THE LILY'S QUEST
From "Twice Told Tales"
Two lovers, once upon a time, had planned a little
summer-house, in the form of an antique temple, which it was their purpose to
consecrate to all manner of refined and innocent enjoyments. There they would
hold pleasant intercourse with one another, and the circle of their familiar
friends; there they would give festivals of delicious fruit; there they would
hear lightsome music, intermingled with the strains of pathos which make joy more
sweet; there they would read poetry and fiction, and permit their own minds to
flit away in daydreams and romance; there, in short,--for why should we shape
out the vague sunshine of their hopes?--there all pure delights were to cluster
like roses among the pillars of the edifice, and blossom ever new and
spontaneously. So, one breezy and
cloudless afternoon, Adam Forrester and Lilias Fay set out upon a ramble over
the wide estate which they were to possess together, seeking a proper site for
As they passed, hand in hand, down the avenue of drooping elms, that led from the portal of Lilies Fay's paternal mansion, they seemed to glance like winged creatures through the strips of sunshine, and to scatter brightness where the deep shadows fell. But, setting forth at the same time with this youthful pair, there was a dismal figure, wrapped in a black velvet cloak that might have been made of a coffin pall, and with a sombre hat, such as mourners wear, drooping its broad brim over his heavy brows. Glancing behind them, the lovers well knew who it was that followed, but wished from their hearts that he had been elsewhere, as being a companion so strangely unsuited to their joyous errand. It was a near relative of Lilies Fay, an old man by the name of Walter Gascoigne, who had long labored under the burden of a melancholy spirit, which was sometimes maddened into absolute insanity, and always had a tinge of it. What a contrast between the young pilgrims of bliss and their unbidden associate! They looked as if moulded of Heaven's sunshine, and he of earth's gloomiest shade; they flitted along like Hope and Joy, roaming hand in hand through life; while his darksome figure stalked behind, a type of all the woful influences which life could fling upon them. But the three had not gone far, when they reached a spot that pleased the gentle Lily, and she paused.
"What sweeter place shall we find than this?" said
she. "Why should we seek farther
for the site of our
It was indeed a delightful spot of earth, though
undistinguished by any very prominent beauties, being merely a nook in the
shelter of a hill, with the prospect of a distant lake in one direction, and of
a church-spire in another. There were
vistas and pathways leading onward and onward into the green woodlands, and
vanishing away in the glimmering shade.
"Yes," said Adam Forrester, "we might seek
all day, and find no lovelier spot. We
will build our
But their sad old companion, who had taken his stand on the very site which they proposed to cover with a marble floor, shook his head and frowned; and the young man and the Lily deemed it almost enough to blight the spot, and desecrate it for their airy Temple, that his dismal figure had thrown its shadow there. He pointed to some scattered stones, the remnants of a former structure, and to flowers such as young girls delight to nurse in their gardens, but which had now relapsed into the wild simplicity of nature.
"Not here!" cried old Walter Gascoigne. "Here, long ago, other mortals built
"What!" exclaimed Lilias Fay. "Have any ever planned such a
"Poor child!" said her gloomy kinsman. "In one shape or other, every mortal has dreamed your dream."
Then he told the lovers, how--not, indeed, an antique
"This is very sad," said the Lily; sighing.
"Well, there are lovelier spots than this," said Adam Forrester, soothingly,--"spots which sorrow has not blighted."
So they hastened away, and the melancholy Gascoigne followed them, looking as if he had gathered up all the gloom of the deserted spot, and was hearing it as a burden of inestimable treasure. But still they rambled on, and soon found themselves in a rocky dell, through the midst of which ran a streamlet, with ripple, and foam, and a continual voice of inarticulate joy. It was a wild retreat, walled on either side with gray precipices, which would have frowned somewhat too sternly, had not a profusion of green shrubbery rooted itself into their crevices, and wreathed gladsome foliage around their solemn brows. But the chief joy of the dell was in the little stream, which seemed like the presence of a blissful child, with nothing earthly to do save to babble merrily and disport itself, and make every living soul its playfellow, and throw the sunny gleams of its spirit upon all.
"Here, here is the spot!" cried the two lovers
with one voice, as they reached a level space on the brink of a small cascade.
"This glen was made on purpose for our
"And the glad song of the brook will be always in our ears," said Lilias Fay.
"And its long melody shall sing the bliss of our lifetime," said Adam Forrester.
"Ye must build no
And there again was the old lunatic, standing just on the spot where they meant to rear their lightsome dome, and looking like the embodied symbol of some great woe, that, in forgotten days, had happened there. And, alas! there had been woe, nor that alone. A young man, more than a hundred years before, had lured hither a girl that loved him, and on this spot had murdered her, and washed his bloody hands in the stream which sung so merrily. And ever since, the victim's death-shrieks were often heard to echo between the cliffs.
"And see!" cried old Gascoigne, "is the stream yet pure from the stain of the murderer's hands?"
"Methinks it has a tinge of blood," faintly answered the Lily; and being as slight as the gossamer, she trembled and clung to her lover's arm, whispering, "let us flee from this dreadful vale!"
"Come, then," said Adam Forrester, as cheerily as he could; "we shall soon find a happier spot."
They set forth again, young Pilgrims on that quest which millions--which every child of Earth--has tried in turn. And were the Lily and her lover to be more fortunate than all those millions? For a long time, it seemed not so. The dismal shape of the old lunatic still glided behind them; and for every spot that looked lovely in their eyes, he had some legend of human wrong or suffering, so miserably sad, that his auditors could never afterwards connect the idea of joy with the place where it had happened. Here, a heart-broken woman, kneeling to her child, had been spurned from his feet; here, a desolate old creature had prayed to the Evil One, and had received a fiendish malignity of soul, in answer to her prayer; here, a new-born infant, sweet blossom of life, had been found dead, with the impress of its mother's fingers round its throat; and here, under a shattered oak, two lovers had been stricken by lightning, and fell blackened corpses in each other's arms. The dreary Gascoigne had a gift to know whatever evil and lamentable thing had stained the bosom of Mother Earth; and when his funereal voice had told the tale, it appeared like a prophecy of future woe, as well as a tradition of the past. And now, by their sad demeanor, you would have fancied that the pilgrim lovers were seeking, not a temple of earthly joy, but a tomb for themselves and their posterity.
"Where in this world," exclaimed Adam Forrester,
despondingly, "shall we build our
"Where in this world, indeed!" repeated Lilias Fay; and being faint and weary, the more so by the heaviness of her heart, the Lily drooped her head and sat down on the summit of a knoll, repeating, "Where in this world shall we build our Temple?"
"Ah! have you already asked yourselves that question?" said their companion, his shaded features growing even gloomier with the smile that dwelt on them; "yet there is a place, even in this world, where ye may build it."
While the old man spoke, Adam Forrester and Lilias had carelessly thrown their eyes around, and perceived that the spot where they had chanced to pause possessed a quiet charm, which was well enough adapted to their present mood of mind. It was a small rise of ground, with a certain regularity of shape, that had perhaps been bestowed by art; and a group of trees, which almost surrounded it, threw their pensive shadows across and far beyond, although some softened glory of the sunshine found its way there. The ancestral mansion, wherein the lovers would dwell together, appeared on one side, and the ivied church, where they were to worship, on another. Happening to cast their eyes on the ground, they smiled, yet with a sense of wonder, to see that a pale lily was growing at their feet.
"We will build our
Yet, while they uttered this exclamation, the young man and
the Lily turned an apprehensive glance at their dreary associate, deeming it
hardly possible, that some tale of earthly affliction should not make those
precincts loathsome, as in every former case.
The old man stood just behind them, so as to form the chief figure in
the group, with his sable cloak muffling the lower part of his visage, and his
sombre list overshadowing his brows. But
he gave no word of dissent from their purpose; and an inscrutable smile was
accepted by the lovers as a token that here had been no footprint of guilt or
sorrow, to desecrate the site of their
In a little time longer, while summer was still in its
prime, the fairy structure of the
On the preceding evening, after Adam Forrester had taken
leave of his mistress, he looked back towards the portal of her dwelling, and
felt a strange thrill of fear; for be imagined that, as the setting sunbeams
faded from her figure, she was exhaling away, and that something of her
ethereal substance was withdrawn, with each lessening gleam of light. With his farewell glance, a shadow had fallen
over the portal, and Lilias was invisible.
His foreboding spirit deemed it an omen at the time; and so it proved;
for the sweet earthly form, by which the Lily bad been manifested to the world,
was found lifeless, the next morning, in the Temple, with her head resting on
her arms, which were folded upon the slab of dark-veined marble. The chill winds of the earth had long since
breathed a blight into this beautiful flower, so that
a loving hand had now transplanted it, to blossom brightly in the
But, alas for the
"And so," said he to Adam Forrester, with the strange smile in which his insanity was wont to gleam forth, "you have found no better foundation for your happiness than on a grave!"
But as the Shadow of Affliction spoke, a vision of Hope and Joy had its birth in Adam's mind, even from the old man's taunting words; for then he knew what was betokened by the parable in which the Lily and himself had acted; and the mystery of Life and Death was opened to him.
"Joy! joy!" he cried, throwing
his arms towards Heaven, "on a grave be the site of our
With those words, a ray of sunshine broke through the dismal sky, and glimmered down into the sepulchre; while, at the same moment, the shape of old Walter Gascoigne stalked drearily away, because his gloom, symbolic of all earthly sorrow, might no longer abide there, now that the darkest riddle of humanity was read.