Puslapio vaizdai

spring the lilies-of-the-valley-lilies-ofthe-valley that grow wild beneath the tangled purple heliotrope, which stands sometimes little short of my arm-pits.'


'Are there paths up this hill?' she asked. 'Can one find one's way in this dense wild garden of yours?'

""There are paths,' I said, 'that I have made myself, and kept clean with sand from the river-bank.' I told her of the paths, but not of my little house, or of certain treasures I kept there, locked behind a heavy door to which there was but one key-this one.” He held up a piece of metal that flashed in the starlight. For a moment he stared at it. "The key that once was the queen's jailer for a day and a night," he said quietly; then he put it back against his bare skin, beneath his soiled silk blouse. His blouse was of silk, the finest silk, though it had become sand-stained and torn. Then he resumed: "She stepped into the boat. I put off. She was silent, but I could not help singing.

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'Sing that same song again,' she commanded when I had stopped.

"I sang the song again.

""What is it called?' she asked when again I had finished.

"It has no name,' I answered.

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'From whom did you learn it?' ""From myself. It is my own song.' "She was quiet again.

"Presently I drew the boat up on the white sand of the river-bank, and she stepped out. The hill above us rose dark, like the dome of an impenetrable tree, against the long, phantom, radiant river of light flowing against the westcrn horizon. We ascended the white

sand paths. We pressed our way forward against the reluctance of the flowers and foliage arching across the paths against our bodies. You might think that the fragrance would become intolerable, but it was not so. The light winds lifted it and bore it away just as it grew too heavily sweet, or just as it seemed about to lodge, with the paralysis of a drug, in one's brain, one's nerves. And the winds that came and went, remember, bore other odors more aromatic, lighter, less disturbing than that of the heliotrope mingled with the new keen scent of the lilies-of-the-valley.

"So we came to my little house; it is

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a white plaster house, very small, and made entirely by my own hands.

"I thought all little houses were hideous and dirty,' she said as we stood on the roof, and she leaned against the wall, looking down at the heliotrope, flowering high, below. Then she sat on a rose and turquoise rug that I threw over some grass cushions for her, and drank the wine that I brought her from a jar which had hung suspended by a rope in a deep well. She drank from one of the most beautiful glasses in the world. I had it from the philosopher, but that would not interest you. Only she knew that it was beautiful; and when she had drunk the wine she held the glass between her eyes and the sunset, turning now and then to look up the river toward the city.

'Yes, this is the loveliest place in the world from which to see the sunset,' she said. 'How golden the city looks, and, oh, the river! It is a beautiful city, is it not?'

"From her tone she might have been a mother speaking of her child.

"That was the first of many sunset hours that brought the sister of the sun to my little house. Always she dressed herself as a man, for as a woman she could not have gone alone through the streets; and the queen likes to walk alone. She is a very lonely woman. I did not know that she was the queen, however, not then, and for a time I used to wonder. Sometimes her cloak was black instead of white; sometimes her turban was green instead of blue; but she always wore the skin of the tawny lion about her shoulders, and her tawny hair was always bound up under the turban. I could talk many hours, telling you of the things she said, of how she looked, of the emotion I felt; but I will tell you only the things that you cannot possibly understand, for I am talking to myself, and not to you." He paused. The fool groaned. The man who did not believe that the sun was God shivered. The others were quite still. Even the soldiers who had been pacing the wall were motionless against the sky, like figures carved from shadowy silver.

"The queen is a very strange woman," resumed the prisoner who had known

the queen. "But a woman should not be strange," he added quickly, with a certain violence in the words which died almost instantly. "A woman should be simple, and beautiful perhaps, if it pleases Heaven to make her so; and she should be easy to love, and even easier not to love when the spirit and the senses are worn. If I were God, I should know how to make a world of women, and make them all less mischievous and less capable of evil and disturbance than they are now. They should be all mothers and meek and all tender. I shall not try to tell you how strange a woman the queen is. She talks wisely and listens often to the talk of wise men, but she does many foolish things. She thinks a great deal in silence, but her thoughts lead her nowhere that she will let one follow. She is cruel and merciless, but to no one so cruel and so merciless as to herself. I think she lives from sheer pride. I know that she regards the dead not without envy. Her spirit is like an arrow drawn tight, but the bow of her desire is never unloosed. It is said that the queen has had many lovers. That is a lie. The queen has had no lovers. Sometimes she has gone disguised into brothels and sat among the men, terrible sailors and soldiers, and debauchees from the desert who have come into the city, and rivermen who have recently returned from the jungle. She has sat among them and listened to their talk and drunk deep of the wine that the keepers of such places flavor with a powder made from amber. You know, all of you?"

The men stirred.

"Yes, yes," they muttered.

"But she has gone forth sober of soul and chill of body. The queen has had no lovers, I tell you. The queen does not love love. Her eyes are the most beautiful things in the world. There is that look of light in them, and also that somber look of torture. You see it sometimes. When she is very unhappy, they are very luminous. The queen is a very unhappy woman. I think love is something that should be like sunlight. It should be waiting for one in the morning of one's life and go with him to the twilight. It should warm him, and


bring to growth all the flowers and fruit of his soul. It should be a very happy, easy thing, love. One should never love a strange woman-or queen. A queen can send one to death for merely having touched her hands in love. You expected a tale, and I am telling you none. I am saying things that you cannot possibly understand. I am telling you of a woman whose loneliness is a tragedy, who will not let herself have happiness, upon whom a curse has fallen-an intolerable holiness that makes her the priestess of an impossible dream; who refuses pleasure as a captious man refuses poor fruit; who looks upon life and knows its beauty, and yet puts it aside as a judge puts aside the testimony of a fool. And you expected a tale. Very well, listen."

He paused, sat erect, and then leaned forward, speaking as if seeing:

"The bazaar is stormed by a clamor of voices, all crying out at once. They are telling of the wars to the north. They are telling of the battles lost, of the truce made by the queen's councilors, of the victorious prince who will spare this land and all the queen's cities if she will take him as a husband. The rumor comes to the bazaar that the queen refuses; that she offers to assuage the anger of her brother, the sun, against her people by going without water or food or sword into the desert. That would have meant her death, certainly. Or she will lie down on a burning barge set adrift upon the river. And that would have been a death more terrible than one from thirst or hunger or wild beast in the desert. Or she would lock herself in the vaults of the temple and pray and fast until God heard her and took her as a sacrifice. One of these things the queen would have done for her people. And the sister who was homely from her childhood, or the one who was lame from birth, or even the brother who was born a little mad, would have been left to rule in her stead. But the populace would not have it so. They wished their queen to marry the strong prince who waited with his armies for her answer in the north. Night comes, and the queen's house is surrounded by fierce men and fiercer women, crying out to the sister

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"In her own strength lies her pride. She is not a woman. beauty, loneliness, cruelty and the ultimate passion of all life."


HE prisoners who were to die by the queen's command at the rising of the sun (her brother) lay face downward in the sand, some of them drunken, and others sober despite the wine that the guards had permitted them on their last night on earth, and told the strange histories of their wayward souls-the histories that were to end at dawn.

There were twelve of them. They had come from all parts of the queen's kingdom to this moon-lit prison-yard, set about by insurmountable walls so thickly built that soldiers paced their heights three abreast. The prisoners, if they cared to look, could see them up there, their arms and armor glinting in the moonlight as they moved back and forth, so far above that they seemed to promenade among the stars. One date

tree in the distance beyond spread its palms against the moon-washed sky. The youngest prisoner, the silent and imperturbable boy who often smiled at his own thoughts, had a special name for the date-tree; "the queen's fan," he called it. The soldiers on the wall laughed and talked, but the prisoners could not hear them, and the soldiers could not hear the prisoners, who also talked and sometimes laughed.

Only the beasts slept, the great beasts from the jungle who paced by day the broad area that circled the deep-walled yard, and kept a watch that the most desperate man, even though condemned to die by torture, would hesitate to chance even in a drunken dream of freedom. And beyond the vast ring of the beasts there was still another

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circle, broad, and defined by sharp walls set within the higher outer wall. Here, where there were only sand and rocks, and about a spring a few low trees and some rank grass, lived the reptiles, long, evil snakes, forever athirst for the blood of man or horse or bird, or low-lying, prowling, seeking, hateful, forever waiting to whip his life from some intruder.


An ascetic young man, always pale and wet with a continual sweat, wiped the cold moisture from his eyelids, dried his hand in the sand, and then turned on his back to look up at the stars. was from another land, a land to the north; he had come preaching a strange religion. The sun, he had preached, was not God. The sun could not be God; the sun was only the sun. God was a mighty being who kept himself in a silver heaven, and with a million eyes looked down upon this world; God, he preached, had a million hands with which to scourge the wicked and the unbelievers and from which to pour benefits upon the righteous and the meek. The queen herself did not hesitate to listen to the strange prophets and priests that now and then came down the great yellow road that ran through her kingdom. They amused her; sometimes they excited her: but she felt that it was very bad for the morale of her subjects to have the validity of her religion debated. Her brother, the sun, whom all men and women and even the littlest children, worshiped as the giver of all good things, was not to be spoken of skeptically by strange young men from the north. So this white and feverish one was taken and flogged and

of the sun. Even I am there, having forgotten what I thought I could never forget that twilight tryst at the city gate. The mob clamors and calls, and presently she comes, the queen, and stands in the blue archway above the central portico. I see her and know her for my passenger-"

He stopped sharply, as if he could not breathe. The man who had been a pirate lifted his head from his arm and sat up in the sand.

"I was there in that mob," he asserted. "I saw her."

There was a moment's silence; then the youngest prisoner continued:

"You must know, all of you, of course, what she said to her people that night. She promised to take the prince for a husband if they would consent to choosing a second subject from among her own subjects. This, as you know, they promised, and the runners went north to summon the prince. I returned to my house by the river and lay all night on my roof, staring at the stars.

"The next day at sunset she came to the gateway by the river. She was very quiet, and so was I, and my boat went forward silently except for the beating of the oars and the wash of the water as we passed through it. I did not sing. 'You are the queen,' I said to her after the sun had set and the red lanterns of her city had been hung out by the watchman, 'and I love you.'

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"For a moment she stood idle by the wall.

""Take me back now,' she said.

"But I did not take her back that night; not until the red lanterns again gleamed from the city walls.

"All kisses are sweet, and it is good to feel them warming one's life for an instant; but the kisses I took from her that night were death-kisses. They gave my soul to its fate. They were arrows in my spirit. I was hers, and she knew it, then and forever.

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I went. You know that the prince died of a strange sickness before he reached our city to claim his bride. I was very skilful. And now that is what you will not understand, what I do not understand my own self. I came back to my queen, and I said to myself that I had no desire to live in the palace as her husband. I had no desire for her riches. But I swore that she should belong only to me, always. I did not go to her. I knew that she came every night, as she promised, to the city gate, and there I waited for her all day—waited without food; waited, trembling from feet to my lips, as if from cold or weakness. At last I saw her. She came down the steps slowly. Two men were following her. She did not speak to me. I saw that her eyes were full of tears. I started toward her, but she lifted her hand suddenly and pointed at me. Then she went away, and the men came and tied my hands and brought me here, and I knew that she wanted me to die. I am not sorry that it is to be so. I know, I think, why she wishes it, despite the kisses that I had from her that night. There is a sort of madness in her brain, a madness keen to the point of unreason. And that she has found life possible despite her melancholy has been her triumph. She will not weaken now. She will go her way alone. She is a spirit leaping toward her brother, the sun. Vast as the light of the sun is her aspiration toward strength. In her own strength lies her pride. She is not a woman. She is force-force, beauty, loneliness, cruelty, and the ultimate passion of all life. To be oneself is the ultimate passion, I think, of living. She will be herself, none other. No one may touch her to weaken her, to change her. to destroy her. She will not permit it. and love, she knows well, overthrows the strongest.

"And so, my friends, to-morrow at dawn I die."

He paused. The smile that was forever near his lips had gone.

The other prisoners took up his story and told one another many strange things that they had known of women and of the abyss that lies between a woman's soul and her body.

The man who did not believe that the

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