Tired out with the labours of the day, an old Ferryman lay asleep in his hut, on the bank of a wide river, in flood from heavy rains. In the middle of the night he was awakened by a loud cry, — he listened — it seemed the call of belated travellers wishing to be ferried over.
Opening the door, he was astonished to see two Will-o'-the-Wisps dancing round his boat, which was still secured to its moorings. With human voices, they declared they were in a great hurry, and must be taken instantly across the river. Without losing a moment, the old Ferryman pushed off and rowed across with his usual skill. During the passage the strangers whispered together in an unknown language, and several times burst into loud laughter, whilst they amused themselves with dancing upon the sides and seats of the boat, and cutting fantastic capers at the bottom.
The boat reels,” cried the old man; “if you are so restless, it may upset. Sit down, you Will-o'-the-Wisps.
They burst into laughter at this command, ridiculed the boatman, and became more troublesome than ever. But he bore their annoyance patiently, and they reached the opposite bank.
Here is something for your trouble,” said the passengers, shaking themselves, and a number of glittering gold pieces fell into the boat. “What are you doing?” cried the old man, “bad luck if a single piece of gold falls into the water! The river hates gold, and would swallow both me and my boat. Who can say even what might happen to you? I pray you take back your gold.
We can take nothing back, which we have once shaken from us,” answered one of them. “Then,” replied the old boatman, “I must take it ashore and bury it,” and he stooped and collected the gold in his cap.
The Will-o'-the-Wisps had in the meantime leaped out of the boat, and seeing this the old man cried, “Pay me my fare.
The man who refuses gold must work for nothing,” answered the Will-o'-the-Wisps. “But you shall not go,” replied the Ferryman defiantly, “until you have given me three cauliflowers, three artichokes, and three large onions.
The Will-o'-the-Wisps were in the act of running off with a laugh, when they felt themselves in some strange way fixed to the earth; they had never experienced such a sensation. They then promised to pay the demand without delay, upon which the Ferryman released them and instantly pushed off in his boat.
He had already gone some distance when they called after him, “Old man! listen, we have forgotten something important”; but he did not hear them and continued his course. When he had reached a point lower down, on the same side of the river, he came to some rocks inaccesible to the water, and proceeded to bury the dangerous gold. Into a deep cleft between two rocks, he threw the gold, and returned to his dwelling. This cleft was inhabited by a beautiful green snake, who was awakened from her sleep by the sound of the falling money. At the very first appearance of the glittering coins, she devoured them greedily, then searched about carefully in hopes of finding such other coins as might have fallen accidentally amongst the briers, or between the fissures of the rocks.
The Snake immediately experienced the most delightful sensations, and perceived with joy that she had become suddenly shining and transparent. She had long known that this change was possible, but wondering whether she would be bright for ever, curiosity drove her to leave her dwelling and find out, if possible, who had sent the beautiful gold. She found no one; but she became lost in admiration of herself, and of the brilliant light which illumined her path through the thick underwood, and shed its rays over the surrounding green. The leaves of the trees glittered like emeralds, and the flowers shone with wondrous hues. In vain did she penetrate the lonely wilderness, but hope dawned when she reached the plains, and saw, some way off, a light resembling her own. “Have I at last discovered my fellow?” she exclaimed, and hurried to the spot. Swamp and morass were no hindrance to her; for though the dry meadow and the high rock were her dearest habitations, and though she loved to feed upon juicy roots, and quench her thirst with the dew and with fresh water from the spring, yet for the sake of her beloved gold and of her glorious light, she would face any privation.
Wearied and exhausted, she finally reached the confines of a wide morass, where the two Will-o'-the-Wisps were amusing themselves in fantastic capers. She went towards them, and saluted them, expressing her delight at being able to claim relationship with such charming personages. The lights played around her, hopped from side to side, and laughed in their own peculiar fashion. “Dear lady!” they cried, “what does it matter, even though your form is horizontal; we are at least related through brilliancy. But see how a tall slender figure becomes us vertical gentry.” And so saying the lights compressed their breadth and shot up into a thin and pointed line. “Do not take offence, dear friend,” they continued, “but what family can boast of a privilege like ours! Ever since the first Will-o'-the-Wisp was created, none of our race have ever been obliged to sit down or take repose.
But all this time the feelings of the Snake in the presence of her relations were anything but pleasant; for, raise her head as high as she would, she was compelled to stoop to earth again, when she wanted to advance; and though she was proud of the brilliancy which she shed round her own dark abode, she felt her light gradually diminish in the presence of her relatives, and she began to be afraid that it might finally be extinguished.
In her perplexity she hastily enquired whether the gentlemen could inform her whence had come the shining gold, which had fallen into the cleft of the rocks, as it seemed to her, a bounteous shower from heaven. The Will-o'-the-Wisps shook themselves, laughing loudly, and a deluge of gold pieces at once fell around. The Snake devoured them greedily. “We hope you like them,” cried the shining Will-o'-the-Wisps; “we can supply you with any quantity,” and they shook themselves with such effect that the Snake found it difficult to swallow the bright morsels quickly enough. Her brilliancy increased as the gold disappeared, till at length she shone with inconceivable radiance, while in the same proportion the Will-o'-the-Wisps grew thin and tapering, without, however, losing any of their cheerful humour.
I am under eternal obligation to you,” said the Snake, pausing to breathe after her voracious meal; “ask of me what you like, I will give you anything you demand.
A bargain!” cried the Will-o'-the-Wisps; “tell us where the beautiful Lily dwells, lead us to her palace and gardens without delay; we die of impatience to cast ourselves at her feet.
You ask a favour,” sighed the Snake, “which is not in my power so quickly to bestow. The beautiful Lily lives, unfortunately, on the opposite bank of the river. We cannot cross over on such a stormy night as this.
Cruel river, which separates us from the object of our desires! But can we not call back the old Ferryman?
Your wish is vain,” answered the Snake, “for even if you were to meet him on this bank, he would refuse to take you, because although he can convey passengers to this side of the river, he may carry no one back.
Bad news, indeed; but are there no other means of crossing the river?
There are, but not at this moment; I myself can take you over at mid-day.
That is an hour when we do not usually travel,” replied the Will-o'-the-Wisps.
Then you had better postpone your intention till evening, when you may cross in the giant's shadow.” “How is that done?” they asked.
The giant, who lives hard by,” replied the Snake, “is powerless with his body; his hands cannot lift even a straw, his shoulders can bear no burden, but his shadow accomplishes all for him. Hence he is most powerful at sunrise and at sunset. At the hour of evening, the giant will approach the river softly, and if you place yourself upon his shadow, it will carry you over. Meet me at mid-day, at the corner of the wood, where the trees hang over the river, and I myself will take you across, and introduce you to the beautiful Lily. If, however, you shrink from the noonday heat, you must apply to the giant, when evening casts its shadows, and he will no doubt oblige you.
With a graceful salute the young gentlemen took their leave, and the Snake rejoiced at their departure, partly that she might indulge her feelings of pleasure in her own light, and partly that she might satisfy a curiosity which had long tormented her.
In the clefts of the rocks where she dwelt, she had lately made a wonderful discovery; for although she had been obliged to crawl through these chasms in darkness, she had learnt to distinguish every object by feeling. The productions of Nature, which she was accustomed to encounter, were all of an irregular kind. At one time she wound her way amongst enormous crystals, at another she was temporarily obstructed by the veins of solid silver, and many were the precious stones which her light discovered to her. But, to her great astonishment, she had encountered in a rock, which was securely closed on all sides, objects which betrayed the plastic hand of man. Smooth walls, which she could not ascend, sharp, regular angles, tapering columns, and what was even more wonderful, human figures, round which she had often entwined herself, and which seemed to her to be formed of brass or of polished marble. She was now anxious to behold all these objects with her eyes, and to confirm, by her own observation, what she had hitherto only surmised. She thought herself capable now of illumining with her own light these wonderful subterranean caverns, and hoped to become thoroughly acquainted with these astonishing mysteries. She did not delay and quickly found the opening through which she was wont to penetrate into the sanctuary.
Having arrived at the place, she looked round with wonder, and though her brilliancy was unable to light the whole cavern, yet many of the objects were sufficiently distinct. With wonder and awe, she raised her eyes to an illumined niche, in which stood the statue of a venerable King, of pure gold. The size of the statue was colossal but the countenance was rather that of a little than of a great man. His shapely limbs were covered with a simple robe, and his head was encircled by an oaken garland.
Scarcely had the Snake beheld this venerable form, than the King found utterance, and said, “How comest thou hither?
Through the cleft in which the gold abides,” answered the Snake.
What is nobler than gold?” asked the King. “Light,” replied the Snake.
And what is more vivid than light?” continued the King.
Speech,” said the Snake.
During this conversation the Snake had looked stealthily around and observed another statue in an adjoining niche. A silver King was enthroned there, — a tall and slender figure; his limbs were enveloped in an embroidered mantle, his crown and sceptre were adorned with precious stones; his countenance was serene and dignified, and he seemed about to speak, when a dark vein, which ran through the marble of the wall, suddenly became brilliant, and cast a soft light through the whole temple. This light discovered a third King, whose mighty form was cast in brass; he leaned upon a massive club, his head was crowned with laurel, and his proportions resembled a rock rather than a human being.
The Snake felt a desire to approach a fourth King, who stood before her some way off; but the wall suddenly opened, the illumined vein flashed like lightning, and was as suddenly extinguished.
A man of middle stature now approached. He was dressed in the garb of a peasant; in his hand he bore a lamp, whose flame was delightful to behold, and which lightened the entire dwelling, without leaving any trace of shadow. “Why dost thou come, since we have already light?” asked the Golden King.
You know that I can shed no ray on what is dark,” replied the Old Man.
Will my kingdom end?” asked the Silver Monarch. “Late or never,” answered the other.
The Brazen King then asked, in a voice of thunder, “When shall I arise?
Soon,” was the reply.
With whom shall I be united?” continued the former.
With thine elder brother,” answered the latter. “And what will become of the youngest?
He will rest.
I am not tired,” interrupted the fourth King, with a deep, but quavering voice.
During this conversation the Snake had wound her way softly through the temple, surveyed everything which it contained, and approached the niche in which the fourth King stood. He leaned against a pillar, and his fair countenance bore traces of melancholy. It was difficult to distinguish the metal of which the statue was composed. It resembled a mixture of the three metals of which his brothers were formed; but it seemed as if the materials had not thoroughly blended, for the veins of gold and silver crossed each other irregularly through the brazen mass, and destroyed the effect of the whole.
The Golden King now asked, “How many secrets dost thou know?
Three,” came the reply.
And which is the most important?” inquired the Silver King. “The revealed,” answered the Old Man.
Wilt thou explain it to us?” asked the Brazen King.
When I have learnt the fourth,” was the answer.
I care not,” murmured he of the strange compound. “I know the fourth,” interrupted the Snake, approaching the Old Man, and whispering in his ear.
The time has come,” cried the latter, in a loud voice. The sounds echoed through the temple; the statues rang again; and in the same moment the old man disappeared towards the west, and the Snake towards the east, and both pierced instantly through the impediments of the rock.
Every passage through which the old man passed became immediately filled with gold; for the lamp which he carried possessed the wonderful property of converting stones into gold, wood into silver, and dead animals into jewels. But in order to produce this effect, it was necessary that no other light should be near. In the presence of another light the lamp merely emitted a faint illumination, which, however, gave joy to every living thing. The old man returned to his hut on the brow of the hill, and found his wife in great sorrow. She was sitting by the fire, her eyes filled with tears, and she refused all consolation.
What a calamity,” she cried, “that I allowed you to leave home today!
What has happened?” answered the Old Man, very quietly.
You were scarcely gone,” she sobbed, “before two rude travellers came to the door; unfortunately I let them in as they seemed good, worthy people. They were attired like flames, and might have passed for Will-o'-the-Wisps; but they had scarcely come in before they started flattering and became so impertinent that I blush to think of their conduct.
The Old Man answered with a smile, “the gentlemen were only amusing themselves, and, at your age, you might have taken it as ordinary politeness.
My age!” retorted the old woman. “Will you for ever remind me of my age; how old am I then? And ordinary politeness! But I can tell you something; look round at the walls of our hut. You will now be able to see the old stones which have been concealed for more than a hundred years. These visitors extracted all the gold more quickly than I can tell you, and they assured me that it was of capital flavour. When they had completely cleared the walls they grew cheerful, and, in a few minutes, they became tall, broad; and shining. They again commenced their tricks, and repeated their flatteries, calling me a queen. They shook themselves, and immediately a deluge of gold pieces fell on all sides. You may see some of them still glittering on the floor; but bad luck soon came. Mops swallowed some of the pieces, and lies dead in the chimney-corner. Poor dog, his death troubles me sorely, I did not notice it until they had departed, otherwise I should not have promised to pay the Ferryman the debt they owed him.
How much do they owe him?” inquired the Old Man.
Three cauliflowers, three artichokes, and three onions. I have promised to take them to the river at daybreak,” answered his wife. “You had better oblige them” said the Old Man, “and they may perhaps serve us in time of need.
I do not know if they will keep their word,” said the woman, “but they promised and vowed to serve us.
The fire had, in the meantime, died down; but the old man covered the cinders with ashes, put away the shining gold pieces, and lighted his lamp anew. In the glorious illumination the walls became covered with gold, and Mops was transformed into a most beautiful onyx. The variety of colour which glittered through the costly gem produced a splendid effect.
Take your basket and place the onyx in it,” said the Old Man. “Then collect the three cauliflowers, the three artichokes, and the three onions, lay them together, and carry them to the river. The Snake will bear you across at mid-day; then visit the beautiful Lily; her touch will give life to the onyx, as her touch gives death to every living thing; and it will be a loving friend to her. Tell her not to mourn; that her deliverance is nigh; that she must consider a great misfortune as her greatest blessing, for the time has come.
The old woman prepared her basket, and set forth at daybreak. The rising sun shone brightly on the river, which gleamed in the far distance. The old woman journeyed slowly on, for though the weight of the basket oppressed her, it did not arise from the onyx. Nothing lifeless proved a burden, for when the basket contained dead things it rose up and floated over her head. But a fresh vegetable, or the smallest living creature, made her tired. She had toiled for some distance, when she started and suddenly stood still; for she had nearly placed her foot upon the shadow of the giant, which was advancing towards her from the plain. She perceived his monstrous bulk; he had just bathed in the river, and was coming out of the water. She did not know how to avoid him. He saw her, saluted her jestingly, and thrust the hand of his shadow into her basket. With skill, he stole a cauliflower, an artichoke, and an onion, and raised them to his mouth. He then proceeded on his way up the stream, leaving the woman alone.
She considered whether it would not be better to return, and supply the missing vegetables from her own garden, and, lost in these reflections, she went on her way until she arrived at the bank of the river. She sat down, and waited for a long time the arrival of the Ferryman. At last he appeared, having in his boat a mysterious traveller. A handsome, noble youth stepped on shore.
What have you brought with you?” said the old man.
The vegetables which the Will-o'-the-Wisps owe you,” replied the woman, pointing to the contents of her basket.
But when he found that there were only two of each kind, he became angry and refused to take them.
The woman implored him to relent, assuring him that she could not return home, as she had found her burden heavy, and she had still a long way to go. But he was obstinate, maintaining that the decision did not depend upon him.
I am obliged to collect my gains for nine hours,” he said, “and I keep nothing for myself, till I have paid a third part to the river.
At length, after a great deal of argument, he told her there was still a remedy.
If you give security to the river, and acknowledge your debt, I will take the six articles, though such a course is not without danger.
But if I keep my word, I incur no risk,” she said.
Certainly not,” he replied. “Put your hand into — the river, and promise that within four-and-twenty hours you will pay the debt.
The old woman complied, but shuddered as she observed that her hand, on drawing it out of the water, had become coal black. She scolded angrily, exclaiming that her hands had always been most beautiful, and that, notwithstanding her hard work, she had always kept them white and delicate. She gazed at her hand with the greatest alarm, and cried, “Worse and worse, — it has shrunk, and is already much smaller than the other.
It only appears so now,” said the Ferryman, “but if you break your word, it will be so in reality. Your hand will in that case grow smaller, and finally disappear, though you will still preserve the use of it.
I would rather lose it altogether,” she replied, “and that my misfortune should be concealed. But no matter, I will keep my word, to escape this dire disgrace, and avoid so much anxiety.” Whereupon she took her basket, which rose aloft, and floated freely over her head. She hurried after the Young Man, who was walking thoughtfully along the bank. His noble figure and peculiar dress had made a deep impression upon her.
His breast was covered with a shining cuirass, whose transparency allowed the motions of his graceful form to be seen. A purple mantle hung from his shoulders and his auburn locks waved in beautiful curls round his uncovered head. His noble countenance and his shapely feet were exposed to the burning rays of the sun. Thus did he journey patiently over the hot sand, which, “true to one sorrow, he trod without feeling.
The garrulous old woman sought to engage him in conversation, but he took no notice; until, notwithstanding his beauty, she became weary, and took leave of him, saying, “You are too slow for me, sir, and I cannot lose my time, as I am anxious to cross the river, with the help of the Green Snake, and to present the beautiful Lily with my husband's handsome present.” So saying she left him speedily, upon which the Young Man took heart and followed her.
You are going to the beautiful Lily,” he exclaimed, “if so, our way lies together. What gift are you taking her?
Sir,” answered the woman, “it is not fair that you should so earnestly inquire after my secrets, when you paid so little attention to my questions. But if you will tell me your history, I will tell you all about my present.
They made the bargain; the woman told her story, including the account of the dog, and allowed him to look at the beautiful onyx.
He lifted the precious stone from the basket, and took Mops, who seemed to slumber softly, in his arms.
Lucky animal!” he cried, “you will be touched by her soft hands, and restored to life, instead of flying from her touch, like all other living things, to escape an evil doom. But, alas I what words are these? Is it not a sadder and more fearful fate to be annihilated by her presence, than to die by her hand? Behold me, thus young, what a melancholy destiny is mine! This armour, which I have borne with glory in the battle, this purple which I have earned by the wisdom of my government, have been converted by Fate, the one into an unceasing burden, the other into an empty honour. Crown, sceptre, and sword, are worthless. I am now as naked and destitute as every other son of clay. For such is the spell of her beautiful blue eyes, that they damp the vigour of every living creature; and those whom the touch of her hand does not destroy, are reduced to the condition of breathing shadows.
Thus he lamented long, but without satisfying the curiosity of the old woman, who wished to know of his mental no less than his bodily sufferings. She learnt neither the name of his father nor his kingdom. He stroked the rigid Mops, to whom the beams of the sun and his caresses had imparted warmth. He enquired earnestly about the man with the lamp, about the effect of the mysterious light, and seemed to expect a relief from his deep sorrow.
Thus discoursing, they saw at a distance the majestic arch of the bridge, which stretched from one bank of the river to the other, and shone in the rays of the sun. Both were amazed at the sight, for they had never before seen it so resplendent. “But,” cried the Prince, “was it not sufficiently beautiful before, with its decorations of jasper and opal? Can we now dare to cross over it, constructed as it is of emerald and chrysolite of such varied beauty?
Neither had any idea of the change which the Snake had undergone; for it was indeed the Snake, whose custom it was at mid-day to arch her form across the stream, and assume the appearance of a beautiful bridge, which travellers crossed in silent reverence.
Scarcely had they reached the opposite bank, when the bridge began to sway slowly from side to side, and sank gradually to the level of the water, when the Green Snake assumed her accustomed shape, and followed the travellers to the shore. The latter thanked her for her condescension in allowing them a passage across the stream, perceiving at the same time, that there were evidently more persons present than were actually visible. They heard a light whispering, which the Snake answered with a similar sound. Listening, they heard the following words: “We will first make our observations unperceived, in the park of the beautiful Lily, and look for you when the shadows of evening fall, to introduce us to such perfect beauty. You will find us on the bank of the great lake.
Agreed,” answered the Snake, and her hissing voice dissolved in the distance.
The three travellers further considered in what order they should appear before the beautiful Lily; for however numerous her visitors might be, they must enter and depart singly if they wished to escape bitter suffering.
The woman, carrying the transformed dog in the basket, came first to the garden and sought an interview with her benefactress. She was easily found, as she was then singing to her harp. The sweet tones showed themselves first in the form of circles, upon the bosom of the calm lake, and then, like a soft breeze, they imparted motion to the grass and to the tremulous waves. She was seated in a quiet nook beneath the shade of trees, and at the very first glance she enchanted the eyes, the ear, and the heart of the old woman, who advanced towards her with delight, and stated that since their last meeting, she had become more beautiful than ever. While still at a distance she saluted the charming maiden with these words: “What joy it is to be in your presence! What a heaven surrounds you! What a spell proceeds from your lyre, which, encircled by your soft arms, and influenced by the pressure of your gentle bosom and slender fingers, utters such entrancing melody! Thrice happy the blessed youth who could claim so great a favour!
So saying, she came nearer. The beautiful Lily raised her eyes, let her hands drop, and said, “Do not distress me with your untimely praise; it makes me feel even more unhappy. And see, here is my beautiful canary which used to accompany my songs so sweetly dead at my feet; he was accustomed to sit upon my harp, and was carefully taught to avoid my touch. This morning, when, refreshed by sleep, I tuned a pleasing melody, the little warbler sang with increased harmony, when suddenly a hawk soared above us. My little bird sought refuge in my bosom, and at that instant I felt the last gasp of his expiring breath. It is true that the hawk meeting my glance, fell lifeless into the stream; but what avails this penalty to me? — my darling is dead, and his grave will only add to the number of the weeping willows in my garden.
Take courage, beautiful Lily,” interrupted the old woman, while she wiped away a tear which the story of the sorrowful maiden had brought to her eyes “take courage, and learn from my experience to moderate your grief. Great misfortune is often the harbinger of intense joy. For the time approaches; but in truth the web of life is of a mingled yarn. See how black my hand has grown, and, in truth, it has become much smaller; I must be speedy, ere it be reduced to nothing. Why did I promise favours to the Will-o'-the-Wisps, or meet the giant, or dip my hand into the river? Can you oblige me with a cauliflower, an artichoke, or an onion? I shall take them to the river, and then my hand will become so white, that it will almost equal the lustre of your own.
Cauliflowers and onions abound, but artichokes cannot be procured. My gardens produce neither flowers nor fruit; but every twig which I plant upon the grave of anything I love, bursts into leaf at once, and grows into a fair tree. Thus, beneath my eye, alas! have grown these clustering trees and copses. These tall pines, these shadowy cypresses, these great oaks, these overhanging beeches, were once small twigs planted by my hand, as sad memorials in an uncongenial soil.
The old woman paid little heed to this speech, for she was employed in watching her hand, which in the presence of the beautiful Lily became every instant of darker hue, and grew gradually smaller. She was just going to take her basket and depart, when she felt that she had forgotten the most important of her duties. She took the transformed dog into her arms, and laid him upon the grass, not far from the beautiful Lily. “My husband sends you this present,” she said. “You know that your touch can impart life to this precious stone. The good and faithful animal will be a joy to you, and my grief at losing him will be alleviated by the thought that he is yours.” The beautiful Lily looked at the pretty creature with delight, and joy beamed from her eyes. “Many things combine to inspire hope; but, alas! is it not a delusion of our nature, to expect that joy is near when grief is at the worst?
Of what avail these omens all so fair?
My sweet bird's death — my friend's hands blackly dyed,
A dog transformed into a jewel rare,
Sent by the Lamp our faltering steps to guide.”
“Far from mankind and all the joys I prize,
To grief and sorrow I am still allied —
When from the river will the Temple rise,
Or the Bridge span it o'er from side to side?
The old woman waited with impatience for the con-elusion of the song, which the beautiful Lily had accompanied with her harp, entrancing the ears of every listener. She was about to say farewell, when the arrival of the Snake compelled her to remain. She had heard the last words of the song, and on this account spoke words of encouragement to the beautiful Lily. “The prophecy of the bridge is fulfilled,” she cried; “this good woman will bear witness of the splendour of the arch. Formerly of untransparent jasper, which only reflected the light upon the sides, it is now converted into precious jewels of transparent hue. No beryl is so bright, and no emerald so splendid.
I congratulate you,” said the Lily, “but forgive me if I doubt whether the prediction is fulfilled. Only foot-passengers can as yet cross the arch of your bridge; and it has been foretold that horses and carriages, travellers of all descriptions, shall pass and repass in multitudes. Has prediction nothing to say with respect to the great pillars which are to ascend from the river?
The old woman, whose eyes were fixed immovably upon her hand, interrupted this speech, and bade farewell.
Wait one moment,” said the beautiful Lily, “and take my poor canary-bird with you. Implore the Lamp to convert him into a topaz, and I will then revivify him with my touch, and he and your good Mops will then be my greatest consolation. But make what speed you can, for with sunset decay will have set in, marring the beauty of its delicate form.
The old woman covered the little corpse with some soft young leaves, placed it in the basket, and hastened from the spot.
Whatever you may say,” continued the Snake, resuming the interrupted conversation, “the temple is built.
But it does not yet stand upon the river,” replied the beautiful Lily.
It still rests in the bowels of the earth,” continued the Snake. “I have seen the Kings, and spoken to them.
And when will they awake?” inquired the Lily.
The Snake answered, “I heard the mighty voice resound through the temple, announcing that the hour was come.
A ray of joy beamed from the face of the beautiful Lily as she exclaimed, “Do I hear those words for the second time to-day? When will the hour arrive in which I shall hear them for the third time?” She rose, and immediately a beautiful maiden came from the wood and relieved her of her harp. She was followed by another, who took the ivory chair upon which the beautiful Lily had been seated, folded it together, and carried it away, together with the silvertissued cushion. The third maiden, who bore in her hand a fan inlaid with pearls, approached to offer her services if they should be needed. These three maidens were lovely beyond all telling, though they were compelled to acknowledge that their charms fell far short of those of their beautiful mistress.
The beautiful Lily had, in the meantime, gazed on the wonderful Mops with a look of pleasure. She leaned over and touched him. He instantly leaped up, looked around joyously, bounded with delight, hastened to his benefactress, and caressed her tenderly. She took him in her arms, and pressed him to her bosom. “Cold though thou art,” she said, “and imbued with only half a life, yet thou art welcome to me. I will love thee, play with thee, kiss thee, and press thee to niy heart.” She let him go a little from her, called him back, chased him away again, and played with him so joyously and innocently, that no one could help sympathising in her delight and taking part in her pleasure, as they had before shared her sorrow and her woe.
But this happiness and this pleasant pastime were interrupted by the arrival of the melancholy Young Man. His walk and appearance were as we have described; but he seemed to be overcome by the heat of the day, and the presence of his beloved had rendered him perceptibly paler. He bore the hawk upon his wrist, where it sat with drooping wing as tranquil as a dove. “It is not well,” cried the Lily, “that you should vex my eyes with that odious bird, which has only this day murdered my little favourite.
Do not blame the unfortunate bird,” exclaimed the youth; “rather condemn yourself and fate; and let me find an associate in this companion of my grief.
Mops, in the meantime, was incessant in his caresses; and the Lily responded to his affection with the most gentle tokens of love. She clapped her hands to drive him away, and then pursued him to win him back. She caught him in her arms as he tried to escape, and chased him from her when he sought to nestle in her lap. The youth looked on silent and sorrowful; but when at length she took the dog in her arms, and pressed it to her snowy breast, and kissed it with her heavenly lips, he lost all patience, and exclaimed, in the depth of his despair, “And must I, then, whom sad destiny compels to live in your presence, and yet be separated from you, perhaps for ever, — must I, who have forfeited everything, even my own being for you, — must I look on and behold this ‘defect of nature’ gain your notice, win your love, and enjoy the paradise of your embrace? Must I continue to wander my lonely way along the banks of the stream? Not a spark of my former spirit still burns within my bosom. Oh! that it would mount into a glorious flame. If stones may repose within your bosom, then let me be converted to a stone; and if your touch can kill, I am content to receive my death at your hands.
He grew violently excited; the hawk flew from his wrist; he rushed towards the beautiful Lily; she extended her arms to forbid his approach, and touched him involuntarily. His consciousness immediately for sook him, and with dismay she felt the beautiful burden lean for support upon her breast. She started back with a scream, and the fair youth sank lifeless from her arms to the earth.
The deed was done. The sweet Lily stood motionless, and gazed on the breathless corpse. Her heart stopped beating and her eyes were bedewed with tears. In vain did Mops seek to win her attention; the whole world had died with her lost friend. Her dumb despair sought no help, for help was now in vain.
But the Snake became immediately more active. Her mind seemed occupied with thoughts of rescue; and, in truth, her mysterious movements prevented the immediate consequence of this dire misfortune. She wound her serpentine form in a wide circle round the spot where the body lay, seized the end of her tail between her teeth, and remained motionless.
In a few moments one of the servants of the beautiful Lily approached, carrying the ivory chair, and entreated her mistress to be seated. Then came a second, bearing a flame-coloured veil, with which she adorned the head of the Lily. A third maiden offered her the harp, and scarcely had she struck the chords, and awakened their sweet tones than the first maiden returned, having in her hands a circular mirror of lustrous brightness. She placed herself opposite the Lily, intercepted her looks, and reflected the most charming countenance which nature could fashion. Her sorrow added lustre to her beauty, her veil heightened her charms, the harp lent her a new grace, and though it was impossible not to hope that her sad fate might soon undergo a change, one could almost wish that that lovely and enchanting vision might last for ever.
Silently gazing upon the mirror, she drew melting tones of music from her harp; but her sorrow appeared to increase, and the chords responded to her melancholy mood. Once or twice she opened her lips to sing, but her voice refused utterance; whereupon her grief found refuge in tears. Her two attendants supported her in their arms, and her harp fell from her hands. The watchful attention of her handmaid however caught it and laid it aside.
Who will fetch the man with the lamp?” whispered the Snake in a low but audible voice. The maidens looked at each other, and the Lily's tears fell faster.
At this instant the old woman with the basket returned breathless with agitation. “I am lost and crippled for life,” she cried. “Look! my hand is nearly withered. Neither the Ferryman nor the Giant would bear me across the river, because I am indebted to the stream. In vain did I tempt them with a hundred cauliflowers and a hundred onions; they insist upon the three, and not an artichoke can be found in this neighbourhood.
Forget your distress,” said the Snake, “and give your assistance here; perhaps you will be relieved at the same time. Hasten, and find out the Will-o'-the-Wisps, for though you cannot see them by daylight, you may perhaps hear their laughter and their antics. If you make good speed the Giant may yet carry you across the river, and you may find the Man with the Lamp and send him hither.
The old woman made as much haste as possible, and the Snake as well as the Lily showed impatience for her return. But sad to say, the golden rays of the setting sun were shedding their last beams upon the tops of the trees, and lengthening the mountain shadows over lake and meadow. The movements of the Snake showed increased impatience, and the Lily was dissolved in tears.
In this moment of distress, the Snake looked anxiously around; she feared every instant that the sun would set, and that decay would penetrate within the magic circle, and exert its influence upon the corpse of the beautiful youth. She looked into the heavens and caught sight of the purple wings and breast of the hawk, which were illumined by the last rays of the sun. Her restlessness betrayed her joy at the good omen, and she was not deceived, for instantly afterwards she saw the Man with the Lamp gliding across the lake as if on skates.
The Snake did not change her position, but the Lily rising from her seat, exclaimed, “What good Spirit has sent you thus opportunely when you are so much longed for and needed?
The Spirit of my Lamp impels me,” replied the Old Man, “and the hawk conducts me hither. The former flickers when I am needed, and I immediately look to the heavens for a sign, when some bird or meteor points the way which I should go. Be tranquil, beautiful maiden. I know not if I can help you. One alone can do but little, but he can avail who in the proper hour unites his strength with others. We must wait and hope.” Then turning to the Snake, he said, “Keep your circle closed,” and seating himself upon a hillock at his side, he shed a light upon the corpse of the youth. “Now bring the little canary-bird,” he continued, “and lay it also within the circle.
The maiden took the little creature from the basket and followed the directions of the Old Man.
In the meantime the sun had set, and as the shades of evening closed around, not only the Snake and the Lamp cast their light, but the veil of the Lily was illumined with a soft radiance, and caused her pale cheeks and her white robe to beam like the dawn, and clothed her with inexpressible grace. Her appearance gave birth to various emotions; anxiety and sorrow were softened by hope of approaching happiness.
To the delight of all, the old woman appeared with the lively Will-o'-the-Wisps, who looked as if they had led a prodigal life of late, for they looked very thin. Nevertheless, they behaved politely to the princess and to the other young maidens. With an air of confidence, and much force of expression, they discoursed upon ordinary topics; and they were much struck by the charm which the shining veil shed over the beautiful Lily and her companions. The young maidens cast down their eyes with modest looks, and their beauty was heightened by the flattery which they heard. Everyone was happy and contented, not excepting even the old woman. Notwithstanding the assurance of her husband that her hand would not continue to wither whilst the Lamp shone upon it, she went on asserting that if things went on like this it would disappear entirely before midnight.
The Old Man with the Lamp had listened attentively to the speech of the Will-o'-the-Wisps, and was charmed to observe that the beautiful Lily was pleased and flattered with their compliments. Midnight came before they were aware. The Old Man looked up to the stars, saying: “We are met at a fortunate hour: let each fulfil his office, let each discharge his duty, and a general happiness will alleviate one individual trouble, as universal sorrow lessens particular joys.
After these observations, a mysterious murmur arose; for every one present spoke for himself, and mentioned what he had to do: the three maidens alone were silent. One had fallen asleep near the harp, the other beside the fan, and the third leaning against the ivory chair; and no one could blame them, for, indeed, it was late. The Will-o'-the-Wisps, after paying some trivial compliments to the.other maidens, including even the attendants, attached themselves finally to the Lily, whose beauty attracted them.
Take the mirror,” said the old man to the hawk, “and illumine the fair sleepers with the first beam of the sun, and rouse them from their slumbers by the light reflected from heaven.
The Snake now began to move: she broke up the circle, and retreated with strange twistings to the river. The Will-o'-the-Wisps followed her in solemn procession, and one might have taken them to be the most serious of figures. The old woman and her husband took up the basket, the soft light from which had been hitherto scarcely visible; but it now became clearer and more brilliant. They laid the body of the Young Man within it, with the canary-bird reposing upon his breast, and the basket raised itself into the air and floated over the head of the old woman, and she followed the steps of the Will-o'-the-Wisps. The beautiful Lily, taking Mops in her arms, walked after the old woman, and the Man with the Lamp closed the procession.
The whole neighbourhood was brilliantly illuminated with all these lights. They all observed with amazement, on approaching the river, that it was spanned by a majestic arch, by which means the benevolent Snake had prepared them a lustrous passage across. The transparent jewels of which the bridge was composed were objects of no less astonishment by day than was their wondrous brilliancy by night. The clear arch cut sharply against the dark heaven, whilst vivid rays of light beneath shone against the key-stone, revealing the firm pliability of the structure. The procession moved slowly across, and the Ferryman, who witnessed the proceeding from his hut, looked at the brilliant arch and the wondrous lights as they journeyed across it with awe.
As soon as they had reached the opposite bank, the bridge began to contract as usual, and sink to the surface of the water. The Snake made her way to the shore, and the basket dropped to the ground. The Snake now once more assumed a circular shape, and the Old Man, bowing before her, asked what she had determined to do.
To sacrifice myself before I am made a sacrifice; only promise me that you will leave no stone on the land.
The Old Man promised, and then addressed the beautiful Lily: “Touch the Snake with your left hand, and your lover with your right.
The beautiful Lily knelt down and laid her hands upon the Snake and the corpse. In an instant, the latter became imbued with life: he moved, and then sat upright. The Lily wished to embrace him, but the old man held her back, and assisted the youth whilst he led him beyond the limits of the circle.
The Young Man stood erect; the little canary fluttered upon his shoulder, but his mind was not yet restored. His eyes were open, but he saw, at least he seemed to look on everything with indifference. Scarcely was the wonder at this circumstance appeased, than the change which the Snake had undergone excited attention. Her beautiful and slender form was changed into myriads of precious stones. The old woman, in the effort to seize her basket, had unintentionally struck against the snake, after which nothing more was seen of the latter. Nothing but a heap of jewels lay in the grass. The old man immediately set to work to collect them into a basket, a task in which he was assisted by his wife; they then carried the basket to an elevated spot on the bank, and he cast the entire contents into the stream, not however without the opposition of his wife and the beautiful Lily, who would like to have appropriated a portion of the treasure to themselves. The jewels gleamed in the rippling waters like brilliant stars, and were carried away by the stream, and none can say whether they disappeared in the distance or sank to the bottom.
Young gentlemen,” said the Old Man, respectfully, to the Will-o'-the-Wisps, “I will now point out your path and lead the way, and you will render us the greatest service by opening the doors of the temple through which we enter, and which you alone can unlock.
The Will-o'-the-Wisps bowed politely, and then took their post in the rear. The Man with the Lamp advanced first into the rocks, which opened of their own accord; the Young Man followed with apparent indifference; the beautiful Lily lingered with silent uncertainty behind; the old woman, unwilling to be left alone, followed her, stretching out her hand that it might receive the rays of her husband's lamp; the procession was closed by the Will-o'-the-Wisps, and their bright flames nodded and blended with each other as if they were engaged in animated conversation. They had not gone far before they came to a large brazen gate which was fastened by a golden lock. The old man thereupon sought the assistance of the Will-o'-the-Wisps, who did not want to be entreated, but at once introduced their pointed flames into the lock, which yielded to their influence. The brass resounded as the doors flew wide asunder, and displayed the venerable statues of the kings illuminated by the advancing lights. Each individual in turn bowed to the Kings with respect, and the Will-o'-the-Wisps were full of salutations.
After a short pause, the Golden King asked, “Whence do you come?
From the world,” answered the Old Man.
And whither are you going?” inquired the Silver King.
Back to the world,” was the answer.
And what do you wish with us?” asked the Brazen King.
To accompany you,” responded the Old Man.
The fourth King was about to speak, when the golden statue said to the Will-o'-the-Wisps who had advanced towards him, “Depart from me, my gold is not for you.
They then turned towards the Silver King, and his apparel assumed the golden hue of their yellow flames. “You are welcome,” he said, “but I cannot feed you; satisfy yourselves elsewhere, and then bring me your light.
They departed, and stealing unobserved past the Brazen King, attached themselves to the King composed of various metals.
Who will rule the world?” inquired the latter in inarticulate tones.
He who stands erect,” answered the Old Man. “That is I,” replied the King.
Then it will be revealed,” said the Old Man, “for the time is come.
The beautiful Lily fell upon his neck and kissed him tenderly. “Kind father,” she said, “I thank you for allowing me to hear this comforting word for the third time,” and so saying, she felt compelled to grasp the Old Man's arm, for the earth began to tremble beneath them; the old woman and the Young Man clung to each other, whilst the pliant Will-o'-the-Wisps felt not the slightest inconvenience.
It was evident that the whole temple was in motion, and like a ship which pursues its quiet way from the harbour when the anchor is raised, the depths of the earth seemed to open before it, whilst it clove its way through. It encountered no obstacle — no rock opposed its progress. Presently a very fine rain penetrated through the cupola. The Old Man continued to support the beautiful Lily, and whispered, “We are now under the river, and shall soon reach the goal.” Presently they thought the motion ceased, but they were deceived, for the temple still moved onwards. A strange sound was now heard above them; beams and broken rafters burst in disjointed fragments through the opening of the cupola. The Lily and the old woman retreated in alarm; the Man with the Lamp stood by the Young Man and encouraged him to remain. The Ferryman's little hut had been ploughed from the ground by the advance of the temple, and, as it fell, had buried the youth and the Old Man.
The women screamed in alarm, and the temple shook like a ship which strikes upon a submerged rock. Anxiously the women wandered round the hut in darkness; the doors were closed, and no one answered to their knocking. They continued to knock more loudly, when at last the wood began to ring with sounds; the magic power of the lamp, which was enclosed within the hut, changed it into silver, and presently its very form was altered, for the noble metal refused to assume the form of planks, posts, and rafters, was converted into the a glorious building of artistic workmanship; it seemed as if a smaller temple had grown up within the large one, or at least an altar worthy of its beauty.
The noble youth ascended a staircase in the interior, whilst the Man with the Lamp shed light upon his way, and support was given him by another man, clad in a short white garment, and holding in his hand a silver rudder; it was easy to recognise the Ferryman, the former inhabitant of the transformed hut.
The beautiful Lily ascended the outward steps, leading from the temple to the altar, but was compelled to remain separated from her lover. The old woman, whose hand continued to grow smaller, whilst the light of the lamp was obscured, exclaimed, “Am I still destined to be unfortunate amid so many miracles; will no miracle restore my hand?
Her husband pointed to the open door, exclaiming, “See, the day dawns; hasten and bathe in the river.
What advice!” she answered; “shall I not become wholly black, and dissolve into nothing, for I have not yet discharged my debt?
Be silent,” said the Old Man, “and follow me; all debts are wiped away.
The old woman obeyed, and in the same instant the light of the rising sun shone upon the circle of the cupola. Then the old man, advancing between the youth and the maiden, exclaimed with a loud voice, “Three things have sway upon the earth, — Wisdom, Appearance, and Power.
At the sound of the first word the Golden King arose; at the sound of the second, the Silver King; and the Brazen King had arisen at the sound of the third, when the fourth suddenly sunk awkwardly to the earth. The Will-o'-the-Wisps, who had been busily employed upon him till this moment, now retreated; though paled by the light of the morning, they seemed in good condition, and sufficiently brilliant, for they had with much skill extracted the gold from the veins of the colossal statue with their sharp-pointed tongues. The irregular spaces which were thus displayed remained for some time exposed, and the figure preserved its previous form; but when at length the most secret veins of gold had been extracted, the statue suddenly fell with a crash, and formed a mass of shapeless ruins.
The Man with the Lamp led the youth, whose eye was still fixed upon vacancy, from the altar towards the Brazen King. At the foot of the mighty monarch lay a sword in a brazen sheath. The youth bound it to his side. “Take the weapon in your left hand, and keep the right hand free,” commanded the King.
They then advanced to the Silver Monarch, who bent his sceptre towards the youth; the latter seized it with his left hand, and the King addressed him in soft accents, “Feed my sheep.
When they reached the statue of the Golden King, the latter with paternal benediction pressed the oaken garland on the head of the youth, and said, “Acknowledge the highest.
The Old Man had, during this proceeding, watched the youth attentively. After he had girded on the sword his breast heaved, his arm was firmer, and his step more erect; and after he had touched the sceptre, his sense of power appeared to soften, and at the same time, by an inexpressible charm, to become more mighty; but when his waving locks were adorned with the oaken garland, his countenance became animated, his soul beamed from his eye, and the first word he uttered was “Lily!
Lily,” he cried, as he hastened to ascend the silver stairs, for she had observed his progress from the altar where she stood — “dear Lily, what can man desire more blessed than the innocence and the sweet affection which your love brings me? Oh, my friend!” he continued, turning to the Old Man, and pointing to the three sacred statues, “secure and glorious is the kingdom of our fathers, but you have forgotten to enumerate that fourth power, which exercises an earlier, more universal, and certain rule over the world — the power of love.
With these words he flung his arms round the neck of the beautiful maiden; she cast aside her veil, and her cheeks were tinged with a blush of the sweetest and most inexpressible beauty.
The Old Man now observed, with a smile, “Love does not rule, but directs, and that is better.
During all this delight and enchantment, no one had observed that the sun was now high in heaven, and through the open gates of the temple most unexpected objects were perceived. A large empty space was surrounded by pillars, and terminated by a long and splendid bridge, whose many arches stretched across the river. On each side was a footpath, wide and convenient for passengers, of whom many thousands were busily employed in crossing; the wide road in the centre was crowded with flocks and herds, and horsemen and carriages, and all streamed over without hindering each other's progress. All were in rapture at the mixture of convenience and beauty; and the new King and his spouse found as much delight in the animation and activity of this great concourse, as they had in their owu love.
Honour the Snake,” said the Man with the Lamp; “to her you are indebted for life, and your people for the bridge whereby these neighbouring shores are animated and connected. Those shining precious stones which still float by, are the remains of her self-sacrifice, and form the foundation-stones of this glorious bridge, which she has erected herself to exist forever.
The approach of four beautiful maidens, who advanced to the door of the temple, prevented any inquiry into this wonderful mystery. Three of them were recognised as the attendants of the beautiful Lily, by the harp, the fan, and the ivory chair; but the fourth, though more beautiful than the other three, was a stranger; she, however, played with the others, ran with them through the temple, and ascended the silver stairs.
Thou dearest of creatures!” said the Man with the Lamp, addressing the beautiful Lily, “you will surely believe me for the future. Happy for thee, and every other creature who shall bathe this morning in the waters of the river!
The old woman, who had been transformed into a beautiful young girl, and of whose former appearance no trace remained, embraced the Man with the Lamp tenderly, and he returned her affection.
If I am too old for you,” he said, with a smile, “you may to-day select another bridegroom, for no tie can henceforth be considered binding which is not this day renewed.
But are you not aware that you also have become young?” she asked.
I am delighted to hear it,” he replied, “If I appear to you to be a gallant youth, I take your hand anew, and hope for a thousand years of happiness to come.
The Queen welcomed her new friend, and advanced with her and the rest of her companions to the altar, whilst the King, supported by the two men, pointed to the bridge, and surveyed with wonder the crowd of passengers; but his joy was soon overshadowed by observing an object which gave him pain. The Giant, who had just awakened from his morning sleep, stumbled over the bridge, and gave rise to the greatest confusion. He was, as usual, but half awake, and had risen with the intention of bathing in the neighbouring cove, but he stumbled instead upon firm land, and found himself feeling his way upon the broad highway of the bridge. And whilst he went clumsily along in the midst of men and animals, his presence, though a matter of astonishment to all, was felt by none; but when the sun shone in his eyes, and he raised his hand to shade them, the shadow of his enormous fist fell amongst the crowd with such careless violence, that both men and animals huddled together in promiscuous confusion, and either sustained personal injury, or ran the risk of being driven into the water.
The King, seeing this catastrophe, with an involuntary movement placed his hand upon his sword; but, upon reflection, turned his eyes upon his sceptre, and then upon the lamp and the rudder of his companions.
I guess your thought,” said the Man with the Lamp, “but we are powerless against this monster; be tranquil; he injures for the last time, and happily his shadow is turned from us.
In the meantime the Giant had approached, and over-powered with astonishment at what he saw, his hands sunk down, became powerless for injury, and gazing with surprise, he entered the courtyard.
In imagination he was ascending toward heaven, when he felt himself suddenly fast bound to the earth. He stood like a colossal pillar constructed of red shining stones, and his shadow indicated the hours which were marked in a circle on the ground, not however in figures, but in noble and significant effigies. The King was not a little delighted to see the shadow of the monster rendered harmless; and the Queen was not less astonished, as she advanced from the altar with her maidens, all magnificently adorned, to observe the strange wonder which almost covered the whole view from the temple to the bridge.
In the meantime the people had crowded after the Giant, and surrounding him as he stood still, had observed his transformation with the utmost awe. They then bent their steps towards the temple, of the existence of which they now seemed to be for the first time aware, and thronged the doorways.
The hawk was now seen aloft, towering over the building, and carrying the mirror, with which he caught the light of the sun, and turned the rays upon the group round the altar. The King, the Queen, and their attendants, illumined by the beam from heaven, appeared beneath the dim arches of the temple; their subjects fell prostrate before them. When they had recovered, and had risen again, the King and his attendants had descended to the altar, in order to reach the palace by a less obstructed path, and the people dispersed through the temple to satisf their curiosity. They beheld with amazement the three Kings, who stood erect, and they were very anxious to know what could be concealed behind the curtain in the fourth niche, for whatever kindness might have prompted the deed, a thoughtful discretion had placed over the ruins of the fallen King a costly covering, which no eye cared to penetrate, and no profane hand dared to uplift.
There was no end to the astonishment and wonder of the people; and the dense throng would have been crushed in the temple if their attention had not been attracted once more to the court without.
To their great surprise, a shower of gold pieces fell as if from the air, resounding upon the marble pavement, and caused a commotion amongst the passers-by. Several times this wonder was repeated in different places, at some distance from each other. It is not difficult to infer that this feat was the work of the retreating Will-o'-the-Wisps, who having extracted the gold from the limbs of the mutilated King, dispersed it abroad in this joyous manner. The covetous crowd continued their quarrelling for some time longer, pressing hither and thither, and inflicting wounds upon each other, till the shower of gold pieces ceased to fall. The multitude at length dispersed gradually, each one pursuing his own course; and the bridge, to this day, continues to swarm with travellers, and the temple is the most frequented in the world.