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- The Wagner Story Book - 20/24 -
the hollow rumble of the water sounds fainter and farther along the sands, and the ocean draws itself back away from you and away from the land. Its colors are different, too. Before it had all sorts of fanciful hues and shades, pale green and blue, silver, violet, almost rose sometimes, the colors of summer dreams. Now the dreaming time is over. The green of the wave-crests is luminous, the white and the blue have the gleam of polished steel, the violet and the rose are turned to deep, rich purple. The sea is not cold, harsh, and cruel yet, but it is free, bold, and majestic.
All this I knew because I remembered it, not because I saw it, for I had been back in the city a long time. The fire was lighted again and I had sat before it often, thinking of the driftwood fire away down there, with the little girl sitting before it, seeing pictures in it for herself, perhaps, and listening to the low sound of the sea, coming up through the still evening air. But one night she came and sat with me again, and once more we both looked into the same fire. "I believe I can almost see pictures myself now," she said.
"Can you? And what do you see in the fire now?"
"Oh, I can see a prince and a princess--and a knight--and a lovely goddess, like the one that had the apples--and a cave, like the one where the dragon lived--"
"And don't you see the dragon himself? Where is he?"
"No, there isn't any dragon; that would be too much like the other story."
"But you must not mind that. There are only a few good stories altogether, and the most we can do, as I told you once before, is to tell them over and over again in different ways."
"But I don't want any dragon in this one. Now you tell me what they all do, the goddess and the knight, and the prince and the princess, and what the cave is for."
"Very well, I will try. First I see the knight. He is riding along upon his horse, through the forests, over the hills and across the valleys. It is a lovely day of summer. When he comes to the top of a hill, he sees the country lying before him and all around him, deep green with woods and pastures and paler green where the grain is ripening. Here and there, too, it is sprinkled with tiny dots of red, where the poppies grow thick in a field, and there are spots that are almost blue with cornflowers. A silver ribbon of a river winds through it, and the sight of it is lost among the blue mountains. As he rides down into a valley the branches wave above him and break the sunshine that falls upon the road and the grass beside it. The flecks of light and the patches of shade tremble and waver and dart across and across the way, as if they were weaving a robe for the earth, of gold and brown and green. The air is full of the smell of the flowers, a brook makes a soft, cheery little noise, and from the pastures comes the sleepy sound of sheep-bells.
"The knight is riding toward the castle of the prince. He is a minstrel, as well as a knight, and at the castle he will meet other minstrels who are his friends, and they are all to sing for a prize which the prince has offered. There is as much happiness in the heart of the knight as in everything around him, for he loves the prince's daughter, and he knows that she loves him. Besides this she is to give the prize to the one who wins it, and with his mind full of gladness and thoughts of her, he feels sure that he can win.
"As he rides thus the evening falls. The moon comes up, and from the hills the country stretches darkly away all around, with the silver ribbon of the river still winding through it. The shade is so deep in the valleys that he has to ride through them slowly. The robe of the earth now is all of deep gray and silver. The smell of the flowers is stronger and sweeter than before, the brooks sound louder, and the sheep bells are silent. The knight's thoughts just now are wandering away from the princess, and he is thinking of the fame that he hopes to win as a minstrel, how he will gain this prize and many other prizes, how kings will send for him to come to their courts, that they may hear his songs, how he will grow great and rich, and how his name will live on after he is dead.
"As he thinks of these things, suddenly he sees a strange form before him in the valley. It is like a woman, wonderfully beautiful, marvellously, magically beautiful. Something more than the moonlight seems to rest upon her and to show him her face with its deep eyes and soft cheeks, her movements, so graceful and gentle that it seems as if she did not move herself at all, but were just stirred and swayed by the little breezes. A rosy light shines from her face and around her dark hair. All about her are nymphs, or fairies, dancing and gliding and scattering roses for her to walk upon. It seems really quite needless to do that, for she appears rather to float and move in the air and to rest on the flower-perfumed wind than to stand or walk upon the ground. Now a knight who was also a minstrel could not possibly make any mistake about such a person as this, and he knows at once that she is the very Goddess of Love and Beauty."
"Is she the one that had the apples?" the little girl asked.
"No, not quite the same. She is one something like her, yet a good deal different."
"Is she Venus then?"
"Yes, you have guessed just right, and so at last somebody in our story has a name. But she is not altogether like the Venus that you have heard about so many times before. Some people used to believe that after the old gods whom you know so well had lost their rule on Mount Olympus, they went to live inside the mountains and under the ground, and that they were not kind to men any more, but always did harm, whenever they were able to do anything. Now, for myself, I don't quite see how this could be, because you know we have felt so sure that we saw some of them up in the sky sometimes. Yet now that I see Venus here, it does seem to me as if there were something in the story after all, and I believe it would be better for the knight if he had never seen her at all. If he were thinking of the princess at the time I do not believe he would look twice at Venus. No, I am sure he would not even see her once.
"But since he is not thinking of the princess, but only of what a great man he would be if he could make his songs seem as wonderful to everybody else as they seem to himself, it is not surprising that he is delighted by such a vision, and it is not surprising, either, when the goddess and her nymphs beckon to him and then glide away as if they wanted him to follow them, that he gets off his horse and does follow them. They move along so fast that he cannot keep up with them, and soon he cannot even see them, but it is still easy for him to follow. For everywhere they go the strangest flowers spring up under their feet and make a pathway to lead him. They are huge, bright flowers, cup- shaped and star-shaped and sun-shaped. Flowers of such wonderful form and size, and such gorgeous colors the knight never saw before. Some of them seem to be made of hammered gold, and some of silver; some have stamens of precious stones, and some look like clear crystal, blood- red, deep purple, or orange, as if they were cut from solid gems; some of them have petals like flames, that shimmer and glow and are reflected by the others; the leaves are all glistening emerald and they are sprinkled with pearls like drops of evening dew. The stems twine about like serpents, and they seem to the knight to move and turn about to show him all their magic splendor. Some of them, with coiling tendrils, like gold wire, sway toward him as if they would catch him and hold him, others dance and wave about on their stems and twinkle as the other stars do, up above the trees, as if they were laughing and mocking at him, and still others bow and bend away from him and beckon him on. The whole of the fire is scarcely enough to show me this strange garden. A pale, ghostly light rises from all the flowers and hovers over the path. The knight would stop to pick some of them, but those before him seem always more beautiful than those close at hand, and, besides, he is eager to follow the goddess. So on he hurries till he sees before him a way straight into the side of the mountain and within a great glare of light. If he would only think of the princess now, for one instant! But he goes straight on into the mountain, and the way shuts behind him, and outside the magic flowers are gone, and there is nothing but the soft grass, the whispering trees, the dark sky, with the stars, and the calm night.
[Illustration: "THE STRANGEST FLOWERS SPRING UP UNDER THEIR FEET."]
"Do you see how very wrong it is for the knight to go away after the goddess into the mountain? When people let themselves be led away like that by fairies and goddesses it is usually a long time before they get back. A knight like this one, who is a minstrel as well, ought to know all about such things, and I dare say he does. He must have heard of men who went to such places and saw beautiful and wonderful sights, and feasted and danced till they thought that they had been away from their homes for a day, or a week, and then, when they went back to them, found that they had really been gone for years, perhaps for hundreds of years, and that all their friends were dead. He ought to think of his friends, the other knights and minstrels, who will be grieved when they meet and he is not with them. For his own sake he ought to know better than to run into strange and dangerous places just because they look pleasant. More than all, he ought to think of the princess. If he does not care for the prize of his song any more for itself he should care for her who is to give it. He should remember how much she loves him, little as he deserves it. She will not forget him as he does her. When she waits and waits for him and he does not come she will believe that he is dead, and she will cry her pretty eyes out. She will never think that he has gone away from her to visit a goddess of love and beauty who lives in a cave.
"Now I see the cave of the goddess, deep in the mountain. It seems dim and misty and confused at first, but gradually I can see it clearer. All around the sides and the top are great pendants of gems, like icicles, of all sorts of colors, as if the precious stones had once been liquid and had run down into the cave and then had frozen into crystal. Here and there are diamonds and rubies and opals and emeralds as big as your head, set in the roof, and they have some magical way of shining all by themselves and light up the whole cave like lamps. The ground is covered with flowers like those that made the path to lead the knight to the place. A stream of water runs from the cave and is fed by fountains in the middle. These fountains are wonderful affairs too. Sometimes they throw jets of liquid silver almost to the roof; then they fall down and spread out wide in sheets, of the color and the brightness of melted gold; again the water rises in little streams that twine and weave themselves together like basket-work, and all of deep, shining crimson; then the fountains take other fantastic forms and other colors, purple or green or orange, but always glowing with light, and so they pass to silver and to gold again.
"This is the cave of Venus. It is filled with the nymphs who attend her, and they are singing choruses in her praise, and dancing wonderful, mazy, mad, delirious dances. They whirl about and around alone, in couples, in lines, in circles, and in crowds, their arms waving and their hair streaming in the air. Sometimes while they dance every one is plainly to be seen, and again their garments surround them like clouds, and they are all one waving, streaming, fluttering mass.
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