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gleamed like stars, were steadily fixed on the ocean's wide expanse. She took no heed of anything around her, and the eyes that shone with such a strange inner light seemed to reflect from beneath their wide-open lids another light, which, though invisible to me, must, I felt, be shining in some far-off spot. It was a mystic radiance that was given forth, without warmth, clear and cold as the twinkling stars on a winter's night.
The head of the second figure was crowned with light hair, so deeply streaked with gray that it seemed almost of an ashen hue. Tossed about by every breath of wind, it fell in disordered tresses, and cast over the youthful features lineshadows like the wrinkles of age. Her eyes perceived the things around her, but they wore a dull, apathetic look, void of all expression. Her lips slightly quivered with a feeling, which, if she had given it utterance, would have been nothing but a word of cruel scorn.
The rocks were thrown together in such a way as to form a triangle, and just between these two, her back turned on both, sat the third figure. A profusion of shining golden hair fell over her neck and down her shoulders, as though she were clad in the sun's own rays. Her eyes, too, shone soft and gentle, as the heavens whose azure tint they bore. Of all the three, she was the most like a woman of mortal mould; her fair bosom rose and fell with each breath she drew, and one could almost see beneath it the quick beating of her heart. In her face was a strange mingling of bliss and woe, of joy and sorrow; I could not tell whether the rosy lips were about to wreathe themselves into a smile, or droop into a pitiful sob. They expressed a feeling of warmest, tenderest love, as did every feature and look of this beauteous being, whose whole form was nevertheless invested with silent majesty. But she seemed less self-conscious than her two companions, and bore her dignity as the inalienable dowry of her nature.
Thus sat these three on the three runic rocks of ages primeval, between sea and sand, sunshine and shadow. They spoke not, and heaven and earth kept silence too.
Overcome with astonishment, I stood long in contemplation, ere I had the power to ask: 'Who are you ?' But no answer
The figures stirred not, neither did they turn away their gaze from the point on which it was fixed.
Suddenly a slight rustling fell upon my ear. Looking up,
I saw, flapping its wings in the air over my head, the big white-breasted bird that had so long accompanied me on my toilsome march. He uttered a few sharp cries, which, in the desolate waste around, fell painfully on my ear.
But all at once I understood his language ; he meant to say :
• You took no heed to the warning which I gave you ; beings of your race should never venture here. You see before you the three sisters, who from the very beginning have watched beside the cradle of your race. They themselves are fixed, eternal, without sense of time, but it is in the perishable human frame that they fight out the deadly strife which is ever raging amongst them. Repeat your question thrice; then are they bound to answer.'
I did as I was bidden, and asked the first one: “What art thou doing here ?'
No sooner had I uttered the words for the third time, than the figure slowly turned her head, and fixing her glittering eyes for a moment coldly on my face, she responded in a tone that sounded like the stroke of a bell:
'I see the endlessness of life.'
She cast on me a hasty meaningless look; her voice, like that of the first, had a bell-like sound, but it was that of a bell with some inner flaw. Her answer came :
I see the emptiness of life.' And now I inquired anxiously of the third : "What, then, is left for you to do ?'
She turned her eyes upon me, warm as the sun of springtide, and blue as spring's first violets. My heart beat strangely beneath her look, and was filled with an emotion, sweet but sad, as if it were suddenly affected by every passion it had hitherto experienced. It was a soft human voice that spoke; its echoes stirred the very depths of my soul, moved as I was both with joy and grief :
I see the shortness of life.' Then from my lips, from my deeply agitated breast, burst forth the words :
"Oh, being full of love, exalted one, human-divine, let me ever gaze into thy beauteous, gracious, mournful eyes !'
But the shrill shriek of the bird mingled with my longing cry, and in a moment the gray curtain of mist fell, and placed, as it were, a wall between me and ocean's pile of runic rocks.
The sun made a sudden bound in its course, as though it had fallen below the horizon ; the last faint gleam of light was fading in the sky. The waves roared louder at my feet, but I could not see them; the wind howled, and I stood there in deepest night alone on the desolate shore.
It was not very long after this strange dream, which my mind vividly retained, that I made, in a somewhat singular way, the acquaintance of a stranger. We met one evening at a reception which was held in the house of Miss Cora Lindersen, and, on the first introduction, I concluded that he was of Frisian origin. I scarcely caught the sound of his voice; he seemed
. to be of a retiring nature, and his hair, which was perfectly gray, led me to suppose that he was over sixty years of age. From his general appearance, I might have expected to find dark brown eyes; they were, however, of a deep but very brilliant blue, and reminded me of something, but I could not then think of what.
He took very little share in the conversation, but occupied himself, either in turning over some of the beautifully illustrated books on art that were lying upon the tables, or in examining the many curios and antique treasures on the cabinets and chimneypieces, which gave to the handsome rooms almost the appearance of a museum. He evidently took more interest in these silent objects than in the conversation around; or, perhaps, he lacked the experience which would have enabled him to take his share in it. The walls were chiefly decorated with fine engravings, and some good copies in oil of Raphael's most celebrated works. But to these Holding Terborg vouchsafed merely a passing glance—he did not stop to examine them;
; painting evidently had but little attraction for him.
In another man this strange avoidance of the company might have been considered a mark of disrespect, but in him it seemed perfectly undesigned, the natural tendency of his disposition; and everybody present seemed to be well accustomed to his ways. It was the first time that I had heard his name. An acquaintance whom I asked could tell me very little about him. He had been living for some years in the town, had no particular office or profession, held no very close intercourse with anyone, kept usually quite retired in the privacy of his own home, only entering into society on very rare occasions ; and why he ever did so was a puzzle, for he never seemed either to enjoy himself, or to contribute to the enjoyment of others.
The man who gave me this information was undoubtedly in the right. There was a certain inexplicable peculiarity in the features and movements of this strange man. But the first irresistible impression that he had made upon me gradually passed away. I compared him with other eccentric men of learning whom I had met, found in him resemblances to them, and dismissed him from my thoughts.
Miss Lindersen's house possessed a reputation of many years' standing. Her father had been Professor of Botany, had possessed abundant means, and had been universally esteemed on account of his wide and varied scientific knowledge and his artistic tastes. Hence his house had become a centre for the social gatherings of the cultured people of the town, and especially for all connected with the University, as well as all the native notabilities who were in any way mentally distinguished from the ordinary throng. The views, the callings, the prepossessions of those who attended these frequent assemblies, were never made a matter of consideration. Theologians shook hands with men of science, artists of the most diverse schools, politicians of the most opposite parties, all mingled together, without any hindrance to the evening's usual enjoyment. The guests, mutually recognising each other's worth, kept carefully within the bounds of calm and friendly intercourse, and avoided any subject likely to wound another or to arouse ill-feeling. There are certain fixed principles on which men of culture base their maxims and opinions, especially with regard to art; these may always be reckoned upon for general acceptance, hence they were peculiarly suited to, and chosen as, a favourite and ever-recurring topic of conversation.
On the death of her parents, Miss Lindersen, who was their sole surviving child, determined to continue, with but little alteration, the traditions of the house. The same tone prevailed, and the same guests—such, at least, as Time had spared, and with some fresh additions—attended with their wonted regularity the receptions in the old rooms. They came as a matter of course, and soon ceased even to remember that the daughter had stepped into her parents' place. She had for many years played an important part in these home receptions. Her season of youth had long since passed away; she was now fairly advanced in middle life—tacitis annis ; towards most of her regular guests she stood in that intimate relation which results from frequent intercourse with those who mark with us the flight of time. Doubtless her natural characteristics contributed largely to this pleasant state of things.
Her father had given her the name of Cora, possibly from his predilection for botanical nomenclature. Even whilst a child he had called her by the name in its original form, xópn. Its meaning of maiden may have had a fuller signification than her father designed, for his daughter still rightly bore the name, and her age left little likelihood of future change. No wooer had ever sought her hand, for she did not possess what with most men is the first condition for such a step. Her features were not displeasing—far from it, they were even of a classic mould-but she had never been truly young. As a maiden of eighteen, she had produced well-nigh the same impression that she did now as a woman of forty. She lacked a certain womanly charm, and though from her earliest youth men had loved to talk with her, none had ever sought to make her his wife.
There was also something peculiar in the style of her dress; it was decidedly distinguished, but she looked as if she never gave a thought to the matter. Her mirror reflected just the same image as it had done twenty years before, and she still dressed pretty much in the same style.
She had never had any inducement to make a change. Perfectly indifferent herself to the vagaries of fashion, her guests noted nothing strange in her attire—she was a part of the house. In her own circle Miss Cora Lindersen was regarded in many respects as a woman of undoubted talent, and that most justly; many of those who had long lived in the greatest intimacy with her called her-and the reference could be easily divined -Corinna, and she seemed to hear the pet name with no little pleasure. She often had sudden happy flights of fancy; her knowledge and interest in 'things extended far beyond the