A Crystal Age, by William Henry Hudson

Chapter 5

When he was gone, and Yoletta had followed, leaving some of the others still studying those wretched sovereigns, I sat down again and rested my chin on my hand; for I was now thinking — deeply: thinking on the terms of the agreement. “I daresay I have succeeded in making a precious ass of myself,” was the mental reflection that occurred to me — one I had not infrequently made, and, what is more, been justified in making on former occasions. Then, remembering that I had come to supper with an extravagant appetite, it struck me that my host, quietly observant, had, when proposing terms, taken into account the quantity of food necessary for my sustenance. I regretted too late that I had not exercised more restraint; but the hungry man does not and cannot consider consequences, else a certain hairy gentleman who figures in ancient history had never lent himself to that nefarious compact, which gave so great an advantage to a younger but sleek and well-nourished brother. In spite of all this, I felt a secret satisfaction in the thought of the clothes, and it was also good to know that the nature of the work I had undertaken would not lower my status in the house.

Occupied with these reflections, I had failed to observe that the company had gradually been drifting away until but one person was left with me — the young man who had talked with me before. On his invitation I now rose, put by my money, and followed him. Returning by the hall we went through a passage and entered a room of vast extent, which in its form and great length and high arched roof was like the nave of a cathedral. And yet how unlike in that something ethereal in its aspect, as of a nave in a cloud cathedral, its far-stretching shining floors and walls and columns, pure white and pearl-gray, faintly touched with colors of exquisite delicacy. And over it all was the roof of white or pale gray glass tinged with golden-red — the roof which I had seen from the outside when it seemed to me like a cloud resting on the stony summit of a hill.

On coming in I had the impression of an empty, silent place; yet the inmates of the house were all there; they were sitting and reclining on low couches, some lying at their ease on straw mats on the floor; some were reading, others were occupied with some work in their hands, and some were conversing, the sound coming to me like a faint murmur from a distance.

At one side, somewhere about the center of the room, there was a broad raised place, or dais, with a couch on it, on which the father was reclining at his ease. Beside the couch stood a lectern on which a large volume rested, and before him there was a brass box or cabinet, and behind the couch seven polished brass globes were ranged, suspended on axles resting on bronze frames. These globes varied in size, the largest being not less than about twelve feet in circumference.

I noticed that there were books on a low stand near me. They were all folios, very much alike in form and thickness; and seeing presently that the others were all following their own inclinations, and considering that I had been left to my own resources and that it is a good plan when at Rome to do as the Romans do, I by-and-by ventured to help myself to a volume, which I carried to one of the reading-stands.

Books are grand things — sometimes, thought I, prepared to follow the advice I had received, and find out by reading all about the customs of this people, especially their ideas concerning The House, which appeared to be an object of almost religious regard with them. This would make me quite independent, and teach me how to avoid blundering in the future, or giving expression to any more “extraordinary delusions.” On opening the volume I was greatly surprised to find that it was richly illuminated on every leaf, the middle only of each page being occupied with a rather narrow strip of writing; but the minute letters, resembling Hebrew characters, were incomprehensible to me. I bore the disappointment very cheerfully, I must say, for I am not over-fond of study; and, besides, I could not have paid proper attention to the text, surrounded with all that distracting beauty of graceful design and brilliant coloring.

After a while Yoletta came slowly across the room, her fingers engaged with some kind of wool-work as she walked, and my heart beat fast when she paused by my side.

“You are not reading,” she said, looking curiously at me. “I have been watching you for some time.”

“Have you indeed?” said I, not knowing whether to feel flattered or not. “No, unfortunately, I can’t read this book, as I do not understand the letters. But what a wonderfully beautiful book it is! I was just thinking what some of the great London book-buyers — Quaritch, for instance — would be tempted to give for it. Oh, I am forgetting — you have never heard his name, of course; but — but what a beautiful book it is!”

She said nothing in reply, and only looked a little surprised — disgusted, I feared — at my ignorance, then walked away. I had hoped that she was going to talk to me, and with keen disappointment watched her moving across the floor. All the glory seemed now to have gone out of the leaves of the volume, and I continued turning them over listlessly, glancing at intervals at the beautiful girl, who was also like one of the pages before me, wonderful to look at and hard to understand. In a distant part of the room I saw her place some cushions on the floor, and settle herself on them to do her work.

The sun had set by this time, and the interior was growing darker by degrees; the fading light, however, seemed to make no difference to those who worked or read. They appeared to be gifted with an owlish vision, able to see with very little light. The father alone did nothing, but still rested on his couch, perhaps indulging in a postprandial nap. At length he roused himself and looked around him.

“There is no melody in our hearts this evening, my children,” he said. “When another day has passed over us it will perhaps be different. To-night the voice so recently stilled in death forever would be too painfully missed by all of us.”

Some one then rose and brought a tall wax taper and placed it near him. The flame threw a little brightness on the volume, which he now proceeded to open; and here and there, further away, it flashed and trembled in points of rainbow-colored light on a tall column; but the greater part of the room still remained in twilight obscurity.

He began to read aloud, and, although he did not seem to raise his voice above its usual pitch, the words he uttered fell on my ears with a distinctness and purity of sound which made them seem like a melody “sweetly played in tune.” The words he read related to life and death, and such solemn matters; but to my mind his theology seemed somewhat fantastical, although it is right to confess that I am no judge of such matters. There was also a great deal about the house, which did not enlighten me much, being too rhapsodical, and when he spoke about our conduct and aims in life, and things of that kind, I understood him little better. Here is a part of his discourse:—

“It is natural to grieve for those that die, because light and knowledge and love and joy are no longer theirs; but they grieve not any more, being now asleep on the lap of the Universal Mother, the bride of the Father, who is with us, sharing our sorrow, which was his first; but it dims not his everlasting brightness; and his desire and our glory is that we should always and in all things resemble him.

“The end of every day is darkness, but the Father of life through our reason has taught us to mitigate the exceeding bitterness of our end; otherwise, we that are above all other creatures in the earth should have been at the last more miserable than they. For in the irrational world, between the different kinds, there reigns perpetual strife and bloodshed, the strong devouring the weak and the incapable; and when failure of life clouds the brightness of that lower soul, which is theirs, the end is not long delayed. Thus the life that has lasted many days goes out with a brief pang, and in its going gives new vigor to the strong that have yet many days to live. Thus also does the ever-living earth from the dust of dead generations of leaves re-make a fresh foliage, and for herself a new garment.

“We only, of all things having life, being like the Father, slay not nor are slain, and are without enemies in the earth; for even the lower kinds, which have not reason, know without reason that we are highest on the earth, and see in us, alone of all his works, the majesty of the Father, and lose all their rage in our presence. Therefore, when the night is near, when life is a burden and we remember our mortality, we hasten the end, that those we love may cease to sorrow at the sight of our decline; and we know that this is his will who called us into being, and gave us life and joy on the earth for a season, but not forever.

“It is better to lay down the life that is ours, to leave all things — the love of our kindred; the beauty of the world and of the house; the labor in which we take delight, to go forth and be no more; but the bitterness endures not, and is scarcely tasted when in our last moments we remember that our labor has borne fruit; that the letters we have written perish not with us, but remain as a testimony and a joy to succeeding generations, and live in the house forever.

“For the house is the image of the world, and we that live and labor in it are the image of our Father who made the world; and, like him, we labor to make for ourselves a worthy habitation, which shall not shame our teacher. This is his desire; for in all his works, and that knowledge which is like pure water to one that thirsts, and satisfies and leaves no taste of bitterness on the palate, we learn the will of him that called us into life. All the knowledge we seek, the invention and skill we possess, and the labor of our hands, has this purpose only: for all knowledge and invention and labor having any other purpose whatsoever is empty and vain in comparison, and unworthy of those that are made in the image of the Father of life. For just as the bodily senses may become perverted, and the taste lose its discrimination, so that the hungry man will devour acrid fruits and poisonous herbs for aliment, so is the mind capable of seeking out new paths, and a knowledge which leads only to misery and destruction.

“Thus we know that in the past men sought after knowledge of various kinds, asking not whether it was for good or for evil: but every offense of the mind and the body has its appropriate reward; and while their knowledge grew apace, that better knowledge and discrimination which the Father gives to every living soul, both in man and in beast, was taken from them. Thus by increasing their riches they were made poorer; and, like one who, forgetting the limits that are set to his faculties, gazes steadfastly on the sun, by seeing much they become afflicted with blindness. But they know not their poverty and blindness, and were not satisfied; but were like shipwrecked men on a lonely and barren rock in the midst of the sea, who are consumed with thirst, and drink of no sweet spring, but of the bitter wave, and thirst, and drink again, until madness possesses their brains, and death releases them from their misery. Thus did they thirst, and drink again, and were crazed; being inflamed with the desire to learn the secrets of nature, hesitating not to dip their hands in blood, seeking in the living tissues of animals for the hidden springs of life. For in their madness they hoped by knowledge to gain absolute dominion over nature, thereby taking from the Father of the world his prerogative.

“But their vain ambition lasted not, and the end of it was death. The madness of their minds preyed on their bodies, and worms were bred in their corrupted flesh: and these, after feeding on their tissues, changed their forms; and becoming winged, flew out in the breath of their nostrils, like clouds of winged ants that issue in the springtime from their breeding-places; and, flying from body to body, filled the race of men in all places with corruption and decay; and the Mother of men was thus avenged of her children for their pride and folly, for they perished miserably, devoured of worms.

“Of the human race only a small remnant survived, these being men of an humble mind, who had lived apart and unknown to their fellows; and after long centuries they went forth into the wilderness of earth and repeopled it; but nowhere did they find any trace or record of those that had passed away; for earth had covered all their ruined works with her dark mold and green forests, even as a man hides unsightly scars on his body with a new and beautiful garment. Nor is it known to us when this destruction fell upon the race of men; we only know that the history thereof was graven an hundred centuries ago on the granite pillars of the House of Evor, on the plains between the sea and the snow-covered mountains of Elf. Thither in past ages some of our pilgrims journeyed, and have brought a record of these things; nor in our house only are they known, but in many houses throughout the world have they been written for the instruction of all men and a warning for all time.

“But to mankind there shall come no second darkness of error, nor seeking after vain knowledge; and in the Father’s House there shall be no second desolation, but the sounds of joy and melody, which were silent, shall be heard everlastingly; since we had now continued long in this even mind, seeking only to inform ourselves of his will; until as in a clear crystal without flaw shining with colored light, or as a glassy lake reflecting within itself the heavens and every cloud and star, so is he reflected in our minds; and in the house we are his viceregents, and in the world his co-workers; and for the glory which he has in his work we have a like glory in ours.

“He is our teacher. Morning and evening throughout the various world, in the procession of the seasons, and in the blue heavens powdered with stars; in mountain and plain and many-toned forest; in the sounding walls of the ocean, and in the billowy seas through which we pass in peril from land to land, we read his thoughts and listen to his voice. Here do we learn with what far-seeing intelligence he has laid the foundations of his everlasting mansion, how skillfully he has builded its walls, and with what prodigal richness he has decorated all his works. For the sunlight and moonlight and the blueness of heaven are his; the sea with its tides; the blackness and the lightnings of the tempest, and snow, and changeful winds, and green and yellow leaf; his are also the silver rain and the rainbow, the shadows and the many-colored mists, which he flings like a mantle over all the world. Herein do we learn that he loves a stable building, and that the foundations and walls shall endure for ever: yet loves not sameness; thus, from day to day and from season to season do all things change their aspect, and the walls and floor and roof of his dwelling are covered with a new glory. But to us it is not given to rise to this supreme majesty in our works; therefore do we, like him yet unable to reach so great a height, borrow nothing one from the other, but in each house learn separately from him alone who has infinite riches; so that every habitation, changeless and eternal in itself, shall yet differ from all others, having its own special beauty and splendor: for we inhabit one house only, but the Father of men inhabits all.

“These things are written for the refreshment and delight of those who may no longer journey into distant lands; and they are in the library of the house in the seven thousand volumes of the Houses of the World which our pilgrims have visited in past ages. For once in a lifetime is it ordained that a man shall leave his own place and travel for the space of ten years, visiting the most famous houses in every land he enters, and also seeking out those of which no report has reached us.

“When the time for this chief adventure comes, and we go forth for a long period, there is compensation for every weariness, with absence of kindred and the sweet shelter of our own home: for now do we learn the infinite riches of the Father; for just as the day changes every hour, from the morning to the evening twilight, so does the aspect of the world alter as we progress from day to day; and in all places our fellow-men, learning as we do from him only, and seeing that which is nearest, give a special color of nature to their lives and their houses; and every house, with the family which inhabits it, in their conversation and the arts in which they excel, is like a round lake set about with hills, wherein may be seen that visible world. And in all the earth there is no land without inhabitants, whether on wide continents or islands of the sea; and in all nature there is no grandeur or beauty or grace which men have not copied; knowing that this is pleasing to the Father: for we, that are made like him, delight not to work without witnesses; and we are his witnesses in the earth, taking pleasure in his works, even as he also does in ours.

“Thus, at the beginning of our journey to the far south, where we go to look first on those bright lands, which have hotter suns and a greater variety than ours, we come to the wilderness of Coradine, which seems barren and desolate to our sight, accustomed to the deep verdure of woods and valleys, and the blue mists of an abundant moisture. There a stony soil brings forth only thorns, and thistles, and sere tufts of grass; and blustering winds rush over the unsheltered reaches, where the rough-haired goats huddle for warmth; and there is no melody save the many-toned voices of the wind and the plover’s wild cry. There dwell the children of Coradine, on the threshold of the wind-vexed wilderness, where the stupendous columns of green glass uphold the roof of the House of Coradine; the ocean’s voice is in their rooms, and the inland-blowing wind brings to them the salt spray and yellow sand swept at low tide from the desolate floors of the sea, and the white-winged bird flying from the black tempest screams aloud in their shadowy halls. There, from the high terraces, when the moon is at its full, we see the children of Coradine gathered together, arrayed like no others, in shining garments of gossamer threads, when, like thistle-down chased by eddying winds, now whirling in a cloud, now scattering far apart, they dance their moonlight dances on the wide alabaster floors; and coming and going they pass away, and seem to melt into the moonlight, yet ever to return again with changeful melody and new measures. And, seeing this, all those things in which we ourselves excel seem poor in comparison, becoming pale in our memories. For the winds and waves, and the whiteness and grace, has been ever with them; and the winged seed of the thistle, and the flight of the gull, and the storm-vexed sea, flowering in foam, and the light of the moon on sea and barren land, have taught them this art, and a swiftness and grace which they alone possess.

“Yet does this moonlight dance, which is the chief glory of the House of Coradine, grow pale in the mind, and is speedily forgotten, when another is seen; and, going on our way from house to house, we learn how everywhere the various riches of the world have been taken into his soul by man, and made part of his life. Nor are we inferior to others, having also an art and chief excellence which is ours only, and the fame of which has long gone forth into the world; so that from many distant lands pilgrims gather yearly to our fields to listen to our harvest melody, when the sun-ripened fruits have been garnered, and our lips and hands make undying music, to gladden the hearts of those that hear it all their lives long. For then do we rejoice beyond others, rising like bright-winged insects from our lowly state to a higher life of glory and joy, which is ours for the space of three whole days. Then the august Mother, in a brazen chariot, is drawn from field to field by milk-white bulls with golden horns; then her children are gathered about her in shining yellow garments, with armlets of gold upon their arms; and with voice and instruments of forms unknown to the stranger, they make glad the listening fields with the great harvest melody.

“In ancient days the children of our house conceived it in their hearts, hearing it in all nature’s voices; and it was with them day and night, and they whispered it to one another when it was no louder than the whisper of the wind in the forest leaves; and as the Builder of the world brings from an hundred far places the mist, and the dew, and the sunshine, and the light west wind, to give to the morning hour its freshness and glory; and as we, his humbler followers, seek far off in caverns of the hills and in the dark bowels of the earth for minerals and dyes that outshine the flowers and the sun, to beautify the walls of our house, so everywhere by night and day for long centuries did we listen to all sounds, and made their mystery and melody ours, until this great song was perfected in our hearts, and the fame of it in all lands has caused our house to be called the House of the Harvest Melody; and when the yearly pilgrims behold our procession in the fields, and listen to our song, all the glory of the world seems to pass before them, overcoming their hearts, until, bursting into tears and loud cries, they cast themselves upon the earth and worship the Father of the whole world.

“This shall be the chief glory of our house for ever; when a thousand years have gone by, and we that are now living, like those that have been, are mingled with the nature we come from, and speak to our children only in the wind’s voice, and the cry of the passage-bird, pilgrims shall still come to these sun-bright fields, to rejoice, and worship the Father of the world, and bless the august Mother of the house, from whose sacred womb ever comes to it life and love and joy, and the harvest melody that shall endure for ever.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/h/hudson/william_henry/crystal_age/chapter5.html

Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38