DORNADHU had been wandering for many days. He knew not clearly whither he was going, but Vaiavala's kiss on his eyes seemed to have opened a new world unto him.
Strangely friendly did he feel to those he met along his road; even the songs of the birds were full of a new meaning.
Often he would sit 'neath the shade of a tree listening to their voices, and it was to him as though all of them were singing the same song—a song of longing towards far-off joys that one day might become realities.
But one feeling stronger than all others had possession of his soul—the feeling of haste, so as to return to Vaiavala, to Vaiavala whose voice still sounded in his ears like the whispering of a great forest, whose touch was ecstasy, whose eyes were the Gates of Heaven.
He must hurry to the spot where the flower grew, hasten over endless roads, through the many lands that lay before him, so as to come back as soon as he could to the love of his heart.
There was no time to lose, life did not wait, and his youth lay like a sunlit landscape behind him, like a landscape that is already but a remembrance of places to which one returns no more.
He knew that his eyes had the look of those who have seen too many things, that their shine was no longer that of joyful expectancy, that there was a strange yearning in them towards hidden truths, with which the beginners of life do not weight their minds.
One day Dornadhu came to a small village lying in a narrow tree-grown valley, through which an impatient little stream hurried over rough stones (as though in haste to reach wider regions) so as to pour its clear waters into a broader river, that would carry them away towards their ultimate destination.
The little stream, like all things of this world, imagined that happiness lay beyond the horizon which bordered its daily world.
It paid no attention to the flowers that grew on its brink, reflecting their lovely faces in its clearness; it rejoiced not over the deep cool shadow under which it flowed; it hastily rushed over the great mill-wheels which it encountered on its way; it would not answer their questions nor listen to their warnings; it must run, run—only not waste any time, only not let others imagine that it was not aware that it had more important work to do.
Dornadhu had cooled his weary feet in its waters, and then had entered the village.
It was Sunday, and the peasants had trooped together before the church on an open place, and were dancing. Three old gypsies were playing wild tunes on their squeaky violins. Their faces were earth-coloured, and the sweat ran down their cheeks. They were haggard and dusty; in their eyes lay a strange far-off look, a look that spoke of the endless distances from which they had come. Dornadhu was fascinated by the eyes of those three sun‑baked, way-stained mortals; he stared at them, forgetting all else.
He saw neither the bright-clad maidens nor the handsome youths, nor the little children that played in the dust. He seemed to be wandering with those old vagabonds through all the lands they bad seen. The longer he looked, the further did those eyes lead him, till he had the sensation that he had crossed Eastern seas, and was wandering through endless deserts towards a far-off oasis he could not reach.
Shaking himself free of that curious feeling he rose from the stone on which he was resting, leaving the gay groups behind him, sauntering slowly past the small cottages, looking in at the open doors, rejoicing at the flowers that grew in the tiny gardens, that though untidy and neglected, were full of colour.
Large sunflowers stared down at him from over the half-broken palings, and their enormous faces seemed patiently turned towards whatever fate might be awaiting them . . . . . proudly conscious that their form and colour was that of the greatest light that shines down upon the earth.
Dornadhu felt pity for their vain endeavour to resemble so great a model, and he wondered why all things on earth have ambitions and desires that never they will attain?
He had nearly reached the end of the village; the cottages were mostly empty, for the inhabitants had flocked together, making gay around the church or in the different inns.
From afar the sound of laughter reached him, and the voices of the violins rang, sometimes like sobs, sometimes like wild mirth that could not be contained; but Dornadhu had no desire to take part in either dance or rejoicings.
Though tired, the one thought possessed him—he must hurry, hurry, so as to reach his far-off goal . . . . .
He was just passing a tiny hut, of which the roof was so heavily thatched that it looked like an over-big hat worn by a child. It had two wee windows that resembled the tired eyes of a very old man, and its wide-open door gave it the appearance of being in distress and calling for help with gaping mouth; so that when real sounds of sorrow came from the interior, it was as though the wretched little house itself were calling, imploring the passer-by not to hasten away.
A selfish desire took hold of Dornadhu not to listen to these cries; he was eager to go forward, greatly fearing to waste his time. But so dreary sounded the sobs that involuntarily he paused—and then, returning, he bent his head and went in.
A scene of abject desolation met his gaze. The hut was empty save for a filthy pallet of rags, alongside of which a broken pitcher had been placed. The hovel was full of a bluish stifling smoke, and a heavy odour of poverty made the air almost unbreathable. The water had leaked from the pitcher, and ran in a sluggish stream to the feet of a wretched woman who sat in the middle of the floor, wailing distressfully, and rocking herself to and fro as one in mortal pain.
Her knees were drawn up under her chin, and like two brown cords her emaciated arms pressed them together in a convulsive hug. Her grey hair flew about her gaunt face like lichen on a mouldy tree when the wind tears it about. From time to time she would throw back her head and give out an unearthly yell with voice that was hardly human, and at those moments Dornadhu could see her eyes—they were terrible to contemplate, and filled him with unspeakable fear . . . . .
They had no expression, and nearly no colour; they appeared almost white, as though a great sorrow had washed their life away—yet they were not the eyes of the blind.
They resembled burnt-out cinders over which a storm had passed; nevertheless they gave the feeling of being burning hot, as though a hidden flame lay somewhere deep down in a bottomless pit.
The woman was mad!
For a time Dornadhu stood trembling in the doorway; he had drawn his cloak tightly around him, for a sudden chill ran through his blood.
All at once, like a dancing star, a saffron-coloured butterfly flitted past him into the room and began to circle round the haggard grey head; it was like unto the kiss of an angel upon the edge of an open grave. Then Dornadhu felt ashamed of his desire for flight and went up to the miserable woman, gently touching her shoulder with his hand, calling to her in a soft-sounding voice.
The poor wretch looked up, and there was such an agony of misery in her vacant eyes that Dornadhu felt a wave of pity mount to his heart, coupled with an immense desire to be of use or help to this creature of pain.
A flood of words came bursting from her lips; it was wild talk mixed with cries of distress, with curses and prayers and old church chants, that weirdly sounded through her imprecations. It all came tumbling out like a river that has shattered its sluice, giving free passage to all the miscellaneous flotsam that has gathered against it, carried there by swollen waters.
Terrible it was, and vainly did the wanderer try to catch the meaning of all she said. He even knelt down beside her on the muddy floor and, taking one of her hands in his, stroked it gently, as he would have done to a child's.
Suddenly the woman was still; and then a great wail rose from her throat and distinct words fell from her cracked and bleeding lips.
“Seven of them! And they all lie one next the other under small grass-grown mounds that are almost trodden flat by careless feet that know not over what they are walking . . . . . seven, and all died in a week of the same creeping sickness . . . . . and a short while ago the eighth was torn from me and chains were fastened to his feet! He was my youngest; fair was his face, and his eyes were dark as the berries of the autumn; his hair curled all over his head, as the black fleece of a new-born lamb. When he stood upright he touched the ceiling of this hut, and now they have taken him away and I have no more tears, for did I not make green the grass over seven graves because so bitterly did I weep?
But each river runs to an end, and clouds must disperse after the rain is over. Now there is but a flame behind my eyes; or shadows that darken my sight and cut through my thoughts, and the grass will wither over my dead; for dry I am, within and without, dry as the desert wind that passeth over forsaken spots . . . . . for to a burnt-out fire no man returneth! . . . . .”
Again a flow of meaningless sentences, intermingled with sobs, burst from her lips. She tore her hand away from the stranger's and, clenching her two fists, she shook them at the open door; then, throwing her lean body backwards and forwards, she rocked herself with the regular movement of a swing that has been set going.
Dornadhu rose to his feet, and helpless he stood beside her. Outside the sunshine was dazzling bright—the worn, dirty doorstep shone like precious marble beneath its rays.
From afar the sound of the violins reached this spot of despair, rendering all the more heartbreaking the scene upon which he looked down.
The gipsy music was so full of changing tunes, sometimes so melting, sometimes so strident, sometimes so gay, sometimes so woeful, that Dornadhu thought they were relating all the past life of this woman who once must have been young, must have had hopes and desires like any other mortal.
On the edge of the broken pitcher the yellow butterfly had settled down, moving its shining wings till it resembled the flame of a candle that quivers before going out.
Suddenly the maniac rose to her feet; she was tall, and her clothes hung in rags from her starved and shaking limbs; she had no age, but somehow Dornadhu felt that she was not very old, that some awful misfortune had stricken her in her prime, bending her head to the dust, and making her like unto the creatures that crawl on the ground.
Her dishevelled hair hung in her eyes; with a bony finger she pointed to the long dusty road that ran past her door and lost itself in the distance, like an endless carpet of white.
“See” she cried, “his steps can still be traced in the dust; see how tired they are, for do not heavy chains weigh down his feet? They have left a long track behind him, for everywhere do they follow him, marking a line of shame where'er he goes; fingers are pointed at him, and words of scorn are thrown in his face. Rather should flowers have been cast before him, to have softened his road . . . . .”
And, with a grovelling movement, the unfortunate one cast herself on the ground, kissing the doorstep . . . . . Like a dying dog she dragged herself out into the dust and buried her lips against the ground tenderly kissing the footprints that were marked on the road—footprints that were certainly not those of her son . . . .
Dornadhu, in an ecstasy of pity, threw himself down beside her and, raising the poor dust-covered head to his shoulder, he held the trembling, struggling creature in his arms.
It was thus that a home-coming shepherd found them, and standing leaning on his staff, he crossed himself many times, murmuring the name of the Mother of God.
His sheep stood behind him, heads low, breathing heavily their mouths half-open, a vacant expression in their eyes.
But the man lifted up his voice and spoke:
“Blessed are those who see the tears of others and stop to taste their bitterness; blessed is the man whose eyes are open, and who slinks not past the door of grief.
Vasila, the mad woman, was once as young as thou; her eyes had within them the light of God. But heavily did the Lord smite her happiness, and into cinders did he turn the garden of her life, till her feet were burnt, and burnt the sight of her brain, and scorching became the remembrance of what once had been.
Into the dust did he cast her down, of dust did she eat, and dust alone was the pillow that was given to her head to rest upon.
Six children and her man died in the same week, and one only remained, Andrei, her pride and her joy.
But the seed of hate had been sown in his heart, so that he raised his hand against his neighbour and stained ii with blood. They carried him away from her with the chains of shame on his feet, and that day his mother stood on the threshold and laughed, laughed aloud, for the great Father had smitten her with the brain-darkness, and from that day onward she knew no more what word she spoke; from that day onward was she both cursed and blessed—for holy are those upon whom God has laid His eternal dusk, and those that laugh at the grey hairs of her head will one day have to drink of the tears she had shed.
Inscrutable are the ways of the Lord, and often towards His stars do I lift my face and ask Him questions, to which no answer He gives.
But the children that have scoffed at Vasila's ravings have I driven away with stones . . . . .”
Dornadhu looked at the man who stood leaning upon his staff like a figure of clay; he noticed that the shepherd's eyes, set in a face tanned by sun and wind, weather-beaten and hardened by toil, were clear as running water—but an expression they had as of one who has looked beyond his everyday horizon, and who has been in near communion with things more spiritual than those of the body.
Still holding the crazy one in his arms, Dornadhu asked of the mysterious son of the wilds what he could do to help the woman in her trouble, and curious was the answer he gave:
“Go thee, my son, to the salt mine where the woman's only child works day and night—go down there, where the sun never shines, and before all those that are his gaolers and hate him, kiss the heavy chains he wears and tell him that it is a mother's blessing thou bringest. Then return thee here with that touch on thy lips and lay it upon the sad one's eyes—with that kiss the suffering will go from her, and she will be at rest.”
With trembling voice Dornadhu asked the man: “Is it far?”
“Yes, it is far” was the answer, “and stony is the road that leads there, over endless plains.”
“But” cried Dornadhu, “I am in a hurry! I dare not tarry! I am seeking the white flower that grows on the far-off mountain pass, and each hour I lose means an hour further from my happiness—means a wasted joy I might have lived. Is there no other that could go that way in my stead?”
“Blessed are those” answered the shepherd, “who run not after their own little happiness, but who with hands of mercy bind up the wounds of those they meet on their way.
The flower on the mountain-top will not fade because thou hast not hurried, but if thou reachest its purity with hands that have refused a kindness, then its beauty will wither at thy touch; leave not unto another a deed of mercy thou couldst do thyself. Thine eyes saw this misery, thine ears heard her call of distress, others have passed her door without hearing or, having looked in at the open window, remained dry-eyed at what they saw. But thou hast held this daughter of sadness against thy heart, therefore go to the end of thy charity and bring her eternal peace!”
“But” faltered Dornadhu, “How can I know that thus I shall help her?”
“It is faith that removes mountains” answered the shepherd, “I live in mystical communion with things that the wilds alone can teach, therefore do I say: Let thy faith and thy charity work the miracle thy heart desireth should be.
Go from village to village, and ask for the place of darkness where those who have sinned work out their penalty according to human mercy and the blind justice of men, and then come back. And such will be the gladness that will flood thy soul that no further reward wilt thou desire!”
Dornadhu rose submissively; a stronger power than he could resist spoke through the peasant's tongue, and, casting a last look upon the human wreckage that lay with her head in the dust, without further ado he turned and went his way.
And suddenly it was as though the far-off voices of the violins were chanting glad hymns to the glory of the saints on high.
Two months later Dornadhu came hurrying back over the same dust-covered road . . . . .
Long had been his way and weary were his steps, but a light of exultation shone in his eyes, and strangely tender was the expression of his lips.
Withered were the blooming gardens; the sunflowers had shed their golden petals, and only their dark round centres remained. Their heads bent heavily towards the road, as though ashamed of bearing a name too grand for their decayed beauty; but the birds rejoiced over their ripe seeds, which they stole, leaving white holes in their sad, brown faces.
The willows still retained their narrow leaves, but rusty was their colour and sad their droop, for they were conscious that soon they must relinquish their covering that idle feet would tread into the mud of the roads.
One little birch tree stood in full glory, its white trunk and branches showing like bleached ivory against the blue of the sky, and its tiny leaves resembled a treasury of golden coins that some wealthy King might have hung on every branch to exhibit his riches.
For an instant Dornadhu stood still to look at its fragile enchantment, but the thought that came to him was of how transient are the beauties of this earth!
Then his eye was caught by a long, trailing branch of vine that had crept from off a broken paling to the shingled roof of a cottage, and that one small branch united on its snake-like creeper every imaginable tint of red, orange, and yellow; its loveliness was so perfect, its brilliancy so astounding, that it seemed to have stolen the sunset's glow, dipping its leaves into its fire.
Although the flowers of the gardens were withered and brown, all the trees had put on their most marvellous apparel to greet the traveller's return. Some of the modest huts were half-hidden behind wild cherry trees, of which the leaves were as scarlet as an emperor's mantle, and when Dornadhu turned round he saw a whole line of them standing against the hazy blue of the distant hillside, and such was their beauty that he felt he must join his hands in a prayer of gratitude.
Through the clear autumn stillness hundreds of leaves came swirling towards him, falling all golden at his feet . . . . .
“Blessed be thy return” they seemed to say, “but long hast thou been on the way, and we were afraid of dying before hearing the sound of thy step; but now gladly do we cast ourselves at thy feet, for hast thou not been on an errand of love?”
And there stood the lonely thatch-covered hut of the madwoman; the door still had the appearance of a wide-open mouth crying for help. A bluish smoke curled out of the roof, wavering like fumes of incense against the yellow background of trees; and as the wanderer approached, the same sad cries greeted him, but this time he did not hesitate—bending his head, he stepped over the threshold and went in.
Vasila sat on her bed of rags; her attitude was the same as when first he had found her, and the same broken pitcher stood on the floor—only today a half-empty bowl of polenta was standing beside it, the golden-coloured maize being the only light spot in the room. The earthen floor was damp and sticky, and lines of smoke streaked the darkness, giving an immaterial look to the wretched abode.
For a moment Dornadhu stood in hesitation; he saw how the smoke curled about the sad, grey head, mixing with the silver of its locks. The awful eyes were wide open, from time to time weird howls broke from her mouth, and like a long call came the name of the son of her heart—“Andrei! Andrei!”
Dornadhu waited no longer; he remembered the words of the shepherd, and, going up to the unfortunate creature, he laid his lips warm upon her staring eyes.
Long did he hold them there, as one lays a gentle hand on an aching pain. Suddenly a moaning sigh of relief broke from the lips of the madwoman, and sinking down upon her bed of rags, her cramped limbs relaxed, her eyes remained closed, but warm tears of relief gushed from beneath her lids. A gentle murmur repeated always the same words that sounded like a blessing: “Thou hast come back . . . . . come back . . . . . God has sent thee to thy mother; praised be the Virgin Mary, thou hast come back! come back . . . . . Andrei! Andrei!”
And still the tears flowed from beneath the withered lids; and they were like unto healing waters rising from a magic spring . . . . .
Her two fleshless hands were crossed over her weary heart and quiet was her breathing, as one who sweetly sleeps.
Dornadhu sat himself down upon a block of wood which lay near the bed, and, his head clasped in both hands, he watched the miraculous change that had come over the outcast, and slowly his thoughts returned along the endless road he had made.
Over the interminable way did he wander again, under the scorching sun, through the miserable villages, never pausing except when the night was too dark.
His shoes were worn into holes, his face was burnt, his lips were parched, his breath was short, and yet he would not surrender—but always further along the endless road did he toil . . . . . on and on!
When he was too weary even to think, he would throw himself down by the wayside, his head in his cloak, murmuring the name of Vaiavala, and asking her why the beautiful old earth should contain so much suffering, and why human flesh should be made so weak and so aching?
But ever anew he called up his courage, and the roads were consumed by his patient feet.
One morning he reached the place of darkness where the scum of the earth worked day and night, night and day, till their faces had become as pale as the salt they were hewing into giant blocks.
Down into endless depths had he descended—down a thousand steps that seemed to lead right into hell.
A strange sound had he heard the nearer he came to the bottom. Klopp, klopp . . . . . klopp, klopp! . . . . . and always more loudly, klopp, klopp!
And then another sound more weirdly uncanny, the sound of chains, of many chains, a sound of sadness that darkened even the darkness in which he stood.
Looking down into an immense and endless void beneath, a sight he saw that made giddy his brain.
Down, down there, somewhere in the underworld, he saw tiny lights that moved about like wandering stars, moved about and were as desolate as lost souls seen in some unearthly nightmare . . . . .
Again he began his descent; the whole space was full of a greyness that was neither darkness nor light. The deeper he penetrated into the heart of the earth, the whiter became his surroundings; a strange odour filled his lungs and choked his breath. Soon his feet seemed to sink into snow, and the snow was sparkling with a thousand crystals!
Klopp, klopp! Always louder grew the sound—klopp, klopp! and then the ghastly jingle of heavy chains dragging over the ground!
The lights grew in size, the sound of the pickaxes became louder and louder klopp, klopp!—and at last Dornadhu stood in a place so hugely vast that the men who moved about in it looked like insects crawling on a glacier.
He might have been in some immense temple or some marble-built cathedral which was upheld by no pillars, and of which the roof lost itself in immeasurable heights.
Dornadhu stood quite still and looked about him.
Still louder sounded the pickaxes, and so equal was their rhythm that is was hardly credible that they were being handled by a hundred different arms.
Klopp, klopp! To Dornadhu it was as though they were striking on his brain. Then began the strangest search that ever man had made.
From convict to convict did Dornadhu go and, peering into their ghastly faces, he always asked the same question—if he had left behind him a mother, a mother with grey hair, whose name was Vasila . . . . . Vasila, and whose cottage was so small that it was hidden behind trees that overshadowed it.
Some looked at him with eyes that were dead—eyes that saw naught but their own pain; others threw back their heads and laughed, but mirthless was the sound, as of wind blowing down a well.
Others cast hard words in his face and raised their hands as though they would strike him; some smiled sadly, and a soft expression as of those who look back to happier days passed over their haggard features. Some sullenly shook their heads and turned away, raising their axes, which they let heavily fall with a dull thud upon the glittering salt at their feet, whilst their fetters jingled and seemed to scoff at their weary distress.
But Dornadhu would not give up his search; from man to man did he wander, he let neither scorn nor rude replies, nor indifference nor sadness turn him from his quest.
He walked down the endless file of chained mothers' sons, looking up into eyes that were the eyes of ghosts . . . . . and he seemed to be moving in an endless dream, a dream that had the colour of void, the colour of sighs, the colour of despair . . . . .
For many hours did he wander about amongst those Godforsaken creatures till he was so weary that he felt as tho' chains were round his own feet, dragging back each step he made, till he often stumbled over the salt blocks that encumbered his way.
Sadly he sat himself down upon a heap of crystals, and as in a trance he watched the fettered spectres move about. Each had a small light attached to his belt, so that from afar the enormous space appeared full of will-o'-the-wisps flitting hither and thither over hidden waters of mystery.
Suddenly, from somewhere out of the dark, he saw three figures coming towards him.
Their axes were thrown over their shoulders, and their three lights glowed like the eyes of some giant beast of prey.
The first was old, with bent grey head and stumbling gait; the second was small and crooked, but the third was young, and slim was his body as a forest pine . . . . . and his black hair curled over his head »as the fleece of a newborn lamb”. . . . .
Dornadhu rose from his seat, and laying his hand upon the arm of the youth, he said in a gentle voice: “Before her cottage door stands Vasila, thy mother; and her blessing does she send to thee, for art thou not Andrei, the son of her heart?”
The young man stood rooted to the spot, and his chains hung heavily from his knees like frozen serpents. But Dornadhu continued to speak:
“Vasila, thy mother, has sent me to thee, sent me to kiss thy chains, sent me to tell thee that neither crime nor sorrow can change the love in her heart!” and Dornadhu lifted the heavy chain that fettered the prisoner's knees and laid his lips upon it; then, with an unexpected movement he was on the ground, kissing the cold links that hampered the murderer's feet . . . . .
Rising, he stood facing this last of eight—Andrei the favourite, whom best of all his mother had loved . . . . . both men stared at each other, looking deep into each other's souls.
Suddenly the youth threw up his hands and covered his face; with a dull thud his pickaxe fell to the ground. Strangled sobs like a death-rattle pressed themselves from his throat, but no tears of relief trickled through his fingers on to the salt of the ground. Then, letting his hands fall heavily to his sides, he asked with his face turned to the immensity above:
“Does the sun still shine in the world of men?” “Yes, it shines” replied Dornadhu.
“Are the village trees in flower, or does the snow cover the earth?”
“They are -not in flower, nor does the snow cover the earth” answered Dornadhu,“but God has filled the tiny gardens with flowers of every colour.”
“Are the mounds still green over Vasila's children?” asked the convict.
“I have not seen them” said the wanderer, “but Vasila told me they were being trodden into the ground.”
“Does the old shepherd still return of an evening with his sheep at his heels?”
“I have seen him” said Dornadhu, “and his eyes perceive things that are hidden from others. He sends thee his greetings and says unto thee: Blessed are those that expiate their mistakes in silence, for one day a light shall fall over their way!”
“Do the maidens still dance on the open place before the church porch, and are there three old gypsies that play with absent faces, and lips that never smile?”
“The three old gypsies are still playing, and their eyes are always full of a longing that will never be stilled.”
“Is Vasila's head white . . . . . white as though the frost had fallen upon it, and is the threshold of her door cracked like a broken heart? Are her eyes hungry, and does she . . . . . does she stand on her doorstep and gaze along the road where . . . . . where the . . . . . the murderer left a mark of his chains in the dust? . . . . .”
“Vasila stands in the doorway and looks along the road; Vasila kisses the dust where the feet of her child have passed.”
“What look is there in her eyes?”
For a moment Dornadhu did not answer. Andrei made a movement with his hands, and again asked in a hollow voice:
“What look is there in Vasila's eyes?”
“There is love in her eyes . . . . . and longing . . . . . the longing for thee . . . . .”
“Why didst thou come?” asked the convict—the man who had not twenty summers, the man who had killed....
Stretching out his hands with a gesture of enquiry Dornadhu answered “Why?” Then the youth turned and looked at the stranger who had come to him down into the eternal night—and suddenly the tears rushed hot to his eyes and the murderer wept as though he had been quite a little child!
But Dornadhu thought of Vaiavala's words “For no tears are shed in vain; they all go to wash something away.”
And next day Dornadhu returned to the region of darkness and brought to the man who was banished from light, to the man who had killed, a rose that was covered with dew.
Dornadhu sat by Vasila's side whilst the short autumn day went to rest. And Dornadhu was thinking of all the longing that goes unsatisfied in this world.
The one longs for gold, the other for fame, the other for honour, and the child longs for the toy it can break . . . . .
For pleasures do some long, for dance, for music and laughter. Some long for peace, some long for wisdom, some long for lands that are not theirs, some long for fine clothes and for things that shine, some long for jewels and treasures, some long for rest, some long for death . . . . . and some long for God! But one longing doth each man carry in his heart, one longing is common to all, the eternal longing for Love . . . . .
The sinking sun was gilding the dusty windows of Vasila's hut. A golden reflection fell upon the outcast's face, and Dornadhu saw that the tears had dried on her cheeks, that the hands that were folded over her worn-out heart no more rose and fell as she breathed; for Vasila the madwoman had breathed her last. Vasila, whose last-born was a convict under the earth, had closed her eyes for ever—Vasila had entered into eternal rest . . . . .
Dornadhu rose to his feet and opened wide the two tiny windows, and let the last rays of the sun pour into the hovel, filling it with light.
God seemed to be sending his holy radiance to fetch the soul of one who had been amongst the most miserable on earth.
Outside the old shepherd was standing—and the light fell golden upon him, so that he looked like one of the apostles come from the Holy Land.
He went up to Dornadhu and gently traced the Sign of the Cross upon his forehead.
Then with bent heads both men turned, and, never saying a word, silently each one went his way.
Strange were the wanderings of Dornadhu, and the more he longed to hasten, the more frequently did hinderances of all sorts arise on his road and impede his progress.
A terrible longing for the white flower filled his soul, for was it not his ultimate goal? Did it not mean the end of his quest, the open door through which he would pass into happiness?
Many mountains had he climbed and over more than one sea had he sailed, but never yet had he reached the land where the flower grew.
He kept no count of time—the seasons alone told him how long he had wandered.
Misadventures of all sorts had he encountered. He had fallen amongst thieves, who had stripped him of all his belongings; he had lain sick unto death in a wretched inn in a lonely place, where strangers had quenched his thirst. He had been held captive for many days by pirates on a treasure-laden galley; he had been cast on a forsaken shore far from all human dwellings. Half-starved and dying of thirst, a wandering monk had found him and, like a good Samaritan, had bound up his bleeding feet, and had led him to a town where he had found shelter and help.
Too long it were to relate all Dornadhu had lived through, all he had heard and seen and felt—but through no country did he roam, to no place did he come, but that he made his harvest of human tears.
Strangely open were his eyes to all sufferings around him; every man's sorrow seemed to be brought to his heart, and Dornadhu could never turn away from any woe.
Often he would cry out to be allowed to hurry on, not to waste his time, but stronger than his own desire was the great need of mankind.
He had sat by the dying, holding their hands till God had closed their eyes; he had carried burdens for the old and fetched water for the young; he had read to the blind, listened to the heartache of the disappointed, and many a tired child had he carried in his arms.
So many, oh! so many sighs had Dornadhu gathered to his heart; to so many tales of woe had he listened, upon so many miserable creatures had he smiled in pity, that his face began to shine with a strange and blessed radiance, as though a holy flame were burning from within giving his eyes a wonderful look of love.
The passers-by would turn and gaze after him, little children would flock up !o him asking his name, whilst the dogs in the streets followed him, licking his hands.
But Dornadhu did not realise that he was different from others, nor did he notice that always less often did he try to hurry past any grief; that, on the contrary, he would many a tine stand listening if he did not hear voices calling him, voices of those who needed his help.
His own voice had become soft like that of a mother, and his hands tender like those of a sister of mercy.
But what Dornadhu did not know was that his hair was turning white, that whilst he was spending his life upon others, the years were slipping away one by one, and that by slow degrees he was learning to find his joy in things quite outside himself.
He loved each beauty and blessed each joy. The flowers in their glory were to him as poems he read to his soul; the flames of sunset and the roses of dawn were ever new gifts for which he thanked God.
The birds in the woods were the singers that sang best to his heart, and the beasts of the field were not afraid when he passed.
Once, in a rich and glorius city somewhere in the East, he had been brought before the face of a Queen who ruled her land with a mighty hand.
Through ten different gardens had they led him, where lilies grew in stiff rows of beauty, and where cool running waters made the place an enchantment. Over precious tiles had he trodden, that shimmered blue and green beneath his feet, till he reached a silent secret corner, where the great one sat in lonely majesty upon a marble bench.
Her face was veiled by a golden gauze, over which her eyes gleamed like two precious stones.
Her tiny hand held a fan of many colours, her feet were buried in a carpet of roses that had been strewn on the ground.
Up and down over the green-blue tiles a snow-white peacock strutted with insolent pride, spreading out its tail like a silver cloud and turning to all sides, till its feathers glistened in the sunlight as though covered with frost.
The atmosphere was pervaded with a heavy perfume of sandal wood and orange flowers, and the sound of many fountains broke the stillness of this enchanted spot.
The mighty little tyrant who ruled the land had heard of Dornadhu's kindness to the poor. Tidings had been brought her of how he went about amongst the outcasts and lepers, of how he was not afraid of sickness and death; so the crowned lady had desired to speak with this stranger of such unusual repute.
With uncovered head the wanderer stood before her, neither humble nor proud; with far-seeing eyes he looked straight into hers, and he felt not ashamed of the dust that powdered his clothes.
“Why dost thou go amongst the poor and the filthy?” the great one asked, languidly leaning back in her rainbow-hued cushions, whilst she fanned herself with her gaudy plumes.
“Because their voices have reached my ears, O Queen of the land!”
“Art thou not afraid of dying like a dog amongst dogs?” “They are not dogs to me, O Queen” was the wanderer's answer. “They are poor souls that mostly perish because no light has ever reached their hearts, and no sweetness has ever touched their lives.”
“What does it matter to thee if they die?” asked the Queen with wonder in her voice.
“Each had a mother” answered Dornadhu, “and each has been born with a right to happiness, and it saddens my road to hear them curse the day; so I tarry beside them, and speak to them of things they have forgotten, or that they never have known.”
“What things?” asked the Queen.
“Things that would mean little to thee, O Queen, who bath all that thy heart desireth, but things that to the scum of the earth are as precious stones laid in their sore-covered hands.”
“What things?” repeated the Queen, and she stamped her foot.
“The things of God“ solemnly answered the stranger; and the Queen was still.
Then, leaning for the first time towards him, she asked—and her voice had become very soft, and a sound of longing rang through her words:
“Wilt thou remain with me, O stranger, and teach me thy knowledge, and tell me the things I do not know? I will clothe thee in raiment of many colours, and give thee a bed as soft as the breeze of dawn; three slaves I shall give thee to obey thy every command, a snow-white horse shall be thine, and a bell shall I hang round its neck, and each day anew shall my slaves dye its hoofs with gold.
In the still summer nights shall my dancers dance before thee, and their veils shall be as transparent as dragonflies' wings and as many-coloured as the flowers in the seven heavens above.
And when thou art tired, thou shalt have the right to sit on the seat at my side . . . . .”
And the lonely Queen looked anxiously at the stranger; but the trembling of her lips was hidden behind her veil of gold.
“I cannot accept thy offer, O great one of this world; for I am searching for a flower, whiter than the eternal snows, a flower that I am to bring back to the love of my life, a flower that grows on a mountain in a far-off land.”
“What need hast thou of that flower?” asked the Queen, and there was a tremor of tears in her voice.
“There is one who is my mistress”, answered Dornadhu, “whose lips I have not touched, but in whose hands I have left my heart, and to whom one day I shall return, holding between my fingers the flower I have plucked. I shall lay it like a blessed treasure at the feet that I adore, and that day will be my day of days, and my heart will be at rest.”
The Queen was silent, but she looked at the stranger and saw that he was not young, she looked at his clothes and saw that they were in rags, she looked at his feet and torn were the sandals he wore; but, when she looked at his eyes, she felt that she would be losing everything if she could not keep him at her side.
“Dost thou believe in love?” she whispered, and the fan dropped from her hands.
“Love” said Dornadhu, and his gaze was turned to the sky, “love is the mainspring of all upon earth, it is the secret of God on high, it is the hope of the fallen, it is the star of the seaman that has lost his way on the deep.
Love is the power that makes the smallest blade grow, Love is the song of the lark as it flies up each morning with outspread wings towards the face of the sun.
Love is the mystery that hides itself in the silver ray of the moon, in the dancing sunbeam that plays over the forsaken grave, in the dark blue whispering of summer nights.
Love is the longing towards things we do not see and cannot touch, Love is the great desire that carries the heart of man beyond all the dreams it has dreamed.
Love is the artist that paints the flowers in the gardens, that has breathed so marvellous a sheen upon the feathers of the birds, upon the butterflies' wings.
Love is the magic wand that can gild the poorest hovel, that can light up the darkest heart, that can console the dying beggar, that can explain mysteries and sweep sorrow away.
Love is the force that can make weary feet run over endless roads, that can make the coward courageous, that can make out of the unworthy a hero, that can make the spent runner win his race, the dying climber reach the highest pinnacle.
Love makes the poor man rich, the want of Love can beggar the King! Love is the word that opens the Gates of Heaven, the word that God reveals to the wanderer when he reaches the end of his road.
Yes, O Queen! I believe in Love!”
“Tell me” said the Queen, “is it Love that has put that look in thine eyes?”
But Dornadhu did not answer; he only dropped on one knee and kissed the little tyrant's hand. Then, turning, he left the wonderful garden, with its wealth of flowers, its magic shade, its corners of mystery, its sea-coloured tiles, and went back into the dust of the road.
But the little Queen, who could make a great land tremble before a single word that she spoke, lay with her face hidden in her cushions of silk, and cried as if her heart would break!
Dornadhu's heart not only opened to human misery; all creatures that flew, all creatures that ran, all creatures that crawled, were equally his friends.
Many a lame dog had he caressed; with more than one starving mongrel had he shared his meagre meals of bread. From the sore back of overworked horses had he lifted heavy burdens, carrying them in their stead, indifferent to the scorn and derision with which his acts of mercy had been received.
He would simply turn and look at those that scoffed, and there was something in his eyes that made the laughers ashamed of their mirth.
A sad old crow with broken wing had he once carried for many miles till he reached a quiet wood, where he laid it beneath the shade of a tree upon a soft bed of moss. His feet always stepped aside so as not to squash the insect crawling over the road, or the ignoble toad hopping towards its hole.
Once he was crossing a strip of desert, wearily plodding through an endless sea of sand.
Golden it spread before him; golden it stretched to the right, to the left; golden it lay behind him, and his feet had marked a tiny road that lost itself in the distance, like a small tale that has been told.
Overhead the sky spread its dazzling dome of blue—of a blue that was so dark and so bright that it seemed almost a thing of dreams. Dornadhu was in a hurry to reach some oasis, for his strength was nearly spent; the glitter of the sand burnt his eyes, parched his lips, and smote with such intensity upon his brain that nearly crazy he felt.
But this road over the desert had been indicated to him as leading to the land where the great mountains lay, to which he was hurrying day and night.
The first part of his road he had travelled in the company of wandering merchants, who were moving in a great caravan along the pathless wastes. Kindly had they let the stranger ride on one of their camels, but there had come a moment when their roads had parted, and Dornadhu had been left all alone in the shadeless wilderness to seek his way as best he could.
From afar he saw something that looked like a rock, a small lonely rock, lying solitary there where no other stones could be seen. Dornadhu plodded along, with each step more weary, almost unconscious of how he moved. The heat of the sand burnt his feet, and its small grains were a torture to his eyes.
When he came nearer he saw that what he had taken for a rock was a came!, a poor old camel that had fallen, to rise no more.
The beast's eyes were wide open, and such a call of dumb misery lay in their depths that Dornadhu felt his heart give a great bound of pity, and, throwing himself down beside it with a great sigh of exhaustion, he lent against its furry flank and, laying his head upon the animal's neck, he began whispering soft words as one whispers to the sick.
The creature was hideous; covered with sores, upon which the flies had accumulated in swarms of black.
Its tawny hair hung in rags, and a disagreeable smell of fusty misery rose from its emaciated body, over which the vultures were already circling with silent outspread wings; dark shadows foretelling death, that were an insult to the glory of the sky.
The expiring beast of burden turned its head and looked at this son of man, and seemed to ask of him a last mercy before it died. Dornadhu longed to be able to read the silent prayer in the creature's eyes—torture was written there! Then he saw the dried, cracked lips that were almost black, he saw the lolling tongue, and Dornadhu realised that the dying camel was begging for a drink.
The footsore wanderer rose to his feet and, staring all around him in despair, he searched the horizon for signs of a well.
For a long time nothing could he see, his eyes ached, and so great was the reverberation that mounted out of the ground that constantly was he obliged to press his hands to his eyes to protect them from the glare of the sand.
An then . . . . . right over there, like a waving plume he seemed to perceive a distant palm-tree . . . . . so small, so far-off, that it might as well have been a hallucination of his overstrained brain.
But another look into the creature's tortured eyes, and Dornadhu made up his mind to see if any water lay hidden beneath that solitary spectral palm.
Such was his desire to bring relief to God's dying creature that, forgetting his exhaustion, he set off over the burning plain to fetch a drink for this »ship of the desert» that had been wrecked before reaching its haven of rest.
And Dornadhu found water beneath that palm, and because he had only a scooped-out cactus leaf in which to carry it back to the wretched camel, three times did Dornadhu drag himself over the scorching desert, and three times back to the forsaken brute that looked at him with dying eyes of love.
And when Dornadhu saw how the lolling tongue was refreshed by the precious beverage, how the parched lips became cool and damp because of the water he had brought, Dornadhu forgot his own fatigue and exhaustion, Dornadhu felt no more the heat of the sun nor the torture of the desert sand . . . . .
Dornadhu felt as though his own great thirst were being stilled by an angel's hand . . . . .
One human story that came to the ears of the wanderer has not yet been related. It was a story of love which he heard before he had reached the land of Eastern Stars, before his foot had been set upon the desert sands.
He had been traversing a country where beauty lay in every stone, where beauty seemed to mount out of the ground itself. A land where the churches filled the heart with a desire to pray, where great masters had conjured marvellous pictures upon convent walls, pictures that the passing years could not wipe away.
Dornadhu had stopped at a wayside chapel, small, and perfect of shape. A tall cypress grew beside it, straight as a column, dark as a secret that has never been shared. A tiny almond tree, pink like the blush on a maiden's cheek, stood up against it, stretching its bloom-laden branches over its sombre green.
Ten little birds, full of gladness because it was a day of spring, sat amongst its fragile blossoms and sang of joys that they thought eternal, knowing not that the morrow might bring but faded flowers and empty nests which the wind might overturn and cast to the ground.
Dornadhu had gone into the chapel, of which the doors were standing wide open to the glory of the spring day.
Cool was the darkness that enveloped him, and, sinking down upon a praying-stool, he folded his hands and looked around.
The walls were mellowed by the years that had passed over them, but the frescoes which made them beautiful were but all the more lovely because the hand of time had toned them down.
Several worshippers were kneeling in front of a beautiful statue, that was hung over with tiny offerings in silver and gold.
The placid beauty of the Virgin, who held the Holy Child to her heart, smiled down upon faded flowers and gaudy ribbons that faithful hands had carried towards her glory, each containing some humble prayer that hoped to receive a hearing.
Small hearts of metal were hung on a chain before the sacred figure, and the light of the eternal lamp cast a living shine over the Mother's face, giving it the appearance of real flesh and blood.
Dornadhu let his eyes roam from the Queen of Heaven to the supplicants that were kneeling before her.
There were seven in all. An old man, whose snowy head was hidden in his trembling hands, with a small child at his side, clinging to a fold of his cloak; a wandering monk, with dusty sandals; a peasant girl, with hope in her eyes; two humble labourers, whose implements of work were lying at their feet; and a little behind them a woman with a black veil over her head.
Dornadhu looked at them all in turn, but his eyes always came back to the woman whose face he could not see.
Outside the little birds sang in joyful chorus, and from far, very far, the lowing of a cow could be heard, or the creaking of a cart, or the sound of jingling bells round some patient mule's neck.
One by one those who were praying rose and, devoutly crossing themselves, went back to the toil of the day. The small child upheld the tottering steps of the old man, and when he passed out of the dark the sun shone on his white head, surrounding it with a sudden halo of light.
Only one remained before the miraculous image—the woman whose face was veiled.
For a long while she knelt there quite still, then she lifted her head, and, believing herself to be alone, she threw back her veil, uncovering a pale tear-stained face.
Rising to her feet she went quite close up to the altar, and laying her lips upon the Virgin's hand, she began to call upon her name with a voice that was full of woe.
“In vain have I waited, eating my heart away” she cried, “and never has answer come to me, never sign or word, naught to lessen my pain, naught to give me hope.
And yet little enough have I asked of thee; nothing but a sign that I am not forgotten, only a poor little answer to a question that since ten years have I cried up to thy throne. Many miracles hast thou performed; health hast thou given back to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speech to the dumb, freedom to the captive. but to my prayer hast thou closed thy heart, upon my despair doth thy mother's eyes look down with an indifference that has never changed.”
And, casting herself on the ground before the Madonna, the woman grovelled in the dust.
Smiling her eternal smile of patient tenderness, the image gave no sign, neither did the Holy Child stretch out his hands to console the woman who was weeping.
Then the woman rose and threaded her way amongst the pews towards the open door. Dornadhu stood on the threshold with uncovered head.
The light from outside fell upon him, and his face was illumined by a wonderful shine, his eyes were like two stars reflected in waters of peace.
When the woman passed him she looked up, and for a moment she imagined he was some saint come down upon earth.
She stood with folded hands, gazing up into his face, and in a whisper she asked “Whence dost thou come?”
“I come from far” answered Dornadhu, “and long is the road I still have to go.”
“Who art thou?” breathed the woman.
“A wanderer whose heart is full of longing, a lonely soul who is searching for eternal heights upon which a snow-white flower is growing, a flower I long to reach, a flower the woman I love desires to possess.”
“Thou too hast a love?” and through the woman's voice a sound of hope began to rise like a mounting tide. “Thou knowest what it is to yearn without end for the thing thou canst not reach?”
“I know it” answered Dornadhu, “therefore in God's name let me help thee if aught there is I can do.”
“Why art thou so ready to help, O man with the shining face?”
“I know not if my face is shining, but I am ready to help thee because my soul lies in waiting for each human woe.”
“Why, if thou art hurrying towards thine own desire, dost thou pause on the way to listen to the grief of those thou dost not know?”
“The stretching out of my hand to console another's sorrow makes me feel nearer my goal, even if, counted by our human conception of time, it lengthens my road. God answers the prayers of the faithful at the hour which is His. Wilt thou tell me in what wise I can still thy longing?”
“Come back into the shade” begged the woman, “there, where the light of day does not fall over my grief; there more easily will the words flow from these lips that too long have been still.”
And, leading the stranger whom God had sent her, to the darkest corner in the empty chapel, she drew him quite near to her on a seat.
Side by side they knelt, these two who, a few seconds ago, knew naught of each other's existence; and the woman began to whisper, her face quite near to the man's bent head.
“Sorarella is my name, and once I was famed for my beauty. Men of all ages and degrees laid their passion at my feet. When I walked in the streets I used to feel the desire of many mount towards me, for had not God given me a face as smooth as the pearl from the deep, and had he not put the colour of the skies in my eyes, and the tint of autumn leaves in the ripples of my hair?
But I was the wife of a wealthy merchant who, when I was young and poor, had taken me out of lowly obscurity, covering my body with precious stuffs, decking my fingers with rings, hanging ropes of priceless pearls about my neck . . . . . Sixteen was I when he married me, and my heart was then like a rosebud with tight-shut leaves.
But on a day of sunshine, out of the crowd of the indifferent, came one whose eyes were dark as a heart in pain, whose voice was so sweet that it enveloped me with mysteries brought from another world, whose empty hands seemed longing for the treasures I alone could give.
And the bud of my heart opened slowly to the eternal sun . . . . . which is Love . . . . .”
The woman paused, breathing deeply; then, raising her head she threw it back, fixing her eyes on the figure of the Mother of God who had not listened to her prayer—and for the first time Dornadhu realised how beautiful was Sorarella's face. Then, hands clasped, speaking in a sort of ecstasy which seemed to carry her back to the years that were passed, she pursued her tale.
“Yes, my heart opened, and I was twenty-three; it opened like a rose that gives its utmost beauty answering the sun's holy kiss. And all else was forgotten—duty and honour, gratitude and the wrath of God, nothing existed but a long shining road over which I was walking no more alone . . . . . I was walking with a companion, whose soul and mine were one.
Golden had become my days, of gold my thoughts, golden my prayers, golden the dawn, golden the shadows of night.
All faces seemed to smile, all flowers to open their hearts because I passed—the sky, the trees, the sea, the dust of the road, carried messages that were throbbing with joy.
The birds in flying past whispered tidings of gladness, the fleecy clouds were full of hope, the murmuring winds paused to speak of rapturous enchantment.
The sorrow of the world seemed to be hiding its head. The woe of men's hearts I heard no more, the tears which flowed were but a remembrance of a road that had never been mine . . . . . the eyes of my lover were the sea in which I bathed my soul . . . . .
Seven years did it last—years when my feet did not walk upon earth, years when my beauty grew, when because of the flame in my heart each man was my friend, and all bowed before that face which was mine. Then came darkness, as great and absolute as the light had been bright.
The sudden jealousy of another who envied my glory . . . . . the selling of my secret to the man who had bought me with his jewels and his gold—and who took me away to a far-off land.
Shame, humiliation, tears of blood, the tearing asunder of the chords of my heart—separation . . . . . silence . . . . . silence . . . . . living death . . . . .”
Sorarella's face had fallen on her hands, and scarcely could Dornadhu catch the words she was saying.
“He became a monk in a convent far above the sea—never a word more did I hear, not a single message did I receive; no hope, no light, no voice, no sound . . . . . a desert my life.
A golden cage had closed round the bird whose wings had been broken, whose song had been sung, whose plumes had lost their brightness, whose eyes had lost their shine.
After three years I was brought back to live there where my garden of Eden had bloomed.
The shining path was black with cinders, the sky had no light, the flowers no smell, the birds no song, no smiles on the faces of men.
The sea only sobbed, the winds did nothing but howl, the fleecy clouds hurried past so as not to look down and remember.
And not a word did he send me . . . . . not a word . . . . . not a word!
Ten years have passed and now I am a widow, a widow with hair that is grey, and eyes out of which tears have wiped all the light away; with a face from which sorrow has effaced all bloom, which time has blurred with its finger, and over there on a distant hill he is silent—silent as a grave that has been shut over something that would not die . . . . .”
Then the woman told the thing she desired the stranger to do.
She took from her finger a ring, a ring which had a tiny cross of diamonds, and she begged the man she did not know, the man whose soul lay in his eyes, to go to the distant convent and to take the ring to a monk whose name was Donatus—Donatus, since he was amongst the living dead.
A single word was he to say—“Sorarella!”; and in pronouncing that word he was to watch the face of the man, and to come back and tell her what expression had been his when he had heard the name.
Daily to this chapel would she come and await his return—await the message he would bring her . . . . . here before the feet of the Mother of God . . . . .
Dornadhu did not say that he had no time, Dornadhu did not say that he was tired, Dornadhu did not remind her that he had his own happiness to reach, but very simply he took the ring and set off along the road that led to the monastery overlooking the sea.
But when the woman went back to the image of the Queen of Heaven, it was to her as though a sweeter expression shone from the Virgin's eyes.
Many days did Dornadhu walk over hill and dale.
The land lay like a blessing before him; the flowers of spring brightened his road, the new-born glory of the year spread around him, and lightly did his feet pass over the meadows that were covered with dew.
On a morning when the bells were tolling for early mass Dornadhu reached the convent by the sea.
It lay on a rock washed by lapping azure tides. A high wall shut it off from the rest of the world; its dark cypresses bent their crowns slightly landwards, because of the winds that constantly swept them one way.
It looked like an island where some mystery dwelt guarded from the eyes of profane crowds that stare and misunderstand. The walls were painted white, and at their base bunches of primroses had clustered, as though they were longing to penetrate within the sanctuary from which they had been banished.
An old monk in snowy garb cautiously opened the portal at which Dornadhu had knocked. He held the latch beneath his hand, peering without like an old owl blinking at the day.
It was some time before he allowed the wanderer to enter, and when he did so it was with the face of one who is in fear of committing a sin.
Both hands hidden beneath his scapula, muttering Latin words full of soft vowels, he slid along the stone path inside the high wall, the stranger following closely upon his sandalled heels.
The abbot received Dornadhu with a courtly grace that was without warmth, inquiring into his reasons for coming to a monastery which few ever visited, and where the rules were both stern and austere.
For a moment the saintly man may have thought that his holy doors had opened upon one who sought sanctuary because of an evil deed he had 'done.
But one look into the eyes of Dornadhu, and the abbot felt a longing mount from his heart to bid the stranger rest beneath his roof, to bid him leave it no more.
Dornadhu said he was weary, weary from wandering day and night, that having seen the snow-white building, the great desire had come to him to rest for a space beneath its godly roof.
No question did the abbot ask; he did not enquire what was the stranger's name, nor whither he was going, nor whence he had come—he simply led him into a tiny white cell, and asked if at midday it would be his pleasure to take part in their lowly meal.
Water was brought to the stranger to wash with; a very young monk came with a linen cloth, and kneeling on the stones of the floor, he wiped the dust from the stranger's feet. Dornadhu laid his hands on the novice's head, and gravely thanked him. The young man looked up into his face, and wondered why the stranger's expression was so like that of the saints. Being accustomed to silence he said not a word, but on leaving he bent low before Dornadhu, as though the unknown man had been a King upon earth. Dornadhu sat upon the wooden stool of his cell, his elbows upon the bare deal table, and gazed out of the open window into the sunshine of the rising day.
He was weary, and although he had taught his body never to complain of fatigue, the peace around him made his limbs relax, and a soft sensation of comfort stole through his veins.
He sat very still, but his eyes were wide open, drinking in the beauty of what lay before him.
It was only a small paved garden, square in shape, surrounded by a cloister of ancient grey stone. Each separate column was a grey treasure of art, each bearing its own design, each sculptured with infinite love and care.
This walled garden was all ablaze with golden tulips that had sprung up in dense rows between the ash-coloured stones, and every tulip was a fairy goblet opening to receive the morning dew. Over the grey-green leaves a haze seemed to be lying, as though morning mists lingered amongst their roots. The air was full of the singing of birds building their nests amongst the capitals of the columns, over which centuries had passed.
Dornadhu for a moment closed his eyes and listened to the chirping of the busy builders—the sound was full of memories of springs that had passed, of years that lay behind.
Dornadhu's head was half-hidden in his hands, and Dornadhu's hair was almost white.
At midday the stranger sat beside the abbot at the refectory table, and looked down the long rows of white-frocked monks, and each face did he scrutinize, and out of each expression did he try to read the words that lay hidden behind the silent lips.
Of all ages they were—young, old, and middle-aged. It was at the men in their prime that Dornadhu looked most, for would not Donatus be one of those?
He wondered if it really were peace that he read on their brows, if the silence that enveloped them was a sign of resignation only, or of an inner content above that of the outer world. They appeared to him like a long row of masks, or shut doors.
He longed to knock at each, asking admittance, so as to be able to discover what secret longings still lay beneath that outward serenity. Several times he gazed around the table and a curious feeling came over him, a deep and tender curiosity to know which of these grave faces could be the man that for seven years had made Sorarella's garden of Eden. Several of them were handsome, with manly features accentuated by the ascetic lives they led.
But two especially drew Dornadhu's attention; his eyes always came back to these two.
They were sitting side by side, the one very young, the other a man in the prime of life.
The youth had eyes of an extraordinary brilliancy. He sat, his head slightly raised, with parted lips, as though listening to some heavenly music that no other could hear. His features were absolutely perfect, like those of a Grecian statue. His 'tonsured head was marvellously shaped—the circle of hair, though close-cut, looked as though it could have curled.
One could have imagined that beautiful head lying against a mother's heart, making it beat with unspeakable pride. More than once the young monk turned his head and looked at the stranger; his eyes were brown and soft as velvet, overflowing with a radiance as though they had seen heavenly visions, of which some of the glory had remained shining in his pupils.
The man who sat beside this creature of youth was in his way just as good to look upon, though a very different type.
Clean-cut were his features, strong, manly, grave, almost to sterness. Deep dark eyes lay beneath prominent brows, the nose straight, ending with a curiously abrupt line. The firmly shut lips had a beautiful curve, lips that might smile, that might pronounce tender words, that might . . . . .
Dornadhu had a sudden vision of this man leaning towards the face of a woman whose beauty was the pride of a town; he thought he could see how his long firm hands could have taken in both their palms that lovely face, drawing it towards him as though in possession of the world's greatest treasure . . . . . and Dornadhu felt that that man was Donatus—Donatus, whose name when amongst the living must have had another sound.
The abbot had a great Bible placed before him; the parchment leaves were thick and yellow, covered with large letters, and the beginning of each page was illuminated by some wonderful design. Between the three dishes of which they partook he read passages out of the holy book, opening the pages there where God led his fingers, not choosing what words he would read.
His voice rose solemn through the room, and strange were the words that God put in his mouth:
“And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire; and them that had gotten the victory over the beast and over his image, and over his mark and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God . . . . .”
And Dornadhu wondered if these men had indeed gotten the victory over »the beast and its mark», and, folding his hands, he prayed that it might indeed be peace that was hidden behind those human masks that sat wordless and concentrated round this simple board . . . . .
After the solemn repast was over, the abbot led his guest into the cloistered garden, and up and down they paced between the golden rows of tulips. The abbot spoke of things not of this earth; Dornadhu gravely listened, but through all that the holy man said Dornadhu seemed to hear one name like an echo that came wafted from another world—Sorarella! . . . . . Sorarella! . . . . . Even the little birds building their nests seemed to have got hold of the name, and to call it out to each other from pillar to pillar as they joyfully constructed the warm homes that would shelter their love . . . . .
It was evening; the sun was already low on the horizon, and on the walls of the snowy monastery its reflexion lay in patches of fluid gold.
The cypress-tops were lit with a shine that made them resemble giant torches flaming towards heaven; the windows of the holy abode were afire with orange light, and enormous rays radiated from the panes, as though God in His glory were wandering through the house, filling it with His splendour.
Dornadhu had been requested to spend the night beneath the cloistered walls, and not having yet accomplished the mission for which he had come, he had gladly accepted the offered hospitality.
The abbot had bidden his guest move about the sainted enclosure as though at home; Dornadhu had opened a door leading from the tulip-filled garden to a marvellous natural terrace, overlooking the sea.
The spot was a paradise, and the cypresses cast enormous shadows over the hi!!side, like dark roads leading into the Unknown.
Beneath him there was an olive-grove, and under the shade of the grey, gnarled trees, thousands of wild anemones bloomed, covering the reddish earth with a carpet of mauve.
Dornadhu sat himself down upon an old stone seat, and let the evening sun play over his weary limbs.
Peace, perfect peace, and the silence of God's beauty lay over the world; for a moment the wanderer felt far from its strife, its woe, and its grief.
And then out of the evening shadows a man there came, clothed in white, the setting sun enveloping him with the glory of the saints. It was the very man Dornadhu had been searching for, and he had the feeling that God Himself had sent the monk that way.
He came climbing the hillside with a strong, elastic step, the tonsure on his head shining within its circle of black hair.
The virility of his face was a joy to look upon, and well in harmony with his features was the way he walked—verily such a man could well have filled a woman's heart . . . . .
The monk now perceived their guest seated upon the bench of stone; he looked at Dornadhu, and loved the expression in his eyes—and he too wondered what made the stranger's countenance shine as with a holy radiance, for sure it was not only the rays of the setting sun.
“May God's blessing be with thee” said the monk, as he reached the seat where the stranger rested.
“And remain with us always” answered Dornadhu; and with a smile of welcome he made place for the monk at his side.
“Whence comest thou?” enquired the wanderer.
“From a spot where I go to speak with God, and with a friend that lies beneath the ground.”
“How long hast thou been within these walls?” asked Dornadhu.
“The years spent within God's service pass by and we count them not” was the strange reply.
“And does the service of God lift hearts above all human need?” continued the stranger.
“God letteth his sun shine upon the just and the unjust” solemnly said the monk, “and the burden of each man's soul maketh not heavy His heart! His way is perfect mercy, and He frowneth not upon those who have brought their secrets before His throne.”
“And do their secrets become less heavy to bear because they have quitted the roads of this world?” asked Dornadhu.
“The power of prayer openeth many doors” answered the monk.
Dornadhu looked at the stern face at his side, and wondered if ever he would get nearer the flame that burnt behind those eyes humbly bent to the ground.
“And the doors that their own hands have closed behind them—do they never long to open them more?”
The monk raised his head and gazed over the blue, blue sea, and there was a far-off look on his face.
“God asketh not of man to forget. 'Go thy way and sin no more'; were not those the words of Christ? ”
“'But I tell thee, much shall be forgiven her, for much hath she loved.' Were not those also our Saviour's words?” answered Dornadhu.
The monk turned and looked at the stranger, and a great question lay unspoken in his eyes.
“I am a wanderer” said Dornadhu, “a wanderer treading many roads. I count not the lands through which I roam. I know not how many seasons shall still pass unnumbered over my way. It is the love of Love that guides my steps. Earthly was my desire, but so great is the power of Love that it brings me ever nearer the throne of God, for also an earthly love can lead straight into His Heart.
A flower am I seeking upon a mountain peak, a flower for the woman I love. But the touch of her lips on my eyes have opened them to the sorrows of others, and I wander far and wide, reaping the tears that God strews along my road. In this wise do I come ever nearer my goal, and ever more blessedly do I feel the kiss of Love on my lids.
Verily I tell thee, the Love of God does not only hide behind cloistered walls.”
Gravely had the monk listened to the other's words; his hands were folded between his knees, and his fingers clasped each other with a painful grip, but he made no answer, and he gave no sign of what he felt.
Dornadhu watched him closely, and it was to him as though the ring on his finger burnt into his flesh.
Again he raised his voice, and there was a sound of running waters in his speech.
“I have passed beneath skies that shine, and skies that frown, and skies from which heavy rain falls in dismal drops. Upon thrones have I looked, into temples have I wandered, amongst beggars have I sat—the heads of the dying have I felt against my heart. But in all eyes have I read a longing, a great immeasurable longing for things that lie beyond; even in the eyes of a woman who lived by the death of others, who lived with sin in her heart, sin on her lips, sin in her eyes, sin in every fold of her garments, sin in her thoughts, and evil in her soul—that woman also yearned for other things that her hands could not touch . . . . .
Tell me, O holy brother, here in this blessed enclosure, hast thou learnt to long no more?”
The monk at first made no response; his eyes were looking toward the sea. A tiny brown sail came floating over the deep, like an autumn leaf swept from off some tree. His hands were still convulsively clasped; otherwise no sign of emotion did he show. Then, very slowly, these words dropped from his lips:
“On autumn mornings sometimes a mist lies close over the ground, as though out of the sad old earth the tears of humanity had risen during the night and were hovering in fleecy clouds, longing to mount with the dawning day into the far-off skies; but it needs all the sun's mighty strength to lift this phantom covering from off the sod . . . . .
And thus Both it need the voice of God to raise the soul of man above the fumes that encircle his heart . . . . . But in nights when silence lies over those that weep, and .over those that smile, and over those that pray—that mist which God draws up to His heavens falls in part back upon earth in heavy tears.
Thus may it happen that even those who pray are visited sometimes by the ghosts of former desires, and are haunted by longings that even the peace of God cannot still . . . . .”
For a moment the man whose snowy garb enwrapped him like a shroud, separating him from those that live upon earth, lifted his two clenched hands, hiding within them his face that resembled a mask.
Dornadhu, bending towards him, whispered with a voice that emotion rendered strangely husky: “What is thy name?”, and his heart beat in heavy thuds.
A silence dropped like a stone between them—the only sound was a faint breeze rustling through the trees like an immense sigh sent up from the restless hearts of men . . . . .
“When I lived amongst the living my name was Giovanni” said the monk with a toneless voice. “Giovanni—and great riches were mine, joy and plenty, and the good things of this earth.
Then a frost there came that killed my flowers and destroyed my harvest and froze my blood, and I offered what remained of the man that was to the all-knowing God, and in His house the name that was given me was that of Brother Benedictus . . . . .”
“Benedictus!” It was almost a cry that came from the wanderer's lips. “Benedictus! And I was searching for one whose name was Donatus.” The monk lifted his head and stared for an instant at the wanderer and then very gently he said:
“Once there was a man whose name was Donatus. He lived amongst us, and was the brother I loved, although friendship is not allowed amongst those who wear the sign of God on their brows—and it was from the grave of that man Donatus that I came at this evening hour, when the look on thy face made me pause at thy side . . . . .
Donatus was amongst us hardly a year, some secret sickness carried him away. Donatus has been under the earth for near upon eight long years!
I know naught of his life and naught of his past; I only know that noble was his face, with eyes that I shall never forget. We were of one age, and methinks we were of one world, but neither Donatus nor I was given to talk—besides, confidences are discouraged by the holy order to which we belong. For the glory of God do we live, and for the praising of His name. Those who come here are obliged to bury their griefs, their hopes, their loves. There is to be but one Love—God!—but one Hope—Heaven!—but one speech—Prayer!
But it used to come to pass that on days of sunshine, when the soul is full of longing, and the heart feels near to the things that grow, that Donatus and I would look into each other's eyes, each knowing that the other was listening to some echo of days that had been buried or laid aside . . . . .
Yes, Donatus died hardly a year after his coming—died, they say, of consumption; but I believe it was because his heart was broken . . . . .
The last night that he was amongst us his final request was that I should watch at his side . . . . .
All night I prayed on my knees, whilst brother Donatus lay fighting his final foe. Brother Donatus longed to die, and yet life clung to him, shaking his body with terrible spasms before it would let him go.
Towards morning a wonderful change came over his face; the rising glory of dawn fell slanting over his bed, and one rosy-red patch of light rested there where his heart was still feebly beating. He signed me to his side, and, seizing my hand with a feverish grasp, he whispered some words that I could hardly catch—three times had he to repeat them before I understood—for God had already carried half his voice away.
'When I am dead . . . . . pray that on my grave a single name shall be put . . . . . a name that I love . . . . . Sora-rella . . . . . Sorarella!' and over and over again the dying man repeated the name, as though his lips, that too long had been still, could no more keep back the word that had lived all the time uppermost in his heart.
And before I could call in the holy brothers to say the last prayers around his death-bed, Donatus had died, whispering that strange name that never. before had I heard:
Brother Benedictus had fallen on his knees, and, with outstretched arms towards the last glow in the sky, he called upon God to forgive the man who, although a monk, had died with the name of a woman on his lips . . . . .
Rising from the ground he faced Dornadhu. “And at dusk, whenever I am free, I go down to the grave of Donatus and pray a double prayer. I pray the Lord to forgive him his sin, and let the woman he loved know that it was her name Donatus carried with him beyond the gates of this Life.”
“But” added Brother Benedictus, “his last prayer was denied him; the abbot gave not his consent that the name of an unknown woman should be carved on his grave . . . . . and the abbot was right. For too sweet were such a name in such a spot—it might encourage dreams that have no place between these sacred walls!”
Dornadhu stood very still, and in his hand lay a tiny ring with a diamond cross.
The monk in the snow-white garb took the ring from his palm, and reverently laid his lips on the cross. Then, without further word, he beckoned Dornadhu to follow him, and leading the stranger down amongst the shadows of the evening, he brought him to a tiny enclosure, where row upon row of graves lay amongst frowning cypresses, intermingled with the glory of almond-blossoms that were shedding their petals over this place of rest.
The sea lapped against the low wall that encircled the graves, and the sound of the breaking tide resembled the far-off murmur of mourners crying for their dead . . . . .
Brother Benedictus led the stranger to a grave, at the head of which a tiny cross of stone bore the name of “Brother Donatus” only—that name, and nothing more.
At the top of the cross was a tiny cavity scooped out for receiving holy water and into this hole in the stone did Dornadhu drop the ring that Sorarella had sent to her lover . . . . .
All of a sudden from off the sea a troop of gulls came, streaking the darkening sky with their wings of snow. The whole air was full of their whiteness; strange crying notes did they utter as they circled in and out of the tall trees that stood like sentinels, put there by God to watch over the rest of those who had lived for the glory of His Name.
The monk stood all white amongst their flapping wings, a white ghost amongst spectral beings that had come like floating spirits from out of another world to visit this place of the dead.
Then they all flew away, and piercing were their voices—foam-like their wings. And Dornadhu, looking at the monk who stood gazing after them, thought that the holy man wished he could fly away with them over the sea . . . . .
Dornadhu came back to the chapel by the roadside, and he found Sorarella praying at the Virgin's feet.
She rose up, tall and trembling, to meet him, the light from outside falling upon her face.
For a moment they looked at each other without either uttering a word.
Then Sorarella whispered, and hardly could her voice be heard:
“Had he forgotten?”
Dornadhu shook his head . . . . .
“Did the name of Sorarella bring a light to his eyes?” Dornadhu was breathing deeply, as though a great weight lay on his chest . . . . . Then very slowly he said:
“Donatus has not forgotten, he has thy name in his heart, thy name on his lips, thy name in his soul . . . . . Donatus is faithful although he belongs to God . . . . .”
“Did he . . . . . did he give thee a message for me?”
“Donatus thanks thee for thy ring, and Donatus lets thee know that the ring . . . . . will . . . . . will lie on his grave.”
The woman raised • her hands to her face and hid her waning beauty from the light of the day.
“I thank thee;” she said . . . . .“it is the first word since ten years that does not darken the face of the sun.” And Sorarella with a sudden movement seized hold of the stranger's hand and pressed her lips upon it; then, with the gesture of a bird seeking shelter, she swept out of the chapel and ran rapidly away down the long winding road.
But Dornadhu stood in the doorway, and, shaking his two fists into the face of the sun, he cried with a voice full of passion:
“Why? Oh! why?”
Dornadhu's steps led him once to a strange place of silence and ruin. A place of past beauties, a place of grey cinders and dust, a place where a palace or a temple might once have stood.
A stillness so great lay over the spot that even his feet seemed to make no sound as he passed; little clouds of dust alone marked his steps and remained hovering over the earth like smoke.
All around, crumbling walls and fallen pillars, blocks of time-tinted marble, and heaps of stone; and over everything a network of wild roses, burying the ruins beneath their trailing creepers, dragging their branches along the grey of the ground.
In a sweeping circle, hills shut in this spot of devastation. They looked like barriers that some giant had dropped there unfinished and forgotten. Dornadhu was walking over what might once have been a terrace. Vast it was, long and grey, grey like a forgotten road, as grey as the remembrance of sad days that have passed. Down beneath him there lay a lake—a lake that was turning to swamp and over which thousands of grey-blue flowers were growing, so that a mist seemed to hover over the sleeping surface.
On a crumbling seat at the water's edge Dornadhu perceived three white figures, strangely in keeping with the desolation of the surroundings; for they were quite still, and might have been three statues fallen from their pedestals. Their snowy draperies were reflected in long lines in the water, which no breath of wind stirred.
The air was oppressive, burning down on Dornadhu's head, giving him the sensation of breathing through a blanket.
He descended what might once have been a flight of marble steps, but was now but a heap of irregular stones over which the wild roses had thrown their long thorny arms, keeping them in place with their prickly embrace.
Going up to the three silent figures Dornadhu looked into their faces.
They were three old men . . . . . three old men with grey beards and tired backs. Three old men with trembling hands, over which the veins stood out like worms on sand after the rain.
Time had washed out their personality, effacing whatever difference might once have separated them from each other.
They were like three old stones over which storm and rain, snow and sunshine had passed . . . . . three old stones that once had been pillars of some proud building, but were now fallen, forgotten, without use.
The three old men looked up as Dornadhu came near and stared at him with eyes that were sunken deep into their heads, eyes that though dim seemed to be full of the remembrance of what once had been.
The first sat a little apart from the others, and in his hand he held a crown.
The second had a great volume on his knees—the parchment leaves were yellow, and the writing half effaced; and the third held between his shaking fingers a faded myrtle twig.
“Why comest thou here, Oh stranger?” asked the first, and in his voice there lay a far-off echo of former dignity.
“Because I am wandering over all the roads of the earth in search of a flower I am sent forth to pluck.”
“Dost thou still believe that thou wilt reach the end of thy road?” asked the second.
“I walk with hope in my heart» answered Dornadhu, »because it is my Love that has sent me to do her desire.”
“Dost thou still believe in the force of Love?” asked the third.
“Yes” answered Dornadhu, “it is the light that I walk by, the hope that keeps me alive, the eternal source that quenches my thirst, the star that shows me my way!”
“Sit thee down” said the first, with the strange dignity of one who in times gone by had been accustomed to he obeyed.
Dornadhu sank on to the cinder-strewn ground at their feet, and looked wonderingly up into their sad old faces, that seemed like blurred visions out of legends that no one remembers any more.
It was the first who spoke, and this is what he said:
“In days now past I once was a King. Great was the power that lay in my hand, and greater still was my belief in the mission I was to fulfil.
But thrones will fall, and men will tear up by the roots the trees they have planted, and destroy with their own hands the palaces that once were their pride; for I tell thee, all things come to an end in this world—joy and sorrow, strength and power, creeds and beliefs, laws, and those that made them!”
“Dost thou weep for what thou hast no more?” asked Dornadhu.
“The tears that I might shed would but trickle into the ashes that lie beneath my feet; my voice could awake no echo, my name has not remained written in the hearts of my people. For time moves on, effacing the struggles of those who thought that upon earth they had a great work to do.
No one is irreplaceable; no one is mourned for forever. The names of things change, and great ideas spring from small seeds. But when the tree spreads in all its strength and beauty, no one thinks any more of the tiny seed that gave it birth.
The names of Kings remain in the minds of rising generations as far-off echoes of things half-true, half-legendary, and maybe it is the names of those who were happy that are never remembered at all!”
“Wast thou happy?” asked Dornadhu.
“Was I happy?” repeated the very old man; “If happiness means power, if happiness means riches, if happiness means the adulation of thousands, the changing love of the crowd . . . . . then I was happy!
If happiness means to sit alone and apart upon a seat overlooking those beneath . . . . . I was happy!
If happiness means to be envied by all, to stand defenceless before the world's ignorant judgment, to be a butt for every jealousy, for every critic, to be alone when others are together, to he surrounded by thousands when one longs for solitude, to smile when one's heart is full of tears, to be wakefully watchful when one is weary, to listen to complaints one cannot help, to hearken to all the sorrow one cannot ease, to stand mute when attacked, to hear a hundred voices, to understand many tongues, yet never to hear the truth—if that is happiness . . . . . yes, then I was happy!
If happiness means to be but a man with a man's heart, a man's feelings, a man's follies, a man's hopes, a man's dreams, to have to crush them all because one is a thing apart, belonging to others, never one's self; to have power over all, and no friend; to have riches that others grudge you; to have a name that others envy; to have many doors and no key; to have soldiers around you and no safety; to possess a country, and no one's heart—yes, then I was happy!”
“But” cried Dornadhu, “surely like any other, thou hadst thy joys and thine hours of satisfaction, and was it not a feeling of exultation to look down upon the crowds, knowing that thou wast the idol of all?”
“When I was young” answered the King, “I believed in my power, I believed in the love of my people, I even believed in the love of the fair faces that were lifted towards my throne. But when I learned that smiles could be bought, and love could be bought, and devotion could be bought, because mine was the heaviest purse—then my pride crumbled, and my beliefs crumbled, and with them the joy I had in my power.
Lonely, I sat in my solitary grandeur, looking down upon those that lived their lives as they would; upon those who were allowed their natural loves and their natural hates.
I envied the poor man in his hut, the seaman returning from his voyage; I envied the labourer coming home to his hearth with his scythe over his shoulder. Little did he think when my chariot wheels splashed him with mud, or enveloped him in clouds of dust, that the crowned tyrant sitting therein was jealous of the threshold over which he would step.”
“And didst nowhere find happiness? Nowhere a heart that loved thee for thyself?” sadly asked Dornadhu.
For a moment the Sovereign of yore was silent, and his feeble hands fumbled with his crown, turning the shining circle round and round so that the gems sparkled in the sunlight; and then very slowly he said:
“I remember many smiles and many faces, with lips that were red and eyes that sparkled like twinkling stars. I remember the feeling of soft breasts crushed against my heart, of dusky hair falling over my pillow, of gentle hands caressing my face . . . . . I remember hours of rapture and nights of passion, but no hours of twilight do I remember, sitting near a flaming fire, my hand laid within the hand of a companion that had faithfully followed me along my road . . . . .
“But” insisted Dornadhu, “at last thy heart was made happy by all the good that unto others thou wast able to do?”
“Did I do good?” said the old man, with a weary shrug of his shoulders. “Was perchance all my work but words written upon sand, roads traced upon changing tides, castles built upon clouds, pictures painted in dreams? I thought myself a benefactor; I thought that I was just; I thought that I was kind. But did I not hear the cries of the poor through others' ears; did I not hear their woes from tongues that talked the language that pleased me best? Did I not divide my gold and my riches by hands that I was supposed to trust?
Can one heart be large enough to feel every sorrow? Can one brain be wise enough to lead millions to their good? Can one courage be great enough to overcome every foe? Can one soul be just enough to sit in judgment on others?
I tell thee, it is asking too much! And right they were the day they overturned my throne, and cast my palace to the ground.
That day I sat on the ruins of what once had been my pride; I looked at my empty hands, and I smiled. I listened to the voices of those who once had proclaimed my glory, and had now fled from my fallen halls, and I sighed.
But no wrath did I feel. I seemed to see beyond the usual horizon of human understanding; I forgave them their ignorance, for had they not but just discovered what all along I had known—that I was but a man as any other man, a man that as an idol had been set upon a throne to amuse the curiosity of the crowds, to have a name that others could cheer or curse, and when the day came that their idol had lost its shine, and with that its use, then too had come the day to throw it down into the dust.
For this have I learnt: Man needs lies to keep him within bounds, Man needs dreams because reality sufficeth him not.
But one dream after another must man worship, and each lasts but its time and must fade before the dream of tomorrow!
I am but a faded dream, and as such I accept my fate, and ask not of life nor of man what neither can give.”
“And yet” said Dornadhu, “I believe thou hast some inner remembrance, some far-off sweetness over which thy soul pondereth, and that thy heart doth not forget.”
“Wanderer!” answered the very old King, “the breath of God lies over all places. Even sitting upon ruins, and remembering failures, the warmth of His sun is still a promise that this life is but a passage towards other regions, and must be taken with its ups and downs; no good is it to cry over what has not been, nor for what cannot be.
“Ask the Sage at my side what he thinks of life?”
Dornadhu turned to the old man who had the large volume on his lap.
A strange face was his, keener than that of the old King's, but less kindly—with a cynical twist to his withered old lips.
“Life” said the Sage, “is a long road on which we are all hurrying towards we know not what. Some get along pretty easily, others fall, cutting their knees and bruising their hands, but they stand up again; some cry, and some grind their teeth together and start off anew. For very few is the road either easy or smooth. But some there are that skim over the surface, and nothing seems to harm them; and those reach the end with untired feet—but they are few . . . . . very few . . . . .”
“And what didst thou find in all thy knowledge?” asked Dornadhu.
“I found nothing and everything, too much and too little; and each road was a contradiction to the road upon which I had wandered the day before.
For all is but vanity and vexation of spirit. Man believes he has found something, and then another discovers something else and makes the first effort useless, or only a stepping-stone to other heights; yet each man prefers being “height” rather than “stepping-stone”, and sees but with a jaundiced eye the one who has outstripped him in the race.
Knowledge is a great circle, and if we could walk long enough we would come back to the point from which we had started.
I began with one belief, continued with another, and ended with none!
All is but ashes and dust, like this place that once was the pride of the land.
The King who sits here beside me with a crown in his hand, looking back upon glories that have vanished, knows more than I do; for he has lived and seen. But I am old and decrepit, like the withered leaves of this book; I lost my youth in study, my manhood in speculation, my old age in the realisation of the emptiness of all I had learnt—and thus did I let life slip past me, and tasted naught of its realities, neither of the good nor of the bad.
But more than either the King or the Sage this man who sits beside us will be able to speak about realities, for was he not a great lover—which means that also a poet he was. Perchance he has lived and known.”
Dornadhu turned towards the third figure, and looked him deep in the eyes.
The other returned his gaze, and a shadowy smile came to his lips.
“What desirest thou to know, Oh man whom a great love has sent forth?” he asked, “What can I tell thee that thine own heart has not yet taught thee?”
“I want to know” said Dornadhu, “if thou also lookest back upon days gone by, only to say that all was vanity and vexation of spirit?”
“I cared little about crowns and riches, about laws or knowledge, about right or wrong» answered the other; »but deeply did I go down into the hearts of men, and what I found there taught me more than all the books in the world.”
“He talks about the hearts of men” sneered the Sage; “ask him about the hearts of women, that forsooth was known land to him!”
The King said nothing; only his eyes were full of a hungry light as he awaited the Lover's reply.
“The hearts of women!”—and there was a far-off sound of exultation in the old man's voice.
“Indeed they are flowers that open not to the one and only sun. Some respond to love, some to threats, some to curiosity, some to ambition, some to pity, some to gold but, most to love!
I have knocked at many doors, for my tongue had many sounds, and my key was of gold, silver, or steel, according to the door I wanted to open. Few did I find closed when with all my soul I desired to enter; for there is one sound before which the heart of Woman has but little resistance—it is the sound 'of man's desire when it beats like an ardent tide against her strongest fortress.
It is more often the desire to give than the desire to receive that loses Woman, and in losing herself she finds either Heaven or Hell . . . . . and sometimes the two very close together.
Ah! indeed, even now, old, shaky, worn-out, the shadow of a man, I cannot look back without emotion upon all that I have seen and felt. I still have the touch of the forbidden fruit between my fingers, and oh! the sweetness of the very first taste!
Often the first bite was enough! And gladly would I have thrown the fruit away; sometimes I did so, but then shame made the taste it left in my mouth all the more bitter. But there were fruits of which the sweetness became the greater the nearer I got to their core, and one fruit that my hands have held had more juice than I could suck.
I felt that so inexhaustable was its sweetness that I should die before its centre was reached . . . . .”
The old man paused, and the three listeners hung on his lips—for is not the tale of Love for ever the story to which human ears most gladly open?
“I look down the long passage of years” continued the lover, “and many faces do I see; some dimly remembered, some smiling, some bathed in tears, some humble, some haughty, some fair, some dark, some shadowy like a dream, some almost entirely forgotten. And as amongst an army of ghosts do I wander, searching for one face more precious than all—a face that stands out like the moon above twinkling stars.”
Again the old man was silent, and the twig in his hand crumbled and fell to pieces.
“It is not true” he said at last, “that best one loves what never one touched An untarnished vision may lead to holy heights, may fill a soul with immortal dreams, but God made man out of flesh and blood, with lips that are warm, and with hands that instinctively know how to caress; therefore the one who passes icy between flames may be worthy of sitting amongst gods, but verily he is not worthy to sit amongst men.
Yet very great must be Love; very real, to be able to turn over every page, and still to burn with the same ardour. Verily that Love is worthy to be called a gift from on high!”
Dornadhu had risen to his knees and, clasping the hands of the man who had made a study of human hearts, he pleaded with trembling voice:
“Tell me that love is not vain! Not a delusion with which to ensnare hearts and lead them astray; tell me that thou hast not come to the same conclusion as these other two; tell me not that all is 'vanity and vexation of spirit!'” And with a great fear in his eyes Dornadhu looked into the other's face.
“Many passions, both good and bad, are covered with the name of Love. Man makes images of brass when he cannot fashion them of gold, for man must worship something, be it but a lure. And so cunningly does he shape his counterfeits that he himself ends by believing in the delusion that at first was meant but to deceive others.
I have seen men live all their lives for a diamond which they knew to be glass; they only hoped that others would never discover what they knew, and bitterly would they have resented the voice that would have spoken the truth which they kept hidden away from the light of day.
Others have I seen happy because they really believed their glass to be a diamond; and still others happy because they believed that they alone had found truth, and that others envied them—for dearly does Man like to be envied by others; some, in fact, can only appreciate what they possess if someone else is jealous thereof!
Others there are that can only care for the thing that belongs to his neighbour, who can only live with the desire to take it from him one day.
Most human beings live in the hope of tomorrow, or in the remembrance of yesterday. Few stand firmly enough to realise the joys of today . . . . .
Many sow seeds, and rejoice upon the day when their plants bloom; but often they forget to pick their flowers, because they had hoped for a finer harvest! But meseems I have wandered from the question thou didst put to me?
Thou wishest to know if Love is vain, or but a delusion to ensnare human hearts withal!
Verily I tell thee—Man reapeth from Love what he himself putteth into it. If he put but brass, brass will be returned to him; if gold he sowed, gold will he reap.
No doubt there are those who have loved in vain, who have given the blood of their heart, receiving naught in return; but a greater justice rules the world than our small eyes can see.
From very far have I come back, and here I sit a wreck of what formerly I was. I weigh past joys and past tears, and find the balance pretty equal. If man could but realise what an atom he is in the general plan of the world, he would also understand that ashes are the natural result of the flame when it has burnt itself out.
There is a time for love and a time for hate; there is a time for flames and a time for ashes; there is a time for toil and a time for rest, a time for war and a time for peace, a time for smiles and a time for tears, a time for joy and a time for sorrow. Neither am I the first who have said this truth—and ashes have their use as well as flames . . . . .”
“But” cried Dornadhu, “is the end of all things but ashes and dust?”
The man who had been a lover, the man who was but a shadow of his former self, smiled strangely and held out his palm, in which the little myrtle twig had fallen to pieces.
“This little branch was green; it carried a flower as white as the soul of a child—brides wear it as wreaths on their brow. I pluck myrtle wherever it grows on my road, for to me it is the emblem of human hopes—green today, faded tomorrow, although evergreen is it called. But because it is faded it does not mean that never it vas green, but the fault of man is that he wishes to live longer than his day, and cries out when his day is over.
To the man for whom Love was a star, a star it remains for ever; but the man for whom it was but an apparel that each day he changed anew, finds at the end that not a single shred has he left to spread over his loneliness and longing.
Love but once, if thy nature thus has made thee—but love well, even if thou goest from passion to passion, drag not down into the mud the one thou hast set afire with thy flames.
A grand game is the game of Love, but it must be fairly played, and one must be ready to pay if one loses:
A great game is Love, and every man under every clime will try it; but each man has but the time God gives him, and wise is he who tries not to go beyond the limit allowed him, and wise is he who accepts his defeats as well as his victories, and allows not his wounds to poison his remembrance.
The King of 'a once blooming country looks back, and says: . . . . . It was in vain! The Sage who dug deeply down into human knowledge, who rose above the wisdom of others says: All is vanity! But I, who was neither Sage nor King, have another message.
Live thy life with all it offers thee; pick thy flowers before it is too late, reap thy harvest at the hour God has assigned thee, but ask not to gather grapes beneath the snow.
Enjoy the beauties that lie on thy way, be grateful for each smile that is given thee, but cry not out in useless regret when the things that were thine begin to fade and crumble away. Collect great treasures, but be ready to pay their price; be prepared also that others will try and steal them from thee, or try to out-do thee by paying a heavier price. It is only the weakling who resents having to face tribulation.
Good and bad, light and shade—out of these is man's life built up; and more often than he imagines can he prolong the one and shorten the other, but he must do it himself and not expect others to lighten his burden, nor to remove the stones from his road. Most of his sorrows are of his own making, but his griefs can crystalise into diamonds if his soul knoweth how to rise above the dust of this earth.
A golden thread runs through human existence, it is there even for the most miserable amongst us if he will but see it and grasp it, and not run after the threads that are meant for others; and he alone can weave his thread into his plan of life—he must not expect others to do it for him.
Man must count upon himself and recognise his heights and depths, his possibilities and limitations, and must not expect others to make good the faults he has committed.
Some love in the sunshine, some in the shade, some search their love upon mountain pinnacles, some in the dust of the road. Some are carried by love straight into the heart of God, some very near the Gates of Hell; each man according to his own soul, and according to the colour of his desires.
Some, but these are few, are purified enough to seek naught for themselves, but to find happiness in the good they do unto others.
Some wear love on their brows like the evening star, some carry it like a hidden treasure in their hearts; but I tell thee, all may crumble and fall to ruin, all may turn to ashes and dust, but the Light of Love will always rise anew out of the crevices of the earth—ever ready to flame up triumphant, even from desert places.
Go thy way, Oh stranger, and this word I give thee to keep in thy heart:
Love outlasts every ruin, Love rises above every destruction as an eternal blessing that God has given to Man:
Love is the Beginning and the End—the road and the treasure that lies beyond . . . . .
Go thy way with that truth in thy heart—thou needest no other, and methinks thy soul has already made it thine!
Fare-thee-well, thy face is dear to me, for meseems as though I saw all my beliefs rise up before me and tell me that I was not mistaken.”
And Dornadhu left the three old men, and went his way rejoicing. But the King and the Sage turned to their companion and looked at him, as though a stranger were sitting at their side, and their eyes were full of envy.
The King relaxed the grip of his fingers, and let the shining crown roll into the dust at his feet.
But the wise man took up his book that had not taught him the way to happiness, and with the last strength of his feeble arm pitched it far out into the sleeping waters.
No record has been kept of how many years Dornadhu wandered, nor all that he met on his way.
Vaiavala lived in his soul, imperishable, unforgotten, and because of the great love that guided his steps, Dornadhu carried eternal youth in his heart.
His hair was white, his shoulders slightly bent, but Dornadhu still dreamt of the touch of the lips for which he thirsted. Dornadhu had not relinquished his hope, and the light of his eternal dream made his eyes like unto church windows wide open to the light of God.
Those he passed turned round to look after the old man with the snowy hair, and the staff in his hand, yet no one cast a glance upon his ragged garb—but the light that seemed to radiate from him made glad every heart.
And so it came to pass that his path began to lead upwards towards the final height he was seeking, and so accustomed were his feet to the hard roads of the world that Dornadhu felt no fatigue. Sun and wind had become his friends, the storm that tore at his cloak, and the rain that beat upon his head, were as familiar voices, and made him not afraid.
Dornadhu's tireless step led him to a land where all was grey stone—where some mighty upheaval seemed to have dashed rocks to pieces, leaving them upon the upward-sloping plain like fossiled bodies of giants fallen with their palaces in some Titanic strife.
Arid, lonely, grandly silent was the landscape; full of God's stillness, undisturbed by the foot of man.
But even here Nature wove her colours, had taken note of each fruitful inch of ground, and, as though the stars had fallen from their heights, the space between the grey granite boulders was filled with millions of sun-coloured poppies, silken their frail blossoms, grey-green their hairy stems. The wind sweeping over their heads made them ripple like the tide of some strangely golden sea. Dornadhu's beauty-loving eyes rested upon them, and his heart was uplifted towards God.
The path twisted and turned in and out of the rocks till he suddenly came upon a lonely figure, sitting quite alone upon a large stone, over which the sun lay warm and glittering:
A young girl it wag, clad in rags that once had been blue, but that storm and rain, sun and wind, had toned down to the colour of her surroundings.
Like Dornadhu, she held in her hands a large staff, and her bare feet were hidden amongst the golden poppy-heads that clustered around them, kissing their nakedness.
Her head was enwrapped with a cloth that fell like a mantle over her back, her brow rested against her staff, but her eyes were closed.
Emaciated, transparent, were her features, and her long lashes lay like shadows on her taper-tinted cheeks.
Even her lips were pale, and the thin hands that clasped the stout stick were waxen, like those of a corpse.
As Dornadhu approached she raised her head, but her eyes remained closed, her lids lay motionless, like the broken wings of a bird:
Suddenly, in a strange far-sounding voice, this unexpected vision of the desert called out:
“Dost thou see the sun, and see the glory of the golden poppies that have stolen his colour, to become beautiful for their season of love?”
“Why then, Oh strange maiden, dost thou keep closed thine eyes, so as not to see the beauty of which thou speakest?” asked Dornadhu in his turn.
“My eyes have never been open” answered the girl; “I feel, I do not see. I hear, and the touch of my fingers reveals to me mysteries which other mortals cannot understand.”
“Hast thou never seen the light of the sun?” asked Dornadhu, and awe was in his voice.
“Never!” answered the girl.
“And yet thou livest, and thou canst smile! Thou sittest amidst this sea of waving flowers, amongst rocks that have the colour of clouds when the storm is rising, and thou speakest of beauties thou hast never looked upon!”
“Only those who know me not speak to me with pity in their voices” said the girl. “For verily I tell thee, my eyes are closed, but out of the words of others I fashion pictures of which the beauty perchance may outshine reality, but when men lift up their voices, relating of mud and misery, of shadows and fears, of things that creep in hidden corners, then do I close my ears, and as my eyes cannot see, never need they look on what is hideous, on what those not blind are obliged to behold.
I know that the sun is golden, and golden the poppies amongst which I wander. I know that the sky at dawn, and the sky at sunset, is all aflame with colours that no artist but God can paint.
I know that the wild swan flying with outstretched wings towards its glory is tinted as with a flaming light.
I feel the sun's kiss on my hands and feet, and upon my eyes, that have never seen his face.
Zanka they call me, and I assure thee none who know me pity my fate.”
“But” asked Dornadhu, “how canst thou talk of colours thou hast never seen, and beauties upon which thou hast never looked? How can thy feet lead thee where others need the light of day to guide their steps?”
“There is no night and there is no day for me” said Zanka softly, “there are only the visions God has given me, and the glorious pictures others have sometimes conjured into my mind.
I have been told that our hut is miserable, that rags envelop my body, that my face is pale, resembling the corpse in its coffin, but I have never seen the face of the dead—I have only dreamt of angels flying in through the Golden Gates . . . . .
The roof of my hut may be but of colourless shingle—I have never seen it—but gratefully have my fingers touched the moss that patches the crevices of my crumbling walls.
They say that I live amongst misery, but I only smile—for does not the breeze that floats in through my broken window carry towards me the perfume of our fields, in which the beans exhale a fragrance of honey mixed with myrrh and the breath of the wilds?
They say that the temple iii which all used to worship has fallen to the ground, and that God has flown to other places. But I need no temple to pray in. I know not of what shape are the houses men build for their prayers, neither if they are high or low, of wood or of stone.
My God do I find everywhere, and His voice comes to me on the wings of the evening, on the breath of summer seasons, in the moaning of winter storms.
I hear Him and He knows that in my heart He can find dwelling at all hours, either of night or day.
I see not when the shades of night steal over the world, but I feel the soft repose that creeps out of the earth; I feel that a thousand petals are closing, and that the birds have folded their wings—and by the sound of the soft evening breeze I know that the day's toil is over.
I hear the bells of the returning flocks, and the dust that their feet raise as they walk comes wafted towards me from the plains beneath.
Never have I beheld the indigo sky of summer nights, ht up by a thousand lights, like the palace of an Eastern King; but I feel in my brain the patterns that the stars make upon something that is as vast and endless as my dreams . . . . .
Once there came a man into my life; he was a painter, and, like thee, he met me one morning seated amongst these blocks of stone, and we talked . . . . . And his voice, like thine, was soft . . . . . much softer than the voices with which I dwell . . . . . a voice that I felt came from worlds where thick carpets lie on marble floors, and where silken robes pass down long passages towards open doors, out of which sweet music swells forth—like the great longing of human hearts towards eternal Beauty.”
“But, Zanka, thou strange little spirit of the desert” said Dornadhu, seating himself beside her; “was it thy painter who related to thee about palaces, and Kings in their glory? About the colours of sunset, about the starry nights, and about swans with outstretched wings?”
“May be” answered Zanka, “but his words only put into shapes the many things that lay behind these lids that never have been raised. It was the sound of his voice that came to me as a revelation, and the soft touch of his fingers on my hand . . . . .
They say he painted a picture of me that brought him great fame—that he put a halo round my head, and had given me the name of a saint.”
A pathetic little smile twisted the pale lips of the beggar-maiden. “Zanka a saint! But I am happy that he painted me, because I loved him, and it was his voice that made real the visions that had only slept in my soul.”
“But when he left?” asked Dornadhu very gently.
“When he left?” Zanka repeated his words, and her voice trembled ever so slightly.
“For a time the sun seemed less near, and the whispering of the wind brought me messages of something that was restless and unanswered, something like a great longing that I felt all hearts must have share in, some longing that lay in the touch, in the smell, in the sound of things that knocked at the door of my heart. I cannot explain, but it was there . . . . . and much more strongly there since I had known him; neither did it ever quite leave me again, but it became part of me, and gradually it wove into my mind other pictures and dreams I had never had before . . . . .
I began to imagine that I was the princess out of the legends he had related to me. I felt how my body was clothed in raiment of many colours, how I wandered through glorious cities, through mighty halls, down marble steps into lily-filled gardens that always led to the far-stretching sea, of which the waves were blue as the colour of my dreams—and always did my feet lead me over the softness of silvery sands.
And . . . . . each path I took brought me to him . . . . . to him whose face filled my heart, and whose voice had opened to me these marvellous portals!”
“But” asked Dornadhu in a low voice, “thou never didst see his face?”
“Yes” said Zanka, “I have seen his face. It was on the day of his departure; he knelt down before me here, out in the wilds, and allowed me to pass the tips of my fingers over his hair, over his eyes, down along his cheeks, till they reached the dear curve of his lips . . . . . and when my fingers had touched them, then I don't know, but something happened . . . . . something strange, yet terribly sweet—his lips found mine, and mine found his, and he kissed me. And at that moment my soul knew his face, and that no face on earth was more beautiful; that his eyes were as Eastern Stars, and his hair more silken than an angel's robe, and his smile more tender than Spring's awakening after its long winter's rest—Oh yes! I have seen his face!. . . . .”
A silence fell between the man and the girl. Dornadhu watched the pathetic visage of the maiden who lived in a paradise of her own making, and Dornadhu wondered at the strange ways of God, marvelling at the manner in which He can put His light into the most humble vessel, filling it with a radiance that the King in all his glory cannot equal. Then very gently did the wanderer ask:
“Did he never come back?”
“After the human conception of return, no . . . . . he never came back. But to my soul he returns over and over again and ever new stories does he relate me, and lately has hi voice been always sweeter, telling me that the Gates of Heaven are opening every day a little wider, and that marvellous is the radiance that streams from out of those portals . . . . . and . . . . . that he will be awaiting me at the door . . . . . and that on that day . . . . . my lids will really be lifted to a glory more great than others have seen—because no earthly vision has ever darkened my eyes . . . . .”
And the strange maiden smiled a wonderful smile, so that Dornadhu, almost unconscious of his movement, bent down and kissed her on her drooping lids, murmuring these words:
“Thy friend sendeth thee this caress, and letteth thee know that in a very short while the Gates will be open, and that hand in hand shall ye cross the threshold into a world even more beautiful than thy closed eyes have ever dreamed of.”
Then Dornadhu rose and left the beggar-maiden, but twice he turned his head, and each time it seemed to him as though angels were standing beside Zanka, and that with shining fingers they were pointing down the road he had taken.
Always steeper became the path upon which Dornadhu was climbing. The great pine forests were left far beneath; he had reached rocky regions where no tree cast its shade.
Solitary was the wanderer; no other human step awoke echoes amongst the silence that surrounded him.
His only companions were the far-off eagles that, like dwarf storm clouds, floated hither and thither, circling round the bare peaks where they had built their nests upon the giddiest heights.
Did Dornadhu realise that he had become quite an old, old man? That he had journeyed half the world over, always searching for .the snow-white flower, and that he was still far from his goal? Had he ever understood that in giving his time away to all those that cried to him with tears in their eyes, he had given also all the years in which his own happiness might have been lived?
Think ye that Dornadhu still dreamed that Vaiavala would answer his love? That he still hoped she would put her arms round him and draw him to her heart?
Did Dornadhu imagine that his eyes still had the same fire, and his face the same beauty as of yore?
Certain is it that both the beams of the sun and the rays of the moon loved to cluster round his snowy head, that wherever he went a strange light seemed to envelope him, and that his eyes were so clear that the sky and the sea and the mountain shadows reflected themselves in their depths, and were glad to take dwelling therein.
The passing seasons had blanched his clothes like his hair, till the strange wanderer had the appearance of being of ivory-tinted alabaster, almost transparent in his emaciation.
Yes, an old man was Dornadhu, but a great beauty was his—the beauty of ancient marbles that no weather can stain.
And out of the strange paleness of his ascetic visage his eyes shone dark and wonderful, having stored away all the beauties he had seen, having wept over the woes of others, and having looked each day anew into God's great sky, near which he hoped to find the magic flower . . . . . the flower Vaiavala desired to possess . . . . .
He was not afraid of never reaching his goal; he was not afraid of the dangers he might encounter; his hope bore him forward, and his great love guided his steps.
The higher he mounted into purer regions, the nearer did he feel the strange woman who was mistress of his Fate . . . . . He never doubted that he would find his way back; he did not count the miles that separated him from the grey, water-kissed castle in which he had left her seated on her throne, mysterious, enigmatical, with the great ruby shining between her hands.
The clouds that floated around him, the bare rocks over which he passed, the precipices into which fearlessly he looked down—all seemed strangely in connection with Vaiavala . . . . . Vaiavala, his love!
When he rested, unconscious of the weariness of his body, unconscious of the light he wore around him, unconscious of the inspired look of his wonderful eyes, his loneliness was peopled with the faces of those he had encountered upon his very long way.
They all came back to him and made his solitude beautiful; often he had visions that seemed to indicate to him the road he was to follow.
But Dornadhu had also hours of sadness and doubt.
One evening, as the shadows of night were beginning to envelop his path, Dornadhu had seated himself upon a rock overlooking a world of mountains that like gigantic waves of some endless ocean, rolled away till they were lost in the distance, becoming hazy, transparent, like dreams. This day he was weary, steep had been his path, rocky, difficult to find. More than once, his foot had carried him towards places which he could not pass, and he bad been obliged to retrace his steps, and tired, very tired was he.
I know not if a doubt awoke in his soul at that moment, a doubt that perchance his strength might give out before he reached his goal; but this night, his head was bent, the thin old hands that clasped the staff were trembling, and the light around his body wavered and was less bright.
Long he sat there quite still, with closed eyes, too tired even to allow the beauty of the landscape to comfort his spirit.
Beneath his closed lids he seemed to feel the burning of all the tears, the many tears he had dried during his wanderings upon earth . . . . . Suddenly they had all accumulated and descended as a heavy weight on his shoulders so that the longing that had always lived in his soul rose up greater than ever and seemed to fill earth and sky with a great wave of sorrow and of suffering.
He raised his head and, stretching out both arms, he let his staff fall to the ground. It hit the hard rock with a sound as though it also were in pain, and Dornadhu lifted up his hands to God, and once more the eternal old question wrung itself from his lips—Why?
Oh, why so much pain, so much longing, so much toil; why so many rivers that run into sand? Why such long roads with feet upon them that become weary before reaching the end? Why always tomorrow and not today? Why so much beauty and always something missing? Why such a craving for things that lie beyond?
Why the eternal effort for so small a result? Why so many thorns beneath the roses? Why so much dust, so many graves, so many ashes; so many dreams that haunt the mind, speaking of things that might be and never are? Why so much searching and so little finding? Why the ideal so great and the reality so small? . . . . . And Dornadhu was suddenly again the Dornadhu who had started in the days of his youth, the Dornadhu of yore who understood naught of life's great mysteries, the Dornadhu whose soul was the burning, living, eternal question:
And as Dornadhu sat there and doubted, the light that enveloped him became dimmer, and Dornadhu himself but an old, old wanderer who had lost his way, a sad old wanderer with bleached clothes and torn sandals, whose head was white with age, whose shoulders were bent beneath the weight of alien tears which he had imagined himself strong enough to carry for those who sorrowed and were afraid . . . . .
Dornadhu fell upon his knees, covering his face with his hands, and at that moment Dornadhu was far from his hope, far from his God, far from his Love, far from the white flower he had come so far to fetch. . . . .
Then something rose out of the stillness of the night—some movement amidst the clouds, some stir in the atmosphere, some breath out of the sleeping worlds of silence, and Dornadhu felt a pure breeze fanning his brow, as though a cool, gentle hand had been laid upon his throbbing temples, was softly touching his heart . . . . .
He looked up; and out of the distance, a procession was coming towards him, nearer and nearer, but the approaching feet made no sound, no voice rang through the stillness.
Like a floating mist this unexpected vision was moving over the mountain pass; a curious light resembling the phosphorescent glow on summer seas outlined the many figures so that their faces were dimly discernible, and with a throb half pain, half pleasure, Dornadhu recognised those that he had encountered on his life's long journey.
An endless file it was, slowly moving towards the spot where he had fallen upon his knees, so that he could even distinctly see the faces of the three riders that headed the line; with deep emotion, Dornadhu recognised the three shining brothers that once he had met on a wide-spreading asphodel field, so long, oh so long ago! . . . . .
The white knight was the leader, and his horse shone like a snowfield in moonlight, the sword he held before him was bright like the sword of an Archangel. The grey knight followed him closely, the point of his spear glistened like a moving star, whilst his black-armoured brother had let the reins fall upon the neck of his charger, and in one hand he held a rose, but this time it was white instead of red, and in the other he held the silver arrow that sparkled as though coated with frost.
Behind these brothers that his heart gratefully remembered, there came many faces both old and young, both sad and gay, some clothed in rags, others draped in costly raiment that swept over the stones of the road . . . . .
He saw Dalua walking with her four black panthers, that followed her like shadows making darker the darkness of the night. In her hands she held a crystal chalice in the form of a tulip but no red ruby shone through its sides . . . . . the chalice was empty!
Her body gleamed white and marvellous through her veils that had the colour of moonbeams reflected in water, but in her heart an arrow quivered and drops of blood trickled from the open wound down over the paleness of her skin . . . . .
And she passed and turned not her head to look back upon the man who had delivered her from her longing, the man who had sent her to the god she loved . . . . .
Her twenty priestesses followed close in her train, and last of all came Aluna, her face shrouded by a veil, her arms full of white flowers, but so many had she gathered that they were dropping like dead doves one by one from her grasp to the ground.
Then others there came that Dornadhu hardly remembered; beggars and lepers, lame dogs and limping horses and even an old mangey camel. Then a woman with grey dishevelled hair, whose hand was clasped by a convict with feet fettered by chains . . . . .
A proud little woman he saw with large eyes peeping over a veil of gauze, and beside her there strutted a peacock whose gorgeous tail trailed behind him like silvery mist . . . . .
A white-frocked monk was walking a little apart with eyes humbly turned to the ground, but on his finger he wore a ring marked by a tiny cross that shone like a sign of hope.
Close behind him came a woman, her, face upturned to the skies. Out of her eyes great tears were falling, rolling down upon her breast like a chain of diamonds, but a smile of ecstasy was on her lips.
Always more there came, and most of them were recognized by the heart of the wanderer even if his eyes had retained no remembrance of their faces.
But, Oh wonder! these phantoms of days long past were all holding in their, hands a shining thread which they dropped to the ground as they moved, so that a luminous track remained in their wake marking the road they had taken.
The higher they climbed, the more bright became the glittering sign, and suddenly Dornadhu understood why they had come! His fatigue fell from him like a heavy cloak, the years seem to roll from his shoulders, his wounded feet overcame their pain, his hands lifted the fallen staff from the ground with renewed energy, and with a cry of exultation the white-haired wanderer set off at a run, following the path of light, for had not God sent him these phantoms to show him his final way!
His feet had wings, and his lungs seemed to breathe with greater ease, his eyes to have recovered a keener sight, and always before him lay the shining thread like a promise, leading straight towards the height he was seeking.
The shadowy procession had vanished, was a thing of the past, might even have been but a delusion of his overtired brain, had not the gleaming thread been there as a sign showing him his way.
All night Dornadhu followed that light—the air seemed full of whispering voices relating mysteries that his soul alone could grasp . . . . .
Then came the day.
Dawn burst upon him in a fiery radiance. The sky was full of flames spreading from peak to peak, lighting every pinnacle till the rocks glowed like molten metal, and small clouds floated above them as though the stones were steaming.
Dornadhu found himself at the foot of small stairs hewn out of the granite, stairs that lead upwards, higher and higher, till they ran into the clouds; and on each step, although daylight had flooded the world, Dornadhu could still see traces of phosphorescent footprints on the rough surface of the stone.
Then began a climb full of torture and full of joy . . . . . Dornadhu knew that if his strength did not fail him, he would find the flower of his desire beneath those clouds . . . . . All day he toiled and all night . . . . . and ever steeper became his way, ever rarer the air, ever more painful the beating of his heart.
The next day came and passed and the next night . . . . . and once more the dawn shone down on the wanderer, shone upon a face resembling that of a ghost! The staff had dropped from his hand, his sandals had fallen in shreads from his feet, his long, colourless mantle streamed from his shoulders like a shroud.
On the third day, Dornadhu was still wandering but the steps under his feet had turned to ice, the air was biting, the cold froze his blood, but a marvellous exhilaration lay in the atmosphere, and the old, old wanderer felt as though he longed both to laugh and to cry.
Since two days he had finished his last scrap of food, yet so great was his hope that his transparent, spiritualised body gave way to no fatigue—he was walking in a sort of ecstasy that needed no earthly support. His limbs had no weight, his eyes needed not to see, his ears were full of waves of sound that resembled neither music nor the surge of the sea nor the whispering of the wind nor the cry of the storm—it might have been angels' voices but Dornadhu did not know . . . . . did not mind . . . . .
On, on, ever higher, ever into purer regions, always nearer the throne of God!
And a moment came—was it dream or reality—when Dornadhu's feet left the steps and were walking over a field of eternal snows! An ocean of white, sparkling with a thousand diamonds, bright, glittering, indescribably immaculate . . . . .
On both sides the clouds rose like smoke, great curtains of mystery shutting off this land of silence from other regions where other mysteries lay concealed. The clouds had a sweeping movement, all curving upwards as though drawn towards the skies by some heavenly force that was luring them into blessed spheres.
All along this cloud-encircled snow sea, a tiny shining path ran as though an angel with feet of light had marked the way towards something marvellous that lay there right in the centre . . . . .
Dornadhu was like a ghost amidst all this white. A sort of mystical radiance enveloped the snow, the man, the clouds; it was neither night nor day but all was full of a magic lustre like that of the moon. In a trance Dornadhu's feet followed the shining track, coming nearer and nearer the spot where lay his final goal.
Now he saw a circle of light as though a magic wand had drawn a ring round some priceless treasure that no hand must touch . . . . . and there in the middle of that circle a flower there grew, a simple flower with five round petals, whiter even than the spotless snow, and of which the centre was so luminous that it might have been a fallen star.
Dornadhu felt how his strength suddenly left him, his knees gave way, and he fell with his face in the snow, his blanched locks mixing with the frost on the ground . . . . .
Then, like one mortally wounded, Dornadhu dragged himself towards the flower, dragged himself on his knees, whilst his yearning eyes were fixed upon the miraculous vision; both his arms were extended in a supreme longing towards his great desire . . . . . his heart felt like bursting, but somehow at that supreme moment, he realised that even if he reached the flower, that never would he have the force to return to his love.
All his life had he wandered with but one desire in his heart, wandered towards something he had reached when it was too late . . . . . too late . . . . .
He was at the end of his quest, his race was won, but no return could there be . . . . . no return, no reward . . . . .
Now he was within the circle of light, his fingers had seized hold of the magic stem, he felt how it yielded to his touch, he felt how the prize he had come from so far to fetch was his at last . . . . . at last!
Dornadhu remained kneeling in the circle of light that glowed around him like a giant crown of diamonds fallen from the skies. As he lifted the mysterious blossom to his lips, inhaling its divine fragrance, a great sob rose from his heart as the cry of one who exhales his soul in a last long straining effort towards all he has desired, all he has hoped, all he has yearned for and never found.
As the priest raises the chalice at the supreme moment of mass, Dornadhu held up the white flower towards the clouds that hung over his head, held it up and cried in o voice into which he put all his failing strength, into which he concentrated all his longing, all his faith, in which lay his eternal uncrushable belief in the Love for which he had lived:
“Vaiavala! Vaiavala! Mayest thou at least know that I have reached the white flower; that I did not give up till it was mine; that I have climbed into eternal snows to obtain it—but forgive me, Vaiavala, if too long I tarried on the way, if my strength is spent and if my worn-out body fails me at the end; forgive me if my tired feet can no more carry me back to thy throne!
Vaiavala! I have loved thee! Only thee have I loved, Oh Vaiavala! Of thy lips have I dreamed wherever I went, thou wert the only goal for which my eyes ever searched, the only desire of my heart; and if I could not hurry past the tears of man, it was because once thy kiss had rested like a blessing on my lids.
Vaiavala, may my voice reach thee, over-bridging every earthly distance, and may thy spirit he with me in my hour of attainment and failure!”
And Dornadhu rose to his feet with arms raised to the sky. He stood upright in the middle of the circle of light, whilst above his head the flower shone brighter than a star of God.
Suddenly, as though in answer to the last cry of his breaking heart, the mist parted like a curtain that an invisible hand draws aside, and a marvellous apparition stood before him. Dornadhu sank with a sigh of ecstasy into the arms of Vaiavala . . . . . Vaivala, his love!
Yes, it was her face that was bending over him, more marvellously, strangely beautiful than ever, and the lips of which he had dreamt were smiling a wonderful smile. Her eyes were no more like a closed sanctuary into which he could not penetrate—they were like the wide-open Gates of Heaven bidding him enter into eternal rest . . . . .
Her body shone through her mist-coloured veils, and to the dying eyes of the spent climber it seemed that her heart was beating with a mighty love . . . . . and when he laid his lips against that pulsing heart, all the weight of his years seemed to roll from his shoulders, and with that weight also the burden of unquenchable longing that had made heavy his soul!
“Vaiavala!” he cried with his last breath, clinging to the perfect body he had never dared touch; and sinking on his knees he clasped her as the drowning clasps a rock; “Vaiavala, I have plucked for thee the flower, it is thine! And I thank thee, Vaiavala, that thou hast come to the wanderer who no more had the strength to return to thee! For I love thee, Vaiavala! I love thee . . . . . I love thee . . . . .!”
Then the lips which had been the hope of his life were at last laid upon his in a supreme and only kiss . . . . .
Vaiavala held him against her bosom as the Eternal Mother holds the child to her heart, as Eternal Love answers the mortal longing of man . . . . . and at that hour, which was the hour of life and death in one, all the tears that had been shed made but more holy that instant of attainment!
The clouds lifted from above the head of the woman who held the dying man to her heart, and a million stars looked down from unreachable heights and whispered together about marvellous mysteries which soon would be revealed to the earth-wanderer who had been faithful to the end.
And as the lips of the mysterious woman were at last lifted from the mouth of the man who had so desperately loved her, his body sank back in her arms, and a pale face with closed eyes was turned up to the watchful skies, but it was no longer the face of an old, old man with sorrow written in every feature; it was the face of a youth with hair that was golden, with a brow as smooth as an untrodden path, and with a body that had carried no grief in its heart.
Vaiavala let Dornadhu sink to the ground, and stood up tall and invincible so that her head seemed to touch the clouds. The strange woman who had given but one kiss to the man whose only love she had been, looked down upon the corpse at her feet and smiled.
Then the mists bore her away, and her floating veils became one with the sky.
But Dornadhu lay quite still in the circle of light; on his face there was an expression of rest as one whose last question has been answered, but in his hand he still held the snow-white flower! Vaiavala had not taken it from him although he had given his life in the great effort of finding it for her . . . . .
The sleeping waters are still softly sucking the damp moss-coated walls of the moated castle.
Their embrace is more than ever like love turned to hatred, for is not their passion given in vain, the walls resist and do not succumb to their pressure—and over the bridge a youth there comes whose eyes are eagerly scanning the row of close-shut windows till one he discovers whose shutters are wide open to the light of the day . . . . .
But the face of the wanderer is not the face of Dornadhu . . . . .
Within the silent abode, upon her throne of stone sits Vaiavala . . . . . Vaiavala, the strange woman for whose lips Dornadhu had longed with such deadly desire. She sits there, silent and watchful, although her eyes seem to look at nothing and her hands lie quite still upon her knees.
Transparent veils enwrap her, falling to the ground like mists rolling away after the sun has risen in the skies.
The chamber in which she sits is but dimly lighted, is filled with a smell of incense and flowers, and of things that grow beneath Eastern suns, a perfume that makes the heart expand with a boundless longing towards past springs and open temple doors, and orange gardens in the moonlight after the heat of the day . . . . .
On the altar beside Vaiavala's throne lie the treasures which Dornadhu had travelled far and wide to bring back to the hands that took without giving in return!
The great ruby lies in a small crystal bowl, and beside it the priceless pearl from the deep. The pearl is all pink from the shine of the ruby as though the rising sun were kissing it with its rays.
But the snow-white flower with the five shining petals and the flaming heart lies not amongst the other objects Dornadhu had brought back to his Love.
Upon the stairs that mount towards the room where his Fate awaits him, the steps of the wanderer can be heard, of the wanderer who is not Dornadhu.
There are clouds of mist above his head, and clouds of mist under his feet. His steps ring on the stones with a sound of warning . . . . . his heart is beating . . . . . Hope is in his soul . . . . . he is not afraid . . . . .