Phoebus On Halzaphron by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

God! of whom music
And song and blood are pure,
The day is never darkened
That had thee here obscure

Early in 1897 a landslip on the tall cliffs of Halzaphron–which face upon Mount’s Bay, Cornwall, and the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic–brought to light a curiosity. The slip occurred during the night of January 7th to 8th, breaking through the roof of a cavern at the base of the cliff and carrying many hundreds of tons of rock and earth down into deep water. For some weeks what remained of the cavern was obliterated, and in the rough weather then prevailing no one took the trouble to examine it; since it can only be approached by sea. The tides, however, set to work to sift and clear the detritus, and on Whit-Monday a party of pleasure-seekers from Penzance brought their boat to shore, landed, and discovered a stairway of worked stone leading up from the back of the cavern through solid rock. The steps wound spirally upward, and were cut with great accuracy; but the drippings from the low roof of the stairway had worn every tread into a basin and filled it with water. Green slippery weeds coated the lowest stairs; those immediately above were stained purple and crimson by the growth of some minute fungus; but where darkness began, these colors passed through rose-pink into a delicate ivory-white–a hard crust of lime, crenelated like coral by the ceaseless trickle of water which deposited it.

At first the explorers supposed themselves on the track of a lost holy well. They had no candles, but by economising their stock of matches they followed up the mysterious and beautiful staircase until it came to a sudden end, blocked by the fallen mass of cliff. Still in ignorance whither it led or what purpose it had served, they turned back and descended to the sunshine again; when one of the party, scanning the cliff’s face, observed a fragment–three steps only–jutting out like a cornice some sixty or seventy feet overhead.

This seemed to dispose of the holy well theory, and suggested that the stairway had reached to the summit, where perhaps an entrance might be found. The party returned to Penzance, and their report at once engaged the attention of the local Antiquarian Society; a small subscription list was opened, permission obtained from the owner of the property, and within a week a gang of labourers began to excavate on the cliff-top directly above the jutting cornice. The ground here showed a slight depression, and the soil proved unexpectedly deep and easy to work. On the second day, at a depth of seven feet, one of the men announced that he had come upon rock. But having spaded away the loose earth, they discovered that his pick had struck upon the edge of an extremely fine tessellated pavement, the remains apparently of a Roman villa.

Yet could this be a Roman villa? That the Romans drove their armies into Cornwall is certain enough; their coins, ornaments, and even pottery, are still found here and there; their camps can be traced. That they conquered and colonised it, however, during any of the four hundred years they occupied Britain has yet to be proved. In other parts of England the plough turns up memorials of that quiet home life with its graces which grew around these settlers and comforted their exile; and the commonest of these is the tessellated pavement with its emblems of the younger gods, the vintage, the warm south. But in the remote west, where the Celts held their savage own, no such traces have ever been found.

Could this at last be one? The pavement, cleared with care, proved of a disappointing size, measuring 8 feet by 4 at the widest. The tessellae were exceptionally beautiful and fresh in color; and each separate design represented some scene in the story of Apollo. No Bacchus with his panther-skin and Maenads, no Triton and Nymphs, no loves of Mars and Venus, no Ganymede with the eagle, no Leda, no Orpheus, no Danae, no Europa–but always and only Apollo! He was guiding his car; he was singing among the Nine; he was drawing his bow; he was flaying Marsyas; above all–the only repeated picture–he was guiding the oxen of Admetus, goad in hand, with the glory yet vivid about his hair. Could it (someone suggested) be the pavement of a temple? And, if so, how came a temple of the sun-god upon this unhomely coast?

The discovery gave rise to a small sensation and several ingenious theories, one enthusiastic philologer going so far as to derive the name Halzaphron from the Greek, interpreting it as “the salt of the west winds” or “Zephyrs,” and to assert roundly that the temple (he assumed it to be a temple) dated far back beyond the Roman Invasion. This contention, though perhaps no more foolish than a dozen others, undoubtedly met with the most ridicule.

And yet in my wanderings along that coast I have come upon broken echoes, whispers, fragments of a tale, which now and again, as I tried to piece them together, wakened a suspicion that the derided philologer, with his false derivation, was yet “hot,” as children say in the game of hide-and-seek.

For the stretch of sea overlooked by Halzaphron covers the lost land of Lyonnesse. Take a boat upon a clear, calm day, and, drifting, peer over the side through its shadow, and you will see the tops of tall forests waving below you. Walk the shore at low water and you may fill your pockets with beech-nuts, and sometimes–when a violent tide has displaced the sand–stumble on the trunks of large trees. Geologists dispute whether the Lyonnesse disappeared by sudden catastrophe or gradual subsidence, but they agree in condemning the fables of Florence and William of Worcester, that so late as November, 1099, the sea broke in and covered the whole tract between Cornwall and the Scillies, overwhelming on its way no less than a hundred and forty churches! They prove that, however it befell, we must date the inundation some centuries earlier. Now if my story be true–But let it be told:

See also  A Christmas Present For A Lady by Myra Kelly

* * * * *

In the year of the great tide Graul, son of Graul, was king in the Lyonnesse. He lived at peace in his city of Maenseyth, hard by the Sulleh, where the foreign traders brought their ships to anchor–sometimes from Tyre itself, oftener from the Tyrian colonies down the Spanish coast; and he ruled over a peaceful nation of tinners, herdsmen, and charcoal-burners. The charcoal came from the great forest to the eastward where Cara Clowz in Cowz, the gray rock in the wood, overlooked the Cornish frontier; his cattle pastured nearer, in the plains about the foot of the Wolves’ Cairn; and his tinners camped and washed the ore in the valley-bottoms–for in those days they had no need to dig into the earth for metal, but found plenty by puddling in the river-beds.

So King Graul ruled happily over a happy people until the dark morning when a horseman came galloping to the palace of Maenseyth with a cry that the tide had broken through Crebawethan and was sweeping north and west upon the land, drowning all in its path. “Hark!” said he, “already you may hear the roar of it by Bryher!”

Yann, the King’s body-servant, ran at once to the stables and brought three horses–one for Queen Niotte; one for her only child, the Princess Gwennolar; and for King Graul the red stallion, Rubh, swiftest and strongest in the royal stalls, one of the Five Wonders of Lyonnesse. More than six leagues lay between them and the Wolves’ Cairn, which surely the waters could never cover; and toward it the three rode at a stretch gallop, King Graul only tightening his hand on the bridle as Rubh strained to outpace the others. As he rode he called warnings to the herdsmen and tinners who already had heard the far roar of waters and were fleeing to the hills. The cattle raced ahead of him, around him, beside him; he passed troop after troop; and among them, in fellowship, galloped foxes, badgers, hares, rabbits, weasels; even small field-mice were skurrying and entangling themselves in the long grasses, and toppling head over heels in their frenzy to escape.

But before they reached the Wolves’ Cairn the three riders were alone again. Rubh alone carried his master lightly, and poised his head to sniff the wind. The other two leaned on their bridles and lagged after him, and even Rubh bore against the left-hand rein until it wearied the King’s wrist. He wondered at this; but at the base of the cairn he wondered no longer, for the old gray wolf, for whose head Graul had offered a talent of silver, was loping down the hillside in full view, with her long family at her heels. She passed within a stone’s throw of the King and gave him one quiet, disdainful look out of her green eyes as she headed her pack to the southward.

Then the King understood. He looked southward and saw the plain full of moving beasts. He looked northward, and two miles away the rolling downs were not, but in their place a bright line stretched taut as a string, and the string roared as if a great finger were twanging it.

Queen Niotte’s horse had come to a standstill. Graul lifted and set her before him on Rubh’s crupper, and called to Gwennolar to follow him. But Gwennolar’s horse, too, was spent, and in a little while he drew rein and lifted her, too, and set her on the stallion’s broad back behind him. Then forward he spurred again and southward after the wolves–with a pack fiercer than wolves shouting at Rubh’s heels, nearer and yet nearer.

And Rubh galloped, yet not as before; for this Gwennolar was a witch–a child of sixteen, golden-tressed, innocent to look upon as a bird of the air. Her parents found no fault in her, for she was their only one. None but the Devil, whom she had bound to serve her for a year and a day, knew of her lovers–the dark young sailors from the ships of Tyre, who came ashore and never sailed again nor were seen–or beneath what beach their bodies lay in a row. To-day his date was up, and in this flood he was taking his wages.

Gwennolar wreathed her white arms around her father and clung to him, while her blown hair streamed like gold over his beard. And King Graul set his teeth and rode to save the pair whom he knew to be dearest and believed to be best. But if Niotte weighed like a feather, Gwennolar with her wickedness began to weigh like lead–and more heavily yet, until the stallion could scarcely heave his strong loins forward, as now the earth grew moist about his hoofs. For far ahead of the white surge-line the land was melting and losing its features; trickles of water threading the green pastures, channelling the ditches, widening out into pools among the hollows–traps and pitfalls to be skirted, increasing in number while the sun sank behind and still the great rock of Cara Clowz showed far away above the green forest.

Rubh’s head was leaning and his lungs throbbed against the King’s heels. Yet he held on. He had overtaken the wolves; and Graul, thinking no longer of deliverance, watched the pack streaming beside him but always falling back and a little back until even the great gray dam dropped behind. A minute later a scream rang close to his ear; the stallion leaped as if at a water-brook, and as suddenly sank backward with a dozen wolves on his haunches.

“Father!” shrieked Gwennolar. “Father!” He felt her arms dragged from around his neck. With an arm over his wife Niotte he crouched, waiting for the fangs to pierce his neck. And while he waited, to his amazement the horse staggered up, shook himself, and was off with a bound, fleet as an arrow, fleeter than ever before, yet not fleeter than the pack now running again and fresh beside him. He looked back. Gwennolar rose to her knees on the turf where the wolves had pulled her down and left her unhurt; she stretched out both arms to him, and called once. The sun dipped behind her, and between her and the sun the tide–a long bright-edged knife–came sweeping and cut her down. Then it seemed as if the wolves had relinquished to the waters not their prey only but their own fierce instinct; for the waves paused at the body and played with it, nosing and tumbling it over and over, lifting it curiously, laying it down again on the green knoll, and then withdrawing in a circle while they took heart to rush upon it all together and toss it high, exultant and shouting. And during that pause the fugitives gained many priceless furlongs.

See also  Observations On The Tragedy Of Macbeth by Samuel Johnson

They reached the skirts of the great forest and dashed into its twilight, crouching low while Rubh tore his way between the gray beech-trunks and leaped the tangles of brier, but startled no life from bough or undergrowth. Beast and reptile had fled inland; and the birds hung and circled over the tree-tops without thought of roosting. Graul’s right arm tightened about his wife’s waist, but his left hand did no more than grasp the rein. He trusted to the stallion, and through twilight and darkness alike Rubh held his course.

When at length he slackened speed and came to a halt with a shudder, Graul looked up and saw the stars overhead and a glimmering scarp of granite, and knew it for the gray rock, Cara Clowz. By the base of it he lowered Niotte to the ground, dismounted, and began to climb, leading Rubh by the bridle and seeking for a pathway. Behind him the voices of crashing trees filled the windless night. He found a ledge at length, and there the three huddled together–Niotte between swooning and sleep, Graul seated beside her, and Rubh standing patient, waiting for the day. When the crashing ceased around them, the King could hear the soft flakes of sweat dripping from the stallion’s belly, and saw the stars reflected now from the floor where his forest had stood. Day broke, and the Lyonnesse had vanished. Forest and pasture, city, mart and haven–away to the horizon a heaving sea covered all. Of his kingdom there remained only a thin strip of coast, marching beside the Cornish border, and this sentinel rock, standing as it stands to-day, then called Cara Clowz, and now St. Michael’s Mount.

If you have visited it, you will know that the mount stands about half a mile from the mainland; an island except at low water, when you reach it by a stone causeway. Here, on the summit, Graul and Niotte built themselves a house, asking no more of life than a roof to shelter them; for they had no child to build for, and their spirit was broken. The little remnant of their nation settled in Marazion on the mainland, or southward along the strip of coast, and set themselves to learn a new calling. As the sea cast up the bodies of their drowned cattle and the trunks of uprooted trees, they took hides and timber and fashioned boats and launched forth to win their food. They lowered nets and wicker pots through the heaving floor deep into the twilight, and, groping across their remembered fields, drew pollack and conger, shellfish and whiting from rocks where shepherds had sat to watch their sheep, or tinners gathered at noonday for talk and dinner. At first it was as if a man returning at night to his house and, finding it unlit, should feel in the familiar cupboard for food and start back from touch of a monstrous body, cold and unknown. Time and use deadened the shock. They were not happy, for they remembered days of old; but they endured, they fought off hunger, they earned sleep; and their King, as he watched from Cara Clowz their dark sails moving out against the sunset, could give thanks that the last misery had been spared his people.

But there were dawns which discovered one or two missing from the tale of boats, home-comings with heavy news for freight, knots of women and children with blown wet hair awaiting it, white faces and the wails of widow and orphan. The days drew in and this began to happen often–so often that a tale grew with it and spread, until it had reached all ears but those of King Graul and Queen Motte.

One black noon in November a company of men crossed the sands at low-water and demanded to speak with the King.

“Speak, my children,” said Graul. He knew that they loved him and might count on his sharing the last crust with them.

“We are come,” said the spokesman, “not for ourselves, but for our wives and children. For us life is none too pleasant; but they need men’s hands to find food for them, and at this rate there will soon be no men of our nation left.”

“But how can I help you?” asked the King.

“That we know not; but it is your daughter Gwennolar who undoes us. She lies out yonder beneath the waters, and through the night she calls to men, luring them down to their death. I myself–all of us here–have heard her; and the younger men it maddens. With singing and witch fires she lures our boats to the reefs and takes toll of us, lulling even the elders to dream, cheating them with the firelight and voices of their homes.”

Now the thoughts of Graul and Niotte were with their daughter continually. That she should have been lost and they saved, who cared so little for life and nothing for life without her–that was their abiding sorrow and wonder and self-reproach. Why had Graul not turned Rubh’s head perforce and ridden back to die with her, since help her he could not? Many times a day he asked himself this; and though Niotte’s lips had never spoken it, her eyes asked it too. At night he would hear her breath pause at his side, and knew she was thinking of their child out yonder in the cold waters.

See also  The Lion, the Mouse and the Cat

“She calls to us also,” he answered, and checked himself.

“So it is plain her spirit is alive yet, and she must be a witch,” said the spokesman, readily.

The King rent his clothes. “My daughter is no witch!” he cried. “But I left her to die, and she suffers.”

“Our lads follow her. She calls to them and they perish.”

“It is not Gwennolar who calls, but some evil thing which counterfeits her. She was innocent as the day. Nevertheless your sons shall not perish, nor you accuse her. From this day your boats shall have a lantern on this rock to guide them, and I and my wife will tend it with our own hands.”

Thenceforward at sunset with their own hands Graul and Niotte lit and hung out a lantern from the niche which stands to this day and is known as St. Michael’s Chair; and trimmed it, and tended it the night through, taking turns to watch. Niotte, doited with years and sorrow, believed that it shone to signal her lost child home. Her hands trembled every night as Graul lit the wick, and she arched her palms above to shield it from the wind. She was happier than her husband.

Gwennolar’s spell defied the lantern and their tottering pains. Boats were lost, men perished as before. The people tried a new appeal. It was the women’s turn to lay their grief at the King’s door. They crossed the sands by ones and twos—widows, childless mothers, maids betrothed and bereaved–and spread their dark skirts and sat before the gateway. Niotte brought them food with her own hands; they took it without thanks. All the day they sat silent, and Graul felt their silence to be heavier than curses–nay, that their eyes did indeed curse as they sat around and watched the lighting of the lantern, and Niotte, nodding innocently at her arched hands, told them, “See, I pray; cannot you pray too?”

But the King’s prayer was spoken in the morning, when the flame and the stars grew pale together and the smoke of the extinguished lamp sickened his soul in the clean air. His gods were gone with the oaks under which he had worshipped; but he stood on a rock apart from the women and, lifting both hands, cried aloud: “If there be any gods above the tree-tops, or any in the far seas whither the old fame of King Graul has reached; if ever I did kindness to a stranger or wayfarer, and he, returning to his own altars, remembered to speak of Graul of Lyonnesse: may I, who ever sought to give help, receive help now! From my youth I have believed that around me, beyond sight as surely as within it, stretched goodness answering the goodness in my own heart; yea, though I should never travel and find it, I trusted it was there. O trust, betray me not! O kindness, how far soever dwelling, speak comfort and help! For I am afflicted because of my people.”

Seven mornings he prayed thus on his rock: and on the seventh, his prayer ended, he stood watching while the sunrays, like dogs shepherding a flock, searched in the mists westward and gathered up the tale of boats one by one. While he counted them, the shoreward breeze twanged once like a harp, and he heard a fresh young voice singing from the base of the cliff at his feet–

“There lived a king in Argos,–
A merchantman in Tyre
Would sell the King his cargoes,
But took his heart’s desire:
Sing Io, Io, Io!–“

Graul looked toward his wife. “That will be the boy Laian,” said Motte; “he sits on the rock below and sings at his fishing.”

“The song is a strange one,” said Graul; “and never had Laian voice like that.”

The singer mounted the cliff–

“The father of that merry may
A thousand towns he made to pay,
And lapp’d the world in fire!”

He stood before them–a handsome, smiling youth, with a crust of brine on his blue sea-cloak, and the light of the morning in his hair. “Salutation, O Graul!” said he, and looked so cordial and well-willing that the King turned to him from the dead lamp and the hooded women as one turns to daylight from an evil dream.

“Salutation, O Stranger!” he answered. “You come to a poor man, but are welcome–you and your shipmates.”

“I travel alone,” said the youth; “and my business–“

But the King put up his hand. “We ask no man his business until he has feasted.”

“I feast not in a house of mourning; and my business is better spoken soon than late, seeing that I heal griefs.”

“If that be so,” answered Graul, “you come to those who are fain of you.” And then and there he told of Gwennolar. “The blessing of blessings rest on him who can still my child’s voice and deliver her from my people’s curse!”

The Stranger listened, and threw back his head. “I said I could heal griefs. But I cannot cure fate; nor will a wise man ask it. Pain you must suffer, but I can soothe it; sorrow, but I can help you to forget; death, but I can brace you for it.”

“Can death be welcomed,” asked Graul, “save by those who find life worse?”

“You shall see.” He stepped to the mourning women, and took the eldest by the hand. At first he whispered to her–in a voice so low that Graul heard nothing, but saw her brow relax, and that she listened while the blood came slowly back to her cheeks.

“Of what are you telling her?” the King demanded.

“Hush!” said the Stranger, “Go, fetch me a harp.”

Graul brought a harp. It was mute and dusty, with a tangle of strings; but the Stranger set it against his knee, and began to mend it deftly, talking the while in murmurs as a brook talks in a covert of cresses. By and by as he fitted a string he would touch and make it hum on a word–softly at first, and with long intervals–as though all its music lay dark and tangled in chaos, and he were exploring and picking out a note here and a note there to fit his song. There was trouble in his voice, and restlessness, and a low, eager striving, and a hope which grew as the notes came oftener, and lingered and thrilled on them. Then his fingers caught the strings together, and pulled the first chord: it came out of the depths with a great sob–a soul set free. Other souls behind it rose to his fingers, and he plucked them forth, faster and faster–some wailing, some laughing fiercely, but each with the echo of a great pit, the clang of doors, and the mutter of an army pressing at its heels. And now the mourners leaned forward, and forgot all except to listen, for he was singing the Creation. He sang up the stars and set them in procession; he sang forth the sun from his chamber; he lifted the heads of the mountains and hitched on their mantles of green forest; he scattered the uplands with sheep, and the upper air with clouds; he called the west wind, and it came with a rustle of wings; he broke the rock into water and led it dancing down the cliffs, and spread it in marshes, and sent it spouting and hurrying in channels. Flowers trooped to the lip of it, wild beasts slunk down to drink; armies of corn spread in rank along it, and men followed with sickles, chanting the hymn of Linus; and after them, with children at the breast, women stooped to glean or strode upright bearing baskets of food. Over their heads days and nights hurried in short flashes, and the seasons overtook them while they rested, and drowned them in showers of bloom, and overtopped their bodies with fresh corn: but the children caught up the sickles and ran on. To some–shining figures in the host–he gave names; and they shone because they moved in the separate light of divine eyes watching them, rays breaking the thickets or hovering down from heights where the gods sat at their ease.

See also  The Dance Of Death by Gustave Flaubert

But before this the men had brought their boats to shore, and hurried to the Mount, drawn by his harping. They pressed around him in a ring; and at first they were sad, since of what he sang they remembered the like in Lyonnesse–plough and sickle and flail, nesting birds and harvest, flakes of ore in the river-beds, dinner in the shade, and the plain beyond winking in the noon-day heat. They had come too late for the throes of his music, when the freed spirit trembled for a little on the threshold, fronting the dawn, but with the fire of the pit behind it and red on its trailing skirt. The song rolled forward now like a river, sweeping them past shores where they desired to linger. But the Stranger fastened his eyes on them, and sang them out to broad bars and sounding tumbling seas, where the wind piped, and the breeze came salt, and the spray slapped over the prow, hardening men to heroes. Then the days of their regret seemed to them good only for children, and the life they had loathed took a new face; their eyes opened upon it, and they saw it whole, and loved it for its largeness. “Beyond! beyond! beyond!”–they stared down on the fingers plucking the chords, but the voice of the harp sounded far up and along the horizon.

And with that quite suddenly it came back, and was speaking close at hand, as a friend telling them a simple tale; a tale which all could understand, though of a country unknown to them. Thus it ran:

“In Hellas, in the kingdom of Argos, there lived two brothers, Cleobis and Biton–young men, well to do, and of great strength of body, so that each had won a crown in the public games. Now, once, when the Argives were keeping a festival of the goddess Hera, their mother had need to be driven to the temple in her chariot, but the oxen did not return from the field in time. The young men, therefore, seeing that the hour was late, put the yoke on their own necks, and drew the car in which their mother sat, and brought her to the temple, which was forty-five stades away. This they did in sight of the multitude assembled; and the men commended their strength, while the women called her blessed to be the mother of such sons. But she, overjoyed at the deed and its renown, entered the temple and, standing before the image of Hera, prayed the goddess to grant her two sons, Cleobis and Biton, the greatest boon which could fall to man. After she had prayed, and they had sacrificed and eaten of the feast, the young men sat down in the temple and fell asleep, and never awoke again, but so made an end with life. In this wise the blessing of Hera came to them; and the men of Argos caused statues to be made of them and set up at Delphi, for a memorial of their piety and its reward.”

Thus quietly the great song ended, and Graul, looking around on his people, saw on their faces a cheerfulness they had not known since the day of the flood.

“Sir,” said he, “yours is the half of my poor kingdom and yours the inheritance, if you will abide with us and sing us more of these songs.”

“For that service,” answered the Stranger, “I am come; but not for the reward. Give me only a hide of land somewhere upon your cliffs, and there will I build a house and sing to all who have need of me.”

So he did; and the fable goes on to say that never were known in the remnant of Lyonesse such seasons as followed, nor ever will be. The fish crowded to the nets, the cliffs waved with harvest. Heavy were the nets to haul and laborious was the reaping, but the people forgot their aches when the hour came to sit at the Stranger’s feet and listen, and drink the wine which he taught them to plant. For his part he toiled not at all, but descended at daybreak and nightfall to bathe in the sea, and returned with the brine on his curls and his youth renewed upon him. He never slept; and they, too, felt little need of sleep, but drank and sang the night away, refreshed by the sacred dews, watching for the moon to rise over the rounded cornfields, or for her feet to touch the sea and shed silver about the boats in the offing. Out yonder Gwennolar sang and took her toll of life as before; but the people heeded less, and soon forgot even when their dearest perished. Other things than sorrow they began to unlearn. They had been a shamefaced race; the men shy and the women chaste. But the Stranger knew nothing of shame; nor was it possible to think harm where he, their leader, so plainly saw none. Naked he led them from the drinking-bout down the west stairway to the bathing-pool, and naked they plunged in and splashed around him and laughed as the cool shock scattered the night’s languor and the wine-fumes. What mattered anything?–what they did, or what they suffered, or what news the home-coming boats might bring? They were blithe for the moment and lusty for the day’s work, and with night again would come drink and song of the amorous gods; or if by chance the Singer should choose another note and tell of Procris or of Philomela, they could weep softly for others’ woes and, so weeping, quite forget their own.

See also  The Puzzle by Anonymous

And the fable goes on to say that for three years by these means the Stranger healed the griefs of the people of Lyonnesse, until one night when they sat around he told them the story of Ion; and if the Stranger were indeed Phoebus Apollo himself, shameless was the telling. But while they listened, wrapped in the story, a cry broke on the night above the murmur of the beaches–a voice from the cliff below them, calling “Repent! Repent!”

They leaped to their feet at once, and hurried down the stairway. But the beach was empty; and though they hunted for an hour, they found no one. Yet the next night and every night after the same voice called “Repent! Repent!” They hurled down stones upon it and threatened it with vengeance; but it was not to be scared. And by and by the Stranger missed a face from his circle, then another. At length came a night when he counted but half of his company.

He said no word of the missing ones; but early next morning, when the folk had set out to their labors in the fields, he took a staff and walked along the shore toward the Mount. A little beyond Parc-an-als, where a spring gushes from the face of the cliff, he came upon a man who stood under it catching the trickle in a stone basin, and halted a few paces off to watch him. The man’s hair and beard were long and unkempt, his legs bare, and he wore a tattered tunic which reached below the knees and was caught about his waist with a thong girdle. For some minutes he did not perceive the Singer; but turned at length, and the two eyed each other awhile.

Then the Singer advanced smiling, while the other frowned.

“Thou hast followed me,” he said.

“I have followed and found thee,” the other answered.

“Thy name?”

“Leven,” said the man. “I come out of Ireland.”

“The Nazarite travels far; but this spot He overlooked on his travels, and the people had need. I brought them help; but they desert me now–for thee doubtless?”

The Saint bent his head. The Singer laughed.

“He is strong, but the old gods bear no malice. I go to-night to join their sleep, but I have loved this folk in a fashion. I pitied their woes and brought them solace: I taught them to forget–and in the forgetting maybe they have learned much that thou wilt have to unteach. Yet deal gently with them. They are children, and too often you holy men come with bands of iron. Shall we sit and talk awhile together, for their sakes?”

And the fable says that for a long day St. Leven sat on the sands of the Porth which now bears his name, and talked with the Singer; and, that in consequence, to this day the descendants of the people of Lyonnesse praise God in cheerfuller hymns than the rest of the world uses–so much so that a company of minstrels visiting them not long ago were surprised in the midst of a drinking-chorus to find the audience tittering, and to learn afterward that they had chanted the most popular local burying-tunes!

Twilight had fallen before the Stranger rose and took his farewell. On his way back he spied a company approaching along the dusky shore, and drew aside behind a rock while they passed toward the Saint’s dwelling. He found his own deserted. Of his old friends either none had come or none had waited; and away on a distant beach rose the faint chant of St. Patrick’s Hymn of the Guardsman:

Christ the eye, the ear, the heart,
Christ above, before, behind me;
From the snare, the sword, the dart,
On the Trinity I bind me–
Christi est salus,
Christi est salus,
Salus tua, Domine, sit semper nobiscum!”

Leave a Reply 0

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *