THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 22: THE HOLY FOUNTAIN
The pilgrims were human beings. Otherwise they would have acted
differently. They had come a long and difficult journey, and now
when the journey was nearly finished, and they learned that the main
thing they had come for had ceased to exist, they didn't do as
horses or cats or angle-worms would probably have done--turn back
and get at something profitable--no, anxious as they had before
been to see the miraculous fountain, they were as much as forty
times as anxious now to see the place where it had used to be.
There is no accounting for human beings.
We made good time; and a couple of hours before sunset we stood
upon the high confines of the Valley of Holiness, and our eyes
swept it from end to end and noted its features. That is, its
large features. These were the three masses of buildings. They
were distant and isolated temporalities shrunken to toy constructions
in the lonely waste of what seemed a desert--and was. Such a scene
is always mournful, it is so impressively still, and looks so
steeped in death. But there was a sound here which interrupted
the stillness only to add to its mournfulness; this was the faint
far sound of tolling bells which floated fitfully to us on the
passing breeze, and so faintly, so softly, that we hardly knew
whether we heard it with our ears or with our spirits.
We reached the monastery before dark, and there the males were
given lodging, but the women were sent over to the nunnery. The
bells were close at hand now, and their solemn booming smote
upon the ear like a message of doom. A superstitious despair
possessed the heart of every monk and published itself in his
ghastly face. Everywhere, these black-robed, soft-sandaled,
tallow-visaged specters appeared, flitted about and disappeared,
noiseless as the creatures of a troubled dream, and as uncanny.
The old abbot's joy to see me was pathetic. Even to tears; but
he did the shedding himself. He said:
"Delay not, son, but get to thy saving work. An we bring not
the water back again, and soon, we are ruined, and the good work
of two hundred years must end. And see thou do it with enchantments
that be holy, for the Church will not endure that work in her cause
be done by devil's magic."