THE DEAD POOL
BY M. BEZA
We seemed to be between Mount Gramos and Mount Deniscu. I guessed it to be so from the peaks, which showed like some fancies of the night, keeping steadfast watch in the moonlight ; the moon we could not see, we could only feel her floating over us. The pale light shone only in the ether above, and gradually diminished till it was lost to the eyes in a mass of shadows; they fell like curtains, enveloping us, dense, black. The silence extended indefinitely ; it was as though the world here had remained un- changed since its creation. Hardly a breath of wind reached us. It always carried with it at this spot the same odour of dank weeds, of plants with poisonous juices ; everything told of the neighbour- hood of water-not fresh water, but water asleep for centuries.
"Can you see the pool?" questioned my companion, Ghicu Sina ; and then he added : "It is hidden, certainly, but look with attention."
I looked, and after a time, getting accustomed to the darkness, I, too, got the impression of something shining and smooth.
"Only the pool ? Some lights too ? "
"That is so;" I whispered with a shudder.
There on the surface of the water were flickering points of fire. They could not come from above, they were not glow-worms, or sparks such as one sees passing over graves.
Ghicu Sina spoke:
"They are reflections, the lights are burning in the pool."
With the fear that seizes us in the presence of the supernatural, I asked:
"What induced us to stay here?"
"Where else could we stop ? There are no sheep-folds in these parts, formerly there were such, but since the death of the Spirit who guarded the mountains, none of them remain."
After a pause he said slowly:
"You have heard of dead pools ? "He stood immersed in thought. "This is a dead pool. I will tell you about it.
"Once upon a time, when the trees were bursting into leaf, this district was full of sheep. Flock after flock passed through, handled by sturdy shepherds, well known in their own neighbourhood. Then one spring-tide a stranger showed his face,
beautiful as a god, wearing upon his shoulders a cloak as white as snow. Every one wondered, 'Who may he be, and whence does he come?' Many tales passed round until the mystery began to unravel itself. In the valley of the Tempe, so runs the story, whither he had wandered with the sheep, he fell in love with the beautiful Virghea. Mad with love, when the family made the wintermove, he followed her to the mountains ; he came with a comrade and wandered about till he settled his sheep-fold here, in these parts.
"Ah ! where had the fame of this Virghea of Gramuste not reached ! All the beauties of nature seemed to have bestowed some gift upon her : the blue of heaven-the colour of her eyes ; the shadow of the woods-the mystery of their liquid depths ; the setting sun-the gold of her soft hair; the springs-the tone of her silvery laugh. Attracted by such charms every youth fell at the feet of Virghea. But she did not care; only when her eyes rested on the shepherd did her youthful being fill with a burning desire.
"Now day after day from the high ground about the sheep-fold could be heard the sound of a flute ; heard in the stillness of the dusk it roused strange longings in the girl's breast. Then she would steal out of the house, and the shepherd himself would come down towards Gramuste.
"About this time, there broke loose such a story, as had never been seen before. The peaks began
to rattle as though the mountains were changing places, striking each other with noise like thunder. Thus it continued for three days. Only on the fourth day, late in the evening, could the shepherd leave the fold : he had taken only a few steps when -what a sight met his eyes by the side of the pool ! A big fire, and round it a shadowy form. And suddenly the phantom spoke with hand pointing to the spit which he held above the heap of burning coals: 'The heart of the Spirit of Deniscu.'
"In a flash the shepherd realized the meaning of the hurricane of the last few days. The guardian Spirits of the mountains had striven together, and one had been overthrown. The shadow continued to speak : 'Turn this spit that I may rest a while. Taste not of the heart, for if you touch it you will immediately die.'
"The shadow fell into a profound slumber.
"By the side of the fire the shepherd looked fearfully on all sides. Far off, in the pale blue sky, a star broke away ; it fell with a long tail of fire, and went out. 'Some one will die,' sighed the shepherd. The words of the Spirit flashed through his mind. 'H'm!' he said. 'If I taste, perhaps the contrary is true, who knows ?' So thinking, he put his finger on the heart on the spit and carried it to his mouth. The sensation was unspeakably pleasant. He laughed; then quickly ate the whole heart. Immediately there rose within him a cruel passion towards the sleeping Spirit ; upon the spot he killed it and took the heart. At once there came to him the strength of a giant, the ground began to tremble beneath his footsteps, while aerial voices, and voices from the water, sounded round him. Creatures never seen before emerged from the pool; linked together by their white haul, they danced round in whirling circles. Thin changed, he reached his comrade at the fold, and tried to explain, but his thoughts were elsewhere, and his voice sounded as though from another world. He finished with broken words: 'The water calls me-tell no one what has happened to me-take my flute: if danger threatens come to the pool and sing to me.'
"During the evenings that followed Virghea saw naught of the shepherd, and she wondered at not seeing him, expecting him from day to day. So days passed that seemed like weeks, and weeks seemed months, and they went by without any news of him till the poor maiden took to her bed from grief. Then the comrade of the hills remembered the shepherd's words. He came at midnight to the side of the pool and sang-a long time hu sang. Towards dawn, when the strains of the Hut, died away, there came from Gramuste the sound of two strokes of a bell, then another two, and others in succession, mournful, prolonged. The echoes answered back, as though other bells were ringing in other lolaces, resounding from hill to hill until they reached the bottom of the pool, and after a time, to the voice of the bells were joined real words sobbing to the rhythm: 'Virghea is dead--is dead ! "
Ghicu Sina paused a while. Although he had only told me these things quite briefly, I felt their secret had entered my soul ; with my eyes upon the pool where the strange reflections constantly played, I seemed to hear, as one sometimes hears the faint voice of memory from a remote past, the sound of the bells and their metallic words "Virghea is dead-is dead ! "
And then, the story adds, he rose from the pool. Like the wind, he raised her in his arms and carried her deep down to his translucent palace where, to this day, little fiery points of light burn round the head of the dead woman.
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