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A House of Pomegranates

by Oscar Wilde

April, 1997 [Etext #873]


The Project Gutenberg Etext of A House of Pomegranates, by Wilde
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A House of Pomegranates by Oscar Wilde
Scanned and proofed by David Price
ccx074@coventry.ac.uk





A House of Pomegranates




Contents:

The Young King
The Birthday of the Infanta
The Fisherman and his Soul
The Star-child




THE YOUNG KING




[TO MARGARET LADY BROOKE - THE RANEE OF SARAWAK]


It was the night before the day fixed for his coronation, and the
young King was sitting alone in his beautiful chamber. His
courtiers had all taken their leave of him, bowing their heads to
the ground, according to the ceremonious usage of the day, and had
retired to the Great Hall of the Palace, to receive a few last
lessons from the Professor of Etiquette; there being some of them
who had still quite natural manners, which in a courtier is, I need
hardly say, a very grave offence.

The lad - for he was only a lad, being but sixteen years of age -
was not sorry at their departure, and had flung himself back with a
deep sigh of relief on the soft cushions of his embroidered couch,
lying there, wild-eyed and open-mouthed, like a brown woodland
Faun, or some young animal of the forest newly snared by the
hunters.

And, indeed, it was the hunters who had found him, coming upon him
almost by chance as, bare-limbed and pipe in hand, he was following
the flock of the poor goatherd who had brought him up, and whose
son he had always fancied himself to be. The child of the old
King's only daughter by a secret marriage with one much beneath her
in station - a stranger, some said, who, by the wonderful magic of
his lute-playing, had made the young Princess love him; while
others spoke of an artist from Rimini, to whom the Princess had
shown much, perhaps too much honour, and who had suddenly
disappeared from the city, leaving his work in the Cathedral
unfinished - he had been, when but a week old, stolen away from his
mother's side, as she slept, and given into the charge of a common
peasant and his wife, who were without children of their own, and
lived in a remote part of the forest, more than a day's ride from
the town. Grief, or the plague, as the court physician stated, or,
as some suggested, a swift Italian poison administered in a cup of
spiced wine, slew, within an hour of her wakening, the white girl
who had given him birth, and as the trusty messenger who bare the
child across his saddle-bow stooped from his weary horse and
knocked at the rude door of the goatherd's hut, the body of the
Princess was being lowered into an open grave that had been dug in
a deserted churchyard, beyond the city gates, a grave where it was
said that another body was also lying, that of a young man of
marvellous and foreign beauty, whose hands were tied behind him
with a knotted cord, and whose breast was stabbed with many red
wounds.

Such, at least, was the story that men whispered to each other.
Certain it was that the old King, when on his deathbed, whether
moved by remorse for his great sin, or merely desiring that the
kingdom should not pass away from his line, had had the lad sent
for, and, in the presence of the Council, had acknowledged him as
his heir.

And it seems that from the very first moment of his recognition he
had shown signs of that strange passion for beauty that was
destined to have so great an influence over his life. Those who
accompanied him to the suite of rooms set apart for his service,
often spoke of the cry of pleasure that broke from his lips when he
saw the delicate raiment and rich jewels that had been prepared for
him, and of the almost fierce joy with which he flung aside his
rough leathern tunic and coarse sheepskin cloak. He missed,
indeed, at times the fine freedom of his forest life, and was
always apt to chafe at the tedious Court ceremonies that occupied
so much of each day, but the wonderful palace - JOYEUSE, as they
called it - of which he now found himself lord, seemed to him to be
a new world fresh-fashioned for his delight; and as soon as he
could escape from the council-board or audience-chamber, he would
run down the great staircase, with its lions of gilt bronze and its
steps of bright porphyry, and wander from room to room, and from
corridor to corridor, like one who was seeking to find in beauty an
anodyne from pain, a sort of restoration from sickness.

Upon these journeys of discovery, as he would call them - and,
indeed, they were to him real voyages through a marvellous land, he
would sometimes be accompanied by the slim, fair-haired Court
pages, with their floating mantles, and gay fluttering ribands; but
more often he would be alone, feeling through a certain quick
instinct, which was almost a divination, that the secrets of art
are best learned in secret, and that Beauty, like Wisdom, loves the
lonely worshipper.


Many curious stories were related about him at this period. It was
said that a stout Burgo-master, who had come to deliver a florid
oratorical address on behalf of the citizens of the town, had
caught sight of him kneeling in real adoration before a great
picture that had just been brought from Venice, and that seemed to
herald the worship of some new gods. On another occasion he had
been missed for several hours, and after a lengthened search had
been discovered in a little chamber in one of the northern turrets
of the palace gazing, as one in a trance, at a Greek gem carved
with the figure of Adonis. He had been seen, so the tale ran,
pressing his warm lips to the marble brow of an antique statue that
had been discovered in the bed of the river on the occasion of the
building of the stone bridge, and was inscribed with the name of
the Bithynian slave of Hadrian. He had passed a whole night in
noting the effect of the moonlight on a silver image of Endymion.

All rare and costly materials had certainly a great fascination for
him, and in his eagerness to procure them he had sent away many
merchants, some to traffic for amber with the rough fisher-folk of
the north seas, some to Egypt to look for that curious green
turquoise which is found only in the tombs of kings, and is said to
possess magical properties, some to Persia for silken carpets and
painted pottery, and others to India to buy gauze and stained
ivory, moonstones and bracelets of jade, sandal-wood and blue
enamel and shawls of fine wool.

But what had occupied him most was the robe he was to wear at his
coronation, the robe of tissued gold, and the ruby-studded crown,
and the sceptre with its rows and rings of pearls. Indeed, it was
of this that he was thinking to-night, as he lay back on his
luxurious couch, watching the great pinewood log that was burning
itself out on the open hearth. The designs, which were from the
hands of the most famous artists of the time, had been submitted to
him many months before, and he had given orders that the artificers
were to toil night and day to carry them out, and that the whole
world was to be searched for jewels that would be worthy of their
work. He saw himself in fancy standing at the high altar of the
cathedral in the fair raiment of a King, and a smile played and
lingered about his boyish lips, and lit up with a bright lustre his
dark woodland eyes.

After some time he rose from his seat, and leaning against the
carved penthouse of the chimney, looked round at the dimly-lit
room. The walls were hung with rich tapestries representing the
Triumph of Beauty. A large press, inlaid with agate and lapis-
lazuli, filled one corner, and facing the window stood a curiously
wrought cabinet with lacquer panels of powdered and mosaiced gold,
on which were placed some delicate goblets of Venetian glass, and a
cup of dark-veined onyx. Pale poppies were broidered on the silk
coverlet of the bed, as though they had fallen from the tired hands
of sleep, and tall reeds of fluted ivory bare up the velvet canopy,
from which great tufts of ostrich plumes sprang, like white foam,
to the pallid silver of the fretted ceiling. A laughing Narcissus
in green bronze held a polished mirror above its head. On the
table stood a flat bowl of amethyst.

Outside he could see the huge dome of the cathedral, looming like a
bubble over the shadowy houses, and the weary sentinels pacing up
and down on the misty terrace by the river. Far away, in an
orchard, a nightingale was singing. A faint perfume of jasmine
came through the open window. He brushed his brown curls back from
his forehead, and taking up a lute, let his fingers stray across
the cords. His heavy eyelids drooped, and a strange languor came
over him. Never before had he felt so keenly, or with such
exquisite joy, the magic and the mystery of beautiful things.

When midnight sounded from the clock-tower he touched a bell, and
his pages entered and disrobed him with much ceremony, pouring
rose-water over his hands, and strewing flowers on his pillow. A
few moments after that they had left the room, he fell asleep.


And as he slept he dreamed a dream, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was standing in a long, low attic, amidst the
whir and clatter of many looms. The meagre daylight peered in
through the grated windows, and showed him the gaunt figures of the
weavers bending over their cases. Pale, sickly-looking children
were crouched on the huge crossbeams. As the shuttles dashed
through the warp they lifted up the heavy battens, and when the
shuttles stopped they let the battens fall and pressed the threads
together. Their faces were pinched with famine, and their thin
hands shook and trembled. Some haggard women were seated at a
table sewing. A horrible odour filled the place. The air was foul
and heavy, and the walls dripped and streamed with damp.

The young King went over to one of the weavers, and stood by him
and watched him.

And the weaver looked at him angrily, and said, 'Why art thou
watching me? Art thou a spy set on us by our master?'

'Who is thy master?' asked the young King.

'Our master!' cried the weaver, bitterly. 'He is a man like
myself. Indeed, there is but this difference between us - that he
wears fine clothes while I go in rags, and that while I am weak
from hunger he suffers not a little from overfeeding.'

'The land is free,' said the young King, 'and thou art no man's
slave.'

'In war,' answered the weaver, 'the strong make slaves of the weak,
and in peace the rich make slaves of the poor. We must work to
live, and they give us such mean wages that we die. We toil for
them all day long, and they heap up gold in their coffers, and our
children fade away before their time, and the faces of those we
love become hard and evil. We tread out the grapes, and another
drinks the wine. We sow the corn, and our own board is empty. We
have chains, though no eye beholds them; and are slaves, though men
call us free.'

'Is it so with all?' he asked,

'It is so with all,' answered the weaver, 'with the young as well
as with the old, with the women as well as with the men, with the
little children as well as with those who are stricken in years.
The merchants grind us down, and we must needs do their bidding.
The priest rides by and tells his beads, and no man has care of us.
Through our sunless lanes creeps Poverty with her hungry eyes, and
Sin with his sodden face follows close behind her. Misery wakes us
in the morning, and Shame sits with us at night. But what are
these things to thee? Thou art not one of us. Thy face is too
happy.' And he turned away scowling, and threw the shuttle across
the loom, and the young King saw that it was threaded with a thread
of gold.

And a great terror seized upon him, and he said to the weaver,
'What robe is this that thou art weaving?'

'It is the robe for the coronation of the young King,' he answered;
'what is that to thee?'

And the young King gave a loud cry and woke, and lo! he was in his
own chamber, and through the window he saw the great honey-coloured
moon hanging in the dusky air.


And he fell asleep again and dreamed, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was lying on the deck of a huge galley that was
being rowed by a hundred slaves. On a carpet by his side the
master of the galley was seated. He was black as ebony, and his
turban was of crimson silk. Great earrings of silver dragged down
the thick lobes of his ears, and in his hands he had a pair of
ivory scales.

The slaves were naked, but for a ragged loin-cloth, and each man
was chained to his neighbour. The hot sun beat brightly upon them,
and the negroes ran up and down the gangway and lashed them with
whips of hide. They stretched out their lean arms and pulled the
heavy oars through the water. The salt spray flew from the blades.

At last they reached a little bay, and began to take soundings. A
light wind blew from the shore, and covered the deck and the great
lateen sail with a fine red dust. Three Arabs mounted on wild
asses rode out and threw spears at them. The master of the galley
took a painted bow in his hand and shot one of them in the throat.
He fell heavily into the surf, and his companions galloped away. A
woman wrapped in a yellow veil followed slowly on a camel, looking
back now and then at the dead body.

As soon as they had cast anchor and hauled down the sail, the
negroes went into the hold and brought up a long rope-ladder,
heavily weighted with lead. The master of the galley threw it over
the side, making the ends fast to two iron stanchions. Then the
negroes seized the youngest of the slaves and knocked his gyves
off, and filled his nostrils and his ears with wax, and tied a big
stone round his waist. He crept wearily down the ladder, and
disappeared into the sea. A few bubbles rose where he sank. Some
of the other slaves peered curiously over the side. At the prow of
the galley sat a shark-charmer, beating monotonously upon a drum.

After some time the diver rose up out of the water, and clung
panting to the ladder with a pearl in his right hand. The negroes
seized it from him, and thrust him back. The slaves fell asleep
over their oars.

Again and again he came up, and each time that he did so he brought
with him a beautiful pearl. The master of the galley weighed them,
and put them into a little bag of green leather.

The young King tried to speak, but his tongue seemed to cleave to
the roof of his mouth, and his lips refused to move. The negroes
chattered to each other, and began to quarrel over a string of
bright beads. Two cranes flew round and round the vessel.

Then the diver came up for the last time, and the pearl that he
brought with him was fairer than all the pearls of Ormuz, for it
was shaped like the full moon, and whiter than the morning star.
But his face was strangely pale, and as he fell upon the deck the
blood gushed from his ears and nostrils. He quivered for a little,
and then he was still. The negroes shrugged their shoulders, and
threw the body overboard.

And the master of the galley laughed, and, reaching out, he took
the pearl, and when he saw it he pressed it to his forehead and
bowed. 'It shall be,' he said, 'for the sceptre of the young
King,' and he made a sign to the negroes to draw up the anchor.

And when the young King heard this he gave a great cry, and woke,
and through the window he saw the long grey fingers of the dawn
clutching at the fading stars.


And he fell asleep again, and dreamed, and this was his dream.

He thought that he was wandering through a dim wood, hung with
strange fruits and with beautiful poisonous flowers. The adders
hissed at him as he went by, and the bright parrots flew screaming
from branch to branch. Huge tortoises lay asleep upon the hot mud.
The trees were full of apes and peacocks.

On and on he went, till he reached the outskirts of the wood, and
there he saw an immense multitude of men toiling in the bed of a
dried-up river. They swarmed up the crag like ants. They dug deep
pits in the ground and went down into them. Some of them cleft the
rocks with great axes; others grabbled in the sand.

They tore up the cactus by its roots, and trampled on the scarlet
blossoms. They hurried about, calling to each other, and no man
was idle.

From the darkness of a cavern Death and Avarice watched them, and
Death said, 'I am weary; give me a third of them and let me go.'
But Avarice shook her head. 'They are my servants,' she answered.

And Death said to her, 'What hast thou in thy hand?'

'I have three grains of corn,' she answered; 'what is that to
thee?'

'Give me one of them,' cried Death, 'to plant in my garden; only
one of them, and I will go away.'

'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice, and she hid her hand
in the fold of her raiment.

And Death laughed, and took a cup, and dipped it into a pool of
water, and out of the cup rose Ague. She passed through the great
multitude, and a third of them lay dead. A cold mist followed her,
and the water-snakes ran by her side.

And when Avarice saw that a third of the multitude was dead she
beat her breast and wept. She beat her barren bosom, and cried
aloud. 'Thou hast slain a third of my servants,' she cried, 'get
thee gone. There is war in the mountains of Tartary, and the kings
of each side are calling to thee. The Afghans have slain the black
ox, and are marching to battle. They have beaten upon their
shields with their spears, and have put on their helmets of iron.
What is my valley to thee, that thou shouldst tarry in it? Get
thee gone, and come here no more.'

'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn
I will not go.'

But Avarice shut her hand, and clenched her teeth. 'I will not
give thee anything,' she muttered.

And Death laughed, and took up a black stone, and threw it into the
forest, and out of a thicket of wild hemlock came Fever in a robe
of flame. She passed through the multitude, and touched them, and
each man that she touched died. The grass withered beneath her
feet as she walked.

And Avarice shuddered, and put ashes on her head. 'Thou art
cruel,' she cried; 'thou art cruel. There is famine in the walled
cities of India, and the cisterns of Samarcand have run dry. There
is famine in the walled cities of Egypt, and the locusts have come
up from the desert. The Nile has not overflowed its banks, and the
priests have cursed Isis and Osiris. Get thee gone to those who
need thee, and leave me my servants.'

'Nay,' answered Death, 'but till thou hast given me a grain of corn
I will not go.'

'I will not give thee anything,' said Avarice.

And Death laughed again, and he whistled through his fingers, and a
woman came flying through the air. Plague was written upon her
forehead, and a crowd of lean vultures wheeled round her. She
covered the valley with her wings, and no man was left alive.

And Avarice fled shrieking through the forest, and Death leaped
upon his red horse and galloped away, and his galloping was faster
than the wind.

And out of the slime at the bottom of the valley crept dragons and
horrible things with scales, and the jackals came trotting along
the sand, sniffing up the air with their nostrils.

And the young King wept, and said: 'Who were these men, and for
what were they seeking?'

'For rubies for a king's crown,' answered one who stood behind him.

And the young King started, and, turning round, he saw a man
habited as a pilgrim and holding in his hand a mirror of silver.

And he grew pale, and said: 'For what king?'

And the pilgrim answered: 'Look in this mirror, and thou shalt see
him.'

And he looked in the mirror, and, seeing his own face, he gave a
great cry and woke, and the bright sunlight was streaming into the
room, and from the trees of the garden and pleasaunce the birds
were singing.


And the Chamberlain and the high officers of State came in and made
obeisance to him, and the pages brought him the robe of tissued
gold, and set the crown and the sceptre before him.

And the young King looked at them, and they were beautiful. More
beautiful were they than aught that he had ever seen. But he
remembered his dreams, and he said to his lords: 'Take these
things away, for I will not wear them.'

And the courtiers were amazed, and some of them laughed, for they
thought that he was jesting.

But he spake sternly to them again, and said: 'Take these things
away, and hide them from me. Though it be the day of my
coronation, I will not wear them. For on the loom of Sorrow, and
by the white hands of Pain, has this my robe been woven. There is
Blood in the heart of the ruby, and Death in the heart of the
pearl.' And he told them his three dreams.

And when the courtiers heard them they looked at each other and
whispered, saying: 'Surely he is mad; for what is a dream but a
dream, and a vision but a vision? They are not real things that
one should heed them. And what have we to do with the lives of
those who toil for us? Shall a man not eat bread till he has seen
the sower, nor drink wine till he has talked with the vinedresser?'

And the Chamberlain spake to the young King, and said, 'My lord, I
pray thee set aside these black thoughts of thine, and put on this
fair robe, and set this crown upon thy head. For how shall the
people know that thou art a king, if thou hast not a king's
raiment?'

And the young King looked at him. 'Is it so, indeed?' he
questioned. 'Will they not know me for a king if I have not a
king's raiment?'

'They will not know thee, my lord,' cried the Chamberlain.

'I had thought that there had been men who were kinglike,' he
answered, 'but it may be as thou sayest. And yet I will not wear
this robe, nor will I be crowned with this crown, but even as I
came to the palace so will I go forth from it.'

And he bade them all leave him, save one page whom he kept as his
companion, a lad a year younger than himself. Him he kept for his
service, and when he had bathed himself in clear water, he opened a
great painted chest, and from it he took the leathern tunic and
rough sheepskin cloak that he had worn when he had watched on the
hillside the shaggy goats of the goatherd. These he put on, and in
his hand he took his rude shepherd's staff.

And the little page opened his big blue eyes in wonder, and said
smiling to him, 'My lord, I see thy robe and thy sceptre, but where
is thy crown?'

And the young King plucked a spray of wild briar that was climbing
over the balcony, and bent it, and made a circlet of it, and set it
on his own head.

'This shall he my crown,' he answered.

And thus attired he passed out of his chamber into the Great Hall,
where the nobles were waiting for him.

And the nobles made merry, and some of them cried out to him, 'My
lord, the people wait for their king, and thou showest them a
beggar,' and others were wroth and said, 'He brings shame upon our
state, and is unworthy to be our master.' But he answered them not
a word, but passed on, and went down the bright porphyry staircase,
and out through the gates of bronze, and mounted upon his horse,
and rode towards the cathedral, the little page running beside him.

And the people laughed and said, 'It is the King's fool who is
riding by,' and they mocked him.

And he drew rein and said, 'Nay, but I am the King.' And he told
them his three dreams.

And a man came out of the crowd and spake bitterly to him, and
said, 'Sir, knowest thou not that out of the luxury of the rich
cometh the life of the poor? By your pomp we are nurtured, and
your vices give us bread. To toil for a hard master is bitter, but
to have no master to toil for is more bitter still. Thinkest thou
that the ravens will feed us? And what cure hast thou for these
things? Wilt thou say to the buyer, "Thou shalt buy for so much,"
and to the seller, "Thou shalt sell at this price"? I trow not.
Therefore go back to thy Palace and put on thy purple and fine
linen. What hast thou to do with us, and what we suffer?'

'Are not the rich and the poor brothers?' asked the young King.

'Ay,' answered the man, 'and the name of the rich brother is Cain.'

And the young King's eyes filled with tears, and he rode on through
the murmurs of the people, and the little page grew afraid and left
him.

And when he reached the great portal of the cathedral, the soldiers
thrust their halberts out and said, 'What dost thou seek here?
None enters by this door but the King.'

And his face flushed with anger, and he said to them, 'I am the
King,' and waved their halberts aside and passed in.

And when the old Bishop saw him coming in his goatherd's dress, he
rose up in wonder from his throne, and went to meet him, and said
to him, 'My son, is this a king's apparel? And with what crown
shall I crown thee, and what sceptre shall I place in thy hand?
Surely this should be to thee a day of joy, and not a day of
abasement.'

'Shall Joy wear what Grief has fashioned?' said the young King.
And he told him his three dreams.

And when the Bishop had heard them he knit his brows, and said, 'My
son, I am an old man, and in the winter of my days, and I know that
many evil things are done in the wide world. The fierce robbers
come down from the mountains, and carry off the little children,
and sell them to the Moors. The lions lie in wait for the
caravans, and leap upon the camels. The wild boar roots up the
corn in the valley, and the foxes gnaw the vines upon the hill.
The pirates lay waste the sea-coast and burn the ships of the
fishermen, and take their nets from them. In the salt-marshes live
the lepers; they have houses of wattled reeds, and none may come
nigh them. The beggars wander through the cities, and eat their
food with the dogs. Canst thou make these things not to be? Wilt
thou take the leper for thy bedfellow, and set the beggar at thy
board? Shall the lion do thy bidding, and the wild boar obey thee?
Is not He who made misery wiser than thou art? Wherefore I praise
thee not for this that thou hast done, but I bid thee ride back to
the Palace and make thy face glad, and put on the raiment that
beseemeth a king, and with the crown of gold I will crown thee, and
the sceptre of pearl will I place in thy hand. And as for thy
dreams, think no more of them. The burden of this world is too
great for one man to bear, and the world's sorrow too heavy for one
heart to suffer.'

'Sayest thou that in this house?' said the young King, and he
strode past the Bishop, and climbed up the steps of the altar, and
stood before the image of Christ.

He stood before the image of Christ, and on his right hand and on
his left were the marvellous vessels of gold, the chalice with the
yellow wine, and the vial with the holy oil. He knelt before the
image of Christ, and the great candles burned brightly by the
jewelled shrine, and the smoke of the incense curled in thin blue
wreaths through the dome. He bowed his head in prayer, and the
priests in their stiff copes crept away from the altar.

And suddenly a wild tumult came from the street outside, and in
entered the nobles with drawn swords and nodding plumes, and
shields of polished steel. 'Where is this dreamer of dreams?' they
cried. 'Where is this King who is apparelled like a beggar - this
boy who brings shame upon our state? Surely we will slay him, for
he is unworthy to rule over us.'

And the young King bowed his head again, and prayed, and when he
had finished his prayer he rose up, and turning round he looked at
them sadly.

And lo! through the painted windows came the sunlight streaming
upon him, and the sun-beams wove round him a tissued robe that was
fairer than the robe that had been fashioned for his pleasure. The
dead staff blossomed, and bare lilies that were whiter than pearls.
The dry thorn blossomed, and bare roses that were redder than
rubies. Whiter than fine pearls were the lilies, and their stems
were of bright silver. Redder than male rubies were the roses, and
their leaves were of beaten gold.

He stood there in the raiment of a king, and the gates of the
jewelled shrine flew open, and from the crystal of the many-rayed
monstrance shone a marvellous and mystical light. He stood there
in a king's raiment, and the Glory of God filled the place, and the
saints in their carven niches seemed to move. In the fair raiment
of a king he stood before them, and the organ pealed out its music,
and the trumpeters blew upon their trumpets, and the singing boys
sang.

And the people fell upon their knees in awe, and the nobles
sheathed their swords and did homage, and the Bishop's face grew
pale, and his hands trembled. 'A greater than I hath crowned
thee,' he cried, and he knelt before him.

And the young King came down from the high altar, and passed home
through the midst of the people. But no man dared look upon his
face, for it was like the face of an angel.




THE BIRTHDAY OF THE INFANTA




[TO MRS. WILLIAM H. GRENFELL OF TAPLOW COURT - LADY DESBOROUGH]


It was the birthday of the Infanta. She was just twelve years of
age, and the sun was shining brightly in the gardens of the palace.

Although she was a real Princess and the Infanta of Spain, she had
only one birthday every year, just like the children of quite poor
people, so it was naturally a matter of great importance to the
whole country that she should have a really fine day for the
occasion. And a really fine day it certainly was. The tall
striped tulips stood straight up upon their stalks, like long rows
of soldiers, and looked defiantly across the grass at the roses,
and said: 'We are quite as splendid as you are now.' The purple
butterflies fluttered about with gold dust on their wings, visiting
each flower in turn; the little lizards crept out of the crevices
of the wall, and lay basking in the white glare; and the
pomegranates split and cracked with the heat, and showed their
bleeding red hearts. Even the pale yellow lemons, that hung in
such profusion from the mouldering trellis and along the dim
arcades, seemed to have caught a richer colour from the wonderful
sunlight, and the magnolia trees opened their great globe-like
blossoms of folded ivory, and filled the air with a sweet heavy
perfume.

The little Princess herself walked up and down the terrace with her
companions, and played at hide and seek round the stone vases and
the old moss-grown statues. On ordinary days she was only allowed
to play with children of her own rank, so she had always to play
alone, but her birthday was an exception, and the King had given
orders that she was to invite any of her young friends whom she
liked to come and amuse themselves with her. There was a stately
grace about these slim Spanish children as they glided about, the
boys with their large-plumed hats and short fluttering cloaks, the
girls holding up the trains of their long brocaded gowns, and
shielding the sun from their eyes with huge fans of black and
silver. But the Infanta was the most graceful of all, and the most
tastefully attired, after the somewhat cumbrous fashion of the day.
Her robe was of grey satin, the skirt and the wide puffed sleeves
heavily embroidered with silver, and the stiff corset studded with
rows of fine pearls. Two tiny slippers with big pink rosettes
peeped out beneath her dress as she walked. Pink and pearl was her
great gauze fan, and in her hair, which like an aureole of faded
gold stood out stiffly round her pale little face, she had a
beautiful white rose.

From a window in the palace the sad melancholy King watched them.
Behind him stood his brother, Don Pedro of Aragon, whom he hated,
and his confessor, the Grand Inquisitor of Granada, sat by his
side. Sadder even than usual was the King, for as he looked at the
Infanta bowing with childish gravity to the assembling counters, or
laughing behind her fan at the grim Duchess of Albuquerque who
always accompanied her, he thought of the young Queen, her mother,
who but a short time before - so it seemed to him - had come from
the gay country of France, and had withered away in the sombre
splendour of the Spanish court, dying just six months after the
birth of her child, and before she had seen the almonds blossom
twice in the orchard, or plucked the second year's fruit from the
old gnarled fig-tree that stood in the centre of the now grass-
grown courtyard. So great had been his love for her that he had
not suffered even the grave to hide her from him. She had been
embalmed by a Moorish physician, who in return for this service had
been granted his life, which for heresy and suspicion of magical
practices had been already forfeited, men said, to the Holy Office,
and her body was still lying on its tapestried bier in the black
marble chapel of the Palace, just as the monks had borne her in on
that windy March day nearly twelve years before. Once every month
the King, wrapped in a dark cloak and with a muffled lantern in his
hand, went in and knelt by her side calling out, 'MI REINA! MI
REINA!' and sometimes breaking through the formal etiquette that in
Spain governs every separate action of life, and sets limits even
to the sorrow of a King, he would clutch at the pale jewelled hands
in a wild agony of grief, and try to wake by his mad kisses the
cold painted face.

To-day he seemed to see her again, as he had seen her first at the
Castle of Fontainebleau, when he was but fifteen years of age, and
she still younger. They had been formally betrothed on that
occasion by the Papal Nuncio in the presence of the French King and
all the Court, and he had returned to the Escurial bearing with him
a little ringlet of yellow hair, and the memory of two childish
lips bending down to kiss his hand as he stepped into his carriage.
Later on had followed the marriage, hastily performed at Burgos, a
small town on the frontier between the two countries, and the grand
public entry into Madrid with the customary celebration of high
mass at the Church of La Atocha, and a more than usually solemn
AUTO-DA-FE, in which nearly three hundred heretics, amongst whom
were many Englishmen, had been delivered over to the secular arm to
be burned.

Certainly he had loved her madly, and to the ruin, many thought, of
his country, then at war with England for the possession of the
empire of the New World. He had hardly ever permitted her to be
out of his sight; for her, he had forgotten, or seemed to have
forgotten, all grave affairs of State; and, with that terrible
blindness that passion brings upon its servants, he had failed to
notice that the elaborate ceremonies by which he sought to please
her did but aggravate the strange malady from which she suffered.
When she died he was, for a time, like one bereft of reason.
Indeed, there is no doubt but that he would have formally abdicated
and retired to the great Trappist monastery at Granada, of which he
was already titular Prior, had he not been afraid to leave the
little Infanta at the mercy of his brother, whose cruelty, even in
Spain, was notorious, and who was suspected by many of having
caused the Queen's death by means of a pair of poisoned gloves that
he had presented to her on the occasion of her visiting his castle
in Aragon. Even after the expiration of the three years of public
mourning that he had ordained throughout his whole dominions by
royal edict, he would never suffer his ministers to speak about any
new alliance, and when the Emperor himself sent to him, and offered
him the hand of the lovely Archduchess of Bohemia, his niece, in
marriage, he bade the ambassadors tell their master that the King
of Spain was already wedded to Sorrow, and that though she was but
a barren bride he loved her better than Beauty; an answer that cost
his crown the rich provinces of the Netherlands, which soon after,
at the Emperor's instigation, revolted against him under the
leadership of some fanatics of the Reformed Church.

His whole married life, with its fierce, fiery-coloured joys and
the terrible agony of its sudden ending, seemed to come back to him
to-day as he watched the Infanta playing on the terrace. She had
all the Queen's pretty petulance of manner, the same wilful way of
tossing her head, the same proud curved beautiful mouth, the same
wonderful smile - VRAI SOURIRE DE FRANCE indeed - as she glanced up
now and then at the window, or stretched out her little hand for
the stately Spanish gentlemen to kiss. But the shrill laughter of
the children grated on his ears, and the bright pitiless sunlight
mocked his sorrow, and a dull odour of strange spices, spices such
as embalmers use, seemed to taint - or was it fancy? - the clear
morning air. He buried his face in his hands, and when the Infanta
looked up again the curtains had been drawn, and the King had
retired.

She made a little MOUE of disappointment, and shrugged her
shoulders. Surely he might have stayed with her on her birthday.
What did the stupid State-affairs matter? Or had he gone to that
gloomy chapel, where the candles were always burning, and where she
was never allowed to enter? How silly of him, when the sun was
shining so brightly, and everybody was so happy! Besides, he would
miss the sham bull-fight for which the trumpet was already
sounding, to say nothing of the puppet-show and the other wonderful
things. Her uncle and the Grand Inquisitor were much more
sensible. They had come out on the terrace, and paid her nice
compliments. So she tossed her pretty head, and taking Don Pedro
by the hand, she walked slowly down the steps towards a long
pavilion of purple silk that had been erected at the end of the
garden, the other children following in strict order of precedence,
those who had the longest names going first.


A procession of noble boys, fantastically dressed as TOREADORS,
came out to meet her, and the young Count of Tierra-Nueva, a
wonderfully handsome lad of about fourteen years of age, uncovering
his head with all the grace of a born hidalgo and grandee of Spain,
led her solemnly in to a little gilt and ivory chair that was
placed on a raised dais above the arena. The children grouped
themselves all round, fluttering their big fans and whispering to
each other, and Don Pedro and the Grand Inquisitor stood laughing
at the entrance. Even the Duchess - the Camerera-Mayor as she was
called - a thin, hard-featured woman with a yellow ruff, did not
look quite so bad-tempered as usual, and something like a chill
smile flitted across her wrinkled face and twitched her thin
bloodless lips.

It certainly was a marvellous bull-fight, and much nicer, the
Infanta thought, than the real bull-fight that she had been brought
to see at Seville, on the occasion of the visit of the Duke of
Parma to her father. Some of the boys pranced about on richly-
caparisoned hobby-horses brandishing long javelins with gay
streamers of bright ribands attached to them; others went on foot
waving their scarlet cloaks before the bull, and vaulting lightly
over the barrier when he charged them; and as for the bull himself,
he was just like a live bull, though he was only made of wicker-
work and stretched hide, and sometimes insisted on running round
the arena on his hind legs, which no live bull ever dreams of
doing. He made a splendid fight of it too, and the children got so
excited that they stood up upon the benches, and waved their lace
handkerchiefs and cried out: BRAVO TORO! BRAVO TORO! just as
sensibly as if they had been grown-up people. At last, however,
after a prolonged combat, during which several of the hobby-horses
were gored through and through, and, their riders dismounted, the
young Count of Tierra-Nueva brought the bull to his knees, and
having obtained permission from the Infanta to give the COUP DE
GRACE, he plunged his wooden sword into the neck of the animal with
such violence that the head came right off, and disclosed the
laughing face of little Monsieur de Lorraine, the son of the French
Ambassador at Madrid.

The arena was then cleared amidst much applause, and the dead
hobbyhorses dragged solemnly away by two Moorish pages in yellow
and black liveries, and after a short interlude, during which a
French posture-master performed upon the tightrope, some Italian
puppets appeared in the semi-classical tragedy of SOPHONISBA on the
stage of a small theatre that had been built up for the purpose.
They acted so well, and their gestures were so extremely natural,
that at the close of the play the eyes of the Infanta were quite
dim with tears. Indeed some of the children really cried, and had
to be comforted with sweetmeats, and the Grand Inquisitor himself
was so affected that he could not help saying to Don Pedro that it
seemed to him intolerable that things made simply out of wood and
coloured wax, and worked mechanically by wires, should be so
unhappy and meet with such terrible misfortunes.

An African juggler followed, who brought in a large flat basket
covered with a red cloth, and having placed it in the centre of the
arena, he took from his turban a curious reed pipe, and blew
through it. In a few moments the cloth began to move, and as the
pipe grew shriller and shriller two green and gold snakes put out
their strange wedge-shaped heads and rose slowly up, swaying to and
fro with the music as a plant sways in the water. The children,
however, were rather frightened at their spotted hoods and quick
darting tongues, and were much more pleased when the juggler made a
tiny orange-tree grow out of the sand and bear pretty white
blossoms and clusters of real fruit; and when he took the fan of
the little daughter of the Marquess de Las-Torres, and changed it
into a blue bird that flew all round the pavilion and sang, their
delight and amazement knew no bounds. The solemn minuet, too,
performed by the dancing boys from the church of Nuestra Senora Del
Pilar, was charming. The Infanta had never before seen this
wonderful ceremony which takes place every year at Maytime in front
of the high altar of the Virgin, and in her honour; and indeed none
of the royal family of Spain had entered the great cathedral of
Saragossa since a mad priest, supposed by many to have been in the
pay of Elizabeth of England, had tried to administer a poisoned
wafer to the Prince of the Asturias. So she had known only by
hearsay of 'Our Lady's Dance,' as it was called, and it certainly
was a beautiful sight. The boys wore old-fashioned court dresses
of white velvet, and their curious three-cornered hats were fringed
with silver and surmounted with huge plumes of ostrich feathers,
the dazzling whiteness of their costumes, as they moved about in
the sunlight, being still more accentuated by their swarthy faces
and long black hair. Everybody was fascinated by the grave dignity
with which they moved through the intricate figures of the dance,
and by the elaborate grace of their slow gestures, and stately
bows, and when they had finished their performance and doffed their
great plumed hats to the Infanta, she acknowledged their reverence
with much courtesy, and made a vow that she would send a large wax
candle to the shrine of Our Lady of Pilar in return for the
pleasure that she had given her.

A troop of handsome Egyptians - as the gipsies were termed in those
days - then advanced into the arena, and sitting down cross-legs,
in a circle, began to play softly upon their zithers, moving their
bodies to the tune, and humming, almost below their breath, a low
dreamy air. When they caught sight of Don Pedro they scowled at
him, and some of them looked terrified, for only a few weeks before
he had had two of their tribe hanged for sorcery in the market-
place at Seville, but the pretty Infanta charmed them as she leaned
back peeping over her fan with her great blue eyes, and they felt
sure that one so lovely as she was could never be cruel to anybody.
So they played on very gently and just touching the cords of the
zithers with their long pointed nails, and their heads began to nod
as though they were falling asleep. Suddenly, with a cry so shrill
that all the children were startled and Don Pedro's hand clutched
at the agate pommel of his dagger, they leapt to their feet and
whirled madly round the enclosure beating their tambourines, and
chaunting some wild love-song in their strange guttural language.
Then at another signal they all flung themselves again to the
ground and lay there quite still, the dull strumming of the zithers
being the only sound that broke the silence. After that they had
done this several times, they disappeared for a moment and came
back leading a brown shaggy bear by a chain, and carrying on their
shoulders some little Barbary apes. The bear stood upon his head
with the utmost gravity, and the wizened apes played all kinds of
amusing tricks with two gipsy boys who seemed to be their masters,
and fought with tiny swords, and fired off guns, and went through a
regular soldier's drill just like the King's own bodyguard. In
fact the gipsies were a great success.

But the funniest part of the whole morning's entertainment, was
undoubtedly the dancing of the little Dwarf. When he stumbled into
the arena, waddling on his crooked legs and wagging his huge
misshapen head from side to side, the children went off into a loud
shout of delight, and the Infanta herself laughed so much that the
Camerera was obliged to remind her that although there were many
precedents in Spain for a King's daughter weeping before her
equals, there were none for a Princess of the blood royal making so
merry before those who were her inferiors in birth. The Dwarf,
however, was really quite irresistible, and even at the Spanish
Court, always noted for its cultivated passion for the horrible, so
fantastic a little monster had never been seen. It was his first
appearance, too. He had been discovered only the day before,
running wild through the forest, by two of the nobles who happened
to have been hunting in a remote part of the great cork-wood that
surrounded the town, and had been carried off by them to the Palace
as a surprise for the Infanta; his father, who was a poor charcoal-
burner, being but too well pleased to get rid of so ugly and
useless a child. Perhaps the most amusing thing about him was his
complete unconsciousness of his own grotesque appearance. Indeed
he seemed quite happy and full of the highest spirits. When the
children laughed, he laughed as freely and as joyously as any of
them, and at the close of each dance he made them each the funniest
of bows, smiling and nodding at them just as if he was really one
of themselves, and not a little misshapen thing that Nature, in
some humourous mood, had fashioned for others to mock at. As for
the Infanta, she absolutely fascinated him. He could not keep his
eyes off her, and seemed to dance for her alone, and when at the
close of the performance, remembering how she had seen the great
ladies of the Court throw bouquets to Caffarelli, the famous
Italian treble, whom the Pope had sent from his own chapel to
Madrid that he might cure the King's melancholy by the sweetness of
his voice, she took out of her hair the beautiful white rose, and
partly for a jest and partly to tease the Camerera, threw it to him
across the arena with her sweetest smile, he took the whole matter
quite seriously, and pressing the flower to his rough coarse lips
he put his hand upon his heart, and sank on one knee before her,
grinning from ear to ear, and with his little bright eyes sparkling
with pleasure.

This so upset the gravity of the Infanta that she kept on laughing
long after the little Dwarf had ran out of the arena, and expressed
a desire to her uncle that the dance should be immediately
repeated. The Camerera, however, on the plea that the sun was too
hot, decided that it would be better that her Highness should
return without delay to the Palace, where a wonderful feast had
been already prepared for her, including a real birthday cake with
her own initials worked all over it in painted sugar and a lovely
silver flag waving from the top. The Infanta accordingly rose up
with much dignity, and having given orders that the little dwarf
was to dance again for her after the hour of siesta, and conveyed
her thanks to the young Count of Tierra-Nueva for his charming
reception, she went back to her apartments, the children following
in the same order in which they had entered.


Now when the little Dwarf heard that he was to dance a second time
before the Infanta, and by her own express command, he was so proud
that he ran out into the garden, kissing the white rose in an
absurd ecstasy of pleasure, and making the most uncouth and clumsy
gestures of delight.

The Flowers were quite indignant at his daring to intrude into
their beautiful home, and when they saw him capering up and down
the walks, and waving his arms above his head in such a ridiculous
manner, they could not restrain their feelings any longer.

'He is really far too ugly to be allowed to play in any place where
we are,' cried the Tulips.

'He should drink poppy-juice, and go to sleep for a thousand
years,' said the great scarlet Lilies, and they grew quite hot and
angry.

'He is a perfect horror!' screamed the Cactus. 'Why, he is twisted
and stumpy, and his head is completely out of proportion with his
legs. Really he makes me feel prickly all over, and if he comes
near me I will sting him with my thorns.'

'And he has actually got one of my best blooms,' exclaimed the
White Rose-Tree. 'I gave it to the Infanta this morning myself, as
a birthday present, and he has stolen it from her.' And she called
out: 'Thief, thief, thief!' at the top of her voice.

Even the red Geraniums, who did not usually give themselves airs,
and were known to have a great many poor relations themselves,
curled up in disgust when they saw him, and when the Violets meekly
remarked that though he was certainly extremely plain, still he
could not help it, they retorted with a good deal of justice that
that was his chief defect, and that there was no reason why one
should admire a person because he was incurable; and, indeed, some
of the Violets themselves felt that the ugliness of the little
Dwarf was almost ostentatious, and that he would have shown much
better taste if he had looked sad, or at least pensive, instead of
jumping about merrily, and throwing himself into such grotesque and
silly attitudes.

As for the old Sundial, who was an extremely remarkable individual,
and had once told the time of day to no less a person than the
Emperor Charles V. himself, he was so taken aback by the little
Dwarf's appearance, that he almost forgot to mark two whole minutes
with his long shadowy finger, and could not help saying to the
great milk-white Peacock, who was sunning herself on the
balustrade, that every one knew that the children of Kings were
Kings, and that the children of charcoal-burners were charcoal-
burners, and that it was absurd to pretend that it wasn't so; a
statement with which the Peacock entirely agreed, and indeed
screamed out, 'Certainly, certainly,' in such a loud, harsh voice,
that the gold-fish who lived in the basin of the cool splashing
fountain put their heads out of the water, and asked the huge stone
Tritons what on earth was the matter.

But somehow the Birds liked him. They had seen him often in the
forest, dancing about like an elf after the eddying leaves, or
crouched up in the hollow of some old oak-tree, sharing his nuts
with the squirrels. They did not mind his being ugly, a bit. Why,
even the nightingale herself, who sang so sweetly in the orange
groves at night that sometimes the Moon leaned down to listen, was
not much to look at after all; and, besides, he had been kind to
them, and during that terribly bitter winter, when there were no
berries on the trees, and the ground was as hard as iron, and the
wolves had come down to the very gates of the city to look for
food, he had never once forgotten them, but had always given them
crumbs out of his little hunch of black bread, and divided with
them whatever poor breakfast he had.

So they flew round and round him, just touching his cheek with
their wings as they passed, and chattered to each other, and the
little Dwarf was so pleased that he could not help showing them the
beautiful white rose, and telling them that the Infanta herself had
given it to him because she loved him.

They did not understand a single word of what he was saying, but
that made no matter, for they put their heads on one side, and
looked wise, which is quite as good as understanding a thing, and
very much easier.

The Lizards also took an immense fancy to him, and when he grew
tired of running about and flung himself down on the grass to rest,
they played and romped all over him, and tried to amuse him in the
best way they could. 'Every one cannot be as beautiful as a
lizard,' they cried; 'that would be too much to expect. And,
though it sounds absurd to say so, he is really not so ugly after
all, provided, of course, that one shuts one's eyes, and does not
look at him.' The Lizards were extremely philosophical by nature,
and often sat thinking for hours and hours together, when there was
nothing else to do, or when the weather was too rainy for them to
go out.

The Flowers, however, were excessively annoyed at their behaviour,
and at the behaviour of the birds. 'It only shows,' they said,
'what a vulgarising effect this incessant rushing and flying about
has. Well-bred people always stay exactly in the same place, as we
do. No one ever saw us hopping up and down the walks, or galloping
madly through the grass after dragon-flies. When we do want change
of air, we send for the gardener, and he carries us to another bed.
This is dignified, and as it should be. But birds and lizards have
no sense of repose, and indeed birds have not even a permanent
address. They are mere vagrants like the gipsies, and should be
treated in exactly the same manner.' So they put their noses in
the air, and looked very haughty, and were quite delighted when
after some time they saw the little Dwarf scramble up from the
grass, and make his way across the terrace to the palace.

'He should certainly be kept indoors for the rest of his natural
life,' they said. 'Look at his hunched back, and his crooked
legs,' and they began to titter.

But the little Dwarf knew nothing of all this. He liked the birds
and the lizards immensely, and thought that the flowers were the
most marvellous things in the whole world, except of course the
Infanta, but then she had given him the beautiful white rose, and
she loved him, and that made a great difference. How he wished
that he had gone back with her! She would have put him on her
right hand, and smiled at him, and he would have never left her
side, but would have made her his playmate, and taught her all
kinds of delightful tricks. For though he had never been in a
palace before, he knew a great many wonderful things. He could
make little cages out of rushes for the grasshoppers to sing in,
and fashion the long jointed bamboo into the pipe that Pan loves to
hear. He knew the cry of every bird, and could call the starlings
from the tree-top, or the heron from the mere. He knew the trail
of every animal, and could track the hare by its delicate
footprints, and the boar by the trampled leaves. All the wild-
dances he knew, the mad dance in red raiment with the autumn, the
light dance in blue sandals over the corn, the dance with white
snow-wreaths in winter, and the blossom-dance through the orchards
in spring. He knew where the wood-pigeons built their nests, and
once when a fowler had snared the parent birds, he had brought up
the young ones himself, and had built a little dovecot for them in
the cleft of a pollard elm. They were quite tame, and used to feed
out of his hands every morning. She would like them, and the
rabbits that scurried about in the long fern, and the jays with
their steely feathers and black bills, and the hedgehogs that could
curl themselves up into prickly balls, and the great wise tortoises
that crawled slowly about, shaking their heads and nibbling at the
young leaves. Yes, she must certainly come to the forest and play
with him. He would give her his own little bed, and would watch
outside the window till dawn, to see that the wild horned cattle
did not harm her, nor the gaunt wolves creep too near the hut. And
at dawn he would tap at the shutters and wake her, and they would
go out and dance together all the day long. It was really not a
bit lonely in the forest. Sometimes a Bishop rode through on his
white mule, reading out of a painted book. Sometimes in their
green velvet caps, and their jerkins of tanned deerskin, the
falconers passed by, with hooded hawks on their wrists. At
vintage-time came the grape-treaders, with purple hands and feet,
wreathed with glossy ivy and carrying dripping skins of wine; and
the charcoal-burners sat round their huge braziers at night,
watching the dry logs charring slowly in the fire, and roasting
chestnuts in the ashes, and the robbers came out of their caves and
made merry with them. Once, too, he had seen a beautiful
procession winding up the long dusty road to Toledo. The monks
went in front singing sweetly, and carrying bright banners and
crosses of gold, and then, in silver armour, with matchlocks and
pikes, came the soldiers, and in their midst walked three
barefooted men, in strange yellow dresses painted all over with
wonderful figures, and carrying lighted candles in their hands.
Certainly there was a great deal to look at in the forest, and when
she was tired he would find a soft bank of moss for her, or carry
her in his arms, for he was very strong, though he knew that he was
not tall. He would make her a necklace of red bryony berries, that
would be quite as pretty as the white berries that she wore on her
dress, and when she was tired of them, she could throw them away,
and he would find her others. He would bring her acorn-cups and
dew-drenched anemones, and tiny glow-worms to be stars in the pale
gold of her hair.

But where was she? He asked the white rose, and it made him no
answer. The whole palace seemed asleep, and even where the
shutters had not been closed, heavy curtains had been drawn across
the windows to keep out the glare. He wandered all round looking
for some place through which he might gain an entrance, and at last
he caught sight of a little private door that was lying open. He
slipped through, and found himself in a splendid hall, far more
splendid, he feared, than the forest, there was so much more
gilding everywhere, and even the floor was made of great coloured
stones, fitted together into a sort of geometrical pattern. But
the little Infanta was not there, only some wonderful white statues
that looked down on him from their jasper pedestals, with sad blank
eyes and strangely smiling lips.

At the end of the hall hung a richly embroidered curtain of black
velvet, powdered with suns and stars, the King's favourite devices,
and broidered on the colour he loved best. Perhaps she was hiding
behind that? He would try at any rate.

So he stole quietly across, and drew it aside. No; there was only
another room, though a prettier room, he thought, than the one he
had just left. The walls were hung with a many-figured green arras
of needle-wrought tapestry representing a hunt, the work of some
Flemish artists who had spent more than seven years in its
composition. It had once been the chamber of JEAN LE FOU, as he
was called, that mad King who was so enamoured of the chase, that
he had often tried in his delirium to mount the huge rearing
horses, and to drag down the stag on which the great hounds were
leaping, sounding his hunting horn, and stabbing with his dagger at
the pale flying deer. It was now used as the council-room, and on
the centre table were lying the red portfolios of the ministers,
stamped with the gold tulips of Spain, and with the arms and
emblems of the house of Hapsburg.

The little Dwarf looked in wonder all round him, and was half-
afraid to go on. The strange silent horsemen that galloped so
swiftly through the long glades without making any noise, seemed to
him like those terrible phantoms of whom he had heard the charcoal-
burners speaking - the Comprachos, who hunt only at night, and if
they meet a man, turn him into a hind, and chase him. But he
thought of the pretty Infanta, and took courage. He wanted to find
her alone, and to tell her that he too loved her. Perhaps she was
in the room beyond.

He ran across the soft Moorish carpets, and opened the door. No!
She was not here either. The room was quite empty.

It was a throne-room, used for the reception of foreign
ambassadors, when the King, which of late had not been often,
consented to give them a personal audience; the same room in which,
many years before, envoys had appeared from England to make
arrangements for the marriage of their Queen, then one of the
Catholic sovereigns of Europe, with the Emperor's eldest son. The
hangings were of gilt Cordovan leather, and a heavy gilt chandelier
with branches for three hundred wax lights hung down from the black
and white ceiling. Underneath a great canopy of gold cloth, on
which the lions and towers of Castile were broidered in seed
pearls, stood the throne itself, covered with a rich pall of black
velvet studded with silver tulips and elaborately fringed with
silver and pearls. On the second step of the throne was placed the
kneeling-stool of the Infanta, with its cushion of cloth of silver
tissue, and below that again, and beyond the limit of the canopy,
stood the chair for the Papal Nuncio, who alone had the right to be
seated in the King's presence on the occasion of any public
ceremonial, and whose Cardinal's hat, with its tangled scarlet
tassels, lay on a purple TABOURET in front. On the wall, facing
the throne, hung a life-sized portrait of Charles V. in hunting
dress, with a great mastiff by his side, and a picture of Philip
II. receiving the homage of the Netherlands occupied the centre of
the other wall. Between the windows stood a black ebony cabinet,
inlaid with plates of ivory, on which the figures from Holbein's
Dance of Death had been graved - by the hand, some said, of that
famous master himself.

But the little Dwarf cared nothing for all this magnificence. He
would not have given his rose for all the pearls on the canopy, nor
one white petal of his rose for the throne itself. What he wanted
was to see the Infanta before she went down to the pavilion, and to
ask her to come away with him when he had finished his dance.
Here, in the Palace, the air was close and heavy, but in the forest
the wind blew free, and the sunlight with wandering hands of gold
moved the tremulous leaves aside. There were flowers, too, in the
forest, not so splendid, perhaps, as the flowers in the garden, but
more sweetly scented for all that; hyacinths in early spring that
flooded with waving purple the cool glens, and grassy knolls;
yellow primroses that nestled in little clumps round the gnarled
roots of the oak-trees; bright celandine, and blue speedwell, and
irises lilac and gold. There were grey catkins on the hazels, and
the foxgloves drooped with the weight of their dappled bee-haunted
cells. The chestnut had its spires of white stars, and the
hawthorn its pallid moons of beauty. Yes: surely she would come
if he could only find her! She would come with him to the fair
forest, and all day long he would dance for her delight. A smile
lit up his eyes at the thought, and he passed into the next room.

Of all the rooms this was the brightest and the most beautiful.
The walls were covered with a pink-flowered Lucca damask, patterned
with birds and dotted with dainty blossoms of silver; the furniture
was of massive silver, festooned with florid wreaths, and swinging
Cupids; in front of the two large fire-places stood great screens
broidered with parrots and peacocks, and the floor, which was of
sea-green onyx, seemed to stretch far away into the distance. Nor
was he alone. Standing under the shadow of the doorway, at the
extreme end of the room, he saw a little figure watching him. His
heart trembled, a cry of joy broke from his lips, and he moved out
into the sunlight. As he did so, the figure moved out also, and he
saw it plainly.

The Infanta! It was a monster, the most grotesque monster he had
ever beheld. Not properly shaped, as all other people were, but
hunchbacked, and crooked-limbed, with huge lolling head and mane of
black hair. The little Dwarf frowned, and the monster frowned
also. He laughed, and it laughed with him, and held its hands to
its sides, just as he himself was doing. He made it a mocking bow,
and it returned him a low reverence. He went towards it, and it
came to meet him, copying each step that he made, and stopping when
he stopped himself. He shouted with amusement, and ran forward,
and reached out his hand, and the hand of the monster touched his,
and it was as cold as ice. He grew afraid, and moved his hand
across, and the monster's hand followed it quickly. He tried to
press on, but something smooth and hard stopped him. The face of
the monster was now close to his own, and seemed full of terror.
He brushed his hair off his eyes. It imitated him. He struck at
it, and it returned blow for blow. He loathed it, and it made
hideous faces at him. He drew back, and it retreated.

What is it? He thought for a moment, and looked round at the rest
of the room. It was strange, but everything seemed to have its
double in this invisible wall of clear water. Yes, picture for
picture was repeated, and couch for couch. The sleeping Faun that
lay in the alcove by the doorway had its twin brother that
slumbered, and the silver Venus that stood in the sunlight held out
her arms to a Venus as lovely as herself.

Was it Echo? He had called to her once in the valley, and she had
answered him word for word. Could she mock the eye, as she mocked
the voice? Could she make a mimic world just like the real world?
Could the shadows of things have colour and life and movement?
Could it be that - ?

He started, and taking from his breast the beautiful white rose, he
turned round, and kissed it. The monster had a rose of its own,
petal for petal the same! It kissed it with like kisses, and
pressed it to its heart with horrible gestures.

When the truth dawned upon him, he gave a wild cry of despair, and
fell sobbing to the ground. So it was he who was misshapen and
hunchbacked, foul to look at and grotesque. He himself was the
monster, and it was at him that all the children had been laughing,
and the little Princess who he had thought loved him - she too had
been merely mocking at his ugliness, and making merry over his
twisted limbs. Why had they not left him in the forest, where
there was no mirror to tell him how loathsome he was? Why had his
father not killed him, rather than sell him to his shame? The hot
tears poured down his cheeks, and he tore the white rose to pieces.
The sprawling monster did the same, and scattered the faint petals
in the air. It grovelled on the ground, and, when he looked at it,
it watched him with a face drawn with pain. He crept away, lest he
should see it, and covered his eyes with his hands. He crawled,
like some wounded thing, into the shadow, and lay there moaning.

And at that moment the Infanta herself came in with her companions
through the open window, and when they saw the ugly little dwarf
lying on the ground and beating the floor with his clenched hands,
in the most fantastic and exaggerated manner, they went off into
shouts of happy laughter, and stood all round him and watched him.

'His dancing was funny,' said the Infanta; 'but his acting is
funnier still. Indeed he is almost as good as the puppets, only of
course not quite so natural.' And she fluttered her big fan, and
applauded.

But the little Dwarf never looked up, and his sobs grew fainter and
fainter, and suddenly he gave a curious gasp, and clutched his
side. And then he fell back again, and lay quite still.

'That is capital,' said the Infanta, after a pause; 'but now you
must dance for me.'

'Yes,' cried all the children, 'you must get up and dance, for you
are as clever as the Barbary apes, and much more ridiculous.' But
the little Dwarf made no answer.

And the Infanta stamped her foot, and called out to her uncle, who
was walking on the terrace with the Chamberlain, reading some
despatches that had just arrived from Mexico, where the Holy Office
had recently been established. 'My funny little dwarf is sulking,'
she cried, 'you must wake him up, and tell him to dance for me.'

They smiled at each other, and sauntered in, and Don Pedro stooped
down, and slapped the Dwarf on the cheek with his embroidered
glove. 'You must dance,' he said, 'PETIT MONSIRE. You must dance.
The Infanta of Spain and the Indies wishes to be amused.'

But the little Dwarf never moved.

'A whipping master should be sent for,' said Don Pedro wearily, and
he went back to the terrace. But the Chamberlain looked grave, and
he knelt beside the little dwarf, and put his hand upon his heart.
And after a few moments he shrugged his shoulders, and rose up, and
having made a low bow to the Infanta, he said -

'MI BELLA PRINCESA, your funny little dwarf will never dance again.
It is a pity, for he is so ugly that he might have made the King
smile.'

'But why will he not dance again?' asked the Infanta, laughing.

'Because his heart is broken,' answered the Chamberlain.

And the Infanta frowned, and her dainty rose-leaf lips curled in
pretty disdain. 'For the future let those who come to play with me
have no hearts,' she cried, and she ran out into the garden.




THE FISHERMAN AND HIS SOUL




[TO H.S.H. ALICE, PRINCESS OF MONACO]


Every evening the young Fisherman went out upon the sea, and threw
his nets into the water.

When the wind blew from the land he caught nothing, or but little
at best, for it was a bitter and black-winged wind, and rough waves
rose up to meet it. But when the wind blew to the shore, the fish
came in from the deep, and swam into the meshes of his nets, and he
took them to the market-place and sold them.

Every evening he went out upon the sea, and one evening the net was
so heavy that hardly could he draw it into the boat. And he
laughed, and said to himself, 'Surely I have caught all the fish
that swim, or snared some dull monster that will be a marvel to
men, or some thing of horror that the great Queen will desire,' and
putting forth all his strength, he tugged at the coarse ropes till,
like lines of blue enamel round a vase of bronze, the long veins
rose up on his arms. He tugged at the thin ropes, and nearer and
nearer came the circle of flat corks, and the net rose at last to
the top of the water.

But no fish at all was in it, nor any monster or thing of horror,
but only a little Mermaid lying fast asleep.

Her hair was as a wet fleece of gold, and each separate hair as a
thread of fine gold in a cup of glass. Her body was as white
ivory, and her tail was of silver and pearl. Silver and pearl was
her tail, and the green weeds of the sea coiled round it; and like
sea-shells were her ears, and her lips were like sea-coral. The
cold waves dashed over her cold breasts, and the salt glistened
upon her eyelids.

So beautiful was she that when the young Fisherman saw her he was
filled with wonder, and he put out his hand and drew the net close
to him, and leaning over the side he clasped her in his arms. And
when he touched her, she gave a cry like a startled sea-gull, and
woke, and looked at him in terror with her mauve-amethyst eyes, and
struggled that she might escape. But he held her tightly to him,
and would not suffer her to depart.

And when she saw that she could in no way escape from him, she
began to weep, and said, 'I pray thee let me go, for I am the only
daughter of a King, and my father is aged and alone.'

But the young Fisherman answered, 'I will not let thee go save thou
makest me a promise that whenever I call thee, thou wilt come and
sing to me, for the fish delight to listen to the song of the Sea-
folk, and so shall my nets be full.'

'Wilt thou in very truth let me go, if I promise thee this?' cried
the Mermaid.

'In very truth I will let thee go,' said the young Fisherman.

So she made him the promise he desired, and sware it by the oath of
the Sea-folk. And he loosened his arms from about her, and she
sank down into the water, trembling with a strange fear.


Every evening the young Fisherman went out upon the sea, and called
to the Mermaid, and she rose out of the water and sang to him.
Round and round her swam the dolphins, and the wild gulls wheeled
above her head.

And she sang a marvellous song. For she sang of the Sea-folk who
drive their flocks from cave to cave, and carry the little calves
on their shoulders; of the Tritons who have long green beards, and
hairy breasts, and blow through twisted conchs when the King passes
by; of the palace of the King which is all of amber, with a roof of
clear emerald, and a pavement of bright pearl; and of the gardens
of the sea where the great filigrane fans of coral wave all day
long, and the fish dart about like silver birds, and the anemones
cling to the rocks, and the pinks bourgeon in the ribbed yellow
sand. She sang of the big whales that come down from the north
seas and have sharp icicles hanging to their fins; of the Sirens
who tell of such wonderful things that the merchants have to stop
their ears with wax lest they should hear them, and leap into the
water and be drowned; of the sunken galleys with their tall masts,
and the frozen sailors clinging to the rigging, and the mackerel
swimming in and out of the open portholes; of the little barnacles
who are great travellers, and cling to the keels of the ships and
go round and round the world; and of the cuttlefish who live in the
sides of the cliffs and stretch out their long black arms, and can
make night come when they will it. She sang of the nautilus who
has a boat of her own that is carved out of an opal and steered
with a silken sail; of the happy Mermen who play upon harps and can
charm the great Kraken to sleep; of the little children who catch
hold of the slippery porpoises and ride laughing upon their backs;
of the Mermaids who lie in the white foam and hold out their arms
to the mariners; and of the sea-lions with their curved tusks, and
the sea-horses with their floating manes.

And as she sang, all the tunny-fish came in from the deep to listen
to her, and the young Fisherman threw his nets round them and
caught them, and others he took with a spear. And when his boat
was well-laden, the Mermaid would sink down into the sea, smiling
at him.

Yet would she never come near him that he might touch her.
Oftentimes he called to her and prayed of her, but she would not;
and when he sought to seize her she dived into the water as a seal
might dive, nor did he see her again that day. And each day the
sound of her voice became sweeter to his ears. So sweet was her
voice that he forgot his nets and his cunning, and had no care of
his craft. Vermilion-finned and with eyes of bossy gold, the
tunnies went by in shoals, but he heeded them not. His spear lay
by his side unused, and his baskets of plaited osier were empty.
With lips parted, and eyes dim with wonder, he sat idle in his boat
and listened, listening till the sea-mists crept round him, and the
wandering moon stained his brown limbs with silver.

And one evening he called to her, and said: 'Little Mermaid,
little Mermaid, I love thee. Take me for thy bridegroom, for I
love thee.'

But the Mermaid shook her head. 'Thou hast a human soul,' she
answered. 'If only thou wouldst send away thy soul, then could I
love thee.'

And the young Fisherman said to himself, 'Of what use is my soul to
me? I cannot see it. I may not touch it. I do not know it.
Surely I will send it away from me, and much gladness shall be
mine.' And a cry of joy broke from his lips, and standing up in
the painted boat, he held out his arms to the Mermaid. 'I will
send my soul away,' he cried, 'and you shall be my bride, and I
will be thy bridegroom, and in the depth of the sea we will dwell
together, and all that thou hast sung of thou shalt show me, and
all that thou desirest I will do, nor shall our lives be divided.'

And the little Mermaid laughed for pleasure and hid her face in her
hands.

'But how shall I send my soul from me?' cried the young Fisherman.
'Tell me how I may do it, and lo! it shall be done.'

'Alas! I know not,' said the little Mermaid: 'the Sea-folk have
no souls.' And she sank down into the deep, looking wistfully at
him.


Now early on the next morning, before the sun was the span of a
man's hand above the hill, the young Fisherman went to the house of
the Priest and knocked three times at the door.

The novice looked out through the wicket, and when he saw who it
was, he drew back the latch and said to him, 'Enter.'

And the young Fisherman passed in, and knelt down on the sweet-
smelling rushes of the floor, and cried to the Priest who was
reading out of the Holy Book and said to him, 'Father, I am in love
with one of the Sea-folk, and my soul hindereth me from having my
desire. Tell me how I can send my soul away from me, for in truth
I have no need of it. Of what value is my soul to me? I cannot
see it. I may not touch it. I do not know it.'

And the Priest beat his breast, and answered, 'Alack, alack, thou
art mad, or hast eaten of some poisonous herb, for the soul is the
noblest part of man, and was given to us by God that we should
nobly use it. There is no thing more precious than a human soul,
nor any earthly thing that can be weighed with it. It is worth all
the gold that is in the world, and is more precious than the rubies
of the kings. Therefore, my son, think not any more of this
matter, for it is a sin that may not be forgiven. And as for the
Sea-folk, they are lost, and they who would traffic with them are
lost also. They are as the beasts of the field that know not good
from evil, and for them the Lord has not died.'

The young Fisherman's eyes filled with tears when he heard the
bitter words of the Priest, and he rose up from his knees and said
to him, 'Father, the Fauns live in the forest and are glad, and on
the rocks sit the Mermen with their harps of red gold. Let me be
as they are, I beseech thee, for their days are as the days of
flowers. And as for my soul, what doth my soul profit me, if it
stand between me and the thing that I love?'

'The love of the body is vile,' cried the Priest, knitting his
brows, 'and vile and evil are the pagan things God suffers to
wander through His world. Accursed be the Fauns of the woodland,
and accursed be the singers of the sea! I have heard them at
night-time, and they have sought to lure me from my beads. They
tap at the window, and laugh. They whisper into my ears the tale
of their perilous joys. They tempt me with temptations, and when I
would pray they make mouths at me. They are lost, I tell thee,
they are lost. For them there is no heaven nor hell, and in
neither shall they praise God's name.'

'Father,' cried the young Fisherman, 'thou knowest not what thou
sayest. Once in my net I snared the daughter of a King. She is
fairer than the morning star, and whiter than the moon. For her
body I would give my soul, and for her love I would surrender
heaven. Tell me what I ask of thee, and let me go in peace.'

'Away! Away!' cried the Priest: 'thy leman is lost, and thou
shalt be lost with her.'

And he gave him no blessing, but drove him from his door.

And the young Fisherman went down into the market-place, and he
walked slowly, and with bowed head, as one who is in sorrow.

And when the merchants saw him coming, they began to whisper to
each other, and one of them came forth to meet him, and called him
by name, and said to him, 'What hast thou to sell?'

'I will sell thee my soul,' he answered. 'I pray thee buy it of
me, for I am weary of it. Of what use is my soul to me? I cannot
see it. I may not touch it. I do not know it.'

But the merchants mocked at him, and said, 'Of what use is a man's
soul to us? It is not worth a clipped piece of silver. Sell us
thy body for a slave, and we will clothe thee in sea-purple, and
put a ring upon thy finger, and make thee the minion of the great
Queen. But talk not of the soul, for to us it is nought, nor has
it any value for our service.'

And the young Fisherman said to himself: 'How strange a thing this
is! The Priest telleth me that the soul is worth all the gold in
the world, and the merchants say that it is not worth a clipped
piece of silver.' And he passed out of the market-place, and went
down to the shore of the sea, and began to ponder on what he should
do.


And at noon he remembered how one of his companions, who was a
gatherer of samphire, had told him of a certain young Witch who
dwelt in a cave at the head of the bay and was very cunning in her
witcheries. And he set to and ran, so eager was he to get rid of
his soul, and a cloud of dust followed him as he sped round the
sand of the shore. By the itching of her palm the young Witch knew
his coming, and she laughed and let down her red hair. With her
red hair falling around her, she stood at the opening of the cave,
and in her hand she had a spray of wild hemlock that was
blossoming.

'What d'ye lack? What d'ye lack?' she cried, as he came panting up
the steep, and bent down before her. 'Fish for thy net, when the
wind is foul? I have a little reed-pipe, and when I blow on it the
mullet come sailing into the bay. But it has a price, pretty boy,
it has a price. What d'ye lack? What d'ye lack? A storm to wreck
the ships, and wash the chests of rich treasure ashore? I have
more storms than the wind has, for I serve one who is stronger than
the wind, and with a sieve and a pail of water I can send the great
galleys to the bottom of the sea. But I have a price, pretty boy,
I have a price. What d'ye lack? What d'ye lack? I know a flower
that grows in the valley, none knows it but I. It has purple
leaves, and a star in its heart, and its juice is as white as milk.
Shouldst thou touch with this flower the hard lips of the Queen,
she would follow thee all over the world. Out of the bed of the
King she would rise, and over the whole world she would follow
thee. And it has a price, pretty boy, it has a price. What d'ye
lack? What d'ye lack? I can pound a toad in a mortar, and make
broth of it, and stir the broth with a dead man's hand. Sprinkle
it on thine enemy while he sleeps, and he will turn into a black
viper, and his own mother will slay him. With a wheel I can draw
the Moon from heaven, and in a crystal I can show thee Death. What
d'ye lack? What d'ye lack? Tell me thy desire, and I will give it
thee, and thou shalt pay me a price, pretty boy, thou shalt pay me
a price.'

'My desire is but for a little thing,' said the young Fisherman,
'yet hath the Priest been wroth with me, and driven me forth. It
is but for a little thing, and the merchants have mocked at me, and
denied me. Therefore am I come to thee, though men call thee evil,
and whatever be thy price I shall pay it.'

'What wouldst thou?' asked the Witch, coming near to him.

'I would send my soul away from me,' answered the young Fisherman.

The Witch grew pale, and shuddered, and hid her face in her blue
mantle. 'Pretty boy, pretty boy,' she muttered, 'that is a
terrible thing to do.'

He tossed his brown curls and laughed. 'My soul is nought to me,'
he answered. 'I cannot see it. I may not touch it. I do not know
it.'

'What wilt thou give me if I tell thee?' asked the Witch, looking
down at him with her beautiful eyes.

'Five pieces of gold,' he said, 'and my nets, and the wattled house
where I live, and the painted boat in which I sail. Only tell me
how to get rid of my soul, and I will give thee all that I
possess.'

She laughed mockingly at him, and struck him with the spray of
hemlock. 'I can turn the autumn leaves into gold,' she answered,
'and I can weave the pale moonbeams into silver if I will it. He
whom I serve is richer than all the kings of this world, and has
their dominions.'

'What then shall I give thee,' he cried, 'if thy price be neither
gold nor silver?'

The Witch stroked his hair with her thin white hand. 'Thou must
dance with me, pretty boy,' she murmured, and she smiled at him as
she spoke.

'Nought but that?' cried the young Fisherman in wonder and he rose
to his feet.

'Nought but that,' she answered, and she smiled at him again.

'Then at sunset in some secret place we shall dance together,' he
said, 'and after that we have danced thou shalt tell me the thing
which I desire to know.'

She shook her head. 'When the moon is full, when the moon is
full,' she muttered. Then she peered all round, and listened. A
blue bird rose screaming from its nest and circled over the dunes,
and three spotted birds rustled through the coarse grey grass and
whistled to each other. There was no other sound save the sound of
a wave fretting the smooth pebbles below. So she reached out her
hand, and drew him near to her and put her dry lips close to his
ear.

'To-night thou must come to the top of the mountain,' she
whispered. 'It is a Sabbath, and He will be there.'

The young Fisherman started and looked at her, and she showed her
white teeth and laughed. 'Who is He of whom thou speakest?' he
asked.

'It matters not,' she answered. 'Go thou to-night, and stand under
the branches of the hornbeam, and wait for my coming. If a black
dog run towards thee, strike it with a rod of willow, and it will
go away. If an owl speak to thee, make it no answer. When the
moon is full I shall be with thee, and we will dance together on
the grass.'

'But wilt thou swear to me to tell me how I may send my soul from
me?' he made question.

She moved out into the sunlight, and through her red hair rippled
the wind. 'By the hoofs of the goat I swear it,' she made answer.

'Thou art the best of the witches,' cried the young Fisherman, 'and
I will surely dance with thee to-night on the top of the mountain.
I would indeed that thou hadst asked of me either gold or silver.
But such as thy price is thou shalt have it, for it is but a little
thing.' And he doffed his cap to her, and bent his head low, and
ran back to the town filled with a great joy.

And the Witch watched him as he went, and when he had passed from
her sight she entered her cave, and having taken a mirror from a
box of carved cedarwood, she set it up on a frame, and burned
vervain on lighted charcoal before it, and peered through the coils
of the smoke. And after a time she clenched her hands in anger.
'He should have been mine,' she muttered, 'I am as fair as she is.'


And that evening, when the moon had risen, the young Fisherman
climbed up to the top of the mountain, and stood under the branches
of the hornbeam. Like a targe of polished metal the round sea lay
at his feet, and the shadows of the fishing-boats moved in the
little bay. A great owl, with yellow sulphurous eyes, called to
him by his name, but he made it no answer. A black dog ran towards
him and snarled. He struck it with a rod of willow, and it went
away whining.

At midnight the witches came flying through the air like bats.
'Phew!' they cried, as they lit upon the ground, 'there is some one
here we know not!' and they sniffed about, and chattered to each
other, and made signs. Last of all came the young Witch, with her
red hair streaming in the wind. She wore a dress of gold tissue
embroidered with peacocks' eyes, and a little cap of green velvet
was on her head.

'Where is he, where is he?' shrieked the witches when they saw her,
but she only laughed, and ran to the hornbeam, and taking the
Fisherman by the hand she led him out into the moonlight and began
to dance.

Round and round they whirled, and the young Witch jumped so high
that he could see the scarlet heels of her shoes. Then right
across the dancers came the sound of the galloping of a horse, but
no horse was to be seen, and he felt afraid.

'Faster,' cried the Witch, and she threw her arms about his neck,
and her breath was hot upon his face. 'Faster, faster!' she cried,
and the earth seemed to spin beneath his feet, and his brain grew
troubled, and a great terror fell on him, as of some evil thing
that was watching him, and at last he became aware that under the
shadow of a rock there was a figure that had not been there before.

It was a man dressed in a suit of black velvet, cut in the Spanish
fashion. His face was strangely pale, but his lips were like a
proud red flower. He seemed weary, and was leaning back toying in
a listless manner with the pommel of his dagger. On the grass
beside him lay a plumed hat, and a pair of riding-gloves gauntleted
with gilt lace, and sewn with seed-pearls wrought into a curious
device. A short cloak lined with sables hang from his shoulder,
and his delicate white hands were gemmed with rings. Heavy eyelids
drooped over his eyes.

The young Fisherman watched him, as one snared in a spell. At last
their eyes met, and wherever he danced it seemed to him that the
eyes of the man were upon him. He heard the Witch laugh, and
caught her by the waist, and whirled her madly round and round.

Suddenly a dog bayed in the wood, and the dancers stopped, and
going up two by two, knelt down, and kissed the man's hands. As
they did so, a little smile touched his proud lips, as a bird's
wing touches the water and makes it laugh. But there was disdain
in it. He kept looking at the young Fisherman.

'Come! let us worship,' whispered the Witch, and she led him up,
and a great desire to do as she besought him seized on him, and he
followed her. But when he came close, and without knowing why he
did it, he made on his breast the sign of the Cross, and called
upon the holy name.

No sooner had he done so than the witches screamed like hawks and
flew away, and the pallid face that had been watching him twitched
with a spasm of pain. The man went over to a little wood, and
whistled. A jennet with silver trappings came running to meet him.
As he leapt upon the saddle he turned round, and looked at the
young Fisherman sadly.

And the Witch with the red hair tried to fly away also, but the
Fisherman caught her by her wrists, and held her fast.

'Loose me,' she cried, 'and let me go. For thou hast named what
should not be named, and shown the sign that may not be looked at.'

'Nay,' he answered, 'but I will not let thee go till thou hast told
me the secret.'

'What secret?' said the Witch, wrestling with him like a wild cat,
and biting her foam-flecked lips.

'Thou knowest,' he made answer.

Her grass-green eyes grew dim with tears, and she said to the
Fisherman, 'Ask me anything but that!'

He laughed, and held her all the more tightly.

And when she saw that she could not free herself, she whispered to
him, 'Surely I am as fair as the daughters of the sea, and as
comely as those that dwell in the blue waters,' and she fawned on
him and put her face close to his.

But he thrust her back frowning, and said to her, 'If thou keepest
not the promise that thou madest to me I will slay thee for a false
witch.'

She grew grey as a blossom of the Judas tree, and shuddered. 'Be
it so,' she muttered. 'It is thy soul and not mine. Do with it as
thou wilt.' And she took from her girdle a little knife that had a
handle of green viper's skin, and gave it to him.

'What shall this serve me?' he asked of her, wondering.

She was silent for a few moments, and a look of terror came over
her face. Then she brushed her hair back from her forehead, and
smiling strangely she said to him, 'What men call the shadow of the
body is not the shadow of the body, but is the body of the soul.
Stand on the sea-shore with thy back to the moon, and cut away from
around thy feet thy shadow, which is thy soul's body, and bid thy
soul leave thee, and it will do so.'

The young Fisherman trembled. 'Is this true?' he murmured.

'It is true, and I would that I had not told thee of it,' she
cried, and she clung to his knees weeping.

He put her from him and left her in the rank grass, and going to
the edge of the mountain he placed the knife in his belt and began
to climb down.

And his Soul that was within him called out to him and said, 'Lo!
I have dwelt with thee for all these years, and have been thy
servant. Send me not away from thee now, for what evil have I done
thee?'

And the young Fisherman laughed. 'Thou hast done me no evil, but I
have no need of thee,' he answered. 'The world is wide, and there
is Heaven also, and Hell, and that dim twilight house that lies
between. Go wherever thou wilt, but trouble me not, for my love is
calling to me.'

And his Soul besought him piteously, but he heeded it not, but
leapt from crag to crag, being sure-footed as a wild goat, and at
last he reached the level ground and the yellow shore of the sea.

Bronze-limbed and well-knit, like a statue wrought by a Grecian, he
stood on the sand with his back to the moon, and out of the foam
came white arms that beckoned to him, and out of the waves rose dim
forms that did him homage. Before him lay his shadow, which was
the body of his soul, and behind him hung the moon in the honey-
coloured air.

And his Soul said to him, 'If indeed thou must drive me from thee,
send me not forth without a heart. The world is cruel, give me thy
heart to take with me.'

He tossed his head and smiled. 'With what should I love my love if
I gave thee my heart?' he cried.

'Nay, but be merciful,' said his Soul: 'give me thy heart, for the
world is very cruel, and I am afraid.'

'My heart is my love's,' he answered, 'therefore tarry not, but get
thee gone.'

'Should I not love also?' asked his Soul.

'Get thee gone, for I have no need of thee,' cried the young
Fisherman, and he took the little knife with its handle of green
viper's skin, and cut away his shadow from around his feet, and it
rose up and stood before him, and looked at him, and it was even as
himself.

He crept back, and thrust the knife into his belt, and a feeling of
awe came over him. 'Get thee gone,' he murmured, 'and let me see
thy face no more.'

'Nay, but we must meet again,' said the Soul. Its voice was low
and flute-like, and its lips hardly moved while it spake.

'How shall we meet?' cried the young Fisherman. 'Thou wilt not
follow me into the depths of the sea?'

'Once every year I will come to this place, and call to thee,' said
the Soul. 'It may be that thou wilt have need of me.'

'What need should I have of thee?' cried the young Fisherman, 'but
be it as thou wilt,' and he plunged into the waters and the Tritons
blew their horns and the little Mermaid rose up to meet him, and
put her arms around his neck and kissed him on the mouth.

And the Soul stood on the lonely beach and watched them. And when
they had sunk down into the sea, it went weeping away over the
marshes.


And after a year was over the Soul came down to the shore of the
sea and called to the young Fisherman, and he rose out of the deep,
and said, 'Why dost thou call to me?'

And the Soul answered, 'Come nearer, that I may speak with thee,
for I have seen marvellous things.'

So he came nearer, and couched in the shallow water, and leaned his
head upon his hand and listened.


And the Soul said to him, 'When I left thee I turned my face to the
East and journeyed. From the East cometh everything that is wise.
Six days I journeyed, and on the morning of the seventh day I came
to a hill that is in the country of the Tartars. I sat down under
the shade of a tamarisk tree to shelter myself from the sun. The
land was dry and burnt up with the heat. The people went to and
fro over the plain like flies crawling upon a disk of polished
copper.

'When it was noon a cloud of red dust rose up from the flat rim of
the land. When the Tartars saw it, they strung their painted bows,
and having leapt upon their little horses they galloped to meet it.
The women fled screaming to the waggons, and hid themselves behind
the felt curtains.

'At twilight the Tartars returned, but five of them were missing,
and of those that came back not a few had been wounded. They
harnessed their horses to the waggons and drove hastily away.
Three jackals came out of a cave and peered after them. Then they
sniffed up the air with their nostrils, and trotted off in the
opposite direction.

'When the moon rose I saw a camp-fire burning on the plain, and
went towards it. A company of merchants were seated round it on
carpets. Their camels were picketed behind them, and the negroes
who were their servants were pitching tents of tanned skin upon the
sand, and making a high wall of the prickly pear.

'As I came near them, the chief of the merchants rose up and drew
his sword, and asked me my business.

'I answered that I was a Prince in my own land, and that I had
escaped from the Tartars, who had sought to make me their slave.
The chief smiled, and showed me five heads fixed upon long reeds of
bamboo.

'Then he asked me who was the prophet of God, and I answered him
Mohammed.

'When he heard the name of the false prophet, he bowed and took me
by the hand, and placed me by his side. A negro brought me some
mare's milk in a wooden dish, and a piece of lamb's flesh roasted.

'At daybreak we started on our journey. I rode on a red-haired
camel by the side of the chief, and a runner ran before us carrying
a spear. The men of war were on either hand, and the mules
followed with the merchandise. There were forty camels in the
caravan, and the mules were twice forty in number.

'We went from the country of the Tartars into the country of those
who curse the Moon. We saw the Gryphons guarding their gold on the
white rocks, and the scaled Dragons sleeping in their caves. As we
passed over the mountains we held our breath lest the snows might
fall on us, and each man tied a veil of gauze before his eyes. As
we passed through the valleys the Pygmies shot arrows at us from
the hollows of the trees, and at night-time we heard the wild men
beating on their drums. When we came to the Tower of Apes we set
fruits before them, and they did not harm us. When we came to the
Tower of Serpents we gave them warm milk in howls of brass, and
they let us go by. Three times in our journey we came to the banks
of the Oxus. We crossed it on rafts of wood with great bladders of
blown hide. The river-horses raged against us and sought to slay
us. When the camels saw them they trembled.

'The kings of each city levied tolls on us, but would not suffer us
to enter their gates. They threw us bread over the walls, little
maize-cakes baked in honey and cakes of fine flour filled with
dates. For every hundred baskets we gave them a bead of amber.

'When the dwellers in the villages saw us coming, they poisoned the
wells and fled to the hill-summits. We fought with the Magadae who
are born old, and grow younger and younger every year, and die when
they are little children; and with the Laktroi who say that they
are the sons of tigers, and paint themselves yellow and black; and
with the Aurantes who bury their dead on the tops of trees, and
themselves live in dark caverns lest the Sun, who is their god,
should slay them; and with the Krimnians who worship a crocodile,
and give it earrings of green glass, and feed it with butter and
fresh fowls; and with the Agazonbae, who are dog-faced; and with
the Sibans, who have horses' feet, and run more swiftly than
horses. A third of our company died in battle, and a third died of
want. The rest murmured against me, and said that I had brought
them an evil fortune. I took a horned adder from beneath a stone
and let it sting me. When they saw that I did not sicken they grew
afraid.

'In the fourth month we reached the city of Illel. It was night-
time when we came to the grove that is outside the walls, and the
air was sultry, for the Moon was travelling in Scorpion. We took
the ripe pomegranates from the trees, and brake them, and drank
their sweet juices. Then we lay down on our carpets, and waited
for the dawn.

'And at dawn we rose and knocked at the gate of the city. It was
wrought out of red bronze, and carved with sea-dragons and dragons
that have wings. The guards looked down from the battlements and
asked us our business. The interpreter of the caravan answered
that we had come from the island of Syria with much merchandise.
They took hostages, and told us that they would open the gate to us
at noon, and bade us tarry till then.

'When it was noon they opened the gate, and as we entered in the
people came crowding out of the houses to look at us, and a crier
went round the city crying through a shell. We stood in the
market-place, and the negroes uncorded the bales of figured cloths
and opened the carved chests of sycamore. And when they had ended
their task, the merchants set forth their strange wares, the waxed
linen from Egypt and the painted linen from the country of the
Ethiops, the purple sponges from Tyre and the blue hangings from
Sidon, the cups of cold amber and the fine vessels of glass and the
curious vessels of burnt clay. From the roof of a house a company
of women watched us. One of them wore a mask of gilded leather.

'And on the first day the priests came and bartered with us, and on
the second day came the nobles, and on the third day came the
craftsmen and the slaves. And this is their custom with all
merchants as long as they tarry in the city.

'And we tarried for a moon, and when the moon was waning, I wearied
and wandered away through the streets of the city and came to the
garden of its god. The priests in their yellow robes moved
silently through the green trees, and on a pavement of black marble
stood the rose-red house in which the god had his dwelling. Its
doors were of powdered lacquer, and bulls and peacocks were wrought
on them in raised and polished gold. The tilted roof was of sea-
green porcelain, and the jutting eaves were festooned with little
bells. When the white doves flew past, they struck the bells with
their wings and made them tinkle.

'In front of the temple was a pool of clear water paved with veined
onyx. I lay down beside it, and with my pale fingers I touched the
broad leaves. One of the priests came towards me and stood behind
me. He had sandals on his feet, one of soft serpent-skin and the
other of birds' plumage. On his head was a mitre of black felt
decorated with silver crescents. Seven yellows were woven into his
robe, and his frizzed hair was stained with antimony.

'After a little while he spake to me, and asked me my desire.

'I told him that my desire was to see the god.

'"The god is hunting," said the priest, looking strangely at me
with his small slanting eyes.

'"Tell me in what forest, and I will ride with him," I answered.

'He combed out the soft fringes of his tunic with his long pointed
nails. "The god is asleep," he murmured.

'"Tell me on what couch, and I will watch by him," I answered.

'"The god is at the feast," he cried.

'"If the wine be sweet I will drink it with him, and if it be
bitter I will drink it with him also," was my answer.

'He bowed his head in wonder, and, taking me by the hand, he raised
me up, and led me into the temple.

'And in the first chamber I saw an idol seated on a throne of
jasper bordered with great orient pearls. It was carved out of
ebony, and in stature was of the stature of a man. On its forehead
was a ruby, and thick oil dripped from its hair on to its thighs.
Its feet were red with the blood of a newly-slain kid, and its
loins girt with a copper belt that was studded with seven beryls.

'And I said to the priest, "Is this the god?" And he answered me,
"This is the god."

'"Show me the god," I cried, "or I will surely slay thee." And I
touched his hand, and it became withered.

'And the priest besought me, saying, "Let my lord heal his servant,
and I will show him the god."

'So I breathed with my breath upon his hand, and it became whole
again, and he trembled and led me into the second chamber, and I
saw an idol standing on a lotus of jade hung with great emeralds.
It was carved out of ivory, and in stature was twice the stature of
a man. On its forehead was a chrysolite, and its breasts were
smeared with myrrh and cinnamon. In one hand it held a crooked
sceptre of jade, and in the other a round crystal. It ware buskins
of brass, and its thick neck was circled with a circle of
selenites.

'And I said to the priest, "Is this the god?"

'And he answered me, "This is the god."

'"Show me the god," I cried, "or I will surely slay thee." And I
touched his eyes, and they became blind.

'And the priest besought me, saying, "Let my lord heal his servant,
and I will show him the god."

'So I breathed with my breath upon his eyes, and the sight came
back to them, and he trembled again, and led me into the third
chamber, and lo! there was no idol in it, nor image of any kind,
but only a mirror of round metal set on an altar of stone.

'And I said to the priest, "Where is the god?"

'And he answered me: "There is no god but this mirror that thou
seest, for this is the Mirror of Wisdom. And it reflecteth all
things that are in heaven and on earth, save only the face of him
who looketh into it. This it reflecteth not, so that he who
looketh into it may be wise. Many other mirrors are there, but
they are mirrors of Opinion. This only is the Mirror of Wisdom.
And they who possess this mirror know everything, nor is there
anything hidden from them. And they who possess it not have not
Wisdom. Therefore is it the god, and we worship it." And I looked
into the mirror, and it was even as he had said to me.

'And I did a strange thing, but what I did matters not, for in a
valley that is but a day's journey from this place have I hidden
the Mirror of Wisdom. Do but suffer me to enter into thee again
and be thy servant, and thou shalt be wiser than all the wise men,
and Wisdom shall be thine. Suffer me to enter into thee, and none
will be as wise as thou.'

But the young Fisherman laughed. 'Love is better than Wisdom,' he
cried, 'and the little Mermaid loves me.'

'Nay, but there is nothing better than Wisdom,' said the Soul.

'Love is better,' answered the young Fisherman, and he plunged into
the deep, and the Soul went weeping away over the marshes.


And after the second year was over, the Soul came down to the shore
of the sea, and called to the young Fisherman, and he rose out of
the deep and said, 'Why dost thou call to me?'

And the Soul answered, 'Come nearer, that I may speak with thee,
for I have seen marvellous things.'

So he came nearer, and couched in the shallow water, and leaned his
head upon his hand and listened.

And the Soul said to him, 'When I left thee, I turned my face to
the South and journeyed. From the South cometh everything that is
precious. Six days I journeyed along the highways that lead to the
city of Ashter, along the dusty red-dyed highways by which the
pilgrims are wont to go did I journey, and on the morning of the
seventh day I lifted up my eyes, and lo! the city lay at my feet,
for it is in a valley.

'There are nine gates to this city, and in front of each gate
stands a bronze horse that neighs when the Bedouins come down from
the mountains. The walls are cased with copper, and the watch-
towers on the walls are roofed with brass. In every tower stands
an archer with a bow in his hand. At sunrise he strikes with an
arrow on a gong, and at sunset he blows through a horn of horn.

'When I sought to enter, the guards stopped me and asked of me who
I was. I made answer that I was a Dervish and on my way to the
city of Mecca, where there was a green veil on which the Koran was
embroidered in silver letters by the hands of the angels. They
were filled with wonder, and entreated me to pass in.

'Inside it is even as a bazaar. Surely thou shouldst have been
with me. Across the narrow streets the gay lanterns of paper
flutter like large butterflies. When the wind blows over the roofs
they rise and fall as painted bubbles do. In front of their booths
sit the merchants on silken carpets. They have straight black
beards, and their turbans are covered with golden sequins, and long
strings of amber and carved peach-stones glide through their cool
fingers. Some of them sell galbanum and nard, and curious perfumes
from the islands of the Indian Sea, and the thick oil of red roses,
and myrrh and little nail-shaped cloves. When one stops to speak
to them, they throw pinches of frankincense upon a charcoal brazier
and make the air sweet. I saw a Syrian who held in his hands a
thin rod like a reed. Grey threads of smoke came from it, and its
odour as it burned was as the odour of the pink almond in spring.
Others sell silver bracelets embossed all over with creamy blue
turquoise stones, and anklets of brass wire fringed with little
pearls, and tigers' claws set in gold, and the claws of that gilt
cat, the leopard, set in gold also, and earrings of pierced
emerald, and finger-rings of hollowed jade. From the tea-houses
comes the sound of the guitar, and the opium-smokers with their
white smiling faces look out at the passers-by.

'Of a truth thou shouldst have been with me. The wine-sellers
elbow their way through the crowd with great black skins on their
shoulders. Most of them sell the wine of Schiraz, which is as
sweet as honey. They serve it in little metal cups and strew rose
leaves upon it. In the market-place stand the fruitsellers, who
sell all kinds of fruit: ripe figs, with their bruised purple
flesh, melons, smelling of musk and yellow as topazes, citrons and
rose-apples and clusters of white grapes, round red-gold oranges,
and oval lemons of green gold. Once I saw an elephant go by. Its
trunk was painted with vermilion and turmeric, and over its ears it
had a net of crimson silk cord. It stopped opposite one of the
booths and began eating the oranges, and the man only laughed.
Thou canst not think how strange a people they are. When they are
glad they go to the bird-sellers and buy of them a caged bird, and
set it free that their joy may be greater, and when they are sad
they scourge themselves with thorns that their sorrow may not grow
less.

'One evening I met some negroes carrying a heavy palanquin through
the bazaar. It was made of gilded bamboo, and the poles were of
vermilion lacquer studded with brass peacocks. Across the windows
hung thin curtains of muslin embroidered with beetles' wings and
with tiny seed-pearls, and as it passed by a pale-faced Circassian
looked out and smiled at me. I followed behind, and the negroes
hurried their steps and scowled. But I did not care. I felt a
great curiosity come over me.

'At last they stopped at a square white house. There were no
windows to it, only a little door like the door of a tomb. They
set down the palanquin and knocked three times with a copper
hammer. An Armenian in a caftan of green leather peered through
the wicket, and when he saw them he opened, and spread a carpet on
the ground, and the woman stepped out. As she went in, she turned
round and smiled at me again. I had never seen any one so pale.

'When the moon rose I returned to the same place and sought for the
house, but it was no longer there. When I saw that, I knew who the
woman was, and wherefore she had smiled at me.

'Certainly thou shouldst have been with me. On the feast of the
New Moon the young Emperor came forth from his palace and went into
the mosque to pray. His hair and beard were dyed with rose-leaves,
and his cheeks were powdered with a fine gold dust. The palms of
his feet and hands were yellow with saffron.

'At sunrise he went forth from his palace in a robe of silver, and
at sunset he returned to it again in a robe of gold. The people
flung themselves on the ground and hid their faces, but I would not
do so. I stood by the stall of a seller of dates and waited. When
the Emperor saw me, he raised his painted eyebrows and stopped. I
stood quite still, and made him no obeisance. The people marvelled
at my boldness, and counselled me to flee from the city. I paid no
heed to them, but went and sat with the sellers of strange gods,
who by reason of their craft are abominated. When I told them what
I had done, each of them gave me a god and prayed me to leave them.

'That night, as I lay on a cushion in the tea-house that is in the
Street of Pomegranates, the guards of the Emperor entered and led
me to the palace. As I went in they closed each door behind me,
and put a chain across it. Inside was a great court with an arcade
running all round. The walls were of white alabaster, set here and
there with blue and green tiles. The pillars were of green marble,
and the pavement of a kind of peach-blossom marble. I had never
seen anything like it before.

'As I passed across the court two veiled women looked down from a
balcony and cursed me. The guards hastened on, and the butts of
the lances rang upon the polished floor. They opened a gate of
wrought ivory, and I found myself in a watered garden of seven
terraces. It was planted with tulip-cups and moonflowers, and
silver-studded aloes. Like a slim reed of crystal a fountain hung
in the dusky air. The cypress-trees were like burnt-out torches.
From one of them a nightingale was singing.

'At the end of the garden stood a little pavilion. As we
approached it two eunuchs came out to meet us. Their fat bodies
swayed as they walked, and they glanced curiously at me with their
yellow-lidded eyes. One of them drew aside the captain of the
guard, and in a low voice whispered to him. The other kept
munching scented pastilles, which he took with an affected gesture
out of an oval box of lilac enamel.

'After a few moments the captain of the guard dismissed the
soldiers. They went back to the palace, the eunuchs following
slowly behind and plucking the sweet mulberries from the trees as
they passed. Once the elder of the two turned round, and smiled at
me with an evil smile.

'Then the captain of the guard motioned me towards the entrance of
the pavilion. I walked on without trembling, and drawing the heavy
curtain aside I entered in.

'The young Emperor was stretched on a couch of dyed lion skins, and
a gerfalcon perched upon his wrist. Behind him stood a brass-
turbaned Nubian, naked down to the waist, and with heavy earrings
in his split ears. On a table by the side of the couch lay a
mighty scimitar of steel.

'When the Emperor saw me he frowned, and said to me, "What is thy
name? Knowest thou not that I am Emperor of this city?" But I
made him no answer.

'He pointed with his finger at the scimitar, and the Nubian seized
it, and rushing forward struck at me with great violence. The
blade whizzed through me, and did me no hurt. The man fell
sprawling on the floor, and when he rose up his teeth chattered
with terror and he hid himself behind the couch.

'The Emperor leapt to his feet, and taking a lance from a stand of
arms, he threw it at me. I caught it in its flight, and brake the
shaft into two pieces. He shot at me with an arrow, but I held up
my hands and it stopped in mid-air. Then he drew a dagger from a
belt of white leather, and stabbed the Nubian in the throat lest
the slave should tell of his dishonour. The man writhed like a
trampled snake, and a red foam bubbled from his lips.

'As soon as he was dead the Emperor turned to me, and when he had
wiped away the bright sweat from his brow with a little napkin of
purfled and purple silk, he said to me, "Art thou a prophet, that I
may not harm thee, or the son of a prophet, that I can do thee no
hurt? I pray thee leave my city to-night, for while thou art in it
I am no longer its lord."

'And I answered him, "I will go for half of thy treasure. Give me
half of thy treasure, and I will go away."

'He took me by the hand, and led me out into the garden. When the
captain of the guard saw me, he wondered. When the eunuchs saw me,
their knees shook and they fell upon the ground in fear.

'There is a chamber in the palace that has eight walls of red
porphyry, and a brass-sealed ceiling hung with lamps. The Emperor
touched one of the walls and it opened, and we passed down a
corridor that was lit with many torches. In niches upon each side
stood great wine-jars filled to the brim with silver pieces. When
we reached the centre of the corridor the Emperor spake the word
that may not be spoken, and a granite door swung back on a secret
spring, and he put his hands before his face lest his eyes should
be dazzled.

'Thou couldst not believe how marvellous a place it was. There
were huge tortoise-shells full of pearls, and hollowed moonstones
of great size piled up with red rubies. The gold was stored in
coffers of elephant-hide, and the gold-dust in leather bottles.
There were opals and sapphires, the former in cups of crystal, and
the latter in cups of jade. Round green emeralds were ranged in
order upon thin plates of ivory, and in one corner were silk bags
filled, some with turquoise-stones, and others with beryls. The
ivory horns were heaped with purple amethysts, and the horns of
brass with chalcedonies and sards. The pillars, which were of
cedar, were hung with strings of yellow lynx-stones. In the flat
oval shields there were carbuncles, both wine-coloured and coloured
like grass. And yet I have told thee but a tithe of what was
there.

'And when the Emperor had taken away his hands from before his face
he said to me: "This is my house of treasure, and half that is in
it is thine, even as I promised to thee. And I will give thee
camels and camel drivers, and they shall do thy bidding and take
thy share of the treasure to whatever part of the world thou
desirest to go. And the thing shall be done to-night, for I would
not that the Sun, who is my father, should see that there is in my
city a man whom I cannot slay."

'But I answered him, "The gold that is here is thine, and the
silver also is thine, and thine are the precious jewels and the
things of price. As for me, I have no need of these. Nor shall I
take aught from thee but that little ring that thou wearest on the
finger of thy hand."

'And the Emperor frowned. "It is but a ring of lead," he cried,
"nor has it any value. Therefore take thy half of the treasure and
go from my city."

'"Nay," I answered, "but I will take nought but that leaden ring,
for I know what is written within it, and for what purpose."

'And the Emperor trembled, and besought me and said, "Take all the
treasure and go from my city. The half that is mine shall be thine
also."

'And I did a strange thing, but what I did matters not, for in a
cave that is but a day's journey from this place have, I hidden the
Ring of Riches. It is but a day's journey from this place, and it
waits for thy coming. He who has this Ring is richer than all the
kings of the world. Come therefore and take it, and the world's
riches shall be thine.'

But the young Fisherman laughed. 'Love is better than Riches,' he
cried, 'and the little Mermaid loves me.'

'Nay, but there is nothing better than Riches,' said the Soul.

'Love is better,' answered the young Fisherman, and he plunged into
the deep, and the Soul went weeping away over the marshes.


And after the third year was over, the Soul came down to the shore
of the sea, and called to the young Fisherman, and he rose out of
the deep and said, 'Why dost thou call to me?'

And the Soul answered, 'Come nearer, that I may speak with thee,
for I have seen marvellous things.'

So he came nearer, and couched in the shallow water, and leaned his
head upon his hand and listened.

And the Soul said to him, 'In a city that I know of there is an inn
that standeth by a river. I sat there with sailors who drank of
two different-coloured wines, and ate bread made of barley, and
little salt fish served in bay leaves with vinegar. And as we sat
and made merry, there entered to us an old man bearing a leathern
carpet and a lute that had two horns of amber. And when he had
laid out the carpet on the floor, he struck with a quill on the
wire strings of his lute, and a girl whose face was veiled ran in
and began to dance before us. Her face was veiled with a veil of
gauze, but her feet were naked. Naked were her feet, and they
moved over the carpet like little white pigeons. Never have I seen
anything so marvellous; and the city in which she dances is but a
day's journey from this place.'

Now when the young Fisherman heard the words of his Soul, he
remembered that the little Mermaid had no feet and could not dance.
And a great desire came over him, and he said to himself, 'It is
but a day's journey, and I can return to my love,' and he laughed,
and stood up in the shallow water, and strode towards the shore.

And when he had reached the dry shore he laughed again, and held
out his arms to his Soul. And his Soul gave a great cry of joy and
ran to meet him, and entered into him, and the young Fisherman saw
stretched before him upon the sand that shadow of the body that is
the body of the Soul.

And his Soul said to him, 'Let us not tarry, but get hence at once,
for the Sea-gods are jealous, and have monsters that do their
bidding.'


So they made haste, and all that night they journeyed beneath the
moon, and all the next day they journeyed beneath the sun, and on
the evening of the day they came to a city.

And the young Fisherman said to his Soul, 'Is this the city in
which she dances of whom thou didst speak to me?'

And his Soul answered him, 'It is not this city, but another.
Nevertheless let us enter in.' So they entered in and passed
through the streets, and as they passed through the Street of the
Jewellers the young Fisherman saw a fair silver cup set forth in a
booth. And his Soul said to him, 'Take that silver cup and hide
it.'

So he took the cup and hid it in the fold of his tunic, and they
went hurriedly out of the city.

And after that they had gone a league from the city, the young
Fisherman frowned, and flung the cup away, and said to his Soul,
'Why didst thou tell me to take this cup and hide it, for it was an
evil thing to do?'

But his Soul answered him, 'Be at peace, be at peace.'

And on the evening of the second day they came to a city, and the
young Fisherman said to his Soul, 'Is this the city in which she
dances of whom thou didst speak to me?'

And his Soul answered him, 'It is not this city, but another.
Nevertheless let us enter in.' So they entered in and passed
through the streets, and as they passed through the Street of the
Sellers of Sandals, the young Fisherman saw a child standing by a
jar of water. And his Soul said to him, 'Smite that child.' So he
smote the child till it wept, and when he had done this they went
hurriedly out of the city.

And after that they had gone a league from the city the young
Fisherman grew wroth, and said to his Soul, 'Why didst thou tell me
to smite the child, for it was an evil thing to do?'

But his Soul answered him, 'Be at peace, be at peace.'

And on the evening of the third day they came to a city, and the
young Fisherman said to his Soul, 'Is this the city in which she
dances of whom thou didst speak to me?'

And his Soul answered him, 'It may be that it is in this city,
therefore let us enter in.'

So they entered in and passed through the streets, but nowhere
could the young Fisherman find the river or the inn that stood by
its side. And the people of the city looked curiously at him, and
he grew afraid and said to his Soul, 'Let us go hence, for she who
dances with white feet is not here.'

But his Soul answered, 'Nay, but let us tarry, for the night is
dark and there will be robbers on the way.'

So he sat him down in the market-place and rested, and after a time
there went by a hooded merchant who had a cloak of cloth of
Tartary, and bare a lantern of pierced horn at the end of a jointed
reed. And the merchant said to him, 'Why dost thou sit in the
market-place, seeing that the booths are closed and the bales
corded?'

And the young Fisherman answered him, 'I can find no inn in this
city, nor have I any kinsman who might give me shelter.'

'Are we not all kinsmen?' said the merchant. 'And did not one God
make us? Therefore come with me, for I have a guest-chamber.'

So the young Fisherman rose up and followed the merchant to his
house. And when he had passed through a garden of pomegranates and
entered into the house, the merchant brought him rose-water in a
copper dish that he might wash his hands, and ripe melons that he
might quench his thirst, and set a bowl of rice and a piece of
roasted kid before him.

And after that he had finished, the merchant led him to the guest-
chamber, and bade him sleep and be at rest. And the young
Fisherman gave him thanks, and kissed the ring that was on his
hand, and flung himself down on the carpets of dyed goat's-hair.
And when he had covered himself with a covering of black lamb's-
wool he fell asleep.

And three hours before dawn, and while it was still night, his Soul
waked him and said to him, 'Rise up and go to the room of the
merchant, even to the room in which he sleepeth, and slay him, and
take from him his gold, for we have need of it.'

And the young Fisherman rose up and crept towards the room of the
merchant, and over the feet of the merchant there was lying a
curved sword, and the tray by the side of the merchant held nine
purses of gold. And he reached out his hand and touched the sword,
and when he touched it the merchant started and awoke, and leaping
up seized himself the sword and cried to the young Fisherman, 'Dost
thou return evil for good, and pay with the shedding of blood for
the kindness that I have shown thee?'

And his Soul said to the young Fisherman, 'Strike him,' and he
struck him so that he swooned and he seized then the nine purses of
gold, and fled hastily through the garden of pomegranates, and set
his face to the star that is the star of morning.

And when they had gone a league from the city, the young Fisherman
beat his breast, and said to his Soul, 'Why didst thou bid me slay
the merchant and take his gold? Surely thou art evil.'

But his Soul answered him, 'Be at peace, be at peace.'

'Nay,' cried the young Fisherman, 'I may not be at peace, for all
that thou hast made me to do I hate. Thee also I hate, and I bid
thee tell me wherefore thou hast wrought with me in this wise.'

And his Soul answered him, 'When thou didst send me forth into the
world thou gavest me no heart, so I learned to do all these things
and love them.'

'What sayest thou?' murmured the young Fisherman.

'Thou knowest,' answered his Soul, 'thou knowest it well. Hast
thou forgotten that thou gavest me no heart? I trow not. And so
trouble not thyself nor me, but be at peace, for there is no pain
that thou shalt not give away, nor any pleasure that thou shalt not
receive.'

And when the young Fisherman heard these words he trembled and said
to his Soul, 'Nay, but thou art evil, and hast made me forget my
love, and hast tempted me with temptations, and hast set my feet in
the ways of sin.'

And his Soul answered him, 'Thou hast not forgotten that when thou
didst send me forth into the world thou gavest me no heart. Come,
let us go to another city, and make merry, for we have nine purses
of gold.'

But the young Fisherman took the nine purses of gold, and flung
them down, and trampled on them.

'Nay,' he cried, 'but I will have nought to do with thee, nor will
I journey with thee anywhere, but even as I sent thee away before,
so will I send thee away now, for thou hast wrought me no good.'
And he turned his back to the moon, and with the little knife that
had the handle of green viper's skin he strove to cut from his feet
that shadow of the body which is the body of the Soul.

Yet his Soul stirred not from him, nor paid heed to his command,
but said to him, 'The spell that the Witch told thee avails thee no
more, for I may not leave thee, nor mayest thou drive me forth.
Once in his life may a man send his Soul away, but he who receiveth
back his Soul must keep it with him for ever, and this is his
punishment and his reward.'

And the young Fisherman grew pale and clenched his hands and cried,
'She was a false Witch in that she told me not that.'

'Nay,' answered his Soul, 'but she was true to Him she worships,
and whose servant she will be ever.'

And when the young Fisherman knew that he could no longer get rid
of his Soul, and that it was an evil Soul and would abide with him
always, he fell upon the ground weeping bitterly.


And when it was day the young Fisherman rose up and said to his
Soul, 'I will bind my hands that I may not do thy bidding, and
close my lips that I may not speak thy words, and I will return to
the place where she whom I love has her dwelling. Even to the sea
will I return, and to the little bay where she is wont to sing, and
I will call to her and tell her the evil I have done and the evil
thou hast wrought on me.'

And his Soul tempted him and said, 'Who is thy love, that thou
shouldst return to her? The world has many fairer than she is.
There are the dancing-girls of Samaris who dance in the manner of
all kinds of birds and beasts. Their feet are painted with henna,
and in their hands they have little copper bells. They laugh while
they dance, and their laughter is as clear as the laughter of
water. Come with me and I will show them to thee. For what is
this trouble of thine about the things of sin? Is that which is
pleasant to eat not made for the eater? Is there poison in that
which is sweet to drink? Trouble not thyself, but come with me to
another city. There is a little city hard by in which there is a
garden of tulip-trees. And there dwell in this comely garden white
peacocks and peacocks that have blue breasts. Their tails when
they spread them to the sun are like disks of ivory and like gilt
disks. And she who feeds them dances for their pleasure, and
sometimes she dances on her hands and at other times she dances
with her feet. Her eyes are coloured with stibium, and her
nostrils are shaped like the wings of a swallow. From a hook in
one of her nostrils hangs a flower that is carved out of a pearl.
She laughs while she dances, and the silver rings that are about
her ankles tinkle like bells of silver. And so trouble not thyself
any more, but come with me to this city.'

But the young Fisherman answered not his Soul, but closed his lips
with the seal of silence and with a tight cord bound his hands, and
journeyed back to the place from which he had come, even to the
little bay where his love had been wont to sing. And ever did his
Soul tempt him by the way, but he made it no answer, nor would he
do any of the wickedness that it sought to make him to do, so great
was the power of the love that was within him.

And when he had reached the shore of the sea, he loosed the cord
from his hands, and took the seal of silence from his lips, and
called to the little Mermaid. But she came not to his call, though
he called to her all day long and besought her.

And his Soul mocked him and said, 'Surely thou hast but little joy
out of thy love. Thou art as one who in time of death pours water
into a broken vessel. Thou givest away what thou hast, and nought
is given to thee in return. It were better for thee to come with
me, for I know where the Valley of Pleasure lies, and what things
are wrought there.'

But the young Fisherman answered not his Soul, but in a cleft of
the rock he built himself a house of wattles, and abode there for
the space of a year. And every morning he called to the Mermaid,
and every noon he called to her again, and at night-time he spake
her name. Yet never did she rise out of the sea to meet him, nor
in any place of the sea could he find her though he sought for her
in the caves and in the green water, in the pools of the tide and
in the wells that are at the bottom of the deep.

And ever did his Soul tempt him with evil, and whisper of terrible
things. Yet did it not prevail against him, so great was the power
of his love.

And after the year was over, the Soul thought within himself, 'I
have tempted my master with evil, and his love is stronger than I
am. I will tempt him now with good, and it may be that he will
come with me.'

So he spake to the young Fisherman and said, 'I have told thee of
the joy of the world, and thou hast turned a deaf ear to me.
Suffer me now to tell thee of the world's pain, and it may be that
thou wilt hearken. For of a truth pain is the Lord of this world,
nor is there any one who escapes from its net. There be some who
lack raiment, and others who lack bread. There be widows who sit
in purple, and widows who sit in rags. To and fro over the fens go
the lepers, and they are cruel to each other. The beggars go up
and down on the highways, and their wallets are empty. Through the
streets of the cities walks Famine, and the Plague sits at their
gates. Come, let us go forth and mend these things, and make them
not to be. Wherefore shouldst thou tarry here calling to thy love,
seeing she comes not to thy call? And what is love, that thou
shouldst set this high store upon it?'

But the young Fisherman answered it nought, so great was the power
of his love. And every morning he called to the Mermaid, and every
noon he called to her again, and at night-time he spake her name.
Yet never did she rise out of the sea to meet him, nor in any place
of the sea could he find her, though he sought for her in the
rivers of the sea, and in the valleys that are under the waves, in
the sea that the night makes purple, and in the sea that the dawn
leaves grey.

And after the second year was over, the Soul said to the young
Fisherman at night-time, and as he sat in the wattled house alone,
'Lo! now I have tempted thee with evil, and I have tempted thee
with good, and thy love is stronger than I am. Wherefore will I
tempt thee no longer, but I pray thee to suffer me to enter thy
heart, that I may be one with thee even as before.'

'Surely thou mayest enter,' said the young Fisherman, 'for in the
days when with no heart thou didst go through the world thou must
have much suffered.'

'Alas!' cried his Soul, 'I can find no place of entrance, so
compassed about with love is this heart of thine.'

'Yet I would that I could help thee,' said the young Fisherman.

And as he spake there came a great cry of mourning from the sea,
even the cry that men hear when one of the Sea-folk is dead. And
the young Fisherman leapt up, and left his wattled house, and ran
down to the shore. And the black waves came hurrying to the shore,
bearing with them a burden that was whiter than silver. White as
the surf it was, and like a flower it tossed on the waves. And the
surf took it from the waves, and the foam took it from the surf,
and the shore received it, and lying at his feet the young
Fisherman saw the body of the little Mermaid. Dead at his feet it
was lying.

Weeping as one smitten with pain he flung himself down beside it,
and he kissed the cold red of the mouth, and toyed with the wet
amber of the hair. He flung himself down beside it on the sand,
weeping as one trembling with joy, and in his brown arms he held it
to his breast. Cold were the lips, yet he kissed them. Salt was
the honey of the hair, yet he tasted it with a bitter joy. He
kissed the closed eyelids, and the wild spray that lay upon their
cups was less salt than his tears.

And to the dead thing he made confession. Into the shells of its
ears he poured the harsh wine of his tale. He put the little hands
round his neck, and with his fingers he touched the thin reed of
the throat. Bitter, bitter was his joy, and full of strange
gladness was his pain.

The black sea came nearer, and the white foam moaned like a leper.
With white claws of foam the sea grabbled at the shore. From the
palace of the Sea-King came the cry of mourning again, and far out
upon the sea the great Tritons blew hoarsely upon their horns.

'Flee away,' said his Soul, 'for ever doth the sea come nigher, and
if thou tarriest it will slay thee. Flee away, for I am afraid,
seeing that thy heart is closed against me by reason of the
greatness of thy love. Flee away to a place of safety. Surely
thou wilt not send me without a heart into another world?'

But the young Fisherman listened not to his Soul, but called on the
little Mermaid and said, 'Love is better than wisdom, and more
precious than riches, and fairer than the feet of the daughters of
men. The fires cannot destroy it, nor can the waters quench it. I
called on thee at dawn, and thou didst not come to my call. The
moon heard thy name, yet hadst thou no heed of me. For evilly had
I left thee, and to my own hurt had I wandered away. Yet ever did
thy love abide with me, and ever was it strong, nor did aught
prevail against it, though I have looked upon evil and looked upon
good. And now that thou art dead, surely I will die with thee
also.'

And his Soul besought him to depart, but he would not, so great was
his love. And the sea came nearer, and sought to cover him with
its waves, and when he knew that the end was at hand he kissed with
mad lips the cold lips of the Mermaid, and the heart that was
within him brake. And as through the fulness of his love his heart
did break, the Soul found an entrance and entered in, and was one
with him even as before. And the sea covered the young Fisherman
with its waves.


And in the morning the Priest went forth to bless the sea, for it
had been troubled. And with him went the monks and the musicians,
and the candle-bearers, and the swingers of censers, and a great
company.

And when the Priest reached the shore he saw the young Fisherman
lying drowned in the surf, and clasped in his arms was the body of
the little Mermaid. And he drew back frowning, and having made the
sign of the cross, he cried aloud and said, 'I will not bless the
sea nor anything that is in it. Accursed be the Sea-folk, and
accursed be all they who traffic with them. And as for him who for
love's sake forsook God, and so lieth here with his leman slain by
God's judgment, take up his body and the body of his leman, and
bury them in the corner of the Field of the Fullers, and set no
mark above them, nor sign of any kind, that none may know the place
of their resting. For accursed were they in their lives, and
accursed shall they be in their deaths also.'

And the people did as he commanded them, and in the corner of the
Field of the Fullers, where no sweet herbs grew, they dug a deep
pit, and laid the dead things within it.

And when the third year was over, and on a day that was a holy day,
the Priest went up to the chapel, that he might show to the people
the wounds of the Lord, and speak to them about the wrath of God.

And when he had robed himself with his robes, and entered in and
bowed himself before the altar, he saw that the altar was covered
with strange flowers that never had been seen before. Strange were
they to look at, and of curious beauty, and their beauty troubled
him, and their odour was sweet in his nostrils. And he felt glad,
and understood not why he was glad.

And after that he had opened the tabernacle, and incensed the
monstrance that was in it, and shown the fair wafer to the people,
and hid it again behind the veil of veils, he began to speak to the
people, desiring to speak to them of the wrath of God. But the
beauty of the white flowers troubled him, and their odour was sweet
in his nostrils, and there came another word into his lips, and he
spake not of the wrath of God, but of the God whose name is Love.
And why he so spake, he knew not.

And when he had finished his word the people wept, and the Priest
went back to the sacristy, and his eyes were full of tears. And
the deacons came in and began to unrobe him, and took from him the
alb and the girdle, the maniple and the stole. And he stood as one
in a dream.

And after that they had unrobed him, he looked at them and said,
'What are the flowers that stand on the altar, and whence do they
come?'

And they answered him, 'What flowers they are we cannot tell, but
they come from the corner of the Fullers' Field.' And the Priest
trembled, and returned to his own house and prayed.

And in the morning, while it was still dawn, he went forth with the
monks and the musicians, and the candle-bearers and the swingers of
censers, and a great company, and came to the shore of the sea, and
blessed the sea, and all the wild things that are in it. The Fauns
also he blessed, and the little things that dance in the woodland,
and the bright-eyed things that peer through the leaves. All the
things in God's world he blessed, and the people were filled with
joy and wonder. Yet never again in the corner of the Fullers'
Field grew flowers of any kind, but the field remained barren even
as before. Nor came the Sea-folk into the bay as they had been
wont to do, for they went to another part of the sea.




THE STAR-CHILD




[TO MISS MARGOT TENNANT - MRS. ASQUITH]


Once upon a time two poor Woodcutters were making their way home
through a great pine-forest. It was winter, and a night of bitter
cold. The snow lay thick upon the ground, and upon the branches of
the trees: the frost kept snapping the little twigs on either side
of them, as they passed: and when they came to the Mountain-
Torrent she was hanging motionless in air, for the Ice-King had
kissed her.

So cold was it that even the animals and the birds did not know
what to make of it.

'Ugh!' snarled the Wolf, as he limped through the brushwood with
his tail between his legs, 'this is perfectly monstrous weather.
Why doesn't the Government look to it?'

'Weet! weet! weet!' twittered the green Linnets, 'the old Earth is
dead and they have laid her out in her white shroud.'

'The Earth is going to be married, and this is her bridal dress,'
whispered the Turtle-doves to each other. Their little pink feet
were quite frost-bitten, but they felt that it was their duty to
take a romantic view of the situation.

'Nonsense!' growled the Wolf. 'I tell you that it is all the fault
of the Government, and if you don't believe me I shall eat you.'
The Wolf had a thoroughly practical mind, and was never at a loss
for a good argument.

'Well, for my own part,' said the Woodpecker, who was a born
philosopher, 'I don't care an atomic theory for explanations. If a
thing is so, it is so, and at present it is terribly cold.'

Terribly cold it certainly was. The little Squirrels, who lived
inside the tall fir-tree, kept rubbing each other's noses to keep
themselves warm, and the Rabbits curled themselves up in their
holes, and did not venture even to look out of doors. The only
people who seemed to enjoy it were the great horned Owls. Their
feathers were quite stiff with rime, but they did not mind, and
they rolled their large yellow eyes, and called out to each other
across the forest, 'Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! Tu-whit! Tu-whoo! what
delightful weather we are having!'

On and on went the two Woodcutters, blowing lustily upon their
fingers, and stamping with their huge iron-shod boots upon the
caked snow. Once they sank into a deep drift, and came out as
white as millers are, when the stones are grinding; and once they
slipped on the hard smooth ice where the marsh-water was frozen,
and their faggots fell out of their bundles, and they had to pick
them up and bind them together again; and once they thought that
they had lost their way, and a great terror seized on them, for
they knew that the Snow is cruel to those who sleep in her arms.
But they put their trust in the good Saint Martin, who watches over
all travellers, and retraced their steps, and went warily, and at
last they reached the outskirts of the forest, and saw, far down in
the valley beneath them, the lights of the village in which they
dwelt.

So overjoyed were they at their deliverance that they laughed
aloud, and the Earth seemed to them like a flower of silver, and
the Moon like a flower of gold.

Yet, after that they had laughed they became sad, for they
remembered their poverty, and one of them said to the other, 'Why
did we make merry, seeing that life is for the rich, and not for
such as we are? Better that we had died of cold in the forest, or
that some wild beast had fallen upon us and slain us.'

'Truly,' answered his companion, 'much is given to some, and little
is given to others. Injustice has parcelled out the world, nor is
there equal division of aught save of sorrow.'

But as they were bewailing their misery to each other this strange
thing happened. There fell from heaven a very bright and beautiful
star. It slipped down the side of the sky, passing by the other
stars in its course, and, as they watched it wondering, it seemed
to them to sink behind a clump of willow-trees that stood hard by a
little sheepfold no more than a stone's-throw away.

'Why! there is a crook of gold for whoever finds it,' they cried,
and they set to and ran, so eager were they for the gold.

And one of them ran faster than his mate, and outstripped him, and
forced his way through the willows, and came out on the other side,
and lo! there was indeed a thing of gold lying on the white snow.
So he hastened towards it, and stooping down placed his hands upon
it, and it was a cloak of golden tissue, curiously wrought with
stars, and wrapped in many folds. And he cried out to his comrade
that he had found the treasure that had fallen from the sky, and
when his comrade had come up, they sat them down in the snow, and
loosened the folds of the cloak that they might divide the pieces
of gold. But, alas! no gold was in it, nor silver, nor, indeed,
treasure of any kind, but only a little child who was asleep.

And one of them said to the other: 'This is a bitter ending to our
hope, nor have we any good fortune, for what doth a child profit to
a man? Let us leave it here, and go our way, seeing that we are
poor men, and have children of our own whose bread we may not give
to another.'

But his companion answered him: 'Nay, but it were an evil thing to
leave the child to perish here in the snow, and though I am as poor
as thou art, and have many mouths to feed, and but little in the
pot, yet will I bring it home with me, and my wife shall have care
of it.'

So very tenderly he took up the child, and wrapped the cloak around
it to shield it from the harsh cold, and made his way down the hill
to the village, his comrade marvelling much at his foolishness and
softness of heart.

And when they came to the village, his comrade said to him, 'Thou
hast the child, therefore give me the cloak, for it is meet that we
should share.'

But he answered him: 'Nay, for the cloak is neither mine nor
thine, but the child's only,' and he bade him Godspeed, and went to
his own house and knocked.

And when his wife opened the door and saw that her husband had
returned safe to her, she put her arms round his neck and kissed
him, and took from his back the bundle of faggots, and brushed the
snow off his boots, and bade him come in.

But he said to her, 'I have found something in the forest, and I
have brought it to thee to have care of it,' and he stirred not
from the threshold.

'What is it?' she cried. 'Show it to me, for the house is bare,
and we have need of many things.' And he drew the cloak back, and
showed her the sleeping child.

'Alack, goodman!' she murmured, 'have we not children of our own,
that thou must needs bring a changeling to sit by the hearth? And
who knows if it will not bring us bad fortune? And how shall we
tend it?' And she was wroth against him.

'Nay, but it is a Star-Child,' he answered; and he told her the
strange manner of the finding of it.

But she would not be appeased, but mocked at him, and spoke
angrily, and cried: 'Our children lack bread, and shall we feed
the child of another? Who is there who careth for us? And who
giveth us food?'

'Nay, but God careth for the sparrows even, and feedeth them,' he
answered.

'Do not the sparrows die of hunger in the winter?' she asked. 'And
is it not winter now?'

And the man answered nothing, but stirred not from the threshold.

And a bitter wind from the forest came in through the open door,
and made her tremble, and she shivered, and said to him: 'Wilt
thou not close the door? There cometh a bitter wind into the
house, and I am cold.'

'Into a house where a heart is hard cometh there not always a
bitter wind?' he asked. And the woman answered him nothing, but
crept closer to the fire.

And after a time she turned round and looked at him, and her eyes
were full of tears. And he came in swiftly, and placed the child
in her arms, and she kissed it, and laid it in a little bed where
the youngest of their own children was lying. And on the morrow
the Woodcutter took the curious cloak of gold and placed it in a
great chest, and a chain of amber that was round the child's neck
his wife took and set it in the chest also.


So the Star-Child was brought up with the children of the
Woodcutter, and sat at the same board with them, and was their
playmate. And every year he became more beautiful to look at, so
that all those who dwelt in the village were filled with wonder,
for, while they were swarthy and black-haired, he was white and
delicate as sawn ivory, and his curls were like the rings of the
daffodil. His lips, also, were like the petals of a red flower,
and his eyes were like violets by a river of pure water, and his
body like the narcissus of a field where the mower comes not.

Yet did his beauty work him evil. For he grew proud, and cruel,
and selfish. The children of the Woodcutter, and the other
children of the village, he despised, saying that they were of mean
parentage, while he was noble, being sprang from a Star, and he
made himself master over them, and called them his servants. No
pity had he for the poor, or for those who were blind or maimed or
in any way afflicted, but would cast stones at them and drive them
forth on to the highway, and bid them beg their bread elsewhere, so
that none save the outlaws came twice to that village to ask for
alms. Indeed, he was as one enamoured of beauty, and would mock at
the weakly and ill-favoured, and make jest of them; and himself he
loved, and in summer, when the winds were still, he would lie by
the well in the priest's orchard and look down at the marvel of his
own face, and laugh for the pleasure he had in his fairness.

Often did the Woodcutter and his wife chide him, and say: 'We did
not deal with thee as thou dealest with those who are left
desolate, and have none to succour them. Wherefore art thou so
cruel to all who need pity?'

Often did the old priest send for him, and seek to teach him the
love of living things, saying to him: 'The fly is thy brother. Do
it no harm. The wild birds that roam through the forest have their
freedom. Snare them not for thy pleasure. God made the blind-worm
and the mole, and each has its place. Who art thou to bring pain
into God's world? Even the cattle of the field praise Him."

But the Star-Child heeded not their words, but would frown and
flout, and go back to his companions, and lead them. And his
companions followed him, for he was fair, and fleet of foot, and
could dance, and pipe, and make music. And wherever the Star-Child
led them they followed, and whatever the Star-Child bade them do,
that did they. And when he pierced with a sharp reed the dim eyes
of the mole, they laughed, and when he cast stones at the leper
they laughed also. And in all things he ruled them, and they
became hard of heart even as he was.


Now there passed one day through the village a poor beggar-woman.
Her garments were torn and ragged, and her feet were bleeding from
the rough road on which she had travelled, and she was in very evil
plight. And being weary she sat her down under a chestnut-tree to
rest.

But when the Star-Child saw her, he said to his companions, 'See!
There sitteth a foul beggar-woman under that fair and green-leaved
tree. Come, let us drive her hence, for she is ugly and ill-
favoured.'

So he came near and threw stones at her, and mocked her, and she
looked at him with terror in her eyes, nor did she move her gaze
from him. And when the Woodcutter, who was cleaving logs in a
haggard hard by, saw what the Star-Child was doing, he ran up and
rebuked him, and said to him: 'Surely thou art hard of heart and
knowest not mercy, for what evil has this poor woman done to thee
that thou shouldst treat her in this wise?'

And the Star-Child grew red with anger, and stamped his foot upon
the ground, and said, 'Who art thou to question me what I do? I am
no son of thine to do thy bidding.'

'Thou speakest truly,' answered the Wood-cutter, 'yet did I show
thee pity when I found thee in the forest.'

And when the woman heard these words she gave a loud cry, and fell
into a swoon. And the Woodcutter carried her to his own house, and
his wife had care of her, and when she rose up from the swoon into
which she had fallen, they set meat and drink before her, and bade
her have comfort.

But she would neither eat nor drink, but said to the Woodcutter,
'Didst thou not say that the child was found in the forest? And
was it not ten years from this day?'

And the Woodcutter answered, 'Yea, it was in the forest that I
found him, and it is ten years from this day.'

'And what signs didst thou find with him?' she cried. 'Bare he not
upon his neck a chain of amber? Was not round him a cloak of gold
tissue broidered with stars?'

'Truly,' answered the Woodcutter, 'it was even as thou sayest.'
And he took the cloak and the amber chain from the chest where they
lay, and showed them to her.

And when she saw them she wept for joy, and said, 'He is my little
son whom I lost in the forest. I pray thee send for him quickly,
for in search of him have I wandered over the whole world.'

So the Woodcutter and his wife went out and called to the Star-
Child, and said to him, 'Go into the house, and there shalt thou
find thy mother, who is waiting for thee.'

So he ran in, filled with wonder and great gladness. But when he
saw her who was waiting there, he laughed scornfully and said,
'Why, where is my mother? For I see none here but this vile
beggar-woman.'

And the woman answered him, 'I am thy mother.'

'Thou art mad to say so,' cried the Star-Child angrily. 'I am no
son of thine, for thou art a beggar, and ugly, and in rags.
Therefore get thee hence, and let me see thy foul face no more.'

'Nay, but thou art indeed my little son, whom I bare in the
forest,' she cried, and she fell on her knees, and held out her
arms to him. 'The robbers stole thee from me, and left thee to
die,' she murmured, 'but I recognised thee when I saw thee, and the
signs also have I recognised, the cloak of golden tissue and the
amber chain. Therefore I pray thee come with me, for over the
whole world have I wandered in search of thee. Come with me, my
son, for I have need of thy love.'

But the Star-Child stirred not from his place, but shut the doors
of his heart against her, nor was there any sound heard save the
sound of the woman weeping for pain.

And at last he spoke to her, and his voice was hard and bitter.
'If in very truth thou art my mother,' he said, 'it had been better
hadst thou stayed away, and not come here to bring me to shame,
seeing that I thought I was the child of some Star, and not a
beggar's child, as thou tellest me that I am. Therefore get thee
hence, and let me see thee no more.'

'Alas! my son,' she cried, 'wilt thou not kiss me before I go? For
I have suffered much to find thee.'

'Nay,' said the Star-Child, 'but thou art too foul to look at, and
rather would I kiss the adder or the toad than thee.'

So the woman rose up, and went away into the forest weeping
bitterly, and when the Star-Child saw that she had gone, he was
glad, and ran back to his playmates that he might play with them.

But when they beheld him coming, they mocked him and said, 'Why,
thou art as foul as the toad, and as loathsome as the adder. Get
thee hence, for we will not suffer thee to play with us,' and they
drave him out of the garden.

And the Star-Child frowned and said to himself, 'What is this that
they say to me? I will go to the well of water and look into it,
and it shall tell me of my beauty.'

So he went to the well of water and looked into it, and lo! his
face was as the face of a toad, and his body was sealed like an
adder. And he flung himself down on the grass and wept, and said
to himself, 'Surely this has come upon me by reason of my sin. For
I have denied my mother, and driven her away, and been proud, and
cruel to her. Wherefore I will go and seek her through the whole
world, nor will I rest till I have found her.'

And there came to him the little daughter of the Woodcutter, and
she put her hand upon his shoulder and said, 'What doth it matter
if thou hast lost thy comeliness? Stay with us, and I will not
mock at thee.'

And he said to her, 'Nay, but I have been cruel to my mother, and
as a punishment has this evil been sent to me. Wherefore I must go
hence, and wander through the world till I find her, and she give
me her forgiveness.'

So he ran away into the forest and called out to his mother to come
to him, but there was no answer. All day long he called to her,
and, when the sun set he lay down to sleep on a bed of leaves, and
the birds and the animals fled from him, for they remembered his
cruelty, and he was alone save for the toad that watched him, and
the slow adder that crawled past.

And in the morning he rose up, and plucked some bitter berries from
the trees and ate them, and took his way through the great wood,
weeping sorely. And of everything that he met he made inquiry if
perchance they had seen his mother.

He said to the Mole, 'Thou canst go beneath the earth. Tell me, is
my mother there?'

And the Mole answered, 'Thou hast blinded mine eyes. How should I
know?'

He said to the Linnet, 'Thou canst fly over the tops of the tall
trees, and canst see the whole world. Tell me, canst thou see my
mother?'

And the Linnet answered, 'Thou hast clipt my wings for thy
pleasure. How should I fly?'

And to the little Squirrel who lived in the fir-tree, and was
lonely, he said, 'Where is my mother?'

And the Squirrel answered, 'Thou hast slain mine. Dost thou seek
to slay thine also?'

And the Star-Child wept and bowed his head, and prayed forgiveness
of God's things, and went on through the forest, seeking for the
beggar-woman. And on the third day he came to the other side of
the forest and went down into the plain.

And when he passed through the villages the children mocked him,
and threw stones at him, and the carlots would not suffer him even
to sleep in the byres lest he might bring mildew on the stored
corn, so foul was he to look at, and their hired men drave him
away, and there was none who had pity on him. Nor could he hear
anywhere of the beggar-woman who was his mother, though for the
space of three years he wandered over the world, and often seemed
to see her on the road in front of him, and would call to her, and
run after her till the sharp flints made his feet to bleed. But
overtake her he could not, and those who dwelt by the way did ever
deny that they had seen her, or any like to her, and they made
sport of his sorrow.

For the space of three years he wandered over the world, and in the
world there was neither love nor loving-kindness nor charity for
him, but it was even such a world as he had made for himself in the
days of his great pride.


And one evening he came to the gate of a strong-walled city that
stood by a river, and, weary and footsore though he was, he made to
enter in. But the soldiers who stood on guard dropped their
halberts across the entrance, and said roughly to him, 'What is thy
business in the city?'

'I am seeking for my mother,' he answered, 'and I pray ye to suffer
me to pass, for it may be that she is in this city.'

But they mocked at him, and one of them wagged a black beard, and
set down his shield and cried, 'Of a truth, thy mother will not be
merry when she sees thee, for thou art more ill-favoured than the
toad of the marsh, or the adder that crawls in the fen. Get thee
gone. Get thee gone. Thy mother dwells not in this city.'

And another, who held a yellow banner in his hand, said to him,
'Who is thy mother, and wherefore art thou seeking for her?'

And he answered, 'My mother is a beggar even as I am, and I have
treated her evilly, and I pray ye to suffer me to pass that she may
give me her forgiveness, if it be that she tarrieth in this city.'
But they would not, and pricked him with their spears.

And, as he turned away weeping, one whose armour was inlaid with
gilt flowers, and on whose helmet couched a lion that had wings,
came up and made inquiry of the soldiers who it was who had sought
entrance. And they said to him, 'It is a beggar and the child of a
beggar, and we have driven him away.'

'Nay,' he cried, laughing, 'but we will sell the foul thing for a
slave, and his price shall be the price of a bowl of sweet wine.'

And an old and evil-visaged man who was passing by called out, and
said, 'I will buy him for that price,' and, when he had paid the
price, he took the Star-Child by the hand and led him into the
city.

And after that they had gone through many streets they came to a
little door that was set in a wall that was covered with a
pomegranate tree. And the old man touched the door with a ring of
graved jasper and it opened, and they went down five steps of brass
into a garden filled with black poppies and green jars of burnt
clay. And the old man took then from his turban a scarf of figured
silk, and bound with it the eyes of the Star-Child, and drave him
in front of him. And when the scarf was taken off his eyes, the
Star-Child found himself in a dungeon, that was lit by a lantern of
horn.

And the old man set before him some mouldy bread on a trencher and
said, 'Eat,' and some brackish water in a cup and said, 'Drink,'
and when he had eaten and drunk, the old man went out, locking the
door behind him and fastening it with an iron chain.


And on the morrow the old man, who was indeed the subtlest of the
magicians of Libya and had learned his art from one who dwelt in
the tombs of the Nile, came in to him and frowned at him, and said,
'In a wood that is nigh to the gate of this city of Giaours there
are three pieces of gold. One is of white gold, and another is of
yellow gold, and the gold of the third one is red. To-day thou
shalt bring me the piece of white gold, and if thou bringest it not
back, I will beat thee with a hundred stripes. Get thee away
quickly, and at sunset I will be waiting for thee at the door of
the garden. See that thou bringest the white gold, or it shall go
ill with thee, for thou art my slave, and I have bought thee for
the price of a bowl of sweet wine.' And he bound the eyes of the
Star-Child with the scarf of figured silk, and led him through the
house, and through the garden of poppies, and up the five steps of
brass. And having opened the little door with his ring he set him
in the street.


And the Star-Child went out of the gate of the city, and came to
the wood of which the Magician had spoken to him.

Now this wood was very fair to look at from without, and seemed
full of singing birds and of sweet-scented flowers, and the Star-
Child entered it gladly. Yet did its beauty profit him little, for
wherever he went harsh briars and thorns shot up from the ground
and encompassed him, and evil nettles stung him, and the thistle
pierced him with her daggers, so that he was in sore distress. Nor
could he anywhere find the piece of white gold of which the
Magician had spoken, though he sought for it from morn to noon, and
from noon to sunset. And at sunset he set his face towards home,
weeping bitterly, for he knew what fate was in store for him.

But when he had reached the outskirts of the wood, he heard from a
thicket a cry as of some one in pain. And forgetting his own
sorrow he ran back to the place, and saw there a little Hare caught
in a trap that some hunter had set for it.

And the Star-Child had pity on it, and released it, and said to it,
'I am myself but a slave, yet may I give thee thy freedom.'

And the Hare answered him, and said: 'Surely thou hast given me
freedom, and what shall I give thee in return?'

And the Star-Child said to it, 'I am seeking for a piece of white
gold, nor can I anywhere find it, and if I bring it not to my
master he will beat me.'

'Come thou with me,' said the Hare, 'and I will lead thee to it,
for I know where it is hidden, and for what purpose.'

So the Star-Child went with the Hare, and lo! in the cleft of a
great oak-tree he saw the piece of white gold that he was seeking.
And he was filled with joy, and seized it, and said to the Hare,
'The service that I did to thee thou hast rendered back again many
times over, and the kindness that I showed thee thou hast repaid a
hundred-fold.'

'Nay,' answered the Hare, 'but as thou dealt with me, so I did deal
with thee,' and it ran away swiftly, and the Star-Child went
towards the city.

Now at the gate of the city there was seated one who was a leper.
Over his face hung a cowl of grey linen, and through the eyelets
his eyes gleamed like red coals. And when he saw the Star-Child
coming, he struck upon a wooden bowl, and clattered his bell, and
called out to him, and said, 'Give me a piece of money, or I must
die of hunger. For they have thrust me out of the city, and there
is no one who has pity on me.'

'Alas!' cried the Star-Child, 'I have but one piece of money in my
wallet, and if I bring it not to my master he will beat me, for I
am his slave.'

But the leper entreated him, and prayed of him, till the Star-Child
had pity, and gave him the piece of white gold.


And when he came to the Magician's house, the Magician opened to
him, and brought him in, and said to him, 'Hast thou the piece of
white gold?' And the Star-Child answered, 'I have it not.' So the
Magician fell upon him, and beat him, and set before him an empty
trencher, and said, 'Eat,' and an empty cup, and said, 'Drink,' and
flung him again into the dungeon.

And on the morrow the Magician came to him, and said, 'If to-day
thou bringest me not the piece of yellow gold, I will surely keep
thee as my slave, and give thee three hundred stripes.'

So the Star-Child went to the wood, and all day long he searched
for the piece of yellow gold, but nowhere could he find it. And at
sunset he sat him down and began to weep, and as he was weeping
there came to him the little Hare that he had rescued from the
trap,

And the Hare said to him, 'Why art thou weeping? And what dost
thou seek in the wood?'

And the Star-Child answered, 'I am seeking for a piece of yellow
gold that is hidden here, and if I find it not my master will beat
me, and keep me as a slave.'

'Follow me,' cried the Hare, and it ran through the wood till it
came to a pool of water. And at the bottom of the pool the piece
of yellow gold was lying.

'How shall I thank thee?' said the Star-Child, 'for lo! this is the
second time that you have succoured me.'

'Nay, but thou hadst pity on me first,' said the Hare, and it ran
away swiftly.

And the Star-Child took the piece of yellow gold, and put it in his
wallet, and hurried to the city. But the leper saw him coming, and
ran to meet him, and knelt down and cried, 'Give me a piece of
money or I shall die of hunger.'

And the Star-Child said to him, 'I have in my wallet but one piece
of yellow gold, and if I bring it not to my master he will beat me
and keep me as his slave.'

But the leper entreated him sore, so that the Star-Child had pity
on him, and gave him the piece of yellow gold.

And when he came to the Magician's house, the Magician opened to
him, and brought him in, and said to him, 'Hast thou the piece of
yellow gold?' And the Star-Child said to him, 'I have it not.' So
the Magician fell upon him, and beat him, and loaded him with
chains, and cast him again into the dungeon.

And on the morrow the Magician came to him, and said, 'If to-day
thou bringest me the piece of red gold I will set thee free, but if
thou bringest it not I will surely slay thee.'

So the Star-Child went to the wood, and all day long he searched
for the piece of red gold, but nowhere could he find it. And at
evening he sat him down and wept, and as he was weeping there came
to him the little Hare.

And the Hare said to him, 'The piece of red gold that thou seekest
is in the cavern that is behind thee. Therefore weep no more but
be glad.'

'How shall I reward thee?' cried the Star-Child, 'for lo! this is
the third time thou hast succoured me.'

'Nay, but thou hadst pity on me first,' said the Hare, and it ran
away swiftly.

And the Star-Child entered the cavern, and in its farthest corner
he found the piece of red gold. So he put it in his wallet, and
hurried to the city. And the leper seeing him coming, stood in the
centre of the road, and cried out, and said to him, 'Give me the
piece of red money, or I must die,' and the Star-Child had pity on
him again, and gave him the piece of red gold, saying, 'Thy need is
greater than mine.' Yet was his heart heavy, for he knew what evil
fate awaited him.


But lo! as he passed through the gate of the city, the guards bowed
down and made obeisance to him, saying, 'How beautiful is our
lord!' and a crowd of citizens followed him, and cried out, 'Surely
there is none so beautiful in the whole world!' so that the Star-
Child wept, and said to himself, 'They are mocking me, and making
light of my misery.' And so large was the concourse of the people,
that he lost the threads of his way, and found himself at last in a
great square, in which there was a palace of a King.

And the gate of the palace opened, and the priests and the high
officers of the city ran forth to meet him, and they abased
themselves before him, and said, 'Thou art our lord for whom we
have been waiting, and the son of our King.'

And the Star-Child answered them and said, 'I am no king's son, but
the child of a poor beggar-woman. And how say ye that I am
beautiful, for I know that I am evil to look at?'

Then he, whose armour was inlaid with gilt flowers, and on whose
helmet crouched a lion that had wings, held up a shield, and cried,
'How saith my lord that he is not beautiful?'

And the Star-Child looked, and lo! his face was even as it had
been, and his comeliness had come back to him, and he saw that in
his eyes which he had not seen there before.

And the priests and the high officers knelt down and said to him,
'It was prophesied of old that on this day should come he who was
to rule over us. Therefore, let our lord take this crown and this
sceptre, and be in his justice and mercy our King over us.'

But he said to them, 'I am not worthy, for I have denied the mother
who bare me, nor may I rest till I have found her, and known her
forgiveness. Therefore, let me go, for I must wander again over
the world, and may not tarry here, though ye bring me the crown and
the sceptre.' And as he spake he turned his face from them towards
the street that led to the gate of the city, and lo! amongst the
crowd that pressed round the soldiers, he saw the beggar-woman who
was his mother, and at her side stood the leper, who had sat by the
road.

And a cry of joy broke from his lips, and he ran over, and kneeling
down he kissed the wounds on his mother's feet, and wet them with
his tears. He bowed his head in the dust, and sobbing, as one
whose heart might break, he said to her: 'Mother, I denied thee in
the hour of my pride. Accept me in the hour of my humility.
Mother, I gave thee hatred. Do thou give me love. Mother, I
rejected thee. Receive thy child now.' But the beggar-woman
answered him not a word.

And he reached out his hands, and clasped the white feet of the
leper, and said to him: 'Thrice did I give thee of my mercy. Bid
my mother speak to me once.' But the leper answered him not a
word.

And he sobbed again and said: 'Mother, my suffering is greater
than I can bear. Give me thy forgiveness, and let me go back to
the forest.' And the beggar-woman put her hand on his head, and
said to him, 'Rise,' and the leper put his hand on his head, and
said to him, 'Rise,' also.

And he rose up from his feet, and looked at them, and lo! they were
a King and a Queen.

And the Queen said to him, 'This is thy father whom thou hast
succoured.'

And the King said, 'This is thy mother whose feet thou hast washed
with thy tears.' And they fell on his neck and kissed him, and
brought him into the palace and clothed him in fair raiment, and
set the crown upon his head, and the sceptre in his hand, and over
the city that stood by the river he ruled, and was its lord. Much
justice and mercy did he show to all, and the evil Magician he
banished, and to the Woodcutter and his wife he sent many rich
gifts, and to their children he gave high honour. Nor would he
suffer any to be cruel to bird or beast, but taught love and
loving-kindness and charity, and to the poor he gave bread, and to
the naked he gave raiment, and there was peace and plenty in the
land.

Yet ruled he not long, so great had been his suffering, and so
bitter the fire of his testing, for after the space of three years
he died. And he who came after him ruled evilly.





End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of A House of Pomegranates, by Wilde