The Haunted Woman, by David Lindsay

Chapter 15

The Music of Spring

They walked over to the right-hand door, which Judge, after turning the handle, at once kicked wide open with his foot . . . A sudden and unanticipated flood of brilliant sunshine, streaming through the room form an open window on the further side, momentarily blinded them, so that they staggered back with the shock.

Judge was the first to recover himself.

“It’s all right, we can go in. The room’s empty.”

Isbel hastened to the window. It was breast-high. There was no glass in it, but it possessed a stout wooden shutter, opening outwards, which at present was swung to its full extent squarely against the outside wall. The aperture of the window was so narrow that there was barely space for their two heads together, and she found her smooth cheek grazing his harsh one.

From out of doors came not only the sunlight but the song of birds, the loud sighing of the wind in its passage through the trees, and an indescribable fresh, sweet smell, as of meadow grass, turned-up earth, and dew-drenched flowers. It seemed more like spring than autumn.

“Where are we, then?” was Isbel’s first inquiry, uttered in a tone of bewilderment. “How do we come to be to high up from the ground?”

“I don’t recognise any of it. It’s all new to me.”

From the foot of the house wall, forty feet below, the free country started. Judge stared in vain for familiar landmarks — the more he gazed, the more puzzled he became. Not only had his own grounds disappeared, but neither in the foreground nor in the distance was there a single sign of human occupancy or labour. Look where he would, fields, hedgerows, roads, lanes, houses, had vanished entirely out of the landscape.

A bare hillside of grass and chalk, perhaps a couple of hundred feet high, fell away sharply from the house, to terminate in a miniature valley along which a brook, glittering in the sunlight, wound its way. Beyond it there was a corresponding hill up, but not so steep or high; and here the woods began; an undulating but unbroken forest appeared to extend right to the horizon, many miles distant. The intensely blue sky was adorned with cirrus-clouds, while the dazzling sun was high above their heads, about half a point to the right. Apart, altogether, from the strangeness of the scenery, anything less like a late October afternoon would be hard to imagine; the forests were brilliantly green, many of the smaller, isolated trees in the valley were crowned with white blossom, while the air itself held that indefinable spirit of wild sweetness which is inseparable from a spring morning.

“Just look at that man!” said Isbel, suddenly.

He was sitting on the slope of the hill, directly opposite their window and not a stone’s throw from them, but half hidden by the crest of the small hollow which he had selected for his perch, which explained why they had not previously noticed him. He sat motionless, facing the valley, with his back to the house; what he was doing there they could not imagine. It was his extraordinary attire which had evoked Isbel’s exclamation. Only his head, the upper half of his back, and one out-stretched leg were visible; but the leg was encased in a sage-green trouser, tightly cross-gartered with yellow straps, the garment on his back resembled, as far as could be seen, a purple smock, and the hair of his hatless head fell in a thick, bright yellow mane as far as his shoulders.

Notwithstanding Isbel’s amazement, she began to laugh.

“No wonder poor Mrs. Richborough was startled! Is it a man, or a tulip?”

“He looks like an ancient Saxon come to life,” replied Judge, also laughing, but more moderately.

“Ulf, perhaps.”

“Very likely,” he agreed, without understanding her.

“Cry out and ask him if his name’s Ulf.”

“But who was Ulf?”

“Don’t you know? Why he’s the man who built your house. The trolls ran away with him, poor fellow! and probably he’s been sitting here ever since, yearning to get back home again . . . Do call out.”

“You really want me to call?”

“If you don’t I shall, and that will be immodest.”

Judge shouted at the top of his voice. The man neither responded nor turned his head.

“Again!” commanded Isbel, laughing. “Louder — much louder! As if someone were running off with property of yours . . . ”

This time Judge roared, and then Isbel added her strange clanging cry twice or thrice, laughing between whiles; but still they were unable to attract his attention.

Temporarily abandoning the effort, she turned her head and glanced sideways at Judge, with an almost joyous expression. “We can’t be in October. That hawthorn’s blooming . . . and look at those beeches over there, with their pale-green, transparent leaves . . . Hark! . . . ”

They kept quiet for a minute . . . A distant cuckoo was calling. The cry was regularly repeated, at very short intervals.

Judge rubbed his eyes, in actual doubt whether he were awake or dreaming. “It’s spring, sure enough — but how can it be?”

“Oh, if we could only get down into it all!”

Both instinctively measured the wall beneath them with their eyes, but the distance to the ground was too great, the footholds were too precarious.

She leant further out, inhaling the sweet, fragrant air in deep breaths, and sighing it out again . . . “Beautiful! — beautiful! . . . ”

Then once more she became fascinated by the man.

“It can’t be true. Such men don’t exist — at least, nowadays. It’s an optical illusion. If it were a real person he would answer us.”

Judge hailed him again, but without result. A moment later, however, the man stooped to pick something up, and when he regained his sitting posture they caught a glimpse of a fiddle-shaped instrument in his hand, somewhat larger than a modern viola. Wasting no time in preliminaries, he swung his bow across it, and at once started to repeat the air they had heard already from the other room.

Isbel, drawing back a little, rested her elbow on the window-sill and her face on her elbow, in order better to concentrate her thoughts on the music. Judge retired altogether into the room, to make space for her. The tone of the instrument, notwithstanding its small size, was midway in depth between that of a violoncello and that of a contra-bass, and the low, slow scrape of its strings had a peculiarly disturbing effect upon her feelings. The theme had a strange, archaic flavour, as though it had come down through the centuries, yet it was so appropriate that Isbel could almost fancy it to be the voice of the landscape. It was hauntingly beautiful, and full of queer surprises; each long, sonorous note contained a world of music in itself, but it was the powerful, yet delicate and passionate thought slowly being developed as the air proceeded which stirred her so exceedingly.

While she stood listening, feelings which she had not had for ten years suddenly returned to her, and she realised, as in a flash, how far down the hill of life she had already travelled. That complex state of youth, composed of wildness, melancholy, audacity, inspiration, and hope, was momentarily restored to her, but only as a memory, as if for the purpose of mocking her . . . As the music finished, tears stood in her eyes, and her heart was choking, yet she was not unhappy . . .

Judge approached her from behind . . . “Isbel!” . . .

“It was like the voice of spring,” she said, without turning round. “You are tortured, but you don’t know what is happening to you.”

“Music must have been like that at one time.”

“Did you feel it, too?”

“It must be very, very old.” . . . They hardly knew what they were saying to each other.

The musician had sunk back into a reclining position, so that only the crown of his head was visible. Isbel at last looked round. She caught sight of Judge’s face, with its contracted muscles and pained expression, but instantly left that to glance at an envelope which he held in his hand.

“What have you there?”

He handed it to her. “I found it lying on the floor.”

The envelope was addressed to Mrs. Richborough, at the Metropole, but its contents had been abstracted. On the back had been scribbled very roughly in ink the first few bars of the tune they had just heard.

“It has probably got blown down,” suggested Judge. “She must have left it for the ink to dry, and forgotten it, in her alarm.”

Isbel looked at it for some moments, and then slipped it in her hand-bag. “That woman will take notes on the Day of Judgement. But why shouldn’t she? That music could have meant nothing to her.”

“What does it mean to us?”

They stood close by the window, but not looking out. Isbel’s face bore a singular smile.

“It means something, I think.”

“What?”

“Do you feel nothing?”

“I feel great happiness, which I am striving not to account for.”

“It means what spring means,” said Isbel.

She suddenly threw both arms around his neck, clutching him tightly, but at the same time turning away in such a manner that it was the back of her hair only which brushed his cheek . . . When she disengaged herself violently a few seconds later, her face was hot, and she was in tears . . .

Judge breathed hard, and looked dark under the eyes, but he made no attempt to draw nearer.

“What’s wrong, Isbel?”

“You are cruel! . . . ”

“I cruel . . .?”

“Oh, go away from me — altogether! . . . ”

She turned her back on him, and bent her head.

“Will you listen to me? . . . I have no right . . . ”

“I know. You’ve told me a thousand times already . . . You put law first, love second.”

“I demand a very small assurance from you, but that assurance I must have. Are you free now?”

“I won’t say — I refuse to answer. I’ll have everything, or nothing from you.” She wheeled round furiously. “If I’m not worth that, I’m worth nothing at all . . . ”

The scent of violets and primroses seemed to come in with the breeze through the open window, while Isbel’s voice, like soft brass, thrilled the ear with its strange range of tones. She stood there, confronting him — a warm, passionate girl, in sweet clothes — as though she were a second self, his own soul reflected from a magic mirror. Among the whole world of human beings, they two alone possessed the entry into each other’s innermost nature . . . That delicately-modelled woman’s mouth, which had just uttered such words of scorn — if he pleased, in another instant it should break into the loveliest smiles . . .

As they faced one another in silence, the music out-of-doors recommenced without warning. It was the same everlasting tune. Isbel twitched impatiently, and abruptly turned her back on Judge again . . . But though the theme was the same, the execution was markedly different that she had to listen, despite her agitation. The playing was faster, higher, lighter, and staccato. The lingering, haunting sweetness was transformed into a delicate and triumphant dance; the very sunshine which flooded the room seemed suddenly to become more joyous and ethereal . . . Without understanding, or wishing to understand, how the change had been effected, she felt her brow clearing, her heart lightening . . .

Judge waited until the last note had died down, and then said, in a low voice:

“I find I’m not as strong as I thought I was . . . so I’m yours, to do what you like with. Tell me to jump out of the window, and I’ll do it. You’re the only person in the world for me.”

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Last updated Monday, March 17, 2014 at 16:49