After some hesitation she entered the room, and took a box out of the casket. I stripped myself and smeared the ointment over my body. But never a feather appeared! Every hair on me changed into a bristle; my hands turned into hoofed forefeet; a tail grew out of my backbone; my face lengthened; and I found, to my horror, that I had become an ass.
"Oh, ye gods," said Fotis, "I've taken the wrong box! But no great harm's done, dear Lucius. I know the antidote. I'll get you some roses to crunch, and you will be restored to your proper shape."
Fotis, however, dared not go at once into the garden, lest Pamphila should suddenly return and find me. So she told me to go and wait in the stable until daybreak, and then she would gather some roses for me. But when I got into the stable I wished I had waited outside. My own horse and an ass belonging to Milo conceived a strange dislike to me. They fell upon me with great fury, and bit me and kicked me, and made such a clamour that the groom came to see whatever was the matter. He found me standing on my hind legs trying to reach the garland of roses which he had placed on the shrine of the goddess Epona in the middle of the stable.
"What a sacrilegious brute!" he cried, falling upon me savagely. "Attacking the shrine of the divinity who guards over horses! I'll lame you, that I will!"
As he was belabouring me with a great cudgel, a band of fierce men armed with swords and carrying lighted torches appeared. At the sight of them the groom fled in terror.
"Help! Help! Robbers!" I heard Milo and Fotis cry.
But before the groom was able to fetch the watch, the robbers forced their way into the house, and broke open Milo's strongbox. Then they loaded me and the horse and the ass with the stolen wealth, and drove us out into the mountains. Unused to the heavy burden laid on me, I went rather slowly. This enraged the robbers, and they beat me until I was well-nigh dead. But at last I saw a sight which filled me with the wildest joy. We passed a noble country house, surrounded by a garden of sweet-smelling roses. I rushed open-mouthed upon the flowers. But just as I strained my curling lips towards them, I stopped. If I changed myself into a man the robbers would kill me, either as a wizard, or out of fear that I would inform against them! So I left the roses untouched, and in the evening we came to the cave in the mountains where the robbers dwelt, and there, to my delight, I was relieved of my grievous load.
Soon afterwards another band of robbers arrived, carrying a young and lovely maid arrayed as a bride. Her beautiful features were pale, and wet with tears, and she tore her hair and her garments. "Take this girl," said the robbers to the old woman who waited upon them, "and comfort her. Tell her she's in no danger. Her people are rich, and will soon ransom her."
Charite, for such was the name of the beautiful bride, fell weeping into one of the old women's arms.
"They tore me away from Tlepolemus," she said, "when he was about to enter my bridal chamber. Our house was decked with laurel, and the bridal-song was being sung, when a band of swordsmen entered with drawn swords, and carried me off. Now I shall never see my bridegroom again."
"Yes, you will, dearie," said the old woman. "But don't let us talk about it now. After all, you are not in so evil a plight as Psyche was when she lost her husband, Cupid. Now, listen, while I tell you that marvellous tale."
And here is the tale of Cupid and Psyche as the old woman related it to Charite:
IV.—The Marvellous Story of Cupid and Psyche
"There was once a king of a certain city who had three daughters. All of them were very beautiful, but Psyche, the youngest, was lovelier even than Venus. The people worshipped her as she walked the streets, and strewed her path with flowers. Strangers from all parts of the world thronged to see her and to adore her. The temples of Venus were deserted, and no garlands were laid at her shrines. Thereupon, the goddess of love and beauty grew angry. She tossed her head with a cry of rage, and called to her son, Cupid, and showed him Psyche walking the streets of the city.
"'Avenge me!' she said. 'Fill this maiden with burning love for the ugliest, wretchedest creature that lives on earth.'
"The king was thereupon commanded by an oracle to array his daughter in bridal robes, and set her upon a high mountain, so that she might be wedded to a horrible monster. All the city was filled with grief and lamentation when Psyche was led out to her doom, and placed upon the lonely peak. Then a mighty wind arose, and carried the maiden to an enchanted palace, where she was waited on by unseen spirits who played sweet music for her delight, and fed her with delicious food. But in the darkness of night someone came to her couch and wooed her tenderly, and she fell in love with him and became his wife. And he said: 'Psyche, you may do what you will in the palace I have built for you. But one thing you must not do—you must not attempt to see my face.'
"Her husband was very sweet and kind, but he came only in the night time; and in the daytime Psyche felt very lonesome. So she begged her husband to let her sisters come and stay with her, and her husband had them brought on a mighty wind. When they saw how delightfully Psyche lived in the enchanted palace they grew jealous of her strange happiness.
"'Yes, this is a very pleasant place,' they exclaimed, 'but you know what the oracle said, Psyche. You are married to a monster! That is the reason why he will not let you see his face.'
"In the night, when they had departed, Psyche lighted a lamp and looked at her bedfellow. Oh, joy! It was Cupid, the radiant young god of love, reposing in his beauty. In her excitement Psyche let a drop of burning oil fall from the lamp upon his right shoulder. The god leaped up and spread out his wings, and flew away, saying:
"'Instead of marrying you to a monster, in obedience to my mother's commands, I wedded you myself. And this is how you serve me! Farewell, Psyche! Farewell!'
"But Psyche set out to follow him, and after a long and toilsome journey she reached the court of Venus, where Cupid was now imprisoned. Venus seized her and beat her, and then set her on dangerous tasks, and tried to bring about her death. But Psyche was so lovely and gentle that every living creature wished to help her and save her. Then Venus, fearing that Cupid would escape and rescue his wife, said:
"'Psyche, take this casket to Proserpine, in the Kingdom of the Dead, and ask her to fill it with beauty.'
"Psyche was in despair. No mortal had ever returned from the Kingdom of the Dead. She climbed a high tower, and prepared to throw herself down, and die. But the very stones took pity upon her.
"'Go to Taenarus,' they said, 'and there you will find a way to the Underworld. Take two copper coins in your mouth, and two honey-cakes in your hands.'
"Psyche travelled to Taenarus, near Lacedaemon, and there she found a hole leading to the Underworld. A ghostly ferryman rowed her over the River of Death, and took one of her copper coins. Then a monstrous dog with three heads sprang out, but Psyche fed him with one of her honey-cakes, and entered the hall of Proserpine, the queen of the dead. Proserpine filled the casket, and by means of the last honey-cake and the last copper coin, Psyche returned to the green, bright earth.
"But, alas! she was over-curious, and opened the casket to see the divine beauty it contained. A deadly vapour came out and overpowered her, and she fell to the ground. But Cupid, who had now escaped from his prison, found her lying on the grass, and wiped the vapour from her face. Taking her in his arms, he spread out his wings, and carried her to Olympus; and there they live together in unending bliss, with their little child, whose name is Joy."
V.—The Further Strange Adventures of the Ass
While the old woman was entertaining the beautiful captive with this charming tale, a tall, fierce young man in ragged clothes stalked boldly in among the robbers.
"Long life to you, brave comrades!" he said. "Don't judge me by these rags, my boys. They're a disguise. Have you heard of Haemus, the famous Thracian brigand? If so, you've heard of me. My band has been cut up, but I'm bringing what men I still have to you. Shall we join forces?"
The robbers had just lost their own captain, so they received Haemus with great joy, and made him their leader. Soon afterwards ten of his men came in, loaded with swollen wine-bags.
"Here's enough wine," he said, "to last us a fortnight if we use it temperately. Let us celebrate this glorious day by finishing it at one sitting!"
The robbers at once fell furiously to drinking, and their new captain forced Charite to come and sit beside him. After a little wooing, she began to cling to him, and return his kisses.
"Oh, what a frail, fickle, faithless race are women!" I said to myself. "Scarcely two hours ago she was crying her eyes out for her bridegroom; now here she is, fondling a wretched assassin."
What an ass I was! It was some time before I noticed that the new captain did not drink himself, and that the men he brought with him were only pretending to drink, while forcing the wine on the other robbers, who soon became too drunk to drink, and rolled over in a deep sleep.
"Up, boys, and disarm and bind these ruffians!" said the new captain, who was none other than Tlepolemus, the bridegroom of the fair Charite. And leaving his servants to perform this task, he put Charite on my back, and led me to his native town. All the inhabitants poured out into the street to see us pass, and they loudly acclaimed Tlepolemus for his valour and ingenuity in rescuing his lovely bride, and capturing the robbers.
Charite did not forget me in the scenes of rejoicing. She patted my head and kissed my rough face, and bade the groom of the stud feed me well, and let me have the run of the fields.
"Now I shall at last be able to get a mouthful of roses," I thought, "and recover my human shape."
But, alas! the groom was an avaricious, disobedient slave, and he at once sold me to a troupe of those infamous beggarly priests of Cybele, who cart the Syrian goddess about the public squares to the sound of cymbals and rattles.
The next morning my new owners smeared their faces with rouge, and painted their eyes with black grease; then they dressed themselves in white tunics, and set their wretched goddess on my back, and marched out, leaping and brandishing great swords and axes. On coming to the mansion of a wealthy man, they raised a wild din, and whirled about, and cut themselves and scourged themselves until they were covered with blood. The master of the mansion was so impressed with this savage and degrading spectacle that he gave the priests a good sum of money, and invited them into his house. They took the goddess with them, and I scampered out into the fields searching for some roses.
But I was quickly brought back by the cook. His master had given him a fat haunch from an enormous stag to roast for the priests' dinner, and a dog had run off with it. In order to avoid being whipped for his carelessness, the slave resolved to let the priests dine off a haunch of their own ass. He locked the door of the kitchen, so that I could not escape, and then took a long knife and came to kill me. But I had no mind to perish in this way; and I dashed upstairs into the room where the master was busy worshipping the goddess in the company of the priests, and knocked the table over, and the goddess and many of the worshippers.
"Kill the wretched thing," said the master. "It has gone mad."
But the priests did not care to lose their salable property, and they locked me in their bedroom, and sold me to the first man they met the next morning. It was a poor gardener who needed an ass to cart his stuff to market. But as the gardener was taking me home a soldier came tramping along the road. He, too, wanted an ass to carry his heavy kit. So he struck the gardener down with his sword and seized me by right of conquest; then, loading me with his armour and shield and baggage, he took me to the town to which he was travelling. There he was ordered by his tribune to take some letters to Rome, so he disposed of me for a small sum to two confectioners.
By this time I had grown very feeble and thin. Though I was changed into an ass, L could not relish hay and grass and food of that sort, and I derived scarcely any nourishment from it. I still had human tastes, as well as human thoughts and feelings. Happily, I was very well off with my new masters. Every evening, they brought home the remains of the banquets they had served—bits of chicken, pork, fish and meat, and various cakes; and these they put in their room while they went for a bath before dinner. I used then to creep in and take all the best bits, and when my two masters returned they began to reproach each other with having filched the choicest pieces. In the meantime, I grew plump and glossy and broad-backed, and as my masters observed I ate no hay, they spied on me one evening.
They forgot their quarrel when they saw their ass picking out the best bits with the taste of an epicure: and, bursting open the door, they cried: "Let us try him with wine!" Naturally, I drank it very readily.
"We have got a treasure here," they said. They soon found that I was intelligent, and understood human language. And after training me they took me to Corinth, and exhibited me there, and made a great deal of money. In a short time I became famous throughout Greece as the "Golden Ass," and I was bought by the town for use in the public show. Nobody thought that any watch need be kept over an animal as thoroughly civilised as I was; and one evening I succeeded in escaping, and fled to a lonely spot on the seashore.
VI.—The Miracle of Isis and the Fate of Lucius
As I nestled down on the soft sand, the full-orbed moon rose above the eastern waves, and shone with a glorious radiance. My heart opened to the mysteries of the sacred night, and I sprang up, and bathed seven times in the cleansing water of the sea. Then, with tears upon my cheeks, I prayed to Isis, the mighty saviour goddess:
"O Queen of Heaven, who dost enlighten the world with thy lovely beams as thou goest on thy lonely way, hear me now and help me, in my peril and misery and misfortune! Restore me, O mighty goddess, to my rightful shape, and let Lucius return to the bosom of his family."
Sleep fell swiftly upon my eyes, and in my sleep the goddess visited me. She rose up, a vision of light, from the waters. On her head was a crown of radiant flowers, shaped like the moon, and serpents coiled about her temples, and her divine body was arrayed in a robe of shining darkness embroidered with innumerable stars.
"See, Lucius," she said, with a voice that breathed a great sweetness over me, "Isis appears in answer to your prayer. Cease now to weep and mourn, for I am come in pity of your lot to show favour to you. To-morrow my priest will descend to the seashore to celebrate my festival, and in his left hand he will carry a crown of roses. Go forth without fear, and take the crown of roses, and then put off the shape of a beast, and put on the form of a man. Serve me well all the days of your life, and when you go down to the grave you shall see me as a light amid the darkness—as a queen in the palace of hell. By my favour you shall be lifted up into the fields of Paradise, and there you shall worship and adore me for all eternity."
The saviour goddess then vanished, and I awoke, and the dawn was in the sky, and the waves of the sea were dancing in the golden light. A long procession was winding down from the city to the shore to the sound of flutes and pipes.
First came a great multitude of people carrying lamps and torches and tapers in honour of the constellations of heaven; then a choir of sweet-voiced boys and girls in snowy garments; and next a train of men and women luminous in robes of pure white linen; these were the initiates; and they were followed by the prelates of the sacred mysteries; and behind them all walked the high priest, bearing in his right hand the mystic rattle of Isis, and in his left hand the crown of roses. By divine intervention, the crowd parted and made a way for me; and when I came to the priest he held out the roses, and I ate them, and was changed into a man. The people raised their hands to heaven, wonder-stricken by the miracle, and the fame of it went out over all the world. The priest initiated me into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris, and I shaved my head, and entered the College of Pastors, and became a servant of the high gods.
* * * * *
The Arabian Nights
Or, The Thousand and One Nights
There is as much doubt about the history of "The Thousand and One Nights" as that which veils the origin of the Homeric poems. It is said that a certain Caliph Shahryar, having been deceived by his wife, slew her, and afterwards married a wife only for one day, slaying her on the morning after. When this slaughter of women had continued some time he became wedded to one Shahrazad, daughter of his Vizir, who, by telling the Commander of the Faithful exciting stories and leaving them unfinished every dawn, so provoked the Caliph's curiosity that he kept her alive, and at last grew so fond of her that he had no thought of putting her to death. As for the authorship of the stories, they are certainly not the work of one mind, and have probably grown with the ages into their present form. The editions published for Christian countries do not represent the true character of these legends, which are often exceedingly sensual. The European versions of this extraordinary entertainment began in 1704 with the work of one Antoine Galland, Professor of Arabic at the College of France, a Frenchman who, according to Sir Richard Burton, possessed "in a high degree that art of telling a tale which is far more captivating than culture or scholarship." Sir R. Burton (see Vol. XIX) summed up what may be definitely believed of the Nights in the following conclusion: The framework of the book is purely Persian perfunctorily Arabised, the archetype being the Hazar Afsanah. The oldest tales may date from the reign of Al-Mansur, in the eighth century; others belong to the tenth century; and the latest may be ascribed to the sixteenth. The work assumed its present form in the thirteenth century. The author is unknown, "for the best reason; there never was one."
I.—The Seven Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor
When the father of Sindbad was taken to Almighty Allah, much wealth came to the possession of his son; but soon did it dwindle in boon companionship, for the city of Baghdad is sweet to the youthful. Then did Sindbad bethink him how he might restore his fortune, saying to himself: "Three things are better than other three; the day of death is better than the day of birth, a live dog is better than a dead lion, and the grave is better than want"; and gathering merchandise together, he took ship and sailed away to foreign countries.
Now it came to pass that the captain of this ship sighted a strange island, whereon were grass and trees, very pleasant to the eyes. So they anchored, and many went ashore. When these had gathered fruits, they made a fire, and were about to warm themselves, when the captain cried out from the ship: "Ho there! passengers, run for your lives and hasten back to the ship and leave your gear and save yourselves from destruction. Allah preserve you! For this island whereon ye stand is no true island, but a great fish stationary a-middlemost of the sea, whereon the sand hath settled and trees have sprung up of old time, so that it is become like unto an island; but when ye lighted fires on it, it felt the heat and moved; and in a moment it will sink with you into the depths of the sea and ye will be drowned."
When the fish moved, the captain did not wait for his passengers, but sailed away, and Sindbad, seizing a tub, floated helpless in the great waters. But by the mercy of Allah he was thrown upon a true island, where a beautiful mare lay upon the ground, who cried at his approach. Then a man started up at the mare's cry, and seeing Sindbad, bore him to an underground chamber, where he regaled the waif with plenteous food. To him did this man explain how he was a groom of King Mirjan, and that he brought the king's mares to pasture on the island, hiding underground while the stallions of the sea came up out of the waves unto the mares. Presently Sindbad saw this strange sight, and witnessed how the groom drove the stallions back to the waves when they would have dragged the mares with them. After that he was carried before King Mirjan, who entreated him kindly, and when he had amassed wealth, returned by ship to Bussorah, and so to Baghdad.
But becoming possessed with the thought of travelling about the ways of men, he set out on a second voyage. And it came to pass that he landed with others on a lovely island, and lay down to sleep, after he had eaten many delicious fruits. Awaking, he found the ship gone. Then, praying to Almighty Allah, like a man distracted, he roamed about the island, presently climbing a tree to see what he could see. And he saw a great dome afar, and journeyed to it.
There was no entrance to this white dome, and as he went round about it, the sun became suddenly darkened, so that he looked towards it in fear, and lo! a bird in the heavens whose wings blackened all light. Then did Sindbad know that the dome was an egg, and that the bird was the bird roc, which feeds its young upon elephants. Sore afraid, he hid himself, and the bird settled upon the egg, and brooded upon it. Then Sindbad unwound his turban, and, tying one end to the leg of the great bird and the other about his own middle, waited for the dawn.
When the dawn was come, the bird flew into the heavens, unaware of the weight at its foot, and Sindbad was borne across great seas and far countries. When at last the bird settled on land, Sindbad unfastened his turban, and was free.
But the place was filled with frightful serpents, and strewn with diamonds. Sindbad saw a dead sheep on the ground, with diamonds sticking to its carcase, and he knew that this was a device of merchants, for eagles come and carry away these carcases to places beyond the reach of the serpents, and merchants take the diamonds sticking to the flesh. So he hid himself under the carcase, and an eagle bore him with it to inhabited lands, and he was delivered.
Again it came to him to travel, and on this his third voyage the ship was driven to the mountain of Zughb, inhabited by hairy apes. These apes seized all the goods and gear, breaking the ship, but spared the men. Then they perceived a great house and entered it, but nobody was there. At nightfall, however, a frightful giant entered, and began to feel the men one by one, till he found the fattest, and him the giant roasted over a fire and ate like a chicken. This happened many days, till Sindbad encouraged his friends, and they heated two iron spits in the fire, and while the giant slept put out his eyes. While they ran to the shore, where they had built a raft, the giant, bellowing with rage, returned with two ghuls, and pelted the raft with rocks, killing some, but the rest escaped. However, three only were alive when they reached land.
The shore on which these three landed was occupied by an immense serpent, like a dragon, who instantly ate one of the three, while Sindbad and the other climbed up a tree. Next day the serpent glided up the tree, and ate the second. Then Sindbad descended, and with planks bound himself all round so that he was a man surrounded by a fence. Thus did he abide safe from the serpent till a ship saved him.
Now on his fourth voyage Sindbad's ship was wrecked, and he fell among hairy men, cannibals, who fattened all that they caught like cattle, and consumed them. He being thin and wasted by all his misfortunes, escaped death, and saw all his comrades fattened and roasted, till they went mad, with cries of anguish. It chanced that the shepherd, who tended these men in the folds, took pity on Sindbad and showed him the road out of danger, which taking, he arrived, after divers adventures and difficulties, at the country of a great king. In this country all were horsemen, but the saddle was unknown, so Sindbad made first the king, and afterwards the vizir, both saddle and stirrups, which so delighted them that he was advanced to great fortune and honour.
Then was he married to a maiden most beautiful and chaste, so lovely to behold that she ravished the senses, and he lived like one in a dream. But it came to pass that she died, and when they buried her they took Sindbad and shut him in the Place of the Dead with her, giving him a little food and water till he should die. Such was the custom, that husband and wife should accompany the dead wife or husband in the Place of the Dead—a mighty cave strewn with dead bodies, dark as night, and littered with jewels.
While Sindbad bewailed his lot in this place the doors opened, a dead body of a man was brought in, and with it his live wife, to whom food was given. Then Sindbad killed this fair lady with the bone of a leg, took her food and jewels, and thus did he serve all the live people thrust into the cavern. One day he heard a strange sound far up the cavern, and perceived in the distance a wild beast. Then he knew that there must be some entrance at that far end, and journeying thither, found a hole in the mountain which led to the sea. On the shore Sindbad piled all his jewels, returning every day to the cavern to gather more, till a ship came and bore him away.
His fifth voyage was interrupted by rocs, whose egg the sailors had smashed open to see the interior of what they took to be a dome. These birds flew over the ship with rocks in their claws, and let them fall on to the ship, so that it was wrecked.
Sindbad reached shore on a plank, and wandering on this island perceived an old man, very sad, seated by a river. The old man signalled to Sindbad that he should carry him on his back to a certain point, and this Sindbad very willingly bent himself to do. But once upon his back, the legs over the shoulders and wound round about his flanks, the old man refused to get off, and drove Sindbad hither and thither with most cruel blows. At last Sindbad took a gourd, hollowed it out, filled it with grape juice, stopped the mouth, and set it in the sun. Then did he drink of this wine and get merry and forget his misery, dancing with the old man on his neck. So the old man asked for the gourd, and drank of it, and fell sleepy, and dropped from Sindbad's neck, and Sindbad slew him.
After that, Sindbad amassed treasure by pelting apes with pebbles, who threw back at him cocoanuts, which he sold for money.
On his sixth voyage Sindbad was wrecked on the most frightful mountain which no ship could pass. The sight of all the useless wealth strewn upon this terrible place of wreck and death drove all the other passengers mad, so that they died. But Sindbad, finding a stream, built a raft, and drifted with it, till, almost dead, he arrived among Indians and Abyssinians. Here he was well treated, grew rich, and returned in prosperity to Baghdad.
But once again did he travel, and this time his vessel encountered in the middle seas three vast fish-like islands, which lashed out and destroyed the ship, eating most, but Sindbad escaped. When he reached land he found himself well cared for among kind people, and he grew rich in an old man's house, who married him to his only daughter. One day after the old man's death, and when he was as rich as any in that land, lo! all the men grew into the likeness of birds, and Sindbad begged one of them to take him on his back on the mysterious flight to which they were now bent. After persuasion the man-bird agreed, and Sindbad was carried up into the firmament till he could hear the angels glorifying God in the heavenly dome. Carried away by ecstasy, he shouted praise of Allah into the holy place, and instantly the bird fell to the ground, for they were evil and incapable of praising God. But Sindbad returned to his wife, and she told him how evil were those people, and that her father was not of them, and induced him to carry her to his own land. So he sold all his possessions, took ship, and came to Baghdad, where he lived in great splendour and honour, and this was the seventh and last voyage of Sindbad the Sailor.
II.—The Tale of the Three Apples
The Caliph Haroun al-Raschid, walking by night in the city, found a fisherman lamenting that he had caught nothing for his wife and children. "Cast again," said the caliph, "and I will give thee a hundred gold pieces for whatsoever cometh up." So the man cast his net, and there came up a box, wherein was found a young damsel foully murdered. Now, to this murder confessed two men, a youth and an old man; and this was the story of the youth.
His wife fell ill, and had a longing for apples, so that he made the journey to Bussorah, and bought three apples from the caliph's gardener. But his wife would not eat them. One day, as he sat in his shop, passed a slave, bearing one of the apples. The husband asked how he came by it, whereat replied the slave that his mistress gave it him, saying that her wittol of a husband had journeyed to Bussorah for it. Then in rage the young man returned and slew his wife. Presently his little son came home, saying that he was afraid of his mother; and when the father questioned him, replied the child that he had taken one of his mother's three apples to play with, and that a slave had stolen it. Then did the husband know his wife to be innocent, and he told her father all, and they both mourned for her, and both offered themselves to the executioner—the one that he was guilty, the other to save his son-in- law whose guilt was innocence.
From this story followed that of Noureddin and his son Bedreddin Hassan, whose marriage to the Lady of Beauty was brought about by a genie, in spite of great difficulties. And it was after hearing this tale that Haroun al-Raschid declared to his vizir: "It behoves that these stories be written in letters of liquid gold."
III.—Hassan, the Rope-Maker
Two men, so it chanced, disputing whether wealth could give happiness, came before the shop of a poor rope-maker. Said one of the men: "I will give this fellow two hundred pieces of gold, and see what he does with it." Hassan, amazed by this gift, put the gold in his turban, except ten pieces, and went forth to buy hemp for his trade and meat for his children.
As he journeyed, a famished vulture made a pounce at the meat, and Hassan's turban fell off, with which the vulture, balked of the meat, flew away, far out of sight.
When the two men returned they found Hassan very unhappy, and the same who had given before gave him another two hundred pieces, which Hassan hid carefully, all but ten pieces, in a pot of bran. While he was out buying hemp, his wife exchanged the pot of bran for some scouring sand with a sandman in the street. Hassan was maddened when he came home, and beat his wife, and tore her hair, and howled like an evil spirit. When his friends returned they were amazed by his tale, but the one who had as yet given nothing now gave Hassan a lump of lead picked up in the street, saying: "Good luck shall come of homely lead, where gold profits nothing."
Hassan thought but little of the lead, and when a fisherman sent among his neighbours that night for a piece of lead wherewith to mend his nets, very willingly did Hassan part with this gift, the fisherman promising him the first fish he should catch.
When Hassan's wife cut open this fish to cook it, she found within it a large piece of glass, crystal clear, which she threw to the children for a plaything. A Jewess who entered the shop saw this piece of glass, picked it up, and offered a few pieces of money for it. Hassan's wife dared not do anything now without her husband's leave, and Hassan, being summoned, refused all the offers of the Jewess, perceiving that the piece of glass was surely a precious diamond. At last the Jewess offered a hundred thousand pieces of gold, and, as this was wealth beyond wealth, Hassan very willingly agreed to the barter.
IV.—Prince Ahmed and the Fairy
Once upon a time there was a sultan who had three sons, and all these young men loved their cousin, the fatherless and motherless Nouronnihar, who lived at their father's court.
To decide which should marry the princess the sultan bade them go forth, each a separate way, and, after a time, determined to end their travels by assembling at a certain place. "He of you who brings back from his travels the greatest of rarities," said the sultan, "he shall marry the princess, my niece." To Almighty Allah was confided the rest.
The eldest of the princes, Houssain by name, consorted with merchants in his travels, but saw nothing strange or wonderful till he encountered a man crying a piece of carpet for forty pieces of gold. "Such is the magic of this carpet," protested the man, "that he who sits himself upon it is instantly transported to whatsoever place he desires to visit, be it over wide seas or tall mountains." The prince bought this carpet, amused himself with it for some time, and then flew joyfully to the place of assembly.
Hither came the second prince, Ali, who brought from Persia an ivory tube, down which, if any man looked, he beheld the sight that most he desired to see; and the third prince, the young Ahmed, who had bought for thirty-five pieces of gold a magic apple, the smell of which would restore a soul almost passed through the gate of death.
The three princes, desiring to see their beloved princess, looked down Ali's ivory tube, and, lo! the tragic sight that met their gaze—for the princess lay at the point of death.
Swiftly did they seat themselves upon Houssain's magic carpet, and in a moment of time found themselves beside the princess, whom Ahmed instantly restored to life and beauty and health by his magic apple.
As it seemed impossible to decide which of these rare things was the rarest, the sultan commanded that each prince should shoot an arrow, and he whose arrow flew farthest should become the husband of Nouronnihar.
Houssain drew the first bow; then Ali, whose arrow sped much farther, and then Ahmed, whose arrow was not to be found.
Houssain, in despair, gave up his right of succession to the throne, and, with a blighted heart, went out into the wilderness to become a holy man. Ali was married to the princess, and Ahmed went forth into the world to seek his lost arrow.
After long wandering, Ahmed found his arrow among desolate rocks, too far for any man to have shot with the bow; and, while he looked about him, amazed and dumfounded, he beheld an iron door in the rocks, which yielded to his touch and led into a very sumptuous palace. There advanced towards him a lady of surpassing loveliness, who announced that she was a genie, that she knew well who he was, and had sent the carpet, the tube, and the apple, and had guided his arrow to her door. Furthermore, she confessed to the prince great love for him, and offered him all that she possessed, leading him to a vast and magnificent chamber, where a marriage-feast was prepared for them.
Prince Ahmed was happy for some while, and then he thought of his father, grieving for him, and at last obtained leave from the beautiful genie to go on a visit to his home. At first his father was glad to see him, but afterwards jealousy of his son and the son's secret place of dwelling, and suspicion that a son so rich and powerful might have designs on his throne, led his father to lay hard and cruel burdens on Prince Ahmed.
However, all that he commanded Ahmed performed by help of the genie, even things the most impossible. He brought a tent which would cover the sultan's army, and yet, folded up, lay in the hollow of a man's hand. This and many other wonderful things did Ahmed perform, till the sultan asked for a man one foot and a half in height, with a beard thirty feet long, who could carry a bar of iron weighing five hundredweight.
Such a man the genie found, and the sultan, beholding him, turned away in disgust; whereat the dwarf flew at him in a rage, and with his iron bar smote him to death.
Thus, too, did the little man treat all the wicked courtiers and sorcerers who had incensed the sultan against his son. And Ahmed and the genie became sultan and sultana of all that world, while Ali and Nouronnihar reigned over a great province bestowed upon them by Prince Ahmed.
As for Houssain, he forsook not the life of a holy man living in the wilderness.
There lived long ago a poor tailor with a pretty wife to whom he was tenderly attached. One day there came to his door a hunchback, who played upon a musical instrument and sang to it so amusingly that the tailor straightway carried him to his wife. So delighted by the hunchback's singing was the tailor's wife that she cooked a dish of fish and the three sat down to be merry. But in the midst of the feast a bone stuck in the hunchback's throat, and before a man could stare he was dead. Afraid that they should be accused of murder, the tailor conspired with his wife what they should do. "I have it," said he, and getting a piece of money he sallied forth at dark with the hunchback's body and arrived before the house of a doctor.
Here knocked he on the door, and giving the maid a piece of money, bade her hasten the doctor to his need. So soon as the maid's back was turned, he placed the hunchback on the top stair and fled. Now the doctor, coming quickly, struck against the corpse so that it fell to the bottom of the stairs. "Woe is me, for I have killed a patient!" said he, and fearing to be accused of murder, carried the body in to his wife.
Now they had a neighbour who was absent from home, and going to his room they placed the corpse against the fireplace. This man, returning and crying out: "So it is not the rats who plunder my larder!" began to belabour the hunchback, till the body rolled over and lay still. Then in great fear of his deed, this Mussulman carried the corpse into the street, and placed it upright against a shop.
Came by a Christian merchant at dawn of day, and running against the hunchback tumbled him over; then thinking himself attacked he struck the body, and at that moment the watch came by and haled the merchant before the sultan.
Now the hunchback was a favourite of the sultan, and he ordered the Christian merchant to be executed.
To the scaffold, just when death was to be done, came the Mussulman, and confessed that he was the murderer. So the executioner released the Christian, and was about to hang the other, when the doctor came and confessed to being the murderer. So the doctor took the place of the Mussulman, when the tailor and his wife hastened to the scene, and confessed that they were guilty.
Now, when this story came to the ears of the sultan, he said: "Great is Allah, whose will must be done!" and he released all of them, and commanded this story of the hunchback to be written in a book.
VI.—Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp
There was in the old time a bad and idle boy who lived with his mother, a poor widow, and gave her much unrest. And there came to him one day a wicked magician, who called himself the boy's uncle, and made rich presents to the mother, and one day he led Aladdin out to make him a merchant. Now, the magician knew by his magic of a vast hoard of wealth, together with a wonderful lamp, which lay in the earth buried in Aladdin's name. And he sent the boy to fetch the lamp, giving him a magic ring, and waited on the earth for his return. But Aladdin, his pockets full of jewels, refused to give up the lamp till his false uncle helped him to the surface of the earth, and in rage the magician caused the stone to fall upon the cave, and left Aladdin to die.
But as he wept, wringing his hands, the genie of the magic ring appeared, and by his aid Aladdin was restored to his mother. There, with the genie of the lamp to wait upon him, he lived, till, seeing the sultan's daughter pass on her way to the bath, he conceived violent love for her, and sent his mother to the sultan with all his wonderful jewels, asking the princess in marriage. The sultan, astonished by the gift of jewels, set Aladdin to perform prodigies of wonder, but all these he accomplished by aid of the genie, so that at last the sultan was obliged to give him the princess in marriage. And Aladdin caused a great pavilion to rise near the sultan's palace, and this was one of the wonders of the world, and there he abode in honour and fame.
Then the wicked magician, knowing by magic the glory of Aladdin, came disguised, crying "New Lamps for Old!" and one of the maids in the pavilion gave him the wonderful lamp, and received a new one from the coppersmith. The magician transplanted the pavilion to Africa, and Aladdin, coming home, found the sultan enraged against him and his palace vanished. But by means of the genie of the ring he discovered the whereabouts of his pavilion, and going thither, slew the magician, possessed himself anew of the lamp, and restored his pavilion to its former site.
But the magician's wicked brother, plotting revenge, obtained access to the princess in disguise of a holy woman he had foully murdered, and he would have certainly slain Aladdin but for a warning of the genie, by which Aladdin was enabled to kill the magician. After that Aladdin lived in glory and peace, and ascended in due course to the throne, and reigned with honour and mercy.
VII.—Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves
Now, the father of Ali Baba left both his sons poor; but Kasim married a rich wife, and so he lived plenteously, while his poor brother, Ali Baba, worked in the wood. It came to pass that Ali Baba one day saw in the wood a company of forty robbers, the captain of whom cried, "Open, Sesame!" to a great rock, and lo! it opened, and the men disappeared. When they were gone out again, Ali Baba came from his hiding, and, addressing the rock in the same way, found that it obeyed him. Then went he in and took much of the treasure, which he drove home on his mule. Now, when his wife sent to the brother Kasim for scales, wherewith she might weigh all this treasure, the sister-in-law being suspicious that one so poor should have need of scales, smeared the bottom of the pan with wax and grease, and discovered on the return a gold piece. This she showed to Kasim, who made Ali Baba confess the tale. Then Kasim went to the cave, entered, loaded much treasure, and was about to depart, when he found he had forgotten the magic words whereby he entered. There was he found by the forty thieves, who slew and quartered him. Ali Baba found the quarters, took them home, got a blind tailor to sew them together, and gave his brother burial.
Now, the robbers discovered Ali Baba's house, and they hid themselves in oil-jars hung on the backs of mules, and the captain drove them. Thus came they to Ali Baba's house, and the captain craved lodging for himself and his beasts. Surely would Ali Baba have been captured, tortured, and put to death but for his maid, the faithful and astute Morgiana, who discovered men in the jars, and, boiling cans of oil, poured it upon them one by one, and so delivered her master. But the captain had escaped, and Ali Baba still went in great fear of his life. But when he returned, disguised so that he might have puzzled the wisest, Morgiana recognised the enemy of her master; and she was dancing before him and filling his eyes with pleasure; and when it came for her to take the tambourine and go round for largess, she strengthened her heart and, quick as the blinding lightning, plunged a dagger into his vitals. Thus did the faithful Morgiana save her master, and he married her to his nephew, the son of Kasim, and they lived long in great joy and blessing.
VIII.—The Fisherman and the Genie
There was once a poor fisherman who every day cast his net four times into the sea. On a day he went forth, and casting in his net, drew up with great labour a dead jackass; casting again, an earthen pitcher full of sand; casting a third time vexatiously, potsherds and shattered glass; and at the last a jar of yellow copper, leaden-capped, and stamped with the seal-ring of Solomon, the son of David. His rage was silenced at sight of the sacred seal, and, removing the cap, smoke issued, which, taking vast shape, became a terrible genie frightful to see.
Said the genie: "By what manner of death wilt thou die, for I have sworn, by Allah, to slay the man who freed me!" He moreover explained how Solomon had placed him in the jar for heresy, and how he had lain all those years at the bottom of the sea. For a hundred years, he said, he swore that he would make rich for ever and ever the man who freed him; for the next hundred, that for such an one he would open the hoards of the earth; then, that he would perfectly fulfil such an one's three wishes; finally, in his rage, that he would kill the man who freed him.
Now, the fisherman, having pleaded in vain, said that he did not believe the tale, seeing that so huge a genie could never have got into so small a jar. Whereat the genie made smoke of himself, and re-entered the vase. Instantly then did the fisherman stopper it, nor would he let the genie free till that wicked one had promised to spare his life and do him service. Grudgingly and wrathfully did the genie issue forth, but being now under oath to Allah, he spared the fisherman and did him service.
He took him to a lake in the black mountains, bade him throw in his net, and bear the catch to the sultan. Now, by the fisherman's catching of four fish all of a different hue, the sultan discovered that this lake in the mountains was once a populous and mighty city, whereof the prince and all the inhabitants had been bewitched in ancient time. When the city was restored and all those many people called back to life, the sultan enriched the fisherman, who lived afterwards in wealth.
IX.—The Enchanted Horse
In olden times there came to the Court of Persia a stranger from Ind, riding a horse made of wood, which, said he, could fly whithersoever its rider wished. When the sultan had seen the horse fly to a mountain and back, he asked the Hindu its price, and said the man: "Thy daughter's hand." Now the prince, standing by, was enraged at this insolence, but his father said: "Have no fear that I should do this thing. Howsoever, lest another king become possessed of the horse, I will bargain for it." But the impetuous prince, doubting the truth of the horse's power, jumped upon its back, turned the peg which he had observed the Hindu to turn, and instantly was borne far away.
The king, enraged that the Hindu could not bring back his son, had the man cast into prison, albeit the Hindu protested that soon the prince must discover the secret of stopping the horse by means of a second peg, and therefore would soon return.
Now the prince did not discover this secret till he was far away, and it was night. He came to earth near a palace, and going in, found there an exquisite lady sleeping, and knew by her dress that she was of a rank equal with his own. Then he pleaded to her for succour, and she constrained him to stay, and for many weeks he abode as a guest. After that time he said, "Come to my father's court, that we may be married!" And early one dawn he bore her to Persia on the back of the enchanted horse.
So glad was the king at his son's return that he released the Hindu.
Now the Hindu, hearing what had happened, determined on revenge. He found where the horse was placed, and going to the palace where the foreign princess was housed, sent for her in the sultan's name, and she came to him. Then he seated her upon the horse, and mounting up in full view of the sultan and his royal son, flew far away with his lovely captive.
It was the Hindu's desire to marry this princess, but when they were come to earth, she withstood him, and cried for help and succour. To her came the sultan of that place, and slew the Hindu, and would have married her, but she was faithful to her lover and feigned madness.
Then the sultan offered rewards to any who should cure her of this frightful madness, and many physicians came and failed. Now, her lover, distracted at sight of seeing her in mid-air with the Hindu, had turned Holy Man, roaming the earth without hope like one who is doomed.
It happened that he came to the palace where the princess lay in her feigned madness, and hearing the tale of her, and of the enchanted horse, with new hope and a great joy in his heart, he went in, disguised as a physician, and in secret made himself known.
Then he stood before the sultan of that land, and said: "From the enchanted horse hath she contracted this madness, and by the enchanted horse shall she lose it." And he gave orders to dress her in glorious array, to crown her with jewels and gold, and to lead her forth to the palace square.
A vast concourse assembled there, and the prince set his beloved lady on the horse, and pretending incantations, leapt suddenly upon its back, turned the peg, and as the enchanted steed flew towards Persia, over his shoulder cried the glad prince: "When next, O sultan, thou wouldst marry a princess who implores thy protection, ask first for her consent."
* * * * *
AUCASSIN AND NICOLETTE
Song-Story of the Twelfth Century
If "Old Antif" of Hainault was, as the best authorities now incline to think, the author of "Aucassin and Nicolette," Belgium may claim to have produced the finest poet of the ages of chivalry. He was probably a contemporary of the English minstrel king, Richard the Lion-hearted. But nothing is known of him save what can be gathered from the exquisite story of love which he composed in his old age. Perhaps he, too, was, in his younger days, a Crusader as well as a minstrel, and fought in the Holy Land against the Saracens. His "song-story" is certainly Arabian both in form and substance. Even his hero, Aucassin, the young Christian lord of Beaucaire, bears an Arabian name—Alcazin. There is nothing in Mohammedan literature equal to "Aucassin and Nicolette." It can be compared only with Shakespeare's "As You Like It." The old, sorrowful, tender-hearted minstrel knight, who wandered from castle to castle in Hainault and Picardy seven hundred years ago, is one of the master-singers of the world.
I.—Lovers Young and Fair
Listen to a tale of love, Which an old grey captive wove. Great delight and solace he Found in his captivity, As he told what toils beset Aucassin and Nicolette; And the dolour undergone, And the deeds of prowess done By a lad of noble race, For a lady fair of face. Though a man be old and blind, Sick in body and in mind, If he hearken he shall be Filled with joy and jollity, So delectable and sweet Is the tale I now repeat.
Now, a war broke out between Count Bougars of Valence and Count Garin of Beaucaire; and Count Bougars besieged Beaucaire with a hundred knights and ten thousand men. Then Count Garin, who was old and feeble, said to his fair young son, Aucassin:
"Now, son, go and defend our land and people."
"I tell you," said Aucassin, "I will never draw sword unless I have my sweet love Nicolette to wife."
"And I tell you," said his father, "that I would liefer lose life and land than see you wedded to her. What! A Saracen girl, bought by one of my captains! A slave! A heathen! A witch! God! I will burn her in a fire, and you with her."
"Stay!" said Aucassin. "I will make an agreement. I will fight Count Bougars, if you will let me speak to Nicolette after the battle."
"I agree," said his father. And he said this because Count Bougars was well night master of Beaucaire.
Aucassin went out to battle in great joy. But his father went in great anger to the captain that had bought Nicolette from the Saracens, and said:
"If I lay hands on that heathen girl, I will burn her in a fire, and you also, unless you have a care."
And the captain who had adopted Nicolette as his daughter was afraid both for himself and for his godchild. And he hid her in the tower that stood in the garden of his house.
In the tower that Nicolette Prisoned is, may no man get. Pleasant is her room to see, Carved and painted wondrously. But no pleasure can she find In the paintings, to her mind. Look! For she is standing there By the window, with her hair Yellow like autumnal wheat When the sunshine falls on it. Blue-grey eyes she has, and brows Whiter than the winter snows; And her face is like a flower, As she gazes from the tower: As she gazes far below Where the garden roses blow, And the thrush and blackbird sing In the pleasant time of spring. "Woe is me!" she cries, "that I In a prison cell must lie; Parted by a cruel spite From my young and lovely knight. By the eyes of God, I swear Prisonment I will not bear! Here for long I shall not stay: Love will quickly find a way."
In the meantime, Aucassin mounted a great war-horse, and rode out to battle. Still dreaming of Nicolette, he let the reins fall, and his horse carried him among his foes. They took him prisoner, and sent word to Count Bougars to come and see them hang the heir of Beaucaire.
"Ha!" said Aucassin, waking out of his dream. "Ha, my God! My Saviour! If they hang me, I shall never see my sweet love Nicolette again!"
Striking out in a great passion, he made a havoc about him, like a boar that turns at bay on the hounds in a forest. Ten knights he struck down, and seven he wounded. Then, spying Count Bougars, that had come to see him hanged, he lashed at his helm, and stunned him, and took him prisoner to Beaucaire.
"Father," he said, "here is Count Bougars. The war is ended. Now let me see Nicolette."
"I will not," said his father. "That is my last word in this matter. So help me, God."
"Count Bougars," said Aucassin, "you are my prisoner. I will have a pledge from you; give me your hand." Count Bougars gave his hand. "Pledge me," said Aucassin, "that if I set you free, you will do my father all the hurt and damage and shame you can; for he is a liar."
"In God's name," said Count Bougars, "put me to ransom and take all my wealth; but do not mock me!"
"Are you my prisoner?" said Aucassin.
"Yes," said Count Bougars.
"Then, so help me, God," said Aucassin, "I will now send your head from your shoulders unless I have that pledge!"
Thereupon Count Bougars pledged him, and Aucassin set him free. Then Aucassin went to the captain that was godfather to Nicolette. "What have you done with my sweet lady?" he asked.
"You will never again see Nicolette, my fair lord," said the captain. "What would you gain if you took the Saracen maid to bed? Your soul would go to hell. You would never win to heaven!"
"And what of that?" said Aucassin. "Who is it that win to heaven? Old priests, and cripples that grovel and pray at altars, and tattered beggars that die of cold and hunger. These only go to heaven, and I do not want their company. So I will go to hell. For there go all good scholars and the brave knights that died in wars, and sweet ladies that had many lovers, and harpers, and minstrels, and great kings. Give me but my Nicolette, and gladly I will keep them company."
II.—Love's Song in a Dungeon
Aucassin returned very sorrowfully to the castle, and there his father put him into a dungeon.
Aucassin is cast and bound In a dungeon underground; Never does the sunlight fall Shining on his prison wall; Only one faint ray of it Glimmers down a narrow slit. But does Aucassin forget His sweet lady, Nicolette? Listen! He is singing there, And his song is all of her: "Though for love of thee I die In this dungeon where I lie, Wonder of the world, I will Worship thee and praise thee still! By the beauty of thy face, By the joy of thy embrace, By the rapture of thy kiss, And thy body's sweetnesses, Miracle of loveliness, Comfort me in my distress! Surely, 'twas but yesterday, That the pilgrim came this way— Weak and poor and travel-worn— Who in Limousin was born. With the falling sickness, he Stricken was full grievously. He had prayed to many a saint For the cure of his complaint; But no healing did he get Till he saw my Nicolette. Even as he lay down to die, Nicolette came walking by. On her shining limbs he gazed, As her kirtle she upraised. And he rose from off the ground, Healed and joyful, whole and sound. Miracle of loveliness, Comfort me in my distress!"
As Aucassin was singing in his dungeon, Nicolette was devising how to get out of her tower. It was now summer time, in the month of May, when the day is warm, long and clear, and the night still and serene. Nicolette lay on her bed, and the moonlight streamed through the window, and the nightingale sang in the garden below; and she thought of Aucassin, her lover, whom she loved, and of Count Garin, who hated her.
"I will stay here no longer," said Nicolette, "or the count will find me and kill me."
The old woman that was set to watch over her was asleep. Nicolette put on her fine silken kirtle, and took the bedclothes and knotted them together, and made a rope. This she fastened to the bar of her window, and so got down from the tower. Then she lifted up her kirtle with both hands, because the dew was lying deep on the grass, and went away down the garden.
Her locks were yellow and curled; her eyes blue-grey and laughing; her lips were redder than the cherry or rose in summertime; her teeth white and small; so slim was her waist that you could have clipped her in your two hands; and so firm were her breasts that they rose against her bodice as if they were two apples. The daisies that bent above her instep, and broke beneath her light tread, looked black against her feet; so white the maiden was.
She came to the postern gate, and unbarred it, and went out through the streets of Beaucaire, keeping always in the shadows, for the moon was shining. And so she got to the dungeon where her lover, Aucassin, lay. She thrust her head through the chink, and there she heard Aucassin grieving for her whom he loved so much.
"Ah, Aucassin!" she said. "Never will you have joy of me. Your father hates me to death, and I must cross the sea, and go to some strange land."
"If you were to go away," said Aucassin, "you would kill me. The first man that saw you would take you to his bed. And, then, do you think I would wait till I found a knife? No! I would dash my head to pieces against a wall or a rock."
"Ah!" she said. "I love you more than you love me."
"Nay, my sweet lady," said he. "Woman cannot love man as much as man loves woman. Woman only loves with her eyes; man loves with his heart."
Aucassin and Nicolette were thus debating, when the soldiers of the count came marching down the street. Their swords were drawn, and they were seeking for Nicolette to slay her.
"God, it were a great pity to kill so fair a maid!" said the warden of the dungeon. "My young lord Aucassin would die of it, and that would be a great loss to Beaucaire. Would that I could warn Nicolette!"
And with that, he struck up a merry tune, but the words he sang to it were not merry.
Lady with the yellow hair, Lovely, sweet and debonair, Now take heed. Death comes on thee unaware. Turn thee now; oh, turn and flee; Death is coming suddenly. And the swords Flash that seek to murder thee.
"May God reward you for your fair words!" said Nicolette.
Wrapping herself in her mantle, she hid in the shadows until the soldiers went by. Then she said farewell to Aucassin, and climbed up the castle-wall where it had been broken in the siege. But steep and deep was the moat, and Nicolette's fair hands and feet were bleeding when she got out. But she did not feel any pain, because of the great fear that was on her lest she should fall into the hands of the count's men.
Within two bow-shots from Beaucaire was a great forest; and here Nicolette slept in a thicket, until the herd-boys came in the morning, and pastured their cattle close to her resting-place. They sat down by a fountain, and spread out a cloak, and put their bread on it. Their shouting aroused Nicolette, and she came to them.
"God bless you, sweet boys!" said she.
"God bless you, lady!" said one that had a readier tongue than the others.
"Do you know Aucassin, the brave young son of Count Garin?" she said.
"Yes, lady," they said. "We know him very well."
"Then tell him, in the name of God," said she, "that there is a beast in this forest that he must come and hunt. If he can take it, he will not sell a limb of it for a hundred marks of gold. Nay, not for any money."
"I tell him that?" said the boy that had a readier tongue than the others. "Curse me if I do! There's no beast in this forest—stag, boar, wolf or lion—with a limb worth more than two or three pence. You speak of some enchantment, and you are a fairy woman. We do not want your company. Go away."
"Sweet boys," said Nicolette, "you must do as I tell you. For the beast has a medicine that will cure Aucassin of all his pain. Ah! I have five pieces of money in my purse. Take them, and tell him. He must come and hunt within three days, and if he does not, he will never be cured."
"Faith," said the boy, after consulting with his fellows, "we shall tell him if he comes, but we will not search after him!"
III.—Aucassin Goes in Quest of Nicolette
Nicolette took leave of the herd-boys, and went into the forest down a green way that led to a place where seven paths met. Close at hand was a deep thicket, and there Nicolette built a lodge of green boughs, and covered it with oak-leaves and lily-flowers, and made it sweet and pleasant, both inside and out. And she stayed in this lodge to see what Aucassin would do.
In the meantime, the cry went through all the country that Nicolette was lost. Some said that she had gone away; others that Count Garin had put her to death. If any man had joy in the news, that man was not Aucassin. His father let him out of prison, and summoned all the knights and ladies of the land to a great feast that he made to comfort his young son. But when the revelry was at its height, there was Aucassin leaning despondently from a gallery, sorrowful and utterly downcast. And an old knight saw him, and came to him.
"Aucassin," he said, "there was a time when I, too, was sick with the sickness that you have. If you will trust me, I will give you some good counsel."
"Gramercy," answered Aucassin. "Good counsel is indeed a precious thing."
"Mount your horse and ride into the forest," said the old knight. "You will see the flowers and the sweet herbs, and hear the birds singing. And, perchance, you may also hear a word that will take away your sickness."
"Gramercy," said Aucassin. "That is what I will do."
He stole out of the hall, and went to the stable, and bridled and saddled his horse, and rode swiftly out into the forest. By the fountain he found the herd-boys. They had spread a cloak out on the grass, and were eating their bread and making merry.
Jolly herd-boys, every one: Martin, Emery, and John, Aubrey, Oliver, and Matt By the fountain-side they sat. "Here," said John, "comes Aucassin, Son of our good Count Garin. Faith, he is a handsome boy! Let us wish him luck and joy." "And the girl with yellow hair Wandering in the forest there," Aubrey said. "She gave us more Gold than we have seen before. Say, what shall we go and buy?" "Cakes!" said greedy Emery. "Flutes and bagpipes!" Johnny said. "No," cried Martin; "knives instead! Knives and swords! Then we can go Out to war and fight the foe."
"Sweet boys," said Aucassin, as he rode up to them, "sing again the song that you were singing just now, I pray you."
"We will not," said Aubrey, who had a readier tongue than the others.
"Do you not know me, then?" said Aucassin.
"Yes," said Aubrey. "You are our young lord, Aucassin. But we are not your men, but the count's."
"Sweet boys, sing it again, I pray you," said Aucassin.
"God's heart!" cried Aubrey. "Why should I sing for you, if I do not want to? There is no man in this country—save Count Garin—that dare drive my cattle from his fields and corn-lands, if I put them there. He would lose his eyes for it, no matter how rich he were. So, now, why should I sing for you, if I do not want to?"
"In the name of God," said Aucassin, "take these ten sous, and sing it!"
"Sir, I will take your money," said Aubrey, "but I will not sing you anything. Still, if you like, I will tell you something."
"By God," said Aucassin, "something is better than nothing!"
"Sir," said Aubrey, then, "we were eating our bread by this fountain, between prime and tierce, and a maid came by—the loveliest thing in all the world. She lighted up the forest with her beauty; so we thought she was a fairy woman. But she gave us some money; and we promised that if you came by we would tell you to go hunting in the forest. In there is a beast of marvellous value. If you took it you would not sell one of its limbs for many marks of gold, for it has a medicine that will cure your sickness. Now I have told you all."
"And you have told me enough, sweet boy," said Aucassin. "Farewell! God give me good hunting!"
And, as he spurred his horse into the forest, Aucassin sang right joyously:
Track of boar and slot of deer, Neither do I follow here. Nicolette I hotly chase Down the winding, woodland ways— Thy white body, thy blue eyes, Thy sweet smiles and low replies God in heaven give me grace, Once to meet thee face to face; Once to meet as we have met, Nicolette—oh, Nicolette!
IV.—Love in the Forest
Furiously did his horse bear him on through the thorns and briars that tore his clothes and scratched his body, so that you could have followed the track of his blood on the grass. But neither hurt nor pain did he feel, for he thought only of Nicolette. All day he sought for her in the forest, and when evening drew on, he began to weep because he had not found her. Night fell, but still he rode on; and he came at last to the place where the seven roads met, and there he saw the lodge of green boughs and lily-flowers which Nicolette had made.
"Ah, heaven," said Aucassin, "here Nicolette has been, and she has made this lodge with her own fair hands! For the sweetness of it, and for love of her, I will sleep here to-night."
As he sat in the lodge, Aucassin saw the evening star shining through a gap in the boughs, and he sang:
Star of eve! Oh, star of love, Gleaming in the sky above! Nicolette, the bright of brow, Dwells with thee in heaven now. God has set her in the skies To delight my longing eyes; And her clear and yellow hair Shines upon the darkness there. Oh! my lady, would that I Swiftly up to thee could fly. Meet thee, greet thee, kiss thee, fold thee To my aching heart, and hold thee. Here, without thee, nothing worth Can I find upon the earth.
When Nicolette heard Aucassin singing, she came into the bower, and threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. Aucassin then set his sweet love upon his horse, and mounted behind her; and with all haste they rode out from the forest and came to the seashore.
There Aucassin saw a ship sailing upon the sea, and he beckoned to it; and the sailors took him and Nicolette on board, and they sailed to the land of Torelore. And the King of Torelore welcomed them courteously; and for two whole years they lived in great delight in his beautiful castle by the sea. But one night the castle was suddenly stormed by the Saracens; and Aucassin was bound hand and foot and thrown into a ship, and Nicolette into another.
The ship that carried Aucassin was wrecked in a great storm, and it drifted over the sea to Beaucaire. The people that ran to break up the wreck found their young lord, and made great joy over his return. For his father was dead, and he was now Count Aucassin. The people led him to the castle, and did homage to him, and he held all his lands in peace. But little delight had Aucassin in his wealth and power and kingdom.
Though he lived in joy and ease, And his kingdom was at peace, Aucassin did so regret His sweet lady, Nicolette, That he would have liefer died In the battle by her side. "Ah, my Nicolette," he said, "Are you living, are you dead? All my kingdom I would give For the news that still you live. For the joy of finding you Would I search the whole world through, Did I think you living yet, Nicolette—my Nicolette!"
V.—Nicolette's Love Song
In the meantime, the Saracens took Nicolette to their great city of Carthage; and because she was lovely and seemed of noble birth, they led her to their king. And when Nicolette saw the King of Carthage, she knew him again; and he, also, knew her. For she was his daughter who had been carried off in her young days by the Christians. Her father held a great feast in honour of Nicolette, and would have married her to a mighty king of Paynim. But Nicolette had no mind to marry anyone but Aucassin, and she devised how she might get news of her lover. One night she smeared her face with a brown ointment, and dressed herself in minstrel's clothes, and took a viol, and stole out of her father's palace to the seashore. There she found a ship that was bound for Provence, and she sailed in it to Beaucaire. She took her viol, and went playing through the town, and came to the castle. Aucassin was sitting on the castle steps with his proud barons and brave knights around him, gazing sorrowfully at the sweet flowers, and listening to the singing of the birds.
"Shall I sing you a new song, sire?" said Nicolette.
"Yes, fair friend," said Aucassin; "if it be a merry one, for I am very sad."
"If you like it," said Nicolette, "you will find it merry enough."
She drew the bow across her viol, and made sweet music, and then she sung:
Once a lover met a maid Wandering in a forest glade, Where she had a pretty house Framed with flowers and leafy boughs. Maid and lover merrily Sailed away across the sea, To a castle by the strand Of a strange and pleasant land. There they lived in great delight Till the Saracens by night Stormed the keep, and took the maid, With the captives of their raid. Back to Carthage they returned, And the maiden sadly mourned. But they did not make of her Paramour or prisoner. For the King of Carthage said, When he saw the fair young maid: "Daughter!" and the maid replied: "Father!" And they laughed and cried. For she had been stolen when She was young by Christian men. And the captain of Beaucaire Bought her as a slave-girl there. Once her lover loved her well Now, alas! he cannot tell Who she is. Does he forget— Aucassin—his Nicolette?
Aucassin leaped down the castle steps, and took his lady in his arms. Then she went to the house of her godfather, the captain of the town, and washed all the brownness from her face, and clad herself in robes of rich silk. And, early on the morrow, Count Aucassin wedded her, and made her Lady of Beaucaire; and they had great joy of one another. And here my song-story ends. I know no more.
* * * * *
On the Height
Berthold Auerbach, a German poet and author of Jewish descent, was born at Nordstetten, in Wuertemberg, on February 28, 1812. On the completion of his studies at the universities of Tuebingen, Munich and Heidelberg he immediately devoted himself to literature. His first publication dealt with "Judaism and Recent Literature," and was to be followed by a series of novels taken from Jewish history. Of this intended series he actually published, with considerable success, "Spinoza" and "Poet and Merchant." But real fame and popularity came to him when he began to occupy himself with the life of the general people which forms the subject of his best-known works. In these later books, of which "On the Height" is perhaps the most characteristic and certainly the most famous, he revealed an unrivalled insight into the soul of the Southern German country folk, and especially of the peasants of the Black Forest and the Bavarian Alps. His descriptions are remarkable for their fresh realism, graceful style and humour. In addition to these qualities, his last books are marked by great subtlety of psychological analysis. "On the Height" was first published at Stuttgart in 1861, and has been translated into several languages. Auerbach died at Cannes on February 8, 1882, when all Germany was preparing to celebrate his 70th birthday.
I.—A Peasant Nurse in a Royal Palace
Walpurga was as in a dream. It had all happened so quickly! Only a fortnight ago, on the walk home from Sunday Mass at the village church, her Hansei had to make a hay bed for her on a stone-heap by the roadside. She had thought she could not get back to the cottage in time, but she recovered after a while and bravely walked home. Her mother was with her in the hour of suffering, as she had been with her through all the joys and sorrows of her simple life. Then came the supreme joy of the awakening, with a new life by her side, a baby-girl groping helplessly for the mother's breast. Then—was it only yesterday?—when she was waiting for the return of the christening party, a carriage drove up with the village doctor and an elegant stranger. There was much beating about the bush, and then it came out like a thunderbolt. The stranger was a great doctor from the capital, entrusted with the mission to find in the mountains an honest, comely peasant woman, and married she must be, to act as wet-nurse for the expected crown prince or princess.
Then Hansei came home with the merry party—there was much storming and angry refusal; but finally the practical sense of the peasant folk prevailed. It was, after all, only for a year, and it would mean comfort and wealth, instead of hunger and grinding poverty. And scarcely had their consent been wrung from them, when shouting and cheering announced the great event of the crown prince's birth. Then came that strange, long drive over hill and dale, through the dark night; and now, in the Royal Palace, she tried to collect herself, to grasp the meaning of all that splendour, the unintelligible ceremonious talk and bearing of those about her. She was to be taken at once to see the queen and her precious charge.
Walpurga was full of happiness when she left the queen's bedroom. Touched by the comely young peasant-woman's naive and familiar kindliness, the queen, who seemed to her beautiful as an angel, had kissed her, and, on noticing a tear, had said: "Don't cry, Walpuga! You are a mother, too, like myself!" The little prince took to his nurse without much trouble, and she soon became accustomed to her new life, although her thoughts often dwelt longingly on her native mountains, her own child and mother and husband. How they would miss her! She knew her Hansei was a good man at heart, but not particularly shrewd, and easily gulled or led astray.
Meanwhile, her high spirits, her artless bluntness, the quaint superstitions of the mountain child, gained her the goodwill and approval of the king and queen, of Dr. Gunther, the court physician, of the whole royal household, and, above all, of the lady-in-waiting, Countess Irma Wildenort.
II.—The Love Affairs of a King
Countess Irma's letters to Emmy, her only convent friend, contained little of idle gossip and of things that had happened. They had no continuity. They were introspective, and took the form of a diary taken up at odd moments and left again to be continued, sometimes the following day, sometimes after a week. They revealed intellectual development far in advance of her years, and clear perception of character.
"The queen lives in an exclusive world of sentiment and would like to raise everybody to her exalted mood—liana-like, in the morning-glow and evening-glow of sentiment, never in white daylight. She is most gracious towards me, but we feel it instinctively—there is something in her and in me that does not harmonise....
"Here all of them think me boundlessly naive, because I have the courage to think for myself....
"The king loves reserve, but also gay freeness. The queen is too serious—eternal organ sound; but you cannot dance to an organ, and we are young and love to dance.
"A peasant woman from the mountains is nurse to the crown prince. I was with her at the king's request. I stood by the cot when the king arrived. He said to me gently: 'It is true, an angel stands by the child's cradle.' He laid his hand upon mine, which rested on the rail of the cot. The king went. And just imagine what occurred. The nurse, a fresh, merry person with blue eyes, buxom and massive, a perfect peasant beauty, to whom I showed friendliness, so as to cheer her up and save her from feeling homesick, the nurse tells me in bald words: 'You are an adulteress! You have exchanged loving glances with the king!'
"Emmy! How you were right in telling me that I idealise the people, and that they are as corrupt as the great world, and, moreover, without the curb of culture.
"No! she is a good, intelligent woman. She begged my pardon for her impertinence; I remain friendly towards her. Yes, I will."
Irma's devotion to her king had something of hero-worship. And the king, who loved his wife sincerely, but was, and wanted to be, of a heroic nature, and who was averse to all that savoured of self-torment and sentimentality, was attracted by Countess Irma's intellectual freedom and esprit. He felt in her a kindred spirit. Her company was stimulating; it could not affect the even tenour of his conjugal love. But the queen, in her sentimental exultation, sought ever for new "documents" to demonstrate the depth of her affection. And now she wanted to give the supreme proof by renouncing her Lutheran faith to enter into a yet closer union with her Catholic husband. To the king this sacrifice seemed not only sentimentally weak, but politically unwise. He received the confidence coldly, and begged her to reconsider the matter. He sent Dr. Gunther, who, in spite of his democratic tendencies, was held in high esteem by the king, and had great influence over the queen, to exercise his persuasive powers—with no result.
Where wisdom and experience had failed, the voice of Nature, speaking out of Walpurga's childish chatter, succeeded. Walpurga told the queen of her father—how one day on the lake, on hearing the choral singing of the peasants, he had said: "Now I know how the Almighty feels up there in Heaven! All the Churches, ours, and the Lutheran, and the Jewish, and the Turkish, they are all voices in the song. Each sings as he knows, and yet it sounds well together up there." The queen was radiant next day, when she informed her spouse that she had the courage of her own inconsistency and that she had resolved to do his will. The sacrifice was received with coolness. Was it that her noble act was construed as further evidence of weakness?
The king had left town for some distant watering-place, and had requested Irma to write to him at times. Knowing her love of flowers, he had given orders for a fresh bouquet to be placed every day in her room, and, perhaps to conceal the favour, in the rooms of two other ladies of the court. Irma considered both the thought and the expedient unworthy of her hero, and resolved not to write to him. She spent much of her time at the studio of a professor of the academy, who not only modelled a bust of her for a figure of Victory to be placed on the new arsenal, but gave her instruction in his art. In spite of this new occupation, she found herself in a state of feverish excitement, which became almost unbearable when the queen showed her a passage in a letter just received from the king. "Please make Countess Irma send me regular reports about our son. Remember me to the dear fourth leaf of our clover-leaf."
She was indignant at this unworthy attempt at forcing her to write. Was Walpurga right after all? Were lovers' glances to be exchanged over the child's cradle? She longed for solitude and peace. On the way to her room she had to stop to think where she was. A gallop might cool her feverish head. She ordered her horse to be saddled, but had scarcely changed into her riding-habit when a letter was handed to her, which was unsealed with trembling fingers. It was a simply worded invitation from her father, who wished to see her again after her long absence at court. Here was salvation, balm for her aching heart! She gave a few orders, then hurried to the queen's apartments to obtain leave of absence; and, accompanied by her maid, sped to her paternal home the same evening as fast as the horses would carry her.
The days passed quickly at the manor house, where Irma, for the first time, gained an insight into the noble mind and firm character of her father. In his many soothing talks Count Eberhard told her of his regrets at having been forced by circumstances—her mother's death before Irma had reached the age of three, and his inability to give her a proper education in his mountain retreat—to send her first to her aunt, then to the convent, and thus neglecting his duties as father. A word from him would have decided her to remain under his roof, but the old philosopher held that each intelligent being must work out its own destiny, and would not influence her decision. His slighting remarks about the monarchic system, about the impossibility of the king, with all his noble intentions, being able to see the world as it is, since everybody approaches him in pleasing costume, struck the final jarring note and destroyed the complete understanding between father and daughter. A half jocular joint letter from the king and his entourage, in which the signatories expressed in exaggerated terms their longing for her presence at court, decided her to return.
The carriage having been sent to the valley in advance, Count Eberhard walked down with Irma, until they came to the apple-tree which he had planted on the day of his daughter's birth. He stopped, and picked up a fallen apple. "Let us part here," he said. "Take this fruit from your native soil. The apple has left the tree because it has ripened; because the tree cannot give any more to it. So man leaves home and family. But man is more than the fruit of a tree. Come, my child, I hold your dear head; don't weep—or weep! May you never weep for yourself, and only for others! Remain faithful to yourself! I would give you all my thoughts; remember but the one: Yield only to such pleasures as will be pleasure in recollection. Take this kiss. You kiss passionately. May you never give a kiss that does not leave your soul as pure and full as it is now. Farewell!"
III.—Walpurga Returns Home
Twelve months had passed since Walpurga's arrival at court. Her trunks were now packed; she had given a last kiss to the boy prince; and now she asked her Hansei, who had brought a carriage from the village to take her home, to wait in the corridor while she took leave from Countess Irma. She found Irma still in her bed, very pale, with her hair in loose strains on the pillow.
"I wanted to give you a souvenir," said Irma, "but I think money will be best for you. Look on the table, and take it all. I don't want any of it. Take it, and don't be afraid; it is real money, won honestly at the tables. I always win, always!... Take your kerchief and wrap it up." The room was so dusky that Walpurga looked around in superstitious fear. The money might be evil; she quickly made the sign of the Cross over it, and put it into her ample pocket. "And now, farewell," said Irma. "Be happy. You are happier than any of us. If ever I don't know where to go, I shall come to you. You'll have me, won't you? Now go—go! I must sleep. And don't forget me, Walpurga. Don't thank me, don't speak!"
"Oh, please let me speak, just one word! We both can't know which of us will die, and then it would be too late. I don't know what's the matter with you. You are not well, and you may get worse. You often have cold hands and hot cheeks. I wronged you that day, soon after I arrived. I'll never think bad of you again, no one shall say evil of you; but, please, get away from the castle! Go home, to——"
"Enough," exclaimed Irma, thrusting forth her hands as though Walpurga's words were stones thrown at her. "Farewell; and don't forget me." She held out her hand for Walpurga to kiss; it was hot and feverish. Walpurga went. The parrot in the ante-room screamed: "Good-bye, Irma." Walpurga was frightened, and ran away as though she were chased.
Walpurga's homecoming was not pleasure unalloyed. She did not miss the luxuries to which she had become accustomed. She rather relished the hard, manual labour, to which she applied herself with full energy. But her baby was a stranger to her, cried when she wished to take her up, and became only gradually accustomed to her. Her faculties had been sharpened, too; she felt a certain shyness in her husband, noticed his weaknesses, and was deeply hurt when, on the second evening after her return, he went to the inn, "so that people should not say he was under her thumb." Then, Hansei, coaxed by the shrewd innkeeper, had set his heart upon acquiring the inn, now that they had "wealth," and upon thus becoming the most important man in the village. But with much tact and cleverness Walpurga made him give up the plan, thereby arousing the innkeeper's hostility, which became rampant when the reunited couple did not appear at a kind of fete which he gave, ostensibly in their honour, but really to benefit by the proceeds. By this slight the esteem and admiration of the whole village were turned to ill-will and spite.
Hansei and Walpurga were almost boycotted; but their isolation made them draw closer together, work harder, and enjoy to the fullest the harmony of their domestic life. Moreover, the freehold farmer, Grubersepp, who was a personage in the district, and had never before deigned to take much notice of Hansei, now called at the cottage and offered his advice on many questions. When on a Sunday the village doctor and the priest were seen to visit the cottage, opinion began to veer around once more in the good people's favour.
It was Walpurga's old uncle Peter, a poor pitch-burner, who was known in the district as the "pitch-mannikin," who brought the first news that the freehold farm, where Walpurga's mother had in her young days served as a maid, was for sale at a very low price for ready money. It was six hours from the lake, in the mountains—splendid soil, fine forest, everything perfect. Hansei decided to have a look at it, and Grubersepp went with him to value it. The uncle's description was found to be highly coloured; but after some bargaining the purchase was effected, and soon the news was bruited about the village that Hansei had paid "in clinking golden coin."