The Purple Cloud Part 24

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The next morning, having met, as agreed, at the site of the Prophet's mosque, we traversed together the valley and cemetery of Ka.s.sim by the quagmires up to Pera, all the landscape having to me a rather twisted unfamiliar aspect. We had determined to spend the morning in searching for supplies among the earthquake-ruins of Pera; and as I had decided to collect sufficient in one day to save us further pains for some time, we pa.s.sed a good many hours in this task, I confining myself to the great white house in the park overlooking Ka.s.sim, where I had once slept, losing myself in the huge obliquities of its floors, roofs and wall-fragments, she going to the old Mussulman quarter of Djianghir near, on the heights of Taxim, where were many shops, and thence round the brow of the hill to the great French Emba.s.sy-house, overlooking Foundoucli and the sea, both of us having large Persian carpet-bags, and all in the air of that wilderness of ruin that morning a sweet, strong, permanent odour of maple-blossom.

We met toward evening, she quivering under such a load, that I would not let her carry it, but abandoned my day's labour, which was lighter, and took hers, which was quite enough: we went back Westward, seeking all the while some shelter from the saturating night-dews of this place: and nothing could we find, till we came again, quite late, to her broken funeral-kiosk at the entrance to the immense cemetery-avenue of Eyoub.

There without a word I left her among the shattered catafalques, for I was weary; but having gone some distance, turned back, thinking that I might take some more raisins from the bag; and after getting them, said to her, shaking her little hand where she sat under the roof-shadow on a stone:

'Good-night, Clodagh.'

She did not answer promptly: and her answer, to my surprise, was a protest against her name: for a rather sulky, yet gentle, voice came from the darkness, saying:

'I am _not_ a Poisoner!'

'Well,' said I, 'all right: tell me whatever you like that I should call you, and henceforth I will call you that.'

'Call me Eve,' says she.

'Well, no,' said I, 'not Eve, anything but that: for _my_ name is Adam, and if I called you Eve, that would be simply absurd, and we do not want to be ridiculous in each other's eyes. But I will call you anything else that you like.'

'Call me Leda,' says she.

'And why Leda?' said I.

'Because Leda sounds something like Clodagh,' says she, 'and you are al-leady in the habit of calling me Clodagh; and I saw the name Leda in a book, and liked it: but Clodagh is most hollible, most bitterly hollible!'

'Well, then,' said I, 'Leda it shall be, and I shan't forget, for I like it, too, and it suits you, and you ought to have a name beginning with an "L." Good-night, my dear, sleep well, and dream, dream.'

'And to you, too, my G.o.d give dleams of peace and pleasantness,' says she; and I went.

And it was only when I had lain myself upon leaves for my bed, my head on my caftan, a rill for my lullaby, and two stars, which alone I could see out of the heavenful, for my watch-lights; and only when my eyes were already closed toward slumber, that a sudden strong thought pierced and woke me: for I remembered that Leda was the name of a Greek woman who had borne twins. In fact, I should not be surprised if this Greek word Leda is the same word etymologically as the Hebrew Eve, for I have heard of _v's_, and _b's_, and _d's_ interchanging about in this way, and if _Di_, meaning G.o.d, or Light, and _Bi_, meaning Life, and Io_v_e, and Iho_v_ah and Go_d_, meaning much the same, are all one, that would be nothing astonis.h.i.+ng to me, as wi_d_ow, and veu_v_e, are one: and where it says, 'truly the Light is Good (_tob, b_on),' this is as if it said, 'truly the Di is Di.' Such, at any rate, is the fatality that attends me, even in the smallest things: for this Western Eve, or Greek Leda, had twins.

Well, the next morning we crossed by the ruins of old Greek Phanar across the triple Stamboul-wall, which still showed its deep-ivied portal, and made our way, not without climbing, along the Golden Horn to the foot of the Old Seraglio, where I soon found signs of the railway.

And that minute commenced our journey across Turkey, Bulgaria, Servia, Bosnia, Croatia, to Trieste, occupying no day or two as in old times, but four months, a long-drawn nightmare, though a nightmare of rich happiness, if one may say so, leaving on the memory a vague vast impression of monstrous ravines, ever-succeeding profundities, heights and greatnesses, jungles strange as some moon-struck poet's fantasy, everlasting glooms, and a sound of mighty unseen rivers, cataracts, and slow c.u.mbered rills whose bulrushes never see the sun, with largesse everywhere, secrecies, profusions, the unimaginable, the unspeakable, a savagery most lush and fierce and gaudy, and vales of Arcadie, and remote mountain-peaks, and tarns shy as old-buried treasure, and glaciers, and we two human folk pretty small and drowned and lost in all that amplitude, yet moving always through it.

We followed the lines that first day till we came to a steam train, and I found the engine fairly good, and everything necessary to move it at my hand: but the metals in such a condition of twisted, broken, vaulted, and buried confusion, due to the earthquake, that, having run some hundreds of yards to examine them, I saw that nothing could be done in that way. At first this threw me into a condition like despair, for what we were to do I did not know: but after persevering on foot for four days along the deep-rusted track, which is of that large-gauge type peculiar to Eastern Europe, I began to see that there were considerable sound stretches, and took heart.

I had with me land-charts and compa.s.s, but nothing for taking alt.i.tude-observations: for the _Speranza_ instruments, except one compa.s.s, had all been broken-up by her shock. However, on getting to the town of Silivri, about thirty miles from our start, I saw in the ruins of a half-standing bazaar-shop a number of bra.s.s objects, and there found several good s.e.xtants, quadrants, and theodolites. Two mornings later, we came upon an engine in mid-country, with coals in it, and a stream near; I had a goat-skin of almond-oil in the bag, and found the machinery serviceable after an hour's careful inspection, having examined the boiler with a candle through the manhole, and removed the autoclaves of the heaters. All was red with rust, and the shaft of the connecting-rod in particular seemed so frail, that at one moment I was very dubious: I decided, however, and, except for a slight leakage at the tubulure which led the steam to the valve-chest, all went very well; at a pressure never exceeding three-and-a-half atmospheres, we travelled nearly a hundred and twenty miles before being stopped by a head-to-head block on the line, when we had to abandon our engine; we then continued another seven miles a-foot, I all the time mourning my motor, which I had had to leave at Imbros, and hoping at every townlet to find a whole one, but in vain.

It was wonderful to see the villages and towns going back to the earth, already invaded by vegetation, and hardly any longer breaking the continuity of pure Nature, the town now as much the country as the country, and that which is not-Man becoming all in all with a certain _furore_ of vigour. A whole day in the southern gorges of the Balkan Mountains the slow train went tearing its way through many a mile of bind-weed tendrils, a continuous curtain, flaming with large flowers, but sombre as the falling shades of night, rather resembling jungles of Ceylon and the Filipinas; and she, that day, lying in the single car behind, where I had made her a little yatag-bed from Tatar Bazardjik, continually played the kittur, barely touching the strings, and crooning low, low, in her rich contralto, eternally the same air, over and over again, crooning, crooning, some melancholy tune of her own dreaming, just audible to me through the slow-travailing monotony of the engine; till I was drunken with so sweet a woe, my G.o.d, a woe that was sweet as life, and a dolour that lulled like nepenthe, and a grief that soothed like kisses, so sweet, so sweet, that all that world of wood and gloom lost locality and realness for me, and became nothing but a charmed and pensive Heaven for her to moan and lullaby in; and from between my fingers streamed plenteous tears that day, and all that I could keep on mourning was 'O Leda, O Leda, O Leda,' till my heart was near to break.

The feed-pump eccentric-shaft of this engine, which was very poor and flaky, suddenly gave out about five in the afternoon, and I had to stop in a hurry, and that sweet invisible mechanism which had crooned and crooned about my ears in the air, and followed me whithersoever I went, stopped too. Down she jumped, calling out:

'Well, I had a plesentiment that something would happen, and I am so glad, for I was tired!'

Seeing that nothing could be done with the feed-water pump, I got down, took the bag, and parting before us the continuous screen, we went pioneering to the left between a rock-cleft, stepping over large stones that looked black with moss-growths, no sky, but hundreds of feet of impenetrable leaf.a.ge overhead, and everywhere the dew-dabbled profusion of dim ferneries, dishevelled maidenhairs mixed with a large-leaved mimosa, wild vine, white briony, and a smell of cedar, and a soft rus.h.i.+ng of perpetual waters that charmed the gloaming. The way led slightly upwards three hundred feet, and presently, after some windings, and the climbing of five huge steps almost regular, yet obviously natural, the gorge opened in a roundish s.p.a.ce, fifty feet across, with far overhanging edges seven hundred feet high; and there, behind a curtain which fell from above, its tendrils defined and straight like a j.a.panese bead-hanging, we spread the store of foods, I opening the wines, fruits, vegetables and meats, she arranging them in order with the gold plate, and lighting both the spirit-lamp and the lantern: for here it was quite dark. Near us behind the curtain of tendrils was a small green cave in the rock, and at its mouth a pool two yards wide, a black and limpid water that leisurely wheeled, discharging a little rivulet from the cave: and in it I saw three owl-eyed fish, a finger long, loiter, and spur themselves, and gaze. Leda, who cannot be still in tongue or limb, chattered in her glib baby manner as we ate, and then, after smoking a cigarette, said that she would go and 'lun,' and went, and left me darkling, for she is the sun and the moon and the host of the stars, I occupying myself that night in making a calendar at the end of this book in which I have written, for my almanack and many things that I prized were lost with the palace--making a calendar, counting the days in my head--but counting them across my thoughts of her.

She came again to tell me good-night, and then went down to the train to sleep; and I put out the lantern, and stooped within the cave, and made my simple couch beside the little rivulet, and slept.

But a fitful sleep, and soon again I woke; and a long time I lay so, gradually becoming conscious of a slow dripping at one spot in the cave: for at a minute's interval it darkly splashed, regularly, very deliberately; and it seemed to grow always louder and sadder, and the splash at first was 'Leesha,' but it became 'Leda' to my ears, and it sobbed her name, and I pitied myself, so sad was I. And when I could no longer bear the anguished melancholy of its spasm and its sobbing, I arose and went softly, softly, lest she should hear in that sounding silence of the hushed and darksome night, going more slow, more soft, as I went nearer, a sob in my throat, my feet leading me to her, till I touched the carriage. And against it a long time I leant my clammy brow, a sob aching in my poor throat, and she all mixed up in my head with the suspended hushed night, and with the elfin things in the air that made the silence so musically a-sound to the vacant ear-drum, and with the dripping splash in the cave. And softly I turned the door-handle, and heard her breathe in Asleep, her head near me; and I touched her hair with my lips, and close to her ear I said--for I heard her breathe as if in sleep--'Little Leda, I have come to you, for I could not help it, Leda: and oh, my heart is full of the love of you, for you are mine, and I am yours: and to live with you, till we die, and after we are dead to be near you still, Leda, with my broken heart near your heart, little Leda--'

I must have sobbed, I think; for as I spoke close at her ears, with pa.s.sionately dying eyes of love, I was startled by an irregularity in her breathing; and with cautious hurry I shut the door, and quite back to the cave I stole in haste.

And the next morning when we met I thought--but am not now sure--that she smiled singularly: I thought so. She may, she _may_, have heard--But I cannot tell.

Twice I was obliged to abandon engines on account of forest-tree obstructions right across the line, which, do what I might, I could not move, and these were the two bitterest incidents of the pilgrimage; and at least thirty times I changed from engine to engine, when other trains blocked. As for the extent of the earthquake, it is pretty certain that it was universal over the Peninsula, and at many points exhibited extreme violence, for up to the time that we entered upon Servian territory, we occasionally came upon stretches of the lines so dislocated, that it was impossible to proceed upon them, and during the whole course I never saw one intact house or castle; four times, where the way was of a nature to permit of it, I left the imbedded metals and made the engine travel the ground till I came upon other metals, when I always succeeded in driving it upon them. It was all very leisurely, for not everywhere, nor every day, could I get a nautical observation, and having at all times to go at low pressures for fear of tube and boiler weakness, crawling through tunnels, and stopping when total darkness came on, we did not go fast, nor much cared to. Once, moreover, for three days, and once for four, we were overtaken by hurricanes of such vast inclemency, that no thought of travelling entered our heads, our only care being to hide our poor cowering bodies as deeply and darkly as possible. Once I pa.s.sed through a city (Adrianople) doubly devastated, once by the h.e.l.lish arson of my own hand, and once by the earthquake: and I made haste to leave that place behind me.

Finally, three months and twenty-seven days from the date of the earthquake, having traversed only 900 odd English miles, I let go in the Venice lagoon, in the early morning of the 10th September, the lateen sail and stone anchor of a Maltese _speronare_, which I had found, and partially cleaned, at Trieste; and thence I pa.s.sed up the Ca.n.a.lazzo in a gondola. For I said to Leda: 'In Venice will I pitch my Patriarch tent.'

But to will and to do are not the same thing, and still further Westward was I driven. For the stagnant upper ca.n.a.ls of this place are now mere miasmas of pestilence: and within two days I was rolling with fever in the Old Procurazie Palace, she standing in pale wonderment at my bed-side, sickness quite a novel thing to her: and, indeed, this was my first serious illness since my twentieth year or thereabouts, when I had over-worked my brain, and went a voyage to Constantinople. I could not move from bed for some weeks, but happily did not lose my senses, and she brought me the whole pharmacopoeia from the shops, from which to choose my medicines. I guessed the cause of this illness, though not a sign of it came near her, and as soon as my trembling knees could bear me, I again set out--always Westward--enjoying now a certain luxury in travelling compared with that Turkish difficulty, for here were no twisted metals, more and better engines, in the cities as many good petrol motors as I chose, and Nature markedly less savage.

I do not know why I did not stop at Verona or Brescia, or some other neighbourhood of the Italian lakes, since I was fond of water: but I had, I think, the thought in my head to return to Vauclaire in France, where I had lived, and there live: for I thought that she might like those old monks. At all events, we did not remain long in any place till we came to Turin, where we spent nine days, she in the house opposite mine, and after that, at her own suggestion, went on still, pa.s.sing by train into the valley of the Isere, and then into that of the Western Rhone, till we came to the old town of Geneva among some very great mountains peaked with snow, the town seated at the head of a long lake which the earth has made in the shape of the crescent moon, and like the moon it is a thing of much beauty and many moods, suggesting a creature under the spell of charms and magics. However, with this idea of Vauclaire still in my head, we left Geneva in the motor which had brought us at four in the afternoon of the 17th May, I intending to reach the town called Bourg that night about eight, and there sleep, so to go on to Lyons the next morning by train, and so, by the Bordeaux route, make Vauclaire. But by some chance for which I cannot to this hour account (unless the rain was the cause), I missed the chart-road, which should have been fairly level, and found myself on mountain tracks, unconscious of my whereabouts, while darkness fell, and a windless downpour that had a certain sullen venom in its superabundance drenched us. I stopped several times, looking about for chateau, chalet, or village, but none did I see, though I twice came upon railway lines; and not till midnight did we run down a rather steep pa.s.s upon the sh.o.r.e of a lake, which, from its apparent vastness in the moonless obscurity, I could only suppose to be the Lake of Geneva once again.

About two hundred yards to the left we saw through the rain a large pile, apparently risen straight out of the lake, looking ghostly livid, for it was of white stone, not high, but an old thing of complicated white little turrets roofed with dark red candle extinguishers, and oddities of Gothic nooks, window slits, and outline, very like a fanciful picture. Round to this we went, drowned as rats, Leda sighing and bedraggled, and found a narrow spit of low land projecting into the lake, where we left the car, walked forward with the bag, crossed a small wooden drawbridge, and came upon a rocky island with a number of thick-foliaged trees about the castle. We quickly found a small open portal, and went throughout the place, quite gay at the shelter, everywhere lighting candles which we found in iron sconces in the rather queer apartments: so that, as the castle is far seen from the sh.o.r.es of the lake, it would have appeared to one looking thence a place suddenly possessed and haunted. We found beds, and slept: and the next day it turned out to be the antique Castle of Chillon, where we remained five long and happy months, till again, again, Fate overtook us.

The morning after our coming, we had breakfast--our last meal together--on the first floor in a pentagonal room approached from a lower level by three little steps. In it is a ponderous oak table pierced with a mult.i.tude of worm eaten tunnels, also three mighty high backed chairs, an old oak desk covered still with papers, arras on the walls, and three dark religious oil paintings, and a grandfathers clock: it is at about the middle of the chateau, and contains two small, but deep, three faced oriels, in each face four compartments with white stone shafts between, these looking south upon shrubs and the rocky edge of the island, then upon the deep blue lake, then upon another tiny island containing four trees in a jungle of flowers, then upon the sh.o.r.e of the lake interrupted by the mouths of a river which turned out to be the Rhone, then upon a white town on the slopes which turned out to be Villeneuve, then upon the great mountains back of Bouveret and St.

Gingolph, all having the surprised air of a resurrection just completed, everything new washed in dyes of azure, ultramarine, indigo, snow, emerald, that fresh morning: so that one had to call it the best and holiest place in the world. These five old room walls, and oak floor, and two oriels, became specially mine, though it was really common ground to us both, and there I would do many little things. The papers on the desk told that it had been the _bureau_ of one R.E. Gaud, '_Grand Bailli_,' whose residence the place no doubt had been.

She asked me while eating that morning to stay here, and I said that I would see, though with misgiving: so together we went all about the house, and finding it unexpectedly s.p.a.cious, I consented to stop. At both ends are suites, mostly small rooms, infinitely quaint and cosy, furnished with heavy Henri Quatre furniture and bed draperies; and there are separate, and as it were secret, spiral stairs for exit to each: so we decided that she should have the suite overlooking the length of the lake, the mouths of the Rhone, Bouveret and Villeneuve; and I should have that overlooking the spit of land behind and the little drawbridge, sh.o.r.e cliffs, and elmwood which comes down to the sh.o.r.e, giving at one point a glimpse of the diminutive hamlet of Chillon; and, that decided, I took her hand in mine, and I said:

'Well, then, here we stay, both under the same roof--for the first time.

Leda, I will not explain why to you, but it is dangerous, so much so that it _may_ mean the death of one or other of us: deadly, deadly dangerous, my poor girl. You do not understand, but that is the fact, believe me, for I know it very well, and I would not tell you false.

Well, then, you will easily comprehend, that this being so, you must never on any account come near my part of the house, nor will I come near yours. Lately we have been very much together, but then we have been active, full of purpose and occupation: here we shall be nothing of the kind, I can see. You do not understand at all--but things are so. We must live perfectly separate lives, then. You are nothing to me, really, nor I to you, only we live on the same earth, which is nothing at all--a mere chance. Your own food, clothes, and everything that you want, you will procure for yourself: it is perfectly easy: the sh.o.r.es are crowded with mansions, castles, towns and villages; and I will do the same for myself. The motor down there I set apart for your private use: if I want another, I will get one; and to-day I will set about looking you up a boat and fis.h.i.+ng tackle, and cut a cross on the bow of yours, so that you may know yours, and never use mine. All this is very necessary: you cannot dream how much: but I know how much. Do not run any risks in climbing, now, or with the motor, or in the boat ... little Leda ...'

I saw her under-lip push, and I turned away in haste, for I did not care whether she cried or not. In that long voyage, and in my illness at Venice, she had become too near and dear to me, my tender love, my dear darling soul; and I said in my heart: 'I will be a decent being: I will turn out trumps.'

Under this castle is a sort of dungeon, not narrow, nor very dark, in which are seven stout dark-grey pillars, and an eighth, half-built into the wall; and one of them which has an iron ring, as well as the ground around it, is all worn away by some prisoner or prisoners once chained there; and in the pillar the word 'Byron' engraved. This made me remember that a poet of that name had written something about this place, and two days afterwards I actually came upon three volumes of the poet in a room containing a great number of books, many of them English, near the Grand Bailli's _bureau_: and in one I read the poem, which is called 'The Prisoner of Chillon.' I found it very affecting, and the description good, only I saw no seven rings, and where he speaks of the 'pale and livid light,' he should speak rather of the dun and brownish gloom, for the word 'light' disconcerts the fancy, and of either pallor or blue there is there no sign. However, I was so struck by the horror of man's cruelty to man, as depicted in this poem, that I determined that she should see it; went up straight to her rooms with the book, and, she being away, ferreted among her things to see what she was doing, finding all very neat, except in one room where were a number of prints called _La Mode_, and _debris_ of snipped cloth, and medley.

When, after two hours, she came in, and I suddenly presented myself, 'Oh!' she let slip, and then fell to cooing her laugh; and I took her down through a big room stacked with every kind of rifle, with revolvers, cartridges, powder, swords, bayonets--evidently some official or cantonal magazine--and then showed her the worn stone in the dungeon, the ring, the narrow deep slits in the wall, and I told the tale of cruelty, while the splas.h.i.+ng of the lake upon the rock outside was heard with a strange and tragic sound, and her mobile face was all one sorrow.

'How cruel they must have been!' cries she with tremulous lip, her face at the same time reddened with indignation.

'They were mere beastly monsters,' said I: 'it is nothing surprising if monsters were cruel.'

And in the short time while I said that, she was looking up with a new-born smile.

'Some others came and set the plisoner flee!' cries she.

'Yes,' said I, 'they did, but--'

'That was good of them,' says she.

'Yes,' said I, 'that was all right, so far as it went.'

'And it was a time when men had al-leady become cluel,' says she: 'if those who set him flee were so good when all the lest were cluel, what would they have been at a time when all the lest were kind? They would have been just like Angels....!'

The Purple Cloud Part 24

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The Purple Cloud Part 24 summary

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