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contentedly half hidden in the mazy thicket underneath. But to those poplars comes the evening breeze with latest tidings of their own fair land. That is why they are so pensive all day long. The water itself feeds there, with constant cool, under the heavy summer heats, the green roots of a paradise of blooms. The iris, with his yellow cloven helm and sharp twoedged sword, steps boldly forward from the blossomy brinks. Like a little tree out of the crystal pool, upshoots, with graceful pyramid of white, thick-clustered flowers, the delicate alisma. Midway along the liquid dark float all day long at ease the large leaf-isles of the nymphæa. And there the restless water-spider weaves his swift-dissolving wizard circles round the dreamy, half-closed calyx of the lotus, leaning low.
Thither one evening, from the little village hard by where I put up my horse, I had strolled in time to see the setting sun of October twinkle through the airy webwork of the half dismantled grove. I was sitting upon the roots of a hollow tree, and gazing at the west, where, though the sun was sunk, dark, brightlipped clouds were dipping their moist mouths into a lingering liquid fire, to breathe it back in sombre light upon the shadowed land.
"Here," I said to myself, "so near the noisy metropolis of the world, is the very perfection of solitude!"
At that moment, across the profound calm of nature, I heard a voice of pain crying "Cain! Cain !"
There was something in the suddenness and the sound of that voice which made me shudder.
Startled, I looked all around me.
I could see no
human being. Every bird was silent in its nest. And still the voice cried " Cain !”
From the grated greenery of the willow-tree not far off the voice had issued. But I sat still, stupefied and bewildered, without courage to approach that spot.
Again in accents of intensest pain the voice began to speak. Listening with a creepy awe, I heard it cry,
"If thou wilt destroy me, dreadful Hand-if thou art sworn to sink me to the abyss-why then dost thou not pluck me by the hair, or seize me by the throat, and drag me down into the deeps from which thou risest thus? If thou wilt have my heart, why dost thou not pierce this long-tormented breast with but a single sharply-daggered ray of thine intolerable amethyst? Be any thing but what thou art. Rise rather on my path-not thus, cold Hand, not thusbut with fist firm-clenched, and arm of weightiest menace. Then will I grapple with thee hand to hand, ay, even till my bones be broken in thine iron grasp. But stretch not forth thus pitcously to me those pale imploring fingers. Not thus! I can not seize thee thus, thou knowest it well; for fast the devilish amethyst has fixed me with his demon eye, and it burns, it burns-away!"
Then from the twilight shadows of the glimmering willow a man came forth, and instantly disappeared elsewhere into the dark and lonely woodland.
Instantly, yet not so soon but what I had recognized his face. I had never forgotten that face. The man I had just seen was the man I had seen two years before upon the deck of the "Loreley."
It was the Gentleman in Black.
I was strangely agitated by the unexpected and momentary reappearance of this man.
Night had long fallen, and all was dark around me before I could rouse myself from the stupor of amazement into which I had been cast, no less by the mys terious and unintelligible words which I had overheard, than by the vivid recollections and undefined curiosity which those words had conjured back to my mind.
But at length I was conscious of a chilly change in the night air. I got up and walked back with bewildering sensations to the little village where I had left my horse.
My head was already in a whirl when I mounted and rode homeward. I rode fast, feeling that I was late, but hardly knowing how or where I rode.
A strong wind had risen, and violently swept forward, up the road, twirling columns of fine white sand. I could see them plainly; for it was one of those nights in which the sky is darker than the earth, and the land was covered with a gray, melancholy glare. They moved sometimes beside me like spectres as I galloped on, or
'Lapland giants trotting by our side;"
sometimes they rose erect before me, and paused and hovered on the road as if in menace. To watch them whirling and changing shape as I galloped through them made me giddy. I felt my brain getting troubled, and my sight confused.
Suddenly, on the summit of a tall, dark tree (as it
seemed to me), I saw solemnly seated a strange, pale figure. It, too, I recognized at once. It was the figure of the woman I had seen two years before seated in the same attitude on the hatchway of the steamer. It was she herself, the Loreley!
Her dark mantle had slid from her cold white shoulder-cold and white as marble. Her long hair beat the wind. And a high, wild song of jubilee and lamentation—a song of deepest joy and deepest sorrow, she was chanting or wailing in the plaintive murmur of the midnight storm. A song of subtlest sorcery it was; unearthly sweet, and wild with more than mortal pain; in meshes of a music magical bewildering every headlong sense, and leading blindfold to the brinks of death the soul it thrilled with solemn shuddering and a deep delight. I felt the madness growing in me as I gazed with charmed and spellbound eyes upon the melancholy face of that alluring apparition.
While I was yet looking at it, unconscious of all else, my horse shied, and sprang aside with a frightened bound. I lost my stirrup. The reins fell from my loose hand. Confused and afraid of falling, I tried to throw my arms round the neck of the horse.
Suddenly, as in a dream, I perceived that all the place was changed, and the things about me other than they were. The forest had disappeared, and giv en place all round to bare, black, pointed rocks, whose sharp peaks grazed with rugged edges the sullen sky. About the base of these black rocks fierce breakers, roaring, dashed their foamy surge, and tossed in air white mists of chilly spray.
That to which my arms were clinging fast was not my horse's neck, but the prow of a broken, sinking bark. That which I had taken for columns of white dust was a tumultuous crowd of desperate swimmers, shipwrecked like myself.
And we fiercely jostled each other, and fought and pushed, and struggled all together in the roaring gulf.
But high over all this, alone under the starless, dark night-sky, aloof upon her reachless rock, sat cold the Loreley. And her calm intolerable eye was fixed upon that writhing knot of hideous human faces.
There, in the violent waters, all human passions seemed let loose-Desire and jealousy, and love and rage, and rapture and despair; and in every stormy face the waves were tossing up and down, the passions of man contended more fiercely than the elements of nature in revolt. Each desperate swimmer was fiercely struggling to the savage rock where sat the Loreley. Each frenzied eye that glittered from the seething surge was fixed with hopeless passion on the face of the Sorceress.
And still she sat, and still she sang her solemn song, the cruel fair Enchantress!
But as, one by one, each fierce, impassioned face was singled sharply out from the heaving human mass, and struck by the intense look of that cold eye that watched them from the rock, the face thus paralyzed fell back, still staring to the last with glassy looks upon the Loreley, and dropped into the waves and disappeared. Each maddened swimmer, as that eye fell on him, flung up his arms, and was whirled away upon the roaring gulf, and seen no more.