THE GARDEN OF PARADISE
THERE was once a King's son; no one had so many beautiful books as he: everything that had happened in this world he could read there, and could see represented in lovely pictures. Of every people and of every land he could get intelligence; but there was not a word to tell where the Garden of Paradise could be found, and it was just that of which he thought most.
His grandmother had told him, when he was quite little but was about to begin his schooling, that every flower in this Garden of Paradise was a delicate cake, and the pistils contained the choicest wine; on one of the flowers history was written, and on another geography or tables, so that one had only to eat cake, and one knew a lesson; and the more one ate, the more history, geography, or tables did one learn.
At that time he believed this. But when he became a bigger boy, and learned more and became wiser, he understood well that the splendour in the Garden of Paradise must be of quite a different kind.
“Oh, why did Eve pluck from the Tree of Knowledge? Why did Adam eat the forbidden fruit? If I had been he it would never have happened----then sin would never have come into the world”
That he said then, and he still said it when he was seventeen years old. The Garden of Paradise filled all his thoughts.
One day he walked in the wood. He was walking quite alone, for that was his greatest pleasure. The evening came, and the clouds gathered together; rain streamed down as if the sky were one single sluice from which the water was pouring; it was as dark as it usually is at night in the deepest well.
Often he slipped on the smooth grass, often he fell over the smooth stones which stuck up out of the wet rocky ground. Everything was soaked with water, and there was not a dry thread on the poor Prince. He was obliged to climb over great blocks of stone, where the water oozed from the thick moss. He was nearly fainting. Then he heard a strange rushing, and saw before him a great illuminated cave. In the midst of it burned a tire, so large that a stag might have been roasted at it. And this was in fact being done. A glorious deer had been stuck, horns and all, upon a spit, and was turning slowly between two felled pine trunks. An elderly woman, large and strongly built, looking like a disguised man, sat by the fire, into which she threw one piece of wood after another.
“Come nearer!” said she. “Sit down by the fire and dry your clothes.”
“There's a great draught here!” said the Prince; and he sat down on the ground.
“That will be worse when my sons come home,” replied the woman. “You are here in the Cavern of the Winds, and my sons are the four winds of the world: can you understand that?”
“Where are your sons?” asked the Prince.
“It's difficult to answer when stupid questions are asked,” said the woman. “My sons do business on their own account. They play at shuttlecock with the clouds up yonder in the great hall.”
And she pointed upwards.
“Oh, indeed!” said the Prince. “But you speak rather gruffly, by the way, and are not so mild as the women I generally see about me.”
“Yes, they have most likely nothing else to do! I must be hard, if I want to keep my sons in order; but I can do it, though they are obstinate fellows. Do you see the four sacks hanging there by the wall? They are just as frightened of those as you used to be of the rod stuck behind the mirror. I can bend the lads together, I tell you, and then I pop them into the bag: we don't make any ceremony. There they sit, and may not wander about again until I think fit to allow them. But here comes one of them!”
It was the North Wind, who rushed in with piercing cold; great hailstones skipped about on the floor, and snowflakes fluttered about. He was dressed in a jacket and trousers of bear-skin; a cap of seal-skin was drawn down over his ears; long icicles hung on his beard, and one hailstone after another rolled from the collar of his jacket.
“Do not go so near the fire directly,” said the Prince, “you might get your hands and face frost-bitten.”
“Frost-bitten?” repeated the North Wind, and he laughed aloud. “Cold is exactly what rejoices me most! But what kind of little tailor art thou? How did you find your way into the Cavern of the Winds?”
“He is my guest,” interposed the old woman, “and if you're not satisfied with this explanation you may go into the sack: do you understand me?”
You see, that was the right way; and now the North Wind told whence he came and where he had been for almost a month.
“I come from the Polar Sea,” said he; “I have been in the bear's icy land wit the Russian walrus hunters. I sat and slept on the helm when they sailed out from the North Cape, and when I awoke now and then, the stormbird flew round my legs. That's a comical bird! He gives a sharp clap with his wings, and then holds them quite still and shoots along in full career.”
“Don't be too long-winded,” said the mother of the Winds. “And so you came to the Bear's Island?”
“It is very beautiful there！ There's a floor for dancing on, as flat as a plate. Half-thawed snow, with a little moss, sharp stones, and skeletons of walruses and polar bears lay around, they looked like gigantic arms and legs of a rusty green colour. One would have thought the sun had never shone there. I blew a little upon the mist, so that one could see the hut: it was a house built of wreckwood and covered with walrus-skins----the fleshy side turned outwards. It was full of green and red, and on the roof sat a live polar bear who was growling.
I went to the shore to look after birds' nests, and saw the unfledged nestling screaming and opening their beaks; then I blew down into their thousand throats, and taught them to shut their mouths. Farther on the huge walruses were splashing like great maggots with pigs' heads and teeth an ell long!”
“You tell your story well, my son,” said the old lady. “My mouth waters when I hear you!”
“Then the hunting began! The harpoon was hurled into the walrus's breast, so that a smoking stream of blood spurted like a fountain over the ice. When I thought of my sport, I blew, and let my sailing ships, the big icebergs, crush the boats between them. Oh, how the people whistled, and how they cried! But I whistled louder than they. They were obliged to throw the dead walruses and their chests and tackle out upon the ice. I shook the snowflakes over them, and let them drive south in their crushed boats with their booty to taste salt water. They'll never come to Bear's Island again!”
“Then you have done a wicked thing!” said the mother of the Winds.
“What good I have done others may tell,” replied he. “But here comes a brother from the west. I like him best of all: he tastes of the sea and brings a delicious coolness with him.”
“Is that little Zephyr?” asked the Prince.
“Yes, certainly, that is Zephyr,” replied the old woman. “But he is not little. Years ago he was a pretty boy, but that's past now.”
He looked like a wild man, but he had a broadbrimmed hat on, to save his face. In his hand he held a club of mahogany, hewn in the American mahogany forests. It was no trifle.
“Where do you come from?” said his mother.
“Out of the forest wilderness,” said he, “where the thorny creepers make a fence between every tree, where the water-snake lies in the wet grass, and people don't seem to be wanted.”
“What were you doing there?”
“I looked into the deepest river, and watched how it rushed down from the rocks, and turned to spray, and shot up towards the clouds to carry the rainbow. I saw the wild buffalo swimming in the stream, but the stream carried him away. He drifted with the flock of wild ducks that flew up where the water fell down in a cataract. The buffalo had to go down it! That pleased me, and I blew a storm, so that ancient trees were split up into splinters!”
“And have you done nothing else?” asked the old dame.
“I have thrown somersaults in the Savannahs: I have stroked the wild horses and shaken the coconut palms. Yes, yes, I have stories to tell! But one must not tell all one knows. You know that, old lady.”
And he kissed his mother so roughly that she almost tumbled over. He was a terribly wild young fellow!
Now came the South Wind, with a turban on and a flying Bedouin's cloak.
“It's terribly cold in here!” cried he, and threw some more wood on the fire. “One can feel that the North Wind came first.”
“It's so hot that one could roast a Polar bear here,” said the North Wind.
“You're a Polar bear yourself,” retorted the South Wind.
“Do you want to be put in the sack?” asked the old dame. “Sit upon the stone yonder and tell me where you have been.”
“In Africa, mother,” he answered. “I was out hunting the lion with the Hottentots in the land of the Kaffirs. Grass grows there in the plains, green as an olive. There the ostrich ran races with me, but I am swifter than he. I came into the desert where the yellow sand lies: it looks there like the bottom of the sea. I met a caravan. The people were killing their last camel to get water to drink, but it was very little they got. The sun burned above and the sand below. The outspread deserts had no bounds. Then I rolled in the fine loose sand, and whirled it up in great pillars. That was a dance! You should have seen how dejected the dromedary stood there, and the merchant drew the caftan over his head. He threw himself down before me, as before Allah, his God. Now they are buried----a pyramid of sand covers them all. When I some day blow that away, the sun will bleach the white bones; then travelers may see that men have been there before them. Otherwise, one would not believe that, in the desert!”
“So you have done nothing but evil!” exclaimed the mother. “March into the sack!”
And before he was aware, she had seized the South Wind round the body, and popped him into the bag. He rolled about on the floor; but she sat down on the sack, and then he had to keep quiet.
“Those are lively boys of yours,” said the Prince.
“Yes,” she replied, “and I know how to punish them! Here comes the fourth!”
That was the East Wind, who came dressed like a Chinaman.
“Oh! Do you come from that region?” said his mother. “I thought you had been in the Garden of Paradise.”
“I don't fly there till tomorrow,” said the East Wind. “It will be a hundred years tomorrow since I was there. I come from China now, where I danced around the porcelain tower till all the bells jingled again! In the streets the officials were being thrashed: the bamboos were broken upon their shoulders, yet they were high people, from the first to the ninth grade. They cried, ‘Many thanks, my paternal benefactor!’ But it didn't come from their hearts. And I rang the bells and sang, ‘Tsing, tsang, tsu!’”
“You are foolish,” said the old dame. “It is a good thing that you are going into the Garden of Paradise tomorrow: that always helps on your education. Drink bravely out of the spring of Wisdom, and bring home a little bottlefull for me.”
“That I will do,” said the East Wind. “But why have you clapped my brother South in the bag? Out with him! He shall tell me about the Phoenix bird, for about that bird the Princess in the Garden of Paradise always wants to hear, when I pay my visit every hundredth year. Open the sack, then you shall be my sweetest of mothers, and I will give you two pocketfuls of tea, green and fresh as I plucked it at the place where it grew!”
“Well, for the sake of the tea, and because you are my darling boy, I will open the sack.”
She did so, and the South Wind crept out; but he looked quite downcast, because the strange Prince had seen his disgrace.
“There you have a palm leaf for the Princess,” said the South Wind. “This palm leaf was given me by the Phoenix bird, the only one now in the world. With his beak he has scratched upon it a description of all the hundred years he has lived. Now she may read it all herself. I saw how the Phoenix bird set fire to his nest, and sat upon it, and was burned to death like a Hindoo's widow. How the dry branches crackled! What a smoke and a perfume there was! At last everything burst into flame, and the old Phoenix turned to ashes, but his egg lay red-hot in the fire; it burst with a great bang, and the young one flew out. Now this young one is ruler over all the birds, and the only Phoenix in the world. It has bitten a hole in the palm leaf I have given you: that is a greeting to the Princess.”
“Let us have something to eat,” said the mother of the Winds.
And now they all sat down to eat of the roasted deer. The Prince sat beside the East Wind, and they soon became good friends.
“Just tell me,” said the Prince, “what Princess is that about whom there is so much talk here? and where does the Garden of Paradise lie?”
“Ho, ho!” said the East Wind, “do you want to go there? Well, then, fly tomorrow with me! But I must tell you, however, that no man has been there since the time of Adam and Eve. You have read of them in your Bible history?”
“Yes,” said the Prince.
“When they were driven away, the Garden of Paradise sank into the earth; But it kept its warm sunshine, its mild air, and all its splendour. The Queen of the Fairies lives there, and there lies the Island of Happiness, where death never comes, and where it is beautiful. Sit upon my back tomorrow, and I will take you with me: I think it can very well be done. But now leave off talking, for I want to sleep.”
And then they all went to rest.
In the early morning the Rrince awoke, and was not a little astonished to find himself high above the clouds. He was sitting on the back of the East Wind, who was faithfully holding him: they were so high in the air, that the woods and fields, rivers and lakes, looked as if they were painted on a map below them.
“Good morning!” said the East Wind. “You might very well sleep a little longer, for there is not much to be seen on the flat country under us, unless you care to count the churches. They stand like dots of chalk on the green carpet.”
What he called green carpet was field and meadow.
“It was rude of me not to say good-bye to your mother and your brothers.” said the Prince.
“When one is asleep one must be excused,” replied the East Wind.
And then they flew on faster than ever. One could hear it in the tops of the trees, for when they passed over them the leaves and twigs rustled; one could hear it on the sea and on the lakes, for when they flew by the water rose higher, and the great ships bowed themselves towards the water like swimming swans.
Towards evening, when it became dark, the great towns looked charming, for lights were burning below, here and there; it was just as when one has lighted a piece of paper, and sees all the little sparks that vanish one after another. And the Prince clapped his hands; but the East Wind begged him not to do so, and rather to hold fast, otherwise he might easily fall down and get caught on a church spire.
The eagle in the dark woods flew easily, but the East Wind flew more easily still. The Cossack on his little horse slummed swiftly over the steppes, but the Prince skimmed more swiftly still.
“Now you can see the Himalayas,” said the East Wind. “That is the highest mountain range in Asia. Now We shall soon get to the Garden of Paradise.”
Then they turned more to the south, and soon the air was fragrant with flowers and spices; figs and pomegranates grew wild, and the wild vine bore clusters of red and purple grapes. Here both alighted and stretched themselves on the soft grass, where the flowers nodded to the wind, as though they would have said “Welcome!”
“Are we now in the Garden of Paradise?” asked the Prince.
“Not at all,” replied the East Wind. “But we shall soon get there. Do you see the rocky wall yonder, and the great cave, where the vines cluster like a bread green curtain? Through that we shall pass. Wrap yourself in your cloak. Here the sun scorches you, but a step farther it will be icy cold. The bird which hovers past the cave has one wing in the region of summer and the other in the wintry cold.”
“So this is the way to the Garden of Paradise?” observed the Prince.
They went into the cave. Ugh! but it was icy cold there, but this did not last long. The East Wind spread out his wings, and they gleamed like the brightest fire. What a cave was that! Great blocks of stone, from which the water dripped down, hang over them in the strangest shapes; sometimes it was so narrow that they had to creep on their hands and knees, sometimes as lofty and broad as in the open air. The place looked like a number of mortuary chapels, with dumb organ pipes, and petrified banners.
“We are going through the way of death to the Garden of Paradise, are we not?” inquired the Prince.
The East Wind answered not a syllable, but he pointed forward to where a lovely blue light gleamed upon them. The stone blocks over their heads became more and more like a mist, and at last looked like a white cloud in the moonlight. Now they were in a deliciously mild air, fresh as on the hills, fragrant as among the roses of the valley. There ran a river, clear as the air itself, and the fishes were like silver and gold; purple eels, flashing out blue sparks at every moment, played in the water below; and the broad water-plant leaves shone in the colours of the rainbow; the flower itself was an orange-coloured burning flame, to which the water gave nourishment, as the oil to the burning lamp; a bridge of marble, strong, indeed, but so lightly built that it looked as if made of lace and glass beads, led them across the water to the Island of Happiness, where the Garden of Paradise bloomed.
The East Wind took the Prince in his arms and carried him over there. There flowers and leaves sang the loveliest songs from his childhood, but with such swelling music as no human voice can utter.
Were they palm trees that grew here, or gigantic water-plants? Such verdant mighty trees the Prince had never beheld; the most wonderful climbing plants hung there in long festoons, as one only sees them illuminated in gold and colours on the margins of old missal-books or twined among the initial letters. Here were the strangest groupings of birds, flowers, and twining lines. Close by, in the grass, stood a flock of peacocks with their shining starry trains outspread.
Yes, it was really so! But when the Prince touched these, he found they were not birds, but plants; they were great burdocks, which shone like the peacock's gorgeous train. The lion and the tiger sprang to and fro like agile cats among the green bushes, which were fragrant as the blossom of the olive tree; and the lion and the tiger were tame. The wild wood pigeon shone like the most beautiful pearl, and beat her wings against the lion's mane; and the antelope, usually so timid, stood by nodding its head, as if it wished to play too.
Now came the Fairy of Paradise. Her garb shone like the sun, and her countenance was cheerful like that of a happy mother when she is well pleased with her child. She was young and beautiful, and was followed by a number of pretty maidens, each with a gleaming star in her hair. The East Wind gave her the written leaf from the Phoenix bird, and her eyes shone with pleasure.
She took the Prince by the hand and led him into her palace, where the walls had the colour of a splendid tulip leaf when it is held up in the sunlight. The ceiling was a great sparkling flower, and the more one looked up at it, the deeper did its cup appear. The Prince stepped to the window and looked through one of the panes. Here he saw the Tree of Knowledge, with the serpent, and Adam and Eve were standing close by.
“Were they not driven out?” he asked.
And the Fairy smiled, and explained to him that Time had burned in the picture upon that pane, but not as people are accustomed to see pictures. No, there was life in it: the leaves of the trees moved; men came and went as in a dissolving view. And he looked through another pane, and there was Jacob's dream, with the ladder reaching up into heaven, and the angels with great wings were ascending and descending. Yes, everything that had happened in the world lived and moved in the glass panes; such cunning pictures only Time could bum in.
The Fairy smiled, and led him into a great lofty hall, whose walls appeared transparent. Here were portraits, and each face looked fairer than the last. There were to be seen millions of happy ones who smiled and sang, so that it flowed together into a melody; the uppermost were so small that they looked like the smallest rosebud, when it is drawn as a point upon paper. And in the midst of the hall stood a great tree with rich pendent boughs; golden apples, great and small, hung like oranges among the leaves. That was the Tree of Knowledge, of whose fruit Adam and Eve had eaten. From each leaf fell a shining red dew-drop; it was as though the tree wept tears of blood.
“Let us now get into the boat,” said the Fairy, “then we will enjoy some refreshment on the heaving waters. The boat rocks, yet does not quit its station; but all the lands of the earth will glide past in our sight.”
And it was wonderful to behold how the whole coast moved. There came the lofty snow-covered Alps, with clouds and black pine trees; the horn sounded with its melancholy note, and the shepherd trolled his merry song in the valley. Then the banana trees bent their long hanging branches over the boat; coal-black swans swam on the water, and the strangest animals and flowers showed themselves upon the shore. That was New Holland, the fifth great division of the world, which glided past with a background of blue bills. They heard the song of the priests, and saw the savages dancing to the sound of drums and of bone trumpets. Egypt's pyramids, towering aloft to the clouds, overturned pillars and sphinxes, half buried in the sand, sailed past likewise. The Northern Lights shone over the glaciers of the north----it was a firework that no one could imitate. The Prince was quite happy, and he saw a hundred times more than we can relate here.
“And can I always stay here?” asked he.
“That depends upon yourself,” answered the Fairy. “If you do not, like Adam, yield to the temptation to do what is forbidden, you may always remain here.”
“I shall not touch the apples on the Tree of Knowledge!” said the Prince. “Here are thousands of fruits just as beautiful as those.”
“Search your own heart, and if you are not strong enough, go away with the East Wind that brought you hither. He is going to fly back, and will not show himself here again for a hundred years: the time will pass for you in this place as if it were a hundred hours, but it is a long time for the temptation of sin. Every evening, when I leave you, I shall have to call to you,‘Come with me!’ and I shall have to beckon to you with my hand; but stay where you are: do not go with me, or your longing will become greater with every step. You will then come into the hall where the Tree of Knowledge grows; I sleep under its fragrant pendent boughs; you will bend over me, and I must smile; but if you press a kiss upon my mouth, the Paradise will sink deep into the earth and be lost to you. The keen wind of the desert will rush around you, the cold rain drop from your hair, and sorrow and woe will be your portion.”
“I shall stay here!” said the Prince.
And the East Wind kissed him on the forehead, and said, “Be strong, and we shall meet here again in a hundred years. Farewell! Farewell!”
And the East Wind spread out his broad wings, and they flashed like sheet lightning in harvest-time, or like the Northern Lights in the cold winter.
“Farewell! Farewell!” sounded from among the flowers and the trees. Storks and pelicans flew away in rows like fluttering ribbons, and bore him company to the boundary of the garden.
“Now we will begin our dances!” cried the Fairy. “At the end, when I dance with you, when the sun goes down, you will see me beckon to you; you will hear me call to you, ‘Come with me;’ but do not obey. For a hundred years I must repeat this every evening; every time, when the trial is past, you will gain more strength; at last you will not think of it at all. This evening is the first time. Now I have warned you.”
And the Fairy led him into a great hall of white transparent lilies; the yellow stamens in each flower formed a little golden harp, which sounded both like a stringed instrument and a flute. The most beautiful maidens, floating and slender, clad in gauzy mist, glided by in the dance, and sang of the happiness of living, and declared that they would never die, and that the Garden of Paradise would bloom for ever.
And the sun went down. The whole sky shone like gold, which gave to the lilies the hue of the most glorious roses; and the Prince drank of the foaming wine which the maidens poured out for him, and felt a happiness he had never before known. He saw how the background of the hall opened, and the Tree of Knowledge stood in a glory which blinded his eyes; the singing there was soft and lovely as the voice of his dear mother, and it was as though she sang, “My child! My beloved child!”
Then the Fairy beckoned to him, and called out persuasively,
“Come with me! Come with me!”
And he rushed towards her, forgetting his promise, forgetting it the very first evening; and still she beckoned and smiled. The fragrance, the delicious fragrance around became stronger, the harps sounded far more lovely, and it seemed as though the millions of smiling heads in the hall, where the tree grew, nodded and sang, “One must know everything----man is the lord of the earth.” And they were no longer drops of blood that the Tree of Knowledge wept; they were red shining stars which he seemed to see.
“Come! Come!” the quivering voice still cried, and at every step the Prince's cheeks burned more hotly and his blood flowed more rapidly.
“I must!” said he. “It is no sin, it cannot be one. Why not follow beauty and joy? I only want to see her asleep; there will be nothing lost if I only refrain from kissing her; and I will not kiss her: I am strong and have a resolute will!”
And the Fairy threw off her shining cloak and bent back the branches, and in another moment she was hidden among them.
“I have not yet sinned,” said the Prince, “and I will not.”
And he pushed the boughs aside. There she slept already, beautiful as only a fairy in the Garden of Paradise can be. She smiled in her dreams, and he bent over her, and saw tears quivering beneath her eyelids!
“Do you weep for me?” he whispered. “Weep not, thou glorious woman! Now only I understand the bliss of Paradise! It streams through my blood, through my thoughts; the power of the angel and of increasing life I feel in my mortal body! Let what will happen to me now; one moment like this is wealth enough!”
And he kissed the tears from her eyes----his mouth touched hers.
Then there resounded a clap of thunder so loud and dreadful that no one had ever heard the like, and everything fell down; and the beautiful Fairy and the charming Paradise sank down, deeper and deeper. The Prince saw it vanish into the black night; like a little bright star it gleamed out of the far distance. A deadly chill ran through his frame, and he closed his eyes and lay for a long time as one dead.
The cold rain fell upon his face, the keen wind roared round his head, and then his senses returned to him.
“What have I done?” he sighed. “I have sinned like Adam----sinned so that Paradise has sunk deep down!”
And he opened his eyes, and the star in the distance----the star that gleamed like the Paradise that had sunk down, was the morning star in the sky.
He stood up, and found himself in the great forest, close by the Cave of the Winds, and the mother of the Winds sat by his side: she looked angry, and raised her arm in the air.
“The very first evening!” said she. “I thought it would be so! Yes, if you were my son, you would have to go into the sack!”
“Yes, he shall go in there!” said Death. He was a strong old man, with a scythe in his hand, and with great black wings. “Yes, he shall be laid in his coffin, but not yet: I only register him, and let him wander a while in the world to expiate his sins and to grow better. But one day I shall come. When he least expects it, I shall clap him in the black coffin, put him on my head, and fly up towards the star. There too, blooms the Garden of Paradise; and if he is good and pious he will go in there; but if his thoughts are evil, and his heart still full of sin, he will sink with his coffin deeper than Paradise has sunk, and only every thousandth year I shall fetch him, that he may sink deeper, or that he may attain to the star----the shining star up yonder!”