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The Flute-Player’s Story
by [?]

There is a village in the South of England not far from the sea, which possesses a curious inn called “The Green Tower.” Why it is called thus, nobody knows. This inn must in days gone by have been the dwelling of some well-to-do squire, but nothing now remains of its former prosperity, except the square grey tower, partially covered with ivy, from which it takes its name. The inn stands on the roadside, on the brow of a hill, and at the top of the tower there is a room with four large windows, whence you can see all over the wooded country. The ex-Prime Minister of a foreign state, who had been driven from office and home by a revolution, happening to pass the night in the inn and being of an eccentric disposition, was so much struck with this room that he secured it, together with two bedrooms, permanently for himself. He determined to spend the rest of his life here, and as he was within certain limits not unsociable, he invited his friends to come and stay with him on any Saturday they pleased, without giving him notice.

Thus it happened that of a Saturday and Sunday there was nearly always a mixed gathering of men at “The Green Tower”, and after they had dined they would sit in the tower room and drink old Southern wines from the ex-Prime Minister’s country, and talk, or tell each other stories. But the ex-Prime Minister made it a stringent rule that at least one guest should tell one story during his stay, for while he had been Prime Minister a Court official had been in his service whose only duty it was to tell him a story every evening, and this was the only thing he regretted of all his former privileges.

On this particular Sunday, besides myself, the clerk, the flute-player, the wine merchant (the friends of the ex-Prime Minister were exceedingly various), and the scholar were present. They were smoking in the tower room. It was summer, and the windows were wide open. Every inch of wall which was not occupied by the windows was crowded with books. The clerk was turning over the leaves of the ex-Prime Minister’s stamp collection (which was magnificent), the flute-player was reading the score of Handel’s flute sonatas (which was rare), the scholar was reading a translation in Latin hexameters of the “Ring and the Book” (which the ex-Prime Minister has written in his spare moments), and the wine merchant was drinking generously of a curious red wine, which was very old.

“I think,” said the ex-Prime Minister, “that the flute-player has never yet told us a story.”

The guests knew that this hint was imperative, and so putting away the score, the flute-player said: “My story is called, ‘The Fiddler.'” And he began:–

“This happened a long time ago in one of the German-speaking countries of the Holy Roman Empire. There was a Count who lived in a large castle. He was rich, powerful, and the owner of large lands. He had a wife, and one daughter, who was dazzlingly beautiful, and she was betrothed to the eldest son of a neighbouring lord. When I say betrothed, I mean that her parents had arranged the marriage. She herself–her name was Elisinde–had had no voice in the matter, and she disliked, or rather loathed, her future husband, who was boorish, sullen, and ill-tempered; he cared for nothing except hunting and deep drinking, and had nothing to recommend him but his ducats and his land. But it was quite useless for Elisinde to cry or protest. Her parents had settled the marriage and it was to be. She understood this herself very well.

“All the necessary preparations for the wedding, which was to be held on a splendid scale, were made. There was to be a whole week of feasting; and tumblers and musicians came from distant parts of the country to take part in the festivities and merry-making. In the village, which was close to the castle, a fair was held, and the musicians, tumblers, and mountebanks, who had thronged to it, performed in front of the castle walls for the amusement of the Count’s guests.