Story 12 - the Island of the Fay by Spitoufs
Story 12 - the Island of the Fay by Spitoufs
La Musique, says Marmontel, in those Contes Moraux which in
all our translations, we have insisted upon calling Moral Tales,
as if in mockery of their spirit - la musique est le seul des
talents qui jouissent de lui-meme tous les autres veulent des
temoins. He here confounds the pleasure derivable from sweet
sounds with the capacity for creating them. No more than any
other talent, is that for music susceptible of complete enjoyment,
where there is no second party to appreciate its exercise.
And it is only in common with other talents that it produces
effects which may be fully enjoyed in solitude. The idea which
the raconteur has either failed to entertain clearly, or has
sacrificed in its expression to his national love of point, is,
doubtless, the very tenable one that the higher order of music
is the most thoroughly estimated when we are exclusively alone.
The proposition, in this form, will be admitted at once by those
who love the lyre for its own sake, and for its spiritual uses.
But there is one pleasure still within the reach of fallen
mortality and perhaps only one -which owes even more than
does music to the accessory sentiment of seclusion. I mean the
happiness experienced in the contemplation of natural scenery.
In truth, the man who would behold aright the glory of God upon
earth must in solitude behold that glory. To me, at least, the
presence - not of human life only, but of life in any other
form than that of the green things which grow upon the soil
and are voiceless -is a stain upon the landscape - is at war
with the genius of the scene. I love, indeed, to regard the
dark valleys, and the gray rocks, and the waters that silently
smile, and the forests that sigh in uneasy slumbers, and the
proud watchful mountains that look down upon all, - I love to
regard these as themselves but the colossal members of one vast
animate and sentient whole - a whole whose form that of the
sphere is the most perfect and most inclusive of all whose path
is among associate planets whose meek handmaiden is the moon,
whose mediate sovereign is the sun whose life is eternity,
whose thought is that of a God whose enjoyment is knowledge
whose destinies are lost in immensity, whose cognizance of
ourselves is akin with our own cognizance of the animalculae
which infest the brain - a being which we, in consequence,
regard as purely inanimate and material much in the same manner
as these animalculae must thus regard us.
Our telescopes and our mathematical investigations assure us
on every hand - notwithstanding the cant of the more ignorant
of the priesthood - that space, and therefore that bulk, is
an important consideration in the eyes of the Almighty.
The cycles in which the stars move are those best adapted for
the evolution, without collision, of the greatest possible number
of bodies. The forms of those bodies are accurately such as,
within a given surface, to include the greatest possible amount
of matter - while the surfaces themselves are so disposed as
to accommodate a denser population than could be accommodated
on the same surfaces otherwise arranged. Nor is it any argument
against bulk being an object with God, that space itself is
infinite for there may be an infinity of matter to fill it.
And since we see clearly that the endowment of matter with
vitality is a principle - indeed, as far as our judgments
extend, the leading principle in the operations of Deity, -
it is scarcely logical to imagine it confined to the regions
of the minute, where we daily trace it, and not extending to
those of the august. As we find cycle within cycle without end,
-yet all revolving around one far-distant centre which is
the God-head, may we not analogically suppose in the same
manner, life within life, the less within the greater, and
all within the Spirit Divine? In short, we are madly erring,
through self-esteem, in believing man, in either his temporal
or future destinies, to be of more moment in the universe
than that vast clod of the valley which he tills and contemns,
and to which he denies a soul for no more profound reason than
that he does not behold it in operation.
These fancies, and such as these, have always given to my
meditations among the mountains and the forests, by the rivers
and the ocean, a tinge of what the everyday world would not fail
to term fantastic. My wanderings amid such scenes have been many,
and far-searching, and often solitary and the interest with
which I have strayed through many a dim, deep valley, or gazed
into the reflected Heaven of many a bright lake, has been an
interest greatly deepened by the thought that I have strayed
and gazed alone. What flippant Frenchman was it who said in
allusion to the well-known work of Zimmerman, that,
la solitude est une belle chose mais il faut quelquun pour
vous dire que la solitude est une belle chose? The epigram
cannot be gainsayed but the necessity is a thing that does
not exist.
It was during one of my lonely journeyings, amid a far distant
region of mountain locked within mountain, and sad rivers and
melancholy tarn writhing or sleeping within all - that I
chanced upon a certain rivulet and island. I came upon them
suddenly in the leafy June, and threw myself upon the turf,
beneath the branches of an unknown odorous shrub, that I might
doze as I contemplated the scene. I felt that thus only should
I look upon it - such was the character of phantasm which
it wore.
On all sides - save to the west, where the sun was about
sinking - arose the verdant walls of the forest. The little
river which turned sharply in its course, and was thus
immediately lost to sight, seemed to have no exit from its
prison, but to be absorbed by the deep green foliage of the
trees to the east - while in the opposite quarter so it
appeared to me as I lay at length and glanced upward there
poured down noiselessly and continuously into the valley,
a rich golden and crimson waterfall from the sunset
fountains of the sky.
About midway in the short vista which my dreamy vision took
in, one small circular island, profusely verdured, reposed
upon the bosom of the stream.
So blended bank and shadow there.
That each seemed pendulous in air - so mirror-like was the
glassy water, that it was scarcely possible to say at what
point upon the slope of the emerald turf its crystal
dominion began.
My position enabled me to include in a single view both the
eastern and western extremities of the islet and I observed
a singularly-marked difference in their aspects. The latter
was all one radiant harem of garden beauties. It glowed and
blushed beneath the eyes of the slant sunlight, and fairly
laughed with flowers. The grass was short, springy,
sweet-scented, and Asphodel-interspersed. The trees were
lithe, mirthful, erect - bright, slender, and graceful,
- of eastern figure and foliage, with bark smooth, glossy,
and parti-colored. There seemed a deep sense of life and joy
about all and although no airs blew from out the heavens,
yet every thing had motion through the gentle sweepings to
and fro of innumerable butterflies, that might have been
mistaken for tulips with wings.
The other or eastern end of the isle was whelmed in the
blackest shade. A sombre, yet beautiful and peaceful gloom
here pervaded all things. The trees were dark in color,
and mournful in form and attitude, wreathing themselves
into sad, solemn, and spectral shapes that conveyed ideas
of mortal sorrow and untimely death. The grass wore the deep
tint of the cypress, and the heads of its blades hung
droopingly, and hither and thither among it were many small
unsightly hillocks, low and narrow, and not very long, that
had the aspect of graves, but were not although over and
all about them the rue and the rosemary clambered. The shade
of the trees fell heavily upon the water, and seemed to bury
itself therein, impregnating the depths of the element with
darkness. I fancied that each shadow, as the sun descended
lower and lower, separated itself sullenly from the trunk
that gave it birth, and thus became absorbed by the stream
while other shadows issued momently from the trees, taking
the place of their predecessors thus entombed.
This idea, having once seized upon my fancy, greatly excited
it, and I lost myself forthwith in revery. If ever island
were enchanted, said I to myself, this is it. This is the
haunt of the few gentle Fays who remain from the wreck of
the race. Are these green tombs theirs? - or do they yield
up their sweet lives as mankind yield up their own? In dying,
do they not rather waste away mournfully, rendering unto God,
little by little, their existence, as these trees render up
shadow after shadow, exhausting their substance unto
dissolution? What the wasting tree is to the water that
imbibes its shade, growing thus blacker by what it preys
upon, may not the life of the Fay be to the death which
engulfs it?
As I thus mused, with half-shut eyes, while the sun sank
rapidly to rest, and eddying currents careered round and
round the island, bearing upon their bosom large, dazzling,
white flakes of the bark of the sycamore-flakes which,
in their multiform positions upon the water, a quick
imagination might have converted into any thing it pleased,
while I thus mused, it appeared to me that the form of one
of those very Fays about whom I had been pondering made its
way slowly into the darkness from out the light at the
western end of the island. She stood erect in a singularly
fragile canoe, and urged it with the mere phantom of an oar.
While within the influence of the lingering sunbeams,
her attitude seemed indicative of joy - but sorrow deformed
it as she passed within the shade. Slowly she glided along,
and at length rounded the islet and re-entered the region
of light. The revolution which has just been made by the
Fay, continued I, musingly, is the cycle of the brief
year of her life. She has floated through her winter and
through her summer. She is a year nearer unto Death for I
did not fail to see that, as she came into the shade, her
shadow fell from her, and was swallowed up in the dark
water, making its blackness more black.
And again the boat appeared and the Fay, but about the
attitude of the latter there was more of care and uncertainty
and less of elastic joy. She floated again from out the light
and into the gloom which deepened momently and again her
shadow fell from her into the ebony water, and became absorbed
into its blackness. And again and again she made the circuit
of the island, while the sun rushed down to his slumbers,
and at each issuing into the light there was more sorrow about
her person, while it grew feebler and far fainter and more
indistinct, and at each passage into the gloom there fell
from her a darker shade, which became whelmed in a shadow
more black. But at length when the sun had utterly departed,
the Fay, now the mere ghost of her former self, went
disconsolately with her boat into the region of the ebony
flood, and that she issued thence at all I cannot say, for
darkness fell over an things and I beheld her magical
figure no more.