from a dog's paws. He awoke panting; alas! he could not realize his dreams.
One night, as he was watching as usual over the treasure, he was greatly surprised to see a beautiful little black and white dog enter the cave; and it came fawning to our honest friend, wagging its tail with pleasure.
"Ah, little one," said our dog, whom, to distinguish, I will call the watch-dog, "you had better make the best of your way back again. See, there is a great griffin asleep in the other corner of the cave, and if he wakes, he will either eat you up or make you his servant, as he has made me."
"I know what you would tell me," says the little dog; "and I have come down here to deliver you. The stone is now gone from the mouth of the cave, and you have nothing to do but to go back with me. Come, brother, come."
The dog was very much excited by this address. "Don't ask me, my dear little friend," said he; "you must be aware that I should be too happy to escape out of this cold cave, and roll on the soft turf once more: but if I leave my master, the griffin, those cursed serpents, who are always on the watch, will come in and steal his treasure,—nay, perhaps, sting him to death." Then the little dog came up to the watch-dog, and remonstrated with him greatly, and licked him caressingly on both sides of his face; and, taking him by the ear, endeavoured to draw him from the treasure: but the dog would not stir a step, though his heart sorely pressed him. At length the little dog, finding it all in vain, said, "Well, then, if I must leave, good-by; but I have become so hungry in coming down all this way after you, that I wish you would give me one of those bones; they smell very pleasantly, and one out of so many could never be missed."
"Alas!" said the watchdog, with tears in his eyes, "how unlucky I am to have eaten up the bone my master gave me, otherwise you should have had it and welcome. But I can't give you one of these, because my master has made me promise to watch over them all, and I have given him my paw on it. I am sure a dog of your respectable appearance will say nothing further on the subject."
Then the little dog answered pettishly, "Pooh, what nonsense you talk! surely a great griffin can't miss a little bone fit for me?" and nestling his nose under the watch-dog, he tried forthwith to bring up one of the bones.
On this the watch-dog grew angry, and, though with much reluctance, he seized the little dog by the nape of the neck and threw him off, but without hurting him. Suddenly the little dog changed into a monstrous serpent, bigger even than the griffin himself, and the watch-dog barked with all his might. The griffin rose in a great hurry, and the serpent sprang upon him ere he was well awake. I wish, dearest Nymphalin, you could have seen the battle between the griffin and the serpent,—how they coiled and twisted, and bit and darted their fiery tongues at each other. At length the serpent got uppermost, and was about to plunge his tongue into that part of the griffin which is unprotected by his scales, when the dog, seizing him by the tail, bit him so sharply that he could not help turning round to kill his new assailant, and the griffin, taking advantage of the opportunity, caught the serpent by the throat with both claws, and fairly strangled him. As soon as the griffin had recovered from the nervousness of the conflict, he heaped all manner of caresses on the dog for saving his life. The dog told him the whole story, and the griffin then explained that the dead snake was the king of the serpents, who had the power to change himself into any shape he pleased. "If he had tempted you," said he, "to leave the treasure but for one moment, or to have given him any part of it, ay, but a single bone, he would have crushed you in an instant, and stung me to death ere I could have waked; but none, no, not the most venomous thing in creation, has power to hurt the honest!"
"That has always been my belief," answered the dog; "and now, sir, you had better go to sleep again and leave the rest to me."
"Nay," answered the griffin, "I have no longer need of a servant; for now that the king of the serpents is dead, the rest will never molest me. It was only to satisfy his avarice that his subjects dared to brave the den of the griffin."
Upon hearing this the dog was exceedingly delighted; and raising himself on his hind paws, he begged the griffin most movingly to let him return to earth, to visit his mistress the cat, and worry his rival the fox.
"You do not serve an ungrateful master," answered the griffin. "You shall return, and I will teach you all the craft of our race, which is much craftier than the race of that pettifogger the fox, so that you may be able to cope with your rival."
"Ah, excuse me," said the dog, hastily, "I am equally obliged to you; but I fancy honesty is a match for cunning any day, and I think myself a great deal safer in being a dog of honour than if I knew all the tricks in the world."
"Well," said the griffin, a little piqued at the dog's bluntness, "do as you please; I wish you all possible success."
Then the griffin opened a secret door in the side of the cabin, and the dog saw a broad path that led at once into the wood. He thanked the griffin with all his heart, and ran wagging his tail into the open moonlight. "Ah, ah, master fox," said he, "there's no trap for an honest dog that has not two doors to it, cunning as you think yourself."
With that he curled his tail gallantly over his left leg, and set off on a long trot to the cat's house. When he was within sight of it, he stopped to refresh himself by a pool of water, and who should be there but our friend the magpie.
"And what do you want, friend?" said she, rather disdainfully, for the dog looked somewhat out of case after his journey.
"I am going to see my cousin the cat," answered he.
"Your cousin! marry come up," said the magpie; "don't you know she is going to be married to Reynard the fox? This is not a time for her to receive the visits of a brute like you."
These words put the dog in such a passion that he very nearly bit the magpie for her uncivil mode of communicating such bad news. However, he curbed his temper, and, without answering her, went at once to the cat's residence.
The cat was sitting at the window, and no sooner did the dog see her than he fairly lost his heart; never had he seen so charming a cat before. He advanced, wagging his tail, and with his most insinuating air, when the cat, getting up, clapped the window in his face, and lo! Reynard the fox appeared in her stead.
"Come out, thou rascal!" said the dog, showing his teeth; "come out, I challenge thee to single combat; I have not forgiven thy malice, and thou seest that I am no longer shut up in the cave, and unable to punish thee for thy wickedness."
"Go home, silly one!" answered the fox, sneering; "thou hast no business here, and as for fighting thee—bah!" Then the fox left the window and disappeared. But the dog, thoroughly enraged, scratched lustily at the door, and made such a noise, that presently the cat herself came to the window.
"How now!" said she, angrily; "what means all this rudeness? Who are you, and what do you want at my house?"
"Oh, my dear cousin," said the dog, "do not speak so severely. Know that I have come here on purpose to pay you a visit; and, whatever you do, let me beseech you not to listen to that villain Reynard,—you have no conception what a rogue he is!"
"What!" said the cat, blushing; "do you dare to abuse your betters in this fashion? I see you have a design on me. Go, this instant, or—"
"Enough, madam," said the dog, proudly; "you need not speak twice to me,—farewell."
And he turned away very slowly, and went under a tree, where he took up his lodgings for the night. But the next morning there was an amazing commotion in the neighbourhood; a stranger, of a very different style of travelling from that of the dog, had arrived at the dead of the night, and fixed his abode in a large cavern hollowed out of a steep rock. The noise he had made in flying through the air was so great that it had awakened every bird and beast in the parish; and Reynard, whose bad conscience never suffered him to sleep very soundly, putting his head out of the window, perceived, to his great alarm, that the stranger was nothing less than a monstrous griffin.
Now the griffins are the richest beasts in the world; and that's the reason they keep so close under ground. Whenever it does happen that they pay a visit above, it is not a thing to be easily forgotten.
The magpie was all agitation. What could the griffin possibly want there? She resolved to take a peep at the cavern, and accordingly she hopped timorously up the rock, and pretended to be picking up sticks for her nest.
"Holla, ma'am!" cried a very rough voice, and she saw the griffin putting his head out of the cavern. "Holla! you are the very lady I want to see; you know all the people about here, eh?"
"All the best company, your lordship, I certainly do," answered the magpie, dropping a courtesy.
Upon this the griffin walked out; and smoking his pipe leisurely in the open air, in order to set the pie at her ease, continued,—
"Are there any respectable beasts of good families settled in this neighbourhood?"
"Oh, most elegant society, I assure your lordship," cried the pie. "I have lived here myself these ten years, and the great heiress, the cat yonder, attracts a vast number of strangers."
"Humph! heiress, indeed! much you know about heiresses!" said the griffin. "There is only one heiress in the world, and that's my daughter."
"Bless me! has your lordship a family? I beg you a thousand pardons; but I only saw your lordship's own equipage last night, and did not know you brought any one with you."
"My daughter went first, and was safely lodged before I arrived. She did not disturb you, I dare say, as I did; for she sails along like a swan: but I have got the gout in my left claw, and that's the reason I puff and groan so in taking a journey."
"Shall I drop in upon Miss Griffin, and see how she is after her journey?" said the pie, advancing.
"I thank you, no. I don't intend her to be seen while I stay here,—it unsettles her; and I'm afraid of the young beasts running away with her if they once heard how handsome she was: she's the living picture of me, but she's monstrous giddy! Not that I should care much if she did go off with a beast of degree, were I not obliged to pay her portion, which is prodigious; and I don't like parting with money, ma'am, when I've once got it. Ho, ho, ho!"
"You are too witty, my lord. But if you refused your consent?" said the pie, anxious to know the whole family history of so grand a seigneur.
"I should have to pay the dowry all the same. It was left her by her uncle the dragon. But don't let this go any further."
"Your lordship may depend on my secrecy. I wish your lordship a very good morning."
Away flew the pie, and she did not stop till she got to the cat's house. The cat and the fox were at breakfast, and the fox had his paw on his heart. "Beautiful scene!" cried the pie; the cat coloured, and bade the pie take a seat.
Then off went the pie's tongue, glib, glib, glib, chatter, chatter, chatter. She related to them the whole story of the griffin and his daughter, and a great deal more besides, that the griffin had never told her.
The cat listened attentively. Another young heiress in the neighbourhood might be a formidable rival. "But is this griffiness handsome?" said she.
"Handsome!" cried the pie; "oh, if you could have seen the father!—such a mouth, such eyes, such a complexion; and he declares she's the living picture of himself! But what do you say, Mr. Reynard,—you, who have been so much in the world, have, perhaps, seen the young lady?"
"Why, I can't say I have," answered the fox, waking from a revery; "but she must be wonderfully rich. I dare say that fool the dog will be making up to her."
"Ah, by the way," said the pie, "what a fuss he made at your door yesterday; why would you not admit him, my dear?"
"Oh," said the cat, demurely, "Mr. Reynard says that he is a dog of very bad character, quite a fortune-hunter; and hiding the most dangerous disposition to bite under an appearance of good nature. I hope he won't be quarrelsome with you, dear Reynard!"
"With me? Oh, the poor wretch, no!—he might bluster a little; but he knows that if I'm once angry I'm a devil at biting;—one should not boast of oneself."
In the evening Reynard felt a strange desire to go and see the griffin smoking his pipe; but what could he do? There was the dog under the opposite tree evidently watching for him, and Reynard had no wish to prove himself that devil at biting which he declared he was. At last he resolved to have recourse to stratagem to get rid of the dog.
A young buck of a rabbit, a sort of provincial fop, had looked in upon his cousin the cat, to pay her his respects, and Reynard, taking him aside, said, "You see that shabby-looking dog under the tree? He has behaved very ill to your cousin the cat, and you certainly ought to challenge him. Forgive my boldness, nothing but respect for your character induces me to take so great a liberty; you know I would chastise the rascal myself, but what a scandal it would make! If I were already married to your cousin, it would be a different thing. But you know what a story that cursed magpie would hatch out of it!"
The rabbit looked very foolish; he assured the fox he was no match for the dog; that he was very fond of his cousin, to be sure! but he saw no necessity to interfere with her domestic affairs; and, in short, he tried all he possibly could to get out of the scrape; but the fox so artfully played on his vanity, so earnestly assured him that the dog was the biggest coward in the world and would make a humble apology, and so eloquently represented to him the glory he would obtain for manifesting so much spirit, that at length the rabbit was persuaded to go out and deliver the challenge.
"I'll be your second," said the fox; "and the great field on the other side the wood, two miles hence, shall be the place of battle: there we shall be out of observation. You go first, I'll follow in half an hour; and I say, hark!—in case he does accept the challenge, and you feel the least afraid, I'll be in the field, and take it off your paws with the utmost pleasure; rely on me, my dear sir!"
Away went the rabbit. The dog was a little astonished at the temerity of the poor creature; but on hearing that the fox was to be present, willingly consented to repair to the place of conflict. This readiness the rabbit did not at all relish; he went very slowly to the field, and seeing no fox there, his heart misgave him; and while the dog was putting his nose to the ground to try if he could track the coming of the fox, the rabbit slipped into a burrow, and left the dog to walk back again.
Meanwhile the fox was already at the rock; he walked very soft-footedly, and looked about with extreme caution, for he had a vague notion that a griffin-papa would not be very civil to foxes.
Now there were two holes in the rock,—one below, one above, an upper story and an under; and while the fox was peering about, he saw a great claw from the upper rock beckoning to him.
"Ah, ah!" said the fox, "that's the wanton young griffiness, I'll swear."
He approached, and a voice said,—
"Charming Mr. Reynard, do you not think you could deliver an unfortunate griffiness from a barbarous confinement in this rock?"
"Oh, heavens!" cried the fox, tenderly, "what a beautiful voice! and, ah, my poor heart, what a lovely claw! Is it possible that I hear the daughter of my lord, the great griffin?"
"Hush, flatterer! not so loud, if you please. My father is taking an evening stroll, and is very quick of hearing. He has tied me up by my poor wings in the cavern, for he is mightily afraid of some beast running away with me. You know I have all my fortune settled on myself."
"Talk not of fortune," said the fox; "but how can I deliver you? Shall I enter and gnaw the cord?"
"Alas!" answered the griffiness, "it is an immense chain I am bound with. However, you may come in and talk more at your ease."
The fox peeped cautiously all round, and seeing no sign of the griffin, he entered the lower cave and stole upstairs to the upper story; but as he went on, he saw immense piles of jewels and gold, and all sorts of treasure, so that the old griffin might well have laughed at the poor cat being called an heiress. The fox was greatly pleased at such indisputable signs of wealth, and he entered the upper cave, resolved to be transported with the charms of the griffiness.
There was, however, a great chasm between the landing-place and the spot where the young lady was chained, and he found it impossible to pass; the cavern was very dark, but he saw enough of the figure of the griffiness to perceive, in spite of her petticoat, that she was the image of her father, and the most hideous heiress that the earth ever saw!
However, he swallowed his disgust, and poured forth such a heap of compliments that the griffiness appeared entirely won.
He implored her to fly with him the first moment she was unchained.
"That is impossible," said she; "for my father never unchains me except in his presence, and then I cannot stir out of his sight."
"The wretch!" cried Reynard, "what is to be done?"
"Why, there is only one thing I know of," answered the griffiness, "which is this: I always make his soup for him, and if I could mix something in it that would put him fast to sleep before he had time to chain me up again I might slip down and carry off all the treasure below on my back."
"Charming!" exclaimed Reynard; "what invention! what wit! I will go and get some poppies directly."
"Alas!" said the griffiness, "poppies have no effect upon griffins. The only thing that can ever put my father fast to sleep is a nice young cat boiled up in his soup; it is astonishing what a charm that has upon him! But where to get a cat?—it must be a maiden cat too!"
Reynard was a little startled at so singular an opiate. "But," thought he, "griffins are not like the rest of the world, and so rich an heiress is not to be won by ordinary means."
"I do know a cat,—a maiden cat," said he, after a short pause; "but I feel a little repugnance at the thought of having her boiled in the griffin's soup. Would not a dog do as well?"
"Ah, base thing!" said the griffiness, appearing to weep; "you are in love with the cat, I see it; go and marry her, poor dwarf that she is, and leave me to die of grief."
In vain the fox protested that he did not care a straw for the cat; nothing could now appease the griffiness but his positive assurance that come what would poor puss should be brought to the cave and boiled for the griffin's soup.
"But how will you get her here?" said the griffiness.
"Ah, leave that to me," said Reynard. "Only put a basket out of the window and draw it up by a cord; the moment it arrives at the window, be sure to clap your claw on the cat at once, for she is terribly active."
"Tush!" answered the heiress; "a pretty griffiness I should be if I did not know how to catch a cat!"
"But this must be when your father is out?" said Reynard.
"Certainly; he takes a stroll every evening at sunset."
"Let it be to-morrow, then," said Reynard, impatient for the treasure.
This being arranged, Reynard thought it time to decamp. He stole down the stairs again, and tried to filch some of the treasure by the way; but it was too heavy for him to carry, and he was forced to acknowledge to himself that it was impossible to get the treasure without taking the griffiness (whose back seemed prodigiously strong) into the bargain.
He returned home to the cat, and when he entered her house, and saw how ordinary everything looked after the jewels in the griffin's cave, he quite wondered how he had ever thought the cat had the least pretensions to good looks. However, he concealed his wicked design, and his mistress thought he had never appeared so amiable.
"Only guess," said he, "where I have been!—to our new neighbour the griffin; a most charming person, thoroughly affable, and quite the air of the court. As for that silly magpie, the griffin saw her character at once; and it was all a hoax about his daughter,—he has no daughter at all. You know, my dear, hoaxing is a fashionable amusement among the great. He says he has heard of nothing but your beauty, and on my telling him we were going to be married, he has insisted upon giving a great ball and supper in honour of the event. In fact, he is a gallant old fellow, and dying to see you. Of course, I was obliged to accept the invitation."
"You could not do otherwise," said the unsuspecting young creature, who, as I before said, was very susceptible to flattery.
"And only think how delicate his attentions are," said the fox. "As he is very badly lodged for a beast of his rank, and his treasure takes up the whole of the ground floor, he is forced to give the fete in the upper story, so he hangs out a basket for his guests, and draws them up with his own claw. How condescending! But the great are so amiable!"
The cat, brought up in seclusion, was all delight at the idea of seeing such high life, and the lovers talked of nothing else all the next day,—when Reynard, towards evening, putting his head out of the window, saw his old friend the dog lying as usual and watching him very grimly. "Ah, that cursed creature! I had quite forgotten him; what is to be done now? He would make no bones of me if he once saw me set foot out of doors."
With that, the fox began to cast in his head how he should get rid of his rival, and at length he resolved on a very notable project; he desired the cat to set out first, and wait for him at a turn in the road a little way off. "For," said he, "if we go together we shall certainly be insulted by the dog; and he will know that in the presence of a lady, the custom of a beast of my fashion will not suffer me to avenge the affront. But when I am alone, the creature is such a coward that he will not dare say his soul's his own; leave the door open and I'll follow immediately."
The cat's mind was so completely poisoned against her cousin that she implicitly believed this account of his character; and accordingly, with many recommendations to her lover not to sully his dignity by getting into any sort of quarrel with the dog, she set off first.
The dog went up to her very humbly, and begged her to allow him to say a few words to her; but she received him so haughtily, that his spirit was up; and he walked back to the tree more than ever enraged against his rival. But what was his joy when he saw that the cat had left the door open! "Now, wretch," thought he, "you cannot escape me!" So he walked briskly in at the back door. He was greatly surprised to find Reynard lying down in the straw, panting as if his heart would break, and rolling his eyes in the pangs of death.
"Ah, friend," said the fox, with a faltering voice, "you are avenged, my hour is come; I am just going to give up the ghost: put your paw upon mine, and say you forgive me."
Despite his anger, the generous dog could not set tooth on a dying foe.
"You have served me a shabby trick," said he; "you have left me to starve in a hole, and you have evidently maligned me with my cousin: certainly I meant to be avenged on you; but if you are really dying, that alters the affair."
"Oh, oh!" groaned the fox, very bitterly; "I am past help; the poor cat is gone for Doctor Ape, but he'll never come in time. What a thing it is to have a bad conscience on one's death-bed! But wait till the cat returns, and I'll do you full justice with her before I die."
The good-natured dog was much moved at seeing his mortal enemy in such a state, and endeavoured as well as he could to console him.
"Oh, oh!" said the fox; "I am so parched in the throat, I am burning;" and he hung his tongue out of his mouth, and rolled his eyes more fearfully than ever.
"Is there no water here?" said the dog, looking round.
"Alas, no!—yet stay! yes, now I think of it, there is some in that little hole in the wall; but how to get at it! It is so high that I can't, in my poor weak state, climb up to it; and I dare not ask such a favour of one I have injured so much."
"Don't talk of it," said the dog: "but the hole's very small, I could not put my nose through it."
"No; but if you just climb up on that stone, and thrust your paw into the hole, you can dip it into the water, and so cool my poor parched mouth. Oh, what a thing it is to have a bad conscience!"
The dog sprang upon the stone, and, getting on his hind legs, thrust his front paw into the hole; when suddenly Reynard pulled a string that he had concealed under the straw, and the dog found his paw caught tight to the wall in a running noose.
"Ah, rascal!" said he, turning round; but the fox leaped up gayly from the straw, and fastening the string with his teeth to a nail in the other end of the wall, walked out, crying, "Good-by, my dear friend; have a care how you believe hereafter in sudden conversions!" So he left the dog on his hind legs to take care of the house.
Reynard found the cat waiting for him where he had appointed, and they walked lovingly together till they came to the cave. It was now dark, and they saw the basket waiting below; the fox assisted the poor cat into it. "There is only room for one," said he, "you must go first!" Up rose the basket; the fox heard a piteous mew, and no more.
"So much for the griffin's soup!" thought he.
He waited patiently for some time, when the griffiness, waving her claw from the window, said cheerfully, "All's right, my dear Reynard; my papa has finished his soup, and sleeps as sound as a rock! All the noise in the world would not wake him now, till he has slept off the boiled cat, which won't be these twelve hours. Come and assist me in packing up the treasure; I should be sorry to leave a single diamond behind."
"So should I," quoth the fox. "Stay, I'll come round by the lower hole: why, the door's shut! pray, beautiful griffiness, open it to thy impatient adorer."
"Alas, my father has hid the key! I never know where he places it. You must come up by the basket; see, I will lower it for you."
The fox was a little loth to trust himself in the same conveyance that had taken his mistress to be boiled; but the most cautious grow rash when money's to be gained, and avarice can trap even a fox. So he put himself as comfortably as he could into the basket, and up he went in an instant. It rested, however, just before it reached the window, and the fox felt, with a slight shudder, the claw of the griffiness stroking his back.
"Oh, what a beautiful coat!" quoth she, caressingly.
"You are too kind," said the fox; "but you can feel it more at your leisure when I am once up. Make haste, I beseech you."
"Oh, what a beautiful bushy tail! Never did I feel such a tail."
"It is entirely at your service, sweet griffiness," said the fox; "but pray let me in. Why lose an instant?"
"No, never did I feel such a tail! No wonder you are so successful with the ladies."
"Ah, beloved griffiness, my tail is yours to eternity, but you pinch it a little too hard."
Scarcely had he said this, when down dropped the basket, but not with the fox in it; he found himself caught by the tail, and dangling half way down the rock, by the help of the very same sort of pulley wherewith he had snared the dog. I leave you to guess his consternation; he yelped out as loud as he could,—for it hurts a fox exceedingly to be hanged by his tail with his head downwards,—when the door of the rock opened, and out stalked the griffin himself, smoking his pipe, with a vast crowd of all the fashionable beasts in the neighbourhood.
"Oho, brother," said the bear, laughing fit to kill himself; "who ever saw a fox hanged by the tail before?"
"You'll have need of a physician," quoth Doctor Ape.
"A pretty match, indeed; a griffiness for such a creature as you!" said the goat, strutting by him.
The fox grinned with pain, and said nothing. But that which hurt him most was the compassion of a dull fool of a donkey, who assured him with great gravity that he saw nothing at all to laugh at in his situation!
"At all events," said the fox, at last, "cheated, gulled, betrayed as I am, I have played the same trick to the dog. Go and laugh at him, gentlemen; he deserves it as much as I can, I assure you."
"Pardon me," said the griffin, taking the pipe out of his mouth; "one never laughs at the honest."
"And see," said the bear, "here he is."
And indeed the dog had, after much effort, gnawed the string in two, and extricated his paw; the scent of the fox had enabled him to track his footsteps, and here he arrived, burning for vengeance and finding himself already avenged.
But his first thought was for his dear cousin. "Ah, where is she?" he cried movingly; "without doubt that villain Reynard has served her some scurvy trick."
"I fear so indeed, my old friend," answered the griffin; "but don't grieve,—after all, she was nothing particular. You shall marry my daughter the griffiness, and succeed to all the treasure; ay, and all the bones that you once guarded so faithfully."
"Talk not to me," said the faithful dog. "I want none of your treasure; and, though I don't mean to be rude, your griffiness may go to the devil. I will run over the world, but I will find my dear cousin."
"See her then," said the griffin; and the beautiful cat, more beautiful than ever, rushed out of the cavern, and threw herself into the dog's paws.
A pleasant scene this for the fox! He had skill enough in the female heart to know that it may excuse many little infidelities, but to be boiled alive for a griffin's soup—no, the offence was inexpiable.
"You understand me, Mr. Reynard," said the griffin, "I have no daughter, and it was me you made love to. Knowing what sort of a creature a magpie is, I amused myself with hoaxing her,—the fashionable amusement at court, you know."
The fox made a mighty struggle, and leaped on the ground, leaving his tail behind him. It did not grow again in a hurry.
"See," said the griffin, as the beasts all laughed at the figure Reynard made running into the wood, "the dog beats the fox with the ladies, after all; and cunning as he is in everything else, the fox is the last creature that should ever think of making love!"
"Charming!" cried Nymphalin, clasping her hands; "it is just the sort of story I like."
"And I suppose, sir," said Nip, pertly, "that the dog and the cat lived very happily ever afterwards? Indeed the nuptial felicity of a dog and cat is proverbial!"
"I dare say they lived much the same as any other married couple," answered the prince.
CHAPTER XIII. THE TOMB OF A FATHER OF MANY CHILDREN.
THE feast being now ended, as well as the story, the fairies wound their way homeward by a different path, till at length a red steady light glowed through the long basaltic arches upon them, like the Demon Hunters' fires in the Forest of Pines.
The prince sobered in his pace. "You approach," said he, in a grave tone, "the greatest of our temples; you will witness the tomb of a mighty founder of our race!" An awe crept over the queen, in spite of herself. Tracking the fires in silence, they came to a vast space, in the midst of which was a long gray block of stone, such as the traveller finds amidst the dread silence of Egyptian Thebes.
And on this stone lay the gigantic figure of a man,—dead, but not death-like, for invisible spells had preserved the flesh and the long hair for untold ages; and beside him lay a rude instrument of music, and at his feet was a sword and a hunter's spear; and above, the rock wound, hollowed and roofless, to the upper air, and daylight came through, sickened and pale, beneath red fires that burned everlastingly around him, on such simple altars as belong to a savage race. But the place was not solitary, for many motionless but not lifeless shapes sat on large blocks of stone beside the tomb. There was the wizard, wrapped in his long black mantle, and his face covered with his hands; there was the uncouth and deformed dwarf, gibbering to himself; there sat the household elf; there glowered from a gloomy rent in the wall, with glittering eyes and shining scale, the enormous dragon of the North. An aged crone in rags, leaning on a staff, and gazing malignantly on the visitors, with bleared but fiery eyes, stood opposite the tomb of the gigantic dead. And now the fairies themselves completed the group! But all was dumb and unutterably silent,—the silence that floats over some antique city of the desert, when, for the first time for a hundred centuries, a living foot enters its desolate remains; the silence that belongs to the dust of eld,—deep, solemn, palpable, and sinking into the heart with a leaden and death-like weight. Even the English fairy spoke not; she held her breath, and gazing on the tomb, she saw, in rude vast characters,—
"We are all that remain of his religion!" said the prince, as they turned from the dread temple.
CHAPTER XIV. THE FAIRY'S CAVE, AND THE FAIRY'S WISH.
IT was evening; and the fairies were dancing beneath the twilight star.
"And why art thou sad, my violet?" said the prince; "for thine eyes seek the ground!"
"Now that I have found thee," answered the queen, "and now that I feel what happy love is to a fairy, I sigh over that love which I have lately witnessed among mortals, but the bud of whose happiness already conceals the worm. For well didst thou say, my prince, that we are linked with a mysterious affinity to mankind, and whatever is pure and gentle amongst them speaks at once to our sympathy, and commands our vigils."
"And most of all," said the German fairy, "are they who love under our watch; for love is the golden chain that binds all in the universe: love lights up alike the star and the glow-worm; and wherever there is love in men's lot, lies the secret affinity with men, and with things divine."
"But with the human race," said Nymphalin, "there is no love that outlasts the hour, for either death ends, or custom alters. When the blossom comes to fruit, it is plucked and seen no more; and therefore, when I behold true love sentenced to an early grave, I comfort myself that I shall not at least behold the beauty dimmed, and the softness of the heart hardened into stone. Yet, my prince, while still the pulse can beat, and the warm blood flow, in that beautiful form which I have watched over of late, let me not desert her; still let my influence keep the sky fair, and the breezes pure; still let me drive the vapour from the moon, and the clouds from the faces of the stars; still let me fill her dreams with tender and brilliant images, and glass in the mirror of sleep the happiest visions of fairy-land; still let me pour over her eyes that magic, which suffers them to see no fault in one in whom she has garnered up her soul! And as death comes slowly on, still let me rob the spectre of its terror, and the grave of its sting; so that, all gently and unconscious to herself, life may glide into the Great Ocean where the shadows lie, and the spirit without guile may be severed from its mansion without pain!"
The wish of the fairy was fulfilled.
CHAPTER XV. THE BANKS OF THE RHINE.—FROM THE DRACHENFELS TO BROHL.—AN INCIDENT THAT SUFFICES IN THIS TALE FOR AN EPOCH.
FROM the Drachenfels commences the true glory of the Rhine; and once more Gertrude's eyes conquered the languor that crept gradually over them as she gazed on the banks around.
Fair blew the breeze, and freshly curled the waters; and Gertrude did not feel the vulture that had fixed its talons within her breast. The Rhine widens, like a broad lake, between the Drachenfels and Unkel; villages are scattered over the extended plain on the left; on the right is the Isle of Werth and the houses of Oberwinter; the hills are covered with vines; and still Gertrude turned back with a lingering gaze to the lofty crest of the Seven Hills.
On, on—and the spires of Unkel rose above a curve in the banks, and on the opposite shore stretched those wondrous basaltic columns which extend to the middle of the river, and when the Rhine runs low, you may see them like an engulfed city beneath the waves. You then view the ruins of Okkenfels, and hear the voice of the pastoral Gasbach pouring its waters into the Rhine. From amidst the clefts of the rocks the vine peeps luxuriantly forth, and gives a richness and colouring to what Nature, left to herself, intended for the stern.
"But turn your eye backward to the right," said Trevylyan; "those banks were formerly the special haunt of the bold robbers of the Rhine, and from amidst the entangled brakes that then covered the ragged cliffs they rushed upon their prey. In the gloomy canvas of those feudal days what vigorous and mighty images were crowded! A robber's life amidst these mountains, and beside this mountain stream, must have been the very poetry of the spot carried into action."
They rested at Brohl, a small town between two mountains. On the summit of one you see the gray remains of Rheinech. There is something weird and preternatural about the aspect of this place; its soil betrays signs that in the former ages (from which even tradition is fast fading away) some volcano here exhausted its fires. The stratum of the earth is black and pitchy, and the springs beneath it are of a dark and graveolent water. Here the stream of the Brohlbach falls into the Rhine, and in a valley rich with oak and pine, and full of caverns, which are not without their traditionary inmates, stands the castle of Schweppenbourg, which our party failed not to visit.
Gertrude felt fatigued on their return, and Trevylyan sat by her in the little inn, while Vane went forth, with the curiosity of science, to examine the strata of the soil.
They conversed in the frankness of their plighted troth upon those topics which are only for lovers: upon the bright chapter in the history of their love; their first meeting; their first impressions; the little incidents in their present journey,—incidents noticed by themselves alone; that life within life which two persons know together,—which one knows not without the other, which ceases to both the instant they are divided.
"I know not what the love of others may be," said Gertrude, "but ours seems different from all of which I have read. Books tell us of jealousies and misconstructions, and the necessity of an absence, the sweetness of a quarrel; but we, dearest Albert, have had no experience of these passages in love. We have never misunderstood each other; we have no reconciliation to look back to. When was there ever occasion for me to ask forgiveness from you? Our love is made up only of one memory,—unceasing kindness! A harsh word, a wronging thought, never broke in upon the happiness we have felt and feel."
"Dearest Gertrude," said Trevylyan, "that character of our love is caught from you; you, the soft, the gentle, have been its pervading genius; and the well has been smooth and pure, for you were the spirit that lived within its depths."
And to such talk succeeded silence still more sweet,—the silence of the hushed and overflowing heart. The last voices of the birds, the sun slowly sinking in the west, the fragrance of descending dews, filled them with that deep and mysterious sympathy which exists between Love and Nature.
It was after such a silence—a long silence, that seemed but as a moment—that Trevylyan spoke, but Gertrude answered not; and, yearning once more for her sweet voice, he turned and saw that she had fainted away.
This was the first indication of the point to which her increasing debility had arrived. Trevylyan's heart stood still, and then beat violently; a thousand fears crept over him; he clasped her in his arms, and bore her to the open window. The setting sun fell upon her countenance, from which the play of the young heart and warm fancy had fled, and in its deep and still repose the ravages of disease were darkly visible. What were then his emotions! His heart was like stone; but he felt a rush as of a torrent to his temples: his eyes grew dizzy,—he was stunned by the greatness of his despair. For the last week he had taken hope for his companion; Gertrude had seemed so much stronger, for her happiness had given her a false support. And though there had been moments when, watching the bright hectic come and go, and her step linger, and the breath heave short, he had felt the hope suddenly cease, yet never had he known till now that fulness of anguish, that dread certainty of the worst, which the calm, fair face before him struck into his soul; and mixed with this agony as he gazed was all the passion of the most ardent love. For there she lay in his arms, the gentle breath rising from lips where the rose yet lingered, and the long, rich hair, soft and silken as an infant's, stealing from its confinement: everything that belonged to Gertrude's beauty was so inexpressibly soft and pure and youthful! Scarcely seventeen, she seemed much younger than she was; her figure had sunken from its roundness, but still how light, how lovely were its wrecks! the neck whiter than snow, the fair small hand! Her weight was scarcely felt in the arms of her lover; and he—what a contrast!—was in all the pride and flower of glorious manhood! His was the lofty brow, the wreathing hair, the haughty eye, the elastic form; and upon this frail, perishable thing had he fixed all his heart, all the hopes of his youth, the pride of his manhood, his schemes, his energies, his ambition!
"Oh, Gertrude!" cried he, "is it—is it thus—is there indeed no hope?"
And Gertrude now slowly recovering, and opening her eyes upon Trevylyan's face, the revulsion was so great, his emotions so overpowering, that, clasping her to his bosom, as if even death should not tear her away from him, he wept over her in an agony of tears; not those tears that relieve the heart, but the fiery rain of the internal storm, a sign of the fierce tumult that shook the very core of his existence, not a relief.
Awakened to herself, Gertrude, in amazement and alarm, threw her arms around his neck, and, looking wistfully into his face, implored him to speak to her.
"Was it my illness, love?" said she; and the music of her voice only conveyed to him the thought of how soon it would be dumb to him forever. "Nay," she continued winningly, "it was but the heat of the day; I am better now,—I am well; there is no cause to be alarmed for me!" and with all the innocent fondness of extreme youth, she kissed the burning tears from his eyes.
There was a playfulness, an innocence in this poor girl, so unconscious as yet of her destiny, which rendered her fate doubly touching, and which to the stern Trevylyan, hackneyed by the world, made her irresistible charm; and now as she put aside her hair, and looked up gratefully, yet pleadingly, into his face, he could scarce refrain from pouring out to her the confession of his anguish and despair. But the necessity of self-control, the necessity of concealing from her a knowledge which might only, by impressing her imagination, expedite her doom, while it would embitter to her mind the unconscious enjoyment of the hour, nerved and manned him. He checked by those violent efforts which only men can make, the evidence of his emotions; and endeavoured, by a rapid torrent of words, to divert her attention from a weakness, the causes of which he could not explain. Fortunately Vane soon returned, and Trevylyan, consigning Gertrude to his care, hastily left the room.
Gertrude sank into a revery.
"Ah, dear father!" said she, suddenly, and after a pause, "if I indeed were worse than I have thought myself of late, if I were to die now, what would Trevylyan feel? Pray God I may live for his sake!"
"My child, do not talk thus; you are better, much better than you were. Ere the autumn ends, Trevylyan's happiness will be your lawful care. Do not think so despondently of yourself."
"I thought not of myself," sighed Gertrude, "but of him!"
CHAPTER XVI. GERTRUDE.—THE EXCURSION TO HAMMERSTEIN.—THOUGHTS.
THE next day they visited the environs of Brohl. Gertrude was unusually silent; for her temper, naturally sunny and enthusiastic, was accustomed to light up everything she saw. Ah, once how bounding was that step! how undulating the young graces of that form! how playfully once danced the ringlets on that laughing cheek! But she clung to Trevylyan's proud form with a yet more endearing tenderness than was her wont, and hung yet more eagerly on his words; her hand sought his, and she often pressed it to her lips, and sighed as she did so. Something that she would not tell seemed passing within her, and sobered her playful mood. But there was this noticeable in Gertrude: whatever took away from her gayety increased her tenderness. The infirmities of her frame never touched her temper. She was kind, gentle, loving to the last.
They had crossed to the opposite banks, to visit the Castle of Hammerstein. The evening was transparently serene and clear; and the warmth of the sun yet lingered upon the air, even though the twilight had passed and the moon risen, as their boat returned by a lengthened passage to the village. Broad and straight flows the Rhine in this part of its career. On one side lay the wooded village of Namedy, the hamlet of Fornech, backed by the blue rock of Kruezborner Ley, the mountains that shield the mysterious Brohl; and on the opposite shore they saw the mighty rock of Hammerstein, with the green and livid ruins sleeping in the melancholy moonlight. Two towers rose haughtily above the more dismantled wrecks. How changed since the alternate banners of the Spaniard and the Swede waved from their ramparts, in that great war in which the gorgeous Wallenstein won his laurels! And in its mighty calm flowed on the ancestral Rhine, the vessel reflected on its smooth expanse; and above, girded by thin and shadowy clouds, the moon cast her shadows upon rocks covered with verdure, and brought into a dim light the twin spires of Andernach, tranquil in the distance.
"How beautiful is this hour!" said Gertrude, with a low voice, "surely we do not live enough in the night; one half the beauty of the world is slept away. What in the day can equal the holy calm, the loveliness, and the stillness which the moon now casts over the earth? These," she continued, pressing Trevylyan's hand, "are hours to remember; and you—will you ever forget them?"
Something there is in recollections of such times and scenes that seem not to belong to real life, but are rather an episode in its history; they are like some wandering into a more ideal world; they refuse to blend with our ruder associations; they live in us, apart and alone, to be treasured ever, but not lightly to be recalled. There are none living to whom we can confide them,—who can sympathize with what then we felt? It is this that makes poetry, and that page which we create as a confidant to ourselves, necessary to the thoughts that weigh upon the breast. We write, for our writing is our friend, the inanimate paper is our confessional; we pour forth on it the thoughts that we could tell to no private ear, and are relieved, are consoled. And if genius has one prerogative dearer than the rest, it is that which enables it to do honour to the dead,—to revive the beauty, the virtue that are no more; to wreathe chaplets that outlive the day around the urn which were else forgotten by the world!
When the poet mourns, in his immortal verse, for the dead, tell me not that fame is in his mind! It is filled by thoughts, by emotions that shut out the living. He is breathing to his genius—to that sole and constant friend which has grown up with him from his cradle—the sorrows too delicate for human sympathy! and when afterwards he consigns the confession to the crowd, it is indeed from the hope of honour—, honour not for himself, but for the being that is no more.
CHAPTER XVII. LETTER FROM TREVYLYAN TO ——-.
I AM obliged to you, my dear friend, for your letter; which, indeed, I have not, in the course of our rapid journey, had the leisure, perhaps the heart, to answer before. But we are staying in this town for some days, and I write now in the early morning, ere any one else in our hotel is awake. Do not tell me of adventure, of politics, of intrigues; my nature is altered. I threw down your letter, animated and brilliant as it was, with a sick and revolted heart. But I am now in somewhat less dejected spirits. Gertrude is better,—yes, really better; there is a physician here who gives me hope; my care is perpetually to amuse, and never to fatigue her,—never to permit her thoughts to rest upon herself. For I have imagined that illness cannot, at least in the unexhausted vigour of our years, fasten upon us irremediably unless we feed it with our own belief in its existence. You see men of the most delicate frames engaged in active and professional pursuits, who literally have no time for illness. Let them become idle, let them take care of themselves, let them think of their health—and they die! The rust rots the steel which use preserves; and, thank Heaven, although Gertrude, once during our voyage, seemed roused, by an inexcusable imprudence of emotion on my part, into some suspicion of her state, yet it passed away; for she thinks rarely of herself,—I am ever in her thoughts and seldom from her side, and you know, too, the sanguine and credulous nature of her disease. But, indeed, I now hope more than I have done since I knew her.
When, after an excited and adventurous life which had comprised so many changes in so few years, I found myself at rest in the bosom of a retired and remote part of the country, and Gertrude and her father were my only neighbours, I was in that state of mind in which the passions, recruited by solitude, are accessible to the purer and more divine emotions. I was struck by Gertrude's beauty, I was charmed by her simplicity. Worn in the usages and fashions of the world, the inexperience, the trustfulness, the exceeding youth of her mind, charmed and touched me; but when I saw the stamp of our national disease in her bright eye and transparent cheek, I felt my love chilled while my interest was increased. I fancied myself safe, and I went daily into the danger; I imagined so pure a light could not burn, and I was consumed. Not till my anxiety grew into pain, my interest into terror, did I know the secret of my own heart; and at the moment that I discovered this secret, I discovered also that Gertrude loved me! What a destiny was mine! what happiness, yet what misery! Gertrude was my own—but for what period? I might touch that soft hand, I might listen to the tenderest confession from that silver voice; but all the while my heart spoke of passion, my reason whispered of death. You know that I am considered of a cold and almost callous nature, that I am not easily moved into affection; but my very pride bowed me here into weakness. There was so soft a demand upon my protection, so constant an appeal to my anxiety. You know that my father's quick temper burns within me, that I am hot, and stern, and exacting; but one hasty word, one thought of myself, here were inexcusable. So brief a time might be left for her earthly happiness,—could I embitter one moment? All that feeling of uncertainty which should in prudence have prevented my love, increased it almost to a preternatural excess. That which it is said mothers feel for an only child in sickness, I feel for Gertrude. My existence is not!—I exist in her!
Her illness increased upon her at home; they have recommended travel. She chose the course we were to pursue, and, fortunately, it was so familiar to me, that I have been enabled to brighten the way. I am ever on the watch that she shall not know a weary hour; you would almost smile to see how I have roused myself from my habitual silence, and to find me—me, the scheming and worldly actor of real life—plunged back into the early romance of my boyhood, and charming the childish delight of Gertrude with the invention of fables and the traditions of the Rhine.
But I believe that I have succeeded in my object; if not, what is left to me? Gertrude is better!—In that sentence what visions of hope dawn upon me! I wish you could have seen Gertrude before we left England; you might then have understood my love for her. Not that we have not, in the gay capitals of Europe, paid our brief vows to forms more richly beautiful; not that we have not been charmed by a more brilliant genius, by a more tutored grace. But there is that in Gertrude which I never saw before,—the union of the childish and the intellectual, an ethereal simplicity, a temper that is never dimmed, a tenderness—O God! let me not speak of her virtues, for they only tell me how little she is suited to the earth.
You will direct to me at Mayence, whither our course now leads us, and your friendship will find indulgence for a letter that is so little a reply to yours.
Your sincere friend,
A. G. TREVYLYAN.
CHAPTER XVIII. COBLENTZ.—EXCURSION TO THE MOUNTAINS OF TAUNUS; ROMAN TOWER IN THE VALLEY OF EHRENBREITSTEIN.—TRAVEL, ITS PLEASURES ESTIMATED DIFFERENTLY BY THE YOUNG AND THE OLD.—THE STUDENT OF HEIDELBERG; HIS CRITICISMS ON GERMAN LITERATURE.
GERTRUDE had, indeed, apparently rallied during their stay at Coblentz; and a French physician established in the town (who adopted a peculiar treatment for consumption, which had been attended with no ordinary success) gave her father and Trevylyan a sanguine assurance of her ultimate recovery. The time they passed within the white walls of Coblentz was, therefore, the happiest and most cheerful part of their pilgrimage. They visited the various places in its vicinity; but the excursion which most delighted Gertrude was one to the mountains of Taunus.
They took advantage of a beautiful September day; and, crossing the river, commenced their tour from the Thal, or valley of Ehrenbreitstein. They stopped on their way to view the remains of a Roman tower in the valley; for the whole of that district bears frequent witness of the ancient conquerors of the world. The mountains of Taunus are still intersected with the roads which the Romans cut to the mines that supplied them with silver. Roman urns and inscribed stones are often found in these ancient places. The stones, inscribed with names utterly unknown,—a type of the uncertainty of fame! the urns, from which the dust is gone, a very satire upon life!
Lone, gray, and mouldering, this tower stands aloft in the valley; and the quiet Vane smiled to see the uniform of a modern Prussian, with his white belt and lifted bayonet, by the spot which had once echoed to the clang of the Roman arms. The soldier was paying a momentary court to a country damsel, whose straw hat and rustic dress did not stifle the vanity of the sex; and this rude and humble gallantry, in that spot, was another moral in the history of human passions. Above, the ramparts of a modern rule frowned down upon the solitary tower, as if in the vain insolence with which present power looks upon past decay,—the living race upon ancestral greatness. And indeed, in this respect, rightly! for modern times have no parallel to that degradation of human dignity stamped upon the ancient world by the long sway of the Imperial Harlot, all slavery herself, yet all tyranny to earth; and, like her own Messalina, at once a prostitute and an empress!
They continued their course by the ancient baths of Ems, and keeping by the banks of the romantic Lahn, arrived at Holzapfel.
"Ah," said Gertrude, one day, as they proceeded to the springs of the Carlovingian Wiesbaden, "surely perpetual travel with those we love must be the happiest state of existence! If home has its comforts, it also has its cares; but here we are at home with Nature, and the minor evils vanish almost before they are felt."
"True," said Trevylyan, "we escape from 'THE LITTLE,' which is the curse of life; the small cares that devour us up, the grievances of the day. We are feeding the divinest part of our nature,—the appetite to admire."
"But of all things wearisome," said Vane, "a succession of changes is the most. There can be a monotony in variety itself. As the eye aches in gazing long at the new shapes of the kaleidoscope, the mind aches at the fatigue of a constant alternation of objects; and we delightedly return to 'REST,' which is to life what green is to the earth."
In the course of their sojourn among the various baths of Taunus, they fell in, by accident, with a German student of Heidelberg, who was pursuing the pedestrian excursions so peculiarly favoured by his tribe. He was tamer and gentler than the general herd of those young wanderers, and our party were much pleased with his enthusiasm, because it was unaffected. He had been in England, and spoke its language almost as a native.
"Our literature," said he, one day, conversing with Vane, "has two faults,—we are too subtle and too homely. We do not speak enough to the broad comprehension of mankind; we are forever making abstract qualities of flesh and blood. Our critics have turned your 'Hamlet' into an allegory; they will not even allow Shakspeare to paint mankind, but insist on his embodying qualities. They turn poetry into metaphysics, and truth seems to them shallow, unless an allegory, which is false, can be seen at the bottom. Again, too, with our most imaginative works we mix a homeliness that we fancy touching, but which in reality is ludicrous. We eternally step from the sublime to the ridiculous; we want taste."
"But not, I hope, French taste. Do not govern a Goethe, or even a Richter, by a Boileau!" said Trevylyan.
"No; but Boileau's taste was false. Men who have the reputation for good taste often acquire it solely because of the want of genius. By taste I mean a quick tact into the harmony of composition, the art of making the whole consistent with its parts, the concinnitas. Schiller alone of our authors has it. But we are fast mending; and by following shadows so long we have been led at last to the substance. Our past literature is to us what astrology was to science,—false but ennobling, and conducting us to the true language of the intellectual heaven."
Another time the scenes they passed, interspersed with the ruins of frequent monasteries, leading them to converse on the monastic life, and the various additions time makes to religion, the German said: "Perhaps one of the works most wanted in the world is the history of Religion. We have several books, it is true, on the subject, but none that supply the want I allude to. A German ought to write it; for it is, probably, only a German that would have the requisite learning. A German only, too, is likely to treat the mighty subject with boldness, and yet with veneration; without the shallow flippancy of the Frenchman, without the timid sectarianism of the English. It would be a noble task, to trace the winding mazes of antique falsehood; to clear up the first glimmerings of divine truth; to separate Jehovah's word from man's invention; to vindicate the All-merciful from the dread creeds of bloodshed and of fear: and, watching in the great Heaven of Truth the dawning of the True Star, follow it—like the Magi of the East—till it rested above the real God. Not indeed presuming to such a task," continued the German, with a slight blush, "I have about me a humble essay, which treats only of one part of that august subject; which, leaving to a loftier genius the history of the true religion, may be considered as the history of a false one,—of such a creed as Christianity supplanted in the North; or such as may perhaps be found among the fiercest of the savage tribes. It is a fiction—as you may conceive; but yet, by a constant reference to the early records of human learning, I have studied to weave it up from truths. If you would like to hear it,—it is very short—"
"Above all things," said Vane; and the German drew a manuscript neatly bound from his pocket.
"After having myself criticised so insolently the faults of our national literature," said he, smiling, "you will have a right to criticise the faults that belong to so humble a disciple of it; but you will see that, though I have commenced with the allegorical or the supernatural, I have endeavoured to avoid the subtlety of conceit, and the obscurity of design, which I blame in the wilder of our authors. As to the style, I wished to suit it to the subject; it ought to be, unless I err, rugged and massive,—hewn, as it were, out of the rock of primeval language. But you, madam—doubtless you do not understand German?"
"Her mother was an Austrian," said Vane; "and she knows at least enough of the tongue to understand you; so pray begin."
Without further preface, the German then commenced the story, which the reader will find translated* in the next chapter.
* Nevertheless I beg to state seriously, that the German student is an impostor; and that he has no right to wrest the parentage of the fiction from the true author.