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HOME > Classical Novels > Love Among the Ruins > PART I CHAPTER 1
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 The branches of the forest the sky with the supplications of their thousand hands. Black, tumultuous, terrible, the wilds billowed under the moon, with the night, silent as a windless sea. Winter, like a pale Semiramis of gigantic mould, stood with her coronet the steely sky. A company of stars stared frost-bright from the heavens.  
A pillar of fire shone red amid the of the woods. Like a great torch, a blazing tower spears of light into the gloom. Shadows, vast and fantastic, struggled like Titans striving with Destiny in the silence of the night. Their substanceless limbs leapt and through the gnarled of the forest. Overhead, the moon looked down with thin and silver lethargy on the by the hand of man.
In a , all golden with the breath of the fire, blackened battlements waved a pennon of vermilion flame above the woods. Smoke, in and clouds, rolled heavenwards to be silvered into snow by the light of the moon. The grass of the glade shone a dusky, yet brilliant green; the tower's windows were red as on a of . About its base, cottages were burning like faggots piled about a martyr's loins.
Tragedy had touched the place with her ruddy hand. There had been deeds done in the silence of the woods. Hirelings, a rough pack of mercenaries in the service of the Lord Flavian of Gambrevault, had stolen upon the tower of Rual of Cambremont, him before his own gate, and put his sons to the sword. A had inspired the event, a rotten of enmity woven on Stephen's Eve in a scuffle. The burning tower with its cracking walls bore witness to the of a age.
Death, that flinty summoner, salves but the dead, yet wounds the living. It is sport with him to pile upon the shoulders of the weak, to crown with thorns the brows of those who mourn. Double-handed are his blessings--a balm for those who sleep, an iron for the living. The quick bow down before his feet; only the dead fear him no more in the marble philosophy of silence.
On a patch of grass within the golden whirl of the fire lay the body of Rual of Cambremont, stiff and still. His face was turned to the heavens; his white beard tinctured with the dye of death. Beside him knelt a girl whose unloosed hair trailed on his body, dark and as a cloud. The girl's eyes were tearless, dry and dim. Her hands were at her throat, in an of despair. Her head was bowed down below her stooping shoulders, and she knelt like Thea over Saturn's shame.
Behind her in the shadow, his face grey in the uncertain gloom, an old man watched the scene with a wordless . He was a servant, thin and meagre, bowed under Time's burden, a dried wisp of manhood, living symbol of decay. There was something of the dog about his look, a dumb that grieved and gave no sound. Beneath the burning tower in the heat of the flames, these twain seemed to the stillness of the dead.
There was other life in the glade none the less, a red evidencing the handiwork of the sword. A of shadow that had lain motionless in the yellow glare of the fire, stirred in the rank grass with a snuffling . There was a hint in the sound that brought Jaspar the harper round upon his heel. He moved two steps, went down on his knees in the , turned the man's head towards the tower, and peered into his face. It was from chin to brow, a grim mask of war, contorted the more by the uncertain palpitations of the flames.
Jaspar had a at his girdle. He thrust his knee under the man's head, wine between his lips, and waited. The limp hands began to ; the man jerked, drew a wet, breath, stared for a moment with lids at the face above him. Jaspar craned down, put his mouth to the man's ear, and to him.
The fellow's lips quivered; he stirred a little, strove to lift his head, thickly like a man with a palsied tongue. Jaspar put his ear to the mouth and listened. He won words out of the grave, for his rough face hardened, his brows were knotted over the dying man's stumbling . The harper shouted in his ear, and again waited.
"Gam--Gambrevault, Flavian's men, dead, all dead," ran the death . "Ave Maria, my lips burn--St. Eulalie--St. Jude, defend me----"
A cough snapped the halting appeal. The man suddenly in Jaspar's arms, and thrust out his feet with a strong . His hands clawed the grass; his fell, leaving his mouth agape, a black circle of death. There was a last stridor. Then the head fell back over Jaspar's knee with the neck extended, the eyes wide with a visionless stare.
A shadow fell athwart the dead man and the living, a shadow edged with the golden web of the fire. Looking up, Jaspar the harper saw the girl above him, staring down upon the dead man's body. The red tower framed her figure with flame, making an ebon cloud of her hair, her body a pillar of sombre stone. Her face was grey, pinched, and expressionless. Youth seemed frozen for the moment into and age.
She bowed down suddenly, her hair falling forward like a , her eyes large with a tearless hunger. Pointing to the man on Jaspar's knee, she looked into the harper's face, and spoke to him.
"Quick, the truth. I fear it no longer."
Her voice was toneless and as an untuned string. She beat her hands together, and then stood with her fists pressed over her heart.
"Quick, the truth."
The old man turned the body gently to the grass, and still knelt at the woman's feet.
"It is Jean," he said, with great quietness, "Jean the swineherd. He is dead. God rest his soul!"
She forward again with arm extended, her voice deep and hoarse in her throat.
"Tell me, who is it that has slain my father?"
"They of Gambrevault."
Her eyes gleamed behind her hair as it fell dishevelled over her face.
"And the rest--Bertrand, my brothers?"
Her voice appealed him with a gradual fear. Jaspar the harper bowed his face, and to the tower. The girl straightened, and stood quivering like a loosened bow.
"God! In there! And Roland?"
Again the harper's hand went up with the slow inevitableness of destiny. The flames, as beneath the incantations of a sibyl, leapt higher, roaring hungrily towards the heavens. The girl swayed away some paces, her lips moving silently, her hair fanned by the , blowing about her like a veil. She turned to the tower, thrust up her hands to it with a strong gesture of and despair.
A long while she stood in silence as in a kind of , gazing at this red pyre of the Past, where memories leapt heavenwards in a golden of smoke. The roar of the fire was as the voice of Fate. She heard it dim and distant like the far thunder of a sea. Beyond, around, above, the gaunt trees clawed at the stars with their leafless . Night and the shadow of it were very apparent to the girl's soul.
Jaspar the harper stood and watched her with a dumb and distant awe. Her anguish cowed him into impotent silence. The woman's soul seemed to soar far above comfort, following the saffron smoke into the silver æther of the infinite. The man stood apart, holding with the instinct of a dog, from a sorrow that he could not chasten. He was one of those dull yet happy souls, who carry in their eyes, whose tongues are clumsy, but whose hearts are warm. He stood aloof therefore from Yeoland, dead Rual's daughter, pulling his beard, and calling in prayer to the and the saints.
Presently the girl turned very slowly, as one whose blood runs chill and heavy. Her eyes were still dry and crystal bright, her face like , or a mask of ice. The man Jaspar hid his glances from her, and stared at the sod. He was fearful in measure of blankly upon so great a grief.
"Jaspar," she said, and her voice was clear now as the keen sweep of a sword.
He the knee to her, stood shading his eyes with his wrinkled hand.
"We alone are left," she said.
"God's will, madame, God's will; He giveth, and taketh away. I, even I, am your servant."
Her eyes lightened an instant as though red streamed strongly from her heart. Her mouth quivered. She chilled the mood, however, and stood motionless, save for her hands twining and twisting in her hair.
"Does Heaven mock me?" she asked him, with a level bitterness.
"How so, madame?" he answered her; "who would mock thee at such an hour?"
"Who indeed?"
"Not even Death. I pray you be comforted. There is a balm in years."
They stood silent again in the streaming heat and radiance of the fire. A sudden wind had risen. They heard it crying far away in the infinite vastness of the woods. It grew, rushed near, waxed with a gradual clamour till the bare wilds seemed to breathe one great roar. The flames flew from the blackened battlements. The trees clutched and swayed, making moan under the calm light of the moon.
The sound thrilled the girl. Her lips trembled, her form .
"Listen," she said, thrusting up her hands into the night, "the cry of the forest, the voice of the winter wind. What say they but 'vengeance--vengeance--vengeance'?"


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