Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories
The Spider's Web
To K. L.
He heard the bell of the Badia sound hour after hour, and still sleep refused its
solace. He got up and looked through the narrow window. The sky in the East
was soft with that luminous intensity, as of a melted sapphire, that comes just
before the dawn. One large star was shining next to the paling moon. He
watched the sky as it grew more and more transparent, and a fresh breeze blew
from the hills. It was the second night that he had spent without sleeping, but the
weariness of his body was as nothing compared with the aching emptiness which
possessed his spirit. Only three days ago the world had seemed to him starred
and gemmed like the Celestial City--an enchanted kingdom, waiting like a
sleeping Princess for the kiss of the adventurous conqueror; and now the colours
had faded, the dream had vanished, the sun seemed to be deprived of his glory,
and the summer had lost its sweetness.
His eye fell upon some papers which were lying loose upon his table. There was
an unfinished sonnet which he had begun three days ago. The octet was finished
and the first two lines of the sestet. He would never finish it now. It had no longer
any reason to be; for it was a cry to ears which were now deaf, a question, an
appeal, which demanded an answering smile, a consenting echo; and the lips,
the only lips which could frame that answer, were dumb. He remembered that
Casella, the musician, had asked him a week ago for the text of a canzone which
he had repeated to him one day. He had promised to let him have it. The promise
had entirely gone out of his mind. Then he reflected that because the ship of his
hopes and dreams had been wrecked there was no reason why he should
neglect his obligations to his fellow- travellers on the uncertain sea.
He sat down and transcribed by the light of the dawn in his exquisite handwriting
the stanzas which had been the fruit of a brighter day. And the memory of this
dead joy was exceedingly bitter to him, so that he sat musing for some time on
the unutterable sadness which the ghosts of perished joys bring to man in his
misery, and a line of Virgil buzzed in his brain; but not, as of yore, did it afford
him the luxury of causeless melancholy, but like a cruel finger it touched his open
wound. The ancients, he thought, knew how to bear misfortune.
Levius fit patientia
Quidquid corrigere est nefas.
As the words occurred to him he thought how much better equipped he was for
the bitter trial, since had he not the certain hope of another life, and of meeting
his beloved in the spaces of endless felicity? Surely then he should be able to
bear his sorrow with as great a fortitude as the pagan poets, who looked forward
to nothing but the dust; to whom the fabled dim country beyond the Styx was a
cheerless dream, and to whom a living dog upon the earth was more worthy of
envy than the King of all Elysium. He must learn of the ancients.
The magic of the lemon-coloured dawn had vanished now before the swift
daylight. Many bells were ringing in the city, and the first signs of life were stirring
in the streets. He searched for a little book, and read of the consolation which