The Crimson Weaver
By R. Murray Gilchrist
MY Master and I had wandered from our track and lost
ourselves on the side of a great ” edge.” It was a two-
days journey from the Valley of the Willow Brakes, and we had
roamed aimlessly ; eating at hollow-echoing inns where grey-
haired hostesses ministered, and sleeping side by side through the
dewless midsummer nights on beds of fresh-gathered heather.
Beyond a single-arched wall-less bridge that crossed a brown
stream whose waters leaped straight from the upland, we reached
the Domain of the Crimson Weaver. No sooner had we reached
the keystone when a beldam, wrinkled as a walnut and bald as an
egg, crept from a cabin of turf and osier and held out her hands
” Enter not the Domain of the Crimson Weaver!” she
shrieked. ” One I loved entered.—I am here to warn men.
Behold, I was beautiful once !”
She tore her ragged smock apart and discovered the foulness of
her bosom, where the heart pulsed behind a curtain of livid skin.
My Master drew money from his wallet and scattered it on the
” She is mad,” he said. ” The evil she hints cannot exist.
There is no fiend.”
So we passed on, but the bridge-keeper took no heed of the
coins. For awhile we heard her bellowed sighs issuing from the
openings of her den.
Strangely enough, the tenour of our talk changed from the
moment that we left the bridge. He had been telling me of the
Platonists, but when our feet pressed the sun-dried grass I was
impelled to question him of love. It was the first time I had
thought of the matter.
” How does passion first touch a man’s life?” I asked, laying
my hand on his arm.
His ruddy colour faded, he smiled wryly.
” You divine what passes in my brain,” he replied. ” I also
had begun to meditate. . . . . But I may not tell you. . . . . In
my boyhood—I was scarce older than you at the time—I loved the
true paragon. ‘Twere sacrilege to speak of the birth of passion.
Let it suffice that ere I tasted of wedlock the woman died, and
her death sealed for ever the door of that chamber of my heart.
. . . . Yet, if one might see therein, there is an altar crowned
with ever-burning tapers and with wreaths of unwithering
By this time we had reached the skirt of a yew-forest, traversed
in every direction by narrow paths. The air was moist and
heavy, but ever and anon a light wind touched the tree-tops and
bowed them, so that the pollen sank in golden veils to the ground.
Everywhere we saw half-ruined fountains, satyrs vomiting
senilely, nymphs emptying wine upon the lambent flames of
dying phoenixes, creatures that were neither satyrs nor nymphs,
nor gryphins, but grotesque adminglings of all, slain by one
another, with water gushing from wounds in belly and thigh.
At length the path we had chosen terminated beside an
oval mere that was surrounded by a colonnade of moss-grown
arches. Huge pike quivered on the muddy bed, crayfish moved
sluggishly amongst the weeds.
There was an island in the middle, where a leaden Diana, more
compassionate than a crocodile, caressed Actaeon’s horns ere
delivering him to his hounds. The huntress’ head and shoulders
were white with the excrement of a crowd of culvers that moved
as if entangled in a snare.
Northwards an avenue rose for the space of a mile, to fall
abruptly before an azure sky. For many years the yew-mast on
the pathway had been undisturbed by human foot ; it was covered
with a crust of greenish lichen.
My Master pressed my fingers. ” There is some evil in the
air of this place,” he said. ” I am strong, but you—you may not
endure. We will return.”
” ‘Tis an enchanted country,” I made answer, feverishly. ” At
the end of yonder avenue stands the palace of the sleeping maiden
who awaits the kiss. Nay, since we have pierced the country
thus far, let us not draw back. You are strong, Master—no evil
can touch us.”
So we fared to the place where the avenue sank, and then our
eyes fell on the wondrous sight of a palace, lying in a concave
pleasaunce, all treeless, but so bestarred with fainting flowers, that
neither blade of grass nor grain of earth was visible.
Then came a rustling of wings above our heads, and looking
skywards I saw flying towards the house a flock of culvers like
unto those that had drawn themselves over Diana’s head. The
hindmost bird dropped its neck, and behold it gazed upon us with
the face of a mannikin !
” They are charmed birds, made thus by the whim of the
Princess,” I said.
As the birds passed through the portals of a columbary that
crowned a western tower, their white wings beat against a silver
bell that glistened there, and the whole valley was filled with
My Master trembled and crossed himself. ” In the name of
our Mother,” he exclaimed, ” let us return. I dare not trust
your life here.”
But a great door in front of the palace swung open, and a
woman with a swaying walk came out to the terrace. She wore
a robe of crimson worn into tatters at skirt-hem and shoulders.
She had been forewarned of our presence, for her face turned
instantly in our direction. She smiled subtly, and her smile died
away into a most tempting sadness.
She caught up such remnants of her skirt as trailed behind, and
strutted about with the gait of a peacock. As the sun touched
the glossy fabric I saw eyes inwrought in deeper hue.
My Master still trembled, but he did not move, for the gaze
of the woman was fixed upon him. His brows twisted and his
white hair rose and stood erect, as if he viewed some unspeakable
Stooping, with sidelong motions of the head, she approached ;
bringing with her the smell of such an incense as when amidst
Eastern herbs burns the corse. . . . . She was perfect of feature as
the Diana, but her skin was deathly white and her lips fretted
She took no heed of me, but knelt at my Master’s feet—a
Magdalene before an impregnable priest.
” Prince and Lord, Tower of Chastity, hear !” she murmured.
” For lack of love I perish. See my robe in tatters !”
He strove to avert his face, but his eyes still dwelt upon her.
She half rose and shook nut-brown tresses over his knees.
Youth came back in a flood to my Master. His shrivelled
skin filled out ; the dying sunlight turned to gold the whiteness of
his hair. He would have raised her had I not caught his hands.
The anguish of foreboding made me cry :
” One forces roughly the door of your heart’s chamber. The
wreaths wither, the tapers bend and fall.”
He grew old again. The Crimson Weaver turned to me.
” O marplot!” she said laughingly, ” think not to vanquish
me with folly. I am too powerful. Once that a man enter my
domain he is mine.”
But I drew my Master away.
” ‘Tis I who am strong,” I whispered. ” We will go hence at
once. Surely we may find our way back to the bridge. The
journey is easy.”
The woman, seeing that the remembrance of an old love was
strong within him, sighed heavily, and returned to the palace.
As she reached the doorway the valves opened, and I saw in a
distant chamber beyond the hall an ivory loom with a golden
My Master and I walked again on the track we had made in
the yew-mast. But twilight was falling, and ere we could reach
the pool of Diana all was in utter darkness ; so at the foot of a
tree, where no anthill rose, we lay down and slept.
Dreams came to me—gorgeous visions from the romances of
eld. Everywhere I sought vainly for a beloved. There was the
Castle of the Ebony Dwarf, where a young queen reposed in the
innermost casket of the seventh crystal cabinet; there was the
Chamber of Gloom, where Lenore danced, and where I groped
for ages around columns of living flesh ; there was the White
Minaret, where twenty-one princesses poised themselves on balls of
burnished bronze ; there was Melisandra’s arbour, where the sacred
toads crawled over the enchanted cloak.
Unrest fretted me : I woke in spiritual pain. Dawn was
breaking—a bright yellow dawn, and the glades were full of
I turned to the place where my Master had lain. He was not
there. I felt with my hands over his bed : it was key-cold.
Terror of my loneliness overcame me, and I sat with covered face.
On the ground near my feet lay a broken riband, whereon was
strung a heart of chrysolite. It enclosed a knot of ash-coloured
hair—hair of the girl my Master had loved.
The mists gathered together and passed sunwards in one long
many-cornered veil. When the last shred had been drawn into the
great light, I gazed along the avenue, and saw the topmost bartizan
of the Crimson Weaver’s palace.
It was midday ere I dared start on my search. The culvers
beat about my head. I walked in pain, as though giant spiders
had woven about my body.
On the terrace strange beasts—dogs and pigs with human limbs,
—tore ravenously at something that lay beside the balustrade. At
sight of me they paused and lifted their snouts and bayed. Awhile
afterwards the culvers rang the silver bell, and the monsters dis-
persed hurriedly amongst the drooping blossoms of the pleasaunce,
and where they had swarmed I saw naught but a steaming
I approached the house and the door fell open, admitting me to
a chamber adorned with embellishments beyond the witchery of
art. There I lifted my voice and cried eagerly : ” My Master,
my Master, where is my Master ?” The alcoves sent out a
babble of echoes, blended together like a harp-cord on a
dulcimer : ” My Master, my Master, where is my Master ?
For the love of Christ, where is my Master ?” The echo
replied only, ” Where is my Master ?”
Above, swung a globe of topaz, where a hundred suns gambolled.
From its centre a convoluted horn, held by a crimson cord, sank
lower and lower. It stayed before my lips and I blew therein, and
heard the sweet voices of youth chant with one accord.
” Fall open, oh doors : fall open and show the way to the
Ere the last of the echoes had died a vista opened, and at the
end of an alabaster gallery I saw the Crimson Weaver at her
loom. She had doffed her tattered robe for one new and lustrous
as freshly drawn blood. And marvellous as her beauty had seemed
before, its wonder was now increased a hundredfold.
She came towards me with the same stately walk, but there was
now a lightness in her demeanour that suggested the growth of
Within arm’s length she curtseyed, and curtseying showed me
the firmness of her shoulders, the fulness of her breast. The sight
brought no pleasure : my cracking tongue appealed in agony :
” My Master, where is my Master ?”
She smiled happily. ” Nay, do not trouble. He is not here.
His soul talks with the culvers in the cote. He has forgotten you.
In the night we supped, and I gave him of Nepenthe.”
” Where is my Master ? Yesterday he told me of the shrine
in his heart—of ever-fresh flowers—of a love dead yet living.”
Her eyebrows curved mirthfully.
” ‘Tis foolish boys’ talk,” she said. ” If you sought till the end
of time you would never find him—unless I chose. Yet—if you
buy of me—myself to name the price.”
I looked around hopelessly at the unimaginable riches of her
home. All that I have is this Manor of the Willow Brakes—a
moorish park, an ancient house where the thatch gapes and the
casements swing loose.
” My possessions are pitiable,” I said, ” but they are all yours.
I give all to save him.”
” Fool, fool !” she cried. ” I have no need of gear. If I but
raise my hand, all the riches of the world fall to me. ‘Tis not
what I wish for.”
Into her eyes came such a glitter as the moon makes on the moist
skin of a sleeping snake. The firmness of her lips relaxed ; they
grew child-like in their softness. The atmosphere became almost
tangible : I could scarce breathe.
” What is it ? All that I can do, if it be no sin.”
” Come with me to my loom,” she said, ” and if you do the
thing I desire you shall see him. There is no evil in’t—in past
times kings have sighed for the same.”
So I followed slowly to the loom, before which she had seated
herself, and watched her deftly passing crimson thread over crimson
She was silent for a space, and in that space her beauty fascinated
me, so that I was no longer master of myself.
” What you wish for I will give, even if it be life.”
The loom ceased. ” A kiss of the mouth, and you shall see
him who passed in the night.”
She clasped her arms about my neck and pressed my lips. For
one moment heaven and earth ceased to be ; but there was one
paradise, where we were sole governours. . . . .
Then she moved back and drew aside the web and showed me
the head of my Master, and the bleeding heart whence a crimson
cord unravelled into many threads.
” I wear men’s lives,” the woman said. ” Life is necessary to me,
or even I—who have existed from the beginning—must die. But
yesterday I feared the end, and he came. His soul is not dead—
’tis truth that it plays with my culvers.”
I fell back.
” Another kiss, ” she said. ” Unless I wish, there is no escape
for you. Yet you may return to your home, though my power
over you shall never wane. Once more—lip to lip.”
I crouched against the wall like a terrified dog. She grew
angry ; her eyes darted fire.
” A kiss,” she cried, ” for the penalty !”
My poor Master’s head, ugly and cadaverous, glared from the
loom. I could not move.
The Crimson Weaver lifted her skirt, uncovering feet shapen
as those of a vulture. I fell prostrate. With her claws she
fumbled about the flesh of my breast. Moving away she bade me
pass from her sight. . . . .
So, half-dead, I lie here at the Manor of the Willow Brakes,
watching hour by hour the bloody clew ever unwinding from my
heart and passing over the western hills to the Palace of the Siren.
The Yellow Book—Vol. VI. R
Gilchrist, R. Murray. “The Crimson Weaver. ” The Yellow Book, vol. 6, July 1895, pp. 269-77. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV6_gilchrist_crimson/