A House of Pomegranates, Oscar Wilde
A House of Pomegranates
Oscar Wilde
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A House of Pomegranates is a collection of fairy tales, written by Oscar Wilde, that was published in 1891 as a second collection for The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888). Wilde once said that this collection was "intended neither for the British child nor the British public." The stories included in this collection are as follows: The Young King, The Birthday of the Infanta, The Fisherman and his Soul and The Star-Child.

A House
Of Pomegranates

Oscar Wilde

The Young King

To Margaret Lady Brooke
[The Ranee of Sarawak]

It was the night before the dayfixed for his coronation, and the young King was sitting alone inhis beautiful chamber. His courtiers had all taken theirleave of him, bowing their heads to the ground, according to theceremonious usage of the day, and had retired to the Great Hallof the Palace, to receive a few last lessons from the Professorof Etiquette; there being some of them who had still quitenatural manners, which in a courtier is, I need hardly say, avery grave offence.

The lad — for he was only a lad, being but sixteen yearsof age — was not sorry at their departure, and had flunghimself back with a deep sigh of relief on the soft cushions ofhis embroidered couch, lying there, wild-eyed and open-mouthed,like a brown woodland Faun, or some young animal of the forestnewly snared by the hunters.

And, indeed, it was the hunters who had found him, coming uponhim almost by chance as, bare-limbed and pipe in hand, he wasfollowing the flock of the poor goatherd who had brought him up,and whose son he had always fancied himself to be. Thechild of the old King’s only daughter by a secret marriagewith one much beneath her in station — a stranger, some said,who, by the wonderful magic of his lute-playing, had made theyoung Princess love him; while others spoke of an artist fromRimini, to whom the Princess had shown much, perhaps too muchhonour, and who had suddenly disappeared from the city, leavinghis work in the Cathedral unfinished — he had been, when buta week old, stolen away from his mother’s side, as sheslept, and given into the charge of a common peasant and hiswife, who were without children of their own, and lived in aremote part of the forest, more than a day’s ride from thetown. Grief, or the plague, as the court physician stated,or, as some suggested, a swift Italian poison administered in acup of spiced wine, slew, within an hour of her wakening, thewhite girl who had given him birth, and as the trusty messengerwho bare the child across his saddle-bow stooped from his wearyhorse and knocked at the rude door of the goatherd’s hut,the body of the Princess was being lowered into an open gravethat had been dug in a deserted churchyard, beyond the citygates, a grave where it was said that another body was alsolying, that of a young man of marvellous and foreign beauty,whose hands were tied behind him with a knotted cord, and whosebreast was stabbed with many red wounds.

Such, at least, was the story that men whispered to eachother. Certain it was that the old King, when on hisdeathbed, whether moved by remorse for his great sin, or merelydesiring that the kingdom should not pass away from his line, hadhad the lad sent for, and, in the presence of the Council, hadacknowledged him as his heir.

And it seems that from the very first moment of hisrecognition he had shown signs of that strange passion for beautythat was destined to have so great an influence over hislife. Those who accompanied him to the suite of rooms setapart for his service, often spoke of the cry of pleasure thatbroke from his lips when he saw the delicate raiment and richjewels that had been prepared for him, and of the almost fiercejoy with which he flung aside his rough leathern tunic and coarsesheepskin cloak. He missed, indeed, at times the finefreedom of his forest life, and was always apt to chafe at thetedious Court ceremonies that occupied so much of each day, butthe wonderful palace — Joyeuse, as they calledit — of which he now found himself lord, seemed to him to bea new world fresh-fashioned for his delight; and as soon as hecould escape from the council-board or audience-chamber, he wouldrun down the great staircase, with its lions of gilt bronze andits steps of bright porphyry, and wander from room to room, andfrom corridor to corridor, like one who was seeking to find inbeauty an anodyne from pain, a sort of restoration fromsickness.

Upon these journeys of discovery, as he would callthem — and, indeed, they were to him real voyages through amarvellous land, he would sometimes be accompanied by the slim,fair-haired Court pages, with their floating mantles, and gayfluttering ribands; but more often he would be alone, feelingthrough a certain quick instinct, which was almost a divination,that the secrets of art are best learned in secret, and thatBeauty, like Wisdom, loves the lonely worshipper.

Many curious stories were related about him at thisperiod. It was said that a stout Burgo-master, who had cometo deliver a florid oratorical address on behalf of the citizensof the town, had caught sight of him kneeling in real adorationbefore a great picture that had just been brought from Venice,and that seemed to herald the worship of some new gods. Onanother occasion he had been missed for several hours, and aftera lengthened search had been discovered in a little chamber inone of the northern turrets of the palace gazing, as one in atrance, at a Greek gem carved with the figure of Adonis. Hehad been seen, so the tale ran, pressing his warm lips to themarble brow of an antique statue that had been discovered in thebed of the river on the occasion of the building of the stonebridge, and was inscribed with the name of the Bithynian slave ofHadrian. He had passed a whole night in noting the effectof the moonlight on a silver image of Endymion.

All rare and costly materials had certainly a greatfascination for him, and in his eagerness to procure them he hadsent away many merchants, some to traffic for amber with therough fisher-folk of the north seas, some to Egypt to look forthat curious green turquoise which is found only in the tombs ofkings, and is said to possess magical properties, some to Persiafor silken carpets and painted pottery, and others to India tobuy gauze and stained ivory, moonstones and bracelets of jade,sandal-wood and blue enamel and shawls of fine wool.

But what had occupied him most was the robe he was to wear athis coronation, the robe of tissued gold, and the ruby-studdedcrown, and the sceptre with its rows and rings of pearls. Indeed, it was of this that he was thinking to-night, as he layback on his luxurious couch, watching the great pinewood log thatwas burning itself out on the open hearth. The designs,which were from the hands of the most famous artists of the time,had been submitted to him many months before, and he had givenorders that the artificers were to toil night and day to carrythem out, and that the whole world was to be searched for jewelsthat would be worthy of their work. He saw himself in fancystanding at the high altar of the cathedral in the fair raimentof a King, and a smile played and lingered about his boyish lips,and lit up with a bright lustre his dark woodland eyes.

After some time he rose from his seat, and leaning against thecarved penthouse of the chimney, looked round at the dimly-litroom. The walls were hung with rich tapestries representingthe Triumph of Beauty. A large press, inlaid with agate andlapis-lazuli, filled one corner, and facing the window stood acuriously wrought cabinet with lacquer panels of powdered andmosaiced gold, on which were placed some delicate goblets ofVenetian glass, and a cup of dark-veined onyx. Pale poppieswere broidered on the silk coverlet of the bed, as though theyhad fallen from the tired hands of sleep, and tall reeds offluted ivory bare up the velvet canopy, from which great tufts ofostrich plumes sprang, like white foam, to the pallid silver ofthe fretted ceiling. A laughing Narcissus in green bronzeheld a polished mirror above its head. On the table stood aflat bowl of amethyst.

Outside he could see the huge dome of the cathedral, loominglike a bubble over the shadowy houses, and the weary sentinelspacing up and down on the misty terrace by the river. Faraway, in an orchard, a nightingale was singing. A faintperfume of jasmine came through the open window. He brushedhis brown curls back from his forehead, and taking up a lute, lethis fingers stray across the cords. His heavy eyelidsdrooped, and a strange languor came over him. Never beforehad he felt so keenly, or with such exquisite joy, the magic andthe mystery of beautiful things.

When midnight sounded from the clock-tower he touched a bell,and his pages entered and disrobed him with much ceremony,pouring rose-water over his hands, and strewing flowers on hispillow. A few moments after that they had left the room, hefell asleep.

And as he slept he dreamed a dream, and this was hisdream.

He thought that he was standing in a long, low attic, amidstthe whir and clatter of many looms. The meagre daylightpeered in through the grated windows, and showed him the gauntfigures of the weavers bending over their cases. Pale,sickly-looking children were crouched on the hugecrossbeams. As the shuttles dashed through the warp theylifted up the heavy battens, and when the shuttles stopped theylet the battens fall and pressed the threads together. Their faces were pinched with famine, and their thin hands shookand trembled. Some haggard women were seated at a tablesewing. A horrible odour filled the place. The airwas foul and heavy, and the walls dripped and streamed withdamp.

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