The Story of Vox Angelica and Lieblich Gedacht

Introduction

A contemporary and friend of both Chesterton and Belloc, Maurice Baring is less well-known than he deserves to be as a dramatist and storyteller. For more on Baring, visit his Ghost page. The following tale comes from the collection The Blue Rose Fairy Book (1911), a charming volume of originally crafted visits to Fairyland. A story within a story, Baring paints the hero’s journey afresh by creating a landscape from another world filled with light and darkness, and where interesting characters partake in the classic quest which is sweetly embellished in the terminology of music and Christian imagery.


The Story of Vox Angelica and Lieblich Gedacht
by
Maurice Baring

Once upon a time there was a poor tanner called Hans who lived with his wife Martha in a town in which there were two hundred churches, a hundred chapels, and a huge cathedral.

Hans lived in a wooden house opposite the gates of the cathedral. They had only one son and he was so delicate that they did not know what trade he could learn when he grew bigger. In the meantime they taught him how to read and write. The boy was christened Johan; for he was born on St. John’s Day. When Johan was quite a tiny little boy he liked listening to the sound of the organ in the big cathedral, and in the evenings he would sit for hours in the darkness, listening to the organist at his practice.

The organist was an old man called Doctor Sebastian, and he wore a powdered wig and large tortoise-shell spectacles. When he played the organ, which was an immense instrument and had five keyboards, the windows trembled in all the houses which nestled round the cathedral.

Doctor Sebastian soon noticed the little Johan and allowed him to come up into the organ-loft while he was playing, and Johan used to sit as still as a mouse, and watch him pull out the stops, and play with his feet as skilfully as he did with his hands. Doctor Sebastian had a pupil called Frantz, a lad with curly brown hair and large brown eyes. Frantz used to practise on the organ every day; but Doctor Sebastian was severe with him, and Frantz was not allowed to play the organ at High Mass on Sundays. One day Johan asked Doctor Sebastian whether this was because Frantz played badly, and Doctor Sebastian said:

“Frantz has much to learn and he must be trained, but one day, when he has learnt all that I can teach him, he will be able to teach me what I shall not be able to learn.”

Johan did not understand what this meant, but he guessed that Doctor Sebastian thought well of Frantz, in spite of his being so severe with him. Johan thought that Frantz was the most wonderful player in the world, and whereas Doctor Sebastian only made the organ speak in deep single tones, and only used the open stops and the booming pedal bass-notes, Frantz—when Doctor Sebastian was not there to listen—used to make the organ sigh and speak like a castle full of spirits, and Johan thought this was wonderful.

One day, it was in winter just before Christmas, and Johan was eight years old, Doctor Sebastian was laid up in bed with a bad cold, and he sent for Frantz and said to him:

“I shall never rise from my bed again. I am going thither where I shall hear the music which we only guess at here on earth. You must play the organ on Christmas Day. I have taught you all I know. I have been severe and gruff with you; but being a musician, you know that if I had not thought you worthy of it, I should not have taken any trouble with you at all. I have been spared until you were ready to take my place, and now I can go in peace, for I know that I leave behind me a worthy successor. I have scolded you and pulled your ears, rapped your fingers and blamed your playing, but you have got that which I should never learn if I lived for two hundred years. You have the divine gift, and as a musician I am not worthy to unlatch the shoes of what you will be; for you will play on earth the music that I am now going to hear in Heaven!”

After that Doctor Sebastian squeezed Frantz’s hand and said no more. The next day he died.

Frantz was very sad, and he spent the whole day that the Doctor died in the cathedral composing a requiem in memory of his dead master. Little Johan, in a corner of the aisle, listened to the music: he had never heard anything so beautiful; some new power seemed to have come to Frantz, and when he touched the keys the pipes spoke in a way they had never spoken before.

Frantz went on playing until late into the night, and Johan had been carried so far away into dreamland by the music that he did not notice when Frantz stopped, but all at once he became aware that he was alone in the cathedral and that the organ-loft was dark and no sound came from it.

Johan ran up the winding stair into the organ-loft, but Frantz had gone, and Johan knew that he was locked in the cathedral for the night. He made up his mind to sleep there where he was, and he was just taking one of Frantz’s missals to use as a pillow when he became aware that he was no longer alone. Sitting on the bench in front of the keys was a strange figure. It was an old man with a grey beard, twinkling eyes, and a deep voice like the buzzing of a hornet. He wore a brown coat and grey stockings, and a black three-cornered hat.

“Who are you?” asked Johan.

“My name is Quint,” said the little old man, “and I live in one of the big wooden pipes of the organ.”

“Do you always live there?” asked Johan.

“No, not always,” said Quint. “We don’t live here as a rule, but some of them oblige us to come here and sing——”

“I don’t understand,” said Johan.

“Well, I will explain it to you,” answered Quint. “It’s like this: Every one of the stops of the organ has some one who belongs to it and to whom it belongs—but these people do not live in the stops; they live in their own country, which is called Musicland, and they only come to the organs when they are obliged to.”

“But who obliges them?” asked Johan.

Quint thought for a moment, and then he said: “Those who have the gift.”

“But what is the gift?” asked Johan.

“That I can’t tell you,” said Quint. “All I know is that some have it and others haven’t.”

“Did Doctor Sebastian have the gift?” asked Johan.

“No,” said Quint, “he was a learned man and a very good man; but he hadn’t got the gift. But young Frantz: he’s got it. That’s why I am here to-day.”

“Are the people of the other stops here too?” asked Johan, who was deeply interested in what Quint told him.

“They’ve all gone home,” said Quint. “You see, as long as the player plays, we can stay here and not come out except just when we’re wanted; but if we don’t get back into the pipes before the player has finished, we can’t go home. Now just before Frantz finished I crept out of my pipe because I wasn’t wanted, and I wished to look at the cathedral, and then suddenly he stopped playing, before I could get back into my pipe again, and if we are not in our pipes when the organist stops playing we can’t get home.”

“What will you do then?” asked Johan.

“I shall have to wait till he plays again to-morrow. I can get into a pipe of course, but I can’t go home.”

“To Musicland?” asked Johan.

“Yes,” said Quint, “and it’s annoying, because I shall miss the end of the wedding festivities.”

“Whose wedding?” asked Johan.

“Vox Angelica’s, of course,” said Quint. “She was married yesterday.”

“Vox Angelica is that lovely soft stop in the swell,” said Johan. “I suppose she’s going to marry ‘Lieblich Gedacht’?”

“Of course she is,” said Quint, “but it’s a long business. If you like I will tell you all about it.”

“Oh, please do!” said Johan.

“Well,” began Quint, “Vox Angelica is the most beautiful person you have ever seen. Her eyes are just like blue waters, grave and still, and her hair is long and as bright as the gold on a harp. And as for her voice, well, you can hear that whenever Frantz plays the organ. She is as kind and gentle as she is beautiful, and everybody in our country loves her. She lives in that part of Musicland where the hills and white mountains are. In the winter it is covered with snow which gleams in the sunshine, whiter and brighter than any snow you have ever seen, but when the spring comes the snow disappears and the slopes of the mountains are covered with millions and millions of flowers which are soft and white and glisten like stars.

“Lieblich Gedacht was the son of a forester, and he lives in the Woods of Melody, right in the heart of our country where the old oak forests grow, which are carpeted with bluebells in the spring so that the enormous stems look as if they rose out of a blue sea, and in the spring and in the summer the woods are full of birds; but no bird there has so sweet a note as Lieblich Gedacht when he sings in the wood. The birds stop singing to listen to him. He sings all the year round: when the woods are green, and in the autumn too, when they are gold and crimson like the tattered banners of our King, and in the winter, when the oak trees spread their bare arms across the clear cold sky.

“One day Lieblich Gedacht put on a green jerkin, a green cap, and taking with him a sword and a pipe he set out on his travels. He wandered through Musicland until he came to a castle which was on the top of a mountain. This castle had a tower with one window in it, and from the window came the sound of a whisper which sounded so soft and wonderful that Lieblich Gedacht thought it must be the voice of a flower speaking to itself: the jessamine perhaps, or the briar rose. Then he looked up and he saw leaning out of the window a maid with gold hair which fell from the window far down the tower, and she was as frail and as lovely as a gentian on the mountains.

“Then Lieblich Gedacht sang a song. He sang of all the beautiful things he had ever dreamed of; he sang of the sun and the moon and the stars, of the spring, the grass, the great woods and their secret; he sang the song the leaves sing when they wake in the dawn, and the song the boughs sing in the evening when they lull the birds and the flowers to sleep. He sang of the love he felt for all the beautiful things in the world, and about how glad he was to be alive in a beautiful country like Musicland.

“Vox Angelica heard him, and answered his song, and they sang a duet together, and Lieblich Gedacht’s part said, ‘I love you,’ and Vox Angelica’s part said, ‘I love you too.’

“Then Lieblich Gedacht asked Vox Angelica to marry him, and she said she would, and they settled they would start at once for the City of Pleasant Sounds and be married. They started at once. Lieblich Gedacht rode on a grey horse, and Vox Angelica rode on the saddle in front of him. Now their way lay through a perilous wood called the Forest of Discord, which was infested by imps called Chromatics, and by hundreds of gnomes who made a hideous noise, and in the middle of this wood lived Bourdon, who is a wizard.

“When they reached the wood it was already dark, and from every bush and tree came sharp sounds, ugly cries, moans, groans, squeaks, wheezes, and in the distance they could hear a deep buzzing boom.

“Vox Angelica and Lieblich Gedacht were rather frightened, since it was dark and neither of them knew the way, for neither of them had ever been near the Forest of Discord before, and they knew none of the people who belonged to it. So they made up their minds not to go any farther but to sleep under the shade of an oak-tree. It was summer, so it was warm. They made themselves a bed of leaves and lay down; but the Chromatics made such a noise that they could not go to sleep. At last they put moss into their ears so that they could not hear the ugly sounds, and they both fell asleep.

“In the middle of the night Lieblich Gedacht had a bad dream. He dreamed that the trees had come to life and had stretched out their arms and taken Vox Angelica away from him, and that when he tried to keep her they bound him down to the ground.

“When Lieblich Gedacht awoke, it was daylight and the sun was shining through the dark trees. But what was his grief and despair when he saw that Vox Angelica was no longer there! She had gone, disappeared, and left no trace. He looked for her everywhere; he called out her name in a thousand ways till the ugly wood re-echoed with the sweetness of his song, but no Vox Angelica answered. She was nowhere to be found. Lieblich Gedacht was in despair. He did not know what to do nor where to look. ‘But,’ he thought to himself, ‘one thing is certain: it is no use wasting time in this forest, I must go and find some one who will be likely to help me.’

“So he rode out of the Forest of Discord as quickly as he could, and crossed the plains which lie beyond it, and he rode on until he reached the Wood of Dreams, which is on the other side of the plains.

“In this wood there lives a hermit called Sackbut, who is well known for his goodness and his wisdom, and Lieblich Gedacht made up his mind to go and ask him for his help and advice. Sackbut lives in a cave underground. He is very old, and has a long white beard six times as long as mine. Lieblich Gedacht, after searching for some time in the wood, found a clear space in the thickets, and in the middle of it a circle of built bricks which looked like the top of a well. But when he looked down into what he thought was the well he saw there were steps in it which went down underground. He went boldly down the steps and into the dark, and when he had counted thirty-two of them they stopped and he came to the door. He knocked at this door, and he heard a hoarse voice saying: ‘Who is there?’

“‘It is I, Lieblich Gedacht,’ he answered. ‘I have come for advice.’

“The door was opened at once, and Lieblich Gedacht found himself in a cell lit by a lantern, and in front of him, sitting at a table and reading a large book, which had nothing but notes in it, was Sackbut the Hermit.

“‘Well, what do you want?’ asked the hermit in a gruff voice. ‘Be quick and tell me, because I am busy and I have got no time to waste. I am learning a fugue by one of those new-fangled German musicians, and I must know it by next Sunday, for there’s a man in one of their cities who has the gift, and I shall have to go.’

“‘I have plighted my troth to Vox Angelica,’ said Lieblich Gedacht. ‘We were travelling together to the City of Pleasant Sounds to be married, and we stopped on the way in the Forest of Discord.’

“‘That was a silly thing to do,’ said Sackbut.

“‘We slept the night there, and when I woke up in the morning Vox Angelica had disappeared.’

“‘Did you hear anything in the night?’ asked Sackbut.

“‘No,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘but I had a bad nightmare. I dreamed the trees were taking her away and strangling me.’

“‘I see,’ said Sackbut, ‘it’s Bourdon the wizard; he’s at his old tricks again. Vox Angelica has been carried away by Bourdon, and he has probably hidden her somewhere. He would not dare keep her in his castle, because the Chromatics are such gossips that the whole kingdom would know it at once. She is a prisoner somewhere; of that you can be sure. But where I cannot tell you. All I can advise you is to go and ask Echo: she hears everything.’

“‘And where does Echo live?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘Echo,’ said Sackbut, ‘lives in the Castle of the Winds, which is not very far away. You must go right through the Wood of Dreams, and across the plains, and then you will come to a valley; you must descend into this valley, which is steep, and climb up the other side of it; and there on a high rock you will see the Castle of the Winds. Good-bye.’

“And the Hermit bent over his music-book once more and hummed to himself in his deep bass voice. But just as Lieblich Gedacht was going away, Sackbut called him back and gave him a walnut, and said: ‘Whenever you are in danger and want my help, crack this. Now go.’

“Lieblich Gedacht thanked Sackbut, and did as he had been told. He rode through the Wood of Dreams, which is a quiet wood, shady and dim. There are very few birds in it; but the nightingale sings there all day and the nightjar sings there all night. And on his way he passed a cottage where Waldhorn the hunter lives, and farther on he passed a castle which belongs to Waldflöte the Lord of the Forest. But neither of them were at home; for Waldhorn was out hunting, and Waldflöte was on a visit to his cousin Cor de Nuit, who lives in the Orchards of Twilight.

“Lieblich Gedacht soon reached the valley, which is deep and made of great rocks and quarries. It is so steep that he had to lead his horse down the whole way. But the other side was easier to climb because it was grassy, and he was able to ride up it. When he reached the top, he saw a castle with transparent walls which reflected the sunlight and which had hundreds of windows, all of them wide open so as to let in the winds from all the corners of the world. When he reached the door he sang a soft note, and he immediately heard it repeated hundreds and hundreds of times so that the whole world seemed to be full of calling sounds. The door opened of itself, and Lieblich walked into a hall, at the end of which was a winding staircase. He walked up this staircase and he went on and on until he thought it would never end. At last he came to the top, and there, in a little room which had eight sides, sitting on a crystal throne, was Echo.

“She was dressed in moonbeams and dewdrops and the fleece of a cloud, and she had wings made of gossamer like those of a dragon-fly, and on her head there trembled a star.

“‘I have come,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘to ask you to help me.’ And he told his story.

“‘Two nights ago,’ said Echo when he had finished, ‘I heard Bourdon start from his castle in his large rumbling coach. His horses were galloping. He left his castle and drove for some time through the Forest of Discord, and then he stopped. At that moment I heard a sigh which I am sure was Vox Angelica speaking. But the sigh was soon stifled, and Bourdon drove off again in his coach. He drove right through the Forest of Dreams, over the plains, till he came to the sea, and there he got out and disappeared under the sea. After that I do not know what happened, because the winds cannot bring me any news of what happens underneath the sea; but he probably crossed the sea and went to Muteland, which is beyond it. But I advise you to go and ask Unda Maris, who lives under the sea. She will tell you.’

“‘But how shall I find Unda Maris?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘All you have got to do is to go to the seashore,’ said Echo; ‘you must take this ring, and when you get there’—and here she gave Lieblich Gedacht a silver ring with a strange blue stone in it—’you must throw it into the sea and sing—

“Ring, ring, go home,
To the fishes and the foam;
Say the word and open the sea,
Come and show the way to me.”

But remember this: if any one asks you to do them a service, however small, which might delay your journey, you must refuse, or evil will come of it. And you had better take this with you, and whenever you are in danger and want my help, open it.’ And she gave Lieblich Gedacht a little green egg.

“Lieblich Gedacht thanked Echo and said good-bye, and then he rode as quickly as he could to the seashore. There he threw the ring into the sea and said—

‘Ring, ring, go home,
To the fishes and the foam;
Say the word and open the sea,
Come and show the way to me.’

No sooner had he said this than the sea opened wide, and he saw before him a stone staircase with a rope made of pearls for him to walk down by; and a silver fish with webbed feet and hands went in front of him and showed him the way.

“The fish led him a long walk right to the bottom of the sea, and when he got there, he found a place built of rocks and seaweeds. Inside it was green and dim like a summer night, and sounds echoed through its green corridors. The fish led Lieblich Gedacht through many halls to the central grotto, which was built of sapphires, where Unda Maris lived. She was lying on a bed of purple seaweed when he entered the grotto, and she was touching the strings of a golden harp. She was almost hidden by a veil, and her face shone behind it, pale like the moon behind a cloud. She asked Lieblich Gedacht what he wanted, and he told his story.

“‘It is true,’ she said when he had finished. ‘Bourdon has carried away Vox Angelica out of Musicland. He passed through the sea three days ago—passed through and took her to Muteland beyond the sea, to the Castle of Silence that stands in the middle of the Lake of Sighs. You must go there if you wish to find her. You must cross the sea to get there in a boat, and you must be sure on no account to stop anywhere on the way, or else evil will come of it. Take this with you, and whenever you are in danger, and want my help, open it.’ So saying, she gave Lieblich Gedacht a pearly shell.

“So Lieblich Gedacht thanked Unda Maris and said good-bye, and walked back by the staircase to the seashore again. When he got there the first thing he did was to go to a fisherman’s hut and ask him to lend him a boat to cross the sea in. While he was talking to the fisherman he saw three figures coming towards him. One was dressed in bright armour, and wore a gold cloak on his left shoulder, and a crimson cap with a crimson feather in it, and a sword. This was Prince Hautboy, and with him was his page, Piccolo, a mischievous little boy with beady brown eyes, clothed entirely in silver; and the second, who wore a scarlet tunic and who carried a broadsword and a bugle, was Cornet the soldier; and the third was a tall figure with a handsome, melancholy face, dressed in black velvet and wearing a large black cap from which a proud white plume waved. This was Viol d’Amore, the brave nobleman who was a swordsman and who made beautiful verses and sang them.

“Lieblich Gedacht walked up to them, and taking off his green cap made obeisance to them.

“Hautboy and Viol d’Amore asked him who he was.

“‘I am Lieblich Gedacht,’ he said, ‘the son of the forester. I live in the Woods of Melody, and I am betrothed to Vox Angelica. But Bourdon has taken her away and locked her up in the Castle of Silence on the Lake of Sighs, and I am going to rescue her.’

“‘Then you can come with us,’ said Hautboy, ‘for we are bound upon a like errand. I am betrothed to Clarabella, and Bourdon has taken her away; and Viol d’Amore is looking for Dolce his betrothed, and Cornet for Muzette, who is pledged to him, and Bourdon has taken them too.’

“So Viol d’Amore, Hautboy, Cornet, and Lieblich Gedacht, and Piccolo the page, got into the boat, hoisted the sail and set out to sea. They had a fair breeze, and for three days their voyage continued smoothly without any adventures; but on the fourth day they met a huge brass ship with a serpent at the prow which challenged them.

“‘This is Bourdon’s doing,’ said Hautboy; ‘he has had wind of our adventure and sent his allies against us.’

“In the brass ship there were two very fearsome warriors—Tromba, who was a giant mailed in brazen armour, like the vessel, and Bassoon, who was as large as a barrel and who had a voice like thunder; and with them were fifty tin soldiers. As soon as the vessel approached, Tromba cried out in a ringing voice—

“‘Surrender, you are my prisoners!’

“‘In whose name?’ cried out Hautboy.

“‘In the name of Bourdon, our King,’ answered Tromba.

“‘We recognise no king save King Diapason, our lawful sovereign,’ said Hautboy unabashed.

“‘Then if you won’t surrender we shall make you,’ said Tromba; and he told his soldiers to ram the little boat.

“Hautboy thought that all was lost; and Lieblich Gedacht said, ‘If only Unda Maris were here she could help us.’ Then he remembered the shell which she had given to him, and he opened it. There was nothing inside it except a tiny seed-pearl, and as he opened the shell the vessel gave a lurch and the seed-pearl fell into the sea. Lieblich Gedacht cried out in despair, but as he did so, a wave rose between them and the brazen vessel, and from out this wave came a gigantic sea-serpent, which at once attacked the brazen vessel. Tromba and Bassoon were frightened out of their wits, and setting all sail they fled as fast as they could, and their ship was soon out of sight. Then the sea-serpent disappeared, and the sea at once became quite calm again. They journeyed on for two more days, and the weather grew warmer and finer every hour, and the sky turned to a softer azure, and the sea to a deeper blue; they were borne along by the lightest of breezes, and sometimes their sail flapped idly in the still air.

“On the third day, they descried a speck of land on the horizon, and towards the evening they could see that it was an island with misty hills and lights on it. All round it on the sea, which the sunset had turned fiery, little white sails seemed to be scudding towards it, and when the sun set and the stars came out there came to them from the island a faint thread of wonderful sound.

“Hautboy and Cornet said they thought it would be a good thing to land at this island for the night, and Lieblich Gedacht was so curious to hear more of the lovely music that he forgot all about the warning Unda Maris had given him not to stop anywhere on the way, and he consented.

“So they ran their boat into a sandy cove, hauled her up on to the beach, and landed. The island was overgrown with tall ferns; and shapes of trees, such as none of them had ever seen before, nodded to them from the hills. There appeared to be no birds, beasts, or any living creature on the island, but the thread of sound they had heard in the distance, was fuller now and more silvery, and they walked up along a grassy path towards the place where it seemed to come from. After they had climbed up the ground in front of them for some time, they reached a spot where the ground ceased to rise. Lieblich Gedacht turned round to have one last look at the sea before walking down into the valley which was before them. The stars twinkled in the sky and the sea mirrored them like quiet glass, and strange to say, all the little white sails which they had seen at sunset scudding round the island had disappeared.

“They went down into the valley, and the ferns became more dusky and taller, the path darker and darker, and the sound of music sweeter and more insistent; they crossed the valley, and the pathway led them uphill once more to a clear space, and before them rose pinnacles and domes all grey and shimmering like a mist which hides the sun, and in this frail dwelling-place a hundred little lights glistened like glowworms, and the whole place trembled with the magical silvery sound which they had followed.

“They walked on, and they came to a grey portal with colours in it like those of a fading rainbow, and a voice bade them enter. They did so, and found themselves beneath a cloudy dome, so high that they could not see the top of it, and although there were myriads of small lights twinkling everywhere, the air remained dim and mysterious: but the sound was louder and clearer. They could not but follow it, and it led them beyond the dome up a flight of steps to a terrace which was open to the sky. The terrace was long and broad, and as unreal and unsubstantial as though it were built of moonshine. They walked on, straight in front of them, until they came to a transparent wall. They looked over this, and beneath them was a steep slope covered with grasses and ferns, trees and plants; down this slope, which was interrupted at intervals by the outline of smaller terraces and ledges, in which were sheets of light, like pools of water, they seemed to hear a hundred waterfalls rushing whispering down the slope; and far away in the darkness they saw the ghosts of white fountains rising and sobbing. On their left, the terrace overlooked the sea, and went sheer down to the beach; and on their right, tall shadows hid from their view the fern-forests of the island. In the air there was scent of flowers, and the whole terrace was overgrown with some sweet jessamine-like flower which they could not see, for both the terrace and the sloping garden beneath them were shrouded in a mist in which millions and millions of fireflies swarmed and glistened. And all this time the sound grew softer, clearer, and stronger. Just as they were wondering where it could be coming from, there came to them from out and through the filmy walls of the dwelling, a beautiful lady. Her face was like a pale flower, and her hair, which fell to her feet, was dark as the night, and she was dressed in clinging folds of dewy silver, and she stretched out her white arms to them and said in a voice which seemed like that of the summer darkness—

“‘Welcome!’ Then she led them into the house, up into a high room, built in the clouds and from which they could see the circle of the island and the sea beyond.

“They at once fell into a deep sleep, and in their dreams winged shapes fanned them and soft voices whispered to them. The next morning when they awoke, although the sun was shining the mists did not rise from the island; everything remained filmy, grey, and dim, shimmering like a bell of foam; lights twinkled and fountains and waterfalls plashed, and the island echoed with hidden voices and the same magical sound.

“‘I suppose,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘we ought to go on with our journey?’

“‘Yes,’ said Hautboy, ‘but where are we going to?’

“‘Yes, where are we going to?’ repeated Cornet.

“And Lieblich Gedacht thought and thought, and puzzled and puzzled; but neither he nor any of them could remember where they were going. Presently Hautboy said—

“‘Why should we go anywhere? What place could be better than this island?’

“‘This is better than fighting,’ said Cornet.

“‘And then making verses and singing them,’ said Viol d’Amore.

“‘And then piping all day,’ said Piccolo.

“‘Nobody asked your opinion,’ said Hautboy.

“And so they wandered about in this magical island, listening to the delicious sound and smelling flowers which they could not see; they were steeped in the mist of the place, and they could not remember what it was they had set out to do. They were captives to the dream and the spell of the place, and however much they tried they could not drive the mist from their minds and remember what they had set out to do. At sunset the beautiful lady appeared again and gave them fruits to eat and water in a crystal cup, and she sang to them a song, and never had they heard anything so lovely. When she had done singing, Lieblich Gedacht asked her who she was and what the island was called.

“She said: ‘I am the daughter of the moon, and this island is called the Island of Moon Dew. I am very lonely, but you shall keep me company now.’

“‘But,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘we must not stay here long. We are bound on a quest, only we can’t remember just now exactly what it is.’

“‘We will talk of that later,’ said the lady, ‘in the meantime I will sing you a song.’ And she sang them to sleep with her wonderful voice.

“A whole year passed, and every day was spent in the same way, in dream and song and sleep. Cornet, Hautboy, and Viol d’Amore had quite stopped worrying about their journey, and about what they should do in the future. But Lieblich Gedacht was sad because he knew there was something he ought to do, but he could not remember what it was. One day when he was wandering by himself in the gardens of the island, he sat down to rest on the grass beside some misty bushes. He was trying hard to remember, and he happened to take out of his pocket the little egg which Echo had given him. He had quite for[79]gotten what it was, and he played with it, throwing it up and catching it; and then growing tired of this game, he put the egg on the grass next to the misty bushes so that it touched one of them. Directly he did this a myrtle bush, which had not been there before, appeared out of the mist quite distinct, and it at once began to speak.

“‘Who are you,’ it said, ‘who have made me visible and given me the power to speak?’

“‘I am Lieblich Gedacht,’ he answered. ‘I have been here a year, and what I am doing I don’t know, because I can’t remember things.’

“‘You are protected by some powerful spell,’ said the myrtle, ‘or else you would have suffered my fate already. Don’t you know where you are?’

“‘No,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘we came here in a boat one evening after sunset; we have seen the Lady of the Island, but we do not know her name.’

“‘Then I will tell you,’ said the myrtle. ‘You are in the island of Zauberflöte the enchantress. All who come here lose their memory and forget their homes, their native country, and the faces that they love. And when they have been here a year, Zauberflöte puts them to the test. She bids them listen to the Moon Song, and if they can listen to it without falling asleep, they are free, but if they fall asleep, then they are hers for ever, and she changes them into ghostly shapes: plants, fountains, streams, waterfalls, flowers, trees, ferns, or whatever she wishes.’

“‘And who are you?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘I,’ said the myrtle, ‘am the youngest son of the Sleeping Beauty in the wood. I was on my way to Musicland to seek adventure. I stopped at this island, although my fairy godmother had warned me not to, and after I had been here a year Zauberflöte sang me the Moon Song and I fell asleep, and she changed me into a myrtle bush. There are many, many people on this island who have suffered the same fate. From my country there are the Marquis of Carrabas, who stayed here for a night to feed his cat: he is changed into a fuchsia and the cat into a tiger-lily; and Cinderella is here too: she was changed into a glass slipper; and there are many knights and maidens from all the corners of the world, sleeping here in the shape of ghostly ferns and trees and flowers.’

“‘What must I do?’ he asked, ‘to resist the Moon Song?’

“‘It is very difficult,’ said the myrtle, ‘no one has ever resisted it yet; but you must have some spell about you or else you could not have made me visible and given me speech. But look, what is that egg lying on the grass next to my stem?’

“‘Oh, Echo gave me that,’ said Lieblich Gedacht; ‘I had forgotten, but I remember now; she told me to crush it if I was in danger!’

“‘You must not crush it until the Moon Song has begun,’ said the myrtle, ‘and then the spell will be broken, and we shall all be free, for as soon as some one is found who can resist the Moon Song, the spell will cease to bind us; but if you don’t break the egg in time, you will sleep here for ever. Now I must not talk any more or else we shall be discovered.’

“Lieblich Gedacht thanked the myrtle and went away. That night there was a full moon, and never had the island looked so beautiful. Zauberflöte came on to the terrace, and called Hautboy, Cornet, Viol d’Amore, Lieblich Gedacht and Piccolo, and said she would sing to them.

“She began to sing the Moon Song, and never had her voice been so silvery and never had they listened to such a song; all the island was trembling with joy, and the moon and the stars seemed to be leaning out of the sky to listen. And just as Lieblich Gedacht was yielding to the spell and sinking into a delicious ocean of dreams he cracked the egg to pieces between his fingers.

“At that moment the song stopped, and Lieblich Gedacht heard the echo of Vox Angelica’s voice, which came from the egg, sighing: ‘Lieblich Gedacht, my betrothed, have you forgotten me?’

“‘Of course I haven’t,’ said Lieblich Gedacht. ‘Come, Hautboy, Viol d’Amore, and Cornet, we are bound for Bourdon’s castle.’ At that moment Viol d’Amore, Hautboy, and Cornet remembered everything they had forgotten and whither they were bound.

“As Lieblich Gedacht said this, Zauberflöte disappeared at once into her mysterious palace. The mists lifted and vanished and the garden appeared in its true shape, just like an ordinary garden, with stone terraces overgrown with jessamine, and trees and bushes, and flowers and grass and weeds, just like anywhere else, and the shadows on one side of the terrace were cypress trees, and Zauberflöte’s palace was an ordinary palace built of marble. From the garden came Prince Myrtle, the Marquis of Carrabas, Cinderella, and a hundred other knights and maidens who had been spellbound there for years; and they all thanked Lieblich Gedacht for setting them free. They started at once in their boats, which they found in the cove where they had left them. The Marquis of Carrabas, Prince Myrtle, and Cinderella set out for Musicland, and Lieblich Gedacht and his comrades started once more on their quest of rescue.

“They sailed for three more days and for three more nights, and they arrived at Muteland. Muteland is a flat country with no woods in it and very few trees, and those have no leaves on them. Some people say this is so that they may not rustle. But they couldn’t rustle even if they had leaves, because there is no wind in Muteland. There are no birds in Muteland, and the only beasts there are dormice and salamanders. There are no streams and no rivers, and the people who live there only speak to each other by signs. In the middle of the country there is a large lake called the Lake of Sighs, because some people say that the sound of sighs is sometimes heard coming from it, and that these are the only sounds which have ever been heard in the country.

“As soon as Hautboy, Viol d’Amore, Cornet, Piccolo, and Lieblich Gedacht landed on the coast of Muteland, the first thing they did was to sing a song. This frightened the people there so much that they all ran into their holes; for the inhabitants of Muteland live underground. They walked for some hours over the barren plains until they came to an avenue of leafless willows. Lieblich Gedacht was walking on ahead, and as he passed one of these trees he stopped, for he thought he heard a human moan coming from one of the trees. He paused and listened, and again the sound was repeated. This time he heard it quite plainly. It was the piteous and musical moan of a human creature in pain. It trembled through the silence, and shook and quivered and touched Lieblich Gedacht’s kind heart.

“He walked up to the tree which was nearest to him to see if he could find out where the noise came from. Then from above, coming from the heart of the tree, he heard the plaintive voice crying to him: ‘Release me. Set me free. I am imprisoned in the trunk of this tree.’

“‘Who are you?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘I am Vox Humana,’ said the voice, ‘I was imprisoned in this tree by a wizard a hundred years ago, and nobody will set me free.’

“‘But how can I set you free?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘All you have got to do is to touch the tree and say—

“Willow-tree, willow-tree,
Hark to me, hark!
Set the poor captive free,
Open your bark.”‘

“Lieblich Gedacht in his distress quite forgot what Echo had told him about not delaying his journey to render any one a service, and he touched the tree and said the words.

“As soon as he had done this, the tree opened and Vox Humana came out of it, with tears of gratitude in her soft brown eyes; but the spell which the wizard had put on the tree was of such a kind that he who set free a prisoner from it became a prisoner himself, and Vox Humana did not know this. So directly she was set free, Lieblich Gedacht found himself in her place, a prisoner in the dark trunk of the willow-tree, and although Vox Humana, who was very unselfish, at once touched the tree, and said the magic rhyme, because she preferred to be imprisoned herself rather than to cause some one else to be a captive, the spell did not work a second time. Indeed, like most spells, it could only be used once.

“Presently Hautboy, Viol d’Amore and Cornet came up, and they found Vox Humana crying bitterly. She told them what had happened, and they did not know what to do, for they could not even hear Lieblich Gedacht’s voice; because it is only after years and years that a person who is imprisoned in a tree can be heard by any one else. And that is the reason why Vox Humana has such a plaintive voice. They were all very sad, and they settled to go on to the Lake of Sighs and accomplish their quest, and then perhaps they would find some way of setting Lieblich Gedacht free again. They soon reached the Lake of Sighs, and in the middle of it, on a rocky island, stood the Castle of Silence. They found a boat on the shore of the lake, and it carried them across by itself, without oars or sail. They found the gates of the castle (which was all black) wide open. They entered the castle. It was quite empty and deserted. They went into room after room. They searched every nook and corner, but they found nothing. When they came to the banqueting-hall they found a meal ready for them, with fruits and bread and wine, which were served by invisible hands; so they sat down and ate, for they were hungry.

“When they had had enough they began to search the castle once more, but they soon felt sleepy, so they lay down in one of the rooms where they found beds all ready for them, and fell fast asleep.

“No sooner were they asleep than Bourdon’s three cousins, Bass, Violone, and Ophicleide, who were looking after the castle for him, and who had been hiding in a secret room in the walls, came out and bound them and cast them into an oubliette which was at the bottom of the castle, right under the lake. And there they found Vox Angelica, Dolce, Muzette, and Clarabella.

“To go back to Lieblich Gedacht: he was of course miserable, and he spent a whole month in the willow-tree, waiting for Hautboy and the others to come to set him free. But they never came. At last one day he remembered the walnut which Sackbut had given him. He had quite forgotten it up to that moment. He took it out of his pocket and cracked it, and in it he found a tiny silver key and a hazel nut. He put the hazel nut in his pocket, and he looked everywhere in the tree for a keyhole, and at last he found a tiny crack; he put the key in the crack and it fitted exactly. The door of the tree opened and he was free once more. He set out for the lake at once, and reached it in a few hours. Exactly the same things happened to him as to the others. The boat took him across the lake. He entered the empty castle and explored every nook and corner of it, but he found nothing. When he came into the banqueting-hall he saw the table spread by invisible hands; but he said to himself: ‘I will not eat and drink till I have found Vox Angelica.’ So he did not touch the food; but he went on searching. As he was looking out of one of the windows of the castle he distinctly heard Vox Angelica’s sigh coming from the lake, and he at once understood that she was imprisoned in some dungeon underneath the lake. He waited until it was dark, and then he took the boat and rowed round the castle, and low down by the water he came to a barred window, and from this window came the sound of many sighs. Lieblich Gedacht now understood why the lake was called the Lake of Sighs, for the sighs came from prisoners imprisoned in Bourdon’s dungeon.

“‘Is that you, Vox Angelica?’ he whispered.

“‘Yes,’ she whispered back, ‘we are all here in the dungeon. But you must be careful, because Bourdon’s three brothers are hiding in the castle.’

“‘How can I rescue you?’ asked Lieblich Gedacht.

“‘I don’t know,’ said Vox Angelica. ‘We are all of us bound in fetters.’

“‘I will try and find a file,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘to file the bars of the window and set you free.’

“So he went back to the castle to look for a file, but as he entered the gate Bourdon’s three brothers fell upon him, and bound him, and cast him into the dungeon.

“‘Alas!’ said Vox Humana, ‘we are all lost now.’

“‘Not at all!’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘we will soon be free. Piccolo is so small he ought to be able to wriggle out of his chains, which are much too big for him.’

“Piccolo needed no further telling, and he soon managed to set himself free.

“‘Now we are no better off than before,’ said Vox Humana, who was always inclined to take a gloomy view of things. But Piccolo was then told to look in Lieblich Gedacht’s pocket for a hazel nut, and when he found it to crack it. Piccolo found the nut, cracked it, and inside the nut tightly rolled up was a silk cap.

“‘Now,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘you must put the cap on my head.’ As soon as Piccolo did this, Lieblich Gedacht’s chains fell from him and he was free. For the cap was of that kind which makes a man invisible, unchainable, and as strong as ten. The next thing he did was to break the fetters of the eight other prisoners; then he pulled the bars from the window. They could not get out, but in front of the window were the waters of the lake, and they had no boat.

“‘Perhaps,’ said Lieblich Gedacht, ‘the hazel nut will help us again because it is faëry,’ and he took half the nutshell and threw it into the lake. It at once turned into a boat just big enough to hold Vox Humana, Vox Angelica, Clarabella, Dolce, Muzette, Hautboy, Cornet, Viol d’Amore, Piccolo, and himself. And they all got into it, and it took them across the lake without sail or oars.

“They reached the seashore without further adventures and sailed back to Musicland. On the way they passed the island of Zauberflöte, which was still trembling with lovely sound: but this time they knew better than to stop there. They went straight back to the City of Pleasant Sounds, to the palace of King Diapason, and they told him the whole story.

“The King was angry with Bourdon, and he sent his army, under the command of Tuba Mirabilis, who, helped by Posaune, Clarion, and Cymbal, captured Bourdon and his three brothers, Bass, Violone, and Ophicleide, and put them in prison in the Lake of Sighs. They are there to this day. And they are never allowed to go free in their own country, but they have to come to your world when some one has the gift; and that is why their voices are so gruff. Bassoon and Tromba were let off with a severe reprimand because they were sorry for what they had done. Then King Diapason ordered a great wedding to be held. And Lieblich Gedacht and Vox Angelica were married yesterday. It was the most gorgeous wedding ever seen. We were all of us there, and Unda Maris came from her home in the sea in a chariot drawn by sea-lions, and Echo came from her high castle in a chariot drawn by zephyrs. Tuba Mirabilis, Clarion, and the soldiers all wore their best armour and their brightest helmets.

“Vox Angelica’s bridesmaids were the seven daughters of Echo, and her page was Piccolo. Lieblich Gedacht’s best man was Waldhorn. And Voix Céleste, who is a nun, came from her convent to sing in the choir. Many of the fairies came to the wedding: Prince Myrtle was there, Cinderella, and the Marquis of Carrabas and his cat.”

“And did Zauberflöte come?” asked Johan.

“No,” said Quint, “she was not invited.”

“And what happened to Hautboy, Cornet, and Viol d’Amore?” asked Johan.

“Well,” said Quint, “they were all to have been married on the same day; but Muzette is very dainty and her wedding gown was not ready. It is being woven in Fairyland by the elves, and it is to be made of the petals of forget-me-nots and pinks, and her veil is to be spun out of dewdrops caught in the new moon. All this takes such a long time that the elves could not finish it by yesterday, so the King arranged that Hautboy and Clarabella, Viol d’Amore and Dolce, and Cornet and Muzette should be married in a month’s time, all on the same day.”

“At any rate,” said Johan, “you will not miss that wedding. But where have Vox Angelica and Lieblich Gedacht gone to for their honeymoon?”

“They have gone to Lieblich Gedacht’s cottage in the Woods of Melody, and they will live there for the rest of their lives; for all their lives will be one long honeymoon,” said Quint. As he said this he climbed on to the manuals, and disappeared into the heart of the organ.

And Johan noticed that the sun had risen and that the sacristan was opening the cathedral for early Mass. A few minutes later Frantz walked up into the organ loft, and Johan asked him to draw the stops of Vox Angelica and Lieblich Gedacht together and alone. Frantz did this, and they blent their voices together in unison, and Johan understood that they were happier than they had ever been before.

 


Introduction: copyright 2021 by Christopher Tompkins. All rights reserved.

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