Excerpt from from the book “The Story and Song of Black Roderick”
AND I BID THEE REMEMBER how the little pale bride was wont to sit upon the mountain and watch the far lights in her father’s home quench themselves one by one.
So now of how she died shall I tell thee, and of what came to her in her passing, lest thou thinkest so innocent a child had laid violent hands upon her life, who only had met death through the breaking of her heart.
Here sat she on the mountain, and the wild things spoke of her in her silence. The red weasel, the bee, and the bramble, and many others, moved to watch her. Well have they known her in her young joyfulness; here had she made the place she loved best—the high brow of the hill where she sat as a child and watched—on the one side the far-off city and the white towers that held the wonder-knight of her dreams. Here had she sat and seen the gleam of his spear as he went with his hunters through the valley; and here, too, had her mother come to tell her of her betrothal, so she had nigh fainted in her happiness, in looking upon the white tower that was to be her home.
Here had she learned the sweet language of the birds and flowers, and they, too, had partaken of her joys; but of her sorrows they would not understand, for our joys and our laughter, are they not as the singing of the bird and the dancing of the fly, who weep only when they meet death? In our griefs do we not stand alone, who have in our hearts the fierce desires of love and all the tragedies of despair?
Now, as the young bride turned her slow feet up the mountain, down where her glad feet had turned as a maid, she sat her there by the lake.
The little creatures she was wont to love and understand gathered about her and wondered at her state.
“She hath returned,” said the red weasel; “see where she sitteth, her head upon her hand. I slew a young bird at her feet, and she spake no word, nor did she care.”
“It is not she,” said a linnet, swaying on a safe spray, “for had it been she her anger would have slain thee.”
“It is she,” said the red weasel, laughing in his throat; “but her eyes are hidden by her fingers, and she cannot see.”
“It is not she,” said a brown wren. “Her cheek was full and rosy and her song loud. This one sitteth all mute and pale.”
“It is she,” said the red weasel, “who sitteth upon the mountain, her face hidden between her hands. She sitteth in silence, and who can tell her thoughts? She hath been to the great city.”
“It is a small place,” hummed a honey-bee. “Once, long ago, she raised her white palm between her eyes and its smoke. ‘See,’ she laughed, ‘my little hand can cover it.'”
“It is so great,” said the red weasel, “that those who leave the mountains for love of it return to us no more.”
“Yet she hath returned,” said a lone lark hanging in the sky, “and I myself have sung beside her ear.”
“She came, yet she came not,” said the red weasel. “What did she answer when thou saidst that I had slain thy mate?”
“She sighed, ‘Thou singest a gay song, O bird!'” hummed a golden beetle.
“My grief! that she cannot understand.”
“She is lost to us indeed!” said a honeysuckle swaying in the wind, “for she trod me beneath her feet when I held my sweet blossoms for her lips.”
“And she tore me aside,” cried the wild bramble, “when I did but reach towards her for embrace.”
“She will know thee no more,” said the red weasel; “she hath been to the great city.”
“She laid her lips upon me ere she went,” spake the wild bramble, “and said she would return to us soon.”
“She bid me ring a merry chime,” whispered the heather, “and I move my many bells now for her welcome, but she will not hear.”
“She will speak with thee no more,” said the red weasel; “she hath walked in the city, like one goeth upon the fairy sleeping grass, and her soul hath forgotten us.”
“She is still and cold,” said a shining fly glancing through the air. “I have danced a measure under her eyes, and she did not see.”
“She is dead,” said the honey-bee, “for when she would not look upon me as before, I drew my sword and stung her sharply, but she did not stir. She sat and gazed into the distance where the smoke like a great gray web lieth heavy. She is surely dead.”
“She is not dead,” said the red weasel; “she hath been to the great city.”
“Maybe there she hath found Death,” said the shining fly, “for his web reacheth far, and he loveth the dark places and hidden ways. He hideth, too, in the cool arbors of the wood, stretching a gray chain for our undoing. Maybe she found Death. He spreadeth ropes of pearls across our path, and looketh upon us from the shade; when the dance is gayest he creepeth to spring. Maybe she hath reached for the pearls or hath danced into his net.”
And so the fly sang of the watcher in the wood, and his song I shall sing thee, lest thou grow weary of my prose:
Deep in the wood’s recesses cool
I see the fairy dancers glide,
In cloth of gold, in gown of green,
My lord and lady side by side.
But who has hung from leaf to leaf,
From flower to flower, a silken twine,
A cloud of gray that holds the dew
In globes of clear enchanted wine,
Or stretches far from branch to branch,
From thorn to thorn, in diamond rain?
Who caught the cup of crystal wine
And hung so fair the shining chain?
‘Tis death the spider, in his net,
Who lures the dancers as they glide,
In cloth of gold, in gown of green,
My lord and lady side by side.
But a dragon-fly rattling his armor said, without heed of the singer, “She is dead,” for when she came among the heather the joyous spirit of the mountain met her and blew upon her hair and eyes. He kissed her worn cheek that he had known so fair, and the soft rain of his sorrow fell to see the pity of her brow. She passed all stiff and cold; she did not hear nor understand.
“Wind,” quoth she, “blow not so fierce.”
“She is not dead,” saith the red weasel; “she hath been to the great city.”
Now, when the young bride raised her white face from her hands and looked about her, she could neither hear the speaking of the birds nor see the beauty of the wild flowers, yet in her heart she had a memory of both. Turning to the little flying things that came about her with soft, beating wings, she said:
“Once ye spake to me, and could give comfort with your counsel and love.
Now ye are lost in the voices of the city that ring forever in my ears.”
Gazing upon the flowers, she said:
“Ye, too, your beauty hath faded. The gaudy flowers of the city have flashed their color in my eyes, so ye I cannot see or understand.”
Then she rose to her feet, though she scarce could stand, and, stretching her arms towards the great purple hills that surrounded her father’s far home, she said towards it:
“Why didst thou call me back since thou hast let me go from the sight of the heights that would have been always a prayer to uplift my soul? Ahone! that thy voice was loud enough to follow and give me unrest, that whispered always of my father’s house and the valley of my home. So must I come each eve upon this hill to look upon it from my loneliness.
“Unloved am I, and unwished for, by him whom I have wedded. So my heart dieth within my breast, and my soul trembleth on the brink of my grave.
“Here upon the mountains, unprayed for and uncoffined, shall my body lie, for thy voice hath called me forth.
“Here my black sins shall see and pursue me even to destruction; but in the city I could have escaped with the crowding souls that confuse Death to count.”
Then, as a remembrance of her sins came heavy upon her, she gave a loud cry and covered her face with her hands.
So she stood without help upon the mountains, and because she was blind with the city dust and deafened with its cries, she stood alone. The pitying wild flowers blew their fragrance to her eyes, but they would not open; the gentle birds spoke comforting whispers to her ears, but she could not hear; the great hills held their arms about her and breathed their peace upon her brow. But this she did not know, and so stood alone to face Death.
First turned she her face to where her father’s castle stood on a far hill, and again turned she to see the white towers where she had lived and loved so vainly. And when her eyes met the glisten of the walls, her heart broke with a little sigh, and she fell upon the ground. And she laid her weary body down beside the waters of the mountain lake. Her head with its loosened hair lay in the waters, so her lips, covered by the murmuring ripples, breathed a prayer as she died for her passing soul. And the little stream that ran from the lake down the hill-side carried the prayer upon its breast as thou hast been told.
Now, when the ghost of the little bride stood upright beside her fallen body, she was sore afraid, and trembled much to leave the habitation she had known in life.
She laid her spirit-hands upon the cold dead, and clung to it as though she would not be driven forth. Many and terrifying were the sights that met her when she opened her eyes, after passing through the change of death. Many and terrifying were the sounds that came to her ears, and she feared she would be whirled away with the great clouds that passed her and went like smoke into the skies. Cold she was and drenched with the rain that fell everywhere around her; gray and misshapen were the moving masses under her gaze; and only where her hands lay holding to her dead body did she see aught of the world she had left behind. There the sweet green grass lifted itself and a brier rose cast its blossom apart. There a bee sang, calling to her a little comfort among all the strange sounds that filled her ears.
As she listened, she found the noises that troubled her were the cries of many voices, and as she began to see more clearly in the great change that had come to her, she knew the shadowy clouds rushing upward were the spirits of the dead on their dangerous swift way to heaven. And as she raised her face to follow their flight the rain fell salt into her mouth, so she knew it was the repentant tears of the passing ghosts.
So crouched she in that misty world, seeing not the green earth and the purple hills, but only the whirling shapes about her on every side, flying from earth to heaven, pursued by their black sins.
From the album Phantasmagoria: On Witches, Fairies, Ghouls and Goblins