UNDER THE HILL
A Romantic Story
IT is always delightful to wake up in a new bedroom.
fresh wall-paper, the strange pictures, the positions of doors
and windows, imperfectly grasped the night before, are
revealed with all the charm of surprise when we open our
eyes the next morning.
It was about eight o’clock when Fanfreluche awoke,
stretched himself deliciously in his great plumed four-post bed, murmured
“What a pretty room !” and freshened the frilled silk pillows behind him.
Through the slim parting of the long flowered window curtains, he caught
a peep of the sun-lit lawns outside, the silver fountains, the bright flowers, the
gardeners at work, and beneath the shady trees some early breakfasters,
dressed for a day’s hunting in the distant wooded valleys.
“How sweet it all is,” exclaimed the Abbé, yawning with
Then he lay back in his bed, stared at the curious patterned canopy above
him and nursed his waking thoughts.
He thought of the “Romaunt de la Rose,” beautiful, but all
Of the Claude in Lady Delaware’s collection.¹
Of a wonderful pair of blonde trousers he would get Madame
make for him.
Of a mysterious park full of faint echoes and romantic
Of a great stagnant lake that must have held the subtlest frogs that
ever were, and was surrounded with dark unreflected trees, and sleeping fleurs
Of Saint Rose, the well-known Peruvian virgin ; how she vowed herself
¹ The chef d’œuvre,
it seems to me, of an adorable and impeccable master,
who more than
any other landscape-painter puts us out of conceit with our cities, and makes us forget the
country can be graceless and dull and tiresome. That he should ever have been compared
unfavourably with Turner—the Wiertz of landscape-painting—seems almost incredible.
Corot is Claude’s only worthy rival, but he does not eclipse or supplant the earlier master.
A painting of Corel’s is like an exquisite lyric poem, full of love and truth; whilst one of
Claude’s recalls some noble eclogue glowing with rich concentrated thought.
188 THE SAVOY
to perpetual virginity when she was four years old¹ ; how she was
by Mary, who from the pale fresco in the Church of Saint Dominic, would
stretch out her arms to embrace her ; how she built a little oratory at the end
of the garden and prayed and sang hymns in it till all the beetles, spiders,
snails and creeping things came round to listen ; how she promised to marry
Ferdinand de Flores, and on the bridal morning perfumed herself and painted
her lips, and put on her wedding frock, and decked her hair with roses, and
went up to a little hill not far without the walls of Lima ; how she knelt there
some moments calling tenderly upon Our Lady’s name, and how Saint Mary
descended and kissed Rose upon the forehead and carried her up swiftly
He thought of the splendid opening of Racine’s “Britannicus.”
Of a strange pamphlet he had found in Helen’s library,
called “A Plea for
the Domestication of the Unicorn.”
Of the “Bacchanals of Sporion.²”
¹ “At an age” writes Dubonnet, “when girls are for the
most part well confirmed in all
the hateful practices of coquetry, and attend with gusto, rather than with distaste, the hideous
desires and terrible satisfactions of men !”
All who would respire the perfumes of Saint Rose’s sanctity,
and enjoy the story of the
adorable intimacy that subsisted between her and Our Lady, should read Mother Ursula’s
“Ineffable and Miraculous Life of the Flower of Lima,” published shortly after the canoniza-
tion of Rose by Pope Clement X. in 1671. “Truly,” exclaims the famous nun, “to chronicle
the girlhood of this holy virgin makes as delicate a task as to trace the forms of some slim,
sensitive plant, whose lightness, sweetness, and simplicity defy and trouble the most cunning
pencil.” Mother Ursula certainly acquits herself of the task with wonderful delicacy and
taste. A cheap reprint of the biography has lately been brought out by Chaillot and Son.
² A comedy ballet in one act by Philippe Savaral and
Titurel de Schentefleur. The
Marquis de Vandésir, who was present at the first performance, has left us a short impression
of it in his Mémoires :
The curtain rose upon a scene of rare beauty, a remote
Arcadian valley, a
delicious scrap of Tempe, gracious with cool woods and watered with a little river as
fresh and pastoral as a perfect fifth. It was early morning and the re-arisen sun, like
the prince in the Sleeping Beauty, woke all the earth with his lips.
“In that golden embrace the night dews were caught up and
made splendid, the
trees were awakened from their obscure dreams, the slumber of the birds was broken,
and all the flowers of the valley rejoiced, forgetting their fear of the darkness.
“Suddenly to the music of pipe and horn a troop of satyrs
stepped out from the
recesses of the woods bearing in their hands nuts and green boughs and flowers and
roots, and whatsoever the forest yielded, to heap upon the altar of the mysterious Pan
that stood in the middle of the stage ; and from the hills came down the shepherds and
shepherdesses leading their flocks and carrying garlands upon their crooks. Then a
rustic priest, white robed and venerable, came slowly across the valley followed by a
UNDER THE HILL 191
Of Morales’ Madonnas with their high egg-shaped creamy
well-crimped silken hair.
Of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater” (that delightful demodé
piece of decadence,
with a quality in its music like the bloom upon wax fruit).
Of love, and of a hundred other things.
choir of radiant children. The scene was admirably stage-managed and
have been more varied yet harmonious than this Arcadian group. The service was
quaint and simple, but with sufficient ritual to give the corps de ballet an opportunity
of showing its dainty skill. The dancing of the satyrs was received with huge favour,
and when the priest raised his hand in final blessing, the whole troop of worshippers
made such an intricate and elegant exit, that it was generally agreed that Titurel had
never before shown so fine an invention.
“Scarcely had the stage been empty for a moment, when
Sporion entered, followed
by a brilliant rout of dandies and smart women. Sporion was a tall, slim, depraved
young man with a slight stoop, a troubled walk, an oval impassable face with its olive
skin drawn lightly over the bone, strong, scarlet lips, long Japanese eyes, and a great
gilt toupet. Round his shoulders hung a high-collared satin cape of salmon pink with
long black ribbands untied and floating about his body. His coat of sea green spotted
muslin was caught in at the waist by a scarlet sash with scalloped edges and frilled out
over the hips for about six inches. His trousers, loose and wrinkled, reached to the
end of the calf, and were brocaded down the sides and niched magnificently at the
ankles. The stockings were of white kid with stalls for the toes, and had delicate red
sandals strapped over them. But his little hands, peeping out from their frills, seemed
quite the most insinuating things, such supple fingers tapering to the point with tiny-
nails stained pink, such unquenchable palms lined and mounted like Lord Fanny’s in
‘Love at all Hazards,’ and such blue-veined hairless backs ! In his left hand he carried
a small lace handkerchief broidered with a coronet.
“As for his friends and followers, they made the most
superb and insolent crowd
imaginable, but to catalogue the clothes they had on would require a chapter as long as
the famous tenth in Pénillière’s ‘History of Underlinen.’ On the whole they looked
a very distinguished chorus.
“Sporion stepped forward and explained with swift and
various gesture that he
and his friends were tired of the amusements, wearied with the poor pleasures offered
by the civil world, and had invaded the Arcadian valley hoping to experience a new
frisson in the destruction of some shepherd’s or some satyr’s naïveté, and the infusion
of their venom among the dwellers of the woods.
“The chorus assented with languid but expressive movements.
“Curious and not a little frightened at the arrival of
the worldly company, the
sylvans began to peep nervously at those subtle souls through the branches of the trees,
and one or two fauns and a shepherd or so crept out warily. Sporion and all the
ladies and gentlemen made enticing sounds and invited the rustic creatures with all the
grace in the world to come and join them. By little batches they came, lured by the
192 THE SAVOY
Then his half-closed eyes wandered among the prints that
hung upon the
rose-striped walls. Within the delicate curved frames lived the corrupt and
gracious creatures of Dorat and his school, slender children in masque and
domino smiling horribly, exquisite letchers leaning over the shoulders of
smooth doll-like girls and doing nothing in particular, terrible little Pierrots
posing as lady lovers and pointing at something outside the picture, and
unearthly fops and huge bird-like women mingling in some rococo room,
lighted mysteriously by the flicker of a dying fire that throws great shadows
upon wall and ceiling.
Fanfreluche had taken some books to bed with him.
One was the witty,
extravagant, “Tuesday and Josephine,” another was the score of “The
Rheingold.” Making a pulpit of his knees he propped up the opera before
him and turned over the pages with a loving hand, and found it delicious to
attack Wagner’s brilliant comedy with the cool head of the morning.’ Once more
he was ravished with the beauty and wit of the opening scene ; the mystery
of its prelude that seems to come up from the very mud of the Rhine, and to
be as ancient, the abominable primitive wantonness of the music that follows
the talk and movements of the Rhine-maidens, the black, hateful sounds of
Alberic’s love-making, and the flowing melody of the river of legends.
But it was the third tableau that he applauded most that
the scene where Loge, like some flamboyant primeval Scapin, practises his
strange looks, by the scents and the drugs, and by the brilliant clothes,
ventured quite near, timorously fingering the delicious textures of the stuffs. Then
Sporion and each of his friends took a satyr or a shepherdess or something by the hand
and made the preliminary steps of a courtly measure, for which the most admirable
combinations had been invented and the most charming music written. The pastoral
folk were entirely bewildered when they saw such restrained and graceful movements,
and made the most grotesque and futile efforts to imitate them. Dio mio, a pretty
sight ! A charming effect too, was obtained by the intermixture of stockinged calf and
hairy leg, of rich brocaded bodice and plain blouse, of tortured head-dress and loose
“When the dance was ended the servants of Sporion
brought on champagne, and
with many pirouettes poured it magnificently into slender glasses, and tripped about
plying those Arcadian mouths that had never before tasted such a royal drink.
* * * * * *
“Then the curtain fell with a pudic rapidity.”
¹ It is a thousand pities that
concerts should only be given either in the afternoon, when
you are torpid, or in the evening, when you are nervous. Surely you should assist at fine
music as you assist at the Mass—before noon—when your brain and heart are not too troubled
and tired with the secular influences of the growing day.
UNDER THE HILL 195
cunning upon Alberic. The feverish insistent ringing of the hammers at
forge, the dry staccato restlessness of Mime, the ceaseless coming and going of
the troup of Niblungs, drawn hither and thither like a flock of terror-stricken
and infernal sheep, Alberic’s savage activity and metamorphoses, and Loge’s
rapid, flaming tongue-like movements, make the tableau the least reposeful,
most troubled and confusing thing in the whole range of opera. How the
Abbé rejoiced in the extravagant monstrous poetry, the heated melodrama,
and splendid agitation of it all !
At eleven o’clock Fanfreluche got up and slipped off his dainty night-dress.
His bathroom was the largest and perhaps the most
in his splendid suite. The well-known engraving by Lorette that forms the
frontispiece to Millevoye’s “Architecture du XVIII siècle” will give you a
better idea than any words of mine of the construction and decoration of the
room. Only in Lorette’s engraving the bath sunk into the middle of the floor
is a little too small.
Fanfreluche stood for a moment like Narcissus gazing at
his reflection in
the still scented water, and then just ruffling its smooth surface with one foot,
stepped elegantly into the cool basin and swam round it twice very gracefully.
However, it is not so much at the very bath itself as in the drying and delicious
frictions that a bather finds his chiefest joys, and Helen had appointed her
most tried attendants to wait upon Fanfreluche. He was more than satisfied
with their attention, that aroused feelings within him almost amounting to
gratitude, and when the rites were ended any touch of home-sickness he might
have felt was utterly dispelled. After he had rested a little, and sipped his
chocolate, he wandered into the dressing-room, where, under the direction of
the superb Dancourt, his toilet was completed.
As pleased as Lord Foppington with his appearance, the
Abbé tripped off
to bid good-morning to Helen. He found her in a sweet white muslin frock,
wandering upon the lawn, and plucking flowers to deck her breakfast table. He
kissed her lightly upon the neck.
“I’m just going to feed Adolphe,” she said, pointing to
a little reticule of
buns that hung from her arm. Adolphe was her pet unicorn. “He is such a
dear,” she continued ; “milk white all over, excepting his nose, mouth, and
nostrils. This way.” The unicorn had a very pretty palace of its own made
of green foliage and golden bars, a fitting home for such a delicate and dainty
beast. Ah, it was a splendid thing to watch the white creature roaming in its
artful cage, proud and beautiful, knowing no mate, and coming to no hand
except the queen’s itself. As Fanfreluche and Helen approached, Adolphe
196 THE SAVOY
began prancing and curvetting, pawing the soft turf with his ivory hoofs and
flaunting his tail like a gonfalon. Helen raised the latch and entered.
“You mustn’t come in with me, Adolphe is so jealous,”
she said, turning
to the Abbé, who was following her, “but you can stand outside and look on ;
Adolphe likes an audience.” Then in her delicious fingers she broke the
spicy buns and with affectionate niceness breakfasted her snowy pet. When
the last crumbs had been scattered, Helen brushed her hands together and
pretended to leave the cage without taking any further notice of Adolphe.
Beardsley, Aubrey. “Under the Hill.” The Savoy, volume 2, April 1896, pp. 187-196. Savoy Digital Edition, edited by Christopher Keep and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/savoyv2-beardsley-hill/