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Twice Told Tales

The Vision Of The Fountain
At fifteen I became a resident in a country village more than a hundred miles from home.
The morning after my arrival—a September morning, but warm and bright as any in
July—I rambled into a wood of oaks with a few walnut trees intermixed, forming the
closest shade above my head. The ground was rocky, uneven, overgrown with bushes and
clumps of young saplings and traversed only by cattle-paths. The track which I chanced
to follow led me to a crystal spring with a border of grass as freshly green as on May
morning, and overshadowed by the limb of a great oak. One solitary sunbeam found its
way down and played like a goldfish in the water.
From my childhood I have loved to gaze into a spring. The water filled a circular basin,
small but deep and set round with stones, some of which were covered with slimy moss,
the others naked and of variegated hue—reddish, white and brown. The bottom was
covered with coarse sand, which sparkled in the lonely sunbeam and seemed to illuminate
the spring with an unborrowed light. In one spot the gush of the water violently agitated
the sand, but without obscuring the fountain or breaking the glassiness of its surface. It
appeared as if some living creature were about to emerge—the naiad of the spring,
perhaps, in the shape of a beautiful young woman with a gown of filmy water-moss, a
belt of rainbow-drops and a cold, pure, passionless countenance. How would the beholder
shiver, pleasantly yet fearfully, to see her sitting on one of the stones, paddling her white
feet in the ripples and throwing up water to sparkle in the sun! Wherever she laid her
hands on grass and flowers, they would immediately be moist, as with morning dew.
Then would she set about her labors, like a careful housewife, to clear the fountain of
withered leaves, and bits of slimy wood, and old acorns from the oaks above, and grains
of corn left by cattle in drinking, till the bright sand in the bright water were like a
treasury of diamonds. But, should the intruder approach too near, he would find only the
drops of a summer shower glistening about the spot where he had seen her.
Reclining on the border of grass where the dewy goddess should have been, I bent
forward, and a pair of eyes met mine within the watery mirror. They were the reflection
of my own. I looked again, and, lo! another face, deeper in the fountain than my own
image, more distinct in all the features, yet faint as thought. The vision had the aspect of a
fair young girl with locks of paly gold. A mirthful expression laughed in the eyes and
dimpled over the whole shadowy countenance, till it seemed just what a fountain would
be if, while dancing merrily into the sunshine, it should assume the shape of woman.
Through the dim rosiness of the cheeks I could see the brown leaves, the slimy twigs, the
acorns and the sparkling sand. The solitary sunbeam was diffused among the golden hair,
which melted into its faint brightness and became a glory round that head so beautiful.
My description can give no idea how suddenly the fountain was thus tenanted and how
soon it was left desolate. I breathed, and there was the face; I held my breath, and it was
gone. Had it passed away or faded into nothing? I doubted whether it had ever been.