Short Stories from the Balkans/Brother Cœlestin
HIGH in the Apennines it stood—a gloomy cloister. It towered blackly on the edge of a steep, forbidding, treeless abyss, and the sun beat pitilessly upon its bare, gray walls. There was something strange about this Cloister; here God and Satan dwelled side by side. God hid Himself behind the great altar in the church; Satan dwelled in the cell of the Prior, above his desk, and in fact right behind a picture. God knows to what school that picture belongs! It represented the Temptation of Saint Anthony. This had been a favorite subject for representation with a school of painters. Teniers and Tassaert had represented the subject with humor, Bosch with great imagination; it had been given by Callot to the modern world through the pen of Hoffman, that unjustly forgotten poet, and dreamer of golden vessels and magic draughts.
On one of these pictures, among the many shapeless and nameless monsters that surrounded the poor and holy hermit, moving in a hideously merry dance, there was in one corner of the canvas a great green frog with a bird-shaped beak, and a hugely swollen white goiter. Behind this frog dwelled Satan, and unobserved, through the eyes of the frog he watched—not holy Saint Anthony kneeling in prayer, but the living body of the Prior and his priestly comrades.
I am obliged to confess that for sometime Satan had been terribly bored in his quiet corner. The Prior was a pious man, and the monks hymned sleepily their breviaries. To tease them by means of sensual dreams was something altogether too commonplace, indeed Satan himself would be ashamed to do it, and at the same time he wished to amuse himself. Sometimes he closed the prayer book of the Prior ten times right before his nose, but with stoic calm, the Prior would open the book for the eleventh time and find the place of Scripture he was reading, and put in a book mark. On this book mark two flaming hearts were embroidered, and a cross sewn out of pearls; it was evidently a keepsake “from the world.” Satan tried to convince himself that it was childish to close the book the eleventh time. But the facts of the case are that he was ashamed to confess that he was not sufficiently emancipated mentally to be free of fear of the cross. He would not have confessed it himself, but I am confessing it for him strictly “sub rosa.”
In this Cloister a young monk lived. Shelley, that poetic interpreter of the human heart, would have named him Alastor, but here they called him Brother Cœlestin. His was a gentle, inspired dreamer's soul, certainly worthy of a better fate than to wither away between gray, desolate walls. He was not especially beloved in the Cloister, and yet he was so quiet, so devoted. He did not coquette for a flattering look from the Prior, and when he met the brothers in the long, gloomy halls, he called out his “Memento” to them humbly—in the spirit of the Scriptures, not in the spirit of hypocrisy, which was something he knew nothing about.
Why Cœlestin entered the Cloister it would not be easy to say. Perhaps it was something that had to be. There are men in whose lives the fatalism of the past asserts its rights, that fatalism which the middle-age tried vainly to displace by means of faith in Providence, and which the modern world tried to make blind by the light of science, and succeeded only in dimming. It was easy to see that Cœlestin was not contented in the Cloister. What was to him the wonderful, magic beauty of nature, if he could look upon it only through the narrow window of his cell, which was covered with iron bars! The rest of the monks were old, too. They were unfriendly and cross. Perhaps the dreams with which they had stepped over the Cloister threshold had proved false as his own.
The cell of Brother Cœlestin was small; it looked bare and needy. It had one advantage, however; it was in an old tower, the remnant of an older fortification. This tower, with its one little iron-barred window, was the nest of all his dreams. A few boards made his bed; a Bible and breviary his library. The room to him seemed strange and bare. But the view out upon the mountain summits worked magic upon him, breathed into his soul such warmth and sweetness, as had done long ago the face of his mother.
For long, long hours Brother Cœlestin stood by the window, with greatest pleasure at the hour when the splendor of the sunset was poured over the mountains, when their harsh, dark outlines glowed in violet radiance, and the mist of evening floating down the terraced declivities, shimmered sweetly like a gentle rain of pale, blush-roses.
At night, too, for long, long hours Brother Cœlestin stood by the window when over the glooming, black heads of the mountains shot a yellow glow resembling the Aurora Borealis of the North. Then the distant stars trembled like little white flowers. What peace, what quiet, what perfume floated upon the night! Over there, in that corner between the mountains—thus thought Brother Cœlestin—there where the clouds and the mists, and the stars, and the birds are born, there sits an unknown divinity and dreams some mighty dream men call nature, world, human life.By day, under the direct light of the sun, Cœlestin did not look across to the mountains; they were sad then, they seemed less lofty, humble, and oppressed.
I must remind the reader who has accompanied me through this dream of Brother Cœlestin that Satan was becoming fearfully bored in the cell of the Prior.
Likewise, I must communicate to him the fact that the Cloister was very poor. The monks depended wholly upon the benevolence of the country people who lived in this locality. That, however, was sufficient for their needs. Then times were different than they are now, the priest, and especially the monk, was as sacred to men as the friendly brown swallows that yearly nested under the eaves.
From time to time the Prior sent one of the monks into the mountains. He gave him two companions: Brother Andrew, who knew the mountain pathways as well as a bandit, and an old gray ass, which—laden with numberless empty baskets—brought back provisions. It was the duty of Brother Andrew to lead the ass. Perhaps that is the reason that the monks called the gray companion Andrew. And when they said: “Andrew is coming back from the mountains,” no one knew whether they meant the monk or the ass, or both. Brother Andrew was an old, crabbed, grumbling fellow who was never pleased with anything. When he was walking along the road he complained because the sun was hot. If the sun dipped down behind the mountains and set, he complained of the rough, pebbly road. When he was in the peasant homes he complained about the Cloister, and when he was in the Cloister he complained about the peasants. The shrewd Prior, who did not wish to displease the people because of this disagreeable disposition, always sent another Brother to accompany him. And because he wished to earn the gratitude of the Order, this one usually carried pictures, rosaries, and crosses for a gift to the peasant children, which he was careful, however, to distribute among the elders, ad captandam benevolentiam of the fathers and mothers.
So Brother Andrew returned to the Cloister with the baskets filled with butter, smoked meat, and various articles of food. And on the evening of his return the psalms of the choir resounded with a more solemn dignity, and the candles burned later in the great, barren, marble floored room which was the refectory.
Once Brother Andrew was standing with the empty baskets in front of the door waiting for a companion.
Andrew, the monk, had gone to the Prior, for his latest directions. Brother Cœlestin was gazing sadly away toward the mountains. His heart was filled with an indescribable longing. Then he looked up and saw the basket-laden ass. A wild desire mastered him to learn to know the intricacies of the mountains, to breathe deeply the fresh, free air, to rejoice with the soaring lark, and to look again upon the faces of living men,—not these dried mummies who were perishing in asceticism. He did not pause to consider. He went directly to the Prior, entered without being announced and without greeting.
“Father—I have a request. It is the first since I have been here. Hear me—in God's name!”
The Prior looked surprised, but he replied gently, although there was reproach in his tone.“You sin, my son, against the rules of the Order. You can have no requests. To express a request is to express a wish, and suppression of the individual will is the first step toward priestly perfection.”
Cœlestin was silenced. He blushed and tears came to his eyes.
The Prior spoke on. “I have sympathy for your youth. Tell me what you wish. Perhaps I will grant it, but in the future spare me a repetition and do not leave your cell until He summons you Whose unworthy servants we are.”
Hesitating, Cœlestin stated his wish. He asked to accompany Andrew into the mountains.
The Prior considered, then he said earnestly: “Very good! Not because you asked me, but because it is really your turn to go. Go—and God be with you.”
Cœlestin kneeled at the Prior's feet, and wet his hand with tears as he kissed it. The Prior could not understand the tears. The procession started.
Never before had Brother Andrew been so cross and disagreeable. He thought he had cause enough. He had a presentiment that their journey would be fruitless, and he was planning how to throw the blame upon Cœlestin. Cœlestin, for the first time in his life, was supremely happy. Anyone who has recovered from a serious illness, or a criminal who, after long years, has left his prison, can sympathize with the feelings of Cœlestin. It seemed to him that the world had just been created for him; everywhere he beheld his own soul; in the blossoms of the cyclamen, in the fearless wings of the eagle, which, high above, vanished in blue depths of air. If his training and his black gown had not hindered him, he would have followed the wild goats up the steep declivities where they leaped to nibble the berry bushes. His eyes sparkled. His hands trembled. Brother Andrew, I mean the monk, had predicted well. Just as if fate had closed the doors and the hands of the peasants and Brother Andrew—I mean now the ass—felt upon his back the results of the day. The old monk was right. Cœlestin had not taken along any pictures or rosaries, and he did not know how to praise the hens and the cattle of the peasant women nor to amuse their children. His heart was full to overflowing with his vision of the beautiful world, and his eyes spoke eloquently, but this speech the world does not understand. In short they were obliged to return with empty baskets. In one peasant house, all had gone to the village except the children, and these peered greedily through the papered windows, at the ill-assorted pair and refused them curtly. Poor Cœlestin! It was all his fault. Brother Andrew was in his worst temper. His gray namesake was secretly happy, however, because he did not have anything to carry. They moved slowly along the stony, treeless way. Andrew growled and grumbled, Cœlestin sought vainly in his mind for a safe explanation.
Just at this moment the swollen frog with the canary bird's beak upon the painted canvas in the Prior's cell, began to wiggle its white head, just as live frogs do, on the edge of ponds, when the warm spring rain falls. The Prior, however, observed nothing of this because he was so deeply absorbed in his breviary.
Our pilgrims reached at length the summit of the mountains. There stray trees grew, and berry bushes. They thought they would rest here a little, the ascent and the heat had tired them. But what thing did they see! There in shadow of a tree, with face pressed to earth, lay a man whose clothes were ragged. He was sleeping or dead. By his side lay a flute.
Brother Andrew began to grumble about vagabonds and thieves and wished to go on, but kind Cœlestin insisted that it was their duty to aid him. A quarrel arose out of which Andrew—the gray one—had the advantage. He lay down to rest in the coolness and began to eat grass and leaves. Brother Andrew resisted resolutely. One must be cautious, because how could they tell whom they were helping. To his great surprise Cœlestin resisted just as resolutely that the poor man must be lifted upon the ass and taken to the Cloister. It was evident that he was struggling between life and death. Cœlestin bent down and observed the face—an ordinary face without expression! “A musician! An idle, good-for-nothing wanderer in the mountains!” grumbled Andrew.
In the midst of continued resistance on one side, and a generous giving of biblical examples of brotherly love on the other side, they lifted the stranger to the back of the ass, and started for the Cloister, which peered forth from the mountain peak opposite, just as if it were eager to see what rich treasures of food Cœlestin was bringing back.
“A fine gift—this—we have,” declared Brother Andrew. Cœlestin picked up the flute. He had never seen such a thing before; he laughed because the slender black pipe pleased him. He hid it in his breast but Brother Andrew leaped upon him like a wild animal, and declared it must be given either to the Prior or the Cloister, as recompense for nursing—or perhaps the burial of the stranger. In order to end the quarrel Cœlestin gave the flute to the sick man, who opened his eyes from time to time and groaned.
On the terrace of the Cloister the monks had assembled, with the Prior in front, to await impatiently the return of the two Andrews. Food was low and more than usual now they felt need of sitting together in the lighted refectory, in front of well filled glasses and plates. But what a disappointment! Through the gate came Andrew number one, grumbling, and Andrew number two bore upon his back a drunken blackleg—was the universal opinion—while last came Cœlestin, his head bowed and hands folded, shyly, like a criminal who comes before his judge.
Astonishment, anger, complaints! No food. No smoked meat which Brother Cleofas enjoyed so, no artichokes, for which Brother Zeno was enthusiastic, and not a single melon of which Brother Sulpicius was so greedy. Instead of the promised meal, a beggar, an outcast in ragged clothes. O Cœlestin what have you done!
With a commanding look the Prior controlled the anger of the brothers, and with a still more commanding look he spoke to Brother Cœlestin. “Whom do you bring here, my son?”
“Jesus, the Christ!” he replied, and raised his blue eyes to the Prior.
Laughter resounded on all sides.
“He has lost his mind! He is laughing at us!”
Thus ran the opinions.
“Blaspheme not, my son,” answered the irritated Prior.
“I do not blaspheme, father, and I repeat: I bring Jesus the Christ. Did he not say himself: ‘What ye do to the least among men, that ye do unto me’? Consider, father! The poor fellow lay on the highway, suffering pain, in the sun. Did not God himself send us in his pity to lessen his suffering? It was for that reason that all the doors were shut against us, that we might succor this dying one and bring him here. If our baskets had been full of food, we could not have helped him, so everything was arranged wisely by Providence.”
A murmur circled the row of standing monks. The Prior was all but convinced. After a little meditation he said: “According to the commands of brotherly love you have done well, but likewise the Scriptures say: ‘Be cunning as the serpent.’ Is it not possible that this fellow is merely making believe? Who knows but he is an adventurer, who seeks our Cloister out in order later to fall upon it with his companions and plunder it!
“But it is done now and argument is useless. Let your punishment be—since you did this without consulting me—to take care of the sick man yourself. Come, Brothers, it is time for evening prayer!”
It was a sad and sorry-faced festival today! In the mind of Brother Zeno, who was singing, there were visions of artichokes cooked in fragrant oil; Brother Sulpicius was afraid to lift his eyes to the altar, lest he should behold fabulous, golden melons floating there; and good Cleofas thought that the incense was the smell of smoked meat. How sad was that evening meal. Nothing but dry bread, raw turnips, and cheese so old it was green. And Cœlestin was to be blamed.
Scarcely was the sad meal ended when a Brother announced the death of the stranger. Fresh trouble, and another round of reproaches for Cœlestin. Even the Prior could not hold in any longer, and began to scold: “Expense! Useless expense!”
Brother Cœlestin remained with the dying man to the last breath. As soon as he closed his eyes, a strange feeling came over him; he felt as if he were going to commit theft. With trembling hand he felt the body of the dead man, and at last he found what he sought—the old flute. As if it had been a costly treasure he hid it in his breast. The entire day he walked about like one in a dream. The monks meanwhile buried the stranger by the Cloister wall. But instead of prayers they only flung a few remarks at him, along with some handfuls of dirt.
It was a fragrant evening of summer. Cœlestin stood by the window of his narrow cell and gazed across at the mountains. His soul was slowly bursting into bloom like a gigantic flower.
He had never seen a flute before. He drew it forth eagerly and looked at it just as a child looks at a new toy, and then tried awkwardly to put it to his lips and place his fingers upon the openings and move them up and down. He made the attempt of blowing his breath into it. A pure, sweet tone bubbled up from the flute and floated forth upon the air of evening. It was as if a swan upon a lake was singing its death song.
Cœlestin was astonished and repeated the attempt, and this time longer and with more courage. If the first note was like a quiet lament, the next note was a reproach, and did not perish suddenly, but ended with a sharp call.
In his inexperience Cœlestin thought it could not be otherwise, and that it all consisted in just blowing breath into the flute, and the flute itself would do the rest, and so he blew valiantly.
It was a strange melody!
All the poetry of the pleasant evening of summer mirrored itself in the waves of this mystic music. It was as if the crimson evening spread itself around the tones! And these tones which melted into a tender elegy, trembled like the wild, clinging vines, which pushed up between the hops, along the cloister wall, and lifted their large, variegated blossoms through iron window bars, and nodded into gloomy cells.
It was as if upon the edge of each huge flower-cup an ethereal being sat, and this being was whiter than ivory, and more translucent than mist. And each tiny ethereal being kept time with its golden head, and bowed and nodded to the other flowers. And then they began to dance, as if a thousand bright butterflies were being cradled in the blossoms. Heaven bent nearer, the mountains grew loftier and lordlier. The river, which twisted between walls of rock, murmured as if in a dream, and the forbidding cliffs which watched it mirrored themselves in the golden sand and leaned nearer. The juniper bushes gleamed with a magical, emerald green. And each note—it was as if it found a brother! One found it in the tender tint of evening clouds, another in the silvered glory of the waves, and still another in the violet shadows of distant mountains. Every tone repeated itself in an echo which floated down through the crevasses of the old Cloister wall, wandering along the stained glass windows of the chapel, dancing over the graves of the monks who now slept in peace. And still Cœlestin played.
It seemed as if, by means of the music, all things that oppressed him fell away. His mood was the same as that morning when for the first time he went into the mountains; but he felt freer, like the eagle he had envied that day, happier than the blossoms of the cyclamen in whose slender cups he had found his soul. He played on and looked out upon the mountains behind which the sun was sinking amid enchanting colors. The landscape in front of him melted into broad strips of shimmering, floating colors, the little river arose from its rocky cavern, and threw into his window a rain of gems—onyx, pearls, and rubies. The evening red became a sea, the flowering vines of the Cloister wall grew in jars of crystal. Naked odalisques and sylphs arose from them and leaned toward him with beckoning mien. Everywhere resounded melodious, bizarre, grieving, passionate, imploring tones like the falling pearls of May rain upon the thick, blooming forest where the jasmine clings.And Cœlestin played on and on; a flood of fancies broke over his head, like the flood of ocean over one who is drowning. There was something penetratingly sweet for him in this whirlpool of tone, like the clash of cymbals, like the pealing of bells. Gradually it grew stiller and stiller, only into his window peered the dew-wet magic night, with its sweet, star eyes.
Upon the threshold stood, as if turned to stone, Brother Cleofas. The flute fell from the hands of Cœlestin. Brother Cleofas announced the command of the Prior. Cœlestin must come at once to the refectory and bring the flute.
A formal meeting was in progress. Cœlestin, absorbed by his music, had forgotten the hour of evening prayer, and what was worse, he had disturbed the prayers of the others. The monks, who were already angry with Cœlestin, awaited joyously the punishment of the Prior. At first the Prior believed that Cœlestin knew how to play. But he insisted that he had never seen a flute before and thought all there was to it was just to blow in it. A storm of laughter was the answer to this. Some believed him a deceiver, others saw his innocence. The Prior meditated. The honest countenace of Cœlestin disarmed him. The Prior decided that the flute was the property of the convent, told Brother Cleofas to take and guard it.
Cœlestin spent a sleepless night. Continually he heard that enchanting music. The next day was dim and fog-filled. Cœlestin felt like a person after a nightly orgy. He felt as if there were a frightful emptiness in his soul, he walked about his cell and the church like a stranger. He suffered from a longing he could not express, he feared even to try to express it, and at the same time, he knew that it was because he was grieving over the lost flute.
Again evening came, and this time more gloomy and fog-hung than the day. The mountains looked like sorrowing widows hidden in their veils. With arms crossed upon his breast Cœlestin paced his cell. There was but one thought in his brain and that tortured him. The flute!
Someone knocked softly at the door. He opened it, and in the dim passage he saw a Brother. It was too dark to distinguish face or feature, but it seemed to resemble Brother Cleofas.
“Has the Prior sent for me again?” stammered the surprised Cœlestin.
In reply the dark figure touched a warning finger to its lips—and then held out the flute. Who else could it be but Brother Cleofas, the one who dreamed of the sweetness of smoked meat?
“Cleofas, Brother!” exclaimed Cœlestin, with delight. “Then there is one who has sympathy for me, who has not forgotten me, who braves the anger of the Prior for my sake! I thank you, Brother—and I always thought you were my enemy. Pardon me, Brother! Pardon me! My flute, my flute!”
The monk signalled him to be quiet. Before Cœlestin thanked him he had disappeared. In his excitement, good Cœlestin had quite forgotten that now all the Brothers were assembled in the church. He believed firmly that that silent monk must have been Cleofas. He went to the window and played.
The melody was sad and elegiac, as if it tried to harmonize with the mood of the evening. Suppressed sighs, restrained tears, were interwoven in the melody; a thousand nightingales sobbed their sorrow in the song. Then, upon the instant, it changed—it was a wild dance of a carnival, an unrestrained orgy, wherein from time to time shook the laughter of madness. I do not know how long Cœlestin played, but this time it was really Cleofas, who, raging like a tiger, came with a message from the Prior. Cœlestin declared that Brother Cleofas came to his cell and gave him the flute. The Prior knew that Brother Cleofas had been in the church with him. Cœlestin stuck to his statement and could not be shaken from it. It looked bad for Cœlestin. Everyone had seen Cleofas at vesper service; no one had seen Cœlestin.
The Prior put his hand to his brow as if in search for a reasonable decision. The Prior took the flute and carried it into his own room. Cœlestin was led to the Cloister prison, where he was to remain and eat only bread and water until he confessed to the truth. Night came on. Cœlestin did not know it. The little prison chamber under the roof was always dark. The one little barred window was right under the drain spout of the roof. The door opened. Brother Cleofas came in. Grumbling he placed a piece of bread by Cœlestin's cot; and fastened a diminutive earthen lamp to the unpainted wall and left. Cœlestin tried to talk with him, but he shut the door in silence and turned the key.
He threw himself upon the miserable cot and tried to sleep. Feverish fancies crossed his brain, his forehead was hot, his eyes were heavy, but he could not sleep. Slowly the hours passed.
“What a wretched existence!” thought Cœlestin, “It would be better to die.” He began to meditate about death. It seemed to him something desirable. The flickering flame of the lamp sent smoke and shadows across the barred window space, and stretched into thicker blackness in the comers. Right by the door Cœlestin watched the shadow grow thicker. Was it an illusion? He rubbed his eyes in order to see better. The shadows thickened into a form, and the form drew near to him. It was hidden in a brown robe of peculiar shape. The long, thin, yellow face resembled old parchment in the Cloister library. It came nearer and nearer and its steps were noiseless. Cœlestin looked straight at this phantom being; he did not feel the slightest fear. Now it stood beside him and looked down upon him with green, sparkling eyes.
“You are Satan!” declared Coelestin calmly, without turning his eyes away.
“You may not be mistaken,” replied the stranger hoarsely.
There was silence a while.
“What a miserable thing is life!” sighed Cœlestin.
“Miserable?” laughed the strange guest. “That is because you do not know it, my boy! The old complaint of children and good-for-nothings. Life is an idea, a conception of the brain. It is your own fault if you do not enjoy it.”
“What? I do not know anything about life?” questioned Cœlestin, hastily. “Then what does my renunciation mean, my struggles, my dreams—”
“Renunciation, struggles, dreams, are not life!” said Satan, scornfully. “You have a presentiment of what it is—you child with the longing of a giant and the grief of an old man in your heart.”
“And why do I not know life?” questioned the monk, timidly.
“Because you do not know woman!” replied Satan, laughing.
“Woman?” repeated Cœlestin. “Did I not have a mother?”
“Do not speak of a mother!” interrupted Satan. “Mother is soul—God—but not woman. Woman is flesh—body—and that you do not know. You are very innocent, dear child.” A note of sympathy trembled upon the last words of Satan.“But how could a woman help to make me happy? I would be happy if I could travel over the beautiful world, climb the mountains nimbly as the goats, fly across the blue with the eagle, or dwell in the blossom-cup of a flower—”
“And remain a fool, just as you are!” interrupted Satan. No! You do not know what a woman is! Your unripe dreams are hung upon the stars, the eagle's wings, but not where they belong. You do not know that your soul is a woman, that nature is a woman—death—eternity— You have renounced woman and that is the reason that you are a child, with the longing of a giant in your heart, and the grief of an old man. I pity you!”
Fear stood in the young priest's eyes.
“Then teach me to know woman, and in return take my life, my soul!”
Satan laughed and came nearer.
“What is the use of this feeble light?”With these words he extinguished it; stepped to the window and stretched his hand out into the night. Like white silk threads something gleamed outside, changed into a beam of light, and in a thrice floated between the bars a white star, which illumined the room. A sulphur glow filled the room, which gradually changed into different colors. Satan felt within his breast, drew out three round, black pieces of wood which he fitted together.
“My flute” exclaimed Cœlestin, jumping up from the cot.
“Yes—your soul!” mimicked Satan, “Remain lying where you are.”
Cœlestin obeyed, and drew the covers up. Satan put the flute to his lips. Hardly was the first note sounded than a change took place in him. He was sitting upon his bed like a naked colossus, from whose gigantic shoulders two bat's wings depended, like black banners. He played and kept time with his black head. The notes were bizarre, false, unlovely. Melody was lacking, and it seemed to Cœlestin that a rain of fire fell upon his temples. The notes grew sharp; they pierced like needles. Cœlestin was frightened, he drew the covers over his head. Something like a streak of mist floated over him and settled down with a certain restraint upon him. Picture-visions, strange and mighty, passed before him. He saw cities, uniquely towered, and houses, thick forests, and sandy wastes; ancient gardens, filled with sculptured stone. Evening came, and morning, and night again. Then he found himself in a wild garden where grew black cypress trees. Far in the rear were towers of a building of the middle-age. Yellow sand was spread upon the broad walks, and the flowers, whose cups were shaped like stars, spread abroad a perfume that was benumbing. In front of one of the fountains, under a cypress tree, stood a woman, a splendid commanding figure. She wore black velvet, and the neck was left open in front. He stretched his arms out toward her, but she melted into mist and disappeared. Again mist spread about him, it increased, and then melted into swifter and swifter whirling circles. Down into this sped the beam of light that had floated between the window bars, and at once threw out long jasmine-blue and emerald rays, and these rays turned, twisted, and then transformed themselves into the body of a woman, around whom white mist floated like silken muslins. That was she—the dream of his sleeping soul, the one whom he saw under the cypress tree. Very plainly he saw her, he felt her breath, but Satan he did not see at all, who kept marking the time with madder measure. While he looked at her, tears flowed over his face, his head was dizzy as if with intoxication. He spread his arms out toward her, but she hurried away to the window, and, dancing upon the moonlight, she beckoned him to follow. He got up from his cot like one drunk, the iron window bars fell clattering in the dust. He must get away, away— Upon the black chimney, blowing the flute, he saw Satan, and before him floated the resplendent summer night world of his dream—and that enticing woman. He must follow her. It was a strange road, over the roof tops. Satan was ahead, blowing the flute, then she, veiled in rosy mist, from which fell continually like rain, roses, ivy, blue bells, rhododendron, and these flowers were twined about her hair, and her snow-white limbs. Behind her came Cœlestin, with wildly outstretched arms. In front of all of them danced the moon, and threw its light in little fine threads over their feet. The stars cradled themselves in a phosphorescent splendor, and the top of the old Cloister swayed under their feet like the back of some fabulous, pre-historic monster. Where the roof made a turn, a great, black cat jumped out, with two red rubies for eyes, and long fur, from which fell sparks. The Cloister remained behind; they hurried away upon the moon-beam, and left it. Trees stood along the road like giant, veiled spectres. From their tops sometimes ravens rose. Beneath, blue flames trembled, over which seductive will-o'-the-wisps floated. By the shore sat huge frogs, whose emerald-green bodies showed yellow spots. The air became heavy. Mist veiled the moon; and now they floated away over the crest of the mountains and the flute song was heard no more. They stood upon the edge of an abyss, into this measureless depth the woman leaped, riding upon pallid moonlight—and disappeared. Upon the edge of the cliff above sat Satan; he put the flute aside and laughed loudly and scornfully. Cœlestin opened his eyes. Darkness surrounded him.
“Give me the flute!” he thundered to Satan. “Give me the flute and I will play that beautiful woman up out of the abyss!”
Shrill laughter was the answer.
“Give me the flute—and take my soul!”
Again the laughter echoed. In wild anger Cœlestin fell upon Satan and tried to take the flute away, but Satan embraced him, and spread his black wings over him. Together they sank slowly to the earth. Cœlestin did not wake again.
In the morning the monks found the window broken, but of Cœlestin they found no trace. The Prior could not find the flute which the day before he had placed under the picture of Saint Anthony. While he was searching for the flute, he observed the picture critically, and for the first time he saw in the eyes of the green frog the red scorn of laughter, and he saw the white goiter swell. That day he removed the picture from his cell. For a time the monks talked of the affair, and then they forgot it, as everything else is forgotten. Again Brother Andrew and his gray companion went out into the mountains for food. They were received in the most friendly manner by the good mountain people, and Brother Andrew drank more wine than was good for him. How could he help it when the heat was so great! It was late when, heavily laden, he started home, where the monks awaited him impatiently. But this time both Bacchus and Morpheus took good Andrew in charge. The ass lost the way, and in the darkness let himself be led by his namesake.
But the next morning! The sharp air awoke him and dispelled the intoxication. Rubbing his eyes, he looked about. Eternal God, with whom had he slept! Near him lay a man, his face buried in the earth, and wearing the rotting habit of his Order. It was really now only the skeleton of a man, it had been so long the prey of wind and rain. At a little distance lay a flute! Andrew shrieked with terror. He began hastily to beat his companion, and drive him up the steep mountain-side.
Not once did he dare look back, and he made constantly the sign of the cross.
He told the Prior that he had stayed all night at a peasant's house. Whether he ever told what really happened that night I do not know.