Mittwoch, 7. September 2016

The Lily of Life illustrated by HELEN STRATTON

Helen Isobel Mansfield Ramsey Stratton (1867–1961) was born in Nowganj, Bundelkhand, Madhya Pradesh, India on 5 April 1867, the daughter of a surgeon in the Indian military service John Proudfoot Stratton (1830-1895) and Georgina Anne Anderson.
From 1896 Stratton became well known for bold and imaginative pen and ink illustrations to classic tales, her first success being Norman Gale's Songs for Little People, of which The Bookseller wrote in 1896 "Miss Stratton has headed, tailed and bordered the verses with a series of exquisitely pictured fancies". In 1898 she drew 167 illustrations for Walter Douglas Campbell's Beyond the Border, then a year later reached the peak of her illustration career with upwards of four hundred drawings for a finely crafted art nouveau quarto edition of The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, published by George Newnes  In the same year she collaborated with William Heath Robinson and three other illustrators (A D McCormick, A L Davis and A E Norbury) to create hundreds of illustrations for The Arabian Nights Entertainments, initially published in sections, then later in a large quarto edition. Although initially noted for her black and white illustrations she also illustrated in watercolour for works such as H.C. Herbertson's Heroic Legends (1908) and Jean Lang's A Book of Myths (1915). Her work for The Princess and the Goblin  by George MacDonald and its sequel The Princess and Curdie (1912) were particularly popular and have been frequently reprinted.

In the middle of the black water, growing in stately solitude, was a lily – a lily from which an intensely brilliant light seemed to pour. A lily so dazzling, so perfect, so supernaturally pure, that the only sensation that possessed the soul at the sight was the desire to sink on one's knees and adore it. It was larger than any lily Corona had ever seen, but of the same shape and kind as those she had in her own garden at home.

The castle was like a fairy castle, high up, overlooking the sea, and terrace upon terrace of green marble led down to the silver-sanded shore. There was a long flight of golden steps on each side, guarded by a line of tall cypresses; and when you looked up along it it seemed like Jacob's ladder. But only those who felt very nimble cared to climb it daily; others shook their heads and smiled, but preferred to think of Jacob's angels flying upwards, using their snow white wings, which is, it seems, not at all a tiring way of climbing stairs. The twin Princesses were as happy as the day was long, and although they were already sixteen, they still had many studies.
One day, as the sisters penetrated deep into the forest, they came to a shining pool of dark water, a sort of deep large hole, that looked as if it were bottomless. They were hot from their long gallop, so they slid off their faithful horses, and both stood leaning against them, as the thirsty animals stretched their glossy necks to reach the cool water.

All the birds sang around them, and a nightingale lifted its sweet voice and sang its eternal song of love – that song so sweet to happy lovers, so unutterably sad to those who stand alone. And the little lizards on the ground came out to look at the beautiful couple, the butterflies, blue and yellow and snow-white, circled around them, and a great, brown-eyed gazelle peered timidly through the branches; even a little white hare forgot its usual fear, and sat up on its hind legs, craning its neck to see.

The grey dawn grew out of the fearful darkness, and a pale gleam of light lit up the horizon. Corona once more raised her head, and her golden hair fell away like great sunlit waves from her face, which looked out between them like the face of a drowned corpse, her eyes wide open with the fear of all she had seen. All her blood seemed to have left her body, blanching even her lips. But suddenly thought came back to her clearly, and with it the vision of Ilario dying, whom she had gone forth to save.
The woman raised her head, and her eyes had a far-away look; and in a monotonous voice, as if recalling some chant of other days, she spoke:
"In a far-off country, which can be reached only by one person quite alone, who has made the promise of utter silence during all her wanderings, there stands in the middle of a strange and awful forest, inhabited by cruel beasts, a temple of snow-white marble, composed of six separate courts, each guarded by a different kind of wild beast. In the sixth and innermost court of all there lies a pool of dark water, and in the midst of the pool grows the Lily of Life; its whiteness is so intense, that human eye cannot look upon it without becoming blind.

He had given up questioning her, when he found that for some reason she could not or would not answer him, and lay there like a faithful dog, guarding her with all his jealous devotion, little understanding what a difficulty his presence caused, and how she was pondering in what way she could make him understand that he must not follow her. By degrees his gasping breath became calmer, and she noticed that he had dropped into a peaceful sleep. But Corona sat straight and still, her eyes fixed on the darkness, with the vision always before her eyes of the sick man on his bed of suffering, and of her sister lying with her head on his feet.

Suddenly she heard the sweet voice of the little bird, singing! singing! Oh, the joy of that sweet song! Did some kind angel send her the little bird, to keep her from despair? What was the magic power in that bird's voice, to make her feel life coming back each time it sang?

"What doest thou here in my region? How darest thou come and disturb my eternal silence? By what right does thy foot awaken echoes in this place of the forgotten? See here!" – and the man pointed to a place where a great number of rocks, all about the same size, gleamed in the cold light. "Look closer!" he ordered. "Those are not rocks – they are the bodies of all who disturbed my eternal rest with their voices and their echoing steps!"

That brave little voice sent forth all its perfection of sound, and Corona, quite unconsciously, climbed higher and higher. The nearer the top she came, the warmer was the air, and the sweeter did the little brown bird sing.

Again Corona shook her head, pointing to her wounded feet, her torn hands and clothes, making them understand that she was weary, weary unto death! The young man led her to a bed of skins in the corner, and all the time he kept gazing at her beautiful face; and shyly and with wonder he touched the tissue of her dark blue cloak, the torn but beautiful under-dress, and the golden belt round her waist. But when he saw the state of her bleeding feet he brought a rough, wooden basin, and very gently, with his awkward hands, bathed her feet in cold water, which made her wince with pain.

The moment she was seated the stag rose, and with a swinging stride started off, winding in and out of the trees, cleverly avoiding the branches which threatened to catch his enormous antlers. Corona held on by their help, and she felt strangely confident in this king of the forest who had offered his services to her in so grand and simple a manner. They advanced with great rapidity, Corona wondering if all were well, and if he were taking her where she wished to go. Soon the forest became so thick, the trees grew so close to each other, that they could advance but slowly, and at last the noble creature stopped, being unable to pass any longer, because of the size of his antlers.

She awoke only as the first streaks of dawn penetrated the cloak of darkness that night had laid over all things, good and bad. She woke with a start, and the sight she saw as her eyes opened was at once fearful and magnificent. In great circles, ten deep, innumerable wild beasts: black panthers and tigers, spotted leopards, and great brown, huge-headed bears, and, more awful than all, round the trunks of trees were wound huge serpents. Corona sat up, and the fearful reality came back to her awakened mind. But her little lamp still burnt bravely on the ground at her side, shedding but little light now that daybreak was at hand.
As she came near, the door seemed suddenly to tremble, and Corona, quite unintentionally, touched it with the flower.

"But," then, she sadly said to herself, "perhaps they are happier than I!" And she stretched her arms towards Heaven with a gesture of mute prayer. Everything there seemed to be mounting towards that blue sky of promise: the dark cypresses, the blue smoke in the precious bowls, Corona's outstretched arms, and the mute cry of supplication that came from her soul.

Gently they descended, always nearer and nearer to where he stood, and when he saw what it was that they were carrying it seemed to him as if his heart would break with a joy too great to bear. At last the swans tenderly laid down the dark-blue cloak, and there stood Corona, his mistress, his sweet mistress! but with something about her which awed him to silence.

And as she pronounced that word "me" Corona felt a dagger pierce her heart. Now she bent down over the still form, and gently, with the Lily of Life, touched his brow, his eyes, his lips, his heart, his hands, and hardly had she done so when a marvellous change came over the prostrate figure, the face took its usual colour, the rigid limbs relaxed, and suddenly he sat up, and then sprang to his feet, standing tall and slender and vigorous once more in his crimson gown. And with a cry of joy, "Mora!" he had thrown his arms round his bride, and her head was upon his breast, and his warm, living kisses covered her hair, her face, her lips. . . .
The night was dark, and Yno groped his way down the golden stairs, where the torches had burnt out and the garlands of roses were letting their petals fall softly one by one. He reached the seashore, and there – oh, God! – lay the sweet form of his mistress, and the first rays of the rising moon shone upon her face. It was deathly white, but her pale lips were parted as if with a smile of happiness, and both her beautiful hands were clasped upon her heart – her broken heart.

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