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/. 



POPE JACYNTH 

AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES 



POPE JACYNTH 

AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES 



BY THE SAME AUTHOR. 

HORTUS VITiE. Essays on the 
Gardenings of Life. 

THE ENCHANTED WOODS and 
other Essays on the Genius of 
Places. 

THE SPIRIT OF ROME. Leaves 
from a Diary. 

HAUNTINGS: FanUstic Stories. 

GENIUS LOCL 






POPE J ACYNTH 



& OTHER FANTASTIC TALES 



BY 



VERNON LEE^-^-- - < 



LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE 
BODLEY HEAD. NEW YORK: 
JOHN LANE COMPANY. MCMVII. 



SICOND EDITION 



CONTENTS 



i 



I. POPE JACYNTH 



II. PRINCE ALBERIC AND THE SNAKE LADY 



III. A WEDDING CHEST 



IV. THE LADY AND DEATH 



V. ST. EUDAMON AND HIS ORANGE-TREE 



VI. THE FEATURELESS WISDOM . 



PAGB 

3 

21 

"5 
139 
171 

195 



167554 



TO HER EXCELLENCY 
DONNA LAURA MINGHETTI 



POPE JACYNTH 

Forming a portion of the Codex Ebumeus of the suppressed 

Abbey of Nonantola 

I 

It was Pope Jacynth who built anew the 
basilica over the bodies of the holy martyrs, 
Paul and John, brothers ; and who wainscoted 
the choir, and laid down the flooring, and set 
up the columns of the nave, a row on either 
side, all of precious marble. And it was of 
his death and the marvellous thing which was 
seen afterward, showing indeed the justice of 
God and His infinite mercy, that the follow- 
ing tale is told. 

This Jacynth, whose name in the world and 
in the cloister was Odo, was known all 
through Italy, and through the Marquisate 
of Tuscany and the County of Benevento, and 
the Kingdom of Sicily and such dominions as 
belonged to the Grecian Emperors, for his 
great and unparalleled humility and his exceed- 

8 



4 POPE JACYNTH 

ing ardent and exclusive love of God. And 
in these lay his ruin. For, even as is written 
in the book of the Prophet Job, which it were 
sin for any layman to read, and damnation 
for any clerk to translate, that the Lord 
allowed Satan to try his faithful servant with 
many plagues and doubts and evil incite- 
ments, so it pleased Him who is the Mirror of 
all Truth, to make a wager with Satan concern- 
ing the soul of this man Odo or otherwise 
Jacynth. And this when he was still in his 
mother's womb. For the Lord said to Satan : 
*l grant leave that thou tempt any man 
whatsoever at My choice among such as shall 
be born into the world before the sun, which 
turns for ever round earth, shall have gone 
back to the spot where it now is.' 

And Satan caused the man Odo, afterwards 
Jacynth, to be born to the greatest dignity in 
his land, even to be firstborn of Averard, 
Marquis of Tusculum. But Odo cared not 
for the greatness of his birth, and the wealth 
of his father's house. And, being only fourteen 
years of age, he fled from his parents and went 
on the ship of a certain mariner, who brought 
wine and tanned hides and fair white stone for 
building from Greece, Istria, and Salernum, to 



POPE JACYNTH 5 

the port of Rome, which is below Mount Aven- 
tine, and took back the fleece of sheep and 
thin cheese, and slabs of porphyry and ser- 
pentine from the temples of the heathen. But 
Satan caused Odo to grow most marvellously 
in beauty and shapeliness of body and loveli- 
ness of countenance and sweetness of voice, 
so that pirates captured him and sold him, 
being eighteen years of age, to Alecto, Queen 
of the Amazons, which inhabit the isles be- 
yond the pillars of Hercules, and are most 
wondrously fair women. And Queen Alecto 
became enamoured of the beauty of Odo, 
otherwise Jacynth, and offered him her love 
and every delight. But Jacynth scourged 
himself with ropes of thistles, and ate only of 
the fruit of the prickly pear and drank only of 
water from the marshes ; and he shaved his 
head and stained his face with certain herbs, 
and consorted with lepers, and spurned the 
queen and her delicates. 

Then Satan caused Odo, otherwise Jacynth, 
to increase most mightily in strength and 
courage, so that he could wrestle with the 
lions in the desert and cleave a strong man in 
twain with one blow. So that the people, 
seeing his might and wondering greatly 



6 POPE JACYNTH 

thereat) made him their captain, captain even 
over hundreds, that he might avenge them 
on certain wicked kings, their neighbours, and 
clear the country of robbers and wild beasts. 
But when he had put the kings in chains and 
thrown the robbers into dungeons, and exter- 
minated the wild beasts, Jacynth, who was 
then called Odo, put up his sword and allowed 
not that any man should be killed or sold into 
captivity, and bade them desist from slaying 
the hares and deer and wild asses, saying that 
these also were creatures of God and worthy 
of kindness. And he was at this time thirty- 
two years of age. 

Then Satan caused Odo, later to be called 
Jacynth, to exceed all other men in subtlety 
of mind. And he learned all languages, both 
living and dead, as those of the Grecians, 
Romans, Ethiopians, and even of Armorica 
and Taprobane ; and studied all books on 
philosophy, divine and natural astrology, 
medicine, music, alchemy, the properties of 
herbs and numbers, magic and poetry and 
rhetoric, whatsoever books have been written 
since the building of Babel, when all lan- 
guages were dispersed. And he went from 
place to place teaching and disputing; and 



POPE JACYNTH 7 

whithersoever he went, and mostly in Paris 
and at Salernum, did he challenge all doctors, 
rabbis, and men of learning to discuss with 
him on any subject of their choosing, and 
always did he demonstrate before all men 
that their arguments were wrong and their 
science vain. But when Odo, otherwise 
Jacynth, had done this, he burned his books, 
save the gospels, and retired to a monastery 
of his founding. And he was at this time 
forty and five years of age. 

Then Satan caused Odo, later called 
Jacynth, to become wondrously knowing of 
the heart of man and his wickedness, and 
wondrous full of unction and fervour, and 
all men came to his monastery, which was 
called Clear Streams, and listened to his 
preaching and reformed their ways, and many 
put themselves under his rule, and of these 
there were such multitudes that the monas- 
tery would not hold them, and others had to 
be built in all parts of the world. And kings 
and emperors confessed to him their sins, 
and stood at his bidding clothed in sackcloth 
at the church door, singing the penitential 
jpsalms and holding lighted tapers. 

But Odo, later called Jacynth, instituted 



\ 



8 POPE JACYNTH 

abbots and heads of the order, and for him-> 
self retired into the wild places of the moun- 
tains and built himself there a hermitage 
of stone quarried with his own hands, and 
planted fruit-trees and pot-herbs, and lived 
there alone, praying and meditating, high 
up near the well-head of the river which runs 
down through the woods to the Tyrrhene 
Sea. And he was sixty years of age. 

And Satan went up before the Lord and 
said, ^Verily I can tempt him yet Grant 
me, I pray Thee, but the use of Thine own 
tools, and I will bring Thee the soul of this 
man bound in mortal sin.' And the Lord 
answered, *l grant it' And at the prayer 
of Satan, God caused him to be acclaimed 
as pope. And the cardinals and prelates 
and princes of the earth journeyed to the 
hermitage, and sought for the man Odo, who 
henceforth was to be called Jacynth. And 
they found him in his orchard pruning a 
fig-tree, and by his side were the herbs for 
his supper in a clean platter, and the gospel 
lay on his lectern, and there stood by it a 
tame goat, ready to be milked ; and on a 
hook hung his red hat, and a crucifix was 
by the lectern. And in the wall of his 



POPE JACYNTH 9 

garden, which was small) with a well in the 
midst and set round with wooden pillars, 
was a window, with a pillar carved of stone 
in the middle, and through the window one 
could see the oak woods below, and the olive- 
yards, and the river winding through the 
valley, and the Tyrrhene Sea, with ships 
sailing, in the distance. Now when he saw 
the cardinals and prelates and princes of 
the earth, Odo, who was thenceforth called 
Jacynth, put down his pruning-hook ; and 
when he had heard their message he wept, 
and knelt before the crucifix, and wept again, 
and cried, * Woe's me I Terrible are the 
trials of Thy servants, O Lord, and great 
must be Thy mercy.' But he went with them 
to be crowned Pope, because his heart was 
full of humbleness and the love of God. And 
Pope Jacynth, formerly Odo, was seventy- 
five years of age when they set him on his 
throne. 

And the Lord called to him Satan, and 
was angered, and said, ^What wilt thou do 
next. Accursed One ? ' And Satan replied, ^ I 
will do no more, O Lord. Suffer this man 
but to live the space of five years, and then 
watch we for our wager.' 



lo POPE JACYNTH 

And they took Pope Jacynthy once called 
Odo, and carried him to the palace, which 
is over against the Church of St Peter, and 
before which stands the pine cone of brass, 
made as a talisman by the Emperor Adrian. 
And they arrayed him in fine linen from 
Egypt, and silk from Byzantium, as befits 
a Pope ; and his cope was of beaten gold, 
even gold beaten to the thinness of a leaf, 
wrought all over with the history of our Lord 
and His Apostles, with a border of lambs 
and lilies, a lamb and a lily all the way turn 
about And his stole was likewise of gold, 
gold plates cunningly riveted, and it was 
set all round with precious stones, emeralds, 
and opals, and beryls and sardonjrxes, and 
the stone called Melittay all perfectly round 
and the size of a pigeon's ^%%\ and two 
goodly graven stones of the ancients, one 
showing a chariot-race and the other the 
effigy of the Emperor Galba, most cunningly 
cut in relief. And his mitre also was of 
riveted gold, and inside it was fastened the 
lance-head of Longinus, which touched the 
flesh of our Lord ; and on the outside it was 
bordered with pearls, and in its midst was 
a sapphire the size of a swan's ^%%j worked 



POPE JACYNTH ii 

marvellously into a cup, which was the cup 
that the Angel brought to our Lord. And 
when they had arrayed Pope Jacynth in this 
apparel, they placed him in his chair, which 
was of cedar-wood covered with plates of gold, 
and they bore him, eight bearers, namely, 
three counts, three marquises, a duke and the 
Exarch of the Pentapolis, on their shoulders ; 
and the cushions of his chair were of silk. 
And over him they bore a canopy em- 
broidered most marvellously with the signs 
of the Zodiac by the Matrons of Amalfi. 
And before him went two carrying fans of the 
feathers of the white peacock, and two bear- 
ing censers filled with burning ambergris, 
and six blowing on clarions of silver. And 
in this manner was he enthroned above the 
place where rests the body of the Apostle, 
behind the ambones of onion stone, and the 
railing of alabaster openwork showing pea- 
cocks and vine leaves, and under the dome 
where our Lord sits in judgment on a ground 
of purple and seagreen and gold, and the holy 
lambs pasture on green enamel, each with a 
palm tree by his side, and the great gold vine 
rises on a ground of turquoise blue. And on 
either side of the throne was a column of 



12 POPE JACYNTH 

precious marble taken from a temple of ^e 
heathen, even a column of red porphyry 
from the temple of Mars, and a column of 
alabaster, cunningly fluted, from the temple 
of Apollo. And the bells in the belfry, which 
is set with discs of serpentine and platters 
from Majorca, began to ring, and the trum- 
pets to sound, and all the people sang the 
psalm Magnificat And the heart of Pope 
Jacynth, formerly called Odo, was filled with 
joy and pride, because in the midst of his 
glory he knew himself to be more humble 
than the lepers outside the city gate. And 
the people prostrated themselves before Pope 
Jacynth, and prayed for his blessing. 

And Pope Jacynth slept on the rushes in 
his chamber, and drank only water from the 
well and eat only salad, and beneath his robe 
he wore a shirt of camel's hair, mighty rough 
to the body. And he gloried in his humble- 
ness. And he took of the money of the 
jubilee year, which twenty priests raked with 
silver rakes where the pilgrims passed the 
bridge by the Emperor Adrian's tomb, and 
would have none of it for himself, but dis- 
tributed half to the poor and the widows 
and orphans, and with the other he caused 



POPE JACYNTH 13 

stonemasons to quarry for marble among the 
temples of the heathen, and to draw thence 
the columns having flutings and sculptured 
capitals to set up in the nave, and to saw into 
slabs the pillars of porphyry and serpentine 
and Egyptian marble, for wainscoting and 
flooring. And in this fEishion did he build 
the basilica by the Ostian gate. And he 
dedicated it to St John and St Paul, slaves 
and servants of Flavia, the sister of the 
Emperor Domitian, meaning to show thereby 
that in the love of God the lowest are highest ; 
for he gloried in his humbleness. And they 
brought him blind men, and those with 
grievous sores, and lepers, to bless, that they 
might recover. And Pope Jacynth blessed 
them, and washed their sores and embraced 
them ; and Pope Jacynth gloried in his 
humility. 

Now when Satan saw this, he laughed ; and 
the sound of his laughter was as a rushing 
wind, that burns the shoots of the wheat (for 
it was spring), and nipped the blossom of the 
almond-tree and plum-tree, causing it to fall 
in great profusion, as every man could testify. 
And Satan went before the Lord and said : 
^Behold, O Lord, I have won my wager. 



14 POPE JACYNTH 

For the man Jacynth, once OdO| has sinned 
against Thee, even the sin of vainglorious- 
ness ; so do Thou give him to me, body and 
soul.' And the Lord answered : ^Take thou 
the man Jacynth, formerly Odo, his body and 
his soul, and do therewith whatsoever thou 
please, for he has sinned the sin of vain- 
gloriousness ; but for Myself I reserve that 
which remaineth/ 

So Satan departed. And he took the body 
of Pope Jacynth, and touched it with invisible 
fingers ; and lo, it did gradually turn into 
stone ; and he took the soul of Pope Jacynth, 
and blew on it, and behold, it shrank slowly 
and hardened, and became a stone, even a 
diamond, which, as all know, burns for ever. 

Now the people and the pilgrims were so 
amazed at the humility of Pope Jacynth, that 
they clamoured to see him ; and they attacked 
•the gate of the palace over against the Church 
of St. Peter, the gate which has a gable, and 
in it our Lord clad in white, on a ground of 
gold, with a purple halo round his head, all 
done in mosaic by the Grecians. So the 
priests and the barons were afraid of the 
violence of the people and particularly of 
the pilgrims from the north, and they pro- 



POPE JACYNTH 15 

mised to bring Pope Jacynth for them to 
worship. And they dressed him in his vest- 
ments of beaten and riveted gold, set with 
precious stones and graven stones, and placed 
him on his throne of cedarwood, and the eight 
bearers, three counts, two marquises, two 
dukes, and the Exarch of the Pentapolis, raised 
him on their shoulders and bore him through 
the square, with the censer-bearers before and 
the trumpeters and the fans of white peacock. 
And the people fell on their knees. Only 
there stood up one, who afterwards vanished, 
and was the Apostle Peter, and he cried, 
^Behold, Pope Jacynth has turned into an 
idol, even an idol of the heathen.' But when 
the people had dispersed, and the procession 
had entered the church, the throne-bearers 
knelt down, and the throne was lowered, and 
behold, Pope Jacynth was dead. 

But when the embalmers and the physi- 
cians took the body after three days that it 
had lain in state, surrounded by tapers, with 
lamps hung all round, under the mosaic of 
the dome, they found that it was uncor- 
rupted, and had turned into marble, even 
marble of Paros, like the idols of the ancient 
Grecians. And they wondered greatly. And 



i6 POPE JACYNTH 

the learned men. disputed, and decided that 
Pope Jacynthy formerly called Odo, must 
have been a wizard, for this certainly was 
devilry. So they caused his body to be 
taken and burned into lime, which, being 
turned to the finest marble, it readily did. 
Only, when they came to remove the lime, 
they found in the midst of it a burning 
diamond, that instantly vanished, nor was 
any man in time to seize it. And likewise 
a thing of the consistency of a dead leaf, and 
smelling wonderfully of violets, but it was 
shaped in the image of a heart And it also 
vanished, nor was any man quick enough 
to seize it. 

Now when he came down from the palace, 
hard by the pine cone of the Emperor Adrian, 
Satan did meet an angel of the Lord, even 
Gabriel, who was entering, wrapped round 
in wings of golden green. And Satan said, 
* Hail I brother, whither goest thou ? for there 
remaineth of the man Jacynth, called formerly 
Odo, only a little lime, which was his body, 
and this stone that burneth eternally, which 
was his soul.' And Satan laughed. But 
the angel answered, ^ Laugh not, most foolish 
fellow-servant of the Lord. For I go to 



POPE JACYNTH 17 

seek of the man Odo, sometime called Pope 
Jacynth) only the hearti which the Lord has 
reserved for Himself for all eternity, because 
it was full of love and hope in His mercy.' 
Now as Gabriel passed by, behold I a pome- 
granate tree along the wall, which had dried 
up and died in the frost ten years before, 
sprouted and put forth buds. 



i 



B 



PRINCE ALBERIC 

AND 
THE SNAKE LADY 



TO HER HIGHNESS 
THE RANEE OF SARAWAK 



PRINCE ALBERIC AND THE 
SNAKE LADY 

In the year 1701, the Duchy of Luna became 
united to the Italian dominions of the Holy 
Roman Empire, in consequence of the ex- 
tinction of its famous ducal house in the 
persons of Duke Balthasar Maria and of his 
grandson Alberic, who should have been 
third of the name. Under this dry historical 
fact lies hidden the strange story of Prince 
Alberic and the Snake Lady. 

I 

The first act of hostility of old Duke 

Balthasar towards the Snake Lady, in whose 

existence he did not, of course, believe, was 

connected with the arrival at Luna of certain 

tapestries after the designs of the famous 

Monsieur Le Brun, a present from his Most 

Christian Majesty King Lewis the xiv* 

These Gobelins, which represented the 

21 



22 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

marriage of Alexander and Roxana, were 
placed in the throne-room, and in the most 
gallant suite of chambers overlooking the 
great rockery garden, all of which had been 
completed by Duke Balthasar Maria in 1680 ; 
and, as a consequence, the already existing 
tapestries, silk hangings, and mirrors painted 
by Marius of the Flowers, were transferred 
into other apartments, thus occasioning a 
general re-hanging of the Red Palace at 
Luna. These magnificent operations, in 
which, as the court poets sang, Apollo and 
the Graces lent their services to their beloved 
patron, aroused in Duke Balthasar's mind a 
sudden curiosity to see what might be made 
of the rooms occupied by his grandson and 
heir, and which he had not entered since 
Prince Alberic's christening. He found the 
apartments in a shocking state of neglect, 
and the youthful prince unspeakably shy 
and rustic ; and he determined to give him 
at once an establishment befitting his age, 
to look out presently for a princess worthy 
to be his wife, and, somewhat earlier, for a 
less illustrious but more agreeable lady to 
fashion his manners. Meanwhile, Duke 
Balthasar Maria gave orders to change, the 



THE SNAKE LADY 23 

tapestry in Prince Alberic's chamber. This 
tapestry was of old and Gothic taste, ex- 
tremely worn, and represented Alberic the 
Blond and the Snake Lady Oriana, as de- 
scribed in the Chronicles of Archbishop 
Turpin and the poems of Boiardo. Duke 
Balthasar Maria was a prince of enlightened 
mind and delicate taste ; the literature as 
well as the art of the dark ages found no 
grace in his sight ; he reproved the folly of 
feeding the thoughts of youth on improbable 
events ; besides, he disliked snakes and was 
afraid of the devil. So he ordered the tapes- 
try to be removed and another, representing 
Susanna and the Elders, to be put in its 
stead. But when Prince Alberic discovered 
the change, he cut Susanna and the Elders 
into strips with a knife he had stolen out of 
the ducal kitchens (no dangerous instru- 
ments being allowed to young princes before 
they were of an age to learn to fence) and 
refused to touch his food for three days. 

The tapestry over which little Prince 
Alberic mourned so deeply had indeed been 
both tattered and Gothic. But for the boy 
it possessed an inexhaustible charm. It was 
quite full of things, and they were all delight- 



24 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

ful. The sorely-frayed borders consisted of 
wonderful garlands of leaves and fruits and 
flowers, tied at intervals with ribbons, al- 
though they seemed all to grow like tall 
narrow bushes, each from a big vase in the 
bottom corner, and made of all manner of 
different plants. There were bunches of 
spiky bays, and of acorned oak leaves ; 
sheaves of lilies and heads of poppies, 
gourds, and apples and pears, and hazel- 
nuts and mulberries, wheat ears, and beans, 
and pine tufts. And in each of these plants, 
of which those above named are only a very 
few, there wereicurious live creatures of some 
sort — various birds, big and little, butterflies 
on the lilies, snails, squirrels, mice, and 
rabbits, and even a hare, with such pointed 
ears, darting among the spruce fir. Alberic 
learned the names of most of these plants 
and creatures from his nurse, who had been 
a peasant, and he spent much ingenuity 
seeking for them in the palace gardens and 
terraces ; but there were no live creatures 
there, except snails and toads, which the 
gardeners killed, and carp swimming about 
in the big tank, whom Alberic did not like, 
and who were not in the tapestry; and he 



THE SNAKE LADY 25 

had >to supplement his nurse's information 
by that of the grooms and scullions, when 
he could visit them secretly. He was even 
promised a sight, one day, of a dead rabbit 
— ^the rabbit was the most fascinating of the 
inhabitants of the tapestry border — ^but he 
came to the kitchen too late, and saw it with 
its pretty fur pulled ofiF, and looking so sad 
and naked that it made him cry. But Alberic 
had grown so accustomed to never quitting 
the Red Palace and its gardens, that he was 
usually satisfied with seeing the plants and 
animals in the tapestry, and looked forward 
to seeing the real things only when he should 
be grown up. ' When I am a man,' he would 
say to himself — for his nurse scolded him for 
saying it to her — ^ I will have a live rabbit 
of my own.' 

The border of the tapestry interested Prince 
Alberic most when he was very little — indeed, 
his remembrance of it was older than that of 
the Red Palace, its terraces and gardens — 
but gradually he began to care more and 
more for the picture in the middle. 

There were mountains, and the sea with 
ships; and these first made him care to go 
on to the topmost palace terrace and look at 



26 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

the real mountains and the sea beyond the 
roofs and gardens ; and there were woods of 
all manner of tall trees, with clover and wild 
strawberries growing beneath them ; and 
roadSy and paths, and rivers, in and out; 
these were rather confused with the places 
where the tapestry was worn out, and with 
the patches and mendings thereof, but 
Alberic, in the course of time, contrived to 
make them all out, and knew exactly whence 
the river came which turned the big mill- 
wheel, and how many bends it made before 
coming to the fishing-nets ; and how the 
horsemen must cross over the bridge, then 
wind behind the cliff with the chapel, and 
pass through the wood of pines in order to 
get from the castle in the left-hand corner 
nearest the bottom to the town, over which 
the sun was shining with all its beams, and 
a wind blowing with inflated cheeks on the 
right hand close to the top. 

The centre of the tapestry was the most 
worn and discoloured ; and it was for this 
reason perhaps that little Alberic scarcely 
noticed it for some years, his eye and mind 
led away by the bright red and yellow of the 
border of fruit and flowers, and the still vivid 



THE SNAKE LADY 27 

green and orange of the background land- 
scape. Red, yellow, and orange, even green, 
had faded in the centre into pale blue and 
lilac ; even the green had grown an odd dusty 
tint; and the figures seemed like ghosts, 
sometimes emerging and then receding again 
into vagueness. Indeed, it was only as he 
grew bigger that Alberic began to see any 
figures at all ; and then, for a long time he 
would lose sight of them. But little by little, 
when the light was strong, he could see them 
always ; and even in the dark make them out 
with a little attention. Among the spruce 
firs and pines, and against a hedge of roses, 
on which there still lingered a remnant of 
redness, a knight had reined in his big white 
horse, and was putting one arm round the 
shoulder of a lady, who was leaning against 
the horse's flank. The knight was all dressed 
in armour — not at all like that of the eques- 
trian statue of Duke Balthasar Maria in the 
square, but all made of plates, with plates 
also on the legs, instead of having them bare 
like Duke Balthasar's statue; and on his 
head he had no wig, but a helmet with big 
plumes. It seemed a more reasonable dress 
than the other, but probably Duke Balthasar 



28 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

was right to go to battle with bare legs and 
a kilt and a wig, since he did so. The lady 
who was looking up into his face was dressed 
with a high collar and long sleeves, and on 
her head she wore a thick circular garland, 
from under which the hair fell about her 
shoulders. She was very lovely, Alberic got 
to think, particularly when, having climbed 
upon a chest of drawers, he saw that her 
hair was still full of threads of gold, some 
of them quite loose because the tapestry was 
so rubbed. The knight and his horse were 
of course very beautiful, and he liked the 
way in which the knight reined in the horse 
with one hand, and embraced the lady with 
the other arm. But Alberic got to love the 
lady most, although she was so very pale 
and faded, and almost the colour of the 
moonbeams through the palace windows in 
summer. Her dress also was so beautiful 
and unlike those of the ladies who got out 
of the coaches in the Court of Honour, and 
who had on hoops and no clothes at all on 
their upper part. This lady, on the contrary, 
had that collar like a lily, and a beautiful 
gold chain, and patterns in gold (Alberic 
made them out little by little) all over her 



THE SNAKE LADY 29 

bodice. He got to want so much to see her 
skirt ; it was probably very beautiful too, but 
it so happened that the inlaid chest of drawers 
before mentioned stood against the wall in 
that place, and on it a large ebony and ivory 
crucifix, which covered the lower part of the 
lady's body. Alberic often tried to lift ofiF 
the crucifix, but it was a great deal too heavy, 
and there was not room on the chest of 
drawers to push it aside, so the lady's skirt 
and feet were invisible. But one day, when 
Alberic was eleven, his nurse suddenly took 
a fancy to having all the furniture shifted. 
It was time that the child should cease to 
sleep in her room, and plague her with his 
loud talking in his dreams. And she might 
as well have the handsome inlaid chest of 
drawers, and that nice pious crucifix for her- 
self next door, in place of Alberic's little bed. 
So one morning there was a great shifting 
and dusting, and when Alberic came in from 
his walk on the terrace, there hung the 
tapestry entirely uncovered. He stood for 
a few minutes before it, riveted to the ground. 
Then he ran to his nurse, exclaiming : ^ O, 

nurse, dear nurse, look — the lady 1 ' 

For where the big crucifix had stood, the 



30 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

lower part of the beautiful pale lady with the 
gold-thread hair was now exposed. But 
instead of a skirt, she ended ofiF in a big 
snake's tail, with scales of still most vivid 
(the tapestry not having fisuled there) green 
and gold. 

The nurse turned round. 

*Holy Virgin,* she cried, *why, she's a 
serpent!' Then, noticing the boy's violent 
excitement, she added, * You little ninny, it 's 
only Duke Alberic the Blond, who was your 
ancestor, and the Snake Lady. ' 

Little Prince Alberic asked no questions, 
feeling that he must not. Very strange it 
was, but he loved the beautiful lady with 
the thread of gold hair only the more because 
she ended ofiF in the long twisting body of a 
snake. And that, no doubt, was why the 
knight was so very good to her. 

II 

For want of that tapestry, poor Alberic, 
having cut its successor to pieces, began to 
pine away. It had been his whole world ; 
and now it was gone he discovered that he 
had no other. No one had ever cared for him 



THE SNAKE LADY 31 

except his nurse, who was very cross. 
Nothing had ever been taught him except 
the Latin catechism ; he had had nothing to 
make a pet of except the (sit carp, supposed 
to be four hundred years old, in the tank; 
he had nothing to play with except a gala 
coral with bells by Benvenuto Cellini, which 
Duke Balthasar Maria had sent him on his 
eighth birthday. He had never had any- 
thing except a Grandfather, and had never 
been outside the Red Palace. 

Now, after the loss of the tapestry, the 
disappearance of the plants and flowers and 
birds and beasts on its borders, and the 
departure of the kind knight on the horse 
and the dear golden-haired Snake Lady, Al- 
beric became aware that he had alw^s hated 
both his grandfather and the Red Palace. 

The whole world, indeed, were agreed that 
Duke Balthasar was the most magnanimous 
and fascinating of monarchs, and that the 
Red Palace of Lutia was the most magnificent 
and delectable of residences. But the know- 
ledge of this universal opinion, and the 
consequent sense of his own extreme un- 
worthiness, merely exasperated Alberic's 
detestation, which, as it grew, came to 



32 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

identify the Duke and the Palace as the 
personification and visible manifestation of 
each other. He knew now— oh, how well I — 
every time that he walked on the terrace or 
in the garden (at the hours when no one else 
ever entered them) that he had always abomi- 
nated the brilliant tomato-coloured plaster 
which gave the palace its name: such a 
pleasant, gay colour, people would remark, 
particularly against the blue of the sky. 
Then there were the Twelve Cassars — they 
were the Twelve Cassars, but multiplied over 
and over again — busts with flying draperies 
and spiky garlands, one over every firstp-floor 
window, hundreds of theni, all fluttering and 
grimacing round the place. Alberic had 
always thought them uncanny ; but now he 
positively avoided looking out of the window, 
lest his eye should catch the stucco eyeball 
of one of those Cassars in the opposite wing 
of the building. But there was one thing 
more especially in the Red Palace, of which 
a bare glimpse had always filled the youthful 
Prince with terror, and which now kept recur- 
ring to his mind like a nightmare. This was 
no other than the famous grotto of the Court 
of Honour. Its roof was ingeniously inlaid 



THE SNAKE LADY 33 

with oyster-shells, forming elegant patterns, 
among which you could plainly distinguish 
some colossal satyrs ; the sides were built of 
rockery, and in its depths, disposed in a most 
natural and tasteful manner, was a herd of 
lifesize animals all carved out of various 
precious marbles. On holidays the water 
was turned on, and spurted about in a gallant 
fashion. On such occasions persons of taste 
would flock to Luna from all parts of the 
world to enjoy the spectacle. But ever since 
his earliest infancy Prince Alberic had held 
this grotto in abhorrence. The oyster-shell 
satyrs on the roof frightened him into fits, 
particularly when the fountains were play- 
ing; and his terror of the marble animals 
was such that a bare allusion to the Por- 
phyry Rhinoceros, the Giraffe of CipoUino, 
and the Verde Antique Monkeys, set him 
screaming for an hour. The grotto, more- 
over, had become associated in his mind with 
the other great glory of the Red Palace, to 
wit, the domed chapel in which Duke Bal- 
thasar Maria intended erecting monuments 
to his immediate ancestors, and in which he 
had already prepared a monument for him- 
self. And the whole magnificent palace, 

c 



34 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

grotto, chapel and all, had become mysteri- 
ously connected with Alberic's grandfather, 
owing to a particularly terrible dream. When 
the boy was eight years old, he was taken 
one day to see his grandfather. It was the 
feast of St Balthasar, one of the Three Wise 
Kings from the East, as is well known. 
There had been firing of mortars and ringing 
of bells ever since daybreak. Alberic had 
his hair curled, was put into new clothes (his 
usual raiment being somewhat tattered), a 
large nosegay was placed in his hand, and 
he and his nurse were conveyed by compli- 
cated relays of lackeys and of pages up to 
the ducal apartments. Here, in a crowded 
outer room, he was separated from his nurse 
and received by a gaunt person in a long 
black robe like a sheath, and a long shovel 
hat, whom Alberic identified many years 
later as his grandfather's Jesuit Confessor. 
He smiled a long smile, discovering a pro- 
digious number of teeth, in a manner which 
froze the child's blood ; and lifting an em- 
broidered curtain, pushed Alberic into his 
grandfather's presence. Duke Balthasar 
Maria, called in all Italy the Ever Young 
Prince, was at his toilet He was wrapped in 



THE SNAKE LADY 35 

a green Chinese wrapper, embroidered with 
gold pagodas, and round his head was tied 
an orange scarf of delicate fabric. He was 
listening to the performance of some fiddlers; 
and of a lady dressed as a nymph, who was 
singing the birthday ode with many shrill 
trills and quavers ; and meanwhile his face, 
in the hands of a valet, was being plastered 
with a variety of brilliant colours. In his 
green and gold wrapper and orange head- 
dress, with the strange patches of vermilion 
and white on his cheeks, Duke Balthasar 
looked to the diseased fancy of his nephew 
as if he had been made of various precious 
metals, like the celebrated effigy he had 
erected of himself in the great burial-chapel. 
But, just as Alberic was mustering up cour^ 
age and approaching his magnificent grand- 
parent, his eye fell upon a sight so mysterious 
and terrible that he fled wildly out of the 
ducal presence. For through an open door 
he could see in an adjacent closet a man 
dressed in white, combing the long flowing 
locks of what he recognised as his grand- 
father's head, stuck on a short pole in the 
light of a window. 
That night Alberic had seen in his dreams 



36 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

the Ever Young Duke Balthasar Maria de- 
scend from his niche in the burial-chapel ; 
andy with his Roman lappets and corslet 
visible beneath the green bronze cloak em- 
broidered with gold pagodas, march down 
the great staircase into the Court of Honour, 
and ascend to the empty place at the end 
of the rockery grotto (where, as a matter 
of fact, a statue of Neptune, by a pupil of 
Bernini, was placed some months later), and 
there, raising his sceptre, receive the obei- 
sance of all the marble animals — ^the Giraffe, 
the Rhinoceros, the Stag, the Peacock, and 
the Monkeys. And behold I suddenly his 
well-known features waxed dim, and beneath 
the great curly peruke there was a round 
blank thing — a barber's block I 

Alberic, who was an intelligent child, had 
gradually learned to disentangle this dream 
from reality; but its grotesque terror never 
vanished from his mind, and became the core 
of all- his feelings towards Duke Balthasar 
Maria and the Red Palace. 



THE SNAKE LADY 37 

III 

The news — ^which was kept back as long as 
possible— of the destruction of Susanna and 
the Elders threw Duke Balthasar Maria into 
a most violent rage with his grandson. The 
boy should be punished by exile, and exile 
to a terrible place ; above all, to a place 
where there was no furniture to destroy. 
Taking due counsel with his Jesuit, his Jester, 
and his Dwarf, Duke Balthasar decided that 
in the whole Duchy of Luna there was no 
place more fitted for the purpose than the 
Castle of Sparkling Waters. 

For the Castle of Sparkling Waters was 
little better than a ruin, and its sole inhabi- 
tants were a family of peasants. The original 
cradle of the House of Luna, and its prin- 
cipal bulwark against invasion, the castle 
had been ignominiously discarded and for- 
saken a couple of centuries before, when the 
dukes had built the rectangular town in the 
plain ; after which it had been used as a 
quarry for ready-cut stone, and the greater 
part carted off to rebuild the town of Luna, 
and even the central portion of the Red 
Palace. The castle was therefore reduced to 



38 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

its outer circuit of walls, enclosing vineyards 
and orange-gardensy instead of moats and 
yards and towers, and to the large gate 
tower, which had been kept, with one or 
two smaller buildings, for the housing of the 
farmer, his cattle, and his stores. 

Thither the misguided young Prince was 
conveyed in a carefully shuttered coach and 
at a late hour of the evening, as was proper 
in the case of an offender at once so illus- 
trious and so criminal. Nature, moreover, 
had clearly shared Duke Balthasar Maria's 
legitimate anger, and had done her best to 
increase the horror of this just though terrible 
sentence. For that particular night the long 
summer broke up in a storm of fearful vio- 
lence ; and Alberic entered the ruined castle 
amid the howling of wind, the rumble of 
thunder, and the rush of torrents of rain. 

But the young Prince showed no fear or 
reluctance ; he saluted with dignity and 
sweetness the farmer and his wife slnd family, 
and took possession of his attic, where the 
curtains of an antique and crazy four-poster 
shook in the draught of the unglazed win- 
dows, as if he were taking posisession of the 
gala chambers of a great palace. 'And so,' 



THE SNAKE LADY 39 

he merely remarked, looking round him with 
reserved satisfaction, ' I am now in the castle 
which was built by my ancestor and name- 
sake, the Marquis Alberic the Blond.' 

He looked not unworthy of such illustrious 
lineage, as he stood there in the flickering 
light of the pine-torch : tall for his. age, 
slender and strong, with abundant golden 
hair falling about his very white face. 

That first night at the Castle of Sparkling 
Waters, Alberic dreamed without end about 
his dear, lost tapestry. And when, in the 
radiant autumn morning, he descended to 
explore the place of his banishment and cap- 
tivity, it seemed as if those dreams were still 
going on. Or had the tapestry been removed 
to this spot, and become a reality in which 
he himself was running about? 

The gate tower in which he had slept 
was still intact and chivalrous. It had battle- 
ments, a drawbridge, a great escutcheon with 
the arms of Luna, just like the castle in the 
tapestry. Some vines, quite loaded with 
grapes, rose on the strong cords of their 
fibrous wood from the ground to the very 
roof of the town, exactly like those borders 
of leaves and fruit which Alberic had loved 



40 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

so much. Andy between the vines^ all along 
the masonry, were strung long narrow ropes 
of maize, like garlands of gold. A planta- 
tion of orange-trees filled what had once been 
the moat ; lemons were spalliered against 
the delicate pink brickwork. There were no 
lilies, indeed, but big carnations hung down 
from the tower windows, and a tall oleander, 
which Alberic mistook for a special sort of 
rose-tree, shed its blossoms on to the draw- 
bridge. After the storm of the night, birds 
were singing all round ; not indeed as they 
sang in spring, which Alberic, of course, 
did not know, but in a manner quite different 
from the canaries in the ducal aviaries at 
Luna. Moreover, other birds, wonderful 
white and gold creatures, some of them with 
brilliant tails and scarlet crests, were pecking 
and strutting and making curious noises in 
the yard. And — could it be true? — a little 
way further up the hill, for the castle walls 
climbed steeply from the seaboard, in the 
grass beneath the olive-trees, white creatures 
were running in and out — white creatures 
with pinkish lining to their ears, undoubtedly 
— as Alberic's nurse had taught him on the 
tapestry — undoubtedly rabbits. 



THE SNAKE LADY 41 

Thus Alberic rambled on, from discovery 
to discovery, with the growing sense that he 
was in the tapestry, but that the tapestry had 
become the whole world. He climbed from 
terrace to terrace of the steep olive-yard, 
among the sage and the fennel tufts, the long 
red walls of the castle winding ever higher 
on the hill. And on the very top of the 
hill was a high terrace surrounded by towers, 
and a white shining house with columns 
and windows, which seemed to drag him 
upwards. 

It was, indeed, the citadel of the place, the 
very centre of the castle. 

Alberic's heart beat strangely as he passed 
beneath the wide arch of delicate ivy-grown 
brick, and clambered up the rough-paved 
path to the topmost terrace. And there he 
actually forgot the tapestry. The terrace 
was laid out as a vineyard, the vines trellised 
on the top of stone columns ; at one end 
stood a clump of trees, pines, and a big 
ilex and a walnut, whose shrivelled leaves 
already strewed the grass. To the back stood 
a tiny little house all built of shining marble, 
with two large rounded windows divided by 
delicate pillars, of the sort (as Alberic later 



42 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

learned) which people built in the barbarous , 
days of the Goths. Among the vines, which 
formed a vast arbour, were growing, in open 
spaces, large orange and lemon trees, and 
flowering bushes of rosemary, and pale pink 
roses. And in front of the house, under a 
great umbrella pine, was a well, with an arch 
over it and a bucket hanging to a chain. 

Alberic wandered about in the vineyard, 
and then slowly mounted the marble staircase 
which flanked the white house. There was 
no one in it The two or three small upper 
chambers stood open, and on their blackened 
floor were heaped sacks, and faggots, and 
fodder, and all manner of coloured seeds. 
The unglazed windows stood open, framing 
in between their white pillars a piece of deep 
blue sea. For there, below, but seen over 
the tops of the olive-trees and the green 
leaves of the oranges and lemons, stretched 
the sea, deep blue, speckled with white sails, 
bounded by pale blue capes, and arched over 
by a dazzling pale blue sky. From the lower 
story there rose faint sounds of cattle, and a 
fresh, sweet smell as of grass and herbs and 
coolness, which Alberic had never known 
before. How long did Alberic stand at that 



THE SNAKE LADY 43 

window? He was startled by what he took 
to be steps close behind him, and a rustle as 
of silk. But the rooms were empty, and he 
could see nothing moving among the stacked 
up fodder and seeds. Still, the sounds 
seemed to recur, but now outside, and he 
thought he heard some one in a very low 
voice call his name. He descended into the 
vineyard ; he walked round every tree and 
every shrub, and climbed upon the broken 
masses of rose-coloured masonry, crushing 
the scented ragwort and peppermint with 
which they were overgrown. But all was 
still and empty. Only, from far, far below, 
there rose a stave of peasant's song. 

The great gold balls of oranges, and the 
delicate yellow lemons, stood out among 
their glossy green against the deep blue of 
the sea ; the long bunches of grapes hung, 
filled with sunshine, like clusters of rubies and 
jacinths and topazes, from the trellis which 
patterned the pale blue sky. But Alberic felt 
not hunger, but sudden thirst, and mounted 
the three broken marble steps of the well. 
By its side was a long narrow trough of 
marble, such as stood in the court at Luna, 
and which, Alberic had been told, people had 



44 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

used as coffins in pagan times. This one 
was evidently intended to receive water from 
the welly for it had a mark in the middle, 
with a spout ; but it was quite dry and full 
of wild herbs, and even of pale, prickly roses. 
There were garlands carved upon it, and 
people with twisted snakes about them ; and 
the carving was picked out with golden 
brown minute mosses. Alberic looked at it, 
for it pleased him greatly ; and then he 
lowered the bucket into the deep well, and 
drank. The well was very, very deep. Its 
inner sides were covered, as far as you could 
see, with long delicate weeds like pale green 
hair, but this faded away in the darkness. 
At the bottom was a bright space, reflecting 
the sky, but looking like some subterranean 
country. Alberic, as he bent over, was 
startled by suddenly seeing what seemed a 
face filling up part of that shining circle ; but 
he remembered it must be his own reflection, 
and felt ashamed. So, to give himself cour- 
age, he bent over again, and sang his own 
name to the image. But instead of his own 
boyish voice he was answered by wonderful 
tones, high and deep alternately, running 
through the notes of a long, long cadence, as 



THE SNAKE LADY 45 

he had heard them on holidays at the Ducal 
Chapel at Luna. 

When he had slaked his thirst, Alberic 
was about to unchain the bucket, when there 
was a rustle hard by, and a sort of little hiss, 
and there rose from the carved trough, from 
among the weeds and roses, and glided on to 
the brick of the well, a long, green, glittering 
thing. Alberic recognised it to be a snake ; 
only, he had no idea it had such a flat, 
strange little head, and such a long forked 
tongue, for the lady on the tapestry was a 
woman from the waist upwards. It sat on 
the opposite side of the well, moving its long 
neck in his direction, and fixing him with its 
small golden eyes. Then, slowly, it began 
to glide round the well circle towards him. 
Perhaps it wants to drink, thought Alberic, 
and tipped the bronze pitcher in its direction. 
But the creature glided past, and came around 
and rubbed itself against Alberic's hand. 
The boy was not afraid, for he knew nothing 
about snakes ; but he started, for, on this hot 
day, the creature was icy cold. But then he 
felt sorry. ' It must be dreadful to be always 
so cold,' he said ; ' come, try and get warm in 
my pocket.' 



46 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

But the snake merely rubbed itself against 
his coat, and then disappeared back into the 
carved sarcophagus. 



IV 

Duke Balthasar Maria, as we have seen, 
was famous for his un&ding youth, and 
much of his happiness and pride was due to 
this delightful peculiarity. Any comparison, 
therefore, which might diminish it, was dis- 
tasteful to the Ever Young sovereign of 
Luna; and when his son had died with 
mysterious suddenness, Duke Balthasar 
Maria's grief had been tempered by the con- 
solatory fact that he was now the youngest 
man at his own court. This very natural 
feeling explains why the Duke of Luna had 
put behind him for several years the fact of 
having a grandson, painful because implying 
that he was of an age to be a grandfather. He 
had done his best, and succeeded not badly, 
to forget Alberic while the latter abode under 
his own roof ; and now that the boy had been 
sent away to a distance, he forgot him entirely 
for the space of several years. 

But Balthasar Maria's three chief coun- 



THE SNAKE LADY 47 

sellers had no such reason for forgetfulness ; 
and sOy in turn, each unknown to the other, 
the Jesuit, the Dwarf, and the Jester sent 
spies to the Castle of Sparkling Waters, and 
even secretly visited that place in person. 
For by the coincidence of genius, the mind 
of each of these profound politicians, had 
been illuminated by the same remarkable 
thought, to wit : that Duke Balthasar Maria, 
unnatural .as it seemed, would some day 
have to die, and Prince Alberic, if still alive, 
become duke in his stead. Those were the 
times of subtle statecraft ; and the Jesuit, the 
Dwarf, and the Jester were notable statesmen 
even in their day. So each of them had pro- 
vided himself with a scheme, which, in order 
to be thoroughly artistic, was twofold and, so 
to speak, double-barrelled. Alberic might 
live or he might die, and therefore Alberic 
must be turned to profit in either case. If, 
to invert the chances, Alberic should die 
before coming to the throne, the Jesuit, the 
Dwarf, and the Jester had each privately 
determined to represent this death as pur- 
posely brought about by himself for the 
benefit of one of the three Powers which would 
claim the duchy in case of extinction of the 



48 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

male line. The Jesuit had chosen to attribute 
the murder to devotion to the Holy See ; the 
Dwarf had preferred to appear active in favour 
of the *King of Spain ; and the Jester had 
decided that he would lay claim to the grati- 
tude of the Emperor. The very means which 
each would pretend to have used had been 
thought out : poison in each case, only while 
the Dwarf had selected henbane, taken through 
a pair of perfumed gloves, and the Jester 
pounded diamonds mixed in champagne, the 
Jesuit had modestly adhered to the humble 
cup of chocolate, which, whether real or 
fictitious, had always stood his order in 
such good stead. Thus did each of these 
wily courtiers dispose of Alberic in case he 
should die. 

There remained the alternative of Alberic 
continuing to live ; and for this the three 
rival statesmen were also prepared. If Alberic 
lived, it was obvious that he must be made to 
select one of the three as his sole minister, 
and banish, imprison, or put to death the 
other two. For this purpose it was necessary 
to secure his affection by gifts, until he 
should be old enough to understand that be 
had actually owed his life to the passionate 



THE SNAKE LADY 49 

loyalty of the Jesuit, or the Dwarf, or the 
Jester, each of whom had saved him from the 
atrocious enterprises of the other two coun- 
sellors of Balthasar Maria — nay, who knows ? 
perhaps from the malignity of Balthasar 
Maria himself. 

In accordance with these subtle machina- 
tions, each of the three statesmen determined 
to outwit his rivals by sending young Alberic 
such things as would appeal most strongly 
to a poor young Prince living in banishment 
among peasants, and wholly unsupplied with 
pocket-money. The Jesuit expended a con- 
siderable sum on books, magnificently bound 
with the arms of Luna ; the Dwarf prepared 
several suits of tasteful clothes ; and the 
Jester selected, with infinite care, a horse 
of equal and perfect gentleness and mettle. 
And, unknown to one another, but much 
about the same period, each of the statesmen 
sent his present most secretly to Alberic. 
Imagine the astonishment and wrath of the 
Jesuit, the Dwarf, and the Jester, when each 
saw his messenger come back from Sparkling 
Waters with his gift returned, and the news 
that Prince Alberic was already supplied with 
a complete library, a handsome wardrobe, 



1 



50 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

and not one, but two horses of the finest 
breed and training ; nay, more unexpected 
stilly that while returning the gifts to their 
respective donors, he had rewarded the 
messengers with splendid liberality. 

The result of this amazing discovery was 
much the same in the mind of the Jesuit, 
the Dwarf, and the Jester. Each instantly 
suspected one or both of his rivals ; then, on 
second thoughts, determined to change the 
present to one of the other items (horse, 
clothes, or books, as the case might be), 
little suspecting that each of them had been 
supplied already ; and, on further reflection, 
began to doubt the reality of the whole 
business, to suspect connivance of the 
messengers, intended insult on the part of 
the Prince; and, therefore, decided to trust 
only to the evidence of his own eyes in the 
matter. 

Accordingly, within the same few months, 
the Jesuit, the Dwarf, and the Jester, feigned 
grievous illness to their Ducal Master, and 
while everybody thought them safe in bed 
in the Red Palace at Luna, hurried, on 
horseback, or in a litter, or in a coach, to 
the Castle of Sparkling Waters. 



.- J*. 



THE SNAKE LADY 51 

The scene with the peasant and his family ^ 
young Alberic's host, was identical on the 
three occasions ; and, as the farmer saw that 
each of these personages was willing to pay 
liberally for absolute secrecy, he very con- 
sistently swore to supply that desideratum 
to each of the three great functionaries. And 
similarly, in all three cas^s, it was deemed 
preferable to see the young Prince first from 
a hiding-place, before asking leave to pay 
their respects. 

The Dwarf, who was the first in the field, 
was able to hide very conveniently in one 
of the cut velvet plumes which surmounted 
Alberic's four-post bedstead, and to observe 
the young Prince as he changed his apparel. 
But he scarcely recognised the Duke's grand- 
son. Alberic was sixteen, but far taller and 
stronger than his age would warrant His 
figure was at once manly and delicate, and 
fiill of grace and vigour of movement. His 
long hair, the colour of floss silk, fell in 
wavy curls, which seemed to imply almost 
a woman's care and coquetry. His hands 
also, though powerful, were, as the Dwarf 
took note, of princely form and whiteness. 
As to his garments, the open doors of his 



52 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

wardrobe displayed every variety that a 
young Prince could need ; and, while the 
Dwarf was watching, he was exchanging a 
russet and purple hunting-dress, cut after 
the Hungarian fashion with cape and hood, 
and accompanied by a cap crowned with 
peacock's feathers, for a habit of white and 
silver, trimmed with Venetian lace, in which 
he intended to honour the wedding of one 
of the farmer's daughters. Never, in his 
most genuine youth, had Balthasar Maria, 
the ever young and handsome, been one- 
quarter as beautiful in person or as delicate 
in apparel as his grandson in exile among 
poor country folk. 

The Jesuit, in his turn, came to verify 
his messenger's extraordinary statements. 
Through the gap between two rafters he 
was enabled to look down on to Prince 
Alberic in his study. Magnificently bound 
books lined the walls of the closet, and in 
their gaps hung valuable prints and maps. 
On the table were heaped several open 
volumes, among globes both terrestrial and 
celestial ; and Alberic himself was leaning 
on the arm of a great chair, reciting the 
verses of Virgil in a most graceful chant 



THE SNAKE LADY 53 

Never had the Jesuit seen a better-appointed 
study nor a more precocious young scholar. 

As regards the Jester, he came at the very 
moment that Alberic was returning from a 
ride ; and, having begun life as an acrobat, he 
was able to climb into a large ilex which com- 
manded an excellent view of the Castle yard. 

Alberic was mounted on a splendid jet- 
black barb, magnificently caparisoned in 
crimson and gold Spanish trappings. His 
groom — for he had even a groom — ^was riding 
a horse only a shade less perfect: it was 
white and he was black — a splendid negro 
such as only great princes own. When 
Alberic came in sight of the farmer's wife, 
who stood shelling peas on the doorstep, he 
waved his hat with infinite grace, caused his 
horse to caracole and rear three times in 
salutation, picked an apple up while canter- 
ing round the Castle yard, threw it in the 
air with his sword and cut it in two as it 
descended, and did a number of similar feats 
such as are taught only to the most brilliant 
cavaliers. Now, as he was going to dis- 
mount, a branch of the ilex cracked, the 
black barb reared, and Alberic, looking up, 
perceived the Jester moving in the tre^ 



1 



54 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

'A wonderful pard-coloured bird I' he 
exclaimed, and seized the fowling-piece that 
hung to his saddle* But before he had 
time to fire the Jester had thrown himself 
down and alighted, making three somersaults, 
on the ground. 

* My Lord/ said the Jester, ' you see before 
you a foithfiil subject who, braving the threats 
and traps of your enemies, and, I am bound 
to add, risking also your Highnesses sovereign 
displeasure, has been determined to see his 
Prince once more, to have the supreme happi- 
ness of seeing him at last clad and equipped 
and mounted * 

* Enough I' interrupted Alberic sternly. 
'You need say no more. You would have 
me believe that it is to you I owe my horses 
and books and clothes, even as the Dwarf 
and the Jesuit tried to make me believe 
about themselves last month. Know, then, 
that Alberic of Luna requires gifts from none 
of you. And now, most miserable councillor 
of my unhappy grandfather, begone I ' 

The Jester checked his rage, and tried, all 
the way back to Luna, to get at some solution 
of this intolerable riddle. The Jesuit and the 
Dwarf— the scoundrels — had been trying their 



THE SNAKE LADY 55 

hand then I Perhaps, indeed^ it was their 
blundering which had ruined his own per- 
fectly-concocted scheme. But for their having 
come and claimed gratitude for gifts they had 
not made, Alberic would perhaps have be- 
lieved that the Jester had not merely offered 
the horse which was refused, but had actually 
given the two which had been accepted, and 
the books and clothes (since there had been 
books and clothes given) into the bargain. 
But then, had not Alberic spoken as if he 
were perfectly sure from what quarter all his 
possessions had come? This reminded the 
Jester of the allusion to the Duke Balthasar 
Maria ; Alberic had spoken of him as un- 
happy. Was it, could it be, possible that 
the treacherous old wretch had been keeping 
up relations with his grandson in secret, 
afraid — for he was a miserable old coward 
at bottom — ^both of the wrath of his three 
counsellors, and of the hatred of his grand- 
son? Was it possible, thought the Jester, 
that not only the Jesuit and the Dwarf, but 
the Duke of Luna also, had been intriguing 
against him round young Prince Alberic? 
Balthasar Maria was quite capable of it ; he 
might be enjoying the trick he was playing 



56 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

his three masters — for they were his masters ; 
he might be preparing to turn suddenly upon 
them with his long neglected grandson like a 
sword to smite them. On the other hand, 
might this not be a mere mistaken supposi- 
tion on the part of Prince Alberic, who, in 
his silly dignity, preferred to believe in the 
liberality of his ducal grandfather than in 
that of his grandfather's servants? Might 
the horses, and all the rest, not really be 
the gift of either the Dwarf or the Jesuit, 
although neither had got the credit for it? 
^ No, no,' exclaimed the Jester, for he hated 
his fellow-servants worse than his master, 
^ anything better than that I Rather a thou- 
sand times that it were the Duke himself who 
had outwitted them.' 

Then, in his bitterness, having gone over 
the old arguments again and again, some 
additional circumstances returned to his 
memory. The black groom was deaf and 
dumb, and the peasants, it appeared, had 
been quite unable to extract any information 
from him. But he had arrived with those 
particular horses only a few months ago ; a 
gift, the peasants had thought, from the old 
Duke of Luna. But Alberic, they had said. 



THE SNAKE LADY 57 

had possessed other horses before, which they 
had also taken for granted had come from the 
Red Palace. And the clothes and books had 
been accumulating, it appeared, ever since 
the Prince's arrival in his place of banish- 
ment Since this was the case, the plot, 
whether on the part of the Jesuit or the 
Dwarf, or on that of the Duke himself, had 
been going on for years before the Jester had 
bestirred himself I Moreover, the Prince not 
only possessed horses, but he learned to 
ride, he not only had books, but he had 
learned to read, and even to read various 
tongues ; and finally, the Prince was not 
only clad in princely garments, but he was 
every inch of him a Prince. He had then 
been consorting with other people than the 
peasants at Sparkling Waters. He must 
have been away — or — some one must have 
come. He had not been living in solitude. 

But when — how — and above all, who ? 

And again the baffled Jester revolved the 
probabilities concerning the Dwarf, the Jesuit, 
and the Duke. It must be — it could be no 
other — it evidently could only be . 

' Ah I ' exclaimed the unhappy diplomatist ; 
^ if only one could believe in magic I ' 



58 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

And it suddenly struck him, with terror 
and mingled relief, * Was it magic ? ' 

But the Jester, like the Dwarf and the 
Jesuit, and the Duke of Luna himself, was 
altogether superior to such foolish beliefs. 



The young Prince of Luna had never 
attempted to learn the story of Alberic the 
Blond and the Snake Lady« Children some- 
times conceive an inexplicable shyness, 
almost a dread, of knowing more on some 
subject which is uppermost in their thoughts ; 
and such had been the case of Duke Balthasar 
Maria's grandson. Ever since the memor- 
able morning when the ebony crucifix had 
been removed from in front of the faded 
tapestry, and the whole figure of the Snake 
Lady had been for the first time revealed, 
scarcely a day had passed without their 
coming to the boy's mind : his nurse's words 
about his ancestors Alberic and the Snake 
Lady Oriana. But, even as he had asked 
no questions then, so he had asked no 
questions since ; shrinking more and more 
from all further knowledge of the matter. 



THE SNAKE LADY 59 

He had never questioned his nurse ; he had 
never questioned die peasants of Sparkling 
Waters, although the story, he felt quite 
sure, must be well known among the ruins 
of Alberic the Blond's own castle. Nay, 
stranger still, he had never mentioned the 
subject to his dear Godmother, to whom he 
had learned to open his heart about all 
things, and who had taught him all that he 
knew. 

For the Duke's Jester had guessed rightiy 
that, during these years at Sparkling Waters, 
the young Prince had not consorted solely 
with peasants. The very evening after his 
arrival, as he was sitting by the marble well 
in the vineyard, looking towards the sea, he 
had felt a hand placed lightly on his shoulder, 
and looked up into the face of a beautiful 
lady dressed in green. 

^ Do not be afraid,' she had said, smiling 
at his terror. ^ I am not a ghost, but alive 
like you ; and I am, though you do not know 
it, your Godmother. My dwelling is close 
to this castle, and I shall come every evening 
to play and talk with you, here by the littie 
white palace with the pillars, where the fodder 
is stacked. Only, you must remember that 



6o PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

I do so against the wishes of your grand- 
father and all his friends, and that if ever 
you mention me to any one, or allude in any 
way to our meetings, I shall be obliged to 
leave the neighbourhood, and you will never 
see me again. Some day when you are big 
you will learn why ; till then you must take 
me on trust And now what shall we 
play at ? * 

And thus his Godmother had come every 
evening at sunset, just for an hour and no 
more, and had taught the poor solitary little 
Prince to play (for he had never played) and 
to read, and to manage a horse, and, above 
all, to love : for, except the old tapestry in the 
Red Palace, he had never loved anjrthing 
in the world. 

Alberic told his dear Godmother every- 
thing, beginning with the story of the two 
pieces of tapestry, the one they had taken 
away and the one he had cut to pieces ; and 
he asked her about all the things he ever 
wanted to know, and she was always able to 
answer. Only about two things they were 
silent : she never told him her name nor 
where she lived, nor whether Duke Balthasar 
Maria knew her (the boy guessed that she 



THE SNAKE LADY 6i 

had been a friend of his father's) ; and Alberic 
never revealed the fact that the tapestry had 
represented his ancestor and the beautiful 
Oriana ; for, even to his dear Godmother, 
and most perhaps to her, he found it impos- 
sible even to mention Alberic the Blond and 
the Snake Lady. 

But the story, or rather the name of the 
story he did not know, never loosened its 
hold on Alberic's mind. Little by little, as 
he grew up, it came to add to his life two 
friends, of whom he never told his God- 
mother* They were, to be sure, of such sort, 
however different, that a boy might find it 
difiBcult to speak about without feeling foolish. 
The first of the two friends was his own 
ancestor, Alberic the Blond ; and the second 
that large tame grass snake whose acquaint- 
ance he had made the day after his arrival at 
the castle. About Alberic the Blond he knew 
indeed but little, save that he had reigned in 
Luna many hundreds of years ago, and that 
he had been a very brave and glorious Prince 
indeed, who had helped to conquer the Holy 
Sepulchre with Godfrey and Tancred and the 
other heroes of Tasso. But, perhaps in pro- 
portion to this vagueness, Alberic the Blond 



62 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

served to personify all the notions of chivalry 
which the boy had learned from his God- 
mother, and those which bubbled up in his 
own breast Nay, little by little the young 
Prince began to take his unknown ancestor 
as a model, and in a confused way, to identify 
himself with him. For was he not &ir-haired 
too, and Prince of Luna, Albericj third of 
the name, as the other had been first ? Per*- 
haps for this reason he could never speak 
of this ancestor with his Godmother. She 
might think it presumptuous and foolish ; 
besides, she might perhaps tell him things 
about Alberic the Blond which would hurt 
him ; the poor young Prince, who had com- 
pared the splendid reputation of his own 
grand&ther with the miserable reality, had 
grown up precociously sceptical* As to the 
Snake, with whom he played every day in 
the grass, and who was his only companion 
during the many hours of his Godmother's 
absence, he would willingly have spoken of 
her, and had once been on the point of doing 
so, but he had noticed that the mere name of 
such creatures seemed to be odious to his 
Godmother. Whenever, in their readings, 
they came across any mention of serpents, 



THE SNAKE LADY 63 

his Godmother would exclaim, ^ Let us skip 
that/ with a look of intense pain in her 
usually cheerful countenance. It was a pity, 
Alberic thought, that so lovely and dear a 
lady should feel such hatred towards any 
living creature, particularly towards a kind 
which, like his own tame grass snake, was 
perfectly harmless. But he loved her too 
much to dream of thwarting her; and he 
was very grateful to his tame snake for 
having the tact never to show herself at 
the hour of his Godmother's visits. 

But to return to the story represented 
on the dear, faded tapestry in the Red 
Palace. 

When Prince Alberic, unconscious to him- 
self, was beginning to turn into a full-grown 
and gallant-looking youth, a change began 
to take place in him, and it was about the 
story of his ancestor and the Lady Oriana. 
He thought of it more than ever, and it 
began to haunt his dreams; only it was 
now a vaguely painful thought; and, while 
dreading still to know more, he began to 
experience a restless, miserable craving to 
know all. His curiosity was like a thorn in 
his flesh, working its way in and in ; and 



64 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

it seemed something almost more than 
curiosity. And yet, he was still shy and 
frightened of the subject; nay, the greater 
his craving to know, the greater grew a 
strange certainty that the knowing would be 
accompanied by evil. So, although many 
people could have answered — the very 
peasants, the fishermen of the coast, and 
first and foremost, his Godmother — he let 
months pass before he asked the question. 
It, and the answer, came of a sudden. 

There came occasionally to Sparkling 
Waters an old man, who united in his tat- 
tered person the trades of mending crockery 
and reciting fsury tales. He would seat him- 
self in summer, under the spreading fig-tree 
in the Castle yard, and in winter by the 
peasants' deep, black chimney, alternately 
boring holes in pipkins, or gluing plate 
edges, and singing, in a cracked, nasal 
voice, but not without dignity and charm of 
manner, the stories of the King of Portugal's 
Cowherd, of the Feathers of the Griffin, or 
some of the many stanzas of Orlando or 
Jerusalem Delivered which he knew by 
heart. Our young Prince had always 



THE SNAKE LADY 65 

avoided him, partly from a vague fear of a 
mention of his ancestor and the Snake Lady, 
and partly because of something vaguely 
sinister in the old man's eye. But now 
he awaited with impatience the vagrant's 
periodical return, and on one occasion, 
summoned him to his own chamber. 

*Sing me,' he commanded, *the story of 
Alberic the Blond and the Snake Lady.' 

The old man hesitated, and answered with 
a strange look — 

* My Lord, I do not know it.' 

A sudden feeling, such as the youth had 
never experienced before, seized hold of 
Alberic. He did not recognise himself. 
He saw and heard himself, as if it were some 
one else, nod first at some pieces of gold, of 
those his Godmother had given him, and 
then at his fowling-piece hung on the wall ; 
and as he did so he had a strange thought : 
^I must be mad.' But he merely said, 
sternly — 

'Old man, that is not true. Sing that 
story at once, if you value my money and 
your safety.' 

The vagrant took his white-bearded chin 
in his hand, mused, and then, fumbling 

E 



66 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

among the files and drills and pieces of 
wire in his tool-basket, which made a £Eiint 
metallic accompaniment, he slowly began to 
chant the following stanzas : — 



VI 

Now listen, courteous Prince, to what befell 
your ancestor, the valorous Alberic, returning 
from the Holy Land. 

Already a year had passed since the strong- 
holds of Jerusalem had fallen beneath the 
blows of the faithful, and since the Sepulchre 
of Christ had been delivered from the wor- 
shippers of Macomet. The great Godfrey was 
enthroned as its guardian, and the mighty 
barons, his companions, were wending their 
way homewards — Tancred, and Bohemund, 
and Reynold, and the rest 

The valorous Alberic, the honour of Luna, 
after many perilous adventures, brought by the 
anger of the Wizard Macomet, whom he had 
offended, was shipwrecked on his homeward 
way, and cast, alone of all his great army, 
upon the rocky shore of an unknown island. 
He wandered long about, among woods and 
pleasant pastures, but without ever seeing 



THE SNAKE LADY 67 

any signs of habitation ; nourishing him- 
self solely on berries and clear water, and 
taking his rest in the green grass beneath the 
trees. At length, after some days of wander- 
ing, he came to a dense forest, the like of 
which he had never seen before, so deep was 
its shade and so tangled were its boughs. 
He broke the branches with his iron-gloved 
hand, and the air became filled with the 
croaking and screeching of dreadful night- 
birds. He pushed his way with shoulder and 
knee, trampling the broken leafage under 
foot, and the air was filled with the roaring of 
monstrous lions and tigers. He grasped his 
sharp double-edged sword and hewed through 
the interlaced branches, and the air was filled 
with the shrieks and sobs of a vanquished 
city. But the Knight of Luna went on, 
undaunted, cutting his way through the 
enchanted wood. And behold I as he issued 
thence, there was before him a lordly castle, 
as of some great Prince, situate in a pleasant 
meadow among running streams. And as 
Alberic approached, the portcullis was raised, 
and the drawbridge lowered ; and there arose 
sounds of fifes and bugles, but nowhere could 
he descry any living wight around. And 



68 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

Alberic entered the castle, and found therein 
guardrooms full of shining arms, and cham- 
bers spread with rich stuffs, and a banqueting- 
hall, with a great table laid and a chair of 
state at the end. And as he entered a concert 
of invisible voices and instruments greeted 
him sweetly, and called him by name, and bid 
him be welcome ; but not a living soul did he 
see. So he sat him down at the table, and 
as he did so, invisible hands filled his cup 
and his plate, and ministered to him with 
delicacies of all sorts. Now, when the good 
knight had eaten and drunken his fill, he 
drank to the health of his unknown host, 
declaring himself the servant thereof with his 
sword and heart. After which, weary with 
wandering, he prepared to take rest on the 
carpets which strewed the ground ; but invis- 
ible hands unbuckled his armour, and clad 
him in silken robes, and led him to a couch 
all covered with rose-leaves. And when he 
had lain himself down, the concert of invisible 
singers and players put him to sleep with 
their melodies. 

It was the hour of sunset when the valorous 
Baron awoke, and buckled on his armour, and 
hung on his thigh the great sword Brilla- 



THE SNAKE LADY 69 

morte ; and invisible hands helped him once 
more. 

The Knight of Luna went all over the 
enchanted castle, and found all manner of 
rarities, treasures of precious stones, such as 
great kings possess, and stores of gold and 
silver vessels, and rich stuffs, and stables full 
of fiery coursers ready caparisoned ; but never 
a human creature anywhere. And, wonder- 
ing more and more, he went forth into the 
orchard, which lay within the castle walls. 
And such another orchard, sure, was never 
seen, since that in which the hero Hercules 
found the three golden apples and slew the 
great dragon. For you might see in this 
place fruit-trees of all kinds, apples and pears, 
and peaches and plums, and the goodly 
orange, which bore at the same time fruit 
and delicate and scented blossom. And all 
around were set hedges of roses, whose scent 
was even like heaven ; and there were other 
flowers of all kinds, those into which the vain 
Narcissus turned through love of himself, and 
those which grew, they tell us, from the 
blood-drops of fair Venus's minion ; and lilies 
of which that Messenger carried a sheaf who 
isaluted the Meek Damsel, glorious above all 



70 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

womankind. And in the trees sang innumer- 
able birds; and others, of unknown breed, 
joined melody in hanging cages and aviaries. 
And in the orchard's midst was set a fountain, 
the most wonderful e'er made, its waters 
running in green channels among the flowered 
grass. For that fountain was made in the 
likeness of twin naked maidens, dancing 
together, and pouring water out of pitchers as 
they did so ; and the maidens were of fine 
silver, and the pitchers of wrought gold, and 
the whole so cunningly contrived by magic 
art that the maidens really moved and danced 
with the waters they were pouring out — a 
wonderful work, most truly. And when the 
Knight of Luna had feasted his eyes upon 
this marvel, he saw among the grass, beneath 
a flowering almond-tree, a sepulchre of marble, 
cunningly carved and gilded, on which was 
written, * Here is imprisoned the Fairy Oriana, 
most miserable of all fairies, condemned for 
no fault, but by envious powers, to a dreadful 
fate,' — and as he read, the inscription changed, 
and the sepulchre showed these words : ' O 
Knight of Luna, valorous Alberic, if thou 
wouldst show thy gratitude to the hapless 
mistress of this castle, summon up thy 



THE SNAKE LADY 71 

redoubtable courage^ and, whatsoever creature 
issue from my marble heart, swear thou to 
kiss it three times on the mouth, that Oriana 
may be released.' 

And Alberic drew his great sword, and on 
its hilt, shaped like a cross, he swore. 

Then wouldst thou have heard a terrible 
sound of thunder, and seen the castle walls 
rock. But Alberic,' nothing daunted, repeats 
in a loud voice, ' I swear,' and instantly tiiat 
sepulchre's lid upheaves, and there issues 
thence and rises up a great green snake, 
wearing a golden crown, and raises itself and 
fawns towards the valorous Knight of Luna. 
And Alberic starts and recoils in terror. For 
rather, a thousand times, confront alone the 
armed hosts of all the heathen, than put his 
lips to that cold, creeping beast I And the 
serpent looks at Alberic with great gold eyes, 
and big tears issue thence, and it drops pro- 
strate on the grass ; and Alberic summons 
courage and approaches ; but when the 
serpent glides along his arm, a horror takes 
him, and he falls back, unable. And the 
tears stream from the snake's golden eyes, 
and moans come from its mouth. 

And Alberic runs forward, and seizes the 



72 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

serpent in both anns, and lifts it up, and 
three times presses his warm lips against its 
cold and slippery skin^ shutting his eyes in 
horror. And when the Knight of Luna 
opens them again, behold I O wonder I in his 
arms no longer a dreadful snake, but a 
damsel, richly dressed and beautiful beyond 
compare. 



VII 

Young Alberic sickened that very night, 
and lay for many days raging with fever. 
The peasant's-wife and a good neighbouring 
priest nursed him unhelped, for when the 
messenger they sent arrived at Luna, Duke 
Balthasar was busy rehearsing a grand ballet 
in which he himself danced the part of 
Phoebus Apollo ; and the ducal physician was 
therefore despatched to Sparkling Waters 
only when the young Prince was already 
recovering. 

Prince Alberic undoubtedly passed through 
a very bad illness, and went fairly out of his 
mind for fever and ague. 

He raved so dreadfully in his delirium 
about enchanted tapestries and terrible 



THE SNAKE LADY 73 

grottoes. Twelve Caesars with rolling eye- 
ballsy barbers' blocks with perukes on them, 
monkeys of verde antique, and porphyry 
rhinoceroses, and all manner of hellish 
creatures, that the good priest began to 
suspect a case of demoniac possession, and 
caused candles to be kept lighted all day and 
all night, and holy water to be sprinkled, and 
a printed form of exorcism, absolutely sove- 
reign in such trouble, to be nailed against 
the bed-post. On the fourth day the young 
Prince fell into a profound sleep, from which 
he awaked in apparent possession of his 
faculties. 

*Then you are not the Porphyry Rhino- 
ceros?' he said, very slowly, as his eye fell 
upon the priest ; ^ and this is my own dear 
little room at Sparkling Waters, though I do 
not understand all those candles. I thought 
it was the great hall in the Red Palace, and 
that all those animals of precious marbles, 
and my grandfather, the Duke, in his bronze 
and gold robes, were beating me and my 
tame snake to death with harlequins' laths. 
It was terrible. But now I see it was all 
fancy and delirium. ' 

The poor youth gave a sigh of relief, and 



74 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

feebly caressed the rugged old hand of the 
priesty which lay upon his counterpane. The 
Prince stayed for a long while motionless, but 
gradually a strange light came into his eyes, 
and a smile on to his lips. Presently he 
made a sign that the peasants should leave 
the room, and taking once more the good 
priest's hand, he looked solemnly in his eyes, 
and spoke in an earnest voice. ^ A)y father,' 
he said, *I have seen and heard strange 
things in my sickness, and I cannot tell for 
certain now what belongs to the reality of my 
previous life, and what is merely the remem- 
brance of delirium. On this I would fain 
be enlightened. Promise me, my father, to 
answer my questions truly, for this is a matter 
of the welfare of my soul, and therefore of 
your own.' 

The priest nearly jumped on his chair. So 
he had been right. The demons had been 
trying to tamper with the poor young Prince, 
and now he was going to have a fine account 
of it all. 

* My son,' he murmured, * as I hope for the 
spiritual welfare of both of us, I promise to 
answer all your interrogations to the best of 
my powers. Speak without reticence.' 



THE SNAKE LADY 75 

Alberic hesitated for a moment, and his 
eyes glanced from one long lit taper to the 
other. 

^In that case,' he said slowly. Met me 
conjure you, my father, to tell me whether 
or not there exists a certain tradition in my 
family, of the loves of my ancestor, Alberic 
the Blond, with a certain Snake Lady, and 
how he was unfaithful to her, and failed to 
disenchant her, and how a second Alberic, 
also my ancestor, loved this same Snake 
Lady, but failed before the ten years of fidelity 
were over, and became a monk. . . • Does 
such a story exist, or have I imagined it all 
during my sickness ? * 

'My son,' replied the good priest testily, 
for he was most horribly disappointed by 
this speech, ' it is scarce fitting that a young 
Prince but just escaped from the jaws of 
death — and, perhaps, even from the insidious 
onslaught of the Evil One — should give his 
mind to idle tales like these.' 

'Qall them what you choose,' answered 
the Prince gravely, *but remember your 
promise, father. Answer me truly, and pre- 
sume not to question my reasons. ' 

The priest started. What a hasty ass he 



76 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

had been I Why^ these were probably the 
demons talking out of Alberic's mouth, caus- 
ing him to ask silly irrelevant questions in 
order to prevent a good confession. Such 
were notoriously among their stock tricks I 
But he would outwit them. If only it were 
possible to summon up St Paschal Baylon, 
that new fsishionable saint who had been 
doing such wonders with devils lately I But 
St Paschal Baylon required not only that 
you should say several rosaries, but that you 
should light four candles on a table and lay 
a supper for two ; after that there was nothing 
he would not do. So the priest hastily seized 
two candlesticks from the foot of the bed, 
and called to the peasant's wife to bring a 
clean napkin and plates and glasses ; and 
meanwhile endeavoured to detain the demons 
by answering the poor Prince's foolish chatter, 
*Your ancestors, the two Alberics — a tradi- 
tion in your Serene family — yes^ my Lord — 
there is such — let me see, how does the story 
go? — ah yes — this demon, I mean this Snake 
Lady was a — ^what they call a fairy — or witch, 
malefica or stryx is, I believe, the proper 
Latin expression — ^who had been turned into 
a snake for her sins — ^good woman, woman. 



THE SNAKE LADY 77 

is it possible you cannot be a little quicker 
in bringing those plates for His Highness's 
supper? The Snake Lady — let me see — ^was 
to cease altogether being a snake if a cavalier 
remained faithful to her for ten years, and 
at any rate turned into a woman every time 
a cavalier was found who had the courage 
to give her a kiss as if she were not a snake 
— a disagreeable thing, besides being mortal 
sin. As I said just now, this enabled her to 
resume temporarily her human shape, which 
is said to have been fair enough ; but how 
can one tell? I believe she was allowed to 
change into a woman for an hour at sunset, 
in any case and without anybody kissing 
her, but only for an hour. A very unlikely 
story, my Lord, and not a very moral one, 
to my thinking I ' 

And the good priest spread the tablecloth 
over the table, wondering secretly when the 
plates and glasses for St. Paschal Baylon 
would make their appearance. If only the 
demon could be prevented from beating a 
retreat before all was ready I * To return 
to the story about which Your Highness is 
pleased to inquire,' he continued, trying to 
gain time by pretending to humour the 



78 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

demon who was asking questions through 
the poor Prince's mouth, 'I can remember 
hearing a poem before I took orders — a foolish 
poem too, in a very poor style, if my memory 
is correct — ^that related the manner in which 
Alberic the Blond met this Snake Lady, and 
disenchanted her by performing the cere- 
mony I have alluded to. The poem was 
frequently sung at fairs and similar resorts 
of the uneducated, and, as remarked, was a 
very inferior composition indeed. Alberic 
the Blond afterwards came to his senses, it 
appears, and after abandoning the Snake 
Lady fulfilled his duty as a Prince, and 
married the Princess. ... I cannot exactly 
remember what Princess, but it was a very 
suitable marriage, no doubt, from which 
Your Highness is of course descended. 

'As regards the Marquis Alberic, second 
of the name, of whom it is accounted that 
he died in odour of sanctity (and indeed it 
is said that the £acts concerning his beatifica- 
tion are being studied in the proper quarters), 
there is a mention in a life of Saint Frede- 
valdus, bishop and patron of Luna, printed 
at the beginning of the present century at 
Venice, with Approbation and Licence of the 



THE SNAKE LADY 79 

Authorities and Inquisition, a mention of 
the fact that this Marquis Alberic the second 
had contracted, having abandoned his lawful 
wife, a left-handed marriage with this same 
Snake Lady (such evil creatures not being 
subject to natural 'death), she having induced 
him thereunto in hope of his proving faithful 
ten years, and by this means restoring her 
altogether to human shape. But a certain 
holy hermit, having got wind of this scandal, 
prayed to St. Fredevaldus as patron of Luna, 
whereupon St. Fredevaldus took pity on the 
Marquis Alberic's sins, and appeared to him 
in a vision at the end of the ninth year of his 
irregular connection with the Snake Lady, 
and touched his heart so thoroughly that he 
instantly forswore her company, and handing 
the Marquisate over to his mother, abandoned 
the world and entered the order of St. Rom- 
wald, in which he died, as remarked, in 
odour of sanctity, in consequence of which 
the present Duke, Your Highness's magnifi- 
cent grandfather, is at this ihoment, as befits 
so pious a Prince, employing his influence 
with the Holy Father for the beatification of 
so glorious an ancestor. And now, my son,' 
* added the good priest, suddenly changing 



8o PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

his tone, for he had got the table ready, 
and lighted the candles, and only required to 
go through the preliminary invocation of St. 
Paschal Baylon — * and now, my son, let your 
curiosity trouble you no more, but endeavour 
to obtain some rest, and if possible ' 

But the Prince interrupted him. 

^One word more, good Sather,' he begged, 
fixing him with earnest eyes ; ^ is it known 
what has been the fate of the Snake Lady?' 

The impudence of the demons made the 
priest quite angry, but he must not scare 
them before the arrival of St Paschal, so he 
controlled himself, and answered slowly by 
gulps, between the lines of the invocation he 
was mumbling under his breath : 

* My Lord — it results from the same life of 
St. Fredevaldus, that ... (in case of pro- 
perty lost, fire, flood, earthquake, plague) 
. . . that the Snake Lady (thee we invoke, 
most holy Paschal Baylon I). The Snake 
Lady being of the nature of fairies, cannot 
die unless her head be severed from her 
trunk, and is still haunting the world, to- 
gether with other evil spirits, in hopes that 
another member of the house of Luna (Thee 
we invoke, most holy Paschal Baylon 1) 



THE SNAKE LADY 8i 

— may succumb to her arts and be faithful 
to her for the ten years needful to her dis- 
enchantments— (most holy Paschal Baylon I 
— and most of all — on thee we call — for aid 
against the . . .) ' 

But before the priest could finish his in- 
vocation, a terrible shout came from the bed 
where the sick Prince was lying — 

* O Oriana, Oriana 1 ' cried Prince Alberic, 
sitting up in his bed with a look which terri- 
fied the priest as much as his voice. 'O 
Oriana, Oriana I ' he repeated, and then fell 
back exhausted and broken. 

^ Bless my soul I ' cried the priest, almost 
upsetting the table; 'why, the demon has 
already issued out of him I Who would have 
guessed that St Paschal Baylon performed 
his miracles as quick as that? ' 

VIII 

Prince Alberic was awakened by the loud 
trill of a nightingale. The room was bathed 
in moonlight, in which the tapers, left burn- 
ing round the bed to ward off evil spirits, 
flickered yellow and ineffectual. Through 
the open casement came, with the scent of 

F 



82 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

freshly-cut grass, a faint concert of nocturnal 
sounds : the silvery vibration of the cricket, 
the reedlike quavering notes of the leaf frogs, 
and, every now and then, the soft note of an 
owlet, seeming to stroke the silence as the 
downy wings growing out of the temples of 
the Sleep God might stroke the air. The 
nightingale had paused ; and Alberic listened 
breathless for its next burst of song. At last, 
and when he expected it least, it came, liquid, 
loud, and triumphant ; so near that it filled 
the room and thrilled through his marrow 
like an unison of Cremona viols. It was 
singing on the pomegranate close outside, 
whose first buds must be opening into flame- 
coloured petals. For it was May. Alberic 
listened ; and collected his thoughts, and 
understood. He arose and dressed, and his 
limbs seemed suddenly strong, and his mind 
strangely clear, as if his sickness had been 
but a dream. Again the nightingale trilled 
out, and again stopped. Alberic crept noise- 
lessly out of his chamber, down the stairs and 
into the open. Opposite, the moon had just 
risen, immense and golden, and the pines and 
the cypresses of the hill, the furthest battle- 
ments of the castle walls, were printed upon 



THE SNAKE LADY 83 

it like delicate lace. It was so light that the 
roses were pink, and the pomegranate flower 
scarlet, and the lemons pale yellow, and the 
vines bright green, only differently coloured 
from how they looked by day, and as if 
washed over with silver. The orchard spread 
uphill, its twigs and separate leaves all glitter- 
ing as if made of diamonds, and its tree- 
trunks and spalliers weaving strange black 
patterns of shadow. A little breeze shuddered 
up from the sea, bringing the scent of the 
irises grown for their root among the corn- 
fields below. The nightingale was silent. 
But Prince Alberic did not stand waiting for 
its song. A spiral dance of fire-flies, rising 
and falling like a thin gold fountain, beckoned 
him upwards through the dewy grass. The 
circuit of castle walls, jagged and battle- 
mented, and with tufts of trees profiled here 
and there against the resplendent blue pallor 
of the moonlight, seemed twined and knotted 
like huge snakes around the world. 

Suddenly, again, the nightingale sang — a 
throbbing, silver song. It was the same bird, 
Alberic felt sure ; but it was in front of him 
now, and was calling him onwards. The 
fire-flies wove their golden dance a few steps 



84 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

in front, always a few steps in fronti and drew 
him up-hill through the orchard. 

As the ground became steeper, the long 
trellises, black and crooked, seemed to twist 
and glide through the blue moonlit grass like 
black gliding snakes, and, at the top, its 
marble pillarets clear in the light, slumbered 
the little Gothic palace of white marble. 
From the solitary sentinel pine broke the 
song of the nightingale. This was the place. 
A breeze had risen, and from the shining 
moonlit sea, broken into causeways and flotillas 
of smooth and fretted silver, came a faint 
briny smell, mingling with that of the irises 
and blossoming lemons, with the scent of 
vague ripeness and freshness. The moon 
hung like a silver lantern over the orchard ; 
the wood of the trellises patterned the blue 
luminous heaven ; the vine-leaves seemed to 
swim, transparent, in the shining air. Over 
the circular well, in the high grass, the fire- 
flies rose and fell like a thin fountain of gold. 
And, from the sentinel pine, the nightingale 
sang. 

Prince Alberic leant against the brink of 
the well, by the trough carved with antique 
designs of serpent-bearing maenads. He was 



THE SNAKE LADY 85 

wonderfully calm, and his heart sang within 
him. It was, he knew, the hour and place of 
his fate. 

The nightingale ceased : and the shrill 
song of the crickets was suspended. The 
silvery luminous world was silent. 

A quiver came through the grass by the 
welly a rustle through the roses. And, on 
the well's brink, encircling its central black- 
ness, glided the Snake. 

*Orianal' whispered Alberic. *Oriana!' 
She paused, and stood almost erect. The 
Prince put out his hand, and she twisted 
round his arm, extending slowly her chilly 
coil to his wrist and fingers. 

* Oriana ! ' whispered Prince Alberic again. 
And raising his hand to his face, he leaned 
down and pressed his lips on the little flat 
head of the serpent. And the nightingale 
sang. But a coldness seized his heart, the 
moon seemed suddenly extinguished, and he 
slipped away in unconsciousness. 

When he awoke the moon was still high. 
The nightingale was singing its loudest. He 
lay in the grass by the well, and his head 
rested on the knees of the most beautiful of 
ladies. She was dressed in cloth of silver 



^ I 



86 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

which seemed woven of moon mists, and 
shimmering moonlit green grass. It was his 
own dear Godmother. 



IX 

When Duke Balthasar Maria had got 
through the rehearsals of the ballet called 
Daphne Transformed, and finally danced his 
part of Phoebus Apollo to the infinite delight 
and glory of his subjects, he was greatly con- 
cerned, being benignly humoured, on learn- 
ing that he had very nearly lost his grandson 
and heir. The Dwarf, the Jesuit, and the 
Jester, whom he delighted in pitting against 
one another, had severally accused each other 
of disrespectful remarks about the dancing 
of that ballet ; so Duke Balthasar determined 
to disgrace all three together and inflict upon 
them the hated presence of Prince Alberic. 
It was, after all, very pleasant to possess a 
young grandson, whom one could take to 
one's bosom and employ in being insolent 
to one's own favourites. It was time, said 
Duke Balthasar, that Alberic should learn 
the habits of a court and take unto himself a 
suitable princess. 



THE SNAKE LADY 87 

The young Prince accordingly was sent for 
from Sparkling Waters, and installed at Luna 
in a wing of the Red Palace, overlooking 
the Court of Honour, and commanding an 
excellent view of the great rockery, with 
the Verde Antique Apes and the Porphyry 
Rhinoceros. He found awaiting him on the 
great staircase a magnificent staff of servants, 
a master of the horse, a grand cook, a barber, 
a hairdresser and assistant, a fencing-master, 
and four fiddlers. Several lovely ladies of 
the Court, the principal ministers of the 
Crown, and the Jesuit, the Dwarf, and the 
Jester, were also ready to pay their respects. 
Prince Alberic threw himself out of the glass 
coach before they had time to open the door, 
and bowing coldly, ascended the staircase, 
carrying under his cloak what appeared to 
be a small wicker cage. The Jesuit, who was 
the soul of politeness, sprang forward and 
signed to an officer of the household to relieve 
His Highness of this burden. But Alberic 
waved the man off; and the rumour went 
abroad that a hissing noise had issued from 
under the Prince's cloak, and, like lightning, 
the head and forked tongue of a serpent. 

Half an hour later the official spies had 



88 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

informed Duke Balthasar that his grandson 
and heir had brought from Sparkling Waters 
no apparent luggage save two swords, a 
fowling-piece, a volume of Virgil, a branch 
of pomegranate blossom, and a tame grass 
snake. 

Duke Balthasar did not like the idea of the 
grass snake ; but wishing to annoy the Jester, 
the Dwarf, and the Jesuit, he merely smiled 
when they told him of it, and said: ^The 
dear boy I What a child he is! He pro- 
bably, also, has a pet Iamb, white as snow, 
and gentle as spring, mourning for him in 
his old home I How touching is the inno- 
cence of childhood I Heigho I I was just 
like that myself not so very long ago/ 
Whereupon the three favourites and the 
whole Court of Luna smiled and bowed and 
sighed : * How lovely is the innocence of 
youth I ' while the Duke fell to humming the 
well-known air, 'Thyrsis was a shepherd- 
boy,' of which the ducal fiddlers instantly 
struck up the ritornel. 

'But,' added Balthasar Maria, with that 
subtle blending of majesty and archness in 
which he excelled all living Princes, * but it 
is now time that the Prince, my grandson. 



THE SNAKE LADY 89 

should learn ' — here he put his hand on his 
swi^rd and threw back slightly one curl of 
his jet-black peruke — * the stern exercises of 
Mars ; and also, let us hope, the freaks and 
frolics of Venus.' 

Saying which, the old sinner pinched the 
cheek of a lady of the very highest quality, 
whose husband and father were instantly con- 
gratulated by the whole Court 

Prince Alberic was displayed next day to 
the people of Luna, standing on the balcony 
among a tremendous banging of mortars ; 
while Duke Balthasar explained that he felt 
towards this youth all the fondness and re- 
sponsibility of an elder brother. There was 
a grand ball, a gala opera, a review, a very 
high mass in the cathedral ; the Dwarf, the 
Jesuit, and the Jester each separately offered 
his services to Alberic in case he wanted a 
loan of money, a love-letter carried, or in 
case even (expressed in more delicate terms) 
he might wish to poison his grandfather. 
Duke Balthasar Maria, on his side, sum- 
moned his ministers, and sent couriers, booted 
and liveried, to three great dukes of Italy, 
carrying each of them, in a morocco wallet 
emblazoned with the arms of Luna, an 



90 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

account of Prince Alberic's lineage and 
person, and a request for particulars of 
any marriageable princesses and dowries to 
be disposed of. 



Prince Alberic did not give his grandfather 
that warm satisfaction which the old Duke 
had expected. Balthasar Maria, entirely bent 
upon annoying the three favourites, had said, 
and had finally believed, that he intended to 
introduce his grandson to the delights and 
duties of life, and in the company of this 
beloved stripling, to dream that he, too, was 
a youth once more : a statement which the 
Court took with due deprecatory reverence, 
as the Duke was well known never to have 
ceased to be young. 

But Alberic did not lend himself to so 
touching an idyll. He behaved, indeed, 
with the greatest decorum, and manifested 
the utmost respect for his grandfather. He 
was marvellously assiduous in the council 
chamber, and still more so in following the 
military exercises and learning the trade of 
a soldier. He surprised every one by his 



THE SNAKE LADY 91 

interest and intelligence in all affairs of state ; 
he more than surprised the Court by his readi- 
ness to seek knowledge about the administra- 
tion of the country and the condition of the 
people. He was a youth of excellent morals, 
courage, and diligence; but, there was no 
denying it, he had positively no conception 
of sacr^icing to the Graces. He sat out, as if 
he had been watching a review, the delicious 
operas and superb ballets which absorbed 
half the revenue of the duchy. He listened, 
without a smile of comprehension, to the 
witty innuendoes of the ducal table. But 
worst of all, he had absolutely no eyes, let 
alone a heart, for the fair sex. Now Balthasar 
Maria had assembled at Luna a perfect bevy 
of lovely nymphs, both ladies of the greatest 
birth, whose husbands received most honour- 
able posts, military and civil, and young 
females of humbler extraction, though not 
less expensive habits, ranging from singers 
and dancers to slave-girls of various colours, 
all dressed in their appropriate costume : a 
galaxy of beauty which was duly represented 
by the skill of celebrated painters on all the 
walls of the Red Palace, where you may still 
see their faded charms, habited as Diana, or 



92 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

Pallas, or in the spangles of Columbine, or 
the turban of Sibyls. These ladies were the 
object of Duke Balthasar's most munificently 
divided attentions ; and in the delight of his 
new-bom femily affection, he had promised 
himself much tender interest in guiding the 
taste of his heir among such of these nymphs 
as had already received his own exquisite 
appreciation. Great, therefore, was the dis- 
appointment of the affectionate grandfather 
when his dream of companionship was dis- 
pelled, and it became hopeless to interest 
young Alberic in anything at Luna save 
despatches and cannons. 

The Court, indeed, found the means of 
consoling Duke Balthasar for this bitterness 
by extracting therefrom a brilliant com- 
parison between the unfading grace, the 
vivacious, though majestic, character of the 
grandfather, and the gloomy and pedantic 
personality of the grandson. But, although 
Balthasar Maria would only smile at every 
new proof of Alberic's bearish obtuseness, 
and ejaculate in French, * Poor child I he 
was born old, and I shall die young ! ' the 
reigning Prince of Luna grew vaguely to 
resent the peculiarities of his heir. 



THE SNAKE LADY 93 

In this £ashion things proceeded in the 
Red Palace at Luna, until Prince Alberic 
had attained his twenty-first year. 

He was sent, in the interval, to visit the 
principal courts of Italy, and to inspect its 
chief curiosities, natural and historical, as 
befitted the heir to an illustrious state. He 
received the golden rose from the Pope in 
Rome ; he witnessed the festivities of Ascen- 
sion Day from the Doge's barge at Venice ; 
he accompanied the Marquis of Montferrat 
to the camp under Turin ; he witnessed the 
launching of a galley against the Barbary 
corsairs by the Knights of St Stephen in 
the port of Leghorn, and a grand bullfight 
and burning of heretics given by the Spanish 
Viceroy at Palermo ; and he was allowed to 
be present when the celebrated Dr. Borri 
turned two brass buckles into pure gold 
before the Archduke at Milan. On all of 
which occasions the heir-apparent of Luna 
bore himself with a dignity and discretion 
most singular in one so young. In the 
course of these journeys he was presented 
to several of the most promising heiresses 
in Italy, some of whom were of so tender 
age as to be displayed in jewelled swaddling 



94 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

clothes on brocade cushions; and a great 
many possible marriages were discussed 
behind his back. But Prince Alberic de- 
clared for his part that he had decided to 
lead a single life until the age of twenty- 
eight or thirty, and that he would then 
require the assistance of no ambassadors or 
chancellors, but find for himself the future 
Duchess of Luna. 

All this did not please Balthasar Maria, as 
indeed nothing else about his grandson did 
please him much. But, as the old Duke did 
not really relish the idea of a daughter-in-law 
at Luna, and as young Alberic's whimsicalities 
entailed no expense, and left him entirely free 
in his business and pleasure, he turned a deaf 
ear to the criticisms of his counsellors, and 
letting his grandson inspect fortifications, 
drill soldiers, pore over parchments, and mope 
in his wing of the palace, with no amusement 
save his repulsive tame snake, Balthasar 
Maria composed and practised various ballets, 
and began to turn his attention very seriously 
to the completion of the rockery grotto and 
of the sepulchral chapel, which, besides the 
Red Palace itself, were the chief monuments 
of his glorious reign. 



THE SNAKE LADY 95 

It was the growing desire to witness the 
fulfilment of these magnanimous projects 
which led the Duke of Luna into unexpected 
conflict with his grandson. The wonderful 
enterprises above-mentioned involved im- 
mense expenses, and had periodically been 
suspended for lack of funds. The collection 
of animals in the rockery was very far from 
complete. A camelopard of spotted alabaster, 
an elephant of Sardinian jasper, and the entire 
families of a cow and sheep, all of corre- 
spondingly rich marbles, were urgently re- 
quired to fill up the corners. Moreover, the 
supply of water was at present so small that 
the fountains were dry save for a couple of 
hours on the very greatest holidays ; and it 
was necessary for the perfect naturalness of 
this ingenious work that an aqueduct twenty 
miles long should pour perennial streams 
from a high mountain lake into the grotto 
of the Red Palace. 

The question of th^ sepulchral chapel was, 
if possible, even more urgent, for, after every 
new ballet, Duke Balthasar went through a 
fit of contrition, during which he fixed his 
thoughts on death ; and the possibilities of 
untimely release, and of burial in an un- 



g6 PRINCE ALBBRIC AND 

finished mausoleum, filled him with terrors. 
It is true that Duke Balthasar had, im- 
mediately after building the vast domed 
chapel, secured an e£Sgy of his own person 
before taking thought for the monuments of 
his already buried ancestors, and the statue, 
twelve feet high, representing himself in 
coronation robes of green bronze brocaded 
with gold, holding a sceptre, and bearing on 
his head, of purest silver, a spiky coronet set 
with diamonds, was one of the curiosities 
which travellers admired most in Italy. But 
this statue was unsymmetrical, and moreover, 
had a dismal suggestiveness, so long as 
surrounded by empty niches; and the fact 
that only one-half of the pavement was inlaid 
with discs of sardonyx, jasper, and camelian, 
and that the larger part of the walls were 
rough brick without a vestige of the mosaic 
pattern of lapislazuli, malachite, pearl, and 
coral, which had been begun round the one 
finished tomb, rendered the chapel as poverty- 
stricken in one aspect as it was magnificent 
in another. The finishing of the chapel was 
therefore urgent, and two more bronze statues 
were actually cast, those, to wit, of the Duke's 
&ther and grandfather, and mosaic workmen 



THE SNAKE LADY 97 

called from the Medicean works in Florence* 
But| all of a sudden, the ducal treasury was 
discovered to be emptyi and the ducal credit 
to be exploded- 
State lotteries, taxes on salt, even a sham 
crusade against the Dey of Algiers, all failed 
to produce any money. The alliance, the 
right to pass troops through the duchy, the 
letting out of the ducal army to the highest 
bidder, had long since ceased to be a 
source of revenue either from the Emperor, 
the King of Spain, or the Most Christian 
One. The Serene Republics of Venice and 
Genoa publicly warned their subjects against 
lending a single sequin to the Duke of Luna ; 
the Dukes of Mantua and Modena began to 
worry about bad debts ; the Pope himself 
had the atrocious taste to make complaints 
about suppression of church dues and inter- 
ception of Peter's pence. There remained 
to the bankrupt Duke Balthasar Maria only 
one hope in the world — ^the marriage of his 
grandson. 

There happened to exist at that moment 
a sovereign of incalculable wealth, with an 
only daughter of marriageable age. But 
this potentate, although the nephew of a 

Q 



98 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

recent Pope, by whose confiscations his 
fortunes were founded, had originally been 
a dealer in such goods as are compre- 
hensively known as drysalting; and, rapacious 
as were the Princes of the Empire, each was 
too much ashamed of his neighbours to 
venture upon alliance with a family of so 
obtrusive an origin. Here was Balthasar 
Maria's opportunity: the Drysalter Prince's 
ducats should complete the rockery, the 
aqueduct, and the chapel ; the drysalter's 
daughter should be wedded to Alberic of 
Luna, that was to be third of the name. 



XI 

Prince Alberic sternly declined. He ex- 
pressed his dutiful wish that the grotto and 
the chapel, like all other enterprises under- 
taken by his grandparent, might be brought 
to an end worthy of him. He declared that 
the aversion to drysalters was a prejudice 
unshared by himself. He even went so for 
as to suggest that the eligible princess should 
marry, not the heir-apparent, but the reigning 
Duke of Luna. But, as regarded himself, he 
intended, as stated, to remain for many years 



THE SNAKE LADY 99 

single. Duke Balthasar had never in his 
life before seen a man who was determined 
to oppose him. He felt terrified and be- 
came speechless in the presence of young 
Alberic. 

Direct influence having proved useless, the 
Duke and his counsellors, among whom the 
Jesuit, the Dwarf, and the Jester had been 
duly reinstated, looked round for means of 
indirect persuasion or coercion. A celebrated 
Venetian beauty was sent for to Luna — a lady 
frequently employed in diplomatic missions, 
which- she carried through by her unparalleled 
grace in dancing. But Prince Alberic, 
having watched her for half an hour, merely 
remarked to his equerry that his own tame 
grass snake made the same movements as 
the lady infinitely better and more modestly. 
Whereupon this means was abandoned. 
The Dwarf then suggested a new method of 
acting on the young Prince's feelings. This, 
which he remembered to have been employed 
very successfully in the case of a certain 
Duchess of Malfi, who had given her family 
much trouble some generations back, con- 
sisted in dressing a number of domestics up 
as ghosts and devils, hiring some genuine 



loo PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

lunatics from a neighbouring establishmenti 
and introducing them at dead of night into 
Prince Alberic's chamber. But the Prince, 
who was busy at his orisons, merely threw 
a heavy stool and two candlesticks at the 
apparitions; and, as he did so, the tame 
snake suddenly rose up from the floor, 
growing colossal in the act, and hissed so 
terrifically that the whole party fled down 
the corridor. The most likely advice was 
given by the Jesuit. This truly subtle 
diplomatist averred that it was useless trying 
to act upon the Prince by means which did 
not already affect him ; instead of clumsily 
constructing a lever for which there was no 
fulcrum in the youth's soul, it was necessary 
to find out whatever leverage there might 
already exist. 

Now, on careful inquiry, there was dis- 
covered a fact which the official spies, who 
always acted by precedent and pursued their 
inquiries according to the rules of the human 
heart as taught by the Secret Inquisition of 
the Republic of Venice, had naturally failed 
to perceive. This fact consisted in a rumour, 
very vague but very persistent, that Prince 
Alberic did not inhabit his wing of the palace 






THE SNAKE LADY loi 

in absolute solitude. Some of the pages 
attending on his person affirmed to have 
heard whispered conversations in the Prince's 
study, on entering which they had invariably 
found him alone ; others maintained that, 
during the absence of the Prince from the 
palace, they had heard the sound of his 
private harpsichord, the one with the story 
of Orpheus and the view of Soracte on the 
cover, although he always kept its key on 
his person. A footman declared that he had 
found in the Prince's study, and among his 
books and maps, a piece of embroidery 
certainly not belonging to the Prince's 
furniture and apparel, moreover, half 
finished, and with a needle sticking in 
the canvas ; which piece of embroidery the 
Prince had thrust into his pocket But, as 
none of the attendants had ever seen any 
visitor entering or issuing from the Prince's 
apartments, and the professional spies had 
ransacked all possible hiding-places and 
modes of exit in vain, these curious 
indications had been neglected, and the 
opinion had been formed that Alberic 
being, as every one could judge, somewhat 
insane, had a gift of ventriloquism, a taste for 



I02 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

musical boxes, and a proficiency in unmanly 
handicrafts which he carefully secreted. 

These rumours had at one time caused 
great delight to Duke Balthasar ; but he had 
got tired of sitting in a dark cupboard in his 
grandson's chamber, and had caught a bad 
chill looking through his keyhole ; so he 
had stopped all further inquiries as o£Scious 
fooling on the part of impudent lacqueys. 

But the Jesuit foolishly adhered to the 
rumoun ^ Discover her^ he said, ^ and work 
through her on Prince Alberic' But Duke 
Balthasar, after listing twenty times to this 
remark with the most delighted interest, 
turned round on the twenty-first time and 
gave the Jesuit a look of Jove-like thunder. 
^ My father,' he said, ' I am surprised — I may 
say more than surprised — at a person of your 
cloth descending so low as to make aspersions 
upon the virtue of a young Prince reared in 
my palace and born of my blood. Never let 
me hear another word about ladies of light 
manners being secreted within these walls.' 
Whereupon the Jesuit retired, and was in 
disgrace for a fortnight, till Duke Balthasar 
woke up one morning with a strong appre- 
hension of dying. 



THE SNAKE LADY 103 

But no more was said of the mysterious 
female friend of Prince AlberiCy still less was 
any attempt made to gain her intervention 
in the matter of the Drysalter Princess's 
marriage. 

XII 

More desperate measures were soon re- 
sorted to. It was given out that Prince Alberic 
was engrossed in study ; and he was forbid- 
den to leave his wing of the Red Palace, with 
no other view than the famous grotto with the 
Verde Antique Apes and the Porphyry Rhino- 
ceros. It was published that Prince Alberic 
was sick ; and he was confined very rigorously 
to a less agreeable apartment in the rear of 
the Palacci where he could catch sight of the 
plaster laurels and draperies, and the rolling 
plaster eyeball of one of the Twelve Cassars 
under the cornice. It was judiciously hinted 
that the Prince had entered into religious 
retreat ; and he was locked and bolted into the 
State prison, alongside of the unfinished sepul- 
chral chapelf whence a lugubrious hammer- 
ing came as the only sound of life. In each 
of these places the recalcitrant youth was duly 



I04 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

argued with by some of his grand&ther's 
fisimiliarSy and even received a visit from 
the old Duke in person. But threats and 
blandishments were all in vain, and Alberic 
persisted in his refusal to marry. 

It was now six months since he had seen 
the outer world, and six weeks since he had 
inhabited the State prison, every stage in 
his confinement, almost every day thereof, 
having systematically deprived him of some 
luxury, some comfort, or some mode of 
passing his time. His harpsichord and foils 
had remained in the gala wing overlooking 
the grotto. His maps and books had not 
followed him beyond the higher story with 
the view of the Twelfth Caesar. And now 
they had taken away from him his Virgil, 
his inkstand and paper, and left him only a 
book of hours. 

Balthasar Maria and his counsellors felt 
intolerably baffled. There remained nothing 
ftirther to do ; for if Prince Alberic were 
publicly beheaded, or privately poisoned, 
or merely left to die of want and sadness, it 
was obvious that Prince Alberic could no 
longer conclude the marriage with the 
Drysalter Princess, and that no money to 



THE SNAKE LADY 105 

finish the grotto and the chapel, or to carry 
on Court expenses, would be forthcoming. 

It was a burning day of August, a Friday, 
thirteenth of that month, and after a long 
prevalence of enervating sirocco, when the 
old Duke determined to make one last appeal 
to the obedience of his grandson. The sun, 
setting among ominous clouds, sent a lurid 
orange gleam into Prince Alberic's prison 
chamber, at the moment that his ducal 
grandfather, accompanied by the Jester, the 
Dwarf, and the Jesuit, appeared on its thresh- 
old after prodigious clanking of keys and 
clattering of bolts. The unhappy youth rose 
as they entered, and making a profound bow, 
motioned his grandparent to the only chair 
in the place. 

Balthasar Maria had never visited him 
before in this his worst place of confinement ; 
and the bareness of the room, the dust and 
cobwebs, the excessive hardness of the chair, 
affected his sensitive heart ; and, joined with 
irritation at his grandson's obstinacy and 
utter depression about the marriage, the 
grotto, and the chapel, actually caused this 
magnanimous sovereign to burst into tears 
and bitter lamentations. 



io6 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

' It would indeed melt the heart of a stone,' 
remarked the Jester sternly, while his two 
companions attempted to soothe the weeping 
Duke^-^ to see one of the greatest, wisest, and 
most valorous Princes in Europe reduced to 
tears by the undutifulness of his child. ' 

^Princes, nay kings and emperors' sons,' 
exclaimed the Dwarf, who was administering 
Melissa water to the Duke, 'have perished 
miserably for much less.' 

' Some of the most remarkable personages 
of sacred history are stated to have incurred 
eternal perdition for far slighter offences,' 
added the Jesuit. 

Alberic had sat down on the bed. The 
tawny sunshine fell upon his figure. He had 
grown very thin, and his garments were inex- 
pressibly threadbare. But he was spotlessly 
neat, his lace band was perfectly folded, his 
beautiful blond hair flowed in exquisite 
curls about his pale face, and his whole 
aspect was serene and even cheerful. He 
might be twenty-two years old, and was of 
consummate beauty and stature. 

* My Lord,' he answered slowly, * I entreat 
Your Serene Highness to believe that no one 
could regret more deeply than I do such a 



THE SNAKE LADY 107 

Spectacle as is offered me by the tears of a 
Duke of Luna. At the same time, I can only 
reiterate that I accept no responsibility • . •' 

A distant growling of thunder caused the 
old Duke to start, and interrupted Alberic's 
speech. 

* Your obstinacy, my Lord,' exclaimed the 
Dwarf, who was an excessively choleric 
person, 'betrays the existence of a hidden 
conspiracy most dangerous to the state.' 

^ It is an indication,' added the Jester, ' of a 
highly deranged mind.' 

' It seems to me,' whispered the Jesuit, ' to 
savour most undoubtedly of devilry.' 

Alberic shrugged his shoulders. He had 
risen from the bed to close the grated window, 
into which a shower of hail was suddenly 
blowing with unparalleled violence, when the 
old Duke jumped on his seat, and, with 
eyeballs starting with terror, exclaimed, 
as he tottered convulsively, 'The serpent I 
the serpent I ' 

For there, in a corner, the tame grass 
snake was placidly coiled up, sleeping. 

' The snake 1 the devil I Prince Alberic's 
pet companion I ' exclaimed the three favour- 
ites, and rushed towards that corner. 



io8 PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

Alberic threw himself forward. But he 
was too late. The Jester, with a blow of 
his harlequin's lath, had crushed the head of 
the startled creature ; and, even while he 
was struggling with him and the Jesuit, the 
Dwarf had given it two cuts with his Turk- 
ish scimitar. 

* The snake I the snake I ' shrieked Duke 
Balthasar, heedless of the desperate struggle. 

The warders and equerries waiting outside 
thought that Prince Alberic must be murder- 
ing his grand&ther, and burst into prison 
and separated the combatants. 

' Chain the rebel I the wizard I the mad- 
man I ' cried the three favourites. 

Alberic had thrown himself on the dead 
snake, which lay crushed and bleeding on 
the floor ; and he moaned piteously. 

But the Prince was unarmed and over- 
powered in a moment. Three times he 
broke loose, but three times he was recap- 
tured, and finally bound and gagged, and 
dragged away. The old Duke recovered 
from his fright, and was helped up from the 
bed on to which he had sunk. As he pre- 
pared to leave, he approached the dead snake, 
and looked at it for some time. He kicked 



THE SNAKE LADY 109 

its mangled head with his ribboned shoe, and 
turned away laughing* 

* Who knows,' he said, * whether you were 
not the Snake Lady ? That foolish boy made 
a great fuss, I remember, when he was 
scarcely out of long clothes, about a tattered 
old tapestry representing that repulsive 
story.' 

And he departed to supper. 



XIII 

Prince^lberic of Luna, who should have 
been third of his name, died a fortnight 
later, it was stated, insane. But those who 
approached him maintained that he had been 
in perfect possession of his faculties ; and 
that if he refused all nourishment during his 
second imprisonment, it was from set pur- 
pose. He was removed at night from his 
apartments facing the grotto with the Verde 
Antique Monkeys and the Porphyry Rhino- 
ceros, and hastily buried under a slab, which 
remained without any name or date, in the 
famous mosaic sepulchral chapeL 

Duke Balthasar Maria survived him only 
a few months. The old Duke had plunged 



no PRINCE ALBERIC AND 

into excesses of debauchery with a view, 
apparently, to dismissing certain terrible 
thoughts and images which seemed to haunt 
him day and night, and against which no re- 
ligious practices or medical prescription were 
of any avail. The origin of these painful delu- 
sions was probably connected with a very 
strange rumour, which grew to a tradition at 
Luna, to the effect that when the prison room 
occupied by Prince Alberic was cleaned, 
after that terrible storm of the 13th August of 
the year 1700, the persons employed found in 
a corner, not the dead grass snake, which they 
had been ordered to cast into the palace 
drains, but the body of a woman, naked, and 
miserably disfigured with blows and sabre 
cuts. 

Be this as it may, history records as certain 
that the house of Luna became extinct in 
1 701, the duchy lapsing to the Empire. 
Moreover, that the mosaic chapel remained 
for ever unfinished, with no statue save the 
green bronze and gold one of Balthasar 
Maria above the nameless slab covering 
Prince Alberic. The rockery also was never 
completed ; only a few marble animals adorn- 
ing it besides the Porphyry Rhinoceros and 



THE SNAKE LADY iii 

the Verde Antique Apes, and the water-supply 
being su£Scient only for the greatest holidays. 
These things the traveller can report. Also 
that certain chairs and curtains in the porter's 
lodge of the now long-deserted Red Palace 
are made of the various pieces of an extremely 
damaged arras, having represented the story 
of Alberic the Blond and the Snake Lady. 



A WEDDING CHEST 



H 



TO 
MARIE SPARTALI STILLMAN 

1879-1904 



A WEDDING CHEST 



No. 428. A panel (five feet by two feet three 
inches) formerly the front of a cassone or 
coffer, intended to contain the garments and 
jewels of a bride. Subject: *The Triumph 
of Love. ' * Umbrian School of the Fifteenth 
Century.' In the right-hand corner is a half- 
effaced inscription : Desider . . . de jUivitate 
Lac . . . me . . . ectt. This valuable paint- 
ing is unfortunately much damaged by damp 
and mineral corrosives, owing probably to its 
having contained at one time buried treasure. 
Bequeathed in 1878 by the widow of the Rev. 
Lawson Stone, late Fellow of Trinity College, 
Cambridge. ^ 



By Ascension Day, Desiderio of Casti- 
glione del Lago had finished the front panel 
of the wedding chest which Messer Trpilo 
Baglioni had ordered of Ser Piero Bontempi, 

* Catalogue of the Smith Musenm, Leeds. 



116 



ii6 A WEDDING CHEST 

whose shop was situated at the bottom of the 
steps of St Maxentius, in that portion of the 
ancient city of Perugia (called by the Romans 
Augusta in recognition of its great glory) 
which takes its name from the Ivory Gate 
built by Theodoric, King of the Goths. The 
said Desiderio had represented upon this 
panel the Triumph of Love, as described in 
his poem by Messer Francesco Petrarca of 
ArezzOy certainly, with the exception of that 
Dante, who saw the Vision of Hell, Purga- 
tory, and Paradise, the only poet of recent 
times who can be compared to those doctissimi 
viri P. Virgilius, Ovidius of Sulmona, and 
Statius. And the said Desiderio had betaken 
himself in this manner. He had divided the 
panel into four portions or regions, intended 
to represent the four phases of the amorous 
passion : the first was a pleasant country, 
abundantly watered with twisting streams, of 
great plenty and joyousness, in which were 
planted many hedges of fragrant roses, both 
red and blue, together with elms, poplars, 
and other pleasant and profitable trees. The 
second region was somewhat mountainous, 
but showing large store of lordly castles and 
thickets of pine and oak, fit for hunting. 



A WEDDING CHEST 117 

which region, as being that of glorious love, 
was girt all round with groves of laurels. 
The third region — aspera ac dura regio — ^was 
barren of all vegetation save huge thorns and 
ungrateful thistles ; and in it, on rocks, was 
shown the pelican, who tears his own entrails 
to feed his young, symbolical of the cruelty of 
love to true lovers. Finally, the fourth region 
was a melancholy cypress wood, among which 
roosted owls and ravens and other birds of 
evil omen, in order to display the fact that 
all earthly love leads but to death. Each of 
these regions was surrounded by a wreath of 
myrtles, marvellously drawn, and with great 
subtlety of invention divided so as to meet 
the carved and gilded cornice, likewise com- 
posed of myrtles, which Ser Piero executed 
with singular skill with his own hand. In 
the middle of the panel Desiderio had repre- 
sented Love, even as the poet has described : 
a naked youth, with wings of wondrous 
changing colours, enthroned upon a chariot, 
the axle and wheels of which were red gold, 
and covered with a cloth of gold of such subtle 
device that that whole chariot seemed really 
to be on fire ; on his back hung a bow and a 
quiver full of dreadful arrows, and in his 



ii8 A WEDDING CHEST 

hands he held the reins of four snow-white 
coursers, trapped with gold, and breathing fire 
from their nostrils. Round his eyes was bound 
a kerchief fringed with gold, to show that Love 
strikes blindly; and from his shoulders 
floated a scroll inscribed with the words — 
'Saevus Amor hominum deorumque delicise/ 
Round his car, some before, some behind, 
some on horseback, some on foot, crowded 
those who have been famous for their love. 
Here you might see, on a bay horse, with an 
eagle on his helmet, Julius Csesar, who loved 
Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt ; Sophonisba 
and Massinissa, in rich and strange Arabian 
garments ; Orpheus, seeking for Eurydice, 
with his lute ; Phsedra, who died for love of 
Hippolytus, her stepson ; Mark Antony ; 
Rinaldo of Montalbano, who loved the beauti- 
ful Angelica; Socrates, Tibullus, Virgilius 
and other poets, with Messer Francesco 
Petrarca and Messer Giovanni Boccaccio; 
Tristram, who drank the love-potion, riding 
on a sorrel horse; and near him, Isotta, 
wearing a turban of cloth of gold, and these 
lovers of Rimini, and many more besides, the 
naming of whom would be too long, even as 
the poet has described. And in the region of 



A WEDDING CHEST 119 

happy love, among the laurels, he had painted 
his own likeness, red-haired, with a green 
hood falling on his shoulders, and this be- 
cause he was to wed, next St John's Eve, 
Maddalena, the only daughter of his employer, 
Ser Piero* And among the unhappy lovers, 
he painted, at his request, Messer Troilo him- 
self, for whom he was making this coffer. 
And Messer Troilo was depicted in the 
character of Troilus, the soil of Priam, 
Emperor of Troy ; he was habited in armour, 
covered with a surcoat of white cloth of silver 
embroidered with roses ; by his side was his 
lance, and on his head a scarlet cap ; behind 
him were those who carried his falcon and led 
his hack, and men-at-arms with his banner, 
dressed in green and yellow parti-coloured, 
with a scorpion embroidered on their doublet ; 
and from his lance floated a pennon in- 
scribed : ^Troilus sum servus Amoris.' 

But Desiderio refused to paint among 
the procession Monna Maddalena, Piero's 
daughter, who was to be his wife; because 
he declared it was not fit that modest damsels 
should lend their face to other folk ; and this 
he said because Ser Piero had begged him 
not to incense Messer Troilo ; for in reality 



I20 A WEDDING CHEST 

he had often pourtrayed Monna Maddalena 
(the which was marvellously lovely), though 
only, it is true, in the figure of Our Lady, the 
Mother of God. 

And the panel was ready by Ascension 
Day, and Ser Piero had prepared the box, 
and the carvings and gildings, griffins and 
chimseras, and acanthus leaves and myrtles, 
with the arms of Messer Troilo Baglioni, a 
most beautiful work. And Mastro Cavanna of 
the gate of St. Peter had made a lock and a 
key, of marvellous workmanship, for the same 
coffer. And Messer Troilo would come fre- 
quently, riding over from his castle of Fratta, 
and see the work while it was progressing, 
and entertain himself lengthily at the shop, 
speaking with benignity and wisdom wonder- 
ful in one so young, for he was only nine- 
teen, which pleased the heart of Ser Piero ; 
but Desiderio did not relish, for which reason 
he was often gruff to Messer Troilo, and had 
many disputes with his future father-in- 
law. 

For Messer Troilo Baglioni, called Barba- 
cane, to distinguish him from another 
Troilo, his uncle, who was bishop of Spello, 
although a bastard, had cast his eyes on 



A WEDDING CHEST 121 

Maddalena di Ser Piero Bontempi. He had 
seen the damsel for the first time on the 
occasion of the wedding festivities of his 
cousin Grifone Baglioni, son of Ridolfo the 
elder, with Deianira degli Orsini ; on which 
occasion marvellous things were done in the 
city of Perugia, both by the magnificent 
House of Baglioni and the citizens, such as 
banquets, jousts, horse-races, balls in the 
square near the cathedral, bull-fights, alle- 
gories, both Latin and vulgar, presented 
with great learning and sweetness (among 
which was the fable of Perseus, how he freed 
Andromeda, written by Master Giannozzo, 
Belli Rector venerabilis istas universitatis), 
and triumphal arches and other similar 
devices, in which Ser Piero Bontempi made 
many beautiful inventions, in company with 
Benedetto Bonfigli, Messer Fiorenzo di 
Lorenzo and Piero de Castro Plebis, whom 
the Holiness of our Lord Pope Sixtus iv. 
afterwards summoned to work in his chapel 
in Rome. On this occasion, I repeat, Messer 
Troilo Baglioni of Fratta, who was unani- 
miter declared to be a most beautifu) and 
courteous youth, of singular learning and 
prowess, and well wo^y of this magnificent 



122 A WEDDING CHEST 

Baglioni family ^ cast his eyes on Maddalena 
di Ser Piero, and sent her, through his 
squire, the knot of ribbons off the head of a 
ferocious bull, whom he had killed singulari 
vi ac virtute. Nor did Messer Troilo neglect 
other opportunities of seeing the damsel, 
such as at church and at her father's shop, 
riding over from his castle at Fratta on 
purpose, but always hanestis valde modibusy 
as the damsel showed herself very coy, and 
refused all . presents which he sent her. 
Neither did Ser Piero prevent his honestly 
conversing with the damsel, fearing the 
anger of the magnificent family of Baglioni* 
But Desiderio di Citti del Lago, the which 
was affianced to Monna Maddalena, often 
had words with Ser Piero on the subject, 
and one day well-nigh broke the ribs of 
Messer Troilo's squire, whom he charged 
with carrying dishonest messages. 

Now it so happened that Messer Troilo, as 
he was the most beautiful, benign, and mag- 
nanimous of his magnificent family, was 
also the most cruel thereof, and incapable of 
brooking delay or obstacles. And being, as 
a most beautiful youth — he was only turned 
nineteen, and the first down had not come to 



A WEDDING CHEST 123 

his cheeks, and his skin was astonishingly 
white and fair like a woman's--of a very 
amorous nature (of which many tales went, 
concerning the violence he had done to 
damsels and citizens' wives of Gubbio and 
SpellOy and evil deeds in the castle of Fratta 
in the Apennines, some of which it is more 
beautiful to pass in silence than to relate), 
being, as I say, of an amorous nature, and 
greatly magnanimous and ferocious of spirit, 
Messer Troilo was determined to possess 
himself of this Maddalena di Ser Piero. So, 
a week after, having fetched away the wed- 
ding chest from Ser Piero's workshop (paying 
for it duly in Florentine lilies), he seized the 
opportunity of the festivities of St John's 
Nativity, when it is the habit of the citizens 
to go to their gardens and vineyards to see 
how the country is prospering, and eat and 
drink in honest converse with their friends, 
in order to satisfy his cruel wishes. For it 
so happened that the said Ser Piero, who 
was rich and prosperous, possessing an 
orchard in the valley of the Tiber near San 
Giovanni, was entertaining his friends there, 
it being the eve of his daughter's wedding, 
peaceful and unarmed. And a serving- 



124 A WEDDING CHEST 

wench, a Moor and a slave, who had been 
bribed by Messer Troilo, proposed to Monna 
Maddalena and the damsels of her company, 
to refresh themselves, after picking flowers, 
playing with hoops, asking riddles and 
similar girlish games, by bathing in the Tiber, 
which flowed at the bottom of the orchard. 
To this the innocent virgin, full of joyous- 
ness, consented. Hardly had the damsels 
descended into the river-bed, the river being 
low and easy to ford on account of the 
summer, when behold, there swept from the 
opposite bank a troop of horsemen, armed 
and masked, who seized the astonished 
Maddalena, and hurried off with her, vainly 
screaming, like another Proserpina, to her 
companions, who, surprised, and ashaiped at 
being seen with no garments, screamed in 
return, but in vain. The horsemen galloped 
off through Bastia, and disappeared long 
before Ser Piero and his friends could come 
to the rescue. Thus was Monna Maddalena 
cruelly taken from her father and bride- 
groom, through the amorous passion of 
Messer Troilo. 

Ser Piero fell upon the ground fainting for 
grief, and remained for several days like one 



A WEDDING CHEST 125 

dead ; and when he came to he wept, and 
cursed wickedly, and refused to take food and 
sleepy and to shave his beard. But being 
old and prudent, and the father of other 
children, he conquered his grief, well know- 
ing that it was useless to oppose providence 
or fight, being but a handicraftsman, with 
the magnificent family of Baglioni, lords of 
Perugia since many years, and as rich and 
powerful as they were magnanimous and 
implacable. So that when people began to 
say that, after all, Monna Maddalena might 
have fled willingly with a lover, and that there 
was no proof that the masked horsemen came 
from Messer Troilo (although those of Bastia 
afiirmed that they had seen the green and 
yellow colours of Fratta, and the said Troilo 
came not near the town for many months 
after), he never contradicted such words out 
of prudence and fear. But Desiderio of 
Castiglione del Lago, hearing these words, 
struck the old man on the mouth till he bled. 
And it came to pass, about a year aftier 
the disappearance of Monna Maddalena, and 
when (particularly as there had been a plague 
in the city, and many miracles had been 
performed by a holy nun of the convent of 



126 A WEDDING CHEST 

Sant' Anna, the which fiausted seventy days, 
and Messer Ascanio Baglioni had raised a 
company of horse for the Florentine Signiory 
in their war against those Of Siena) people 
had ceased to talk of the matter, that certain 
armed men, masked, but wearing the colours 
of Messer Troilo, and the scorpion on their 
doublets, rode over from Fratta, bringing with 
them a coffer, wrapped in black baize, which 
they deposited overnight on Ser Piero Bon- 
tempi's doorstep. And Ser Piero, going at 
daybreak to his workshop, found that coffer ; 
and recognising it as the same which had 
been made, with a panel representing the 
Triumph of Love and many ingenious devices 
of sculpture and gilding, for Messer Troilo, 
called Barbacane, he trembled in all his 
limbs, and went and called Desiderio, and 
with him privily carried the chest into a 
secret chamber in his house, saying not a 
word to any creature. The key, a subtle 
piece of work of the smith Cavanna, was 
hanging to the lock by a green silk string, 
on to which was tied a piece of parchment 
containing these words: ^To Master Desi- 
derio ; a wedding gift from Troilo Baglioni 
of Fratta ' — an allusion, doubiltss^ferox atque 



A WEDDING CHEST 127 

cruenta facetia, to the Triumph of Love, 
according to Messer Francesco Petrarca, 
painted upon the front of the coffer. The 
lid being raised^they came to a piece of red 
cloth, such as is used for mules ; eHaniy a 
fold of common linen ; and below it, a cover- 
let of green silk, which, being raised, their 
eyes were met {heut infandum patri scelera- 
tumque donus) by the body of Monna Mad- 
dalena, naked as God had made it, dead with 
two stabs in the neck, the long golden hair 
tied with pearls but dabbed in blood ; the 
which Maddalena was cruelly squeezed into 
that coffer, having on her breast the body of 
an infsint recently born, dead like herself. 

When he beheld this sight Ser Piero threw 
himself on the floor and wept, and uttered 
dreadful blasphemies. But Desiderio of Cas- 
tiglione del Lago said nothing, but called 
a brother of Ser Piero, a priest and prior 
of Saint Severus, and with his assistance 
carried the coffer into the garden. This 
garden, within the walls of the city on the 
side of Porta Ebumea, was pleasantly situ- 
ated, and abounding in flowers and trees, 
useful both for their fruit and their shade, 
and rich likewise in all such herbs as thyme. 



128 A WEDDING CHEST 

marjoranii fennel, and many others, that 
prudent housewives desire for their kitchen ; 
all watered by stone canals, ingeniously con- 
structed by Ser Piero, which were fed from 
a fountain where you might see a mermaid 
squeezing the water from her breasts, a subtle 
device of the same Piero, and executed in a 
way such as would have done honour to 
Phidias or Praxiteles, on hard stone from 
Monte Catria. In this place Desiderio of 
Castiglione del Lago dug a deep grave under 
an almond-tree, the which grave he carefully 
lined with stones and slabs of marble which 
he tore up from the pavement, in order to 
diminish the damp, and then requested the 
priest, Ser Piero's brother, who had helped 
him in the work, to fetch his sacred vest- 
ments, and books, and all necessary for con- 
secrating that ground. This the priest im- 
mediately did, being a holy man and sore 
grieved for the case of his niece. Meanwhile, 
with the help of Ser Piero, Desiderio tenderly 
lifted the body of Monna Maddalena out of 
the wedding clvest, washed it in odorous 
waters, and dressed it in fine linen and bridal 
garments, not without much weeping over 
the poor damsel's sad plight, and curses upon 



A WEDDING CHEST 129 

the cruelty of her ravisher ; and having em- 
braced her tenderly, they laid her once more 
in the box painted with the Triumph of Love, 
upon folds of fine damask and brocade, her 
hands folded, and her head decently placed 
upon a pillow of silver cloth, a wreath of 
roses, which Desiderio himself plaited, on her 
hair, so that she looked like a holy saint or 
the damsel Julia, daughter of the Emperor 
Augustus Cassar, who was discovered buried 
on the Appian Way, and incontinently fell 
into dust — a marvellous thing. They filled 
the chest with as many flowers as they could 
find, also sweet-scented herbs, bay-leaves, 
orris powder, frankincense, ambergris, and 
a certain gum called in Syrian fizelis, and 
by the Jews barach, in which they say that 
the body of King David was kept intact from 
earthly corruption, and which the priest, the 
brother of Ser Piero, who was learned in all 
alchemy and astrology, had bought of certain 
Moors. Then, with many alases I and tears, 
they. covered the damsel's face with an em- 
broidered veil and a fold of brocade, and 
closing the chest, buried it in the hole, among 
great store of hay and straw and sand ; and 
closed it up^ and smoothed the earth ; and to 

I 



I30 A WEDDING CHEST 

mark the place Desiderio planted a tuft of 
fennel under the almond-tree. But not before 
having embraced the damsel many times, 
and taken a handful of earth from her grave; 
and eaten it, with many imprecations upon 
Messer Troilo, which it were terrible to re- 
late. Then the priest, the brother of Ser 
PierOy said the service for the dead, Desiderio 
serving him as acoljrte ; and they all went 
their way, grieving sorely. But the body 
of the child, the which had been found in 
the wedding chest, they threw down a 
place near Saint Herculanus, where the 
refuse and oSal and dead animals are 
thrown, called the Sardegna ; because it 
was the bastard of Ser Troilo, et tnfamue 
scelerisque partum. 

Then, as this matter got abroad, and also 
Desiderio's imprecations against Ser Troilo, 
Ser Piero, who was an old man and prudent, 
caused him to (depart privily from Perugia, 
for fear of the wrath of the magnificent Orazio 
Baglioni, uncle of Messer Troilo and lord of 
the town. 

Desiderio of Castiglione del Lago went to 
Rome, where he did wonderful things and 
beautiful, among others certain frescoes in 



A WEDDING CHEST 131 

Saints Cosmas and Damian, for the Cardinal 
of Ostia ; and to Naples, where he entered 
the service of the Duke of Calabria, and 
followed his armies long, building fortresses 
and making machines and models for cannon, 
and other ingenious and useful things. And 
thus for seven years, until he heard that Ser 
Piero was dead at Perugia of a surfeit of 
eels ; and that Messer Troilo was in the city, 
raising a company of horse with his cousin 
Astorre Baglioni for the Duke of Urbino ; 
and this was before the plague, and the 
terrible coming to Umbria of the Spaniards 
and renegade Moors, under Caesar Borgia, 
Vicarius SancUe EcclesuSj seu FlageUum 
Dei et navus A ttila. So Desiderio came back 
privily to Perugia, and put up his mule at a 
small inn, having dyed his hair black and 
grown his beard, after the manner of Easterns, 
saying he was a Greek coming from Ancona. 
And he went to the priest, prior of Saint 
Severus, and brother of Ser Piero, and dis- 
covered himself to him, who, although old, 
had great joy in seeing him and hearing of 
his intent And Desiderio confessed all his 
sins to the priest and obtained absolution, 
and received the Body of Christ with great 



132 A WEDDING CHEST 

fervour and compunction ; and the priest 
placed his sword on the altar, beside the 
gospel) as he said mass, and blessed it And 
Desiderio knelt and made a vow never to 
touch food save the Body of Christ till he 
could taste of the blood of Messer Troilo. 

And for three days and three nights he 
watched him and dogged him, but Messer 
Troilo rarely went unaccompanied by his 
men, because he had offended so many 
honourable citizens by his amorous fury, and 
he knew that his kinsmen dreaded him and 
would gladly be rid of him, on account of 
his ferocity and ambition, and their desire 
to unite the Fief of Fratta to the other lands 
of the main line of the magnificent House 
of Baglioniy famous in arms. 

But one day, towards dusk, Desiderio saw 
Messer Troilo coming down a steep lane near 
Saint Herculanus, alone, for he was going to 
a woman of light fsLme, called Flavia Bella, 
the which was very lovely- So Desiderio 
threw some ladders, from a neighbouring 
house which was being built, and sacks 
across the road, and hid under an arch that 
spanned the lane, which was greatly steep 
and narrow. And Messer Troilo came down. 



A WEDDING CHEST 133 

on footy whistling and paring his nails with a 
small pair of scissors. And he was dressed 
in grey silk hose, and a doublet of red cloth 
and gold brocade, pleated about the skirts, 
and embroidered with seed pearl and laced 
with gold laces; and on his head he had a 
hat of scarlet cloth with many feathers ; and 
his cloak and sword he carried under his left 
arm. And Messer Troilo was twenty-six 
years old, but seemed much younger, having 
no beard, and a face like Hyacinthus or 
Ganymede, whom Jove stole to be his cup- 
bearer, on account of his beauty. And he 
was tall and very ferocious and magnanimous 
of spirit And as he went, going to Flavia 
the courtesan, he whistled. 

And when he came near the heaped-up 
ladders and the sacks, Desiderio sprang upon 
him, and tried to run his sword through him. 
But although wounded, Messer Troilo 
grappled with him long, but he could not get 
at his sword, which was entangled in his 
cloak ; and before he could free his hand and 
get at his dagger, Desiderio had him down, 
and ran his sword three times through his 
chest, exclaiming, ^This is from Maddalena, 
in return for her wedding chest I ' 



134 A WEDDING CHEST 

And Messer Troilo, seeing the blood flow- 
ing out his chest, knew he must die, and 
merely said — 

* Which Maddalena ? Ah, I remember, old 
Piero's daughter. She was always a cursed 
difficult slut,' and died. 

And Desiderio stooped over his chest, and 
lapped up the blood as it flowed ; and it was 
the first food he tasted since taking the Body 
of Christ, even as he had sworn. 

Then Desiderio went stealthily to the foun- 
tain under the arch of Saint Proxedis, where 
the women wash linen in the daytime, and 
cleansed himself a little from that blood. 
Then he fetched his mule and hid it in some 
trees near Messer Piero's garden. And at 
night he opened the door, the priest having 
given him the key, and went in, and with a 
spade and mattock he had brought dug up 
the wedding chest with the body of Monna 
Maddalena in it ; the which, owing to those 
herbs and virtuous gums, had dried up and 
become much lighter. And he found the 
spot by looking for the fennel tufit under the 
almond-tree, which was then in flower, it 
being spring. He loaded the chest, which 
was mouldy and decayed, on the mule, and 



A WEDDING CHEST 135 

drove the mule before him till he got to 
Castiglione del Lago, where he hid. And 
meeting certain horsemen, who asked him 
what he carried in that box (for they took 
him for a thief), he answered his sweetheart ; 
so they laughed and let him pass. Thus he 
got safely on to the territory of Arezzo, an 
ancient city of Tuscany, where he stopped. 

Now when they found the body of Messer 
Troilo, there was much astonishment and 
wonder. And his kinsmen were greatly 
wroth ; but Messer Orazio and Messer 
Ridolfo, his uncles, said : ^ 'Tis as well ; for 
indeed his courage and ferocity were too 
great, and he would have done some evil to 
us all had he lived. ' But they ordered him a 
magnificent burial. And when he lay on the 
street dead, many folk, particularly painters, 
came to look at him for his great beauty ; and 
the women pitied him on account of his youth, 
and certain scholars compared him to Mars, 
God of War, so great was his strength and 
ferocity even in death. And he was carried to 
the grave by eight men-at-arms, and twelve 
damsels and youths dressed in white walked 
behind, strewing flowers, and there was 
much splendour and lamentation, on account 



136 A WEDDING CHEST 

of the great power of the magnificent House 
of Baglioni. 

As regards Desiderio of Castiglione del 
LagOi he remained at Arezzo till his death, 
preserving with him always the body of 
Monna Maddalena in the wedding chest 
painted with the Triumph of Lovei because 
he considered she had died odore magnce 
sanctitatis. 



THE LADY AND DEATH 



MEINER LIEBEN LEHRERIN 
MARIE KREBS SCHOPBACH 



THE LADY AND DEATH 

A companion-piece to DUrer's print 

I 

^ Since the portrait of my ancestress Agnes 
seems to have struck you,' said Dr. Konrad 
Weber, *and since, even more, you seem to 
feel that our little town is still warm and 
living with the Past, I think I will tell you 
a very curious legend existing in our family : 
and of which Agnes Weberin, whom we call, 
after the Latin distich on her picture, Agnes 
Alkestis, is the heroine. But, before begin- 
ning, I had better show you the effigy of the 
other chief person in this story/ 

He had been taking me the round, along 
the wooden causeway still intact, of the 
towers and gatehouses which give that little 
town of Erlach, high above its narrow valley, 
the air of a great city, say, Jerusalem, in one 
of Diirer's backgrounds. And we were walk- 
ing how in the wide principal street, the 

180 



I40 THE LADY AND DEATH 

Herrengasse, planted with sweet-smelling 
lime-trees and set with big gabled houses, 
all with trim flowers behind their window 
gratings. The street is closed not by any 
buildings, nor even by the city walls, but 
by a glimpse of country opposite, of steep 
green pasture and distant compact fir-woods. 
And against this view, as against a piece of 
blue-green tapestry, there stands a fountain 
surrounded by a statue. The fountain is 
of a pattern common in southern Germany 
and Switzerland, and not without a pleasant 
reminiscence of the original village drink- 
ing-trough of rough hewn fir-trunks : an 
octagonal basin, like a tub, and, rising in its 
middle, a pillar, with iron spouts spirting 
four thin rills of water. But on the top of 
the pillar is a statue: a knight in armour 
leaning on his lance. 

^This fountain,' said the Doctor, ^was 
restored, as the inscription tells us, by Berch- 
thold Weber in 1545 ; the husband of Agnes 
surnamed Alkestis. But the statue is, as 
you see, considerably earlier, and belongs 
to that interesting and insufficiently known 
school of Franconian stonemasons, who have 
left so many fine effigies of knights in our 



THE LADY AND DEATH 141 

churches. It represents not St. George (you 
see the dragon is missing) but St. Theodulus, 
a holy warrior whom you have probably never 
heard of.' 

*Do you know,' I answered, *it happens, 
by one of those coincidences which are per- 
petually surprising us, that I have heard of 
St. Theodulus, and not a month ago ; and 
that, now you remind me of him, I am 
extremely interested in his legend ? ' 

*His legend? Why, that was what I 
intended, so to speak, telling you,' replied 
the Doctor. * Pray tell me, first, how much 
you already know about St Theodulus. ' 

^ Has this to do with Agnes Alkestis ? ' I 
asked, for I did not want to lose her story. 

* It has everything to do with her. I can 
tell you what St. Theodulus is reported to 
have done here at Erlach. But you shall 
tell me what he did elsewhere ; for we are 
badly ofif for saints' biographies in this 
Lutheran town.' 

* Well,' I replied, * I can tell you only this 
much, that a few weeks ago, as I was taking 
a walk in otie of the Tyrolese valleys, not far 
from the source of the Isar, I found, near 
some remote cottages, in a runnel of snow- 



142 THE LADY AND DEATH 

water spirting across the path, one of those 
little water-wheels which the children make 
in those parts of the world. Only in this 
case the toy consisted not of a hammer 
merely hammering on an empty preserve 
can, but of two little wooden dolls, who, as 
the water turned the wheel, thumped un- 
ceasingly upon each other. The thing rather 
fascinated me ; and on closer examination I 
found that one of the figures had horns, while 
the other, with a sort of helmet carved on 
to its head, was brandishing a wooden cross. 
A little girl came out of one of the chalets, 
and seeing me in contemplation of the toy, 
told me her big brother had made it, and that 
it represented St Theodulus fighting with the 
Devil. That was all the information to be 
extracted on the subject But I often think 
of the two wooden mannikins in the brook, 
and wonder how long they will go on 
hammering, without a pause, on each other, 
through fine weather and snowstorm.* 

I was looking at the fountain while speak- 
ing, and for a moment the dark-green Alpine 
valley, its white glacier stream and meadows 
painted blue with crowsbill, rose up in my 
mind and made a background, instead of that 



THE LADY AND DEATH 143 

mediaeval street, for the statue of the saint. 
The weather had given him the look of being 
made of rusty iron ; and on his hip swung 
a real iron sword, and an iron pennon creaked 
like a weather-vane from his lance. He re- 
minded me of the metal knights at Innsbruck 
round Maximilian's tomb, but less barbaric 
and finer. The armour was rendered with 
every detail of strap and buckle ; but the 
beardless fsice, surrounded by a nest or 
nimbus of wiry hair, was of archaic rigidity. 
Yet, doll-like though it was, it had an odd 
amount of expression — a tense, worn, pathetic 
resoluteness. 

*What you say interests me very much,* 
answered the Doctor, his eye following mine 
along the fountain, ^and I am rather struck 
by what you say about the saint and the devil 
going on thumping one another day and 
night for ever and ever. That is the charac- 
teristic of all mythology : the saints, or gods, 
or whatever they are, never leave off from 
their especial act, however unnoticed, in the 
imagination of the people. It must have 
been the case with St Theodulus. And the 
question arises, was the legend which you 
met in that Catholic Tyrolese valley an out- 



144 THE LADY AND DEATH 

come of the story which purports really to 
have taken place in Protestant times in this 
Lutheran town of Erlach, but arranged to 
suit the requirements of Catholicism ; or was 
our Erlach story merely an adaptation, con- 
nected with real dates and persons, of an old 
Catholic legend which Protestantism could 
not destroy ? ' I felt bound to protest, * Upon 
my word,' I said, ^you are too much of a 
German, dear Dr. Weber. Here am I wait- 
ing to be told the story of one of your own 
ancestors ; and instead of telling it me, you 
launch out into scientific speculations about 
its mythological aspect I ' 

The Doctor smiled. ^Perhaps you are 
right,' he answered, ^and I will do my best 
to tell you the story like a real story — the 
more so, that I believe it is a true one. Well, 
to begin . • • but first let me draw your 
attention to the carvings on the base of the 
column and on the slabs of the fountain ; 
they have to do with the business.' 

I had noticed them already. Like the rest 
of the fountain, they were imitation Italian 
of the sixteenth century. They represented 
cupids, but cupids holding trophies of death's 
heads and cross bones. 



THE LADY AND DEATH 145 

* When you have told me the story,' I said, 
^ I shall ask you to give the rein to your 
scientific instincts, and to tell me the reason 
why, throughout all your German art of the 
Renaissance, from Diirer and Holbein to the 
smallest Little Master ^ there is always Death 
skulking round the corner? ' 

*Ah, you have noticed that,' replied Dr. 
Weber, *the skeleton grinning behind the 
door, or looking down from the , tree, or 
putting his hand in the pedlar's pack, or 
waving his hour-glass at the lady and her 
gallant ; everywhere Death, Herr Todj as he 
is called in the ballad I shall tell you part of. 
My story bears precisely on that point. By 
the way, can you see in your mind's-eye 
Diirer's print of TTie Knight and Death ? ' 

II 

*My ancestor Berchthold,' began Dr. 
Weber, as we sat after early dinner in the 
little steep garden behind his ancestral house^ 
^was the most remarkable physician of a 
family in which, as you know, we have 
practised medicine from father to son for four 
hundred years. And I think I may say, 

K 



146 THE LADY AND DEATH 

judging by contemporary accounts and his 
books and manuscripts, one of the most 
remarkable philosophers of his day, the fore- 
runner of the chemists and anatomists of the 
seventeenth century. He had been born in 
1480 of Konrad Weber and Barbara Perla- 
cherin ; and returned to his native town of 
Erlach about 1525, after years of study and 
travel in Italy and the East; returned not 
without a pretty bad reputation, already, for 
illicit knowledge. You must not imagine 
that Erlach, even in its greatest days, was a 
busy trading or manufacturing town like 
Niirnberg or Basel ; it took its political 
importance from being on the cross roads 
from North Germany to Switzerland, and 
from Frankfort to Italy ; but it was then, as 
now, an agricultural centre, and our forebears, 
burghers or knights, were merely the farmers 
of the neighbouring fertile districts, able to 
store forage and grain on their impregnable 
hillside, and thus to victual or to starve 
contending potentates. Such being the case, 
they were not accustomed to science and 
philosophy ; and the fact of their having 
followed the Lutheran movement had merely 
given them a narrow-minded pietism. So 



THE LADY AND DEATH 147 

that Berchthold Weber, a Catholic, but of 
the slack pattern of the wicked Italians, a 
friend of Erasmus, a hanger-on of godless 
worldly prelates, a philosopher, and a man 
who openly declared that diseases were not 
sent by Heaven, Dr. Berchthold, I say, was 
not looked on with favour. And the rumour 
of the strange laboratory he fitted up in his 
house, of the queer animals he kept, the bones 
and skeletons he collected (and they said 
even bought at the gallows on the town 
Ravenstone), did not improve his reputation* 
So that, although he was not openly 
molested, people fought shy of him, and 
the celebrated Dr. Stumpfius, in a sermon 
in the Wolfgangs Kirche, even went the 
length of blaming his eminent fellow-citizen, 
Councillor Heinrich Stoss, for giving his 
daughter Agnes in marriage to what he called 
a noted follower of Epicurus. This Agnes — 
the *Mittle maid Agnes of the Stosses" — was 
the one whose portrait you have seen, with 
the Latin, distich comparing her to Alkestis ; 
and I suspect that the choice of the elderly 
and not very well-famed Doctor Berchthold 
was an only child's wilful decision, reluctantly 
given into by her doting father. But for all 



148 THE LADY AND DEATH 

the preacher's insinuations, it was impossible 
for the burghers of Erlach to fall upon or 
exile so quiet and harmless a person as my 
learned ancestor, or one so often visited and 
sent for by the greatest princes. Moreover, 
it was certain that when the plague came to 
Franconia in 1525, and decimated all the 
neighbouring towns and villages, the city of 
Erlach was wonderfully little visited by the 
scourge, and many of those sick of plague 
were saved, owing ostensibly, at least, to the 
precautions taught the citizens by Berchthold 
Weber, and the new-fangled remedies which 
he applied. But, of course, although this debt 
of gratitude made it impossible to molest the 
doctor's person, the sense of it only increased 
the existing badness of his reputation. For 
it began to be whispered at every fountain 
and washing-trough, and hinted more openly 
in every wine-cellar frequented by the theo- 
logians and the more zealous burghers, that 
if Berchthold Weber had succeeded in stem- 
ming the tide of the plague, and saving his 
countrymen's lives, this was owing not really 
to his nefarious learning, but to a compact 
he had made with the Prince of Terrors in 
person ; promising his own life in return for 



THE LADY AND DEATH 149 

those of his fellow-citizens^ out of sinful 
curiosity and carnal vaingloriousness. Just 
the sort of disgraceful rubbish which our 
forefathers were always bandying about? I 
quite agree. But was the accusation false? 
There, my dear friend, I confess I do not 
feel so sure. People's contemporaries often 
accuse them of things they haven't done ; but 
not so often of things which they themselves 
don't think quite possible in others. Among 
all the thousand witches who were burnt in 
Germany — (a fair proportion in our town of 
Erlach, and the papers of the trials still exist) 
— I don't suppose there were ten who didn't 
believe in witchcraft ; and a large proportion 
had been to the Brocken sabath, or thought 
they had. Apply this to the case of Dr. 
Berchthold Weber. Nonsense I you will ex- 
claim — a learned man, a physician, a dis- 
coverer, who forestalled Leuwenhoeck and 
Haller I 

^But in those days of Paracelsus and 
Cardan, one could be all that much, and yet 
believe in things which every modern school- 
child laughs at. For science consists merely 
in fitting a few facts which we discover or 
guess at, into a scheme given ready-made by 



ISO THE LADY AND DEATH 

tradition and by fancy ; and this scheme 
varies perpetually. Ours, to-day, is fiiU of 
unintelligible things called Laws, Forces, and 
so forth ; ttieirsj in the days of Berchthold 
Weber, had other paraphernalia, more pic- 
turesque, and perhaps, after all, as reason- 
able. Essences, virtues, almost human in 
shape, spirits like those invoked by Faust, 
and drawn by Diirer in his Melancholia, 
bogies like the ones of Wohlgemuth and 
Kranach. Let us suppose that our in- 
genious and learned contemporary Dr. 
Weissmann had been brought up to think 
of Heredity, Evolution, etc. etc., not as 
^'Laws," but as real Entities, sorting the 
-world's affairs from thrones up in the Empy- 
rean. — Supposing Dr. Weissmann to think 
this, would he not be acting like a genuine 
man of science, if he took the necessary steps 
to meet, let us say, the Lady Panmixia, attired 
like a muse or sibyl, with attributes and 
fluttering ribbons, and ask her, face to face, 
the true history of her relations with the Spirit 
of Natural Selection, her honoured parent? 
You laugh I You laugh because, allow me 
to say so, you are a mere writer, and believe 
in science with a big S as something infallible 



THE LADY AND DEATH 151 

and unchanging. We, men of science, are 
more humble, and therefore, more apprecia- 
tive of our forerunners, and know that we 
should have thought exactly as they did. 
Dr. Weissmann, had he lived in the sixteenth 
century, would have acted — ^well, like my 
ancestor Berchthold ; and my ancestor 
Berchthold acted like a genuine man of 
science when, thirsting to know the secrets 
of Death, he applied for information at head- 
quarters — ^went to learn the how and why 
of disease and dissolution from Herr Tod 
himself. 

'Learn from Death himself I You think 
perhaps that is a metaphor? It is a very 
fine one, and, like the finest metaphors, it is 
fine because it is literal. Learn from Death : 
not merely by standing by the bed of dying 
people and cutting up their bodies when once 
dead. No, my dear friend I But by going 
down to the Todesthaly to Death's Valley^ 
and making a tryst, a compact, with the 
Skeleton Herr in person, as the burgesses 
and theologians of Erlach, on the evidence 
of a certain woodcutter, asserted Berchthold 
Weber to have done at the time of the Black 
Death. . . .' 



152 THE LADY AND DEATH 

III 

'I believe he did it/ continued Dr. Weber, 
as we were walking up and down the narrow 
garden closed on all sides by gabled burghers* 
houses, by high-roofed barns smelling de- 
liciously of hay and cattle, and where, on 
the open side, framed by great walnut-trees, 
the valley slanted sheer, with another piece 
of old city, walls and towers, across it, ^I 
believe he did it, because — ^well, because I 
believe she did iU But come and see her 
once more.' 

Her portrait was hanging on the wide 
wooden staircase, which led up out of the 
big entrance hall where the swallows nested 
above the Doctor's dogcart and the children's 
latest withered Christmas-tree, surrounded 
by the portraits of bearded worthies in ruffs, 
and wigged worthies in bands, surrounded 
also by quaint mottoes in praise of God, of 
wine and of song, painted in red Gothic 
letters along the walls. 

The portrait was by some humble imitator 
of Holbein ; and, poor though it was, it had 
a research of rigid, delicate line, and pale 
and pure distinction of feature unmarred by 



THE LADY AND DEATH 153 

shadows, which suited the lady's person and 
history. She had the beauty so rare among 
the women which that school painted, but 
which, when it exists, no other school renders 
like that one. A beauty of extreme rareness, 
eminently exceptional ; and, with its thin and 
perfect features and noble bearing, more than 
patrician, queenly. She was represented in 
,a stifif bodice grown black with time, and 
just faintly showing a mixture of gold thread 
and gold loops ; the pale hair hardly visible 
under the big, white, wing-like cap ; a flower, 
something of the kind of the hyacinth, in 
the long thin hand. She was no longer 
young, yet you could hardly say she was 
old : emaciated not by years but by some 
tragedy inherent in her noble brows and 
delicate, loving mouth and great eyes look- 
ing from deep vaulted sockets far into the 
world — a world of mystery and pity. 

* Is your ancestress — Frau Agnes Weber^ 
daughter of Heinrich Stoss and wife to Berch- 
thold Weber — is your ancestress really all 
she strikes me ? ' I asked the Doctor, ^ or has 
my fancy already taken the cue from the thing 
you have hinted at, and from that Latin 
distich comparing her for piety and fortitude 



154 THE LADY AND DEATH 

to the Queen of Greek Admetos whom the 
poets write oft She certainly looks as if she 
might be some mediaeval Alkestis, years 
after her stay in the kingdom of Hades, but 
with the remembrance of it always in her 
eyes.' 

* Agnes Alkestis — ^that is just it/ answered 
the doctor, reverently. * Well, yes, I believe 
she did it . . . Historically,' he went on, 
as we still stood on that landing, ' we know 
little about her. She came of a very old 
burgher family, the only child of Heinrich 
StosSy who was town-<:ouncillor, and died a 
burgomaster of this town. There is an allu- 
sion to her, as I told you, in one of the 
famous Stumpfius's letters, blaming Hein- 
rich Stoss for giving his little maiden, only 
eighteen years oldj to Berchthold Weber — 2l 
Catholic, though a *' noted follower of the 
atheist Epicurus" — a man who under cover 
of medicine cultivates vain practices and 
impious notions, teaching that health and 
sickness are in man's hands, not God's! 
Moreover, as Dr. Stumpfius, who perhaps 
had his own eye on this young heiress, tells 
us, a man no longer young, twenty years 
older than his bride, and taking advantage 



THE LADY AND DEATH 155 

of the wajnvardness of a spoilt child's fancy 
and the ungodly weakness of a widowed 
father — a sort of Desdemona story ; one might 
imagine the little maid Agnes falling in love 
with the learned elderly Doctor for the sake of 
his wondrous learning, his strange accounts 
of travel and discovery and his devotion 
to the poor sick folk. Be this as it may, 
we know that they were married in 1530, 
and came three years later to settle in this 
house, where Berchthold died in January 
1565, and Agnes eleven months later. Agnes 
bore Dr. Berchthold three children : Wern- 
her, Barbara, and Ulrich, from which last 
we are descended. These three children all 
survived their parents ; I want you to mark 
this fact, for it shows that Agnes Alkestis 
was saved one possible tragedy in her life. 
Neither does it appear from Berchthold's 
carefully-kept family records that any of these 
children was ever dangerously ill ; and as we 
find them all married early and safely estab- 
lished as prosperous citizens, we may con- 
clude that they did not give their parents 
unnecessary trouble by their conduct On 
the other hand, neither the family records nor 
the city archives mention any loss of fortune 



156 THE LADY AND DEATH 

or danger from fire as was then so common, 
or destruction of property in warfare; so 
that on this score also Agnes Weberin was 
unusually fortunate. What circumstances, 
therefore, could have given rise to that com- 
parison of the Doctor's wife with Alkestis ; 
what calamity could have left her with that 
look upon her face, in which, as you at 
once felt, there is the record of some great 
tragedy ? 

* Besides that Latin distich and the ballad 
I shall read to you later, only one indication 
still remains, and that is even more mys- 
terious. Here it is.' 

Doctor Weber had taken me downstairs 
again, and entered the long narrow room 
which was his study, as it had been, three 
hundred and fifty years ago, the study of 
his ancestor Berchthold. He took from a 
shelf a great Latin Bible, printed at Mainz 
in the fifteenth century, and turned to the 
manuscript leaves of the back. 

'Here,' he said, 'are Berchthold Weber's 
family records put down year by year with 
laconic accuracy. See? *' 1531, February 3, 
our little son Ulrich is born. March i8th, 
my dear wife Agnes goes, to church the first 



THE LADY AND DEATH 157 

time since childbirth, deep snow on the 
ground, but nothing to repine at, Laus 
Deo. 

^ ^^ July 1539. Our little daughter Barbara 
has meai^les, but of a benign form, and 
happily recovers. Laus Deo. Then, October 
1544, my wife Agnes and I decide upon 
restoring the fountain, much out of repair, 
of St. Theodulus from devotion to that saint, 
and ordering a painted window for our chapel 
in the Ulrich's church, showing the saint in 
question, and ourselves kneeling in thanks- 
giving to God." Thanksgiving for what? 
For general prosperity and immunity from 
many evils? I scarcely think so. For im- 
mediately before this comes an enigmatic 
entry — ^try and spell it out — I fancy the hand- 
writing is very unsteady. 

^ ^^ August 1544. This month it has pleased 
the Highest to search the heart and mind of 
Agnes my wife and myself, trying us both 
by different and unheard-of trials ; and Agnes 
my wife especially as no woman of our times 
has ever been tried ; wherefore let us bear 
for ever a humble, contrite, and loving heart 
in dulci mag^io jiibUoy 

^That,' said Dr. Weber, after replacing 



158 THE LADY AND DEATH 

the sheet of tissue paper over the faded 
minute writing, and putting the volume back 
upon its shelf, ^ is the third of the only three 
remaining genuine records — the fountain of 
St Theodulus (for the painted window was 
destroyed when Erlach was sacked by Wallen- 
stein), this entry of Dr. Berchthold's, the 
portrait of Agnes Alkestis. They none of 
them tell us the meaning of each other or 
their own ; and none explain in the least 
why Agnes Weberin should have been com- 
pared to the Greek Queen who went down 
to the kingdom of Death to save the life of 
her husband Admetos.' 

Mechanically Dr. Weber had pushed open 
the study window, and we were in the garden 
once more, where the scent from the barns 
and the smell of the limeflowers filled the 
twilight 

^The explanation,' he continued, Ms given 
by the legend, as we were all of us taught it 
as children ; as, for the rest, every child in 
Erlach knows it ; and as, until these cultured 
days, you could buy it in rough ballad form 
and printed on cartridge paper at every fair 
in Franconia. And that ballad is the story 
of Alkestis ; Alkestis, the wife of Admetos, 



THE LADY AND DEATH 159 

King of Pherae, became Alkestis, wife^ of 
Berchtfaold Weber, physician of Erlach.' 

And Dr. Weber, walking up and down 
among the roses and stocks of his garden, 
the syringas and tall scarlet runners, sud- 
denly stopped, and looked full at me through 
his round spectacles. 

^ Agnes Stoss,' he went on, after a minute, 
^ a beautiful, imaginative, and self-willed girl, 
has married the man whom she had made 
her ideal ; and she has learned that the 
reality is more interesting, fuller and better, 
even than the ideal ; realising in detail the 
life of devotion to truth, of tenderness to 
suffering, of her husband. And Berchthold, 
to whom undreamed-of happiness has come 
just at the age when happiness begins no 
longer to be expected, expands, grows young 
and human in her love. Then there are the 
children. Well! after some time of this 
Agnes begins to notice a change come over 
her husband — a pervading, inscrutable sad- 
ness. He is, if an3rthing, more restlessly 
active than before, spending days and nights 
in his laboratory ; and he is, if possible, even 
more loving. But in his activity and in his 
love there is something frightening. She 



i6o THE LADY AND DEATH 

feels in it the hurry, the effort, the passionate 
desire to consummate and to clutch, of one 
who knows his days numbered. But he will 
make no answer to her inquiries and denies 
any change in himself. Is he ill ? Has he 
recognised in himself the germ of some fatal 
disease? That is how we moderns under- 
stand the situation : the learned man is able 
to calculate, perhaps to a month, the moment 
when his heart will wear out, or his brain 
give way ; he has spent his life too freely 
while it belonged only to himself and to 
science. That is not the mediaeval notion, 
the notion of Agnes Alkestis, who, unable 
to penetrate her husband's secret, seeks, even 
like the Queen of Admetos, for heavenly aid. 
The ballad tells us that she prays to St 
Theodulus, patron of those who suffer from 
cruel apprehension, and implores him to 
explain the riddle. And in a vision the 
riddle is explained : in the days of his lone- 
liness Dr. Berchthold had promised to give 
himself over, on a fixed date, to King Death, 
in return for the secret of prolonging the life 
of the plague-stricken. And the date has 
approached. You remember Admetos in 
Euripides? Berchthold Weber is more of 



THE LADY AND DEATH i6i 

a king than he. Instead of bemoaning his 
bti^f seeking a victim to replace him, he 
has kept his counsel and keeps it Agnes 
never for a moment dreams of offering to 
die in his stead. The whole tragedy takes 
place unspoken. He, knowing his doom, 
thinks only how to hide the fearful fact to 
the last, how to make it fall as gently as 
possible on his wife. She, decided at once 
to give lier useless woman's life for the 
life of the man who can comfort and save 
so many others, lays her plans also in silence. 
It is the secret agony of these two souls, 
unable to seek for comfort in one another, 
which constitutes that unheard-of trial to 
which the entry in the family Bible is an 
allusion ; and it is these days of unspoken 
reciprocal farewell, which have left their 
trace, methinks, far more than the hours 
spent in Death's Valley, in Agnes Weberin ; 
making her Agnes Alkestis. 

Mt is strange to think,' added Doctor 
Weber musingly, looking up at the steep 
gable of his ancestral house, at the white* 
washed beamed wall festooned with vines, 
^ that it all took place here, within these walls, 
and sometimes I catch myself feeling as if I 

L 



i62 THE LADY AND DEATH 

were seated in the castle of Lear, or Elsinore ; 
or, in fact, the palace of Pherae where 
Herakles was a guest, and Apollo. • • •' 

Evening had come on ; the upper sky, with 
swallows crossing and re-crossing it, was 
turning greenish ; the slopes and firwoods 
far o£F were veiling themselves as in thin 
crape ; and the high-pitched roof, the towers 
and gablehouses of the projecting part of 
Erlach were profiled above the ravine, like 
the twilit town in Diirer's print of St 
Anthony. 

< TodesthcUy the Valley of Death— that also 
sounds merely an appropriate metaphor,' said 
Dr. Weber, as he took me a country walk 
the next morning — 'well, it is not. It is a 
concrete reality. The Valley of Death lies 
north-east of Erlach, its opening where the 
Brook of Death — Todesbach — runs into the 
Erl, just a mile outside the Bamberg Gate. 
I can show it you all on the Ordnance map. 
And what is more, you are at present standing 
in the middle of it.' 

He had led me across the high-lying com- 



THE LADY AND DEATH 163 

fields and the thick firwoods, and then by a 
scrambling track along the rockSy suddenly 
into a narrow valley. 

It was a corridor cut as with a knife out of 
the surrounding table-land, its steep walls 
of soft yellow stone, fringed at the top with 
trees and bushes, and barely wider than the 
shallow stream which stagnated in pools 
among its stones. In the rest of the world 
it was a sunny, breezy day, the green crops 
rustling like watered silk; but here, there 
penetrated neither a ray of sun nor a breath 
of wind ; and the great hemlocks stood 
motionless amongst the oozy green stones 
of the sluggish silent stream. After a few 
yards the corridor widened into a kind of 
circular chamber ; its floor of thick wet grass, 
its side more perpendicular still, with hardy 
little spruce firs and stunted pines striking 
their wedge-shaped roots into its top, and 
among them, high up like a hermitage in a 
Diirer print, was a tiny chapel with wooden 
extinguisher roof. 

Dr. Weber sat down on the trunk of the 
old fir, which must have fallen a:ges ago, 
over the wall of the valley. 

<The little chapel you see,' he said, ^was 



i64 THE LADY AND DEATH 

served until the Reformation by a solitary 
firiar, and to this hd we owe the knowledge 
that already in the early middle ages this 
valley took its name from Death. There 
seems no reason why. The Bamberg Road, 
indeed, which leads to near its mouth, passes 
alongside of the Ravenstone, the place of the 
permanent gallows and the wheel, from which 
the ghosts of male£Eu:tors used to descend, 
even in my great-grandfather's time, and 
frighten belated travellers. But that is nearly 
a mile away, and could not account for the 
name of this valley. Perhaps, indeed, the 
name is merely a corruption of some word 
of wholly different meaning, but which 
changed in this way from a certain appro- 
priate quality. Be this as it may, the Valley 
of Death, and more particularly this winding 
of it where we are seated, is the place of the 
last act of the story of Agnes Alkestis. I 
told you of the old ballad we used to buy 
at bits* Listen to the beginning of it *^ It 
happened on a Sunday in the pleasant month 
of August, since our Lord Jesus's Incarnation 
for our sins, one thousand years five hundred 
and forty-four. The good folk of Erlach, 
with all the town guard with their pikes and 



THE LADY AND DEATH 165 

crossbowsi and all the guilds with banners, 
many thousand men and women and childreni 
all who could walk, or ride, or crawl, went 
forth outside the city walls to look down on 
the jousting in a certain valley. For you 
must know that in that place a Trusty Knight 
was going to challenge Death in person, and 
force him to restore Frau Agnes, Berchthold 
Weber'^ wife, who was willing to die in her 
husband's stead. And the town-crier has 
summoned the good folk of Erlach from the 
tower top ; and they have gone outside the 
town, men, women, and children, many 
thousands, all who could walk, or ride, or 
crawl, to look down at the jousting in the 
Todesthal." 

^That is how the ballad begins,' went on 
Dr. Weber. < Then the Trusty Knight bids 
the herald blow his trumpet ; and three times 
Che herald blows, and three times calls on 
Death by name, <*Herr Tod— Herr Tod— 
Herr Tod," and summons him to give back 
Frau Agnes or meet the Trusty Knight in 
single combat The third time the herald 
also throws down the Trusty Knight's glove. 
Then Herr Tod appears, riding down the 
valley on a thin, pale horse ; he has on a 



i66 THE LADY AND DEATH 

helmet wreathed with straw, and a gallant 
black sash embroidered with gold, but with 
no armour or other garments, for, says the 
ballad, he had on him no flesh to hurt and in 
him had he no blood that could be spilt 
The ballad does not mention it, but I imagine 
my poor ancestress kneeling close by, like the 
poor Princess in the pictures of St Greorge. 
They spurred their horses on each other, 
and closed with a hideous shock — the lance 
of Herr Tod had struck in the pommel of the 
Trusty Knight, and very nearly thrown him 
off his horse; the Trusty Knight wheeled 
round his red roan horse and rushed upon 
his adversary; but alas I his lance merely 
shivered against the iron ribs of Herr Tod's 
pale horse and fell on the Knight in splinters. 
But again the Trusty Knight wheeled round, 
letting go the reins on the neck of his red 
roan, and grasping his great sword with both 
hands. And as he came up with Herr Tod, 
who had also drawn, he let the great sword 
crash down on Herr Tod ; and the skeleton, 
with dreadful screams as of vultures and a 
rattle of bones such as never was heard, fell 
backwards to the ground. Then the Trusty 
Knight took Frau Agnes behind him on his 



THE LADY AND DEATH 167 

red roan horse and carried her back to Erlach, 
all the inhabitants following and the bells all 
ringing greeting, to where stood Berchthold 
Weber, with his three young children weeping 
on their doorstep. 

^That is the end of the ballad,' said 
Dr. Weber, after a pause, rising from the 
tree trunk and preceding me along the narrow 
path and across the oozy stream — ^ but there 
are two versions of it, which differ in one 
important particular* The more recent ver- 
sion, written down when Erlach had turned 
completely Protestant and was smarting from 
its cruel treatment by Wallenstein, says that 
the Trusty Knight was one Dietrich von 
Kreglingen, whom the father of Agnes had 
hidden in his house during the persecution 
of the independent nobles by Kaiser Maxi- 
milian. But the earlier version of the ballad, 
dating from a time when Lutherans and 
Catholics still lived peaceably together in 
our town, and were not very clearly dis- 
tinguishable, tells us that the Trusty Knight 
. was no other than Theodulus, the heavenly 
patron of the Webers, and who had descended 
from his fountain to defend them. It seems 
rather difficult to decide at this distance of 



i68 THE LADY AND DEATH 

timei and I think you may safely choose 
whichever of the two champions you prefer/ 

At a sudden bend we had come to the 
mouth of the narrow valley, and in front of 
U89 where its perpendicular sides and fringe 
of birches and firs ended, there rose, high 
up against the sunny sky, the distant walls, 
the towers, and high-pitched roofis of Erlach. 

*As regards myself,' said Dr. Weber 
meditatively, 'as I have learned from com- 
parative mythology that nothing is more 
usual than to be two totally different persons 
at the same time, I am willing to accept both 
Dietrich von Kreglingen and St Theodulus 
as the Herakles who released from the bonds 
of Death my ancestress Alkestis.' 



ST. EUDiEMON AND HIS 
ORANGE-TREE 



TO 
MY DEAR MRS. SCOTT 



ST. EUDiEMON AND HIS 
ORANGE-TREE 

Here is the story of St Eudasmon's Orange- 
Tree. It is not among the Lives of the 
Blessed Fathers^ by Brother Dominick 
Cavalca of Vico Pisano, still less in the 
Golden Legend compiled by James of 
Voragine; nor, very likely, in any other 
work of hagiography. I learned it on the 
spot of the miracle, and in the presence of its 
ever-blossoming witness, the orange-tree. 
The orchards of the Caelian and the Aventine 
spread all round, with their criss-cross of 
reeds carrying young vines, and you see on 
all sides great arches and vague ruins : 
Colosseum, Circus Maximus, House of Nero, 
and the rest; with, £ar beyond, modern 
Rome, St Peter's dome and the blue Sabine 
Mountains. There is a little church — one of 
a dozen like it — ^with chipped ionic columns, 
and a tesselated pavement lilac and russet 

like a worn-out precious rug, and a great 

m 



172 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

cactusi like a python, winding round the 
apse. The orange-tree stands there, shedding 
its petals over vines and salads, immense and 
incredibly venerable ; what seems the trunk, 
in reality merely the one surviving branch, 
the real trunk being hidden deep below the 
level of the garden. Here did I learn the 
legend ; but from whom, and how, I must 
leave you to guess. Suffice that it be true. 

Long, long ago, before the church was 
built, which has stood, however, over twelve 
hundred years, there settled on the Caslian 
slopes a certain saints by name Eudasmon. 
The old Pagan Rome was buried under 
ground, great boulders and groups of columns 
only protruding ; and the new Christian Rome 
was being built £ar off, of stones and brick 
quarried and carted from the ruins. Weeds 
and bushes, and great ilexes and elms, had 
grown up above the former city, and it was 
haunted of demons. Men never came near it, 
save to quarry for stone or seek for treasure 
with dreadful incantation ; and it became a 
wilderness, surrounded, at uneven distances, 
by the long walls, and the storied square 
belfries of many monasteries- 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 173 

The place to which this Eudaemon came--^ 
and no one can tell whence he came, nor 
anything of him save that he had had a 
bride, who died the eve of their wedding — 
the place to which Eudasmon came was in the 
heart of the ruins and the wilderness, very far 
from the abode of men ; and indeed he had 
but two neighbouring saints like himself, a 
theologian who inhabited a ruined bath to 
avoid the noise of bell-ringing ; and a stylite, 
who had contrived a platform of planks 
roofed over with reeds on the top of the 
column of the Emperor Philip. 

Eudsmon, as above stated, was a saint ; 
persons who did not molest their neighbours 
were mostly saints in those days ; and so, of 
course, he could work miracles. Only, his 
miracles, in the opinion of other saints, par- 
ticularly of the Theologian and the Stylite 
(whose names were Carpophorus and Ursi- 
cinus), were nothing very special, in fiict, 
just barely within the limits of the miraculous. 
Eudaemon had planted a garden round about 
the ruins of the circular temple of Venus ; and 
vines and lettuces, roses and peaches had 
replaced within a very few years the scrub of 
ilex and myrtle, and the mad vegetation of 



174 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

wild fennel and oats and wallflower which 
matted over the masonry ; and this, of course, 
since he was a saint, must be a miracle. He 
had cleared out, also, the innermost cell of 
the temple, and turned it into a chapel, with 
a fair carved tomb of the pagans for an altar, 
and pictures of the Blessed Virgin and the 
Saviour, with big eyes and purple clothes, 
painted on the whitewash. And he had 
erected alongside a belfry, three stories high, 
circular and open with pillars quarried from 
the temple, and stuck about with discs of 
porphyry (out of the temple floor), and green 
Cretan bowls for ornament ; which, of course, 
was also a miracle. Moreover, at the end of 
the orchard he had erected wattled huts for 
poor folk, to whom he taught gardening and 
other useful arts; also sheds for cows and 
goats, and a pigeon-cot; and he had con- 
structed out of osier a cart, and broken in a 
donkey's foal, in order to send his vegetables 
to distribute in Rome to the indigent, 
together with cans of milk and rounds of 
goat's cheese. And to the wives of the poor 
whom he lodged he taught how to weave and 
cure skins, and to the children he taught the 
abacus and the singing of hymns. And for 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 175 

the poor folk he made, near their wattled huts, 
a bowling-green, and instructed them to play 
at that game. And indeed the matter of the 
orange-tree arose out of the making of the 
bowling-green ; all of which were plainly 
miracles. Meanwhile Eudasmon lived all 
alone in a shed closed with reeds, and roofed 
by one of the vaultings of that temple of the 
Pagans ; and he was a laborious man, and 
abstemious, and possessed a knowledge of 
medicine, and was able, though but little, to 
read in the Scriptures ; and Eudasmon was a 
saint, though but a small one. 

But Carpophorus the theologian, and 
Ursicinus the stylite, did not think much 
of Eudasmon and his saintlings, nay, each 
thought even less of him than of the other. 
For Carpophorus, who had translated the 
books of Deuteronomy from the Hebrew, and 
the gospels of Nicodemus and of Enoch into 
Latin, and written six treatises against the 
Gnostics and Paulicians, and a book on the 
marriage of the Sons of God ; and who, 
moreover, had a servant to wash his clothes 
and dust his rolls of manuscript, and cook his 
dinner, thought Ursicinus both ignorant and 
rustic, living untidily on that platform on the 



176 ST. EUDiBMON AND 

column, as shaggy and black as a bear, and 
constantly fixing his eyes on his own navel ; 
while Ursicinus the stylite, who had not 
changed his tunic or touched cooked food 
for five years, and had frequently risen to 
the contemplation of the One, looked down 
upon the pedantry and luxurious habits of 
Carpophorus, and esteemed him a man of 
fleshly vanities. 

But Carpophorus and Ursicinus agreed in 
having a very poor opinion of Eudaemon; 
and often met in brotherly discourse upon 
the likelihood of his being given over by 
Heaven to the Evil One. And this opinion 
they made freely manifest to himself, on the 
occasions when he would invite them to 
dinner in his orchard, regaling them on 
fruit, milk, wine, and the honey of his bees ; 
and whenever either came singly to borrow 
a wax taper, or a piece of fair linen, or a 
basket, or a penn'orth of nails, he made it 
a point to warn Eudasmon very seriously 
against his dangerous ways of thinking and 
proceeding, and to promise intercession with 
the Powers above. 

The two saints would have liked a fine 
theological set to. But Euda&mon only 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 177 

smiled. Eudasmon was always smiling ; and 
that was one of the worst signs about him : 
for a man^ let alone a saint, who smiles, 
expresses thereby satisfaction with this world 
and confidence in his salvation, both of 
which are slights to Heaven. Moreover, 
Eudaenion talked in a profane manner ; and 
there was far too much marrying and giving 
in marriage among the poor folk he had 
gathered round him. He showed unseemly 
interest in women in labour, even assisting 
them with physic^ and advising them on the 
rearing of infants ; he rarely chastised young 
children, and allowed the lads and maidens 
to tell him their love-affairs, never exhorting 
either to a life of abstinence and celibacy. 
He attended to the ailments of animals, and 
was frequently heard to address speech to 
them as if they had been possessed of an 
immortal soul, and as if their likings and dis- 
likings should be considered ; thus he made 
brooding nests for the doves, and placed 
dishes of water for the swallows, and was 
surrounded by birds, allowing them to perch 
on his shoulders and hands, and calling them 
by name. Various things he said might 
almost have led you to suspect — had such 

M 



178 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

suspicion not been too uncharitable — ^that he 
considered birds and beasts as the creatures 
of God and brethren to man ; nay, that 
plants also had life, and recognised the 
Creator ; but when he came to speak of such 
matters, calling the sun and moon brother 
and sisteTj and attributing Christian virtues, 
as humility, chastity, joyousness, to water, 
and fire, and clouds, and winds, his discourses 
were such that it was more charitable to con- 
sider them as ravings, and himself as one of 
the half-witted ; and this, indeed, Eudsemon 
probably was, and not utterly damned, 
otherwise Carpophorus could scarcely have 
borrowed his altar clothes and tapers, or 
Ursicinus accepted his lettuces and honey- 
comb. 

The two saints were devoured by curiosity 
to know what might be the secret relations 
of their fellow-saint with the world of devils. 
For these delicate matters gave a saint his 
position ; and on these it was customary to 
show a subtle mixture of reticence and brag- 
ging. Had Eudaemon ever had encounters 
with the Prince of Darkness ? Had he been 
tempted ? had lovely ladies burst in upon his 
visions, or large stones been rained down 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 179 

through his roof? Carpophorus, feigning 
to speak of a third person, made some extra- 
ordinary statements concerning himself ; and 
Ursicinus led to even more marvellous sup- 
positions by refusal to go into details. But 
Eudaemon showed no interest in these dis- 
courses, neither courting nor evading them. 
He stated drily that he had undergone no 
temptations of an unusual sort, and no perse- 
cutions worth considering. As to encounters 
with devils, and with heathen divinities, upon 
which his fellow-saints insisted upon explicit 
answersi, he had nothing to report that con- 
cerned any one. He had, indeed, on the 
coast of Syria, once come across a creature 
who was half man, half horse, of the sort 
which the pagans called Centaury of whom 
he had asked his way in the sand and grass, 
and who had answered with difficulty, making 
whinnying noises^ and pawing, and cocking 
his ears; and some years later, among the 
oakwoods round the lake of Nemi, he had 
met a Faun, a rustic creature shaped like a 
man, but with goat's horns and legs, who had 
entertained him pleasantly in a cool brake of 
reeds, and given him nuts and very succulent 
roots for a midday meal ; and it was his 



i8o ST. EUDiEMON AND 

opinion that such creatures^ although denied 
human speech, were aware of the goodness 
of God| and possessed some way of their own, 
however di£ferent from ours, of expressing 
their joy therein. Indeed, was there aught 
in the Scriptures which affirmed or suggested 
that any one of God's creatures was destitute 
of such sense of His loving-kindness? As 
regards the gods of the heathens, what 
manner of harm could they do to a Christian ? 
can false gods hurt any except their believers ? 
Nay, Eudsemon actually seemed to hint that 
these Pagan divinities were deserving of com- 
passion, and that they also, like the sun and 
moon, the wolves and the lambs, the grass 
and the trees, were God's children and our 
brethren, if only they knew it • • • 

Of course, however, Carpophorus and 
Ursicinus never allowed Eudasmon to become 
quite explicit on this point of doctrine, lest 
they should have to consider him damned 
beyond remission, and therefore, unfit for 
their society. As things stood, the two saints 
were comfortably persuaded that those little 
visits, with accompanying loans and gifts, 
were probably poor Eudsemon's one chance 
of salvation. 



HIS ORANGE-TREE i8i 

And now for the miracle. 

It happened that in digging the ground for 
a fresh piece of vineyard, a spade struck upon 
an uncommonly large round stone, which 
being uncovered, disclosed itself to be a 
full-length woman, carved in marble, and 
embedded in the clay, face upwards. The 
peasants fled in terror, some crying out that 
they had found an embalmed Pagan, and 
some, a sleeping female devil. But Eudsemon 
merely smiled, and wiped the earth o£f the 
figure, which was exceeding comely, and 
mended one of its arms with cement, and set 
it up on a carved tombstone of the ancients, 
at the end of the grass walk through the 
orchard, and close to the beehives. 

Carpophorus and Ursicinus heard the news, 
and hastening to the spot, instantly o£fered 
Eudaemon their help in breaking the figure 
to bits and conveying it to a limekiln by the 
Tiber. For it was evidently an image of the 
goddess Venus, by far the wickedest of all 
the devils. The two saints examined the 
statue with holy curiosity, and quoted, respec- 
tively, several passages of Athenagoras and 
Lactantius, and many anecdotes of the Hermit 
St Paul, and of other anchorites of the 



i82 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

Thebais. But Eudasmon merely thanked 
them very sweetly for their exhortations, and 
sent them away with a pair of new sandals 
and a flask of oil as a gift After this, the 
two saints did not consider themselves free 
to call upon him any longer, and took no 
notice of the presents he continued to send. 
They would greatly have liked to behold that 
idol again, not on account of its comeliness, 
which neither recognised, but from intense 
curiosity to see devils a little closer. But 
having preached openly against it, and tried 
to stir the peasants to knock it down and 
break it, they were ashamed of entering the 
orchard ; and merely sought for opportunities 
of looking across the narrow valley, and 
seeing the figure of the goddess, shining 
white among the criss-cross reeds and the big 
fig-trees of Eudasmon's vineyard. 

This being the case, judge of the joy of 
the two holy men when one June evening — 
and it was the vigil of the Birth of John 
Baptist — ^the news was brought that Eudas- 
mon had at last been caught hold of by the 
Devil I All other considerations vanished ; 
for brotherly charity required that they should 
fly to the spot and behold the catastrophe. 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 183 

The two saints were rather disappointed. 
The Devil had not carried ofiF Eudsemon, 
whom, indeed, they found peaceably watering 
some clove-pinks ; but he had carried off, or 
at least appropriated, a notable piece of 
Eudaemon's property. For Eudasmon, of all 
the worldly goods he had once enjoyed, had 
retained one only, but that surely the most 
sinful,, a wedding-ring. It was quite useless 
to his neighbours, and a token of earthly 
affections, having been bought by him to 
stick on the hand of the girl he had been 
about to marry. The ring had been a subject 
of scandal to Carpophorus and Ursicinus, the 
more so that Eudasmon had flown into a rage 
(the only time in their experience), when 
they suggested he should exchange it in the 
city against a chapel bell ; and it was highly 
satisfactory that the Devil should have opened 
his campaign by seizing this object above all 
others. 

The way it had happened was this. It 
being the vigil of the Birth of John Baptist, 
Eudasmon had, according to a habit of his, 
which was far from commendable, allowed 
his peasant folk to make merry, nay, had 
spread tables for them in the vineyard, and 



i84 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

arranged games for young and old ; a way of 
celebrating the occasion the less desirable, 
that it was said that the vigil of John Baptist 
happened to coincide with the old feast of the 
devil Venus, and that the rustics still cele- 
brated it with ceremonies connected with that 
evil spirit, and in themselves worthy of blame, 
such as picking bundles of lavender for their 
linen lockers, making garlands of clove- 
pinks and lighting bonfires, all of which 
were countenanced by Eudasmon. On this 
occasion Eudasmon thought fit to open the 
bowling-green, which he just finished build- 
ing up of green sods, carefully jointed and 
beaten, with planks to keep the balls from 
straying. He was showing the rustics how 
to bowl their balls, and had, for this purpose, 
girt up his white woollen smock above his 
knees, when he was stung by a wasp, a 
creature, no doubt, of the Devil. Seeing his 
finger begin to swell, and unwilling to be 
prevented from continuing the game, he had, 
for the first time on record, removed that gold 
wedding-ring, and, after a minute's hesitation 
how to dispose of it, stuck it on the extended 
right annular finger of the marble statue of 
the devil Venus ; and then gone on playing. 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 185 

But that rash action^ so unworthy of a 
Christian saint, and in which so many blame- 
able acts culminated — for there should have 
been neither ring to remove nor idol to stick 
it on — ^that altogether reprehensible action 
was punished as it deserved. After a few 
rounds of the game, Eudasmon bade the 
peasants fall to the dinner he had provided 
for them, while he himself retired to say his 
prayers. So doing, he sought his ring. But 
— O prodigy ! O terror I it was in vain. The 
marble she-devil had bent her finger and closed 
her hand. She had accepted the ring (and 
with it, doubtless, his wretched sinful soul) 
and refused to relinquish it. No sooner had 
a single one of the rustics found out what 
had happened, than the whole crew of 
them, men, women, and children, fled in 
confusion, muttering prayers and shrieking 
exorcisms, and carrying away what victuals 
they could. 

It was only when Carpophorus and 
Ursicinus arrived, armed with missals and 
holy-water brushes, that a few of the boldest 
rustics consented to return to the scene of the 
wonder. They found, as I have already 
mentioned, Eudasmon placidly watering some 



i86 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

pots of clove-pinksy which he had prepared as 
gifts for the maidens. The tables were upset, 
the bunches of lavender lying about; the 
lettuces and rosebushes had been trampled. 
The frogs had begun to wail in the reed- 
brakes, and the crickets to lament in the ripe 
com ; bats were circling about and swallows, 
and the sun was sinking. The last rays fell 
upon the marble statue at the end of the bowl- 
ing-green, making the ring glimmer on her 
finger ; and suddenly, just as the two saints 
entered, reddening and gilding her nakedness 
into a semblance of life. Carpophorus and 
Ursicinus gave a yell of terror and nearly 
fell flat on the ground. Eudasmon looked 
up from his clove-pinks at them, and at the 
statue. He understood. ^Foolish brothers,' 
he said, * did you not know that Brother Sun 
can make all things alive ? ' 

And he continued watering the flowers and 
going to the well to re-fill his can. 

Carpophorus and Ursicinus had not re- 
covered from their terror ; but it was spiced 
with a certain delight^ for were they not about 
to witness some dreadful proceeding on the 
part of the Evil One ? Meanwhile, they kept 
at a respectful distance from the idol, and 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 187 

splashing holy water right and left, and swing- 
ing censers backwards and forwards, they set 
up a hymn in a shaky voice, not without some 
lapses of grammar. But the idol took notice 
of none of it; she shone out white in the 
gathering twilight, and on her bent finger, 
on her closed hand, twinkled the little gold 
circlet. 

When Eudsemon had finished his watering, 
he let the bucket once more down into the 
well, and took a deep drink of water. Then 
he dipped his hands, ungirt his white woollen 
robes, the day's work being done, and walked 
leisurely down the bowling-green, calling the 
birds, who whirled round his head ; but tak- 
ing no notice of his fellow-saints and their 
exorcisms. Before the idol he stood still. 
He looked up, quite boldly, at her comely 
limbs and face, and even with a benign smile. 
* Sister Venus,' he said, *you were ever a 
lover of jests ; but every jest has its end. 
Night is coming on, my outdoor work is 
over ; it is fit I should retire to prayers and to 
rest Give me therefore my ring, of which I 
bade you take charge in return for the hospi- 
tality I had shown you.' 

Carpophorus and Ursicinus quickened the 



i88 ST. EUDiEMON AND 

time of their hjrmiii and sang much at cross 
purposes, looking up at the idol with the 
comer of their eyes. 

The statue did not move. There she stood, 
naked and comely, whiter and whiter as the 
daylight faded, and the moon rose up in the 
east ^Sister Venus,' resumed Eudasmon, 
* you are not obliging. I fear. Sister Venus, 
that you nurture evil designs, such as man- 
kind accounts to your blame. If this be, 
desist Foolish persons have said you were 
wicked, nay a devil ; and like enough you 
have got to believe it, and to glory, perhaps, 
in the notion. Cast it from you. Sister 
Venus, for I tell you it is false. And so, 
restore me my ring.' 

But still the idol did not move, but grew 
only whiter, like silver, in the moonbeams, 
as she stood above the green grass, in the 
smoke of the incense. Carpophorus and 
Ursicinus fixed their eyes \>n her, wonder- 
ing when she would break in two pieces, 
and a dragon smelling of brimstone issue 
from her with a hideous noise, as a result 
of their exorcism. 

^Sister Venus,' Eudaemon repeated, and 
his voice, though gentle, grew commanding, 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 189 

^ cease your foolish malice, and, inasmuch 
as one of God's creatures, obey and restore 
to me my ring.' 

A little breeze stirred the air. The white 
hand of the statue shifted from her white 
bosom, the finger slowly uncrooked and ex- 
tended itself. 

With incredible audacity Eudaemon ran 
into the trap of the Evil One. He advanced, 
and, rising on tiptoe, stretched forth his hand 
to the idol's. Now indeed would that devil 
clasp him to her, and singe his flesh on the 
way to Hell ! 

But it was not so. Eudaemon took the 
ring, rubbed it tenderly on his white woollen 
sleeve, and stuck it slowly and pensively on 
his own finger. 

* Sister Venus,' he then said, standing be- 
fore the statue, with the finches and thrushes 
and ortolans perching on his shoulders, and 
the swallows circling round his head, ^ Sister 
Venus, I thank you. Forget the malice 
which foolish mankind have taught you to 
find in yourself. Remember you are a crea- 
ture of God's, and good. Teach the flowers 
to cross their seeds and vary their hues and 
scents ; teach the doves and the swallows 



190 ST. EUD^MON AND 

and the sheep and the kine and all, our 
speechless brethren to pair and nurture their 
young; teach the youths and the maidens 
to love one another and their children. Make 
this orchard to bloomi and these rustics to 
sing. But, since in this form you have 
foolishly tried to give scandal as foolish 
mortals had taught you to do, accept, Sister 
VenuSi a loving punishment, and in the 
name of Christ, be a statue no longer, but 
a £air white tree with sweet-smelling blossoms 
and golden fruit.' 

Eudasmon stood with his hand raised, and 
made the sign of the cross. 

There was a fsiint sigh, as of the breeze, 
and a Sunt but gathering rustle. And be- 
hold, beneath the shining white moon, the 
statue of Venus changed its outline, put forth 
minute leaves and twigs, which grew apace, 
until, while Eudasmon still stood with raised 
hand, there was a statue no longer at the end 
of the bowling-green, but a fair orange-tree, 
with leaves and flowers shining silvery in the 
moonlight. 

Then Eudasmon went in to his prayers ; 
and Carpophorus and Ursicinus returned 
each in silence, one to his cavern and one 



HIS ORANGE-TREE 191 

to his column, and thought themselves much 
smaller saints for ever in future. 

As to the orange-tree, it still stands on 
the slope of the Caelian, opposite the criss- 
cross reeds of the Aventine vineyards, beside 
the little church with the fluted broken 
columns and the big cactus, like a python, 
on its apse. And the pigeons are most 
plentiful, and the figs and clove-pinks most 
sweet and fragrant all round ; and there is 
always water in plenty in the well. And 
that is the story of St Eudaemon and his 
Orange-Tree ; but you will not find it in the 
Golden Legend nor in the Bollandists. 



THE FEATURELESS WISDOM 

[EX LIBRIS AUGUSTINE BULTEAU] 



N 



THE FEATURELESS WISDOM 

The manner in which Diotima, a wise woman 
of Mantineia, came to possess an e£5gy of 
Athena, conspicuous by the absence of all 
features, was as follows : — 

This Diotima was also a priestess, nobody 
knows exactly of what But the position 
gave her an opportunity of knowing a great 
variety of remarkable persons, as Socrates, 
Alcibiades, Zeno, Protagoras, Gorgias, and 
a number of highly-gifted youths who came 
to nothing. Their conversation 'dispelled all 
vain prejudices from the soul of the Priestess 
of Mantineia ; and she felt that the only 
Wisdom to which she could possibly bring 
worship and service would have to be a 
Wisdom entirely and exclusively her own. 

This being the case, she betook herself one 
day to the workshop of Pheidias, who, as is 
well known, received orders for divinities of 
all sorts and dimensions. And she requested 

196 



196 THE FEATURELESS WISDOM 

him to make her an image of Athena of a 
size to fit into her hat-box, and with a set of 
features easily distinguishable from those of 
the idols handed down by the past and still 
adored by the common herd. Pheidias had 
heard his friend Socrates speak of Diotima, 
and had even suspected that, as may happen 
between ladies and philosophers, the wise 
man had attributed some of his own remarks 
to the Priestess of Mantineia. Pheidias 
undertook the commission with much plea^ 
sure. And, at the end of eight days, Diotima 
returned to his workshop. She was shown 
an image of Athena, most excellently carved 
out of a cocoanut, and uniting, in her finely- 
modelled limbs and graceful drapery, all the 
well-known merits of the Periklean school 
of sculpture. Diotima took the image in her 
hand and turned it round with admiration. 

* There's only one thing I don't much 
like,' she said after a minute. * Isn't that 
head you have given her a little of what 
archaeologists are going to call (for I have 
the gift of prophecy, you know) the fype of 
the tnfemcU goddesses ? ' 

^ Perhaps it is, a trifle,' answered Pheidias ; 
*we'll alter it by next Wednesday.' Next 



THE FEATURELESS WISDOM 197 

Wednesday Diotima ordered her chariot and 
returned to the workshop. 

^ You must try and not think me too great 
a bore, cher maitrey she said, after a pause, 
*but this new head is — isn't it?— just a little 
bit too like that of an Aphrodite. Oh, I have 
no sort of prejudice against Aphrodite — only 
• • . welly you know, there are statues of her 
in the fishmarket and horrid places like that, 
I believe, and the associations. • • • But you 
would be a dear to alter this.' 

*A11 right,' answered Pheidias, ^ shall we 
say Monday week ? ' 

But when that Monday had come and the 
Priestess of Mantineia had alighted at the 
workshop, there was a new surprise awaiting 
her. ^ Upon my word,' said Pheidias, 'this, 
my dear lady, is really not my fault.' For 
his pupil (Kalamis, I believe ; unless, indeed, 
Kalamis was his master I) had fitted on to the 
image of Athena a very neat and expressive 
little head of Silenus. 

'Would you mind telling your workman,' 
said Diotima with exquisite politeness, ' that 
when he takes to fitting heads on to my little 
Goddess of Wisdom it is just as well he 
should not be drunk? ' 



ig8 THE FEATURELESS WISDOM 

'My dear lady/ protested Pheidias, 'you 
see before you the most humiliated of all your 
humble servants. Kalamis shall be kept on 
bread-and-water for ten days, and I will myself 
see to the new head of the figure which is to 
have the honour of presiding over your private 
devotions ; and this time I will give myself the 
pleasure of calling in person upon you.' 

At the end of a fortnight the butler of 
Diotima introduced, not without some dis- 
gust, the venerable but rather untidy sculptor 
of the Parthenon. * Let me have the pleasure 
myself, dear, dear old Pheidias,' exclaimed 
the Priestess of Mantineia, and proceeded to 
unwrap the tissue-paper from off the figure of 
Athena. But when she had done so there 
was an awful silence. For the efiBgy of the 
goddess, which Diotima held at arms -length 
to look at, had indeed a most becoming 
helmet with three chimasras tastefully curled 
round the ostrich feathers ; it had even a 
face, with finely-modelled chin and delicate, 
flat ear. But it had no features. No eyes, 
no nose, no mouth — nothing I 

The silence was long, and, to any soul less 
serene than that of a sculptor of Antiquity, 
would have been exceedingly painful.