Puslapio vaizdai

starved and ordered to speak no more. again; that is all. It was not a great When, after only a few days, upon crime, my crime; it was a beautiful leaving the prison he resumed his blas- crime. I loved—I dared to love, the sisphemy, he was again taken, and this ter of the sun." time sentenced to die.

He paused. The men lying in the Of the other eleven who this mid- sand stirred, and burrowed a little night awaited their last dawn only the closer, making a smaller circle, drawing youngest was noteworthy. The murder- more intimately together, for his last ers, the thieves, the traitors, and the words had come a little faintly. The fool who had milked the sacred white silence held for a second. The palmcow and given the milk, in the jeweled tree against the stars (the queen's fan) bucket of goid, to a beggar woman and stirred as if the queen had barely moved her baby, all, however, had done deeds her hand. in some way curious or violent or mad. “I am a boatman,” the youngest prisThey were men who had been without oner continued presently, “but I was proper respect for the laws; they talked brought up in the household of a philosviciously, with many oaths; they drank opher, and I know more, perhaps, of deeply of the wine; they laughed and what has been taught and written by scoffed; they spoke of women with a the wise than any of you here, unless it strange blindness in their eyes; they is you," he allowed, looking at the one told the most dreadful things. One who maintained that the sun was not man who had gone to sea and had been God. a pirate repeated for the last of many “Also I am a poet; I have made very hundred times a tale at which even beautiful songs. How I happened to be these others shuddered.

a boatman is not the story I shall tell “I tell you, my brothers," said the you to-night. Indeed, it is not a story fool, presently, “that men who have at all. The sister of the sun is very canever lain together under the shadow pricious. One night I saw some one of death and waited for the dawn to standing on the white steps leading pour like blood along the sky do not from one of the city gates down to the know what life can hold. It is as river, waiting, I thought, for a boat. ] well not to be afraid to milk the sacred rowed closer. I thought it was a young cow.'

man, for although it was the queen her. “Come, boy,” said another to the self, as I came to know, she wore the youngest, “talk. Amuse us. The night dress of a Her cloak was of passes. Live again in words as well as white silk, very simple and without emin your dreams. All that is secret and broideries, but heavy and rich, and tied incommunicable in life will go with us about her with a gold cord. And slung into our graves like shadows that God, about her shoulders, held in place also the sun, himself could not banish. But by a gold cord that crossed the first, the other things, the deeds, the crimes was the skin of a lion. It was exactly -come, talk. Share your searets with like the sky in color, for it was the hour friends whose tongues you may safely of sunset, and you know what sunset trust."

is like on our river. Her legs were bare He laughed at this; they all did, ex- beneath her white cloak, but on her feet. cept the youngest, who sat up suddenly, and reaching half-way up to her knees. shook the sand from his hair, and spoke. were curious shoes of scarlet leather

“I will tell you my secret, my crime,” laced about with silver. Her head was he said. They were surprised, he had bound with a turban, not exactly like a been so reticent during his month man's turban; in fact, I have never seen among them.

I will tell you not to anything quite like it. It was an inamuse you, for I will choke the man vention of her own, I suppose, designed who smiles. I am very strong, really.” to hold up and conceal her hair. Her He spread out his hands and looked at hair is a torrent when it ripples down them as if examining a weapon. Then her back; there is an enormous mass of he resumed, smiling himself. “I will it. It is very tawny; gold and red, like tell you because I must tell myself the lion's skin and the sunset on our

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river. The turban was turquoise in from this gateway, but looking back, color and showed most deftly the proud one can see the city shining in the aftershape of her head.

glow. The river, too, as golden as a "While I held my boat at the landing dagger-a curved dagger in the hand I could not speak for looking at her. of the night. Then the white walls and It did not come to me instantly that it the towers and the minarets seem to was a woman. It was only a dream I come loose from the land in the gradusaw, until she spoke in a voice at once ally growing darkness, and there is no clear and low.

more a golden city by a golden river, 'No,' she said, 'I do not want a but a garden carved out of pearl, rising boat. I came out to look at the sunset. from purple shadows toward the first I must go back.'

stars. When the gate-keepers hang out “ 'If you will come with me, sir, the red lanterns, which look like small I said, for since she pretended to be a dragons of fire, I return. But there is man I did not falter at humoring her one wonder there on my hill by the mood, 'I will row you down the river river of which it is difficult to speak.' to a green hill where I myself often go

"I paused. to watch the sunset.'

The fragrance,' I explained; 'a fra"You will find me a poor passen- grance of many strong, sweet odors ger,' she answered. 'I have left my that no one can describe. The early purse behind and have no money.' night winds, blowing in from the

“ 'I will take the sunset's gold for my desert, bring the aroma of thousands of fare,' I said.

herbs pressed between the hands of the "'Who are you?' she asked curi- day and the night. And along the river ously.

the slopes covered with sweet grasses “ 'Only one of the river boatmen,' I seem to awaken at the cool urge of the told her.

dew and send out of their soil a scent"There was a slight pause. She was something like the scent of the earth staring at me.

after the first spring rains. From the “ 'Is the sunset more beautiful from groves of camphor-trees to the south, any place in the world than from this far to the south, the winds bring a gateway?' she asked, but more of her faint, poignant odor more delicate and self than of me. However, I answered: yet keener than that from the sweet

" 'The sunset is not more beautiful, gum-trees just beyond the city walls. perhaps, from my hill by the river than Yet that is not all, for about one's feet

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spring the lilies-of-the-valley-lilies-of- a white plaster house, very small, and the-valley that grow wild beneath the made entirely by my own hands. tangled purple heliotrope, which stands “ 'I thought all little houses were sometimes little short of my arm-pits.' hideous and dirty,' she said as we stood

'Are there paths up this hill?' she on the roof, and she leaned against the asked. 'Can one find one's way in this wall, looking down at the heliotrope, dense wild garden of yours?'

flowering high, below. Then she sat "There are paths,' I said, 'that I on a rose and turquoise rug that I threw have made myself, and kept clean with over some grass cushions for her, and sand from the river-bank.' I told her of drank the wine that I brought her from a the paths, but not of my little house, or jar which had hung suspended by a rope of certain treasures I kept there, locked in a deep well. She drank from one of behind a heavy door to which there was the most beautiful glasses in the world. but one key—this one." He held up a I had it from the philosopher, but that piece of metal that 'flashed in the star- would not interest you. Only she knew light. For a moment he stared at it. that it was beautiful; and when she “The key that once was the queen's had drunk the wine she held the glass jailer for a day and a night,” he said between her eyes and the sunset, turnquietly; then he put it back against his ing now and then to look up the river bare skin, beneath his soiled silk blouse. toward the city. His blouse was of silk, the finest silk, 'Yes, this is the loveliest place in though it had become sand-stained and the world from which to see the sunset,' torn. Then he resumed: “She stepped she said. “How golden the city looks, into the boat. I put off. She was silent, and, oh, the river! It is a beautiful but I could not help singing.

city, is it not?' “Sing that same song again,' she “From her tone she might have been commanded when I had stopped.

a mother speaking of her child. “I sang the song again.

"That was the first of many sunset 'What is it called?' she asked when hours that brought the sister of the sun again I had finished.

to my little house. Always she dressed 'It has no name,' I answered. herself as a man, for as a woman she

‘From whom did you learn it?' could not have gone alone through the

'From myself. It is my own song.' streets; and the queen likes to walk “ She was quiet again.

alone. She is a very lonely woman.

I "Presently I drew the boat up on the did not know that she was the queen, white sand of the river-bank, and she however, not then, and for a time I stepped out. The hill above us rose used to wonder. Sometimes her cloak dark, like the dome of an impenetrable was black instead of white; sometimes tree, against the long, phantom, radiant her turban was green instead of blue; river of light flowing against the west- but she always wore the skin of the crn horizon. We ascended the white tawny lion about her shoulders, and her sand paths. We pressed our way for- tawny hair was always bound up under ward against the reluctance of the flow- the turban. I could talk many hours, ers and foliage arching across the paths telling you of the things she said, of against our bodies. You might think how she looked, of the emotion I felt; that the fragrance would become intoler- but I will tell you only the things that able, but it was not so. The light winds you cannot possibly understand, for I lifted it and bore it away just as it grew am talking to myself, and not to you." too heavily sweet, or just as it seemed He paused. The fool groaned. The about to lodge, with the paralysis of a man who did not believe that the sun drug, in one's brain, one's nerves. And was God shivered. The others were the winds that came and went, remem- quite still. Even the soldiers who had ber, bore other odors more aromatic, been pacing the wall were motionless lighter, less disturbing than that of the against the sky, like figures carved from heliotrope mingled with the new keen shadowy silver. scent of the lilies-of-the-valley.

“The queen is a very strange woman," “So we came to my little house; it is 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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