One lovely evening in May, the moon at the full, the air warm yet fresh, the apple-blossoms at their largest, with as yet no spot upon their fair skin, and the nightingales singing out of their very bones, the season, the hour, the blossoms, and the moon had invaded every chamber in the castle, seized every heart of both man and beast, and turned all into one congregation of which the nightingales were the priests. The cocks were crowing as if it had been the dawn itself instead of its ghost they saw; the dogs were howling, but whether that was from love or hate of the moon, I cannot tell; the pigeons were cooing; the peacock had turned his train into a paralune, understanding well that the carnival could not be complete without him and his; and the wild beasts were restless, uttering a short yell now and then, at least aware that something was going on. All the inhabitants of the castle were out of doors, the ladies and gentlemen in groups here and there about the gardens and lawns and islands, and the domestics, and such of the garrison as were not on duty, wandering hither and thither where they pleased, careful only not to intrude on their superiors.
Lady Margaret was walking with her step-son Henry on a lawn under the northern window of the picture-gallery, and there the ladies Elizabeth and Anne joined them—the former a cheerful woman, endowed with a large share of her father’s genial temperament; joke or jest would moult no feather in lady Elizabeth’s keeping; the latter quiet, sincere, and reverent. The marquis himself, notwithstanding a slight attack of the gout, had hobbled on his stick to a chair set for him on the same lawn. Beside him sat lady Mary, younger than the other two, and specially devoted to her father.
Their gentlewomen were also out, flitting in groups that now and then mingled and changed. Rowland Scudamore joined lady Margaret’s people, and in a moment lady Broughton was laughing merrily. But mistress Doughty walked on with straight neck, as if there were nobody but herself in heaven or on the earth, although mortals were merry by her side, and nightingales singing themselves to death over her head. Behind them came Amanda Serafina, with her eyes on her feet, and the corners of her pretty mouth drawn down in contempt of nobody in particular. Now and then Scudamore, when satisfied with his own pretty wit, would throw a glance behind him, and she, somehow or other, would, without change of muscle, let him know that she had heard him. This group sauntered into the orchard.
After them came Dorothy with Dr Bayly, talking of their common friend Mr. Matthew Herbert, and following them into the orchard, wandered about among the trees, under the curdled moonlight of the apple-blossoms, amid the challenges and responses of five or six nightingales, that sang as if their bodies had dwindled under the sublimating influences of music, until, with more than cherubic denudation, their sum of being was reduced to a soul and a throat.
Moonlight, apple-blossoms, nightingales, with the souls of men and women for mirrors and reflectors! The picture is for the musician not the painter, either him of words or him of colours. It was like a lovely show in the land of dreams, even to the living souls that moved in and made part of it. The earth is older now, colder at the heart, a little nearer to the fate of cold-hearted things, which is to be slaves and serve without love; but she has still the same moonlight, the same apple-blossoms, the same nightingales, and we have the same hearts, and so can understand it.
– George MacDonald, St. George and St. Michael