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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Young Wife
By Felix Dahn (1834–1912)
 
From ‘Felicitas’: Translation of Mary Joanna Safford

IT was a beautiful June evening. The sun, setting in golden radiance, cast its glittering rays from the west, from Vindelicia, upon the Hill of Mercury and the modest villa crowning it.  1
  Only a subdued murmur reached this spot from the highway, along which ever and anon a two-wheeled cart, drawn by Norican oxen, was moving homeward from the western gate of Juvavum,—the porta Vindelica,—as were also the country people who had been selling vegetables, hens, and doves in the Forum of Hercules during the day just ended.  2
  So it was quiet and peaceful on the hill; beyond the stone wall, which was lower than the height of a man, and which inclosed the garden, nothing was heard save the rippling of the little rivulet which, after leaving its marble basin at its source, fed the fountain, and then wound in graceful curves through the carefully kept garden, and finally near the entrance, which was surmounted by Hermes but destitute of door or grating, passed under a gap in the wall and flowed down the hill in a stone channel.  3
  At the foot of this hill, towards the southeast, in the direction of the city, lay carefully tilled vegetable gardens and orchards, luxuriant green meadows, and fields of spelt, a grain brought by the Romans to the land of the barbarians.  4
  Behind the villa, on the ascending hillside, towered and rustled a beautiful grove of beeches, from whose depths echoed the metallic notes of the yellow thrush.  5
  The scene was so beautiful, so peaceful; only in the west and the southeast could a dark cloud be seen.  6
  From the open gateway a straight path, strewn with white sand, led through the spacious garden, and was bordered with lofty evergreen oaks and clumps of yew-trees; the latter, according to a long prevailing fashion, clipped into all sorts of geometrical figures,—a token of taste, or the lack of it, the Rococo age did not invent, but merely borrowed from the gardens of the emperors.  7
  Statues stood at regular distances along the way from the gate to the entrance of the dwelling; nymphs, a Flora, a Silvanus, a Mercury,—poor specimens of work executed in plaster; fat Crispus manufactured them by the dozen in his workshop on the square of Vulcanus at Juvavum, and sold them cheap; times were hard for men, and still worse for gods and demigods, but these were a free gift. Crispus was brother to the father of the young master of the house.  8
  From the garden gate sounded a few hammer-strokes, echoed back from the stone wall of the inclosure; they were light taps, for they were cautiously guided by an artist’s hand, apparently the last finishing touches of a master.  9
  The man who wielded the hammer now started up—he had been kneeling behind the gate, beside which, piled one above another, a dozen unhewn marble slabs announced the dwelling of a stone-cutter. Thrusting the little hammer into the belt that fastened the leather apron over the blue tunic, he poured from a small flask a few drops of oil on a woolen cloth, and carefully rubbed the inscription upon the marble with it until it was as smooth as a mirror; then turning his head a little on one side, like a bird that wants to examine something closely, with an approving nod he read aloud the words on the slab:—
  “Hic habitat Felicitas.
Nihil mali intret.”
  10
  “Yes, yes! Here dwells happiness: my happiness, our happiness—so long as my Felicitas lives here, happy herself and making others happy. May misfortune never cross this threshold! may every demon of ill be banished by this motto! The house has now received a beautiful finish in these words. But where is she? She must see it and praise me. Felicitas,” he called, turning towards the house, “come here!”  11
  Wiping the perspiration from his brow, he stood erect—a pliant youthful figure of middle height, not unlike the Mercury in the garden, modeled by Crispus according to the ancient traditions of symmetry; dark-brown hair, cut short, curled closely, almost like a cap, over his uncovered round head; a pair of dark eyes, shaded by heavy brows, laughed merrily out into the world; his bare feet and arms were beautifully formed, but showed little strength,—it was only in the right arm that the muscles stood forth prominently; the brown leather apron was white with scrapings from the marble. He shook off the dust and called again in a louder tone, “Felicitas!”  12
  A white figure, framed like a picture between the two pilasters of the entrance, appeared on the threshold, pushing back the dark yellow curtain suspended from a bronze pole by movable rings. A very young girl—or was it a young wife? Yes, this child, scarcely seventeen, must have already become a wife, for she was undoubtedly the mother of the infant she pressed to her bosom with her left arm; no one but a mother holds a child with such an expression in face and attitude.  13
  The young wife pressed two fingers of her right hand, with the palm turned outward, warningly to her lips. “Hush,” she said; “our child is asleep.”  14
  And now the slender figure, not yet wholly matured, floated down the four stone steps leading from the threshold to the garden, carefully lifting the child a little higher and holding it still more closely with her left arm, while her right hand raised her snowy robe to the dainty ankle; the faultlessly beautiful oval head was slightly bent forward: it was a vision of perfect grace, even more youthful, more childlike than Raphael’s Madonnas, and not humble, yet at the same time mystically transfigured, like the mother of the Christ-child; there was nothing complicated, nothing miraculous, naught save the noblest simplicity blended with royal grandeur in Felicitas’s unconscious innocence and dignity. The movements of this Hebe who had become a mother were as measured and graceful as a perfect musical harmony. A wife, yet still a maiden; purely human, perfectly happy, absorbed and satisfied by her love for her young husband and the child at her breast; so chaste in coloring was the perfect beauty of her form and face that every profane desire vanished in her presence as though she were a statue.  15
  She wore no ornaments; her light-brown hair, gleaming with a gold tinge where the sun kissed it, was drawn back in natural waves from the beautiful temples, revealing the low forehead, and was fastened in a loose knot at the nape of the neck; a milk-white robe of the finest wool, fastened on the left shoulder by an exquisitely shaped but plain silver clasp, fell in flowing folds around her figure,—revealing the neck, the upper part of the swelling bosom, and the still childish arms which seemed a little too long,—and reached to the ankles, just touching the dainty scarlet leather sandals; beneath the breast one end of the robe was drawn through a bronze girdle a hand’s-breadth wide.  16
  So she glided noiselessly as a wave down the steps and up to her husband. The narrow oval face possessed the marvelous, almost bluish, white tint peculiar to the daughters of Ionia, which no Southern noonday sun can brown; the semi-circular eyebrows, as regular as if marked by a pair of compasses, might have given the countenance a lifeless, almost statuesque expression, had not under the long low-curling lashes the dark-brown antelope eyes shone with the most vivid animation as she fixed them on her beloved husband.  17
  The latter rushed towards her with elastic steps; carefully and tenderly taking the sleeping child from her arm, he laid it under the shade of a rose-bush in the oval shallow straw lid of his work-basket; one full-blown rose waving in the evening breeze tossed fragrant petals on the little one, who smiled in sleep.  18
  The master of the house, throwing his arm around his young wife’s almost too slender waist, led her to the slab just completed for the threshold of the entrance, saying:—  19
  “The motto I have kept secret—which I have worked so hard to finish—is now done; read it, and know, and feel”—here he tenderly kissed her lips—“you—you yourself are the happiness; you dwell here.”  20
 
 
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