A Masque of Life

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THE moonlight streamed over my face so that I awoke; and in the clear, cool light I saw a great round hall, and in it the children of the Spirit worked and played. And on their faces, as on every face, was written what they were. Two were Birth and Joy, and two were Life and Love, and two were Sleep and Death. They wove garlands for each other; Birth they crowned with strength, and Life with holiness, and Death with peace. So the children walked together, and every step was like a dancing step. And Plenty spread a feast for then .

While I looked, other children came to them whose names were these: Stupidity and Selfishness. These took Death's crown of peace, and burned it in the fire, and bound his brows with superstition. They made a mask for him out of a skull. They painted the face of Life with streaks of care, and covered Birth with a robe of misery.

When Love saw what it was they did, she opened a door upon which was written "Wisdom." Behind it was a long and painful stair called Knowledge. At the top the stair was dark, but I could see Love's garland that shone as she began to climb. She called to the others, "Come with me, children,—come." None followed her but Joy. Sleep would have gone; but the others gave her poppies, and bright wine to drink, so that she stayed.

When Love was gone, the children played no more; but they invited Want and Pain to visit them; and they made knives of cunning, and clubs of base desires, and with these they fought until they could fight no more.

The children went to another door on which was written "Happiness," and they knocked upon it with their clubs and cut at it with their knives. They pushed each other back, lest one should open it for himself. But the door was shut to all.

I lay watching them, it seemed to me for thousands of years, yet the forms of the children were still the forms of youth; but the eyes of Sleep were red, and she looked often and sadly round for Love, and Life stared gloomily at the ghastly mask of Death.

With each in turn walked Want and Pain. These were old acquaintances of my own, so I looked closely at their faces; and, though I hated them, I saw in that clear light that their eyes were kindly eyes. While I watched, they led the children to the door of Wisdom; and the children opened it a little, and some began to climb, and threw aside their hideous garb. Selfishness could not go, for he was lame and blind. Want and Pain tried to lead Stupidity, but Stupidity would not be led.

The children climbed; but, as they went, they looked to see who followed them, and, when they saw who stayed behind, they turned to bring them up. And, behold! they saw that the door of Happiness was opened wide. The moonbeams filled the hall.

As I lay thinking what it meant to me, Selfishness and Stupidity vanished from my sight. Want and Pain went up the stair: the moonlight faded from the room. I slept again.

  • Bolton Hall, “A Masque of Life,” The Outlook 60, no. 7 (October 15, 1898): 441-442.