Thursday, February 24, 2011

The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers


A story inspired by the Legend of Ys.

THE DEMOISELLE D'YS

  "Mais je croy que je
  Suis descendu on puiz
  Ténébreux onquel disoit
  Heraclytus estre Vereté cachée."

"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I
know not:

"The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the
way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid."


I

The utter desolation of the scene began to have its effect; I sat down to
face the situation and, if possible, recall to mind some landmark which
might aid me in extricating myself from my present position. If I could
only find the ocean again all would be clear, for I knew one could see
the island of Groix from the cliffs.

I laid down my gun, and kneeling behind a rock lighted a pipe. Then I
looked at my watch. It was nearly four o'clock. I might have wandered far
from Kerselec since daybreak.

Standing the day before on the cliffs below Kerselec with Goulven,
looking out over the sombre moors among which I had now lost my way,
these downs had appeared to me level as a meadow, stretching to the
horizon, and although I knew how deceptive is distance, I could not
realize that what from Kerselec seemed to be mere grassy hollows were
great valleys covered with gorse and heather, and what looked like
scattered boulders were in reality enormous cliffs of granite.

"It's a bad place for a stranger," old Goulven had said: "you'd better
take a guide;" and I had replied, "I shall not lose myself." Now I knew
that I had lost myself, as I sat there smoking, with the sea-wind blowing
in my face. On every side stretched the moorland, covered with flowering
gorse and heath and granite boulders. There was not a tree in sight, much
less a house. After a while, I picked up the gun, and turning my back on
the sun tramped on again.

There was little use in following any of the brawling streams which every
now and then crossed my path, for, instead of flowing into the sea, they
ran inland to reedy pools in the hollows of the moors. I had followed
several, but they all led me to swamps or silent little ponds from which
the snipe rose peeping and wheeled away in an ecstasy of fright I began
to feel fatigued, and the gun galled my shoulder in spite of the double
pads. The sun sank lower and lower, shining level across yellow gorse and
the moorland pools.

As I walked my own gigantic shadow led me on, seeming to lengthen at
every step. The gorse scraped against my leggings, crackled beneath my
feet, showering the brown earth with blossoms, and the brake bowed and
billowed along my path. From tufts of heath rabbits scurried away through
the bracken, and among the swamp grass I heard the wild duck's drowsy
quack. Once a fox stole across my path, and again, as I stooped to drink
at a hurrying rill, a heron flapped heavily from the reeds beside me. I
turned to look at the sun. It seemed to touch the edges of the plain.
When at last I decided that it was useless to go on, and that I must make
up my mind to spend at least one night on the moors, I threw myself down
thoroughly fagged out. The evening sunlight slanted warm across my body,
but the sea-winds began to rise, and I felt a chill strike through me
from my wet shooting-boots. High overhead gulls were wheeling and tossing
like bits of white paper; from some distant marsh a solitary curlew
called. Little by little the sun sank into the plain, and the zenith
flushed with the after-glow. I watched the sky change from palest gold to
pink and then to smouldering fire. Clouds of midges danced above me, and
high in the calm air a bat dipped and soared. My eyelids began to droop.
Then as I shook off the drowsiness a sudden crash among the bracken
roused me. I raised my eyes. A great bird hung quivering in the air above
my face. For an instant I stared, incapable of motion; then something
leaped past me in the ferns and the bird rose, wheeled, and pitched
headlong into the brake.

I was on my feet in an instant peering through the gorse. There came the
sound of a struggle from a bunch of heather close by, and then all was
quiet. I stepped forward, my gun poised, but when I came to the heather
the gun fell under my arm again, and I stood motionless in silent
astonishment A dead hare lay on the ground, and on the hare stood a
magnificent falcon, one talon buried in the creature's neck, the other
planted firmly on its limp flank. But what astonished me, was not the
mere sight of a falcon sitting upon its prey. I had seen that more than
once. It was that the falcon was fitted with a sort of leash about both
talons, and from the leash hung a round bit of metal like a sleigh-bell.
The bird turned its fierce yellow eyes on me, and then stooped and struck
its curved beak into the quarry. At the same instant hurried steps
sounded among the heather, and a girl sprang into the covert in front.
Without a glance at me she walked up to the falcon, and passing her
gloved hand under its breast, raised it from the quarry. Then she deftly
slipped a small hood over the bird's head, and holding it out on her
gauntlet, stooped and picked up the hare.

She passed a cord about the animal's legs and fastened the end of the
thong to her girdle. Then she started to retrace her steps through the
covert As she passed me I raised my cap and she acknowledged my presence
with a scarcely perceptible inclination. I had been so astonished, so
lost in admiration of the scene before my eyes, that it had not occurred
to me that here was my salvation. But as she moved away I recollected
that unless I wanted to sleep on a windy moor that night I had better
recover my speech without delay. At my first word she hesitated, and as I
stepped before her I thought a look of fear came into her beautiful eyes.
But as I humbly explained my unpleasant plight, her face flushed and she
looked at me in wonder.

"Surely you did not come from Kerselec!" she repeated.

Her sweet voice had no trace of the Breton accent nor of any accent which
I knew, and yet there was something in it I seemed to have heard before,
something quaint and indefinable, like the theme of an old song.

I explained that I was an American, unacquainted with Finistère, shooting
there for my own amusement.

"An American," she repeated in the same quaint musical tones. "I have
never before seen an American."

For a moment she stood silent, then looking at me she said. "If you
should walk all night you could not reach Kerselec now, even if you had a
guide."

This was pleasant news.

"But," I began, "if I could only find a peasant's hut where I might get
something to eat, and shelter."

The falcon on her wrist fluttered and shook its head. The girl smoothed
its glossy back and glanced at me.

"Look around," she said gently. "Can you see the end of these moors?
Look, north, south, east, west. Can you see anything but moorland and
bracken?"

"No," I said.

"The moor is wild and desolate. It is easy to enter, but sometimes they
who enter never leave it. There are no peasants' huts here."

"Well," I said, "if you will tell me in which direction Kerselec lies,
to-morrow it will take me no longer to go back than it has to come."

She looked at me again with an expression almost like pity.

"Ah," she said, "to come is easy and takes hours; to go is different--and
may take centuries."

I stared at her in amazement but decided that I had misunderstood her.
Then before I had time to speak she drew a whistle from her belt and
sounded it.

"Sit down and rest," she said to me; "you have come a long distance and
are tired."

She gathered up her pleated skirts and motioning me to follow picked her
dainty way through the gorse to a flat rock among the ferns.

"They will be here directly," she said, and taking a seat at one end of
the rock invited me to sit down on the other edge. The after-glow was
beginning to fade in the sky and a single star twinkled faintly through
the rosy haze. A long wavering triangle of water-fowl drifted southward
over our heads, and from the swamps around plover were calling.

"They are very beautiful--these moors," she said quietly.

"Beautiful, but cruel to strangers," I answered.

"Beautiful and cruel," she repeated dreamily, "beautiful and cruel."

"Like a woman," I said stupidly.

"Oh," she cried with a little catch in her breath, and looked at me. Her
dark eyes met mine, and I thought she seemed angry or frightened.

"Like a woman," she repeated under her breath, "How cruel to say so!"
Then after a pause, as though speaking aloud to herself, "How cruel for
him to say that!"

I don't know what sort of an apology I offered for my inane, though
harmless speech, but I know that she seemed so troubled about it that I
began to think I had said something very dreadful without knowing it, and
remembered with horror the pitfalls and snares which the French language
sets for foreigners. While I was trying to imagine what I might have
said, a sound of voices came across the moor, and the girl rose to her
feet.

"No," she said, with a trace of a smile on her pale face, "I will not
accept your apologies, monsieur, but I must prove you wrong, and that
shall be my revenge. Look. Here come Hastur and Raoul."

Two men loomed up in the twilight. One had a sack across his shoulders
and the other carried a hoop before him as a waiter carries a tray. The
hoop was fastened with straps to his shoulders, and around the edge of
the circlet sat three hooded falcons fitted with tinkling bells. The girl
stepped up to the falconer, and with a quick turn of her wrist
transferred her falcon to the hoop, where it quickly sidled off and
nestled among its mates, who shook their hooded heads and ruffled their
feathers till the belled jesses tinkled again. The other man stepped
forward and bowing respectfully took up the hare and dropped it into the
game-sack.

"These are my piqueurs," said the girl, turning to me with a gentle
dignity. "Raoul is a good fauconnier, and I shall some day make him grand
veneur. Hastur is incomparable."

The two silent men saluted me respectfully.

"Did I not tell you, monsieur, that I should prove you wrong?" she
continued. "This, then, is my revenge, that you do me the courtesy of
accepting food and shelter at my own house."

Before I could answer she spoke to the falconers, who started instantly
across the heath, and with a gracious gesture to me she followed. I don't
know whether I made her understand how profoundly grateful I felt, but
she seemed pleased to listen, as we walked over the dewy heather.

"Are you not very tired?" she asked.

I had clean forgotten my fatigue in her presence, and I told her so.

"Don't you think your gallantry is a little old-fashioned?" she said; and
when I looked confused and humbled, she added quietly, "Oh, I like it, I
like everything old-fashioned, and it is delightful to hear you say such
pretty things."

The moorland around us was very still now under its ghostly sheet of
mist. The plovers had ceased their calling; the crickets and all the
little creatures of the fields were silent as we passed, yet it seemed to
me as if I could hear them beginning again far behind us. Well in
advance, the two tall falconers strode across the heather, and the faint
jingling of the hawks' bells came to our ears in distant murmuring
chimes.

Suddenly a splendid hound dashed out of the mist in front, followed by
another and another until half-a-dozen or more were bounding and leaping
around the girl beside me. She caressed and quieted them with her gloved
hand, speaking to them in quaint terms which I remembered to have seen in
old French manuscripts.

Then the falcons on the circlet borne by the falconer ahead began to beat
their wings and scream, and from somewhere out of sight the notes of a
hunting-horn floated across the moor. The hounds sprang away before us
and vanished in the twilight, the falcons flapped and squealed upon their
perch, and the girl, taking up the song of the horn, began to hum. Clear
and mellow her voice sounded in the night air.

  "Chasseur, chasseur, chassez encore,
  Quittez Rosette et Jeanneton,
  Tonton, tonton, tontaine, tonton,
  Ou, pour, rabattre, dès l'aurore,
  Que les Amours soient de planton,
  Tonton, tontaine, tonton."

As I listened to her lovely voice a grey mass which rapidly grew more
distinct loomed up in front, and the horn rang out joyously through the
tumult of the hounds and falcons. A torch glimmered at a gate, a light
streamed through an opening door, and we stepped upon a wooden bridge
which trembled under our feet and rose creaking and straining behind us
as we passed over the moat and into a small stone court, walled on every
side. From an open doorway a man came and, bending in salutation,
presented a cup to the girl beside me. She took the cup and touched it
with her lips, then lowering it turned to me and said in a low voice, "I
bid you welcome."

At that moment one of the falconers came with another cup, but before
handing it to me, presented it to the girl, who tasted it. The falconer
made a gesture to receive it, but she hesitated a moment, and then,
stepping forward, offered me the cup with her own hands. I felt this to
be an act of extraordinary graciousness, but hardly knew what was
expected of me, and did not raise it to my lips at once. The girl flushed
crimson. I saw that I must act quickly.

"Mademoiselle," I faltered, "a stranger whom you have saved from dangers
he may never realize empties this cup to the gentlest and loveliest
hostess of France."

"In His name," she murmured, crossing herself as I drained the cup. Then
stepping into the doorway she turned to me with a pretty gesture and,
taking my hand in hers, led me into the house, saying again and again:
"You are very welcome, indeed you are welcome to the Château d'Ys."




II

I awoke next morning with the music of the horn in my ears, and leaping
out of the ancient bed, went to a curtained window where the sunlight
filtered through little deep-set panes. The horn ceased as I looked into
the court below.

A man who might have been brother to the two falconers of the night
before stood in the midst of a pack of hounds. A curved horn was strapped
over his back, and in his hand he held a long-lashed whip. The dogs
whined and yelped, dancing around him in anticipation; there was the
stamp of horses, too, in the walled yard.

"Mount!" cried a voice in Breton, and with a clatter of hoofs the two
falconers, with falcons upon their wrists, rode into the courtyard among
the hounds. Then I heard another voice which sent the blood throbbing
through my heart: "Piriou Louis, hunt the hounds well and spare neither
spur nor whip. Thou Raoul and thou Gaston, see that the epervier
does not prove himself niais, and if it be best in your judgment,
faites courtoisie à l'oiseau. Jardiner un oiseau_, like the
_mué_ there on Hastur's wrist, is not difficult, but thou, Raoul,
mayest not find it so simple to govern that _hagard_. Twice last
week he foamed _au vif_ and lost the _beccade_ although he is
used to the _leurre_. The bird acts like a stupid _branchier.
Paître un hagard n'est pas si facile."_

Was I dreaming? The old language of falconry which I had read in yellow
manuscripts--the old forgotten French of the middle ages was sounding in
my ears while the hounds bayed and the hawks' bells tinkled accompaniment
to the stamping horses. She spoke again in the sweet forgotten language:

"If you would rather attach the _longe_ and leave thy _hagard au
bloc_, Raoul, I shall say nothing; for it were a pity to spoil so fair
a day's sport with an ill-trained _sors_. _Essimer abaisser_,--it is
possibly the best way. _Ça lui donnera des reins._ I was perhaps hasty
with the bird. It takes time to pass _à la filière_ and the exercises
_d'escap_."

Then the falconer Raoul bowed in his stirrups and replied: "If it be the
pleasure of Mademoiselle, I shall keep the hawk."

"It is my wish," she answered. "Falconry I know, but you have yet to give
me many a lesson in _Autourserie_, my poor Raoul. Sieur Piriou Louis
mount!"

The huntsman sprang into an archway and in an instant returned, mounted
upon a strong black horse, followed by a piqueur also mounted.

"Ah!" she cried joyously, "speed Glemarec René! speed! speed all! Sound
thy horn, Sieur Piriou!"

The silvery music of the hunting-horn filled the courtyard, the hounds
sprang through the gateway and galloping hoof-beats plunged out of the
paved court; loud on the drawbridge, suddenly muffled, then lost in the
heather and bracken of the moors. Distant and more distant sounded the
horn, until it became so faint that the sudden carol of a soaring lark
drowned it in my ears. I heard the voice below responding to some call
from within the house.

"I do not regret the chase, I will go another time Courtesy to the
stranger, Pelagie, remember!"

And a feeble voice came quavering from within the house,
"_Courtoisie_"

I stripped, and rubbed myself from head to foot in the huge earthen basin
of icy water which stood upon the stone floor at the foot of my bed. Then
I looked about for my clothes. They were gone, but on a settle near the
door lay a heap of garments which I inspected with astonishment. As my
clothes had vanished, I was compelled to attire myself in the costume
which had evidently been placed there for me to wear while my own clothes
dried. Everything was there, cap, shoes, and hunting doublet of silvery
grey homespun; but the close-fitting costume and seamless shoes belonged
to another century, and I remembered the strange costumes of the three
falconers in the court-yard. I was sure that it was not the modern dress
of any portion of France or Brittany; but not until I was dressed and
stood before a mirror between the windows did I realize that I was
clothed much more like a young huntsman of the middle ages than like a
Breton of that day. I hesitated and picked up the cap. Should I go down
and present myself in that strange guise? There seemed to be no help for
it, my own clothes were gone and there was no bell in the ancient chamber
to call a servant; so I contented myself with removing a short hawk's
feather from the cap, and, opening the door, went downstairs.

By the fireplace in the large room at the foot of the stairs an old
Breton woman sat spinning with a distaff. She looked up at me when I
appeared, and, smiling frankly, wished me health in the Breton language,
to which I laughingly replied in French. At the same moment my hostess
appeared and returned my salutation with a grace and dignity that sent a
thrill to my heart. Her lovely head with its dark curly hair was crowned
with a head-dress which set all doubts as to the epoch of my own costume
at rest. Her slender figure was exquisitely set off in the homespun
hunting-gown edged with silver, and on her gauntlet-covered wrist she
bore one of her petted hawks. With perfect simplicity she took my hand
and led me into the garden in the court, and seating herself before a
table invited me very sweetly to sit beside her. Then she asked me in her
soft quaint accent how I had passed the night, and whether I was very
much inconvenienced by wearing the clothes which old Pelagie had put
there for me while I slept. I looked at my own clothes and shoes, drying
in the sun by the garden-wall, and hated them. What horrors they were
compared with the graceful costume which I now wore! I told her this
laughing, but she agreed with me very seriously.

"We will throw them away," she said in a quiet voice. In my astonishment
I attempted to explain that I not only could not think of accepting
clothes from anybody, although for all I knew it might be the custom of
hospitality in that part of the country, but that I should cut an
impossible figure if I returned to France clothed as I was then.

She laughed and tossed her pretty head, saying something in old French
which I did not understand, and then Pelagie trotted out with a tray on
which stood two bowls of milk, a loaf of white bread, fruit, a platter of
honey-comb, and a flagon of deep red wine. "You see I have not yet broken
my fast because I wished you to eat with me. But I am very hungry," she
smiled.

"I would rather die than forget one word of what you have said!" I
blurted out, while my cheeks burned. "She will think me mad," I added to
myself, but she turned to me with sparkling eyes.

"Ah!" she murmured. "Then Monsieur knows all that there is of chivalry--"

She crossed herself and broke bread. I sat and watched her white hands,
not daring to raise my eyes to hers.

"Will you not eat?" she asked. "Why do you look so troubled?"

Ah, why? I knew it now. I knew I would give my life to touch with my lips
those rosy palms--I understood now that from the moment when I looked
into her dark eyes there on the moor last night I had loved her. My great
and sudden passion held me speechless.

"Are you ill at ease?" she asked again.

Then, like a man who pronounces his own doom, I answered in a low voice:
"Yes, I am ill at ease for love of you." And as she did not stir nor
answer, the same power moved my lips in spite of me and I said, "I, who
am unworthy of the lightest of your thoughts, I who abuse hospitality and
repay your gentle courtesy with bold presumption, I love you."

She leaned her head upon her hands, and answered softly, "I love you.
Your words are very dear to me. I love you."

"Then I shall win you."

"Win me," she replied.

But all the time I had been sitting silent, my face turned toward her.
She, also silent, her sweet face resting on her upturned palm, sat facing
me, and as her eyes looked into mine I knew that neither she nor I had
spoken human speech; but I knew that her soul had answered mine, and I
drew myself up feeling youth and joyous love coursing through every vein.
She, with a bright colour in her lovely face, seemed as one awakened from
a dream, and her eyes sought mine with a questioning glance which made me
tremble with delight. We broke our fast, speaking of ourselves. I told
her my name and she told me hers, the Demoiselle Jeanne d'Ys.

She spoke of her father and mother's death, and how the nineteen of her
years had been passed in the little fortified farm alone with her nurse
Pelagie, Glemarec René the piqueur, and the four falconers, Raoul,
Gaston, Hastur, and the Sieur Piriou Louis, who had served her father.
She had never been outside the moorland--never even had seen a human soul
before, except the falconers and Pelagie. She did not know how she had
heard of Kerselec; perhaps the falconers had spoken of it. She knew the
legends of Loup Garou and Jeanne la Flamme from her nurse Pelagie. She
embroidered and spun flax. Her hawks and hounds were her only
distraction. When she had met me there on the moor she had been so
frightened that she almost dropped at the sound of my voice. She had, it
was true, seen ships at sea from the cliffs, but as far as the eye could
reach the moors over which she galloped were destitute of any sign of
human life. There was a legend which old Pelagie told, how anybody once
lost in the unexplored moorland might never return, because the moors
were enchanted. She did not know whether it was true, she never had
thought about it until she met me. She did not know whether the falconers
had even been outside, or whether they could go if they would. The books
in the house which Pelagie, the nurse, had taught her to read were
hundreds of years old.

All this she told me with a sweet seriousness seldom seen in any one but
children. My own name she found easy to pronounce, and insisted, because
my first name was Philip, I must have French blood in me. She did not
seem curious to learn anything about the outside world, and I thought
perhaps she considered it had forfeited her interest and respect from the
stories of her nurse.

We were still sitting at the table, and she was throwing grapes to the
small field birds which came fearlessly to our very feet.

I began to speak in a vague way of going, but she would not hear of it,
and before I knew it I had promised to stay a week and hunt with hawk and
hound in their company. I also obtained permission to come again from
Kerselec and visit her after my return.

"Why," she said innocently, "I do not know what I should do if you never
came back;" and I, knowing that I had no right to awaken her with the
sudden shock which the avowal of my own love would bring to her, sat
silent, hardly daring to breathe.

"You will come very often?" she asked.

"Very often," I said.

"Every day?"

"Every day."

"Oh," she sighed, "I am very happy. Come and see my hawks."

She rose and took my hand again with a childlike innocence of possession,
and we walked through the garden and fruit trees to a grassy lawn which
was bordered by a brook. Over the lawn were scattered fifteen or twenty
stumps of trees--partially imbedded in the grass--and upon all of these
except two sat falcons. They were attached to the stumps by thongs which
were in turn fastened with steel rivets to their legs just above the
talons. A little stream of pure spring water flowed in a winding course
within easy distance of each perch.

The birds set up a clamour when the girl appeared, but she went from one
to another, caressing some, taking others for an instant upon her wrist,
or stooping to adjust their jesses.

"Are they not pretty?" she said. "See, here is a falcon-gentil. We call
it 'ignoble,' because it takes the quarry in direct chase. This is a blue
falcon. In falconry we call it 'noble' because it rises over the quarry,
and wheeling, drops upon it from above. This white bird is a gerfalcon
from the north. It is also 'noble!' Here is a merlin, and this tiercelet
is a falcon-heroner."

I asked her how she had learned the old language of falconry. She did not
remember, but thought her father must have taught it to her when she was
very young.

Then she led me away and showed me the young falcons still in the nest.
"They are termed _niais_ in falconry," she explained. "A
_branchier_ is the young bird which is just able to leave the nest
and hop from branch to branch. A young bird which has not yet moulted is
called a _sors_, and a _mué_ is a hawk which has moulted in
captivity. When we catch a wild falcon which has changed its plumage we
term it a _hagard_. Raoul first taught me to dress a falcon. Shall I
teach you how it is done?"

She seated herself on the bank of the stream among the falcons and I
threw myself at her feet to listen.

Then the Demoiselle d'Ys held up one rosy-tipped finger and began very
gravely.

"First one must catch the falcon."

"I am caught," I answered.

She laughed very prettily and told me my _dressage_ would perhaps be
difficult, as I was noble.

"I am already tamed," I replied; "jessed and belled."

She laughed, delighted. "Oh, my brave falcon; then you will return at my
call?"

"I am yours," I answered gravely.

She sat silent for a moment. Then the colour heightened in her cheeks and
she held up her finger again, saying, "Listen; I wish to speak of
falconry--"

"I listen, Countess Jeanne d'Ys."

But again she fell into the reverie, and her eyes seemed fixed on
something beyond the summer clouds.

"Philip," she said at last.

"Jeanne," I whispered.

"That is all,--that is what I wished," she sighed,--"Philip and Jeanne."

She held her hand toward me and I touched it with my lips.

"Win me," she said, but this time it was the body and soul which spoke in
unison.

After a while she began again: "Let us speak of falconry."

"Begin," I replied; "we have caught the falcon."

Then Jeanne d'Ys took my hand in both of hers and told me how with
infinite patience the young falcon was taught to perch upon the wrist,
how little by little it became used to the belled jesses and the
_chaperon à cornette_.

"They must first have a good appetite," she said; "then little by little
I reduce their nourishment; which in falconry we call _pât_. When,
after many nights passed _au bloc_ as these birds are now, I prevail
upon the _hagard_ to stay quietly on the wrist, then the bird is
ready to be taught to come for its food. I fix the _pât_ to the end
of a thong, or _leurre_, and teach the bird to come to me as soon as
I begin to whirl the cord in circles about my head. At first I drop the
_pât_ when the falcon comes, and he eats the food on the ground.
After a little he will learn to seize the _leurre_ in motion as I
whirl it around my head or drag it over the ground. After this it is easy
to teach the falcon to strike at game, always remembering to _'faire
courtoisie á l'oiseau'_, that is, to allow the bird to taste the
quarry."

A squeal from one of the falcons interrupted her, and she arose to adjust
the _longe_ which had become whipped about the _bloc_, but the
bird still flapped its wings and screamed.

"What _is_ the matter?" she said. "Philip, can you see?"

I looked around and at first saw nothing to cause the commotion, which
was now heightened by the screams and flapping of all the birds. Then my
eye fell upon the flat rock beside the stream from which the girl had
risen. A grey serpent was moving slowly across the surface of the
boulder, and the eyes in its flat triangular head sparkled like jet.

"A couleuvre," she said quietly.

"It is harmless, is it not?" I asked.

She pointed to the black V-shaped figure on the neck.

"It is certain death," she said; "it is a viper."

We watched the reptile moving slowly over the smooth rock to where the
sunlight fell in a broad warm patch.

I started forward to examine it, but she clung to my arm crying, "Don't,
Philip, I am afraid."

"For me?"

"For you, Philip,--I love you."

Then I took her in my arms and kissed her on the lips, but all I could
say was: "Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne." And as she lay trembling on my breast,
something struck my foot in the grass below, but I did not heed it. Then
again something struck my ankle, and a sharp pain shot through me. I
looked into the sweet face of Jeanne d'Ys and kissed her, and with all my
strength lifted her in my arms and flung her from me. Then bending, I
tore the viper from my ankle and set my heel upon its head. I remember
feeling weak and numb,--I remember falling to the ground. Through my
slowly glazing eyes I saw Jeanne's white face bending close to mine, and
when the light in my eyes went out I still felt her arms about my neck,
and her soft cheek against my drawn lips.


When I opened my eyes, I looked around in terror. Jeanne was gone. I saw
the stream and the flat rock; I saw the crushed viper in the grass beside
me, but the hawks and _blocs_ had disappeared. I sprang to my feet.
The garden, the fruit trees, the drawbridge and the walled court were
gone. I stared stupidly at a heap of crumbling ruins, ivy-covered and
grey, through which great trees had pushed their way. I crept forward,
dragging my numbed foot, and as I moved, a falcon sailed from the
tree-tops among the ruins, and soaring, mounting in narrowing circles,
faded and vanished in the clouds above.

"Jeanne, Jeanne," I cried, but my voice died on my lips, and I fell on my
knees among the weeds. And as God willed it, I, not knowing, had fallen
kneeling before a crumbling shrine carved in stone for our Mother of
Sorrows. I saw the sad face of the Virgin wrought in the cold stone. I
saw the cross and thorns at her feet, and beneath it I read:

  "PRAY FOR THE SOUL OF THE
  DEMOISELLE JEANNE D'Ys,
  WHO DIED
  IN HER YOUTH FOR LOVE OF
  PHILIP, A STRANGER.
  A.D. 1573."

But upon the icy slab lay a woman's glove still warm and fragrant.



The entire work, as written by Robert W. Chambers, can be read at Project Gutenberg: The King in Yellow.

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