Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version

The Conqueror
When the ancient gods were turned out of Olympus, and the groan of dying Pan
shook the world like an earthquake, none of the fallen deities was so
disconsolate as Proserpine. She wandered across the world, assuming now this
shape and now that, but nowhere could she find a resting-place or a home. In the
Southern country which she regarded as her own, whatever shape or disguise
she assumed, whether that of a gleaner or of an old woman begging for alms, the
country people would scent something uncanny about her and chase her from
the place. Thus it was that she left the Southern country, which she loved; she
said farewell to the azure skies, the hills covered with corn and fringed
everywhere with rose bushes, the white oxen, the cypress, the olive, the vine, the
croaking frogs, and the million fireflies; and she sought the green pastures and
the woods of a Northern country.
One evening, not long after her arrival (it was Midsummer Eve), as she was
wandering in a thick wood, she noticed that the trees and the under-growth were
twinkling with a myriad soft flames which reminded her of the fireflies of her own
country, and presently she perceived that these flames were stars which, soft as
dew and bright as moonbeams, formed the diadems crowning the hair of
unearthly shapes. These shapes were like those of men and maidens,
transfigured and rendered strange and delicate, as light as foam, and radiant as
dragonflies hovering over a pool. They were rimmed with rainbow- coloured films,
and sometimes they flew and sometimes they danced, but they rarely seemed to
touch the ground. And as Proserpine approached them, in the sad majesty of her
fallen divinity, they gathered round her in a circle and bowed down before her.
And one of them, taller than the rest, advanced towards her and said:--
"We are the Fairies, and for a long time we have been mournful, for we have lost
our Queen, our beautiful Queen. She loved a mortal, and on this account she
was banished from Fairyland, nor may she ever revisit the haunt and the
kingdom that were hers. But Merlin, the oldest and the wisest of the wizards, told
us we should find another Queen, and that we should know her by the poppies in
her hair, the whiteness of her brow, and the stillness of her eyes, and with or
without such tokens we should know, as soon as we set eyes on her, that it was
she and no other who was to be our Queen. And now we know that it was you
and no other. Therefore shall you be our Queen and rule over us until he comes
who, Merlin said, shall conquer your kingdom and deliver its secrets to the mortal
world. Then shall you abandon the kingdom of the Fairies--the everlasting Limbo
shall receive you."
* * * * *
It was one summer's day a long time ago, many and many years after Proserpine
had become Queen of the Fairies, that a butcher's apprentice called William was
enjoying a holiday, and strolling in the woods with no other purpose than to stroll
and enjoy the fresh air and the cool leaves and the song of the birds. William
loved the sights and sounds of the country; unlike many boys of his age, he was
not deeply versed in the habits of birds and beasts, but devoted his spare time to