Read THE BURIAL OF ROMEO AND JULIET of Prose Fancies (Second Series), free online book, by Richard Le Gallienne, on ReadCentral.com.

One morning of all mornings the citizens of Verona were startled by strange news.  Tragic forces, to which they had been accustomed to pay little heed, had been at work in their city during the dark hours, and young Romeo of the Montagues, handsome, devil-may-care lad as they had known him, and little Juliet of the Capulets, that madcap, merry, gentle young mistress, lay dead, side by side in the church of Santa Maria.

Death! surely they were used to death! and Love, flower of the clove! they were used to love.  But here were love and death, that somehow they could not understand.  So they hurried in wondering groups to Santa Maria, that they might gaze at the dead lovers, and thus perhaps come to understand.

Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came.  And their presence-chamber was bright with candles and flowers, and sweet with the sweet smell of death.  The air that had drunk in their wild words and their last long looks of heavenly love still hung about the dark corners, as the air where a rose has been holds a little while the memory of its breath.  Yes! that morning, in that dank but shining tomb, you might draw into you the very breath of love.  The air you breathed had passed through the sweet lungs of Juliet, it had been etherealised with her holy passion, and washed clean with her lovely words.  And now, for a little while yet, it feasted on the fair peace of their glad young faces.  To-morrow, or the next day, or the next week, they would belong to the unvisited treasure-house of the past, but now this morning of all mornings, this day that could never come again, they still belonged to the real and radiant present.

Flowers there are that bloom but once in a hundred years, but here in this tomb had blossomed one of those marvellous flowers that bloom but once throughout eternity.  Poets and kings in after-times, O men of Verona, will yearn to have seen what you look upon to-day.  For you, you thick and greasy citizens, are chosen out of all time to behold this beauty.  There were once in the world thousands of men and women who had heard the very words of Christ as they fell from His lips, words that we may only read.  There have been men, actual living, foolish men, who have looked on at the valour of Horatius, men who from the crowded banks of the Nile have watched the living body of Cleopatra step into her gilded barge, men who, standing idle in the streets of Florence, have seen the love-light start in the great Dante’s eyes, seen his hand move to his laden heart, as the little Beatrice passed him by among her maidens.  Base men of the past, by the indulgent accident of time, have been granted to behold these wonders, and now for you, O men of Verona, a like wonder has been born.

Romeo and Juliet lay receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with a strange smile of welcome for all who came.

It had been an innocent little desire, yet had all the world come against it.  It had been a simple little desire, yet too strong for all the world to break.

Strange this enmity of the world to love, as though men should take arms against the song of a bird, or plot against the opening of a flower.

But now, what was this strange homage to a love that a few hours ago had no friend in all the daylight, a fearful bliss beneath the secret moon?  But yesterday a stupid old nurse, a herb-gathering friar, a rascally apothecary, had been their only friends, and now was all the world come here to do their bidding.

No need to steal again beneath the shade of orchard walls, no need again to heed if lark or nightingale sang in the reddening east.  For the world had grown all warm to love, warm and kind as June to the rose.

Three days lay Romeo and Juliet receiving their guests in the vault of the Capulets, with that strange smile of welcome for all who came.  Three days the world worshipped the love it could not understand, but still came dense and denser throngs to worship.  For the news of the wonderful flower that had blossomed in Verona had gone far and wide, and travellers from distant cities kept pouring in to look at those strange young lovers, who had deemed the world well lost so that they might leave it together.

Then the governor of the city decreed, as the time drew near when the two lovers must be left to their peace, and it was ill that any should lose the sight of this marvel, that on the fourth day they should be carried through the streets in the eyes of all the people, and then be buried together in the vault of the Capulets ­for by this burial in the same tomb, says the old chronicler who was first honoured with the telling of their sweet story, the governor hoped to bring about a peace between the Montagues and Capulets, at least for a little while.

Meanwhile, though Verona was a city of many trades and professions, and love and death were idle things, yet was there little said of business all these days, and little else done but talk of the two lovers, of whom, indeed, it was true, as it has seldom been true out of Holy Writ, that death was swallowed up in victory.  During these days also there stole a strange sweetness over the city, as though the very spirit of love had nested there, and was filling the air with its soft breathing ­as when in the first days of spring the birds sing so sweetly that broken hearts must hide away, and hard hearts grow a little kind.  Men once more spoke kindly to their wives, and even coarse faces wore a gentle light, ­just as sometimes at evening the setting sun will turn to tenderness even black rocks and frowning towers.

There were many wild stories afloat about the end of the lovers.  Some said one way and some another.  By some the story went that Romeo was already dead before Juliet had awakened from her swoon, but others declared that the poison had not worked upon him until Juliet’s awakening had made him awhile forget that he was to die.  There were those who professed to know the very words of their wild farewell, and in fact there had been several witnesses of Juliet’s agony over the body of her lord.  These had told how first she had raved and clung to him, and called him ‘Romeo,’ ‘Sweet Sir Romeo,’ ‘Husband,’ and many flower-like names, and had petted him and wooed him to come back.  Then on a sudden she had cried, God-a-mercy ­how cold thou art!’ and looked at him long and strangely.  Then had she grown stern, and anon soft.  ’Canst thou not come back, my love?  Then must I follow thee.  Not so far art thou on the way of death, but that I shall overtake thee, and together shall we go to Pluto’s realm, and seek a kinder world.’

Thereat she had plunged Romeo’s dagger into her side, though some said she had stopped her heart’s beating by the strong will of her great love.  Yea ­such were the distracted rumours ­some averred that at the last she had curst Christ and His saints, and called upon Venus, who, it was rumoured in awestruck whispers, was being worshipped once more in secret corners of the world.

It was strong noon when, on the fourth day, Romeo and Juliet were carried through the bright and solemn streets, that the world might be saved; saved as ever by the spectacle and the worship of a mysterious nobility, [comma added by transcriber] an uncomprehended greatness, a beauty which haunts not its daily dreams, lifted up by the humble gaze of devout eyes into the empyrean of greater souls, stirred to an unfamiliar passion, and fired with glimpses of a strange unworldly truth.

In the light of the sun the faces of the two lovers, as they lay amid their flowers, seemed to have grown a little weary, but they still wore their sweet and royal smile, and their laurelled brows were very white and proud.

And in the faces that looked upon them, as they moved slowly by, with sweet death music, and the hushed marching of feet, and the wafted odour of lilies, there was to be seen strangely blent a great pity for their tragedy and a heavenly tenderness for their love.  It was like a dream passing down the streets of a dream, so deep and tender was the silence, for only the hearts of men were speaking; though here and there a girl sobbed, or a young man buried his face in his sleeve, and the sternest eyes were dashed with the holy water of tears.  And with the pity and tenderness, who shall say but that in all that silent heart-speech there was no little envy of the two who had loved so truly and died in the springtide of their love, before the ways of love had grown dusty with its summer, or dreary with its autumn, before its dreams had petrified into duties, and its passion deadened into use?

‘Would it were thou and I,’ said many wedded eyes one to the other, delusively warm and soft for a moment, but all cold and hard again on the morrow.

And maybe some poet would say in his heart ­

’If you loved her living, my Romeo, what were your love could you but see her dead!’ for indeed life has no beauty so wonderful as the beauty of death.

And, as in all places and times, there was a base remnant that gaped and worshipped not, and in their hearts resented all this distinction paid to a nobility they could not recognise, as the like had grumbled when Cimabue’s Madonna had been carried through the streets in glory.  But of these there is no need that we should take account, any more than of the beasts that moved head down amid the pastures outside the town, knowing not of the wonder that was passing within.  For the ass will munch his thistles though the Son of Man be his rider, nor will the sheep look aside from his grazing though Apollo be the herdsman.

At length the sacred pageant was ended, gone like the passing of an aerial music, and the people went to their homes silent, with haunted eyes; while the Earth, which had given this beauty, took it back to herself, and one more Persephone of human loveliness was shut within the gates of the forgetful grave.