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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS
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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS Post by :pcmatt Category :Long Stories Author :Nathaniel Hawthorne Date :April 2011 Read :1397

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The Marble Faun - Volume II - Chapter XXVII - MYTHS

After the sculptor's arrival, however, the young Count sometimes came
down from his forlorn elevation, and rambled with him among the
neighboring woods and hills. He led his friend to many enchanting
nooks, with which he himself had been familiar in his childhood. But
of late, as he remarked to Kenyon, a sort of strangeness had overgrown
them, like clusters of dark shrubbery, so that he hardly recognized
the places which he had known and loved so well.

To the sculptor's eye, nevertheless, they were still rich with beauty.
They were picturesque in that sweetly impressive way where wildness,
in a long lapse of years, has crept over scenes that have been once
adorned with the careful art and toil of man; and when man could do no
more for them, time and nature came, and wrought hand in hand to bring
them to a soft and venerable perfection. There grew the fig-tree that
had run wild and taken to wife the vine, which likewise had gone
rampant out of all human control; so that the two wild things had
tangled and knotted themselves into a wild marriage bond, and hung
their various progeny--the luscious figs, the grapes, oozy with the
Southern juice, and both endowed with a wild flavor that added the
final charm--on the same bough together.

In Kenyon's opinion, never was any other nook so lovely as a certain
little dell which he and Donatello visited. It was hollowed in among
the hills, and open to a glimpse of the broad, fertile valley. A
fountain had its birth here, and fell into a marble basin, which was
all covered with moss and shaggy with water-weeds. Over the gush of
the small stream, with an urn in her arms, stood a marble nymph, whose
nakedness the moss had kindly clothed as with a garment; and the long
trails and tresses of the maidenhair had done what they could in the
poor thing's behalf, by hanging themselves about her waist, In former
days--it might be a remote antiquity--this lady of the fountain had
first received the infant tide into her urn and poured it thence into
the marble basin. But now the sculptured urn had a great crack from
top to bottom; and the discontented nymph was compelled to see the
basin fill itself through a channel which she could not control,
although with water long ago consecrated to her.

For this reason, or some other, she looked terribly forlorn; and you
might have fancied that the whole fountain was but the overflow of her
lonely tears.

"This was a place that I used greatly to delight in," remarked
Donatello, sighing. "As a child, and as a boy, I have been very happy
here."

"And, as a man, I should ask no fitter place to be happy in," answered
Kenyon. "But you, my friend, are of such a social nature, that I
should hardly have thought these lonely haunts would take your fancy.
It is a place for a poet to dream in, and people it with the beings of
his imagination."

"I am no poet, that I know of," said Donatello, "but yet, as I tell
you, I have been very happy here, in the company of this fountain and
this nymph. It is said that a Faun, my oldest forefather, brought
home hither to this very spot a human maiden, whom he loved and wedded.
This spring of delicious water was their household well."

"It is a most enchanting fable!" exclaimed Kenyon; "that is, if it be
not a fact."

"And why not a fact?" said the simple Donatello. "There is, likewise,
another sweet old story connected with this spot. But, now that I
remember it, it seems to me more sad than sweet, though formerly the
sorrow, in which it closes, did not so much impress me. If I had the
gift of tale-telling, this one would be sure to interest you mightily."

"Pray tell it," said Kenyon; "no matter whether well or ill. These
wild legends have often the most powerful charm when least artfully
told."

So the young Count narrated a myth of one of his Progenitors,--he
might have lived a century ago, or a thousand years, or before the
Christian epoch, for anything that Donatello knew to the contrary,
--who had made acquaintance with a fair creature belonging to this
fountain. Whether woman or sprite was a mystery, as was all else
about her, except that her life and soul were somehow interfused
throughout the gushing water. She was a fresh, cool, dewy thing,
sunny and shadowy, full of pleasant little mischiefs, fitful and
changeable with the whim of the moment, but yet as constant as her
native stream, which kept the same gush and flow forever, while marble
crumbled over and around it. The fountain woman loved the youth,--a
knight, as Donatello called him,--for, according to the legend, his
race was akin to hers. At least, whether kin or no, there had been
friendship and sympathy of old betwixt an ancestor of his, with furry
ears, and the long-lived lady of the fountain. And, after all those
ages, she was still as young as a May morning, and as frolicsome as a
bird upon a tree, or a breeze that makes merry with the leaves.

She taught him how to call her from her pebbly source, and they spent
many a happy hour together, more especially in the fervor of the
summer days. For often as he sat waiting for her by the margin of the
spring, she would suddenly fall down around him in a shower of sunny
raindrops, with a rainbow glancing through them, and forthwith gather
herself up into the likeness of a beautiful girl, laughing--or was it
the warble of the rill over the pebbles?--to see the youth's amazement.


Thus, kind maiden that she was, the hot atmosphere became deliciously
cool and fragrant for this favored knight; and, furthermore, when he
knelt down to drink out of the spring, nothing was more common than
for a pair of rosy lips to come up out of its little depths, and touch
his mouth with the thrill of a sweet, cool, dewy kiss!

"It is a delightful story for the hot noon of your Tuscan summer,"
observed the sculptor, at this point. "But the deportment of the
watery lady must have had a most chilling influence in midwinter. Her
lover would find it, very literally, a cold reception!"

"I suppose," said Donatello rather sulkily, "you are making fun of the
story. But I see nothing laughable in the thing itself, nor in what
you say about it."

He went on to relate, that for a long While the knight found infinite
pleasure and comfort in the friendship of the fountain nymph. In his
merriest hours, she gladdened him with her sportive humor. If ever he
was annoyed with earthly trouble, she laid her moist hand upon his
brow, and charmed the fret and fever quite away.

But one day--one fatal noontide--the young knight came rushing with
hasty and irregular steps to the accustomed fountain. He called the
nymph; but--no doubt because there was something unusual and frightful
in his tone she did not appear, nor answer him. He flung himself down,
and washed his hands and bathed his feverish brow in the cool, pure
water. And then there was a sound of woe; it might have been a
woman's voice; it might have been only the sighing of the brook over
the pebbles. The water shrank away from the youth's hands, and left
his brow as dry and feverish as before.

Donatello here came to a dead pause.

"Why did the water shrink from this unhappy knight?" inquired the
sculptor.

"Because he had tried to wash off a bloodstain!" said the young Count,
in a horror-stricken whisper. "The guilty man had polluted the pure
water. The nymph might have comforted him in sorrow, but could not
cleanse his conscience of a crime."

"And did he never behold her more?" asked Kenyon.

"Never but once," replied his friend. "He never beheld her blessed
face but once again, and then there was a blood-stain on the poor
nymph's brow; it was the stain his guilt had left in the fountain
where he tried to wash it off. He mourned for her his whole life long,
and employed the best sculptor of the time to carve this statue of
the nymph from his description of her aspect. But, though my ancestor
would fain have had the image wear her happiest look, the artist,
unlike yourself, was so impressed with the mournfulness of the story,
that, in spite of his best efforts, he made her forlorn, and forever
weeping, as you see!"

Kenyon found a certain charm in this simple legend. Whether so
intended or not, he understood it as an apologue, typifying the
soothing and genial effects of an habitual intercourse with nature in
all ordinary cares and griefs; while, on the other hand, her mild
influences fall short in their effect upon the ruder passions, and are
altogether powerless in the dread fever-fit or deadly chill of guilt.

"Do you say," he asked, "that the nymph's race has never since been
shown to any mortal? Methinks you, by your native qualities, are as
well entitled to her favor as ever your progenitor could have been.
Why have you not summoned her?"

"I called her often when I was a silly child," answered Donatello; and
he added, in an inward voice, "Thank Heaven, she did not come!"

"Then you never saw her?" said the sculptor.

"Never in my life!" rejoined the Count. "No, my dear friend, I have
not seen the nymph; although here, by her fountain, I used to make
many strange acquaintances; for, from my earliest childhood, I was
familiar with whatever creatures haunt the woods. You would have
laughed to see the friends I had among them; yes, among the wild,
nimble things, that reckon man their deadliest enemy! How it was
first taught me, I cannot tell; but there was a charm--a voice, a
murmur, a kind of chant--by which I called the woodland inhabitants,
the furry people, and the feathered people, in a language that they
seemed to understand."

"I have heard of such a gift," responded the sculptor gravely, "but
never before met with a person endowed with it. Pray try the charm;
and lest I should frighten your friends away, I will withdraw into
this thicket, and merely peep at them."

"I doubt," said Donatello, "whether they will remember my voice now.
It changes, you know, as the boy grows towards manhood."

Nevertheless, as the young Count's good-nature and easy persuadability
were among his best characteristics, he set about complying with
Kenyon's request. The latter, in his concealment among the
shrubberies, heard him send forth a sort of modulated breath, wild,
rude, yet harmonious. It struck the auditor as at once the strangest
and the most natural utterance that had ever reached his ears. Any
idle boy, it should seem, singing to himself and setting his wordless
song to no other or more definite tune than the play of his own pulses,
might produce a sound almost identical with this; and yet, it was as
individual as a murmur of the breeze. Donatello tried it, over and
over again, with many breaks, at first, and pauses of uncertainty;
then with more confidence, and a fuller swell, like a wayfarer groping
out of obscurity into the light, and moving with freer footsteps as it
brightens around him.

Anon, his voice appeared to fill the air, yet not with an obtrusive
clangor. The sound was of a murmurous character, soft, attractive,
persuasive, friendly. The sculptor fancied that such might have been
the original voice and utterance of the natural man, before the
sophistication of the human intellect formed what we now call language.
In this broad dialect--broad as the sympathies of nature--the human
brother might have spoken to his inarticulate brotherhood that prowl
the woods, or soar upon the wing, and have been intelligible to such
extent as to win their confidence.

The sound had its pathos too. At some of its simple cadences, the
tears came quietly into Kenyon's eyes. They welled up slowly from his
heart, which was thrilling with an emotion more delightful than he had
often felt before, but which he forbore to analyze, lest, if he seized
it, it should at once perish in his grasp.

Donatello paused two or three times, and seemed to listen,--then,
recommencing, he poured his spirit and life more earnestly into the
strain. And finally,--or else the sculptor's hope and imagination
deceived him,--soft treads were audible upon the fallen leaves. There
was a rustling among the shrubbery; a whir of wings, moreover, that
hovered in the air. It may have been all an illusion; but Kenyon
fancied that he could distinguish the stealthy, cat-like movement of
some small forest citizen, and that he could even see its doubtful
shadow, if not really its substance. But, all at once, whatever might
be the reason, there ensued a hurried rush and scamper of little feet;
and then the sculptor heard a wild, sorrowful cry, and through the
crevices of the thicket beheld Donatello fling himself on the ground.

Emerging from his hiding-place, he saw no living thing, save a brown
lizard (it was of the tarantula species) rustling away through the
sunshine. To all present appearance, this venomous reptile was the
only creature that had responded to the young Count's efforts to renew
his intercourse with the lower orders of nature.

"What has happened to you?" exclaimed Kenyon, stooping down over his
friend, and wondering at the anguish which he betrayed.

"Death, death!" sobbed Donatello. "They know it!"

He grovelled beside the fountain, in a fit of such passionate sobbing
and weeping, that it seemed as if his heart had broken, and spilt its
wild sorrows upon the ground. His unrestrained grief and childish
tears made Kenyon sensible in how small a degree the customs and
restraints of society had really acted upon this young man, in spite
of the quietude of his ordinary deportment. In response to his
friend's efforts to console him, he murmured words hardly more
articulate than the strange chant which he had so recently been
breathing into the air.

"They know it!" was all that Kenyon could yet distinguish,--"they know
it!"

"Who know it?" asked the sculptor. "And what is it their know?"
"They know it!" repeated Donatello, trembling. "They shun me! All
nature shrinks from me, and shudders at me! I live in the midst of a
curse, that hems me round with a circle of fire! No innocent thing
can come near me."

"Be comforted, my dear friend," said Kenyon, kneeling beside him.
"You labor under some illusion, but no curse. As for this strange,
natural spell, which you have been exercising, and of which I have
heard before, though I never believed in, nor expected to witness it,
I am satisfied that you still possess it. It was my own
half-concealed presence, no doubt, and some involuntary little
movement of mine, that scared away your forest friends."

"They are friends of mine no longer," answered Donatello.

"We all of us, as we grow older," rejoined Kenyon, "lose somewhat of
our proximity to nature. It is the price we pay for experience."

"A heavy price, then!" said Donatello, rising from the ground. "But
we will speak no more of it. Forget this scene, my dear friend. In
your eyes, it must look very absurd. It is a grief, I presume, to all
men, to find the pleasant privileges and properties of early life
departing from them. That grief has now befallen me. Well; I shall
waste no more tears for such a cause!"

Nothing else made Kenyon so sensible of a change in Donatello, as his
newly acquired power of dealing with his own emotions, and, after a
struggle more or less fierce, thrusting them down into the prison
cells where he usually kept them confined. The restraint, which he
now put upon himself, and the mask of dull composure which he
succeeded in clasping over his still beautiful, and once faun-like
face, affected the sensitive sculptor more sadly than even the
unrestrained passion of the preceding scene. It is a very miserable
epoch, when the evil necessities of life, in our tortuous world, first
get the better of us so far as to compel us to attempt throwing a
cloud over our transparency. Simplicity increases in value the longer
we can keep it, and the further we carry it onward into life; the loss
of a child's simplicity, in the inevitable lapse of years, causes but
a natural sigh or two, because even his mother feared that he could
not keep it always. But after a young man has brought it through his
childhood, and has still worn it in his bosom, not as an early dewdrop,
but as a diamond of pure white lustre,--it is a pity to lose it, then.
And thus, when Kenyon saw how much his friend had now to hide, and
how well he hid it, he would have wept, although his tears would have
been even idler than those which Donatello had just shed.

They parted on the lawn before the house, the Count to climb his tower,
and the sculptor to read an antique edition of Dante, which he had
found among some old volumes of Catholic devotion, in a seldom-visited
room, Tomaso met him in the entrance hall, and showed a desire to
speak.

"Our poor signorino looks very sad to-day!" he said.

"Even so, good Tomaso," replied the sculptor. "Would that we could
raise his spirits a little!"

"There might be means, Signore," answered the old butler, "if one
might but be sure that they were the right ones. We men are but rough
nurses for a sick body or a sick spirit."

"Women, you would say, my good friend, are better," said the sculptor,
struck by an intelligence in the butler's face. "That is possible!
But it depends."

"Ah; we will wait a little longer," said Tomaso, with the customary
shake of his head.

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From the old butler, whom he found to be a very gracious and affablepersonage, Kenyon soon learned many curious particulars about thefamily history and hereditary peculiarities of the Counts of MonteBeni. There was a pedigree, the later portion of which--that is tosay, for a little more than a thousand years--a genealogist would havefound delight in tracing out, link by link, and authenticating byrecords and documentary evidences. It would have been as difficult,however, to follow up the stream of Donatello's ancestry to its dimsource, as travellers have found it to reach the mysterious fountainsof the Nile. And, far beyond
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