Once upon a time . . . . . from
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The Dryad - Part 3
'Indeed, and travel home,' said the man, 'and quit Paris
without having seen the most wonderful thing of all- the real
wonder of the present period, created by the power and
resolution of one man!'
'I will not go down for all that,' was the reply.
'The wonder of the present time,' it had been called. The
Dryad had heard and had understood it. The goal of her ardent
longing had thus been reached, and here was the entrance to
it. Down into the depths below Paris? She had not thought of
such a thing; but now she heard it said, and saw the strangers
descending, and went after them.
The staircase was of cast iron, spiral, broad and easy.
Below there burned a lamp, and farther down, another. They
stood in a labyrinth of endless halls and arched passages, all
communicating with each other. All the streets and lanes of
Paris were to be seen here again, as in a dim reflection. The
names were painted up; and every, house above had its number
down here also, and struck its roots under the macadamized
quays of a broad canal, in which the muddy water flowed
onward. Over it the fresh streaming water was carried on
arches; and quite at the top hung the tangled net of gas-pipes
In the distance lamps gleamed, like a reflection from the
world-city above. Every now and then a dull rumbling was
heard. This came from the heavy wagons rolling over the
Whither had the Dryad come?
You have, no doubt, heard of the CATACOMBS? Now they are
vanishing points in that new underground world- that wonder of
the present day- the sewers of Paris. The Dryad was there, and
not in the world's Exhibition in the Champ de Mars.
She heard exclamations of wonder and admiration.
'From here go forth health and life for thousands upon
thousands up yonder! Our time is the time of progress, with
its manifold blessings.'
Such was the opinion and the speech of men; but not of
those creatures who had been born here, and who built and
dwelt here- of the rats, namely, who were squeaking to one
another in the clefts of a crumbling wall, quite plainly, and
in a way the Dryad understood well.
A big old Father-Rat, with his tail bitten off, was
relieving his feelings in loud squeaks; and his family gave
their tribute of concurrence to every word he said:
'I am disgusted with this man-mewing,' he cried- 'with
these outbursts of ignorance. A fine magnificence, truly! all
made up of gas and petroleum! I can't eat such stuff as that.
Everything here is so fine and bright now, that one's ashamed
of one's self, without exactly knowing why. Ah, if we only
lived in the days of tallow candles! and it does not lie so
very far behind us. That was a romantic time, as one may say.'
'What are you talking of there?' asked the Dryad. 'I have
never seen you before. What is it you are talking about?'
'Of the glorious days that are gone,' said the Rat- 'of
the happy time of our great-grandfathers and
great-grandmothers. Then it was a great thing to get down
here. That was a rat's nest quite different from Paris. Mother
Plague used to live here then; she killed people, but never
rats. Robbers and smugglers could breathe freely here. Here
was the meeting-place of the most interesting personages, whom
one now only gets to see in the theatres where they act
melodrama, up above. The time of romance is gone even in our
rat's nest; and here also fresh air and petroleum have broken
Thus squeaked the Rat; he squeaked in honor of the old
time, when Mother Plague was still alive.
A carriage stopped, a kind of open omnibus, drawn by swift
horses. The company mounted and drove away along the Boulevard
de Sebastopol, that is to say, the underground boulevard, over
which the well-known crowded street of that name extended.
The carriage disappeared in the twilight; the Dryad
disappeared, lifted to the cheerful freshness above. Here, and
not below in the vaulted passages, filled with heavy air, the
wonder work must be found which she was to seek in her short
lifetime. It must gleam brighter than all the gas-flames,
stronger than the moon that was just gliding past.
Yes, certainly, she saw it yonder in the distance, it
gleamed before her, and twinkled and glittered like the
evening star in the sky.
She saw a glittering portal open, that led to a little
garden, where all was brightness and dance music. Colored
lamps surrounded little lakes, in which were water-plants of
colored metal, from whose flowers jets of water spurted up.
Beautiful weeping willows, real products of spring, hung their
fresh branches over these lakes like a fresh, green,
transparent, and yet screening veil. In the bushes burnt an
open fire, throwing a red twilight over the quiet huts of
branches, into which the sounds of music penetrated- an ear
tickling, intoxicating music, that sent the blood coursing
through the veins.
Beautiful girls in festive attire, with pleasant smiles on
their lips, and the light spirit of youth in their hearts-
'Marys,' with roses in their hair, but without carriage and
postilion- flitted to and fro in the wild dance.
Where were the heads, where the feet? As if stung by
tarantulas, they sprang, laughed, rejoiced, as if in their
ecstacies they were going to embrace all the world.
The Dryad felt herself torn with them into the whirl of
the dance. Round her delicate foot clung the silken boot,
chestnut brown in color, like the ribbon that floated from her
hair down upon her bare shoulders. The green silk dress waved
in large folds, but did not entirely hide the pretty foot and
Had she come to the enchanted Garden of Armida? What was
the name of the place?
The name glittered in gas-jets over the entrance. It was
The soaring upwards of rockets, the splashing of
fountains, and the popping of champagne corks accompanied the
wild bacchantic dance. Over the whole glided the moon through
the air, clear, but with a somewhat crooked face.
A wild joviality seemed to rush through the Dryad, as
though she were intoxicated with opium. Her eyes spoke, her
lips spoke, but the sound of violins and of flutes drowned the
sound of her voice. Her partner whispered words to her which
she did not understand, nor do we understand them. He
stretched out his arms to draw her to him, but he embraced
only the empty air.
The Dryad had been carried away, like a rose-leaf on the
wind. Before her she saw a flame in the air, a flashing light
high up on a tower. The beacon light shone from the goal of
her longing, shone from the red lighthouse tower of the Fata
Morgana of the Champ de Mars. Thither she was carried by the
wind. She circled round the tower; the workmen thought it was
a butterfly that had come too early, and that now sank down
The moon shone bright, gas-lamps spread light around,
through the halls, over the all-world's buildings scattered
about, over the rose-hills and the rocks produced by human
ingenuity, from which waterfalls, driven by the power of
'Master Bloodless,' fell down. The caverns of the sea, the
depths of the lakes, the kingdom of the fishes were opened
here. Men walked as in the depths of the deep pond, and held
converse with the sea, in the diving-bell of glass. The water
pressed against the strong glass walls above and on every
side. The polypi, eel-like living creatures, had fastened
themselves to the bottom, and stretched out arms, fathoms
long, for prey. A big turbot was making himself broad in
front, quietly enough, but not without casting some suspicious
glances aside. A crab clambered over him, looking like a
gigantic spider, while the shrimps wandered about in restless
haste, like the butterflies and moths of the sea.
In the fresh water grew water-lilies, nymphaea, and reeds;
the gold-fishes stood up below in rank and file, all turning
their heads one way, that the streaming water might flow into
their mouths. Fat carps stared at the glass wall with stupid
eyes. They knew that they were here to be exhibited, and that
they had made the somewhat toilsome journey hither in tubs
filled with water; and they thought with dismay of the
land-sickness from which they had suffered so cruelly on the
They had come to see the Exhibition, and now contemplated
it from their fresh or salt-water position. They looked
attentively at the crowds of people who passed by them early
and late. All the nations in the world, they thought, had made
an exhibition of their inhabitants, for the edification of the
soles and haddocks, pike and carp, that they might give their
opinions upon the different kinds.
'Those are scaly animals' said a little slimy Whiting.
'They put on different scales two or three times a day, and
they emit sounds which they call speaking. We don't put on
scales, and we make ourselves understood in an easier way,
simply by twitching the corners of our mouths and staring with
our eyes. We have a great many advantages over mankind.'
'But they have learned swimming of us,' remarked a
well-educated Codling. 'You must know I come from the great
sea outside. In the hot time of the year the people yonder go
into the water; first they take off their scales, and then
they swim. They have learnt from the frogs to kick out with
their hind legs, and row with their fore paws. But they cannot
hold out long. They want to be like us, but they cannot come
up to us. Poor people!'
And the fishes stared. They thought that the whole swarm
of people whom they had seen in the bright daylight were still
moving around them; they were certain they still saw the same
forms that had first caught their attention.
A pretty Barbel, with spotted skin, and an enviably round
back, declared that the 'human fry' were still there.
'I can see a well set-up human figure quite well,' said
the Barbel. 'She was called 'contumacious lady,' or something
of that kind. She had a mouth and staring eyes, like ours, and
a great balloon at the back of her head, and something like a
shut-up umbrella in front; there were a lot of dangling bits
of seaweed hanging about her. She ought to take all the
rubbish off, and go as we do; then she would look something
like a respectable barbel, so far as it is possible for a
person to look like one!'
'What's become of that one whom they drew away with the
hook? He sat on a wheel-chair, and had paper, and pen, and
ink, and wrote down everything. They called him a 'writer.''
'They're going about with him still,' said a hoary old
maid of a Carp, who carried her misfortune about with her, so
that she was quite hoarse. In her youth she had once swallowed
a hook, and still swam patiently about with it in her gullet.
'A writer? That means, as we fishes describe it, a kind of
cuttle or ink-fish among men.'
Thus the fishes gossipped in their own way; but in the
artificial water-grotto the laborers were busy; who were
obliged to take advantage of the hours of night to get their
work done by daybreak. They accompanied with blows of their
hammers and with songs the parting words of the vanishing
'So, at any rate, I have seen you, you pretty
gold-fishes,' she said. 'Yes, I know you;' and she waved her
hand to them. 'I have known about you a long time in my home;
the swallow told me about you. How beautiful you are! how
delicate and shining! I should like to kiss every one of you.
You others, also. I know you all; but you do not know me.'
The fishes stared out into the twilight. They did not
understand a word of it.
The Dryad was there no longer. She had been a long time in
the open air, where the different countries- the country of
black bread, the codfish coast, the kingdom of Russia leather,
and the banks of eau-de-Cologne, and the gardens of rose oil-
exhaled their perfumes from the world-wonder flower.
When, after a night at a ball, we drive home half asleep
and half awake, the melodies still sound plainly in our ears;
we hear them, and could sing them all from memory. When the
eye of the murdered man closes, the picture of what it saw
last clings to it for a time like a photographic picture.
So it was likewise here. The bustling life of day had not
yet disappeared in the quiet night. The Dryad had seen it; she
knew, thus it will be repeated tomorrow.
The Dryad stood among the fragrant roses, and thought she
knew them, and had seen them in her own home. She also saw red
pomegranate flowers, like those that little Mary had worn in
her dark hair.
Remembrances from the home of her childhood flashed
through her thoughts; her eyes eagerly drank in the prospect
around, and feverish restlessness chased her through the
A weariness that increased continually, took possession of
her. She felt a longing to rest on the soft Oriental carpets
within, or to lean against the weeping willow without by the
clear water. But for the ephemeral fly there was no rest. In a
few moments the day had completed its circle.
Her thoughts trembled, her limbs trembled, she sank down
on the grass by the bubbling water.
'Thou wilt ever spring living from the earth,' she said
mournfully. 'Moisten my tongue- bring me a refreshing
'I am no living water,' was the answer. 'I only spring
upward when the machine wills it.'
'Give me something of thy freshness, thou green grass,'
implored the Dryad; 'give me one of thy fragrant flowers.'
'We must die if we are torn from our stalks,' replied the
Flowers and the Grass.
'Give me a kiss, thou fresh stream of air- only a single
'Soon the sun will kiss the clouds red,' answered the
Wind; 'then thou wilt be among the dead- blown away, as all
the splendor here will be blown away before the year shall
have ended. Then I can play again with the light loose sand on
the place here, and whirl the dust over the land and through
the air. All is dust!'
The Dryad felt a terror like a woman who has cut asunder
her pulse-artery in the bath, but is filled again with the
love of life, even while she is bleeding to death. She raised
herself, tottered forward a few steps, and sank down again at
the entrance to a little church. The gate stood open, lights
were burning upon the altar, and the organ sounded.
What music! Such notes the Dryad had never yet heard; and
yet it seemed to her as if she recognized a number of
well-known voices among them. They came deep from the heart of
all creation. She thought she heard the stories of the old
clergyman, of great deeds, and of the celebrated names, and of
the gifts that the creatures of God must bestow upon
posterity, if they would live on in the world.
The tones of the organ swelled, and in their song there
sounded these words:
'Thy wishing and thy longing have torn thee, with thy
roots, from the place which God appointed for thee. That was
thy destruction, thou poor Dryad!'
The notes became soft and gentle, and seemed to die away
in a wail.
In the sky the clouds showed themselves with a ruddy
gleam. The Wind sighed:
'Pass away, ye dead! now the sun is going to rise!'
The first ray fell on the Dryad. Her form was irradiated
in changing colors, like the soap-bubble when it is bursting
and becomes a drop of water; like a tear that falls and passes
away like a
Poor Dryad! Only a dew-drop, only a tear, poured upon the
and vanished away!
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