The Soul of Kol Nikon
The Irish Review (Dublin)
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... ree sweetest years of Kol's existence. No moment was ever to be quite so golden in his heart as that when for the first time he got his two arms round his mother's form and staggered with her through the storm-drifts to their dwelling. His blood ran a pman of joy through his body as he realized that the beloved burden did not shrink from the strength that bore it. Exquisite days bloomed out of the darkness that lay ahead of him; days wherein he was to clothe and feed and in all ways tend his mother as no other living creature possessed the right or the will to do. For two weeks she lay, a feeble, scarcely-breathing frame, in the bed where Kol had laid her with strained and aching arms. Neighbours came in a few days to see what ailed the woman withdrawn from their midst. Kol let none further than the door, and would not have permitted any thus far but that their insistence warned him of the danger in leaving it unsatisfied. " There she lies," said he, "and she lives-you see it for yourselves. Ay, and she will live, and now that is enough. We don't need you here." " She must have care," they protested, drawing away from his glowering gaze. "She will have it," answered Kol, and they shrank still more before the wild joy that chased the sombreness from his countenance. A fiend, they said afterwards, must have inspired this gloating delight in the calamity which had befallen his mother. Kol stepped closer. "Hark ye, my so sudden neighbourly friends. I want none visiting under my roof, or for sure I'll be visiting under your own. That's playing the game evenly, Who'll be first to open his door to the Changeling?" He grinned in their faces, and they fled in horrid panic from the house. Thereafter Kol and his mother were left in singular peace. Twelve days later Kol lifted his mother from her bed, dressed her, and sat her in a chair in the sunlight slanting through the window. She was, as has been said, quite sightless and unhearing; a semi-paralysis also possessed her, and her speech had become little 375 This content downloaded from 195.34. About the time when Kol came into his manhood, he began to realise that his music had ceased to satisfy his mother's needs. One old theme after another he essayed, songs that had given her three years of perfect joy, but somewhere, somehow, they failed to bring her a thing she -was now desiring with all the force of her being. The key to her mood became Kol's difficult riddle. He thought perhaps it was death she desired, and he played death as the beautiful thing it can be: but it was not that. He took again to wandering in the forest by the hour, searching, pondering, striving towards discovery. " Something I don't know," said Kol. "Something I don't know. . . . Berchta !" he cried aloud, "can't you teach me ?" He lay with his ear to the earth, but found no answer. Bow to fiddle, he demanded the forms of the fancy-folk from the elements. " What's to do, brotherkin ?" " My mother's need: name me it." Their vanishing was like the sound of sighing. " You cannot ! Berchta cannot !" he muttered. He perceived a wizened form limping into the shadows. "Wittekind ! tell me !" begged Kol. The little grey man turned his head, shook it sadly, laid two fingers upon his heart, and was gone. " Something human, then," said Kol, and walked away into the village, thinking until his mind became a streak of pain behiihd his forehead. He went straight to the house of the oldest woman in the place. Her great-grandchildren were numbered amongst Kol's friends. Lifting the latch he walked through the door without knocking. The ancient woman he sought sat brooding in the chimney. A young one near her was stirring a pot over the fire. She turned sharply and, with a scream, waved her ladle crosswise in the air. Kol's face took on an extra pallor, and he flattened himself against the wall. " I'm here for no ill !" he stammered. " Then be gone for good !" cried she, and advanced upon him.