“Let it pass,” he said, “pass now, pass utterly.”
In the momentary silence the old man coughed, then waited with eager eyes; and the long long hum of London hummed as it always has since first the reed-huts were set up by the river, changing its note at times but always humming, louder now than it was in years gone by, but humming night and day though its voice be cracked with age; so it hummed on.
And the old man turned him round to his trembling acolyte and terribly said as he sank into the earth: “You have not brought me the heart of the toad that dwelleth in Arabia nor by the mountains of Bethany!”
I sat one April in Provence on a small hill above an ancient town that Goth and Vandal as yet have forborne to “bring up to date.”
On the hill was an old worn castle with a watch-tower, and a well with narrow steps and water in it still.
The watch-tower, staring South with neglected windows, faced a broad valley full of the pleasant twilight and the hum of evening things: it saw the fires of wanderers blink from the hills, beyond them the long forest black with pines, one star appearing, and darkness settling slowly down on Var.
Sitting there listening to the green frogs croaking, hearing far voices clearly but all transmuted by evening, watching the windows in the little town glimmering one by one, and seeing the gloaming dwindle solemnly into night, a great many things fell from mind that seem important by day, and evening in their place planted strange fancies.
Little winds had arisen and were whispering to and fro, it grew cold, and I was about to descend the hill, when I heard a voice behind me saying, “Beware, beware.”
So much the voice appeared a part of the evening that I did not turn round at first; it was like voices that one hears in sleep and thinks to be of one’s dream. And the word was monotonously repeated, in French.
When I turned round I saw an old man with a horn. He had a white beard marvellously long, and still went on saying slowly, “Beware, beware.” He had clearly just come from the tower by which he stood, though I had heard no footfall. Had a man come stealthily upon me at such an hour and in so lonesome a place I had certainly felt surprised; but I saw almost at once that he was a spirit, and he seemed with his uncouth horn and his long white beard and that noiseless step of his to be so native to that time and place that I spoke to him as one does to some fellow-traveller who asks you if you mind having the window up.
I asked him what there was to beware of.
“Of what should a town beware,” he said, “but the Saracens?”
“Saracens?” I said.
“Yes, Saracens, Saracens,” he answered and brandished his horn.