The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/E. Oakes Smith/The Mystery of the Mountain
While Hugo saw these things where he stood high up in the mountain, his eyes followed the sparks from the furnace, and he began to wonder that he should hear the sound of the flame at such a distance. Then he bethought himself and looked around, for, what he had supposed the sound from the heat of the forge, proceeded from something close to his feet, at which he marvelled, seeing nothing. It was a short tinkling sound as if many metallic substances rang against one another, and crystals clicked their angles fretfully, yet all making most clear and beautiful melody. Observing more closely, Hugo beheld a toad squatted close to his ear upon a shelf of the rock, whose eyes were brighter than sapphires, and every spot upon his mottled sides had become a gem while he sang:—
In the cavern we lie hidden,
Gem, and crystal, diamond stone,
Buried are we, and forbidden
To lay bare our glittering throne.
Mystic numbers, sacred symbols,
Break the spell that now enthralls us.
Hark the tabor and the timbrels;
Up, my braves, the music calls us.
Instantly the toad began to move itself up and down, thrusting out its short loose legs in the strangest fashion, and with great apparent glee. Its head moved from side to side, keeping time to the music, and its eyes grew every moment more brilliant. While Hugo looked on laughing, and he laughed in the loudest manner, for he was a bluff hearty man, he began to move to and fro, and wag his head with the toad. Then he saw that another had joined them in the shape of a serpent, whereat he drew back in terror; but the snake came on, erecting his head and glowing in his burnished folds, till he came opposite to the man Hugo, when he began to move from side to side, and Hugo did the same, with wonderful ease and pleasure; the dance growing more and more rapid, and the snake, no more a snake, but a column of rubies and diamonds and all precious stones, changing and flashing and tinkling their sharp points, and rolling and writhing in the ecstasy of light; just as a skilful youth tosses many marbles into the air, catching them before they fall to the ground, and they ring sharply as they click one against another.
There was a slight crash, and Hugo saw as it were into the bowels of the mountain. He stooped himself and peered down, wondering from whence came so great a light. Then he saw that the earth opened, revealing a great funnel, the sides of which consisted of projections or little shelves upon which rested swarthy creatures, whose eyes were gems, and lighted the cavern. As Hugo looked, they each turned themselves heavily and rolled their eyes upon him; and as they did so, each lifted a filmy paw, and showed a jewel which he held beneath, so bright as to dazzle the eyes and cast a flash like that of the firefly when he lifteth his wings. Hugo felt his heart burning with desire; he longed to reach out his hand and seize the wealth held under those black claws; but he was at a loss which to take, for every moment one more gorgeous than the last met his eyes.
Still peering downward, he beheld upon the floor of the cavern a huge brown creature studded with crimson, which clung to the ground as the haliotis clings to the rock; but seeing the eager desire of Hugo, he lifted himself and showed what he held concealed; and the man saw a burning triangle, with a word written in fire, and he knew that that was the word, which spoken gives dominion over the whole earth.
Hugo roused himself with a great shout, trying to pronounce the word; three times did he shout, and three times did the word escape him; as when a person would sneeze and the power is lost just in the act, so was it with him, and he was filled with a great rage. When he would have tried again, he felt a finger soft and cool laid in the shape of a cross upon his lips, whereat the oaths which were gathering there fell backward, and he saw the fair stately form of his wife looking tenderly upon him, but she did not speak. When Hugo would have spread forth his arms to her, he met only the night air; the pale stars were shining reproachfully upon him, and the summer air lifted his locks from his bare head. He saw the toad plump itself into a hole, and the tail of the serpent twirl spirally as he slunk away among the rocks. Hugo thought of his wife, and for awhile the vision of the mountain lost its power, for his true human heart yearned with an exceeding love, which made all things else poor and unworthy.
Next day Hugo placed his daughter upon a white palfrey, while he mounted a heavy black charger, and they went forth together, following the river as it wound itself out of the glen into the open plain. Mary forgot her grief, and carolled like a bird, hoping to make her father smile. She darted ahead at full speed, and then returned showering roses in her path, and bound the head of her father’s horse with a gay chaplet. Hugo smiled at the fooleries of the girl, for he bethought himself of her mother, and restrained his moodiness.
When they came out where the country spread itself into a broad meadow, with the river rolling onward and the silent forest, and the high mountains lay against the sky, the girl drew with feelings of awe to the side of her father, and rode on in silence. Ever and anon the clear sound of a bugle swelled out, and then died away in the distance—while the baying of hounds told of courtly sport. Mary looked on every side, but neither dwelling nor human being was to be seen, but jangling the bells of her harness she caught the spirit of life which the bugle implied, and rode gayly onward.
Reaching a lovely glade where the birches trembled lightly over a stream, Hugo dismounted, and they sat down upon the bank. The girl feared to disturb the silence of her father, so she nestled to his side and pulled the violets for lack of something to do. At length he said:
“Mary, what is the word which the spirit keeps up in the mountain? I have tried to speak it, and am not able.”
“It is an ill word, dear father, that removes the soul from God.”
“Nevertheless, speak it,” said Hugo.
“I dare not speak a word, that will mix my nature with earth-spirits, dear father.”
“Thou art but a cowardly girl,” cried Hugo; “did I not see wealth such as the greatest monarch might envy, and did I not see thrones and power within my grasp, save that this palsied tongue could not seize the word?”
While her father spoke in this wise, Mary grew pale, and knelt with her hands folded in silence. At length she spoke:
“It is a fearful word, dear father, which causes the crystal gates of Paradise to glide upon their hinges and shut the utterer out for ever.”
Hugo ground his teeth firmly, and said in a voice terrible, it was so firm and loud—
“Speak, child I would know it.”
Then Mary prayed, saying, “Oh, my God! let the knowledge fade out from my soul, that I may never be guilty of this great sin.”
“Speak,” said her father, turning pale with a great rage.
The clear face of the child was turned to that of the dark man, and a fair smile was on her lips as she answered,
“God has heard my prayer, dear father—I know it not.”
“Thou liest,” answered the fierce man, and he struck the child with his heavy palm.
Mary threw her arms around the neck of her father, pale and trembling, whereat a sudden pang of remorse filled him with shame and grief; but when he saw how still she lay in his arms, he grew fearful, and raised her up and looked into her face. She lay without breath or motion, and although he sprinkled water in her face from the brook, and called her passionately back to life, she did not lift up the fringes of her lids.