Page images
PDF
EPUB

showed here and there a receptive, bald cast; and once it impelled me enough hollow untufted with beach-grass, and out of my course, so that I brushed resigned myself to an intermittent doze, against the bank of the marsh and felt waking after a time to the roar of its crabby breath in my face as I looked gratified mosquitoes from the marsh, far into its mysterious, cathedral-like who in the breathless dawn were hav- dusk between the stems of the reeds, ing a fiesta over this unexpected meal which in the distance stirred slightly spread upon the dune. Across the bay with the passing of some unseen watera red ball was rolling up behind a blue creature. Near by, small brown crabs bar of distant shore. Sunrise!

were scrabbling through the roots of A puff of air, foretelling the wind the grasses, happy and light-hearted in that comes up with the sun, met me as their mud,-just like biologists!—and I ran down to the edge of our creek waving their nippers ferociously at one where it widened invitingly toward the another. harbor. It was running swiftly out, With only the sweep of the tide about well on the ebb. The light glinted on me, an unearthly glow from fiery cloud the sandy bottom through the clear overhead, and the green, fast-flying water; I looked at it longingly a mo- walls on each side, the world was utterly ment, then seized my supine bag and shut out; indeed, after indefinite driftfled up the path to the wooded hill. ing, it had almost begun to seem as if

Far out in the marsh a figure swathed there were no world but this one of silin trailing white presently picked its ence and swift waters, when, swinging way through the stiff-bladed grass around a familiar bend, I found myself to the edge of the upper creek. Splash! at last grounding on familiar sands. and down the deep channel it glee- Snatching my linen coat from its fully drifted, over great holes scooped twig in the cherry-tree, I hastened by the current, a wall of bright-green Cladly across the reassurance of stolid reeds on each side, rosy clouds over- sand-flats under discouraged willows. head, and the tips of the grass-wall The surface of the sea was wrinkling; becoming charmingly alight with sun- a sailing-breeze had sprung up. I felt rise; on and on, around a bend, hurry- damp and cool and very salt, and ravening with the serene hurry of the tide. ously hungry not so much for food as The slit of sky above was changing for mere, priceless speech with my kind, to fiery red; the push and sweep of having lived through in that one night, the water was delicious. Perhaps, I it seemed, considerably more than my thought, as it curled around my chin, desired year of solitude. even Ophelia may have exulted in that From the harbor came inspiriting brief moment in the "weeping brook” sounds: a competing chock of oars; when

ropes running through blocks

schooner-sails went up, the retrogres... Her clothes spread wide,

sive rat-tatting of gasoleners already "And, mermaid-like a while they bore on their way to sea. hər up;"

The good sunshine lay on white fences

and houses, smoke soared ingratiatingly for it is told of her that as they did, from many small chimneys, and as poor maid, “she chanted snatches of old fishermen hurried back and forth from tunes.”

the shore, I found myself actually I, too, should have very much liked clutching at snatches of their rough to chant or to shout, but was quite talk and laughter, listening eagerly as breathlessly busy steering around turns to something precious. and over deep spots where one glanced By a familiar, gray wharf, which thrillingly down and saw the delightful wandered seaward from the heart of scary green depths below, with dim eels. the town, I stopped, staring at a line wriggling, and great crabs parading of busy figures in oilskins bent ababout. The strong-willed tide twisted sorbedly over a row of tubs that stood freakishly, trying to cast me up on besides the wall of a fish-house. Picksand-bars, as all proper drift should be ling had begun!

as

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]
[graphic][subsumed][subsumed]

She is force-force,

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 circle, broad, and defined by sharp walls

die by the queen's com- set within the higher outer wall. T

mand at the rising of the Here, where there were only sand and sun (her brother) lay face rocks, and about a spring a few low

downward in the sand, trees and some rank grass, lived the some of them drunken, and others sober reptiles, long, evil snakes, forever despite the wine that the guards had athirst for the blood of man or horse permitted them on their last night on or bird, or low-lying, prowling, seeking, earth, and told the strange histories of hateful, forever waiting to whip his their wayward souls—the histories that life from some intruder. were to end at dawn.

An ascetic young man, always pale There were twelve of them. They and wet with a continual sweat, wiped had come from all parts of the queen's the cold moisture from his eyelids, dried kingdom to this moon-lit prison-yard, his hand in the sand, and then turned set about by insurmountable walls so on his back to look up at the stars. He thickly built that soldiers paced their was from another land, a land to the heights three abreast. The prisoners, north; he had come preaching a strange if they cared to look, could see them up religion. The sun, he had preached, there, their arms and armor glinting in was not God. The sun could not be the moonlight as they moved back and God; the sun was only the sun. God forth, so far above that they seemed to was a mighty being who kept himself in promenade among the stars. One date- a silver heaven, and with a million eyes tree in the distance beyond spread its looked down upon this world; God, he palms against the moon-washed sky. preached, had a million hands with The youngest prisoner, the silent and which to scourge the wicked and the unimperturbable boy who often smiled at believers and from which to pour benehis own thoughts, had a special name fits upon the righteous and the meek. for the date-tree; "the queen's fan," he The queen herself did not hesitate to called it. The soldiers on the wall listen to the strange prophets and laughed and talked, but the prisoners priests that now and then came down could not hear them, and the soldiers the great yellow road that ran through could not hear the prisoners, who also her kingdom. They amused her; sometalked and sometimes laughed.

times they excited her: but she felt Only the beasts slept, the great that it was very bad for the morale of beasts from the jungle who paced by her subjects to have the validity of her day the broad area that circled the religion debated. Her brother, the sun, deep-walled yard, and kept a watch that whom all men and women and even the the most desperate man, even though littlest children, worshiped as the giver condemned to die by torture, would hesi- of all good things, was not to be spoken tate to chance even in a drunken dream of skeptically by strange young men of freedom. And beyond the vast ring from the north. So this white and of the beasts there was still another feverish one was taken and flogged and 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 herCome, boy,” said another to the self, as I came to know, she wore the youngest, “talk. Amuse us. The night dress of a man.

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

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

trust."

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]

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.

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

She was

« PreviousContinue »