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The Lily's Quest

From "Twice Told Tales"

Two lovers, once upon a time, had planned a little summer-house, in
the form of an antique temple, which it was their purpose to
consecrate to all manner of refined and innocent enjoyments. There
they would hold pleasant intercourse with one another, and the circle
of their familiar friends; there they would give festivals of
delicious fruit; there they would hear lightsome music, intermingled
with the strains of pathos which make joy more sweet; there they would
read poetry and fiction, and permit their own minds to flit away in
daydreams and romance; there, in short,--for why should we shape out
the vague sunshine of their hopes?--there all pure delights were to
cluster like roses among the pillars of the edifice, and blossom ever
new and spontaneously. So, one breezy and cloudless afternoon, Adam
Forrester and Lilias Fay set out upon a ramble over the wide estate
which they were to possess together, seeking a proper site for their
Temple of Happiness. They were themselves a fair and happy spectacle,
fit priest and priestess for such a shrine; although, making poetry of
the pretty name of Lilias, Adam Forrester was wont to call her LILY,
because her form was as fragile, and her cheek almost as pale.

As they passed, hand in hand, down the avenue of drooping elms, that
led from the portal of Lilies Fay's paternal mansion, they seemed to
glance like winged creatures through the strips of sunshine, and to
scatter brightness where the deep shadows fell. But, setting forth at
the same time with this youthful pair, there was a dismal figure,
wrapped in a black velvet cloak that might have been made of a coffin
pall, and with a sombre hat, such as mourners wear, drooping its broad
brim over his heavy brows. Glancing behind them, the lovers well knew
who it was that followed, but wished from their hearts that he had
been elsewhere, as being a companion so strangely unsuited to their
joyous errand. It was a near relative of Lilies Fay, an old man by
the name of Walter Gascoigne, who had long labored under the burden of
a melancholy spirit, which was sometimes maddened into absolute
insanity, and always had a tinge of it. What a contrast between the
young pilgrims of bliss and their unbidden associate! They looked as
if moulded of Heaven's sunshine, and he of earth's gloomiest shade;
they flitted along like Hope and Joy, roaming hand in hand through
life; while his darksome figure stalked behind, a type of all the
woful influences which life could fling upon them. But the three had
not gone far, when they reached a spot that pleased the gentle Lily,
and she paused.

"What sweeter place shall we find than this?" said she. "Why should
we seek farther for the site of our Temple?"

It was indeed a delightful spot of earth, though undistinguished by
any very prominent beauties, being merely a nook in the shelter of a
hill, with the prospect of a distant lake in one direction, and of a
church-spire in another. There were vistas and pathways leading
onward and onward into the green woodlands, and vanishing away in the
glimmering shade. The Temple, if erected here, would look towards the
west: so that the lovers could shape all sorts of magnificent dreams
out of the purple, violet, and gold of the sunset sky; and few of
their anticipated pleasures were dearer than this sport of fantasy.

"Yes," said Adam Forrester, "we might seek all day, and find no
lovelier spot. We will build our Temple here."

But their sad old companion, who had taken his stand on the very site
which they proposed to cover with a marble floor, shook his head and
frowned; and the young man and the Lily deemed it almost enough to
blight the spot, and desecrate it for their airy Temple, that his
dismal figure had thrown its shadow there. He pointed to some
scattered stones, the remnants of a former structure, and to flowers
such as young girls delight to nurse in their gardens, but which had
now relapsed into the wild simplicity of nature.

"Not here!" cried old Walter Gascoigne. "Here, long ago, other
mortals built their Temple of Happiness. Seek another site for

"What!" exclaimed Lilias Fay. "Have any ever planned such a Temple,
save ourselves?"

"Poor child!" said her gloomy kinsman. "In one shape or other, every
mortal has dreamed your dream."

Then he told the lovers, how--not, indeed, an antique Temple--but a
dwelling had once stood there, and that a dark-clad guest had dwelt
among its inmates, sitting forever at the fireside, and poisoning all
their household mirth. Under this type, Adam Forrester and Lilias saw
that the old man spake of Sorrow. He told of nothing that might not
be recorded in the history of almost every household; and yet his
hearers felt as if no sunshine ought to fall upon a spot where human
grief had left so deep a stain; or, at least, that no joyous Temple
should be built there.

"This is very sad," said the Lily; sighing.

"Well, there are lovelier spots than this," said Adam Forrester,
soothingly,--"spots which sorrow has not blighted."

So they hastened away, and the melancholy Gascoigne followed them,
looking as if he had gathered up all the gloom of the deserted spot,
and was hearing it as a burden of inestimable treasure. But still
they rambled on, and soon found themselves in a rocky dell, through
the midst of which ran a streamlet, with ripple, and foam, and a
continual voice of inarticulate joy. It was a wild retreat, walled on
either side with gray precipices, which would have frowned somewhat
too sternly, had not a profusion of green shrubbery rooted itself into
their crevices, and wreathed gladsome foliage around their solemn
brows. But the chief joy of the dell was in the little stream, which
seemed like the presence of a blissful child, with nothing earthly to
do save to babble merrily and disport itself, and make every living
soul its playfellow, and throw the sunny gleams of its spirit upon

"Here, here is the spot!" cried the two lovers with one voice, as they
reached a level space on the brink of a small cascade. "This glen was
made on purpose for our Temple!"

"And the glad song of the brook will be always in our ears," said
Lilias Fay.

"And its long melody shall sing the bliss of our lifetime," said Adam

"Ye must build no Temple here!" murmured their dismal companion.

And there again was the old lunatic, standing just on the spot where
they meant to rear their lightsome dome, and looking like the embodied
symbol of some great woe, that, in forgotten days, had happened there.
And, alas! there had been woe, nor that alone. A young man, more than
a hundred years before, had lured hither a girl that loved him, and on
this spot had murdered her, and washed his bloody hands in the stream
which sung so merrily. And ever since, the victim's death-shrieks were
often heard to echo between the cliffs.

"And see!" cried old Gascoigne, "is the stream yet pure from the stain
of the murderer's hands?"

"Methinks it has a tinge of blood," faintly answered the Lily; and
being as slight as the gossamer, she trembled and clung to her lover's
arm, whispering, "let us flee from this dreadful vale!"

"Come, then," said Adam Forrester, as cheerily as he could; "we shall
soon find a happier spot."

They set forth again, young Pilgrims on that quest which millions--
which every child of Earth--has tried in turn. And were the Lily and
her lover to be more fortunate than all those millions? For a long
time, it seemed not so. The dismal shape of the old lunatic still
glided behind them; and for every spot that looked lovely in their
eyes, he had some legend of human wrong or suffering, so miserably
sad, that his auditors could never afterwards connect the idea of joy
with the place where it had happened. Here, a heart-broken woman,
kneeling to her child, had been spurned from his feet; here, a
desolate old creature had prayed to the Evil One, and had received a
fiendish malignity of soul, in answer to her prayer; here, a new-born
infant, sweet blossom of life, had been found dead, with the impress
of its mother's fingers round its throat; and here, under a shattered
oak, two lovers had been stricken by lightning, and fell blackened
corpses in each other's arms. The dreary Gascoigne had a gift to know
whatever evil and lamentable thing had stained the bosom of Mother
Earth; and when his funereal voice had told the tale, it appeared like
a prophecy of future woe, as well as a tradition of the past. And
now, by their sad demeanor, you would have fancied that the pilgrim
lovers were seeking, not a temple of earthly joy, but a tomb for
themselves and their posterity.

"Where in this world," exclaimed Adam Forrester, despondingly, "shall
we build our Temple of Happiness?"

"Where in this world, indeed!" repeated Lilias Fay; and being faint
and weary, the more so by the heaviness of her heart, the Lily drooped
her head and sat down on the summit of a knoll, repeating, "Where in
this world shall we build our Temple?"

"Ah! have you already asked yourselves that question?" said their
companion, his shaded features growing even gloomier with the smile
that dwelt on them; "yet there is a place, even in this world, where
ye may build it."

While the old man spoke, Adam Forrester and Lilias had carelessly
thrown their eyes around, and perceived that the spot where they had
chanced to pause possessed a quiet charm, which was well enough
adapted to their present mood of mind. It was a small rise of ground,
with a certain regularity of shape, that had perhaps been bestowed by
art; and a group of trees, which almost surrounded it, threw their
pensive shadows across and far beyond, although some softened glory of
the sunshine found its way there. The ancestral mansion, wherein the
lovers would dwell together, appeared on one side, and the ivied
church, where they were to worship, on another. Happening to cast
their eyes on the ground, they smiled, yet with a sense of wonder, to
see that a pale lily was growing at their feet.

"We will build our Temple here," said they, simultaneously, and with
an indescribable conviction, that they had at last found the very

Yet, while they uttered this exclamation, the young man and the Lily
turned an apprehensive glance at their dreary associate, deeming it
hardly possible, that some tale of earthly affliction should not make
those precincts loathsome, as in every former case. The old man stood
just behind them, so as to form the chief figure in the group, with
his sable cloak muffling the lower part of his visage, and his sombre
list overshadowing his brows. But he gave no word of dissent from
their purpose; and an inscrutable smile was accepted by the lovers as
a token that here had been no footprint of guilt or sorrow, to
desecrate the site of their Temple of Happiness.

In a little time longer, while summer was still in its prime, the
fairy structure of the Temple arose on the summit of the knoll, amid
the solemn shadows of the trees, yet often gladdened with bright
sunshine. It was built of white marble, with slender and graceful
pillars, supporting a vaulted dome; and beneath the centre of this
dome, upon a pedestal, was a slab of dark-veined marble, on which
books and music might be strewn. But there was a fantasy among the
people of the neighborhood, that the edifice was planned after an
ancient mausoleum, and was intended for a tomb, and that the central
slab of dark-veined marble was to be inscribed with the names of
buried ones. They doubted, too, whether the form of Lilias Fay could
appertain to a creature of this earth, being so very delicate, and
growing every day more fragile, so that she looked as if the summer
breeze should snatch her up, and waft her heavenward. But still she
watched the daily growth of the Temple; and so did old Walter
Gascoigne, who now made that spot his continual haunt, leaning whole
hours together on his staff, and giving as deep attention to the work
as though it had been indeed a tomb. In due time it was finished, and
a day appointed for a simple rite of dedication.

On the preceding evening, after Adam Forrester had taken leave of his
mistress, he looked back towards the portal of her dwelling, and felt
a strange thrill of fear; for be imagined that, as the setting
sunbeams faded from her figure, she was exhaling away, and that
something of her ethereal substance was withdrawn, with each lessening
gleam of light. With his farewell glance, a shadow had fallen over
the portal, and Lilias was invisible. His foreboding spirit deemed it
an omen at the time; and so it proved; for the sweet earthly form, by
which the Lily bad been manifested to the world, was found lifeless,
the next morning, in the Temple, with her head resting on her arms,
which were folded upon the slab of dark-veined marble. The chill
winds of the earth had long since breathed a blight into this
beautiful flower, so that a loving hand had now transplanted it, to
blossom brightly in the garden of Paradise.

But, alas for the Temple of Happiness! In his unutterable grief, Adam
Forrester had no purpose more at heart than to convert this Temple of
many delightful hopes into a tomb, and bury his dead mistress there.
And to! a wonder! Digging a grave beneath the Temple's marble floor,
the sexton found no virgin earth, such as was meet to receive the
maiden's dust, but an ancient sepulchre, in which were treasured up
the bones of generations that had died long ago. Among those forgotten
ancestors was the Lily to be laid. And when the funeral procession
brought Lilias thither in her coffin, they beheld old Walter Gascoigne
standing beneath the dome of the Temple, with his cloak of pall, and
face of darkest gloom; and wherever that figure might take its stand,
the spot would seem a sepulchre. He watched the mourners as they
lowered the coffin down.

"And so," said he to Adam Forrester, with the strange smile in which
his insanity was wont to gleam forth, "you have found no better
foundation for your happiness than on a grave!"

But as the Shadow of Affliction spoke, a vision of Hope and Joy had
its birth in Adam's mind, even from the old man's taunting words; for
then he knew what was betokened by the parable in which the Lily and
himself had acted; and the mystery of Life and Death was opened to

"Joy! joy!" he cried, throwing his arms towards Heaven, "on a grave
be the site of our Temple; and now our happiness is for Eternity!"

With those words, a ray of sunshine broke through the dismal sky, and
glimmered down into the sepulchre; while, at the same moment, the
shape of old Walter Gascoigne stalked drearily away, because his
gloom, symbolic of all earthly sorrow, might no longer abide there,
now that the darkest riddle of humanity was read.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

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