Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version

The Star
He had long ago retired from public life, and in his Tuscan villa, where he now
lived quite alone, seldom seeing his friends, he never regretted the strenuous
days of his activity. He had done his work well; he had been more than a
competent public servant; as Pro-Consul he proved a pillar of strength to the
State, a man whose name at one time was on men's lips as having left plenty
where he had found dearth, and order and justice where corruption, oppression,
and anarchy, had once run riot. His retirement had been somewhat of a surprise
to his friends, for although he was ripe in years, his mental powers were
undiminished and his body was active and vigorous. But his withdrawal from
public life was due not so much to fatigue or to a longing for leisure as to a lack
of sympathy, which he felt to be growing stronger and stronger as the years went
by, with the manners and customs, the mode of thought, and the manner of living
of the new world and the new generation which was growing up around him.
Nurtured as he had been in the old school and the strong traditions which taught
an austere simplicity of life, a contempt for luxury and show, he was bewildered
and saddened by the rapid growth of riches, the shameless worship of wealth,
the unrestrained passion for amusement at all costs, the thirst for new
sensations, and the ostentatious airs of the youth of the day, who seemed to be
born disillusioned and whose palates were jaded before they knew the taste of
food. He found much to console him in literature, not only in the literature of the
past but in the literature of his day, but here again he was beset with misgivings
and haunted by forebodings. He felt that the State had reached its zenith both in
material prosperity and intellectual achievement, and that all the future held in
reserve was decline and decay. This thought was ever present with him; in the
vast extension of empire he foresaw the inevitable disintegration, and he
wondered in a melancholy fashion what would be the fate of mankind when the
Empire, dismembered and rotten, should become the prey of the Barbarians.
It was in the winter of the second year after his retirement that his melancholy
increased to a pitch of almost intolerable heaviness. That winter was an
extraordinarily mild one, and even during the coldest month he strolled every
evening after he had supped on the terrace walk which was before the portico.
He was strolling one night on the terrace pondering on the fate of mankind, and
more especially on the life--if there was such a thing--beyond the grave. He was
not a superstitious man, but, saturated with tradition, he was a scrupulous
observer of religious feast, custom, and ritual. He had lately been disturbed by
what he considered to be an ill-favoured omen. One night --it was twelve nights
ago he reckoned--the statues of Pan and Apollo, standing in his dining-room,
which was at the end of the portico, had fallen to the ground without any
apparent cause and had been shattered into fragments. And it had seemed to
him that the crash of this accident was immediately followed by a low and
prolonged wail, which appeared to come from nowhere in particular and yet to fill
the world; the noise of the moan had seemed to be quite close to him, and as it
died away its echo had seemed to be miles and miles distant. He thought it had