Page images

" And report her to you, as game worth your coming over to mark or not, as the case may be? Your paysanne won't hold her ground long against the Peeress, if she's only a tithe of what Rokeby says. I will make note for you accurately if I see her; and I may come back through Paris in the spring. The deuce! it's getting very late. Those people will all be here before we are dressed for dinner," said Strathmore, as he crossed the terrace, entered the house, and went up to his dressing-room that was over the billiard-room, and looked out across the pleasaunce and the deerpark that lay beyond.

Lady Millicent came, haughty, lovely, and bewitching, with the Harewood people and several others, to dinner that night at White Ladies ; in the great dining-hall that had been the refectory of the old Dominicans. Where travel-worn pilgrims and serge-clothed palmers, footsore and bronzed by Eastern suns, had sat and supped, telling of miracles of Loretto or persecutions from the Moslem to the listening brethren ; pretty women with diamonds glancing in their hair, and smiles brightening in their languid, lustrous eyes, sat at the table, covered with gold plate, and · Bohemian glass and delicate Sèvres, with rich fruits and brilliant exotics, and Parian figures holding up baskets odorous with summer blossom, while the wines sparkled pink and golden in their carafes, and flushed to warm, ruby tints in the silver claret-jugs. Where the white robes of the Dominicans had swept, the perfumed laces and silks of their trailing dresses as noiselessly moved ; where the Latin chant of the Salutaris Hostia had risen and swelled, the low laugh of their musical voices echoed; where the incense had Aoated in purple clouds, the bouquet of Burgundies and the perfume of Millefleurs scented the air; where the silent monks had sat and broken black bread in the monarchical gloom of their woodland Abbey, Lady Millicent and her sisters flirted and smiled, and brushed the bloom off a hothouse grape, and trifled with the wing of an ortolan, while the light flashed azure-bright in their sapphires, and the opals gleamed in their bosom. Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi ! So To-day succeeds to Yesterday, and the dead are supplanted and the past is forgot! Where the viaticum last night was administered to the dying, the laugh of the living echoes gaily this morning, and in its turn the laugh will die off the air, and the chant of the tomb will come round Again. Such is life and such is death, and the two are ever fused together and twisted in one inseparable cord, the white line running with the black, side by side, crossed and recrossed, following each other as the night the day!

“ You incorrigible fellow, what would your wood-nymph have said to you if she'd seen you making such desperate love to Lady Millicent to-night?” said Strathmore, as he and Erroll passed down the corridor to the smoking-room, as the last roll of the carriages echoed down the avenue.

“The devil!" laughed Erroll. “ If they had a lorgnon long enough to let them see any of us when we're away from them, the tamest Griseldis would have little to say to us when we went back to her! Those poor women! they're shockingly cheated.”

“They have their revenge, mon cher. If we're their first instructors in mischief, they take to the lesson very kindly, and improve on it fast enough!" laughed Strathmore. “If M. son Mari deceive Lucretia,

Lucretia soon turns the tables, and dupes her lord. They are quits with us, and don't want any pity. I wish your luckless wood-nymph had seen you go on with the Clinton to-night! I am curious really to know how you get up the steam fresh every time ; now with a duchess, and now with a dairymaid, now with a blonde, and now with a brûne !"

“Afin de varier les couleurs !" quoted Erroll, appropriately, wrapping about him his seed-pearl broidered and sable-lined dressing-gown, dainty and lovely enough for Lady Millicent's wear.

“Caramba!" broke in Strathmore. “I have a good mind to punish your inconstancy by betraying your incognita. Such a monopoly of the wild game and the tame birds at once isn't fair. I'll tell Danvers the whereabouts of your preserves."

“No, no! Don't! there's a good fellow," interrupted Erroll, quickly. “ You see it would only bother one--and — "

Strathmore laughed as he opened the door of the smoking-room, and the flood of warm light streamed out from within :

“ We don't like poaching in neglected preserves even! I understand, my dear fellow. Bag your big game and your small, make love to your Court belle and your country girl both at once, and just as you like! I won't set the beaters after either. Have I not said I'll be silent as death? Entrez! Bah! there is Phil smoking those wretched musk-scented cigarettes again; they are only,fit for Lady Georgie or Eulalie Papellori. What taste, when there are my Havannahs and cheroots !"


THE VIGIL OF ST. JOHN. It was the Vigil of St. John in Prague. The stars were coming out one by one in the clear violet skies, that were still yellow in the west with the beams of a setting sun; and the dews of the evening were moist upon the thick foliage of the Lorenziberge and the vineyards of the Anlägen, encircling the city with their fresh green zone. The lights already lit upon the bridges were mirrored in the waters of the Moldau, or the Velta va, as it is called by its softer Czeschen name, that ran like a broad smooth silver band beneath their arches ; and the glare from the western skies fell on the gilt crosses of the Teyn church, making them blaze and sparkle with fairy brilliance, while the mosque-like spires of a thousand towers stood out clear and delicate as fairy handiwork in the warm golden baze, as the measured chant of litanies, sung by gathered multitudes, rose and fell with slow sonorous rhythm on the hush of the coming night. For many nights and days before, the hum of collecting people and the weary tramp of tired feet had been heard throughout the city, as pilgrims and devotees of every stock and province had Aocked far and near, from wild Silesian forests, from remote Bavarian mountains, from Saxon hamlets buried in their pine-woods, and charcoal. burners' châlets in Moldavian wilds, and Czeschen homesteads nestled in their cherry orchards, to the great Festival of Holy Johannes of Nepomük, at whose most sainted martyrdom, as Legend and Church record, five stars arose and glittered in the waters where the Saint sank, a thousand years ago, and gleamed in golden radiance, heaven-sent witnesses to innocence. At the Cathedral and in the Platz, before the stars and statue on the bridge, and around the bronze ring in St. Wenzel's Chapel, at every smaller shrine and lesser altar through the city, the dense crowd of pilgrims knelt, all their heads bowed down in prayer, as the numberless ears of wheat in a corn-field bend with one accord before the sweep of a summer breeze. There is something oddly touching, pathetic, majestic, almost sacred in the sight of a surging sea of human life! What is it that is grand and impressive in a dense silent crowd collected together, no matter whether that crowd be a mass of troops in the Champ de Mars, the gathering of the people upon Epsom Downs, or a countless assembling of peasants in Prague on a Holy day? What is it? Taken individually, the units of each are unimpressive, grotesque, common-place; a French guide, an English touter, a Sclavonian glass engraver, have no sublimity about them taken singly, but in their aggregate there is that same strange, nameless, mournful solemnity which brought hot, unbidden tears to the eyes of the man who, while the Magi offered libations to the manes of the Homeric heroes, sat on the white throne at Abydos, looking down on the crowded Hellespont, and the countless thousands that were gathered by the shores of Scamander, beneath the shadow of Mount Ida, while the sunlight glittered on the golden pomegranates of the Immortal Guard, and the gorgeous robes of the Thracians fluttered in the winds. Perhaps, with him, we vaguely, unwittingly, involuntarily compassionate these vast multitudes, of which in a century there will not be one who has not been gathered to his tomb, and the depth of the sadness lends a sanctity to these crowds, whose goal is the grave, which the chill and shallow philosophies of an Artabanus cannot whisper away; for we too are wending thither in their company, we too must turn our steps from golden Abydos, and lay us down to die at Salamis !

It was the Vigil of St. John. Pyramids of gas-jets flared up to the calm violet skies, the Five Stars commemorative of the Saint of Nepomük glittered on the parapet in the profound silence of the evening air; there was no sound but the swelling melodious cadence of the Latin litanies, chanted by a million voices in solemn and regular rhythm, Glling the night with music, full, rich, mournful as the glorious harmonies that peal from cathedral choirs at a midnight mass; and an Englishman strolling through the city on foot (for no carriages are permitted in the Platz and Bridge at the Vigil and Festival of St. John), looked down on the kneeling multitudes with a smile on his lips, a smile that had perhaps a little of the sadness of the Persian as he gazed down on the Ægean, and more of natural disdain for these superstitions before him, that were but type of the bigotries of a wider world, where difference from him is your neighbour's measure of your difference from Deity, and where we are bidden to accept our creed, as in the time of the Molinistes they were bidden to accept the Pouvoir Prochain, by no better rule than that “il faut prononcer le mot des lèvres de peur d'être hérétique de nom.”

As he strolled down Wenzel's Platz, in the centre of which sprang a tree of gas, with a myriad burning luminous leaves, that threw their glare on the kneeling devotees, packed as closely as sheep in their pens, as they bowed in adoration before the holy shrines, and chanted the. litanies of St. John ; a carriage that had come into the square against all rule—for the best reason, that the horses had broken away, frightened at the music, the lights, the crowds, and had taken their own way thither, beyond their driver's power to pull them in-dashed down the Platz at a headlong gallop. The crowd of pilgrims were too densely packed to have power to move to save themselves by separation or by Aight; they fell pêle-mêle one on another, the stronger crushing the weaker, according to custom in every conflict, calling on Jesus and the Mother of God and Holy Johannes to preserve them from their fate, shrieking, praying, sobbing, swearing; while the horses, maddened by the tumult and the gas glare, tore across the square, dragging their carriage after them like a wicker toy. Nothing less than a heavenly interposition, miraculously great as the Five Stars of Holy Johannes, could save the people in their path from death and destruction ; the carriage rocked and swayed, its occupant clasping her hands and crying piteously for help; the horses dashed through the kneeling multitude, knocking down aged men and sobbing children and shrieking women in their headlong course; the oaths and prayers and screams rose loud and shrill, half drowned in the rich sonorous chant of the litanies from priests and pilgrims beyond, that swelled out uninterrupted from every lighted shrine. and blazing altar.

Death was imminent for many-death in the hour of prayer, death on the eve of glad festivity ;-the horses, snorting, plunging, Ainging the white foam from their nostrils, trampled out a merciless path through the close-packed crowd, and trod down beneath their hoofs what they could not scatter from their road. The blaze of gas, the loud swell of the chants, the glitter of the altar lights, the wild tumult and uproar about them, terrified and maddened them. Death was in their van and in their wake for all the multitude kneeling there in prayer; but-as they neared the spot where the Englishman was, who had not moved a yard, but calmly waited their approach, he stood firmly planted, as though made of granite, in their path, and catching them, with a sudden spring, by their ribbons close to the curb, checked them in full fight with a force that sent them back upon their haunches. It needed what he had, an iron strength and perfect coolness; even with these to aid him it was a dangerous risk to run, for if they shook themselves free, the infuriated beasts would trample him to death. They reared and plunged wildly, flinging the foam, tinged with blood, over their chests and flanks, and into his eyes, till it blinded him with the spray; they lifted him three times up off the ground by his wrists with a jerk sufficient to wrench his arms out of their sockets, with a strain enough to make every fibre and muscle break and snap. Still he held on ; they had met their master, and had to give in at last; they were powerless to shake off his grip; and, tired out at last with the contest, they stood quiet, panting, trembling, passive, fairly broken in, their heads drooping, their limbs quivering, blood where the curbs had sawn their mouths, mixed with the snowy foam that covered them from their loins to their pasterns. He let go his hold; bis face was very pale, and perfectly calm, as though he had lounged out of a ball-room ; but his eyes glittered and gleamed dark with a swift, dangerous passion--a passion that was evil. He stretched his hand up, without speaking, to the coachman for his whip; the man stooped down


and gave it to him, and, clearing the crowd wide with a sign, he lashed the horses pitilessly, fiercely-Jashed them till the poor brutes, spiritless, powerless, and trembling, stood shaking like culprits before their judge. That merciless punishing done, his passion had spent itself; the horses were broken down to the quietness of lambs, and might have been guided by a young child; and, letting go his hold on them again, he approached the carriage window, and lifted his hat as carelessly and indifferently as though he were bowing to some acquaintance in the Ride or the Pré Catalan.

“Madame, you must be very much terrified, but I trust you have not been hurt?” he said, in German, to the single occupant of the carriage, who, leaning out, eagerly, and with grateful empressement, stretched to him two delicate, ungloved, jewelled hands.

"Monsieur ! Mon Dieu ! how brave you have been! You have saved my life--and at the risk of your own! What can I say to you? How can I thank you ?”

As the glare from the gas-pyramid near and the lights burning on the shrine fell upon her face, he saw that it was one of rare and exceeding loveliness, and smiled slightly as her warm white hands touched his own, that were aching and throbbing with pain :

« Madame, I am thanked already--par un regard de vous! Is there any way in which I can have the honour to assist you ?"

Before she could reply, the carriage moved. The driver, a rough, illmannered Czec, who wasted no words and no time, started off his trembling horses afresh ; he was impatient to be out of the crowd, that, recovering from their terror, were swearing bitterly at him in a hundred guttural dialects, and screaming vociferous, indignant wrath; and he was afraid, moreover, of the arrival and the fury of police officials. Without awaiting orders, he started them off back again through the square, and the carriage rolled away down the Platz, bearing its occupant out of sight; a broidered handkerchief she had dropped, as her hand met her deliverer's, was the only relic left of her, where it lay on the stones at his feet. The pilgrims, closing over the vacant spot as the vehicle rolled away, crowded round the Englishman, who, by his nerve and muscle, had saved two-thirds of them from imminent death, with impetuous, demonstrative, enthusiastic gratitude, the vivacious Sclavonians calling on the Mother of God and Holy Johannes to bless and reward him, showering down on him a thousand valedictions in harsh Saxon and vehement Czeschen; the women holding up their children to look at him, and remember his face, and pray for him for ever; the terrified peasants kissing his clothes in frantic adoration, canonising him then and there, and calling down upon his head the blessing of the whole heavenly roll of saints and angels' guardian; while through the multitude ran a breathless whisper, that their deliverer was none other than St. John of Nepomük himself, descended on earth in human form to save and champion his faithful people, keeping watch and prayer at his Vigil in Prague !

To be canonised was very far from his taste, and the vehement gratitude lavished upon him was an infinite bore. The vociferous worship of the crowds could very well have been dispensed with, and, signing them off to leave him a clear path, he pushed them away, and breaking free from their eager clamour with some difficulty, he walked down the Platz,

« EelmineJätka »