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- The Wagner Story Book - 24/24 -


must say that they are beautiful flowers, but they are not of the sort that I like. Anybody can see that there is magic about them. The earth and the water, the air and the sunshine, never would make such flowers. It might not be easy to say why, but just a single look at them is enough to make one feel sure that they are all poisonous. On the wall of the garden, with a sword in his hand, stands the Fool, looking down into it and wondering at the flowers. There were none in the least like these in the forest where he lived with his mother, and none about the Temple of the Grail.

"But what is this more wonderful sight still that he sees? Are the flowers alive, and are they running about and playing together? It is a crowd of girls, with queer, bright colored gowns that make them look for all the world like the huge flowers of the garden. They have just run out of the castle and they are all in confusion, and are crying and complaining because the knights, who were their play-fellows, have been beaten and wounded. Who is he that has done it? Where is he? If they could find him they would tear him all to little bits, you would think. And then they do find him. There he stands on the wall, looking down at them and wondering. And when he says that he will play with them instead of the knights, they forget all about everybody but him in a moment, and instead of quarrelling with him or trying to punish him for wounding their knights, they only quarrel with one another, because every one of them wants him all for herself.

"He has come down from the wall and they all gather around him, chattering and struggling for him. He does not seem to care half so much for them as they do for him, and when he sees that they will do nothing but quarrel about him he turns to go away again, but a voice calls him and tells him to stay. He turns again and stops, and all the living flowers run away, chattering and laughing at him. The voice that called him was the woman's, He is bewildered when he sees her. He has never seen such beauty before, any more than you or I ever have. For an instant he thinks that she is another of the strange flowers of this strange garden. Yet her beauty does not seem to move him very much. Perhaps that is because he is a Fool.

"But she speaks to him not at all as the other living flowers did. At first she makes him remember the old years when he was with his mother, how she cared for him in everything, and how she tried to keep him from knowing those things which she dreaded that he should learn. Then she tells him again how she died when he had left her. This, she thinks, with what she is to say next, may move him, and indeed it does, but not as she meant that it should. The great sorrow for his mother comes upon him again, and stronger than when he heard first that she was dead. He weeps now and throws himself upon the ground, and nothing can comfort him.

"The woman tries to console him now. She tells him that if he will but stay he may have all the pleasures of the magician's castle, and she will love him, she, the most beautiful woman in the whole world. But he does not heed her, the Fool--he is thinking of other things. He remembers the King and his wound. So much he remembers that he almost feels the wound in himself. And as the woman bends above him there comes another thought. Nobody has ever told him, yet somehow now he knows, that it was she who tempted the King when he got that wound, just as she tries to tempt him now. I think that it is his own great sorrow that has made him know something of what another's sorrow must be, and when he has remembered the King and has felt the wound himself, all this has helped him to see and to know much more. Perhaps this is the way that he is 'taught by pity.'

"The woman cannot move him more, cannot tempt him, but now the magician himself stands on the wall of the castle with the spear in his hand. The blood still flows from the point and trickles down the shaft to his hand and stains it that deep, ugly red. He poises the spear a moment and then hurls it at the Fool. But it will not strike him. It stops above his head and hangs in the air. The Fool lifts his hand and grasps the spear. The blood from its point runs down the shaft and over his hand, and leaves it clean and white. He only shakes the spear in his hand, and the castle and the garden tremble and fall, as the fire here falls together, and they are gone.

"Once more we are near the Temple of the Grail. The place is at the edge of woods which reach away in one direction, while in the other are fields and meadows. It is spring, and the green of the trees is fresh and light, and the fields are covered with flowers. They are not like the flowers of that magic garden. Their bright little cups hold cool drops of dew, and the air is full of their perfume. The old knight is here. He has heard a sound like a groan from the little thicket of low bushes and brambles at the border of the wood. He searches, and brings out a woman--the same woman. She is still asleep, but in a moment she slowly awakes. She is no longer beautiful. She is out of the magician's power now, even if he is not buried under his ruined castle. She is ready to serve the Grail.

"The Grail! Alas! nobody serves the Grail now. The poor King, since that last time when the Fool saw him uncover the Grail, will touch it no more. He fears too much the pain of his wound. It cannot feed or help its knights now, and they cannot go any more to carry help into far-off lands. But to-day the King has promised that he will uncover it for one last time, for this is Good Friday, when the dove comes to renew the power of the Grail.

"While the old knight and the woman stand here, another comes toward them. He is a knight in black armor, with his helmet closed, and carrying a spear. 'Do you not know,' the old knight asks him, 'what holy day this is, and that none now should come here bearing arms?' The black knight only shakes his head. He sets his spear in the ground and kneels before it, taking off his helmet and gazing up at the point, from which the blood flows. The old knight looks at him and at the spear in wonder. Then he sees the blood, and by that he knows what spear it is. He looks again at the knight, with his helmet off, and now he knows him too. He is filled with a joy that he has not known these many years. Yes, the sorrows of the King and of the knights of the Grail are over now. This is indeed 'the simple Fool, taught by pity,' this is he whom the Grail has chosen.

"And now there comes the soft sound of the chimes to tell them that it is time for them to go to the temple to see the Grail uncovered. The old knight leads the way and the others follow. Through the woods and along the rocky pathways they walk, the sound of the bells grows plainer, and so they come to the temple. The hall is filled with the knights of the Grail. The King is borne in as he was before, and is brought to the highest place. The Holy Grail is carried before him with its purple cover. They all look at the King and wait for him. For a moment he wavers, then he springs from his couch--no, no, he will not uncover the Grail again; let him die rather; let them kill him, and then the Grail shall feed them and bless them, and shall torture him no more.

[Illustration: "THE KING OF THE GRAIL."]

"They all draw back from him in dread at his look and his words--all but one. For the Fool goes straight to him and touches the wound with the spear. Instantly the wound is healed. 'You shall uncover the Grail no more,' he says, 'for I am chosen to be its King instead of you.' He makes a sign to the boys who have brought it, and they uncover it and place it in his hand. He holds it above his head and again the red blood in it glows and throbs. Down from the dome flies a white dove and rests above it. Before it, and before him who holds it, kneel the old King, no longer king now, the old knight, and the woman, for her too this new King has saved, for he has come, the best knight of the world and one whom she could not tempt. The simple Fool is the King of the Grail. The sound of the singing voices comes down from the dome, and from far above them come still the voices of the bells. Surely to any who could know how to hear it their chiming must say again: 'Taught by pity--him I have chosen,'"

THE ASHES

After the little girl had gone, I still sat for a long time looking into the fire. I was seeing pictures for myself, not now of the days so long gone by, but of days not yet come, pictures with the little girl in them. There, in the flames where we had seen so much together, I could see pretty clearly, as I thought, what she would be and all that she would be some time. But when I tried to see what she would do and how her lot should fall, the fire would tell me no more. Yet wherever and however it shall fall, may she not be a little better, a little wiser, a little happier perhaps, for knowing these old stories that have helped so many women and so many men before her to live their lives? Will it not be good for her to remember Brünnhilde's fearless truth, Senta's sacrifice, Elizabeth's constancy? And if to the thoughts of these she add Parsifal's lesson of compassion, surely then even a little of Eva's coquetry can do no harm.

And then I tried to see something of her knight. But the fire had all died down now, and was only a heap of ashes. I could question as much as I would, but there was no reply. Would he seek her out and come to her like Siegfried, through struggles and through fire? Would he find and help her in her greatest need, like Lohengrin? Would he only love her and sing a song for her, like Walter? Or would it be for her to help and to save him, like Vanderdecken?--Surely not like Tannhäuser. No, no answer. I stirred the ashes. Underneath there was still a bright, ruddy, friendly glow, but nothing more.

A clock somewhere in the house, with a low, musical note, struck midnight. But what was this other music that followed it? Was it again the bells of Monsalvat, this soft chime that came on the still air? No, no, only church bells far off, ringing in the New Year, Many times I had heard them and well I knew their sound. And all around those bells, I knew too, at this moment, there were noise and uproar and confusion, so much that those who stood nearest to them in the street could not tell whether they were ringing, just as many other sweet and pleasant things are made to seem lost among the coarse and the commonplace. But to me here, away from the vulgar crowd and forgetting it, the music came, faint indeed, yet clear and pure. I opened the window and the chime came plainer with the keen winter air, and the bells--I am sure of it--answered all my questions and rang a promise for the New Year and for all the years.


The Wagner Story Book - 24/24

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