This says everything that ever needed to be said.
-The Voice before the Void
“My Castles in Spain”
from Prue and I
George William Curtis
adapted by anonymous for The Ontario Readers: Fourth Book
I am the owner of great estates. Many of them lie in the west, but the greater part in Spain.
You may see my western possessions any evening at sunset when their spires and battlements flash against the horizon. But my finest castles are in Spain. It is a country famously romantic, and my castles are all of perfect proportions and appropriately set in the most picturesque situations.
I have never been in Spain myself, but I have naturally conversed much with travellers to that country; although, I must allow, without deriving from them much substantial information about my property there.
The wisest of them told me that there were more holders of real estate in Spain than in any other region he had ever heard of, and they are all great proprietors.
Every one of them possesses a multitude of the stateliest castles. It is remarkable that none of the proprietors have ever been to Spain to take possession and report to the rest of us the state of our property there, and it is not easy for me to say how I know so much about my castles in Spain.
The sun always shines upon them. They stand lofty and fair in a luminous, golden atmosphere, a little hazy and dreamy, perhaps, like the Indian summer, but in which no gales blow and there are no tempests.
All the sublime mountains and beautiful valleys and soft landscapes that I have not yet seen are to be found in the grounds.
I have often wondered how I should reach my castles. I have inquired very particularly, but nobody seemed to know the way. It occurred to me that Bourne, the millionaire, must have ascertained the safest and most expeditious route to Spain; so I stole a few minutes one afternoon and went into his office.
He was sitting at his desk, writing rapidly, and surrounded by files of papers and patterns, specimens, boxes,—everything that covers the tables of a great merchant.
“A moment, please, Mr. Bourne.” He looked up hastily, and wished me good-morning, which courtesy I attributed to Spanish sympathy.
“What is it, sir?” he asked blandly, but with wrinkled brow.
“Mr. Bourne, have you any castles in Spain?” said I, without preface. He looked at me for a few moments, without speaking and without seeming to see me. His brow gradually smoothed, and his eyes apparently looking into the street were really, I have no doubt, feasting upon the Spanish landscape.
“Too many, too many,” said he, at length, musingly, shaking his head and without addressing me.
He feared, I thought, that he had too much impracticable property elsewhere to own so much in Spain: so I asked:—
“Will you tell me what you consider the shortest and safest route thither, Mr. Bourne? for, of course, a man who drives such an immense trade with all parts of the world will know all that I have come to inquire.”
“My dear sir,” answered he, wearily, “I have been trying all my life to discover it; but none of my ships have ever been there—none of my captains have any report to make.
“They bring me, as they brought my father, gold-dust from Guinea, ivory, pearls, and precious stones from every part of the earth; but not a fruit, not a solitary flower, from one of my castles in Spain.
“I have sent clerks, agents, and travellers of all kinds, philosophers, pleasure hunters, and invalids, in all sorts of ships, to all sorts of places, but none of them ever saw or heard of my castles, except a young poet, and he died in a madhouse.”
“Mr. Bourne, will you take five thousand at ninety-seven?” hastily demanded a man whom, as he entered, I recognized as a broker. “We’ll make a splendid thing of it.”
Bourne nodded assent, and the broker disappeared.
“Happy man!” muttered the merchant, as the broker went out; “he has no castles in Spain.”
“I am sorry to have troubled you, Mr. Bourne,” said I, retiring.
“I’m glad you came,” returned he; “but, I assure you, had I known the route you hoped to ascertain from me I should have sailed years and years ago. People sail for the Northwest Passage, which is nothing when you have found it. Why don’t the English Admiralty fit out expeditions to discover all our castles in Spain?”
Yet I dream my dreams and attend to my castles in Spain. I have so much property there that I could not in conscience neglect it.
All the years of my youth and hopes of my manhood are stored away, like precious stones, in the vaults; and I know that I shall find everything elegant, beautiful, and convenient when I come into possession.
As the years go by, I am not conscious that my interest diminishes.
Shall I tell a secret? Shall I confess that sometimes when I have been sitting reading to my Prue “Cymbeline,” perhaps, or a “Canterbury Tale,” I have seemed to see clearly before me the broad highway to my castles in Spain, and, as she looked up from her work and smiled in sympathy, I have even fancied that I was already there?
“II. My Chateaux”
from Prue and I
George William Curtis
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree.” Coleridge.
I am the owner of great estates. Many of them lie in the West; but the greater part are in Spain. You may see my western possessions any evening at sunset when their spires and battlements flash against the horizon.
It gives me a feeling of pardonable importance, as a proprietor, that they are visible, to my eyes at least, from any part of the world in which I chance to be. In my long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India (the only voyage I ever made, when I was a boy and a supercargo), if I fell home-sick, or sank into a reverie of all the pleasant homes I had left behind, I had but to wait until sunset, and then looking toward the west, I beheld my clustering pinnacles and towers brightly burnished as if to salute and welcome me.
So, in the city, if I get vexed and wearied, and cannot find my wonted solace in sallying forth at dinner-time to contemplate the gay world of youth and beauty hurrying to the congress of fashion,—or if I observe that years are deepening their tracks around the eyes of my wife, Prue, I go quietly up to the housetop, toward evening, and refresh myself with a distant prospect of my estates. It is as dear to me as that of Eton to the poet Gray; and, if I sometimes wonder at such moments whether I shall find those realms as fair as they appear, I am suddenly reminded that the night air may be noxious, and descending, I enter the little parlor where Prue sits stitching, and surprise that precious woman by exclaiming with the poet’s pensive enthusiasm;
“Thought would destroy their Paradise,
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.”
Columbus, also, had possessions in the West; and as I read aloud the romantic story of his life, my voice quivers when I come to the point in which it is related that sweet odors of the land mingled with the sea-air, as the admiral’s fleet approached the shores; that tropical birds flew out and fluttered around the ships, glittering in the sun, the gorgeous promises of the new country; that boughs, perhaps with blossoms not all decayed, floated out to welcome the strange wood from which the craft were hollowed. Then I cannot restrain myself, I think of the gorgeous visions I have seen before I have even undertaken the journey to the West, and I cry aloud to Prue:
“What sun-bright birds, and gorgeous blossoms, and celestial odors will float out to us, my Prue, as we approach our western possessions!”
The placid Prue raises her eyes to mine with a reproof so delicate that it could not be trusted to words; and, after a moment, she resumes her knitting and I proceed.
These are my western estates, but my finest castles are in Spain. It is a country famously romantic, and my castles are all of perfect proportions, and appropriately set in the most picturesque situations. I have never been to Spain myself, but I have naturally conversed much with travellers to that country; although, I must allow, without deriving from them much substantial information about my property there. The wisest of them told me that there were more holders of real estate in Spain than in any other region he had ever heard of, and they are all great proprietors. Every one of them possesses a multitude of the stateliest castles. From conversation with them you easily gather that each one considers his own castles much the largest and in the loveliest positions. And, after I had heard this said, I verified it, by discovering that all my immediate neighbors in the city were great Spanish proprietors.
One day as I raised my head from entering some long and tedious accounts in my books, and began to reflect that the quarter was expiring, and that I must begin to prepare the balance-sheet, I observed my subordinate, in office but not in years, (for poor old Titbottom will never see sixty again!) leaning on his hand, and much abstracted.
“Are you not well, Titbottom!” asked I.
“Perfectly, but I was just building a castle in Spain,” said he.
I looked at his rusty coat, his faded hands, his sad eye, and white hair, for a moment, in great surprise, and then inquired,
“Is it possible that you own property there too?”
He shook his head silently; and still leaning on his hand, and with an expression in his eye, as if he were looking upon the most fertile estate of Andalusia, he went on making his plans; laying out his gardens, I suppose, building terraces for the vines, determining a library with a southern exposure, and resolving which should be the tapestried chamber.
“What a singular whim,” thought I, as I watched Titbottom and filled up a cheque for four hundred dollars, my quarterly salary, “that a man who owns castles in Spain should be deputy book-keeper at nine hundred dollars a year!”
When I went home I ate my dinner silently, and afterward sat for a long time upon the roof of the house, looking at my western property, and thinking of Titbottom.
It is remarkable that none of the proprietors have ever been to Spain to take possession and report to the rest of us the state of our property there. I, of course, cannot go, I am too much engaged. So is Titbottom. And I find it is the case with all the proprietors. We have so much to detain us at home that we cannot get away. But it is always so with rich men. Prue sighed once as she sat at the window and saw Bourne, the millionaire, the President of innumerable companies, and manager and director of all the charitable societies in town, going by with wrinkled brow and hurried step. I asked her why she sighed.
“Because I was remembering that my mother used to tell me not to desire great riches, for they occasioned great cares,” said she.
“They do indeed,” answered I, with emphasis, remembering Titbottom, and the impossibility of looking after my Spanish estates.
Prue turned and looked at me with mild surprise; but I saw that her mind had gone down the street with Bourne. I could never discover if he held much Spanish stock. But I think he does. All the Spanish proprietors have a certain expression. Bourne has it to a remarkable degree. It is a kind of look, as if, in fact, a man’s mind were in Spain. Bourne was an old lover of Prue’s, and he is not married, which is strange for a man in his position.
It is not easy for me to say how I know so much, as I certainly do, about my castles in Spain. The sun always shines upon them. They stand lofty and fair in a luminous, golden atmosphere, a little hazy and dreamy, perhaps, like the Indian summer, but in which no gales blow and there are no tempests. All the sublime mountains, and beautiful valleys, and soft landscape, that I have not yet seen, are to be found in the grounds. They command a noble view of the Alps; so fine, indeed, that I should be quite content with the prospect of them from the highest tower of my castle, and not care to go to Switzerland.
The neighboring ruins, too, are as picturesque as those of Italy, and my desire of standing in the Coliseum, and of seeing the shattered arches of the Aqueducts stretching along the Campagna and melting into the Alban Mount, is entirely quenched. The rich gloom of my orange groves is gilded by fruit as brilliant of complexion and exquisite of flavor as any that ever dark-eyed Sorrento girls, looking over the high plastered walls of southern Italy, hand to the youthful travellers, climbing on donkeys up the narrow lane beneath.
The Nile flows through my grounds. The Desert lies upon their edge, and Damascus stands in my garden. I am given to understand, also, that the Parthenon has been removed to my Spanish possessions. The Golden-Horn is my fish-preserve; my flocks of golden fleece are pastured on the plain of Marathon, and the honey of Hymettus is distilled from the flowers that grow in the vale of Enna—all in my Spanish domains.
From the windows of those castles look the beautiful women whom I have never seen, whose portraits the poets have painted. They wait for me there, and chiefly the fair-haired child, lost to my eyes so long ago, now bloomed into an impossible beauty. The lights that never shone, glance at evening in the vaulted halls, upon banquets that were never spread. The bands I have never collected, play all night long, and enchant the brilliant company, that was never assembled, into silence.
In the long summer mornings the children that I never had, play in the gardens that I never planted. I hear their sweet voices sounding low and far away, calling, “Father! Father!” I see the lost fair-haired girl, grown now into a woman, descending the stately stairs of my castle in Spain, stepping out upon the lawn, and playing with those children. They bound away together down the garden; but those voices linger, this time airily calling, “Mother! mother!”
But there is a stranger magic than this in my Spanish estates. The lawny slopes on which, when a child, I played, in my father’s old country place, which was sold when he failed, are all there, and not a flower faded, nor a blade of grass sere. The green leaves have not fallen from the spring woods of half a century ago, and a gorgeous autumn has blazed undimmed for fifty years, among the trees I remember.
Chestnuts are not especially sweet to my palate now, but those with which I used to prick my fingers when gathering them in New Hampshire woods are exquisite as ever to my taste, when I think of eating them in Spain. I never ride horseback now at home; but in Spain, when I think of it, I bound over all the fences in the country, barebacked upon the wildest horses. Sermons I am apt to find a little soporific in this country; but in Spain I should listen as reverently as ever, for proprietors must set a good example on their estates.
Plays are insufferable to me here—Prue and I never go. Prue, indeed, is not quite sure it is moral; but the theatres in my Spanish castles are of a prodigious splendor, and when I think of going there, Prue sits in a front box with me—a kind of royal box—the good woman, attired in such wise as I have never seen her here, while I wear my white waistcoat, which in Spain has no appearance of mending, but dazzles with immortal newness, and is a miraculous fit.
Yes, and in those castles in Spain, Prue is not the placid, breeches-patching helpmate, with whom you are acquainted, but her face has a bloom which we both remember, and her movement a grace which my Spanish swans emulate, and her voice a music sweeter than those that orchestras discourse. She is always there what she seemed to me when I fell in love with her, many and many years ago. The neighbors called her then a nice, capable girl; and certainly she did knit and darn with a zeal and success to which my feet and my legs have testified for nearly half a century. But she could spin a finer web than ever came from cotton, and in its subtle meshes my heart was entangled, and there has reposed softly and happily ever since. The neighbors declared she could make pudding and cake better than any girl of her age; but stale bread from Prue’s hand was ambrosia to my palate.
“She who makes every thing well, even to making neighbors speak well of her, will surely make a good wife,” said I to myself when I knew her; and the echo of a half century answers, “a good wife.”
So, when I meditate my Spanish castles, I see Prue in them as my heart saw her standing by her father’s door. “Age cannot wither her.” There is a magic in the Spanish air that paralyzes Time. He glides by, unnoticed and unnoticing. I greatly admire the Alps, which I see so distinctly from my Spanish windows; I delight in the taste of the southern fruit that ripens upon my terraces; I enjoy the pensive shade of the Italian ruins in my gardens; I like to shoot crocodiles, and talk with the Sphinx upon the shores of the Nile, flowing through my domain; I am glad to drink sherbet in Damascus, and fleece my flocks on the plains of Marathon; but I would resign all these for ever rather than part with that Spanish portrait of Prue for a day. Nay, have I not resigned them all for ever, to live with that portrait’s changing original?
I have often wondered how I should reach my castles. The desire of going comes over me very strongly sometimes, and I endeavor to see how I can arrange my affairs, so as to get away. To tell the truth, I am not quite sure of the route,—I mean, to that particular part of Spain in which my estates lie. I have inquired very particularly, but nobody seems to know precisely. One morning I met young Aspen, trembling with excitement.
“What’s the matter?” asked I with interest, for I knew that he held a great deal of Spanish stock.
“Oh!” said he, “I’m going out to take possession. I have found the way to my castles in Spain.”
“Dear me!” I answered, with the blood streaming into my face; and, heedless of Prue, pulling my glove until it ripped—”what is it?”
“The direct route is through California,” answered he.
“But then you have the sea to cross afterward,” said I, remembering the map.
“Not at all,” answered Aspen, “the road runs along the shore of the Sacramento River.”
He darted away from me, and I did not meet him again. I was very curious to know if he arrived safely in Spain, and was expecting every day to hear news from him of my property there, when, one evening, I bought an extra, full of California news, and the first thing upon which my eye fell was this: “Died, in San Francisco, Edward Aspen, Esq., aged 35.” There is a large body of the Spanish stockholders who believe with Aspen, and sail for California every week. I have not yet heard of their arrival out at their castles, but I suppose they are so busy with their own affairs there, that they have no time to write to the rest of us about the condition of our property.
There was my wife’s cousin, too, Jonathan Bud, who is a good, honest, youth from the country, and, after a few weeks’ absence, he burst into the office one day, just as I was balancing my books, and whispered to me, eagerly:
“I’ve found my castle in Spain.”
I put the blotting-paper in the leaf deliberately, for I was wiser now than when Aspen had excited me, and looked at my wife’s cousin, Jonathan Bud, inquiringly.
“Polly Bacon,” whispered he, winking.
I continued the interrogative glance.
“She’s going to marry me, and she’ll show me the way to Spain,” said Jonathan Bud, hilariously.
“She’ll make you walk Spanish, Jonathan Bud,” said I.
And so she does. He makes no more hilarious remarks. He never bursts into a room. He does not ask us to dinner. He says that Mrs. Bud does not like smoking. Mrs. Bud has nerves and babies. She has a way of saying, “Mr. Bud!” which destroys conversation, and casts a gloom upon society.
It occurred to me that Bourne, the millionaire, must have ascertained the safest and most expeditious route to Spain; so I stole a few minutes one afternoon, and went into his office. He was sitting at his desk, writing rapidly, and surrounded by files of papers and patterns, specimens, boxes, everything that covers the tables of a great merchant. In the outer rooms clerks were writing. Upon high shelves over their heads, were huge chests, covered with dust, dingy with age, many of them, and all marked with the name of the firm, in large black letters—”Bourne & Dye.” They were all numbered also with the proper year; some of them with a single capital B, and dates extending back into the last century, when old Bourne made the great fortune, before he went into partnership with Dye. Everything was indicative of immense and increasing prosperity.
There were several gentlemen in waiting to converse with Bourne (we all call him so, familiarly, down town), and I waited until they went out. But others came in. There was no pause in the rush. All kinds of inquiries were made and answered. At length I stepped up.
“A moment, please, Mr. Bourne.”
He looked up hastily, wished me good morning which he had done to none of the others, and which courtesy I attributed to Spanish sympathy. “What is it, sir?” he asked, blandly, but with wrinkled brow.
“Mr. Bourne, have you any castles in Spain?” said I, without preface.
He looked at me for a few moments without speaking, and without seeming to see me. His brow gradually smoothed, and his eyes, apparently looking into the street, were really, I have no doubt, feasting upon the Spanish landscape.
“Too many, too many,” said he at length, musingly, shaking his head, and without addressing me.
I suppose he felt himself too much extended—as we say in Wall Street. He feared, I thought, that he had too much impracticable property elsewhere, to own so much in Spain; so I asked,
“Will you tell me what you consider the shortest and safest route thither, Mr. Bourne? for, of course, a man who drives such an immense trade with all parts of the world, will know all that I have come to inquire.”
“My dear sir,” answered he wearily, “I have been trying all my life to discover it; but none of my ships have ever been there—none of my captains have any report to make. They bring me, as they brought my father, gold dust from Guinea; ivory, pearls, and precious stones, from every part of the earth; but not a fruit, not a solitary flower, from one of my castles in Spain. I have sent clerks, agents, and travellers of all kinds, philosophers, pleasure-hunters, and invalids, in all sorts of ships, to all sorts of places, but none of them ever saw or heard of my castles, except one young poet, and he died in a mad-house.”
“Mr. Bourne, will you take five thousand at ninety-seven?” hastily demanded a man, whom, as he entered, I recognized as a broker. “We’ll make a splendid thing of it.”
Bourne nodded assent, and the broker disappeared.
“Happy man!” muttered the merchant, as the broker went out; “he has no castles in Spain.”
“I am sorry to have troubled you, Mr. Bourne,” said I, retiring.
“I am glad you came,” returned he; “but I assure you, had I known the route you hoped to ascertain from me, I should have sailed years and years ago. People sail for the North-west Passage, which is nothing when you have found it. Why don’t the English Admiralty fit out expeditions to discover all our castles in Spain?”
He sat lost in thought.
“It’s nearly post-time, sir,” said the clerk.
Mr. Bourne did not heed him. He was still musing; and I turned to go, wishing him good morning. When I had nearly reached the door, he called me back, saying, as if continuing his remarks—
“It is strange that you, of all men, should come to ask me this question. If I envy any man, it is you, for I sincerely assure you that I supposed you lived altogether upon your Spanish estates. I once thought I knew the way to mine. I gave directions for furnishing them, and ordered bridal bouquets, which were never used, but I suppose they are there still.”
He paused a moment, then said slowly—”How is your wife?”
I told him that Prue was well—that she was always remarkably well. Mr. Bourne shook me warmly by the hand.
“Thank you,” said he. “Good morning.”
I knew why he thanked me; I knew why he thought that I lived altogether upon my Spanish estates; I knew a little bit about those bridal bouquets. Mr. Bourne, the millionaire, was an old lover of Prue’s. There is something very odd about these Spanish castles. When I think of them, I somehow see the fair-haired girl whom I knew when I was not out of short jackets. When Bourne meditates them, he sees Prue and me quietly at home in their best chambers. It is a very singular thing that my wife should live in another man’s castle in Spain.
At length I resolved to ask Titbottom if he had ever heard of the best route to our estates. He said that he owned castles, and sometimes there was an expression in his face, as if he saw them. I hope he did. I should long ago have asked him if he had ever observed the turrets of my possessions in the West, without alluding to Spain, if I had not feared he would suppose I was mocking his poverty. I hope his poverty has not turned his head, for he is very forlorn.
One Sunday I went with him a few miles into the country. It was a soft, bright day, the fields and hills lay turned to the sky, as if every leaf and blade of grass were nerves, bared to the touch of the sun. I almost felt the ground warm under my feet. The meadows waved and glittered, the lights and shadows were exquisite, and the distant hills seemed only to remove the horizon farther away. As we strolled along, picking wild flowers, for it was in summer, I was thinking what a fine day it was for a trip to Spain, when Titbottom suddenly exclaimed:
“Thank God! I own this landscape.”
“You,” returned I.
“Certainly,” said he.
“Why,” I answered, “I thought this was part of Bourne’s property?”
“Does Bourne own the sun and sky? Does Bourne own that sailing shadow yonder? Does Bourne own the golden lustre of the grain, or the motion of the wood, or those ghosts of hills, that glide pallid along the horizon? Bourne owns the dirt and fences; I own the beauty that makes the landscape, or otherwise how could I own castles in Spain?”
That was very true. I respected Titbottom more than ever.
“Do you know,” said he, after a long pause, “that I fancy my castles lie just beyond those distant hills. At all events, I can see them distinctly from their summits.”
He smiled quietly as he spoke, and it was then I asked:
“But, Titbottom, have you never discovered the way to them?”
“Dear me! yes,” answered he, “I know the way well enough; but it would do no good to follow it. I should give out before I arrived. It is a long and difficult journey for a man of my years and habits—and income,” he added slowly.
As he spoke he seated himself upon the ground; and while he pulled long blades of grass, and, putting them between his thumbs, whistled shrilly, he said:
“I have never known but two men who reached their estates in Spain.”
“Indeed!” said I, “how did they go?”
“One went over the side of a ship, and the other out of a third story window,” said Titbottom, fitting a broad blade between his thumbs and blowing a demoniacal blast.
“And I know one proprietor who resides upon his estates constantly,” continued he.
“Who is that?”
“Our old friend Slug, whom you may see any day at the asylum, just coming in from the hunt, or going to call upon his friend the Grand Lama, or dressing for the wedding of the Man in the Moon, or receiving an ambassador from Timbuctoo. Whenever I go to see him, Slug insists that I am the Pope, disguised as a journeyman carpenter, and he entertains me in the most distinguished manner. He always insists upon kissing my foot, and I bestow upon him, kneeling, the apostolic benediction. This is the only Spanish proprietor in possession, with whom I am acquainted.”
And, so saying, Titbottom lay back upon the ground, and making a spy-glass of his hand, surveyed the landscape through it. This was a marvellous book-keeper of more than sixty!
“I know another man who lived in his Spanish castle for two months, and then was tumbled out head first. That was young Stunning who married old Buhl’s daughter. She was all smiles, and mamma was all sugar, and Stunning was all bliss, for two months. He carried his head in the clouds, and felicity absolutely foamed at his eyes. He was drowned in love; seeing, as usual, not what really was, but what he fancied. He lived so exclusively in his castle, that he forgot the office down town, and one morning there came a fall, and Stunning was smashed.”
Titbottom arose, and stooping over, contemplated the landscape, with his head down between his legs.
“It’s quite a new effect, so,” said the nimble book-keeper.
“Well,” said I, “Stunning failed?”
“Oh yes, smashed all up, and the castle in Spain came down about his ears with a tremendous crash. The family sugar was all dissolved into the original cane in a moment. Fairy-times are over, are they? Heigh-ho! the falling stones of Stunning’s castle have left their marks all over his face. I call them his Spanish scars.”
“But, my dear Titbottom,” said I, “what is the matter with you this morning, your usual sedateness is quite gone?”
“It’s only the exhilarating air of Spain,” he answered. “My castles are so beautiful that I can never think of them, nor speak of them, without excitement; when I was younger I desired to reach them even more ardently than now, because I heard that the philosopher’s stone was in the vault of one of them.”
“Indeed,” said I, yielding to sympathy, “and I have good reason to believe that the fountain of eternal youth flows through the garden of one of mine. Do you know whether there are any children upon your grounds?”
“‘The children of Alice call Bartrum father!'” replied Titbottom, solemnly, and in a low voice, as he folded his faded hands before him, and stood erect, looking wistfully over the landscape. The light wind played with his thin white hair, and his sober, black suit was almost sombre in the sunshine. The half bitter expression, which I had remarked upon his face during part of our conversation, had passed away, and the old sadness had returned to his eye. He stood, in the pleasant morning, the very image of a great proprietor of castles in Spain.
“There is wonderful music there,” he said: “sometimes I awake at night, and hear it. It is full of the sweetness of youth, and love, and a new world. I lie and listen, and I seem to arrive at the great gates of my estates. They swing open upon noiseless hinges, and the tropic of my dreams receives me. Up the broad steps, whose marble pavement mingled light and shadow print with shifting mosaic, beneath the boughs of lustrous oleanders, and palms, and trees of unimaginable fragrance, I pass into the vestibule, warm with summer odors, and into the presence-chamber beyond, where my wife awaits me. But castle, and wife, and odorous woods, and pictures, and statues, and all the bright substance of my household, seem to reel and glimmer in the splendor, as the music fails.
“But when it swells again, I clasp the wife to my heart, and we move on with a fair society, beautiful women, noble men, before whom the tropical luxuriance of that world bends and bows in homage; and, through endless days and nights of eternal summer, the stately revel of our life proceeds. Then, suddenly, the music stops. I hear my watch ticking under the pillow. I see dimly the outline of my little upper room. Then I fall asleep, and in the morning some one of the boarders at the breakfast-table says:
“‘Did you hear the serenade last night, Mr. Titbottom.'”
I doubted no longer that Titbottom was a very extensive proprietor. The truth is, that he was so constantly engaged in planning and arranging his castles, that he conversed very little at the office, and I had misinterpreted his silence. As we walked homeward, that day, he was more than ever tender and gentle. “We must all have something to do in this world,” said he, “and I, who have so much leisure—for you know I have no wife nor children to work for—know not what I should do, if I had not my castles in Spain to look after.”
When I reached home, my darling Prue was sitting in the small parlor, reading. I felt a little guilty for having been so long away, and upon my only holiday, too. So I began to say that Titbottom invited me to go to walk, and that I had no idea we had gone so far, and that——
“Don’t excuse yourself,” said Prue, smiling as she laid down her book; “I am glad you have enjoyed yourself. You ought to go out sometimes, and breathe the fresh air, and run about the fields, which I am not strong enough to do. Why did you not bring home Mr. Titbottom to tea? He is so lonely, and looks so sad. I am sure he has very little comfort in this life,” said my thoughtful Prue, as she called Jane to set the tea-table.
“But he has a good deal of comfort in Spain, Prue,” answered I.
“When was Mr. Titbottom in Spain,” inquired my wife.
“Why, he is there more than half the time,” I replied.
Prue looked quietly at me and smiled. “I see it has done you good to breathe the country air,” said she. “Jane, get some of the blackberry jam, and call Adoniram and the children.”
So we went in to tea. We eat in the back parlor, for our little house and limited means do not allow us to have things upon the Spanish scale. It is better than a sermon to hear my wife Prue talk to the children; and when she speaks to me it seems sweeter than psalm singing; at least, such as we have in our church. I am very happy.
Yet I dream my dreams, and attend to my castles in Spain. I have so much property there, that I could not, in conscience, neglect it. All the years of my youth, and the hopes of my manhood, are stored away, like precious stones, in the vaults; and I know that I shall find everything convenient, elegant, and beautiful, when I come into possession.
As the years go by, I am not conscious that my interest diminishes. If I see that age is subtly sifting his snow in the dark hair of my Prue, I smile, contented, for her hair, dark and heavy as when I first saw it, is all carefully treasured in my castles in Spain. If I feel her arm more heavily leaning upon mine, as we walk around the squares, I press it closely to my side, for I know that the easy grace of her youth’s motion will be restored by the elixir of that Spanish air. If her voice sometimes falls less clearly from her lips, it is no less sweet to me for the music of her voice’s prime fills, freshly as ever, those Spanish halls. If the light I love fades a little from her eyes, I know that the glances she gave me, in our youth, are the eternal sunshine of my castles in Spain.
I defy time and change. Each year laid upon our heads, is a hand of blessing. I have no doubt that I shall find the shortest route to my possessions as soon as need be. Perhaps, when Adoniram is married, we shall all go out to one of my castles to pass the honey-moon.
Ah! if the true history of Spain could be written what a book were there! The most purely romantic ruin in the world is the Alhambra. But of the Spanish castles, more spacious and splendid than any possible Alhambra, and for ever unruined, no towers are visible, no pictures have been painted, and only a few ecstatic songs have been sung. The pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan, which Coleridge saw in Xanadu (a province with which I am not familiar), and a fine Castle of Indolence belonging to Thomson, and the Palace of art which Tennyson built as a “lordly pleasure-house” for his soul, are among the best statistical accounts of those Spanish estates. Turner, too, has done for them much the same service that Owen Jones has done for the Alhambra. In the vignette to Moore’s Epicurean you will find represented one of the most extensive castles in Spain; and there are several exquisite studies from others, by the same artists, published in Rogers’s Italy.
But I confess I do not recognize any of these as mine, and that fact makes me prouder of my own castles, for, if there be such boundless variety of magnificence in their aspect and exterior, imagine the life that is led there, a life not unworthy such a setting.
If Adoniram should be married within a reasonable time, and we should make up that little family party to go out, I have considered already what society I should ask to meet the bride. Jephthah’s daughter and the Chevalier Bayard, I should say—and fair Rosamond with Dean Swift—King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would come over, I think, from his famous castle—Shakespeare and his friend the Marquis of Southampton might come in a galley with Cleopatra; and, if any guest were offended by her presence, he should devote himself to the Fair One with Golden Locks. Mephistophiles is not personally disagreeable, and is exceedingly well-bred in society, I am told; and he should come tête-à-tête with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley. Spenser should escort his Faerie Queen, who would preside at the tea-table.
Mr. Samuel Weller I should ask as Lord of Misrule, and Dr. Johnson as the Abbot of Unreason. I would suggest to Major Dobbin to accompany Mrs. Fry; Alcibiades would bring Homer and Plato in his purple-sailed galley; and I would have Aspasia, Ninon de l’Enclos, and Mrs. Battle, to make up a table of whist with Queen Elizabeth. I shall order a seat placed in the oratory for Lady Jane Grey and Joan of Arc. I shall invite General Washington to bring some of the choicest cigars from his plantation for Sir Walter Raleigh; and Chaucer, Browning, and Walter Savage Landor, should talk with Goethe, who is to bring Tasso on one arm and Iphigenia on the other.
Dante and Mr. Carlyle would prefer, I suppose, to go down into the dark vaults under the castle. The Man in the Moon, the Old Harry, and William of the Wisp would be valuable additions, and the Laureate Tennyson might compose an official ode upon the occasion: or I would ask “They” to say all about it.
Of course there are many other guests whose names I do not at the moment recall. But I should invite, first of all, Miles Coverdale, who knows every thing about these places and this society, for he was at Blithedale, and he has described “a select party” which he attended at a castle in the air.
Prue has not yet looked over the list. In fact I am not quite sure that she knows my intention. For I wish to surprise her, and I think it would be generous to ask Bourne to lead her out in the bridal quadrille. I think that I shall try the first waltz with the girl I sometimes seem to see in my fairest castle, but whom I very vaguely remember. Titbottom will come with old Burton and Jaques. But I have not prepared half my invitations. Do you not guess it, seeing that I did not name, first of all, Elia, who assisted at the “Rejoicings upon the new year’s coming of age”?
And yet, if Adoniram should never marry?—or if we could not get to Spain?—or if the company would not come?
What then? Shall I betray a secret? I have already entertained this party in my humble little parlor at home; and Prue presided as serenely as Semiramis over her court. Have I not said that I defy time, and shall space hope to daunt me? I keep books by day, but by night books keep me. They leave me to dreams and reveries. Shall I confess, that sometimes when I have been sitting, reading to my Prue, Cymbeline, perhaps, or a Canterbury tale, I have seemed to see clearly before me the broad highway to my castles in Spain; and as she looked up from her work, and smiled in sympathy, I have even fancied that I was already there.