Gateway to the Classics: The Wonder-Book of Horses by James Baldwin
The Wonder-Book of Horses by  James Baldwin

Griffen the High Flyer

I. The Wizard of the Pyrenees

O LD Atlantes, the wizard of the Pyrenees, had built a tower for his laboratory on the topmost peak of a gray mountain. There was no magic about the tower at first—only solid walls of masonry with one narrow door and, at the top, a dome of glass, where the sage could sit and gaze at the stars. But the wise wizard hoped that by the exercise of his art he would be able to bring magic out of the place by-and-by. And so, if you could have looked in upon him on any fair night or rainy day, you would have seen him surrounded by retorts and alembics, and pots and vials, and wands, and magic circles and books, and signs of the zodiac, and the thousand and one things necessary to the wizard's trade. Scattered about the room, in no very orderly manner, were bundles of all kinds of herbs, ingots of gold and silver, thin sheets of tin and copper and zinc, curiously-shaped bits of colored glass, rolls of wire, and many a strange instrument and tool, the uses of which were known only to Atlantes himself. Sometimes the people in the valley below saw thick clouds of black smoke coming out of the chimney of the wizard's den, as they called it; and belated travelers, groping along the highway on dark nights, reported that they had seen sheets of flame and balls of red fire shooting from the high tower.

Atlantes had not been long in his lofty perch before he was the terror of all the country round about. When he ventured down into the valley, the poor folk who saw him would cross themselves and mutter prayers to the Virgin and look at his feet to see whether they were not hoofed. Men would go miles out of their way rather than venture along the highroad that ran directly beneath his aery; and strange tales were told of children and knights and ladies that had been spirited away by his enchantments and held in captivity by him. But old Atlantes cared little for what people said about him, so long as they did not disturb him in his studies and experiments.

Like other alchemists, he hoped that his experiments would some day lead him to the discovery of the philosopher's stone, which would transmute all the baser metals into gold, and hence the most of his studies were directed to that end. He thought that, if he could only get the smallest vialful of the fluid called lightning, and mix it with some other ingredients which he had at hand, the secret would be within his grasp. But how to obtain the lightning-fluid was the puzzle—and having obtained it, how could he control it until the mixture should be effected?

One night, when a great storm was raging in the mountains, and the thunder was rolling from peak to peak, and flashes of lightning filled the air with terror, he tried a very odd experiment which he had been thinking of for a long time. He understood very well the terrible nature of the lightning-fluid in its free state, and hence he was wise enough not to risk bringing it into his laboratory until it was properly confined. He had arranged, therefore, for trying the experiment at some distance from his tower. There he had hewn a deep cavity in the rock, within which he now placed a huge jar and several pots containing some objects the names of which he would never disclose. I think that among them there were several strips of copper and zinc, a solution of potash, a bar of soft iron bent into the shape of a horseshoe, and possibly some other things now well known to electricians. At any rate, he arranged them very carefully, and having laid a slab of marble over the cavity, went back to his tower to await what might happen.

In the morning the storm had cleared away, the sky was cloudless, and the wizard, as he stepped from his door, could hear the peasants singing in the harvest-fields far over the hills. When he called to mind the experiment of the night before, he smiled at his ludicrous folly, as it now seemed to him. And yet, curious to know what the storm might have done with his magic mixture, he went out and lifted the marble slab. Had a flash of lightning really issued from the cavity, he could not have been more astounded. For, from the urn wherein he had placed, as I suppose, the zinc and the copper, and the potash solution, there sprang a white horse with great wings, from which the sunlight reflected all the colors of the rainbow.

Any other man would have been much more astounded than Atlantes. But you must know that he was acquainted with all the lore of the ancients, and he recognized the horse at once as the modern descendant of Pegasus, the carrier of the thunderbolts of mighty Zeus. He was happier than if he had really discovered the philosopher's stone. He called the horse Griffen, and the airy creature submitted itself at once to his mastership.

II. The Castle in Spain

And now the wizard, with the aid of his winged steed, began to build a marvelous castle of magic among the mountains of Spain. The structure was finished in a day and a night, and, viewed from the plains below, it appeared to be as beautiful as a dream and as delicate and ethereal as the white clouds of a midsummer day.

The country people were not more surprised to see the shining walls and lofty turrets looming up from the hitherto barren summit of the mountains than they were astounded at the unwonted sight of a horse winging its way in mid-air with the white-bearded wizard seated on its back. Knights and soldiers riding through the country wondered what feudal lord had built his stronghold so high above the plain; but, search as they would, they could find no road nor even so much as a pathway by which any one could ascend to it. Nobody would have been surprised to see the castle disappear as suddenly as it had come into being; but there it stood day after day, its roof and battlements gleaming in the sunlight, and the blue smoke rising from its tall chimneys. It seemed to have come to stay.

But what was the use of a noble castle without any noble men or fair women to live in it? If Atlantes had been less wise, this question would have given him some concern; but he had built the palace for inhabitants, and he understood exactly how to encourage immigration into his territories. He might have filled his halls with phantoms bred of his own fanciful dreams and as unsubstantial as the castle itself; but he was too much of a realist for that. He was himself a creature of flesh and blood, of brawn and brains, and he felt that only men and women of the same persuasion were fit to enjoy the delights of his airy palace. To obtain the kind of guests which he preferred, therefore, he had recourse to a cunning stratagem.

Early every morning, with his great spectacles astride his nose and a big book in his hands, he would mount his winged horse and soar out over the country to some spot where a noble cavalier or a fair, high-born dame would be likely to pass during the day. There he would wait until his unsuspecting victim drew near, when the horse would suddenly alight and block up the road. Then the wizard, still sitting in his saddle, would begin to read aloud from the book. At the sound of the very first word, the knight or fair lady would forget everything that had ever happened before, would forget home, friends, and name, and think only of the honey-sweet tones that issued from the magician's lips. When the last words were pronounced the victim would come meekly forward, and, being lifted upon the pillion behind Atlantes, would be firmly strapped to the saddle. Then the good horse would spread his rainbow wings, and carry his double burden to the great air-castle on the Spanish mountain.

Thus the wizard filled his halls with the nobility of France and Spain. Nobody who once entered the golden gateway cared to go out again: each one lived in utter forgetfulness of his past life, thinking only of the delights of each passing hour. He could not even recall his own name, and he never thought of asking for the names of others.

Everything was done that could be done for the comfort and amusement of the wizard's guests. In the great courtyard was a fountain playing in a huge marble basin supported by crouching lions. Beyond it were pleasure gardens filled with flowers and fruits. The interior of the palace was in keeping with its marvelous exterior. The floors were of marble or were covered with the softest carpets, the walls were hung with the finest tapestry, the ceilings glittered with many a gem. Soft couches invited everyone to rest. The sweetest music floated on the perfumed air. The tables in the dining-hall were loaded with delicacies. Servants moved hither and thither, attentive to every call. What mortal would wish to awaken from such dreams of enchantment, to return again to the world of war and bloodshed and toil and trouble?

III. The Foiled Enchanter

It is altogether possible that Atlantes would have robbed all Europe of its chivalry and beauty, had not something occurred to put an end to his schemes. But as it often happens to mice and men, so also did it happen to the wizard. The fact is that he had grown tired of sallying out every day on Griffen's back in search of new guests, and so he had planned another way of entrapping unwary cavaliers into his prison-house. After much labor and thought he cleared away a narrow bridle-path from the highroad at the foot of the mountain to the gates of his castle at the summit. The lower end of this pathway was hidden in a thicket close by a gushing spring of water, and so cunningly was the whole thing constructed that nobody, looking up from below, would notice the smallest sign of a path; and yet if knight or footman once entered the hidden road, he could follow it with the greatest ease to the end.

Old Atlantes, like a spider in his den, sat in his high towers and kept a sharp lookout for his prey. Whenever he saw any knight riding along the highroad who appeared to be worthy of becoming his guest, he devised some means of enticing him to enter the bridle-path. After that, of course, it was very easy to persuade him to ascend until he had safely entered the great trap that had been set for him at the top. This new scheme seemed to succeed wonderfully well, and in a short time there was scarcely a horseman of any note in all Spain who had not fallen into the snare.

It so happened one warm day in summer that a famous English traveler named Astolpho stopped at the spring to rest and to bathe his hot face in the flowing stream. He rode a beautiful black horse named Rabican, which the King of Cathay had lately given him as a token of his esteem. This horse he left in the shade of some trees at a little distance from the road, while he returned to the spring to quench his thirst. He laid his spear and shield down upon the ground, and by them placed the heavy helmet that he had lifted from his head. Then, on hands and knees, he leaned over to drink. But scarcely had his lips touched the water, when a noise caused him to look around.

A gawky countryman had loosened Rabican and was in the act of leaping upon his back. Astolpho quickly seized his spear and ran to save his horse and take the thief. But the rogue was not so easily captured. He entered the bridle-path and urged the horse up the steep ascent. Astolpho followed, always upon the point of laying hold of the horse, but always just a little too far behind. Soon he was surprised to find himself at the top of the mountain and at the very entrance to the great white castle whose towers he had seen and admired from below. The gate was open, as if beckoning him to enter, and Rabican and his rider had already disappeared within. Astolpho, not minded to lose so good a steed, ran boldly onward into the courtyard.

Some knights were there, pitching horseshoes, but they were so busy with their game that they did not notice his entrance. He looked into the banquet hall. A number of lords and ladies were seated about the table, feasting and making merry. He ran into the garden. There was no Rabican there. He peeped into the cellars. Hogsheads of wine and barrels of beef and pork were ranged about the walls, and red-faced kitchen servants were running here and there; but there were no signs of either the horse or the thief. He asked a lubberly boy to show him the way to the stables, but the fellow merely stared at him and made no answer. As he went into the courtyard again, an old man with long, flowing beard came out with a book in his hand and began to read.

But Astolpho, too, had a book—a book which a prince of India had given him, and which he always carried with him—and he was proof against all enchantments of that kind. He knew at once that he had been entrapped in a magic castle, and without heeding the wizard in the least, he turned to his own book to learn from it how he might escape. It was a kind of guidebook to all the houses of enchantment in the world, and he soon found the chapter that was devoted to the air-castles of Spain. The directions were very plain:

"How to Foil the Enchanter and Set his Prisoners Free. Raise the white stone slab that lies beneath the doorway. The spirit that is pent beneath will escape and the palace will go up in smoke."

It was all very simple, certainly. Astolpho had no trouble in finding the white stone, and he began prying it up with his spear. Atlantes, greatly alarmed, cried out to the watchman to open the gate and let the intruder go; and in order to drive him out he tried all the new enchantments that he could think of. The guests, hearing the unwonted uproar, came crowding out to see what new thing had been invented for their amusement. All wore curious colored glasses that the wizard had given them, and to each of them Astolpho appeared in a different form. To one he seemed a giant; to another a dragon; to a third an ugly dwarf; and to still another a savage beast. All with one purpose rushed upon him with swords and sticks and stones, anxious to drive him away from their palace of pleasure.

It would have gone hard with Astolpho, had he not thought of a magic horn which he wore suspended by a gold chain about his neck. It was the gift of a famous enchantress, and was worth a thousand swords. He put it to his lips and blew a single blast. The sound was so fearful that Atlantes and all his guests and servitors took to their heels, and hastened to hide themselves in the inner chambers of the palace. It was then but the work of a few moments for Astolpho to raise the white stone. It revealed the entrance to a spacious chamber in which were a thousand curious things—burning lamps, magic circles, golden bridles, and the like—and at the farther end, tethered by a golden cord, was our old friend Griffen, fully caparisoned with saddle and bridle, ready for a flight among the clouds. What was Rabican compared to such a steed as this? Astolpho lost no time in leading him from the chamber.

At the very moment that Griffen emerged from the underground chamber, a clap of thunder rent the air, and lo! the wonderful palace of enchantment disappeared. Not one sign of the beautiful structure was left to show where it had stood. The barren rock, which formed the summit of the mountain, was as smooth and clean as if it had been swept by the winds and polished by the hail. And there were the knights and fair ladies who had so lately been the guests of Atlantes, standing bewildered and frightened and cold on the very edge of the dizzy cliff. Soon, as if by instinct, they turned about and filed sadly and silently down the narrow bridle-way to the plain. Once safely on the highroad, they betook themselves their several ways, but neither their memory nor their proper senses came back to them until each had reached his own home.

As for old Atlantes, he skulked down the mountain, and made his way on foot across the country to the high-built tower in the Pyrenees, where he was when we first met him. And there, I have been told, he was content to stay for the rest of his life, busy among his retorts and alembics and herbs and minerals and signs of the zodiac.

IV. The Flight to the Moon

And Griffen? You should have seen how proudly he soared into the sky with brave Astolpho on his back. He and his master became famous as the greatest travelers of their time. Distances were nothing to them. Mountains and seas and broad rivers were no barriers to hinder them. At one time they journeyed northward above the vineyards and fields of fair France, and stopped for an hour in Paris, where Charlemagne was then reigning in the height of his power. There Astolpho learned that Orlando, the noblest of the men of his time, had lost his senses and had wandered away to Africa, or somewhere else, in search of them.

Astolpho set off at once to find him, resolved that he would never rest until he had brought the lost hero back to France. And so the gallant Griffen winged his way back toward Spain; he hovered for a few minutes above the wizard's high-built tower, while his rider consulted with Atlantes about the direction he should take; he turned eastward and skirted the vine-clad hills of Provence; he floated high above the snow-clad Alps, and neighed shrilly as he passed over Genoa, nestled between the mountains and the sea; he dropped one of his quills in Florence, and whinnied with delight as he saw the City of Seven Hills sleeping beneath him; and, all the time, Astolpho sat astride of him, with pen in hand, inditing wonderful stories of his adventures in foreign lands.

They alighted only when they were hungry, for the horse never tired, and Astolpho had only to look at a city to know all about its history, its people and their customs, its public buildings and its laws, and whether any demented knight was wandering about its streets. Leaving Italy, they passed over the Mediterranean, flinging down another quill at Malta, and throwing side glances toward Athens and Constantinople. Speeding over old Egypt, from north to south, Astolpho read the history of thirty centuries in the Pyramids, and wise Griffen solved the mystery of the Sphinx. Finally, after topping the Abyssinian mountains, they alighted in the mythical land of Prester John, and Astolpho at once introduced himself to that wise monarch, and stated the business which had brought him thus to the very ends of the earth.

"Great king," he said, "we had in our country a knight, noble, and brave, and kind, who in an unlucky moment had the misfortune to lose the greater part of his senses. I have searched for them in every nook and corner of the known world, but, alas, I cannot find them. The unfortunate knight himself is at this moment somewhere in the Dark Continent, useless alike to himself and his country. As a last resort I have come to you, knowing how wise you are, to ask whether there are not some superfluous senses lying about, unclaimed, in your kingdom."

"That is a fine horse that you ride," said the king. "He must be a swift traveler."

"He is very fleet, indeed," answered Astolpho. "Why, sir, he can girdle the earth in forty minutes."

"Then, how long would it take him to fly to the moon?"

"He has never been there, but I suppose it would not require very long—say, not more than twenty minutes—half as long as to go round the earth."

"Then, if you are willing to make the journey," said Prester John, "I doubt not but you will find there the thing that you are looking for. For the moon, you must know, is the attic chamber of the world, and everything that is lost finds its way there sooner or later. Lost pins, lost stitches, lost opportunities, lost sheep, lost time, lost causes, lost money, lost senses—they all go to the moon, where the three weird Sisters bottle them up and label them, and lay them on the shelf till called for. There is only one thing that is never given back again, no matter how loudly its owner demands it."

"What is that?"

"Lost time," said old Prester, solemnly; "and I would advise you to lose none of it if you would go to the moon to recover your friend's senses."

Astolpho, taking the hint, threw himself astride of Griffen, and the horse soared aloft toward the full moon, which had just risen, round and bright, above the eastern hills.

But why should I weary you with the story of that marvelous flight? And why need I tell you how the brave Astolpho found Orlando's senses just as the wise king had said he would? Neither would you care to hear how Griffen winged his flight back to the earth again; nor how his master searched through darkest Africa until he had found his demented friend; nor how Orlando took his recovered senses as a child takes nauseous medicine; nor how good Griffen, with proud Astolpho on his back, finally wended his way over the sea and land to the noble island of Britain. I will not tell you of any of these things, nor of any of the later journeys of the two famous travelers. For you will find the whole story truthfully narrated in the books which Astolpho wrote with a pen plucked from the gallant Griffen's wing.

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