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Title: Sulamith: A Romance of Antiquity
Author: Kuprin, A. I. (Aleksandr Ivanovich), 1870-1938
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sulamith: A Romance of Antiquity" ***

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_Printed in 18 point Caslon on Villon Antique Laid paper. 1500 numbered
copies were issued for subscribers, and type distributed after printing.
The illustrations were especially designed for this edition._


_This is number_ [1114]


[Illustration]



SULAMITH

_A Romance of Antiquity_

_By_ ALEXANDRE KUPRIN

Author of "_Yama_" (_The Pit_), etc.

_Translated from the Russian_

By B. G. GUERNEY

with

_Eight full-page illustrations in color_

_By_ FORBES-FELIX

NEW YORK

_Privately Printed for Subscribers_

MCMXXVIII


  Copyright by
  NICHOLAS L. BROWN
  _All Rights Reserved_

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

_AUTHOR'S DEDICATION:_

To Ivan Alexeievich Bunin

  A. Kuprin



Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm: for love
_is_ strong as death; jealousy _is_ cruel as the grave: the coals
thereof _are_ coals of fire, which _hath_ a most vehement flame.[1]

_THE SONG OF SONGS_



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  Plate One       _Frontispiece_
  Plate Two                  Page  65
  Plate Three                Page  85
  Plate Four                 Page 101
  Plate Five                 Page 129
  Plate Six                  Page 161
  Plate Seven                Page 185
  Plate Eight                Page 209



CHAPTER ONE

I.


King Solomon had not yet attained middle age--forty-five; yet the fame
of his wisdom and comeliness, of the grandeur of his life and the pomp
of his court, had spread far beyond the limits of Palestine. In Assyria
and Phoenicia; in Lower and Upper Ægypt; from ancient Tabriz to Yemen
and from Ismar unto Persepolis; on the coast of the Black Sea and upon
the islands of the Mediterranean,--all uttered his name in wonder, for
there was none among the kings like unto him in all his days.

In the four hundred and eightieth year after the children of Israel were
come out of Ægypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel, in
the month of Zif,[2] did the king undertake the erection of the great
temple of the Lord in Mount Moriah, and the building of his palace in
Jerusalem. Fourscore thousand stonesquarers and threescore and ten
thousand that bare burthens wrought without cease in the mountains, and
in the outskirts of the city; while ten thousand hewers that cut timber,
out of a number of eight and thirty thousand, were sent each month, by
courses, to Lebanon, where they spent a month in labour so arduous that
they rested for two months thereafter. Thousands of men tied the cut
trees into flotes, and hundreds of seamen brought them by sea to Jaffa,
where they were fashioned by Tyrians, skilled to work at turning and
carpentry. Only at the rearing of the pyramids of Khephren, Khufu, and
Mencheres, at Ghizeh, had such an infinite multitude of labourers been
used.

Three thousand and six hundred officers oversaw the works; while
Azariah, the son of Nathan, was over the officers,--a cruel man and an
active, concerning whom had sprung up a rumour that he never slept,
devoured by the fire of an internal, incurable disease. As for the
plans of the palace and the temple; the drawings of the columns, the
fore-court, and the brasen sea; the designs for the windows; the
ornaments of the walls and the thrones,--they had all been created by
the master builder Hiram-Abiah of Sidon, the son of a worker in brass
of the tribe of Naphtali.

After seven years, in the month of Bul,[3] the temple of the Lord was
completed; and after thirteen years, the palace of the king also. For
cedar logs out of Lebanon, for cypress and olive boards, for almug,
shittim, and tarshish woods, for great stones, costly stones, and hewed
and polished stones; for purple, scarlet, and for byssin broidered in
gold; for stuffs of blue wool; for ivory and red-dyed rams' skins; for
iron, onyx, and the vast quantity of marble; for precious stones; for
the chains, the wreaths, the cords, the tongs, the nets, the lavers,
and the flowers and the lamps and the candlesticks,--all, all of gold;
for the hinges of gold for the doors, and the nails of gold, weighing
sixty shekels each; for the basons and platters of beaten gold; for
ornaments,--graven and in mosaic; for the images of lions, cherubim,
oxen, palms and pineapples, both hewn in stone and molten,--for all
these did Solomon give Hiram, King of Tyre, who bore the same name as
the master builder, twenty cities and hamlets in the land of Galilee,
and Hiram found the gift insignificant. With such splendour had been
built the temple of the Lord, and the palace of Solomon, and the little
palace at Millo for the king's wife, the beautiful Queen Astis, daughter
to Shishak, Pharaoh of Ægypt; while the redwood which later went for the
balustrades and stairs of the galleries, for the musical instruments and
for the bindings of the sacred books, had been brought as a gift to
Solomon by the Queen of Sheba, the wise and beautiful Balkis, together
with such a quantity of aromatic incense, sweet smelling oils, and
precious perfumes, as had never been seen before in the land of Israel.

With each year did the riches of the king increase. Thrice a year
did his ships return to harbour: the Tarshish, that sailed the
Mediterranean, and the Hiram, that sailed the Black Sea. They brought
out of Africa ivory and apes and peacocks and antelopes; richly adorned
chariots out of Ægypt; live tigers and lions, as well as animal pelts
and furs, out of Mesopotamia; snow-white steeds out of Cuth; gold dust
out of Parvaam that came to six hundred and threescore talents in one
year; redwood, ebony and sandalwood out of the land of Ophir; gay rugs
of Asshur and Calah, of marvelous designs,--the friendly gifts of King
Tiglath-Pileser; artistic mosaic out of Nineveh, Nimroud, and Sargon;
wondrous figured stuffs out of Khatuar; goblets of beaten gold out
of Tyre; stained glass out of Sidon; and out of Punt, which is near
Bab-el-Medebu, those rare perfumes,--nard, aloes, calamus, cinnamon,
saffron, amber, musk, stacte, galbanum, Smyrna myrrh, and
frankincense,--for the possession of which the Ægyptian pharaohs had
more than once embarked upon bloody wars.

As for silver, it was accounted of as common stone in the days of
Solomon, and redwood was of no more value than the common sycamores that
grow in the low plains in abundance.

Pools of stone, lined with porphyry, and marble cisterns and cool
fountains did the king build, commanding the water to be conveyed from
mountain springs that plunged down into the Kidron's torrent; while
around the palace he planted gardens and groves, and cultivated a
vineyard in Baal-hamon.

And Solomon had forty thousand stalls for mules and for the horses for
his chariots, and twelve thousand for his cavalry; barley also and straw
for the horses were brought daily from the provinces. Thirty measures of
fine flour, and threescore measures of other meal; an hundred baths of
different wines; ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and
three hundred sheep, not counting harts and roebucks, and fallowdeer,
and fatted fowl,--all this, passing through the hands of twelve officers,
went daily for the table of Solomon, as well as for his court, his
retinue, and his guard. Threescore warriors, out of a number of five
hundred of the most stalwart and most valiant in all his army, held
watch by turns in the inner chambers of the palace. Five hundred
bucklers, covered with plates of gold, did the king command to be made
for his bodyguards.



CHAPTER TWO

II.


Whatsoever the eyes of the king might desire, he kept not from them; and
withheld not his heart from any joy. Seven hundred wives had the king,
and three hundred concubines, without counting slaves and dancers. And
all of them did Solomon charm with his love, for God had endowed him
with such an inexhaustible strength of passion as was not given to
ordinary men.

He loved the white-faced, black-eyed, red-lipped Hittites for their
vivid but momentary beauty, that bursts into blossom just as early and
enchantingly, and fades just as rapidly as the flower of the narcissus;
the swarthy, tall, vehement Philistines, with wiry, curly locks, who wore
golden, tinkling armlets upon their wrists, golden hoops upon their
shoulders, and broad anklets, joined by a thin little chain, upon both
ankles; gentle, diminutive, lithe Ammorites formed without a blemish,
whose faithfulness and submissiveness in love had passed into a proverb;
women out of Assyria, who put their eyes in painting to make them seem
more elongated, and who ate out with acid blue stars upon their
foreheads and cheeks; well-schooled, gay and witty daughters of Sidon,
who knew well how to sing and dance, as well as to play upon harps,
lutes and flutes, to the accompaniment of tabours; xanthochroöus women
of Ægypt, indefatigable in love and insane in jealousy; voluputous
Babylonians, whose entire body underneath their raiment was as smooth
as marble, because they eradicated the hair upon it with a special
paste; virgins of Baktria, who stained their nails and hair a fiery-red
colour, and wore wide, loose trowsers; silent, bashful Moabites, whose
magnificent breasts were cool on the sultriest nights of summer;
care-free and profligate Ammonites, with fiery hair, and flesh of such
whiteness that it glowed in the dark; frail, blue-eyed women with flaxen
hair, and skin of a delicate fragrance, who were brought from the north,
through Baalbec, and whose tongue was incomprehensible to all the
dwellers in Palestine. The king loved many daughters of Judæa and Israel
besides.

Also shared he his couch with Balkis-Mâkkedah, the Queen of Sheba, who
had surpassed all women on earth in beauty, wisdom, riches, and her
diversified art in passion; and with Abishag the Shunamite, who had
warmed the old age of David,--a kindly, quiet beauty, for whose sake
Solomon had put to death his elder brother Adonijah, at the hands of
Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada.

And also with the poor maiden of the vineyard, by the name of Sulamith,
whom alone among all women the king had loved with all his heart.

Solomon made himself a litter of the best cedar wood, with pillars of
silver, with arm-rests of gold in the form of recumbent lions, with a
covering of purple Tyrian stuff, while the entire inner side of the
covering was ornamented with gold embroidery and with precious
stones,--the love-gifts of the women and virgins of Jerusalem. And when
well-built black slaves bore Solomon among his people on grand festal
days, truly was the king glorious, like the lilies that are in the
Valley of Sharon!

Pale was his face; his lips like unto a vivid thread of scarlet; his
wavy locks a bluish black, and in them--the adornment of wisdom--gleamed
gray hairs, like to the silver threads of mountain streams, falling down
from the dark crags of Hermon; gray hairs glistened in his dark beard
also, curled, after the custom of the kings of Assyria, in regular,
small rows.

As for the eyes of the king, they were dark, like the darkest agate, like
the heavens on a moonless night in summer; while his eye-lashes, that
spread upward and downward like arrows, resembled dark rays around dark
stars. And there was no man in all the universe who could bear the gaze
of Solomon without casting down his eyes. And the lightnings of wrath in
the eyes of the king would prostrate people to the earth.

But there were moments of heartfelt merriment, when the king would grow
intoxicated with love, or wine, or the delight of power, or when he
rejoiced over words of wisdom or beauty, fitly spoken. Then his lashes
would be softly half-lowered, casting blue shadows upon his radiant
face, and in the king's eyes would kindle the warm flames of a kindly,
tender laughter, just like the play of black diamonds; and whosoever
might behold this smile was ready to yield up body and soul for it--so
indescribably beautiful was it. The mere name of King Solomon, uttered
aloud, stirred the hearts of women, like the fragrance of spilt myrrh
that recalls nights of love.

The king's hands were soft, white, warm and beautiful, like a woman's;
but they held such an excess of life energy that, by the laying on
of his palms upon the temples of the sick, the king cured headaches,
convulsions, black melancholy, and demoniacal possession. Upon the index
finger of his left hand the king wore a gem of blood-red asteria that
emitted six pearl-coloured rays. Many centuries did this ring number,
and upon the reverse side of its stone was graven an inscription, in the
tongue of an ancient, vanished people: "All things pass away."

And so great was the sway of Solomon's soul that even beasts submitted
to it; lions and tigers crawled at the feet of the king, rubbing their
muzzles against his knees, and licking his hands with their rough
tongues, whenever he entered their quarters. And he, whose heart found
joy in the dazzling play of precious stones, in the fragrance of
sweet-smelling Ægyptian resins, in the soft touch of light stuffs, in
sweet music, in the exquisite taste of red, sparkling wine playing in
a chased Ninuanian chalice,--he also loved to stroke the coarse manes
of lions, the velvety backs of black panthers, and the tender paws
of young, speckled leopards; loved to hear the roar of wild beasts, to
see their powerful and superb movements, and to feel the hot feral odour
of their breath.

Thus did Jehoshaphat, the son of Ahilud, the historian of his days,
depict King Solomon.



CHAPTER THREE

III.


"Because thou hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked
riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies; but hast
asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done
according to thy words; lo, I have given thee a wise and understanding
heart: so that there was none like thee before thee, neither after thee
shall any arise like unto thee."

Thus spake God unto Solomon, and through His word did the king come to
know the structure of the universe and the working of the elements; to
fathom the beginning, end, and midst of all ages; to penetrate the
mystery of the eternal, wave-like and rotating recurrence of events;
from the astronomers of Byblos, Acre, Sargon, Borsippa and Nineveh did
he learn to watch the yearly orbits of the stars and the changes in
their positions. He knew also the nature of all animals and divined the
feelings of beasts; he understood the source and direction of winds, the
different properties of plants, and the potency of healing herbs.

The designs in the heart of man are deep waters, but even them could
the king fathom. In the words and voice, in the eyes, in the motions
of the hands, he read the innermost mysteries of souls as plainly as
the characters of an open book. And because of that, from all ends of
Palestine, there came to him a vast multitude of people, imploring
judgment, advice, help, the settlement of some dispute, as well as the
solving of incomprehensible portents and dreams. And men would marvel
at the profundity and finesse of Solomon's answers.

Three thousand proverbs did Solomon compose, and his songs were a
thousand and five. He dictated them to two skilled and rapid scribes:
Elihoreph and Ahiah, the sons of Shisha, and afterwards collated
what both had written. Always did he clothe his thoughts in choice
expressions, for a word fitly spoken is like an apple of gold in a bowl
of translucent sardonyx;[4] and also for that the words of the wise are
as goads, and as nails fastened by the masters of assemblies, which
are given from one Shepherd. "A word is a spark in the motion of the
heart,"--thus saith the king. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom
of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of the
Ægyptians. For he was above all men in wisdom; wiser than Ethan the
Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Dardra, the sons of Mahol. But he
was already beginning to weary of the beauty of ordinary human wisdom,
and no longer did it have its former value in his eyes. With a restless
and searching mind did he thirst after that higher wisdom, which the
Lord possessed in the beginning of His way, before His works of old, set
up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was; that
wisdom which was His great artificer when He set a compass upon the
face of the deep. And Solomon found it not.

The king mastered the teachings of the magi of Chaldæa and Nineveh; the
science of the astrologers of Abydos, Sais, and Memphis; the secrets of
the Assyrian sorcerers, mystagogues, and epopts, and of the fatidicæ of
Baktria and Persepolis; and he had become convinced that their knowledge
was but the knowledge of mortals.

Also did he seek for wisdom in the occult rites of ancient pagan faiths,
and for that reason visited idol-temples and offered up oblations to the
mighty Baal-Lebanon, who was honoured under the name of Melkart,--the
god of creation and destruction, the patron of navigation in Tyre and
Sidon,--called Ammon in the Oasis of Sibakh, where his idol would nod his
head to indicate the routes to festal processions; called Bel by the
Chaldæans, and Moloch by the Canaanites. He also bowed down before his
spouse,--the dread and passionate Astarte, who bore in other temples the
names of Ishtar, Isaar, Baaltis, Ashera, Istar-Belet, and Atargatis.
He libated holy oil and burnt incense before Isis and Osiris of
Ægypt,--sister and brother, joined in wedlock while still in the womb
of their mother and there conceiving the god Horus; and before Derketo,
the pisciform Tyrian goddess; and before Anubis of the dog's head, the
god of embalming; and before the Babylonian Cannes; and Dagon of the
Philistines; and the Assyrian Abdenago; and Utsabu, the Ninevehian idol;
and the sombre Kybele; and Bel Marduk, the patron of Babylon,--the god of
the planet Jupiter; and the Chaldæan Or,--the god of eternal fire; and
the mystic Omorca, the first mother of the gods, whom Bel had cloven in
two parts, creating heaven and earth out of them, and out of her head,
men; and the king bowed down also before the goddess Anaïtis, in whose
honour the virgins of Phoenicia, Lydia, Armenia and Persia gave up
their bodies to passers-by, as a sacred offering, at the threshold of
temples.

But the king found in the pagan rites nought save drunkenness, night
orgies, lechery, incest, and lusts contrary to nature; and in their
dogmas he perceived vain discourse and deception. But he forbade none
of his subjects to offer up sacrifices to a favourite god, and he
even built upon the Mount of Olives an idol-temple for Chemosh, the
abomination of Moab, at the supplication of the beautiful, pensive
Ellaan, the Moabite, the then favorite wife of the king. One thing
only could not Solomon abide and pursued with death,--the bringing
of children in sacrifice.

And he saw in his seekings that that which befalleth the sons of men
befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them: as one dieth, so
dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no
preëminence above a beast. And the king understood, that in much wisdom
is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. He
also learned that even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end
of mirth is heaviness. And so one morning he dictated to Elihoreph and
Ahiah:

"'All is vanity of vanities and vexation of spirits'--thus saith
Ecclesiastes."

But at that time the king did not yet know that God would soon send him
a love so tender and ardent, so devoted and beautiful,--more precious in
itself than riches, fame, and wisdom; more precious than life itself,
for it values not even life, nor hath fear of death.



CHAPTER FOUR

IV.


The king had a vineyard at Baal-hamon, upon the southern slope of
Bath-El-Khav, to the south of the idol-temple of Moloch; thither
did the king love to withdraw in the hours of his great meditations.
Pomegranate,--olive,--and wild apple-trees, interspersed with cedars and
cypresses, bordered it on three sides upon the mountain, while on the
fourth it was fenced off from the road by a high stone wall. And other
vineyards, lying about, also belonged to Solomon; he let them out unto
keepers, each one for a thousand pieces of silver.

Only with the dawn came to an end in the palace the magnificent feast
which the King of Israel was giving in honour of the emissaries of the
King of Assyria, the good Tiglath-Pileser. Despite his fatigue, Solomon
could not fall asleep this morn. Neither wine nor hippocras had befogged
the stout heads of the Assyrians, nor loosened their canny tongues. But
the penetrating mind of the wise king had already forestalled their
plans, and was, in its turn, already weaving a fine political net,
wherein he would enmesh these proud men with supercilious eyes and of
flattering speech. Solomon would be able to preserve the necessary amity
with the potentate of Assyria, yet at the same time, for the sake of
his eternal friendship with Hiram of Tyre, would save from pillage the
latter's kingdom, which, with its countless riches, hid in subterranean
vaults underneath narrow streets, had for a long time drawn the covetous
gazes of oriental sovereigns.

And so at dawn Solomon had commanded himself to be borne to Mount
Bath-El-Khav; had left the litter far down the road, and is now seated
alone upon a simple wooden bench, above the vineyard, under the shade of
the trees, still hiding in their branches the dewy chill of night. The
king has on a simple white mantle, fastened at the right shoulder and
at the left side by two Ægyptian clasps of green gold, in the shape of
curled crocodiles,--the symbol of the god Sebekh. The hands of the king
lie motionless upon his knees, while his eyes, overshadowed by deep
thought, unwinking, are directed toward the east, in the direction of
the Dead Sea,--there, where from the rounded summit of Anaze the sun is
rising in the flame of dawn.

The morning wind is blowing from the east and spreads the fragrance of
the grape in blossom,--a delicate fragrance, like that of mignonette and
mulled wine. The dark cypresses sway their slender tops pompously and
pour out their resinous breath. The silvery-green leaves of the olives
hurriedly converse among themselves.

But now Solomon arises and hearkens carefully. An endearing feminine
voice, clear and pure as this dewy morn, is singing somewhere not far
off, beyond the trees. The simple and tender motive runs on and on, of
its own accord, like a ringing rill in the mountains, repeating the five
or six notes, always the same. And its unpretentious, exquisite charm
calls forth a smile in the eyes of the touched king.

Nearer and nearer sounds the voice. Now it is already here, alongside,
behind the spreading cedars, behind the dark verdure of the junipers.
Then the king cautiously parts the branches with his hands, quietly
makes his way between the prickly branches, and comes out upon an open
place.

Before him, beyond the low wall, rudely built of great yellow stones,
the vineyard spreads upward. A girl, in a light garment of blue, walks
between the rows of vines, bending down over something below, and again
straightening up, and she is singing. Her ruddy hair flames in the sun:

  The breath of the day is coolness,
  And the shadows flee away.
  Turn, my beloved,
  And be thou like a roe or a young hart,
  Within the clefts of the rocks....

Thus sings she, tying up the grapevines, and slowly descends, nearer and
nearer the stone wall behind which the king is standing. She is alone,
none sees nor hears her; the scent of the grapes in blossom, the joyous
freshness of the morning, and the warm blood in her heart are like
wine unto her, and now the words of the naïve little song are born
spontaneously upon her lips and are carried away by the wind, to be
forgotten forever:

  Take us the foxes,
  The little foxes
  That spoil the vines:
  For our vines have tender grapes.

In this manner does she reach the very wall, and, without noticing the
king, turns about and walks on, climbing the hill lightly, along the
neighbouring row of vines. Now her song sounds less distinctly:

  Make haste, my beloved,
  And be thou like to a roe or a young hart
  Upon the mountains of spices.

But suddenly she grows silent and bends so low to the ground that she
can not be seen behind the vines.

Then Solomon utters in a voice that caresses the ear:

"Maiden, show me thy face; let me hear thy voice anew."

She straightens up quickly and turns her face to the king. A strong wind
arises at this second and flutters the light garment upon her, suddenly
making it cling tightly around her body and between her legs. And the
king, for an instant, until she turns her back to the wind, sees all of
her beneath the raiment, as though naked,--tall and graceful, in the
vigorous bloom of thirteen years; sees her little, round, firm breasts
and the elevations of her nipples, from which the cloth spreads out in
rays; and the virginal abdomen, round as a bason; and the deep line that
divides her legs from the bottom to the top, and there parts in two,
toward the rounded hips.

"For sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance comely," says Solomon.

She draws nearer and gazes upon the king with trembling and with
rapture. Her swarthy and vivid face is inexpressibly beautiful. Her
heavy, thick, dark-red hair, into which she has stuck two flowers of the
scarlet poppy, covers her shoulders in countless resilient ringlets and
spreads over her back, and, transpierced by the rays of the sun, glows
in flame, like aureate purple. A necklace which she had made herself out
of some red, dried berries, naïvely winds twice about her long, dark,
slender neck.

"I did not notice thee!" she says gently, and her voice sounds like the
song of a flute. "Whence didst thou come?"

"Thou sangst so well, maiden!"

She bashfully casts down her eyes and turns red, but beneath her long
lashes and in the corners of her lips trembles a secret smile.

"Thou sangst of thy dear. He is as light as a roe, as a young hart upon
the mountains. For he is very fair, thy dear,--is not that the truth,
maiden?"

Her laughter is ringing and musical, as though silver were falling upon
a golden platter.

"I have no dear. It is but a song. I have yet had no dear...."

For a minute they are silent, and intently, without smiling, gaze at
each other.... Birds loudly call one another among the trees. The
maiden's bosom quickly rises and falls under the worn linen.

"I do believe thee, beautiful one. Thou art so fair...."

"Thou dost mock me. Behold, how black I am...."

She lifts up her small, dark arms, and the broad sleeves lightly slide
down towards her shoulders, baring her elbows, that have such a slender
and rounded outline.

And she says plaintively:

"My brethren were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the
vineyard,--and now behold how the sun hath scorched me."

"O, nay, the sun hath made thee still more fair, thou fairest among
women. Lo, thou hast smiled,--and thy teeth are like white twin-lambs,
which come up from the washing, and none among them hath a blemish. Thy
cheeks are like the halves of a pomegranate within thy locks. Thy lips
are scarlet,--yea, pleasant to gaze upon. As for thy hair ... Dost know
what thy hair is like? Hast thou ever beheld a flock of sheep come down
from Mount Gilead at eve? It covers all the mountain, from summit to
foot, and from the light of the evening glow and from the dust it seems
even as ruddy and as wavy as thy locks. Thine eyes are as deep as the
two fishponds in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. O, how fair art
thou! Thy neck is straight and graceful, like the tower of David!..."

"Like the tower of David!" she repeats in rapture.

"Yea, yea, thou fairest among women. A thousand bucklers hang upon the
tower of David, all shields of vanquished chieftains. Lo, I hang my
shield also upon thy tower...."

"O, speak on, speak on...."

"And when thou didst turn around in answer to my call, and the wind
arose, I did see beneath thy raiment thy two nipples and methought:
Here be two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies. This
thy stature was like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of
grapes."

The girl cries out faintly, hides her face with her palms, and her bosom
with her elbows, and blushes so that even her ears and neck turn
crimson.

"And I saw thy hips. They are shapely, like a precious vase, the work of
the hands of a cunning workman. Take away thy hands, therefore, maiden.
Show me thy face."

She submissively let her hands drop. A deep, golden radiance glows from
the eyes of Solomon and casts a spell over her, makes her head dizzy,
and in a sweet, warm tremour streams over the skin of her body.

"Tell me, who art thou?" she says slowly, in perplexity. "Never have I
seen any like to thee."

"I am a shepherd, my beauty. I graze my splendid flocks of white lambs
upon the mountains, where the green grass is pied with narcissi. Wilt
thou not come with me, unto my pasture?"

But she quietly shakes her head:

"Canst thou think that I will believe this? Thy face has not grown rough
from the wind, nor is it scorched by the sun, and thy hands are white.
Thou hast on a costly chiton, and the buckle upon it is worth the yearly
rental that my brothers bring for our vineyard to Adoniram, the king's
tax-gatherer. Thou hast come from yonder, from beyond the wall. Thou
art, surely, one of the men near to the king? Meseems I saw thee once
upon the day of a great festival; I even remember running after thy
chariot."

[Illustration]

"Thou hast guessed it, maiden. It is hard to be hid from thee. And
verily, why shouldst thou be a wanderer nigh the flocks of the
shepherds? Yea, I am one of the king's retinue. I am the chief cook of
the king. And thou didst see me when I rode in the chariot of Ammi-nadib
on the gala-day of Passover. But why dost thou stand distant from me?
Draw nearer, my sister! Sit down here upon the stones of the wall and
tell me something of thyself. Tell me thy name."

"Sulamith," she says.

"Then, Sulamith, why have thy brothers grown wroth with thee?"

"I am ashamed to speak of it. They received moneys from the sale of their
wine, and sent me to the city to buy bread and goat-cheese. But I ..."

"And thou didst lose the money?"

"Nay, still worse...."

She bends her head low and whispers:

"Besides bread and cheese I bought a little of attar of roses,--oh, so
little!--from the Ægyptians in the old city."

"And thou didst keep this from thy brethren?"

"Yea...."

And she utters in a barely audible voice:

"Attar of roses hath so goodly a smell!"

The king caressingly strokes her little rough hand.

"Surely, thou must be lonesome, all alone in thy vineyard?"

"Nay, I work, I sing.... At noon food is brought me, and at evening one
of my brothers relieves me. At times I dig for the roots of the
mandragora, that look like little mannikins.... The Chaldæan merchants
buy them from us. It is said they make a sleeping potion out of them....
Tell me, is it true that the berries of the mandragora help in love?"

"Nay, Sulamith, only love can help in love. Tell me, hast thou a father
or a mother?"

"Only a mother. My father died two years ago. My brethren are all older
than I,--they are from the first marriage; only my sister and I have
sprung from the second."

"Is thy sister as comely as thou?"

"She is little. She is but nine."

The king laughs quietly, embraces Sulamith, draws her to him, and
whispers into her ear:

"Therefore, she hath no such breast as thine? A breast as proud, as
warm?..."

She is silent, burning with shame and happiness. Her eyes glow and grow
dim, with the mist of a happy smile over them. The king feels the
riotous beating of her heart within his hand.

"The warmth of thy garments hath a goodlier smell than myrrh, than
nard," he is saying, avidly touching her ear with his lips. "And when
thou breathest, the smell of thy nostrils is like that of apples unto
me. My sister, my beloved, thou hast ravished my heart with one glance
of thy eyes, with one chain of thy neck."

"O, gaze not upon me!" implores Sulamith. "Thine eyes stir me."

But of her own accord she bends backward and lays her head upon
Solomon's breast. Her lips glow over the gleaming teeth, her eyelids
tremble with intense desire. Solomon's lips cling greedily to her
enticing mouth. He feels the flame of her lips and the slipperiness of
her teeth, and the sweet moistness of her tongue; and he is all consumed
of an unbearable desire, such as he has never yet known in his life.

Thus passes one minute; then two.

"What dost thou with me!" says Sulamith faintly, closing her eyes.

But Solomon passionately whispers near her very mouth:

"Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under
thy tongue.... O, come away with me, speedily. Here, behind the wall, it
is dark and cool. None shall see us. The green is soft here underneath
the cedars."

"Nay, nay, leave me. I desire it not, I can not."

"Sulamith ... thou dost desire it, thou dost desire it.... Come to me,
my sister, my beloved!"

Some one's steps resound below, upon the highway, below the wall of the
vineyard, but Solomon detains the frightened girl by her hand.

"Tell me, quickly,--where dwellest thou? This night shall I come to thee,"
he is hurriedly saying.

"Nay, nay, nay ... I shall not tell thee this. Let me go. I shall not
tell thee."

"I shall not let thee go, Sulamith, till thou dost tell.... My desire is
unto thee!"

"It is well, I shall tell thee.... But first promise not to come this
night.... Also, come thou not the following night ... nor the night
after that ... My king! I charge thee by the roes and the hinds of the
field, that thou stir not up thy beloved till she please!"

"Yea, I pledge thee this.... Where is thy dwelling, Sulamith?"

"If on the way to the city thou dost pass over the Kidron, upon the
bridge above Siloam, thou shalt see our dwelling nigh the spring.
There are no other dwellings there."

"And which is thy window there, Sulamith?"

"Why shouldst thou know this, beloved? O, gaze not thus upon me. Thy
gaze casts a spell over me.... Do not kiss me.... Beloved, kiss me
again...."

"But which is thy window, my only one?"

"The window on the south side. Ah, I must not tell thee this.... A
small, high window with a lattice."

"And doth the lattice open from within?"

"Nay, it is a fixed window. But around the corner is a door. It leads
directly into the room where I sleep with my sister. But thou hast
promised me!... My sister sleeps lightly. O, how fair art thou, my
beloved! Truly, hast thou not promised?"

Solomon quietly smoothes her hair and cheeks.

"I shall come to thee this night," he says insistently. "At midnight I
shall come. Thus, thus shall it be. I desire it."

"Beloved!"

"Nay. Thou shalt await me. But have no fear, and put thy trust in me. I
shall cause thee no grief. I shall give thee such joy compared with
which all things upon earth are without significance. Now farewell. I
hear them coming after me."

"Farewell, my beloved ... O, nay, go not yet! Tell me thy name,--I know
it not."

For a moment, as though undecided, he lowers his lashes, but immediately
raises them again.

"The King and I have the same name. I am called Solomon. Farewell. I
love thee."



CHAPTER FIVE

V.


Radiant and joyous was Solomon upon this day, as he sat upon his throne
in the hall of the House at Lebanon and meted out justice to the people
who came before him.

Forty columns, four in a row, supported the ceiling of the Hall of
Judgment, and they were all faced with cedar and terminated in capitals
in the form of lilies; the floor consisted of cypress boards, all of
a piece; nor was the stone upon the walls to be seen anywhere for the
cedar finish, ornamented with gold carving, shewing palms, pineapples,
and cherubim. In the depth of the hall, with its triple-tiered windows,
six steps led up to the elevation of the throne, and upon each step stood
two bronze lions, one on each side. The throne itself was of ivory with
gold incrustation and with elbow-rests of gold, in the form of recumbent
lions. The high back of the throne was surmounted by a golden disc.
Curtains of violet and purple stuffs hung from the ceiling down to the
floor at the entrance to the hall, dividing off the entry, where between
the columns thronged the plaintiffs, supplicants, and witnesses, as well
as the accused and the criminals under a strong guard.

The king had on a red chiton, while upon his head was a simple, narrow
crown of sixty beryls, set in gold. At his right hand stood the throne
for his mother, Bathsheba; but of late, owing to her declining years,
she rarely showed herself in the city.

The Assyrian guests, with austere, black-bearded faces, were seated
along the walls upon benches of jasper; they had on garments of a light
olive colour, broidered at the edges with designs of red and white.
While still at home, in their native Assyria, they had heard so much
of the justice of Solomon that they tried to let no single word of
his slip by, in order to tell later of the judgment of the King of the
Israelites. Among them sat the commanders of Solomon's armies, his
ministers, the governors of his provinces, and his courtiers. Here was
Benaiah, at one time executioner to the king; the slayer of Joab,
Adonijah, and Shimei,--a short, corpulent old man, with a sparse,
long, gray beard; his faded, bluish eyes, rimmed by red lids that seemed
turned inside out, had a look of senile dullness; his mouth was open
and moist, while his fleshy, red lower lip drooped down impotently, and
was slightly trembling. Here also were Azariah, the son of Nathan,--a
jaundiced, tall man, with a lean, sickly face and dark rings under his
eyes; and the good-natured, absent-minded Jehoshaphat, historiographer;
and Ahishar, who was over the court of Solomon; and Zabud, who bore the
high title of the King's Friend; and Ben-Abinadab, which had Taphath,
the eldest daughter of Solomon, to wife; and Ben-Geber, the officer over
the region of Argob, which is in Bashan: to him pertained threescore
cities, surrounded by walls, with gates of brasen bars; and Baanah, the
son of Hushai, at one time famed for his skill in casting a spear to the
distance of thirty parasangs; and many others. Sixty warriors, their
helmets and shields gleaming, stood in a rank to the left of the throne
and the right; their head officer this day was the handsome Eliab, of
the black locks, son of Ahilud.

The first to come before Solomon with his complaint was one Achior, a
lapidary by trade. Working in Bel of Phoenicia he had found a precious
stone, had cut and polished it, and had asked his friend Zachariah, who
was setting out for Jerusalem, to give the stone to his--Achior's--wife.
After some time Achior also returned home. The first thing that he asked
about upon beholding his wife was the stone. But she was very much amazed
at her husband's question, and repeated under oath that she had received
no stone of any sort. Whereupon Achior set out for an explanation to his
friend Zachariah, but he asseverated, and also to an oath, that he had,
immediately upon arrival, given the stone over as instructed. He even
brought witnesses, who affirmed having seen Zachariah give the stone in
their presence to the wife of Achior.

And now all four,--Achior, Zachariah, and the two witnesses,--were
standing before the throne of the King of Israel.

Solomon gazed into the eyes of each one in turn and said to the guard:

"Lead each one to a separate chamber, and lock up each one apart."

And when this was done, he ordered four pieces of unbaked clay to be
brought.

"Let each one of them," willed the king, "fashion out of clay that form
which the stone had."

After some time the moulds were ready. But one of the witnesses had made
his mould in the shape of a horse's head, as precious stones were
usually fashioned; the other, in the shape of a sheep's head; only two
of them--Achior and Zachariah--had their moulds alike, resembling in
form a woman's breast.

And the king spake:

"Now it is evident even to one blind that the witnesses are bribed by
Zachariah. And so, let Zachariah return the stone to Achior, and together
with it pay him thirty shekels, of this city, of law costs, and give ten
shekels to the priests for the temple. As for the self-revealed witnesses,
let them pay into the treasury five shekels each for bearing false
witness."

[Illustration]

Three brothers then drew nigh to Solomon's throne; they were at court
about an inheritance. Their father had told them before his death: "That
ye may not quarrel at division, I myself shall apportion ye in justice.
When I die, go beyond the knoll that is in the midst of the grove behind
the house, and dig therein. There shall ye find a box with three
divisions: know, that the topmost is for the eldest brother; the middle
one for the second; the lowest for the youngest." And when, after his
death, they had gone, and had done as he had willed, they had found that
the topmost division was filled to the top with golden coins, whereas in
the middle one were lying only common bones, and in the lowest naught
but pieces of wood. And so among the younger brothers arose envy for the
eldest, and enmity; and in the end their life had become so unbearable
that they decided to turn to the king for counsel and judgment. And even
here, standing before the throne, they could not refrain from mutual
recriminations and affronts.

The king shook his head, heard them out, and spake:

"Cease quarreling; a stone is heavy, and the sand weighty, but a fool's
wrath is heavier than them both. Your father was, it is plain to see, a
wise man and a just, and he has expressed his wishes in his testament
just as clearly as though it had been consummated before an hundred
witnesses. Is it possible that ye have not surmised at once, ye sorry
brawlers, that to the eldest brother he left all his moneys; to the
second, all his cattle and all his slaves; while to the youngest,--his
house and plow-land? Depart, therefore, in peace; and be no longer
enemies among yourselves."

And the three brothers--but recently enemies--with beaming faces bowed
to the king's feet and walked out of the Hall of Judgment arm in arm.

And the king decided also another suit at inheritance, begun three days
ago. A certain man, dying, had said that he was leaving all his goods
to the worthier of his two sons. But since neither one of them would
consent to call himself the worse one, they had therefore turned to the
king.

Solomon questioned them as to their pursuits, and, having heard them
answer that they were both hunters with the bow, he spake:

"Return home. I shall order the corpse of your father to be stood up
against a tree. We shall first see which one of you shall hit his breast
more truly with an arrow, and then decide your suit."

Now both brothers had returned in the custody of a man sent by the king
for their surveillance. He it was whom the king questioned about the
contest.

"I have fulfilled all that thou hast commanded," said his man. "I stood
the corpse of the old man against a tree, and gave each brother his bow
and arrows. The elder was the first to shoot. At a distance of an
hundred and twenty ells he hit just the place where, in a living man,
the heart beats."

"A splendid shot," said Solomon. "And the younger?"

"The younger ... Forgive me, O King,--I could not insist upon thy
command being fulfilled exactly.... The younger did make his string
taut, but suddenly lowered the bow to his feet, turned around, and said,
weeping: 'Nay, this I can not do.... I will not shoot at the corpse of
my father.'"

"Therefore, let the estate of his father belong to him," decided the
king. "He has proven the worthier son. As for the elder, if he desire,
he may join the number of my bodyguards. I have need of such strong and
rapacious men, sure of hand and true of eye, and with a heart grown over
with wool."

Next three men came before the king. Carrying on a mutual traffic in
merchandise, they had amassed much money. And so, when the time had
come for them to journey to Jerusalem, they had sewn up the gold in a
leathern belt and had set out on their way. On the road they had spent
a night in a forest, and, for safe-keeping, had buried the belt in the
ground. But when they awoke in the morning, they found no belt in the
place where they had put it.

They all accused one another of the secret theft, and since all three
seemed to be men of exceeding cunning, and subtile of speech, the king
therefore said unto them:

"Ere I decide your suit, hearken unto that which I shall relate to you.
A certain fair maiden promised her beloved, who was setting out upon a
journey, to await his return, and to yield her virginity to none save
him. But, having gone away, he within a short while married another
maiden, in another city, and she came to know of this. In the absence of
her beloved, a wealthy and kind-hearted youth in her city, a friend of
her childhood, paid court to her. Constrained by her parents she durst
not, for shame and fear, tell him of her pact, and took him to spouse.
But when, at the conclusion of the marriage feast, he led her to the
bed-chamber, and would lay down with her, she began to implore him:
'Allow me to go to the city where my former beloved dwelleth. Let him
relieve me of my vow; then shall I return to thee, and do all thy
desire!' And since the youth loved her exceedingly, he did agree to her
request, allowed her to go, and she went. On the way a robber fell upon
her, disheveled her, and was about to ravish her. But the maiden fell
down on her knees before him, and, in tears, implored him to spare her
virtue, telling the robber all that had befallen her, and her reason for
travelling to a strange city. And the robber, having heard her out, was
so astounded by her faithfulness to her word, and so touched by the
goodness of her bridegroom, that not only did he let the girl depart in
peace, but also returned to her the valuables he had taken. Now I ask
you, who of all these three did best before the countenance of God,--the
maiden, the bridegroom, or the robber?"

And one of the plaintiffs said that the maiden was the most worthy of
praise, for her steadfastness to her oath. Another marvelled at the
great love of her bridegroom; the third, however, found the action of
the robber the most magnanimous one.

And the king said to the last:

"Therefore, it is even thou who hast stolen the belt with the common
gold, for thou art by nature covetous, and dost desire that which is not
thine."

But this man, having given his travelling staff to one of his
companions, spake, raising his hands aloft as though for an oath:

"I witness before Jehovah that the gold is not with me, but him!"

The king smiled and commanded one of his warriors:

"Take this man's rod and break it in half."

And when the warrior had carried out Solomon's order, gold coins poured
out upon the floor, for they had been concealed within the hollowed-out
stick; as for the thief, he, struck by the wisdom of the king, fell down
before his throne and confessed his misdeed.

There also came into the House of Lebanon a woman, the poor widow of a
stone-cutter, and she spake:

"I cry for justice, O King! For the last two dinarii left me I bought
flour, put it into this large earthen bowl, and started to carry it
home. But a strong wind suddenly arose and did scatter my flour. O wise
king, who shall bring back this my loss? I now have naught wherewith to
feed my children."

"When was this?" asked the king.

"It happened this morning, at dawn."

And so Solomon commanded that there be summoned to him several
merchants, whose ships were to set out this day with merchandise for
Phoenicia, by way of Jaffa. And when, in alarm, they appeared in the
Hall of Judgment, the king asked them:

"Did ye pray God, or the gods, for a favourable wind for your ships?"

And they answered:

"Yea, O King. We did so. And our offerings were pleasing to God, for He
did send us a propitious wind."

"I rejoice on your account," said Solomon. "But the same wind has
scattered a poor woman's flour that she was carrying in a bowl. Do ye
not deem it just, if ye have to recompense her?"

And they, made glad that the king had summoned them only for this, at
once filled the bowl by casting into it small and large silver coin. And
when, with tears, she began to thank the king, he smiled radiantly and
said:

"Wait, this is not yet all. This morning's wind has bestowed joy upon me
as well, which I did not expect. And therefore, to the gifts of these
merchants, I shall add my kingly gift also."

And he commanded Adoniram, the treasurer, to put on top of the money of
the merchants enough gold coin to cover the silver entirely out of
sight.

Solomon desired to see none unhappy on this day. He distributed more
rewards, pensions, and gifts than he sometimes did within a whole year,
and he pardoned Ahimaaz, the governor of the land of Naphtali, against
whom his wrath had flamed before, because of his lawless levies; and he
commuted the faults of many who had transgressed the law, nor did he
overlook any of the petitions of his subjects,--save one.

When the king was passing out from the House at Lebanon through the
small southern door, one in a garment of yellow leather stood up in his
path,--a squat, broad-shouldered man, darkly-ruddy and morose of face,
with a black, bushy beard, with a neck like a bull's, and an austere
gaze from underneath shaggy, black eyebrows. This was the high priest
of Moloch's temple. He uttered but one word in a supplicating voice:

"King!..."

In the bronze belly of his god were seven divisions: one for meal,
another for doves, the third for sheep, the fourth for rams, the fifth
for calves, the sixth for beeves; but the seventh, meant for living
infants brought by their mothers, had long stood empty at the interdict
of the king.

Solomon walked in silence past the priest, but the latter stretched out
his hands after him and exclaimed with supplication:

"King! I adjure thee by thy joy!... Show me this kindness, O king, and I
shall reveal to thee what danger threatens thy life."

Solomon made no reply; and the eyes of the priest, who had clenched his
powerful hands into fists, followed him to the exit with a ferocious
glare.



CHAPTER SIX

[Illustration]

VI.


At nightfall Sulamith went to that spot in the old city where, in long
rows, stretched the shops of the moneychangers, usurers, and dealers
in sweet-smelling condiments. There she sold to a jeweller for three
drachmas and one dinar her only valuable,--her earrings for festal days;
of silver, in the form of rings, each with a little golden star.

Then she paid a visit to a seller of perfumes. In the deep, dark,
stone niche, in the midst of jars with gray Arabian amber, packets of
frankincense from Lebanon, bunches of aromatic herbs, and phials with
oils, was sitting an Ægyptian, a castrate,--old, obese, wrinkled,
immobile, all fragrant himself; his legs tucked under him, and blinking
his lazy eyes. He carefully counted out of a Phoenician flask into a
little clay flagon just as many drops of myrrh as there were dinarii
among all the moneys of Sulamith; and when he had finished this task he
said, gathering up with the stopper the remnant of the oil around the
neck of the bottle, and laughing slyly:

"Swarthy maiden, beautiful maiden! When this day thy beloved shall kiss
thee between thy breasts and say: 'How fragrant is thy body, O my
beloved!'--recall me at that moment. I have poured over three extra
drops for thee."

And so, when night had come, and the moon had risen over Siloam,
blending the blue whiteness of its houses with the black blueness of the
shadows and the dull green of the trees, Sulamith did arise from her
humble couch of goats'-wool and hearkened. All was quiet in the house.
Her sister was breathing evenly upon the floor, nigh the wall. Only
outside, in the wayside bushes, the cicadas chirped stridently and
passionately; and the blood throbbed noisily in her ears. The shadow of
the window-lattice, etched by the light of the moon, lay, sharp and
oblique, upon the floor.

Trembling with timidity, expectation, and happiness, Sulamith loosened
her garments, let them down to her feet, and, stepping over them, was
left naked in the middle of the room, facing the window, in the light of
the moon falling through the bars of the lattice. She poured the thick,
sweet-smelling myrrh upon her shoulders, upon her bosom, upon her
abdomen; and, fearing to lose even one precious drop, began to rub
the oil over her legs, under her armpits, and about her neck. And
the smooth, slippery touch of her palms and elbows against her body
compelled her to shiver with sweet anticipation. And, smiling and
trembling, she gazed out of the window, where, beyond the lattice, two
poplars showed,--dark on one side, silvered on the other,--and whispered
to herself:

"This is for thee, my love; this is for thee, my beloved. My beloved is
the chiefest among ten thousand, his head is as the most fine gold, his
locks are bushy, and black as a raven. His lips are most sweet; yea, he
is all desire. This is my beloved, and this is my brother, O daughters
of Jerusalem!..."

And now, fragrant with myrrh, she lay down upon her couch. Her face is
turned toward the window; her hands, like a child, she has squeezed
between her knees; her heart fills the room with its loud beating. Much
time passes. Scarce closing her eyes, she is plunged into dozing, but
her heart keeps vigil. As in a dream, it seems to her that her dear is
lying beside her. In a joyous fright she casts off her drowsiness; she
seeks her beloved near her on the couch, but finds no one. The moon's
design upon the floor has crept nearer the wall, is dwindled and more
oblique. The cicadas are calling; the Brook of Kidron babbles on
monotonously; the doleful chant of a night watchman is heard in the city.

"What if he comes not to-day?" thinks Sulamith; "I did implore him,--and
what if he hath suddenly obeyed me?... I charge you, O ye daughters of
Jerusalem, by the roses and lilies of the field: awake not love till it
come.... But now my love hath come to me. Make haste, my beloved! Thy
bride awaits thee. Make haste like to a young hart upon the mountains of
spices."

The sand crunches in the yard under light steps. And the soul of the
maiden deserts her. A cautious hand knocks at the window. A dark face
shows on the other side of the lattice. The low voice of her beloved is
heard:

"Open to me, my sister, my dove, my undefiled! For my head is filled
with dew."

But a charmed numbness has suddenly taken possession of Sulamith's body.
She wants to rise, and can not; wants to move her hand, and can not.
And, without understanding what is taking place with her, she whispers,
gazing through the window:

"Ah, his locks are filled with the drops of the night! But I have put
off my chiton. How shall I put it on?"

"Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. The morn is nigh, flowers
appear on the earth, and the vines with the tender grape give a goodly
smell; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the
turtle dove is heard from the mountains."

"I have washed my feet," whispers Sulamith; "how shall I defile them?"

The dark head disappears from the window-lattice; the resounding steps
pass around the house and cease at the door. The beloved cautiously puts
in his hand by the hole of the door. His fingers can be heard groping
for the inner bolt.

Then does Sulamith rise up, pressing her palms hard against her breasts,
and whispers in affright:

"My sister sleeps--I fear to awaken her."

She irresolutely dons her sandals, puts a light chiton upon her naked
body, throws a vail over it, and opens the door, leaving marks of myrrh
upon the handles of the lock. But there is no longer anyone upon the
road that glimmers whitely in its solitude between the dark bushes in
the gray murk of morning. The beloved had not waited, and was gone; not
even his steps were to be heard. The moon has dwindled and paled, and
floats on high. In the east, above the waves of the mountains, the sky
is putting on a chilly pink before the dawn. In the distance the walls
and towers of Jerusalem glimmer whitely.

"My beloved! King of my life!" Sulamith calls into the humid darkness.
"I am here. I await thee.... Return!"

But none responds.

"I will run upon the highway; I shall, I shall overtake my beloved,"
Sulamith says to herself. "I will go about the city in the streets and
in the broad ways; I will seek him whom my soul loveth. O that thou wert
as my brother, that sucked the breast of my mother! When I should find
thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised. I would
lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house. Thou wouldst instruct
me; I would cause thee to drink of the juice of my pomegranates. I
charge you, daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell
him I am smitten by love."

Thus does she commune with herself, and with light, docile steps runs
upon the road toward the city. At the Dung Gates near the wall, two
watchmen that had gone about the city at night are sitting and dozing
in the chill of the morning. They awaken and stare with astonishment at
the running girl. The younger arises and blocks her way with outstretched
arms.

"Stay, stay, thou fair!" exclaims he with laughter. "Whither so fast?
Thou hast passed the night on the sly in the bed of thy dear and art yet
warm from his embraces; whereas we have been chilled through by the
dampness of the night. It would be but fair if thou wert to sit a while
with us."

The elder also arises and wants to embrace Sulamith. He does not laugh;
he breathes heavily, fast, and with wheezing; he is licking his blue
lips with his tongue. His face, made hideous by great scars of healed
leprosy, seems frightful in the pallid murk. He speaks in a voice hoarse
and snuffling:

"Yea, of a truth. What is thy beloved more than other men, sweet maiden!
Shut thy eyes, and thou canst not tell me apart from him. I am even
better, for, of a certainty, I am more experienced than he."

They clutch at her bosom, her shoulders, her arms and raiment. But
Sulamith is lithe and strong, and her body, anointed with oil, is
slippery. She tears herself away, leaving in the hands of the watchmen
her outer vail, and runs back still faster along the same road. She has
experienced neither offense nor fear,--she is all swallowed up in
thoughts of Solomon. Passing by her house, she sees the door out of
which she had just gone still left open, a gaping black quadrangle in
the white wall. But she merely catches her breath, shrinks within
herself, like a young cat, and runs by on her tip-toes with never a sound.

She crosses the bridge of Kidron, avoids the outskirt of the village of
Siloam, and by a stony road gradually climbs the southern slope of
Beth-El-Khav, into her vineyard. Her brother is still sleeping among the
vines, wrapped up in a woolen blanket all wet from the dew. Sulamith
rouses him, but he can not awaken, enchained by the morning sleep of
youth.

As yesterday, the dawn is flaming over Anaze. A wind springs up. The
fragrance of the grape in blossom streams through the air.

"I shall come away and look upon that place of the wall where my beloved
hath stood," Sulamith is saying. "I shall feel with my hands the stones
that he hath touched; I shall kiss the ground beneath his feet."

She glides lightly between the vines. The dew falls from them, chilling
her feet and spattering her elbows. And now a joyous cry from Sulamith
fills the vineyard! The king is standing beyond the wall. With a radiant
face he stretches out his arms to meet her.

More lightly than a bird Sulamith surmounts the enclosure, and, without
words, with a moan of happiness, entwines the king.

Several minutes pass thus. Finally, tearing his lips away from her
mouth, Solomon speaks, enraptured, and his voice trembles:

"Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair!"

"O, how fair art thou, my beloved!"

Tears of delight and gratefulness,--blessed tears,--sparkle upon
Sulamith's pale and beautiful face. Languishing with love, she sinks to
the ground and whispers words of madness in a barely audible voice.

"Our bed is green. The beams of our house are cedars.... Kiss me with
the kisses of thy mouth--for thy love is better than wine...."

After a brief space Sulamith is lying with her head upon Solomon's
breast. His left arm is embracing her.

Bending to her very ear, the king is whispering something to her; the
king is tenderly apologizing, and Sulamith reddens from his words and
closes her eyes. Then, with an inexpressibly lovely smile of confusion,
she says:

"My mother's children made me the keeper of the vineyard.... But mine
own vineyard have I not kept."

But Solomon takes her little swarthy hand and presses it fervently to
his lips.

"Thou dost not regret this, Sulamith?"

"O nay, my king, my beloved. I regret it not. Wert thou to arise this
minute and go from me, and were I condemned never to see thee after, I
would to the end of my life utter thy name with gratitude, Solomon!"

"Tell me one thing else, Sulamith.... Only, I beseech thee, speak the
truth, my undefiled.... Didst thou know who I am?"

"Nay,--even now I know it not. Methought.... But I am shamed to confess
it.... I fear thou wilt laugh at me.... They tell, that here, upon Mount
Beth-El-Khav, pagan gods do oft wander.... Many of them, it is said, are
beautiful.... And methought: art thou not Hor, the son of Osiris; or
else some other god?"

"Nay, I am but a king, beloved. But here, upon this spot, I kiss thy
dear hand, scorched of the sun, and swear to thee that never
yet--neither in the time of first love longings, nor in the days of my
glory--has my heart flamed with such an insatiable desire as that which
is awakened within me by thy mere smile, by the mere touch of thy
flaming locks,--the mere curve of thy purple lips! Thou art comely as
the tents of Kedar, as the curtains in the temple of Solomon! Thy
caresses intoxicate me. Behold thy breasts--they are fragrant. Thy
nipples are as wine!"

"O, yea,--gaze, gaze upon me, beloved. Thy eyes arouse me! O, what
joy!--for thy desire is unto me,--me! Thy locks are scented. As a bundle
of myrrh thou dost lie betwixt my breasts!"

Time ceases its current and closes over them in a solar cycle. Their bed
is the green; their roof is of cedars; and their walls are of cypresses.
And the banner over their tent is love.



CHAPTER SEVEN

VII.


The king had a pool in his palace,--an octagonal, fresh pool of white
marble. Steps of dark-green malachite ran down to its bottom. A facing
of Ægyptian jasper, snowy-white, with pink, barely perceptible little
veins, served as a frame for the pool. The best of ebony had gone for
the ornamentation of the walls. Four lions' heads of pink sardonyx cast
forth the water in thin jets into the pool. Eight mirrors of polished
silver, the height of a man and of excellent Sydonian workmanship, were
set into the walls, between the slender columns of white.

Before Sulamith was to enter the pool, young maid-servants poured
aromatic compounds into it, that made the water to turn white and blue
and to play with all the colours of a milky opal. The female slaves
disrobing Sulamith gazed with delight upon her body; and, when they had
disrobed her, they led her up to a mirror. Not a single blemish was
there upon her beautiful body, made aureate like a tawny, ripe fruit by
the golden down of soft hair. And she, gazing upon her naked self in the
mirror, turned red and thought:

"All this is for thee, my king!"

She came out of the pool fresh, cool, and fragrant, covered with
quivering drops of water. The female slaves put upon her a short white
tunic of the finest Ægyptian linen, and a chiton of precious Sargonian
byssin, of such a refulgent golden colour that the garment seemed woven
out of the rays of the sun. They shod her feet in red sandals made from
the skin of a young kid; they dried her dark, flaming locks and bound
them with strings of large black pearls; and they adorned her arms with
tinkling bracelets.

In such array did she come before Solomon, and the king exclaimed
joyously:

"Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear
as the sun? O, Sulamith, thy beauty is more terrible than an army with
flaunted banners! Seven hundred wives have I known and three hundred
concubines, and virgins without number,--thou art but one, my fair! The
queens shall behold thee and extoll thee, and all women upon earth shall
praise thee. O, Sulamith, that day when thou wilt become my spouse and
queen shall be the happiest my heart has known."

Whereupon she walked up to the door of carved olive, and, pressing her
cheek against it, said:

"I desire to be but thy slave, Solomon. Behold, I have put my ear to the
post of the door. I beseech thee,--in accordance with the law of Moses,
nail down my ear in witness of my voluntary bondage before thee."

Then Solomon did command to be brought out of his treasure house
precious pendants of deep-red carbuncles, fashioned to resemble
elongated pears. He himself put them upon the ears of Sulamith, and
said:

"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine."

And, taking Sulamith by the hand, the king brought her to the banqueting
house, where his companions and familiars were already awaiting him.



CHAPTER EIGHT

[Illustration]

VIII.


Seven days had sped since Sulamith had stepped into the palace of the
king. Seven days had she and the king taken joyance in love, yet could
not be sated therewith.

Solomon loved to adorn his beloved with precious things. "How beautiful
are thy little feet in sandals!" he would exclaim in rapture, and,
getting down on his knees before her, he would kiss each toe in turn,
and put upon them rings with stones so splendid and rare that their like
was not to be found even upon the ephod of a high-priest. Sulamith would
listen, entranced, whenever he discoursed upon the inner nature of
stones, their magic properties and secret significations.

"Here is anthrax, the sacred stone from the land of Ophir," the king
would say. "It is hot and moist. Behold, it is red, like blood, like the
evening glow, like the blown flower of the pomegranate, like thick wine
from the vineyards of En-gedi, like thy lips, my Sulamith, in the
morning after a night of love. This is the stone of love, wrath, and
blood. Upon the hand of a man languishing in a fever or made drunk by
desire, it waxes warmer and glows with a red flame. Put it upon thy
hand, my beloved, and thou shalt see it enkindle. If it be brayed to a
powder and taken in water, it imparts a glow to the face, allays the
stomach, and maketh the soul to rejoice. He that weareth it attaineth
power over men. It is a curative for the heart, brain, and memory. But
it ought not be worn nigh children, for it doth arouse the passions of
love around it.

"Here is a transparent stone, the colour of copper verdigris. In the
land of the Æthiopians, where it is gotten, it is called Mgnadis-Phza.
It was given me by the father of my wife, Queen Astis,--by Shishak, the
Pharaoh of Ægypt, into whose hands it came through a captive king. Thou
seest,--it is not beautiful; yet is its value beyond computation, for
but four men on earth possess the stone Mgnadis-Phza. It possesses the
unusual property of attracting silver to it, just like a covetous man
that loveth the metal. I give it thee, my beloved, for that thou are
not covetous.

"Gaze upon these sapphires, Sulamith. Some of them resemble in colour
corn-flowers among wheat; others, an autumn sky; others still, the sea
in fine weather. This is the stone of virginity,--chill and pure. During
far and difficult voyages it is placed in the mouth to allay thirst. It
also cureth leprosy and all malignant growths. It bestoweth clarity to
thoughts. The priests of Jupiter in Rome wear it upon the index finger.

"The king of all stones is the stone Shamir. The Greeks name it
Adamas,--which signifieth, the invincible. It is the hardest of all
substances on earth and remains uninjured in the fiercest of fires.
It is the light of the sun, concentrated in the ground and cooled by time.
Admire it, Sulamith,--it playeth with all colours, but in itself
remaineth translucent, like a drop of water. It shineth in the darkness
of night; but loseth its radiance, even in the daytime, upon the hand of
a murderer. The Shamir is tied to the hand of a woman tortured in heavy
travail with child; and it is also put upon the left hand by warriors
setting out for battle. He that weareth the Shamir findeth favour with
kings and hath no dread of evil spirits. The Shamir driveth the mottled
colour off the face, purifieth the breath, giveth quiet slumber to
lunaticks, and induceth a sweat curative of near proximity to poison.
The Shamir stones are male and female; buried deep in the ground they
are capable of multiplying.

"The moonstone, pale and mild, like the shining of the moon,--it is
the stone of the Chaldæan and Babylonian magi. Before divination it is
placed under the tongue, and it imparts to them the gift of seeing the
future. It hath a strange tie with the moon, for during a new moon it
groweth chill and shineth more brightly. It is beneficial to woman
during that year when from a child she is becoming a woman.

"Wear thou this ring with a smaragd constantly, my beloved, for the
smaragd is the favourite stone of Solomon, King of Israel. It is green,
pure, gay, tender, like grass in the spring of the year, and when one
gazeth at it for long the heart waxeth radiant; if thou wilt look upon
it in the morning, all the day shall hold no hardship of thee. I shall
hang a smaragd over thy night couch, my comely one; let it drive evil
dreams away from thee; let it lull the beating of thy heart, and divert
black thoughts. Serpents and scorpions come not nigh him that weareth a
smaragd; but if a smaragd be held before the eyes of a serpent, water
shall flow from them, and continue flowing, till it go blind. Pounded
smaragd, together with camel's milk, is given an empoisoned man, that
the poison may go off in transpiration; mixed with attar of roses,
smaragd cureth the bites of venomous reptiles; while ground with saffron
and applied to ailing eyes it eradicates night blindness. It also helps
in dysentery and the black cough that is incurable by any human means."

The king also bestowed upon his beloved Lybian amethysts, whose colour
resembled early violets, that put forth in forests at the foot of the
Lybian mountains,--amethysts, possessed of the wondrous property of
curbing wind, mollifying wrath, preserving from intoxication, and
helping at the trapping of wild beasts; turquoise of Persepolis, that
bringeth happiness in love, endeth connubial quarrels, turneth away the
wrath of kings, and is propitious in the breaking and selling of horses;
and cat's-eye,--that guardeth the property, reason, and health of its
possessor; and the pale beryllion, blue-green, like sea-water near
shore,--a good travelling companion for pilgrims and a remedy against
cataract and leprosy; and the vari-coloured agate: he that weareth it
hath no dread of the evil machinations of enemies, and avoideth
the danger of being crushed in an earthquake; and the apple-green,
turbidly-pellucid onychion,--its master's guardian from fire and
madness; and iaspis, that maketh beasts to tremble; and the black
swallow-stone, that endoweth with eloquence; and the eagle-stone,
esteemed of pregnant women,--eagles put it in their nests when the time
comes for their young to break out of their shells; and zaberzate out
of Ophir, shining like little suns; and yellow-aureate chrysolite,--the
friend of merchants and thieves; and sardonyx, beloved of kings and
queens; and the crimson ligurion: it is found, as all know, in the
stomach of the lynx, whose sight is so keen that it can see through
walls,--and for that reason he that weareth a ligurion is also noted
for keen sight, and besides this it stoppeth bleeding of the nose, and
healeth all wounds, save wounds inflicted by stone or iron.

The king also put upon Sulamith's neck carcanets of great price, of
pearls that had been dived for in the Persian Sea by his subjects; and
the pearls put on a living lustre and a soft colour from the warmth of
her body. And corals became redder upon her swarthy breast; and
turquoise came to life upon her fingers; and those baubles of yellow
amber which were brought from far northern seas, in gift to the king, by
the doughty ship-masters of Hiram, King of Tyre, emitted crackling
sparks in her hands.

With marigolds and lilies did Sulamith deck her couch, preparing it for
the night; and, reposing upon her breast, the king would say in the
joyousness of his heart:

"Thou are like to the king's decked, masted boat in the Land of Ophir, O
my beloved; a light, golden boat that floats, swaying, upon the sacred
river, among white fragrant blossoms."

       *       *       *       *       *

Thus did his first--and last--love come to Solomon, the greatest of
kings and wisest of sages.

Many ages have passed since then. There have been kingdoms and kings,
and of them no trace has been left, as of a wind that has sped over a
desert. There have been prolonged, merciless wars, after which the names
of the commanders shone through the ages, like ensanguined stars; but
time has effaced even the very memory of them.

But the love of the lowly maiden of the vineyard and the great king
shall never pass away nor be forgotten,--for love is strong as death;
for every woman who loves is a queen; for love is beautiful.



CHAPTER NINE

IX.


Seven days had sped since Solomon,--poet, sage, and king,--had brought
into his palace the lowly maiden he had met in the vineyard at dawn. For
seven days did the king take joyance in her love, nor could be sated
therewith. And a great joy irradiated his countenance, like to the
golden light of the sun.

It was the time of light, warm, moonlit nights,--sweet nights of
love.... Upon a couch of tiger fells lay the naked Sulamith; and the
king, sitting upon the floor at her feet, filled his emerald goblet with
the aureate wine of Mauretus, and drank to the health of his beloved,
rejoicing with all his heart, and narrated to her the sage, strange
legends of eld. And Sulamith's hand rested upon his head, stroking his
wavy black hair.

"Tell me, my king," Sulamith had once asked, "is it not wonderful that I
fell in love with thee so instantly? I now call all things to mind, and
meseems I began belonging to thee from the very first moment, when I had
not yet had time to behold thee, but had merely heard thy voice. My
heart began to flutter and did open to meet thee, as a flower opens to
the south wind on a night in summer. How hast thou taken me so, my
beloved?"

And the king, quietly bending his head toward the soft knees of
Sulamith, smiled tenderly and answered:

"Thousands of women before thee, O my comely one, have put this question
to their beloveds, and hundreds of ages after thee will they be asking
their beloveds about this. There be three things which are too wonderful
for me, yea, four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air;
the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of
the sea; and the way of a man with a maid. This is not my wisdom,
Sulamith,--these are the words of Agur, son of Jakeh, heard from him
by his disciples. But let us honour the wisdom of others also."

"Yea," said Sulamith pensively, "mayhap it is even true that man
shall never comprehend this. To-day, during the banquet, I wore a
sweet-smelling cluster of stacte upon my breast. But thou didst leave
the table, and my flowers ceased to give out their smell. Meseems, thou
must be beloved, O king, of women, and men, and beasts, and even of
flowers. I oft ponder, yet comprehend not: how can one love any other
save thee?"

"And any save thee, save thee, Sulamith! Every hour do I render thanks
to God for that He has set thee in my path."

"I remember, I was sitting upon a stone of the wall, and thou didst put
thy hand on mine. Fire ran through my veins; my head was dizzied. I said
within me: Behold, there is my lord, my king, my beloved!"

"I remember, Sulamith, how thou didst turn around to my call. Under the
thin raiment I saw thy body, thy beautiful body, that I love as I love
God. I love it,--covered with its golden down, as though the sun had left
its kiss upon it. Thou art graceful, like to a filly in the Pharaoh's
chariot; thou art fair like the chariot of Ammi-nadib. Thy eyes are as
two doves, sitting by the rivers of waters."

"O, beloved, thy words stir me. Thy hand sears me sweetly. O, my king,
thy legs are as pillars of marble. Thy belly is like an heap of wheat,
set about with lilies."

Surrounded, irradiated, by the silent light of the moon, they forgot
time and place; and thus hours would pass, and they with wonder beheld
the rosy dawn peeping through the latticed windows of the chamber.

Sulamith also said once:

"Thou hast known, my beloved, wives and virgins without number, and they
were all the fairest women on earth. I become ashamed whenever I consider
myself,--a simple, unschooled girl,--and my poor body, scorched of the
sun."

But, touching her lips with his, the king would say, with infinite love
and gratefulness:

"Thou art a queen, Sulamith! Thou wast born a true queen. Thou art brave
and generous in love. Seven hundred wives have I, and three hundred
concubines, and virgins without number have I known; but thou, my timid
one, art my only one,--thou fairest among women. I have found thee like
as a diver in the Gulf of Persia, that filleth a great number of baskets
with barren shells and pearls of little price, ere he get from the bed
of the sea a pearl worthy a king's crown. My child, a man may love
thousands of times, yet he loveth but once. People without number think
they love, yet only to two of them doth God send love. And when thou
didst yield thyself up to me among the cypresses, under the rafters of
cedars, upon the bed of green, I did with all my soul render thanks to
God, so gracious to me."

Sulamith also asked once:

"I know that they all loved thee, for not to love thee is impossible.
The Queen of Sheba did come to thee from her domain. They say, that she
was the wisest and fairest of all women that had ever been on earth. As
in a dream, I recall her caravans. I know not why, but since my earliest
childhood I have been drawn to the chariots of the great. I was then
perhaps seven, perhaps eight. I remember the camels in golden harness,
covered with caparisons of purple, laden with heavy burthens; I remember
the mules with the little bells of gold between their ears; I remember
the droll monkeys in silvern cages; and the wondrous peacocks. There was
a multitude of servants in garments of white and blue, marching; they
led tame tigers and panthers upon ribbands of red. I was but eight
then."

"O child, thou wert but eight then," said Solomon with sadness.

"Didst thou love her more than me, Solomon? Wilt tell me something of
her?"

And the king told her all pertaining to this amazing woman. Having heard
much of the wisdom and beauty of the King of Israel, she had come to him
from her domain with rich gifts, desiring to prove his wisdom and subdue
his heart. This was a magnificent woman of forty, who was already
beginning to fade. But through secret, magic means she contrived to make
her body, that was growing flabby, seem graceful and supple, like a
girl's, while her face bore an impress of an awesome, inhuman beauty.
But her wisdom was ordinary wisdom, and the petty wisdom of a woman to
boot.

Desiring to test the king with riddles, she at first sent to him fifty
youths of tenderest age, and fifty maidens. They were all so cunningly
dressed that the keenest eye could not have discerned their sex. "I
shall call thee wise, O King," said Balkis, "if thou shalt tell me
which of them is woman, and which man."

But the king burst out laughing, and ordered that every he and she
sent him be brought a separate bason of silver, and a separate ewer of
silver, for laving. And whereas the boys bravely splashed in the water
and cast it in handfuls at their faces, drying their skin vigorously,
the girls acted as women always do at their ablutions. They lathered
each hand gently and solicitously, bringing it closely to their eyes.

In so easy a manner did the king solve the first riddle of
Balkis-Mâkkedah.

Next she sent Solomon a large diamond, the size of a hazel nut. This
stone had a thin, exceedingly tortuous flaw, that perforated its entire
body with a narrow, intricate path. The task was to put a silken thread
through the jewel. And the wise king let into the opening a silk worm,
which, having passed through, left the finest of silken webs in its
wake.

Also, the beauteous Balkis sent King Solomon a precious goblet of carved
sardonyx, of magnificent workmanship. "This goblet shall be thine," she
had commanded that the king be told, "if thou fillest it with moisture
taken neither from earth nor heaven." And Solomon, having filled the
goblet with froth falling from the body of a fatigued steed, ordered it
to be carried to the queen.

Many such hard questions did the queen put to Solomon, but could not
belittle his wisdom; nor with all her secret charms of love's passion
in the night might she contrive to retain his love. And when she had
finally palled upon the king, he had cruelly, hurtfully made mock of
her.

Everybody knew that the Savvian queen never showed her lower extremities
to anyone, and for that reason wore a garment reaching to the ground.
Even in the hours of love caresses did she keep her legs closely covered
with raiment. Many strange and droll legends had sprung up on this
account.

Some averred, that the queen had legs like a goat, grown over with wool;
others swore, that instead of human feet she had webbed feet, like a
goose. And they even related how the mother of Balkis had once, after
bathing, sat down upon sand where just before a certain god, temporarily
metamorphosed into a gander, had left his seed, and that through this
she had borne the beauteous Queen of Sheba.

And so Solomon one day commanded to be built, in one of his chambers, a
transparent floor of crystal, with an empty space beneath it, which was
filled with water and stocked with live fish. All this was done with
such extraordinary art that one not forewarned could never possibly
notice the glass, and would take an oath that a pool of clear, fresh
water lay before him.

And when all was in readiness, Solomon invited his regal guest to an
interview. Surrounded by all the pomp of her retinue, she paced through
the chambers of the House at Lebanon, and came up to the treacherous
pool. At the other end of it sat the king, resplendent with gold and
precious stones, and with a welcoming look in his dark eyes. The door
opened before the queen, and she took a step forward,--but cried out
and....

Sulamith claps her palms and laughs, and her laughter is joyous and
child-like.

"She stoops and lifts up her raiment?" asks Sulamith.

"Yea, my beloved, she acted as any among women would have acted. She
raised up the hem of her garment, and although this lasted for but a
moment, not only I but all my court saw that the beauteous Savvian
Queen, Balkis-Mâkkedah, had ordinary human legs, but crooked and grown
over with coarse hair. On the very next day she set off, without bidding
me farewell, and departed with her magnificent caravan. I had not meant
to offend her. I sent after her a trustworthy runner, whom I ordered to
give to the queen a bundle of a rare mountain herb,--the best means for
the extirpation of hair upon the body. But she returned to me the head
of my emissary in a bag of costly purple."

Solomon also told his beloved many things out of his life, which none
other among men and women knew, and which Sulamith carried with her into
the grave. He told her of the long and weary years of his wanderings,
when, fleeing from the wrath of his brethren, he was forced to hide
under an assumed name in foreign lands, enduring fearful poverty and
privations. He told her how, in a far-off, unknown country, while he
was standing in the market place, in expectation of being hired to work
somewhere, the king's cook had approached him and said:

"Stranger, help me carry this hamper of fish into the palace."

Through his wit, adroitness, and skilled demeanor, Solomon so pleased
the officers of the court, that in a short while he had made himself at
home in the palace, and when the head cook died he had taken his place.
Further, Solomon told of how the king's only daughter,--a beautiful,
ardent maiden,--had fallen in love with the new cook and had confessed
her love to him; how they fled from the palace one night, and had been
re-taken and brought back; how Solomon had been condemned to die; and
how, by a miracle, he succeeded in escaping from the dungeon.

Avidly did Sulamith listen to him, and, when he grew silent, amidst the
stillness of the night their lips joined, their arms entwined each
other, and breast touched breast. And when morning drew near, and
Sulamith's body seemed a foamy pink, and the fatigue of love encircled
her splendid eyes with blue shadows, she would say with a tender smile:

"Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick with love."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER TEN

X.


In the temple of Isis, upon Mount Beth-El-Khav, the first part of the
great mystery, to which the faithful of the lesser initiation were
admitted, was just over. The priest on duty,--an ancient elder in white
vestment, with shaven head, and neither moustache nor beard,--had turned
from the elevation of the altar toward the people, and pronounced in a
quiet, tired voice:

"Dwell in peace, my sons and daughters. Wax perfect through deeds.
Extoll the name of the goddess. And may her blessings be over ye for
ever and aye."

He raised his hands on high over the people, in benediction. And
immediately all the initiates into the lesser rank of the mysteries
prostrated themselves on the floor, and then, arising, softly and in
silence made their way to the exit.

To-day was the seventh day of the month Phamenoth, sacred to the
mysteries of Osiris and Isis. Since evening the solemn procession had
thrice made the circuit of the temple with lamps, palm-leaves, and
amphoræ; with the occult symbols of the gods and the sacred images of
the Phallus. In the midst of the procession, upon the shoulders of the
priests and the minor prophets, was reared the closed _naos_ of costly
wood, ornamented with pearl, ivory, and gold. Therein dwelt the goddess
herself,--She, The Invisible, The Bestower of Fecundity, The Mysterious;
Mother, Sister, and Wife of gods.

The evil Seth had enticed his brother, the divine Osiris, to a feast;
through craftiness he made him to lie down in a magnificent sarcophagus,
and, having clapped down the lid over him, cast the sarcophagus with the
body of the great god into the Nile. Isis, who had just given birth to
Horus, with yearning and tears searches all the world over for the body
of her spouse, and for long can not find it. Finally, slaves inform her
that the body had been borne out to sea by the waves, and that it had
been cast up at Byblos, where an enormous tree had sprung up about
it, enclosing within its trunk the body of the god and his floating
dwelling. The king of that domain had commanded a mighty column to be
made out of the enormous tree, not knowing that within it reposed the
god Osiris himself, the great bestower of life. Isis goes to Byblos;
she arrives there fatigued with sultriness, thirst, and the toilsome,
stony road. She liberates the sarcophagus out of the midst of the tree,
carries it with her, and buries it in the earth near the city wall.
But Seth again secretly steals away the body of Osiris, cuts it up into
fourteen parts, and strews them over all the towns and settlements of
Upper and Lower Ægpyt.

And again with great grief and lamentations Isis set out in search of
the sacred members of her spouse and brother. Her sister, the goddess
Nephthys, and the mighty Thoth, and the son of the goddess, the radiant
Horus,--Horus of the Horizon,--all join their plaints to her weeping.

Such was the hidden meaning of the present procession in the first half
of the sacred service. Now, upon the departure of the common believers,
and after a short rest, the second part of the great mystery was about
to be consummated. In the temple were left only those initiated into the
higher degrees,--mystagogues, epopts, prophets and sacrificators.

Boys in white vestments bore about, upon salvers of silver, flesh,
bread, dried fruits, and sweet wine of Pelusium. Others poured hippocras
out of narrow-necked Tyrian vessels,--a drink given in those days to
condemned criminals before execution, to arouse their manhood, but which
also possessed the great virtue of generating and sustaining in men the
fire of a sacred madness.

At a sign from the priest on duty the boys withdrew. A priest who was
also the keeper of the gates locked all doors. Then he attentively made
the rounds of all those who remained, scrutinizing their faces and
testing them with secret words that constituted the pass-orders for this
night. Two other priests drew a silvern thurible upon wheels down the
length of the temple and around each of its columns. The temple filled
with the blue, thick, heady, aromatic fumes of incense, and through the
layers of smoke grew barely visible the vari-coloured flames of the
lamp,--lamps made of translucent stones, lamps set in carved gold and
suspended from the ceiling upon long chains of silver. In the times of
eld this temple of Osiris and Isis was known for its small extent and
its poverty, and was hollowed out like a cavern in the heart of the
mountain. A narrow subterranean corridor led to it from without. But in
the days of the reign of Solomon, who had taken under his protection
all religions save those which permitted the offering of children in
sacrifice, and thanks to the zeal of Queen Astis, an Ægyptian born, the
temple had expanded in depth and height, and had become adorned with
rich offerings.

The former altar still remained inviolate in its primordial, austere
simplicity, together with a great number of small chambers surrounding
it and serving for the keeping of treasures, sacrificial objects, and
priestly appurtenances, as well as for special secret purposes during
the most occult mystic orgies.

But then, the outer court was truly magnificent, with its pylons in
honour of the goddess Hathor, and with a four-sided colonnade of four
and twenty columns. The inner, subterranean, hypostylic hall for
worshippers was built still more magnificently. Its mosaic floor was all
adorned with cunningly wrought images of fishes, beasts, amphibians
and reptiles; while the ceiling was overlaid with blue lazure, and
upon it shone a sun of gold, glowed a moon of silver, innumerable
stars twinkled, and birds soared upon outspread wings. The floor was
the earth, the ceiling the sky, and they were joined by round and
many-sided columns, like mighty tree trunks; and since all the columns
were surmounted by capitals in the form of the tender flowers of lotus
or the slender cylinders of the papyrus, the ceiling they supported did
in reality seem as light and æthereal as the sky.

The walls to the height of a man were faced with plates of red granite,
brought at the desire of Queen Astis out of Thebes, where the local
master workers could impart to the granite a smoothness like that of a
mirror, together with an amazing polish. Higher, to the very ceiling,
the walls, as well as the columns, were gay with graven and limned
images with the symbols of the gods of both Ægypts. Here was Sebekh,
honoured in Fayum in the form of a crocodile; and Thoth, the god of the
moon, depicted as an ibis in the city of Khmunu; and the sun-god Horus,
to whom a small idol-temple was consecrated in Edfu; and Bast of
Bubastis, in the form of a cat; Shu, the god of the air, as a lion;
Ptah,--an Apis; Hathor, the goddess of mirth,--a heifer; Anubis, the
god of embalming, with the head of a jackal; and Menthu out of Hermon;
and the Coptic Minu; and Neith of Sais, the goddess of the sky; and,
finally, in the form of a ram,--the dread god whose name was never
uttered, and who was called Khenti-Amentiu, which signifieth: The
Dweller in the West.

The half-dark altar reared above the entire temple, and the gold upon
the walls of the sanctuary that hid the images of Isis gleamed within
its depths. Three gates,--a large one in the middle, and two small ones
flanking it,--opened into the sanctuary. Before the middle one stood a
small sacrificial altar with a sacred stone knife of Æthiopian obsidian.
Steps led up to the altar, and upon them were disposed young priests and
priestesses with tympani and sistrums, with flutes and tabours.

Queen Astis was reclining within a little, secret chamber. A small
quadrangular opening, artfully concealed by a large curtain, led
directly to the altar, and permitted one to follow all the details
of the sacred service without betraying one's presence. A light,
closely-fitting dress of linen gauze, interwoven with silver, tightly
enveloped the body of the queen, leaving the arms bare up to the
shoulders, and the legs half-way to the calf. Her skin gleamed pinkly
through the diaphanous material, and one could see the pure lines and
elevations of her graceful body, which, despite the queen's age of
thirty, still had lost none of its litheness, beauty and freshness. Her
hair, stained a blue colour, was spread loosely over her shoulders and
back, and was adorned with innumerable little aromatic pomanders. Her
face was much rouged and whitened; while her eyes, finely outlined by
kohl, seemed enormous and glowed in the darkness, like those of some
powerful beasts of the feline species. A sacred uræus of gold hung down
from her neck, separating the half-bared breasts.

Ever since Solomon had cooled toward Queen Astis, tired of her unbridled
sensuality, she, with all the ardour of southern love-passion, and
with all the jealousy of a woman scorned, had given herself up to those
secret orgies of perverted lust that constituted the highest cult of the
castrates' service of Isis. She always showed herself surrounded by
priests-castrates, and, even now, as one of them fanned her head with
measured strokes of a fan made of peacock feathers, others were seated
upon the floor drinking in the beauty of the queen with eyes of insane
bliss. Their nostrils were dilating and quivering from the scent of her
body wafted to them, and they sought with trembling fingers to touch
unperceived the hem of her light raiment, barely stirring in the breeze.
Their excessive, never satiated sensuousness spurred on their imagination
to its utmost limits. Their inventiveness in the pleasures of Kybele and
Ashera surpassed all human possibilities. And being jealous of the queen
toward one another, toward all men, women, and children--being jealous
of her own self--they adored her even more than Isis, and, loving her,
hated her as an inexhaustible, fiery fountain-head of delectable and
cruel sufferings.

Dark, evil, fearful, and fascinating rumours were current about Queen
Astis in Jerusalem. The parents of beautiful boys and girls hid
their children from her gaze; men dreaded to utter her name upon the
conjugal couch, as an omen of defilement and disaster. But agitating,
irresistible curiosity drew all souls to her, and gave all bodies
up into her power. They who had but once experienced her ferocious,
sanguinary caresses could nevermore forget her, and became her lifelong,
pitiful, spurned slaves. Ready, for a renewed possession of her, to
commit every sin, to endure every degradation and crime, they came to
resemble those unfortunates who, having once tasted of the bitter drink
of the poppy from the Land of Ophir,--the drink that bestoweth sweet
dreams,--will never more draw away from it, bowing down before it only
and honouring it alone, until exhaustion and madness cut short their
life.

The fan swayed slowly in the sultry air. In silent rapture the priests
contemplated their dread sovereign. But she seemed to have forgotten
their presence. Having moved the curtain slightly aside, she was
ceaselessly gazing across toward that part of the altar where at one
time, out of the dark fissures of the ancient curtains of beaten gold,
was to be seen the beautiful, radiant countenance of the king of Israel.
Him alone did the spurned queen, the cruel and lecherous Astis, love
with all her flaming and depraved heart. His glance of a fleeting
moment, a kind word of his, the touch of his hand, did she seek
everywhere, and found not. Upon triumphal levees, court banquets, and
upon the days of judgment, did Solomon pay his respects, due a queen and
the daughter of a king; but his soul was not quick unto her. And the
proud queen would often command herself to be borne at set hours past
the House at Lebanon, to glimpse, even though afar and unnoticed, through
the heavy stuffs of her litter, the proud, unforgettably splendid visage
of Solomon, in the midst of the throng of courtiers. And long since her
flaming love had grown so closely joined to searing hatred that Astis
herself was unable to tell them apart.

In former days Solomon also had visited the temple of Isis on great
festal days, had brought the goddess offerings, and had even accepted
the title of her hierophant,--second after that of the Pharaoh of Ægypt.
But the horrible mysteries of "The Sanguine Sacrifice of Fecundation"
had turned his mind and heart from the service of the Mother of Gods.

"He that is castrated through ignorance or by force, or through accident
or disease, is not abased before God," the king hath said. "But woe be
unto him that doth maim himself with his own hand."

And now for a whole year his couch in the temple had remained vacant.
And in vain did the flaming eyes of the queen now gaze feverishly at the
unstirred hangings.

In the meanwhile, the wine, hippocras, and the stupefying burnt perfumes
were already having a perceptible effect upon those gathered within the
temple. Cries, and laughter, and the ring of silver vessels falling upon
the stone floor came with greater frequency. The grand, mysterious
moment of the sanguinary sacrifice was approaching. Ecstasy was overcoming
the faithful.

With an abstracted gaze the queen surveyed the temple and the believers.
Many honoured and illustrious men of Solomon's retinue and many of his
generals were here: Ben-Geber, ruler over the region of Argob; and
Ahimaaz, who had Basmath, the daughter of the king, to wife; and the
witty Ben-Dekar; and Zabud, who bore, in accordance with eastern
customs, the high title of the King's Friend; and the brother of Solomon
by the first marriage of David,--Dalaiah, a debilitated, half-dead man,
who had prematurely fallen into idiocy through excesses and drinking.
They were all--some through faith, some through ulterior designs, others
out of adulation, and still others for lecherous purposes,--the adorants
of Isis.

And now the eyes of the queen rested, long and attentively, intent in
thought, on the comely, youthful face of Eliab, one of the officers of
the king's bodyguards.

The queen knew why his swarthy face was aflame with such a vivid colour,
why his eyes were directed with such passionate yearning hitherward,
upon the curtains, scarce stirring from the touch of the queen's
beautiful hands. Once, almost in jest, submitting to a momentary
caprice, she had made Eliab to pass a whole night of felicity with her.
In the morning she had let him depart, but ever since, for many days
running, she had beheld everywhere,--in the palace, in the temple, in
the streets,--two enamoured, submissive, yearning eyes, that followed
her entranced.

The dark eyebrows of the queen contracted, and her green, elongated eyes
suddenly darkened from a fearful thought. With a barely perceptible
motion of her hand she ordered the castrate to lower the fan and said
quietly:

"Get hence, all of you. Hushai, thou shalt go and summon to me Eliab,
the officer of the king's guard. Let him come alone."

[Illustration]



CHAPTER ELEVEN

XI.


Ten priests, in white vestments, maculated with red, stepped out to the
centre of the altar. Following them came two other priests, clad in
feminine garments. It was their duty to-day to represent Nephthys and
Isis, bewailing Osiris. Then out of the depths of the altar came one in
a white chiton, without a single ornament, and the eyes of all the men
and women were eagerly drawn to him. This was the very same desert
anchorite who had undergone a heavy trial of ten years' wrestling with
the flesh upon the mountains of Lebanon, and was now to bring a great,
voluntary bloody sacrifice to Isis. His face, emaciated by hunger,
wind-beaten and scorched, was stern and pallid, the eyes austerely cast
down; and a supernatural horror was wafted from him upon the throng.

Finally, the chief priest of the temple also made his appearance,--a
centenarian ancient, with a tiara upon his head, with a tiger skin upon
his shoulders, in an apron of brocaded samite adorned with the tails of
jackals.

Turning to the worshippers, he uttered in a senile voice, meek and
tremulous:

"_Suton-di-botpu._" ("The king bringeth the sacrifice.")

And then, turning around to the sacrificial altar, he took from the
hands of an acolyte a white dove with little red feet, cut off the
bird's head, took the heart out of her breast, and sprinkled the
sacrificial altar and the consecrated knife with her blood.

After a brief silence he proclaimed:

"Let us weep for Osiris, the god of Atum, the Great On-Nefer-Hophra, the
god Ona!"

Two castrates in female garments,--Isis and Nephthys,--at once commenced
the lamentation, in harmonious, high-pitched voices:

"Return to thy dwelling, O beauteous youth! To behold thee is bliss.

"Isis charges thee,--Isis, that was conceived in the one womb with
thee,--Isis, thy spouse and thy sister.

"Show us thy countenance anew, radiant god. Here is Nephthys, thy
sister. She is deluged in her tears and plucks out her hair in her
grief.

"In a yearning like unto death do we seek after thy beauteous body.
Return to thy dwelling, Osiris!"

Two other priests joined their voices to those of the first two. These
were Horus and Anubis lamenting for Osiris, and each time they concluded
a stanza, the chorus, disposed upon the steps of the staircase, repeated
it to a solemn and sad motif.

Then with the same chant the elder priests brought out of the sanctuary
the statue of the goddess, no longer covered with the _naos_. A black
mantle, strewn over with golden stars, now enveloped the goddess from
head to foot, leaving visible only her silvern feet, entwined by a
serpent, as well as, over her head, a silvern disc, confined within the
horns of a cow. And slowly, to the tinkling of the censers and sistra,
with mournful weeping, the procession of the goddess Isis set out from
the steps of the altar, down into the temple, along its walls, and in
and out between the columns.

Thus did the goddess gather up the scattered members of her spouse, that
she might resuscitate him with the aid of Thoth and Anubis.

"Glory to the city of Abydos, that preserved thy fair head, Osiris.

"Glory to thee, city of Memphis, where we did find the right hand of the
great god,--the hand of war and protection.

"And to thee also, O city of Sais, that didst harbour the left hand of
the radiant god,--the hand of justice.

"And be thou blessed, city of Thebes, where the heart of On-Nefer-Hophra
did repose."

Thus did the goddess make the round of the entire temple, coming back to
the altar, and more and more passionate and loud did the singing of the
chorus become. A sacred exaltation was taking possession of the priests
and those praying. All the parts of the body of Osiris had Isis found,
save one,--the sacred Phallus, impregnating the maternal womb, creating
new life eternal. Now was approaching the grandest act in the mystery of
Osiris and Isis....

       *       *       *       *       *

"Is it thou, Eliab?" the queen asked the youth, who had quietly entered
the door.

In the darkness near the couch he noiselessly sank at her feet and pressed
to his lips the hem of her raiment. And the queen felt him weeping with
rapture, shame, and desire. Lowering her hand upon his curly, tousled
head, the queen uttered:

"Tell me, Eliab, all that thou knowest of the king and this girl of the
vineyard."

"How thou dost love him, O queen!" said Eliab with a bitter moan.

"Speak!..." commanded Astis.

"What can I tell thee, queen? My heart is rent by jealousy."

"Speak!"

"Never yet has the king loved any as he loveth her. He doth not part
from her for an instant. His eyes shine with happiness. He lavishes
favours and gifts all about him. He, the Abimelech[5] and sage,--he,
like a slave, lieth at her feet and, like a dog, taketh not his eyes
off her."

"Speak!"

"O, how thou dost torture me, queen! And she ... she is all love, all
tenderness and caresses! She is meek and abashed, she sees and knows
naught save her love. She arouses wrath, envy, or jealousy in none...."

"Speak!" furiously moaned out the queen, and, clutching with her pliant
fingers the black curls of Eliab, she pressed his head against her body,
scratching his face with the silver embroidery of her diaphanous chiton.

       *       *       *       *       *

And in the meanwhile, at the altar, around the image of the goddess
covered with its black pall, the priests and priestesses were careering
in a holy frenzy, with shouts resembling barking, to the clashing of
tympani and the jarring strum of sistrums.

Certain ones among them were flaying themselves with many-tailed
whiplashes of rhinoceros hide; others were inflicting long, slashing
wounds upon their own breasts and shoulders with short knives; others
still were tearing their mouths with their fingers, tearing at their
ears, and excoriating their faces with their nails. In the midst of this
mad round-dance, at the very feet of the goddess, with inconceivable
rapidity the anchorite from the mountains of Lebanon was whirling on one
spot, in snowy-white, waving raiment. The head priest alone remained
motionless. In his hand he was holding the sacred sacrificial knife of
Æthiopian obsidian, ready to pass it over at the ultimate, frightful
moment.

"The Phallus! The Phallus! The Phallus!" the maddened priests were
crying in an ecstasy. "Where is thy Phallus, O radiant god? Come,
fecundate the goddess! Her bosom languishes with desire! Her womb is
like a desert in the sultry months of summer!"

And now a fearful, insane, piercing scream for an instant drowned all
sound of the chorus. The priests quickly parted, and all those in the
temple beheld the anchorite of Lebanon, utterly nude, horrible with his
tall, gaunt, yellow body. The high priest held out the knife to him. The
temple grew unbearably still. And he, quickly stooping, made some motion,
straightened up, and with a wail of pain and rapture suddenly cast at
the feet of the goddess a formless, bloody piece of flesh.

He was tottering. The high priest carefully supported him, putting his
arm around his back; led him up to the image of Isis, painstakingly
covered him with the black pall, and left him thus for a few moments, in
order that in secret, unseen of the others, he might imprint his kiss
upon the lips of the impregnated goddess.

Immediately thereafter he was laid upon a stretcher and borne from the
altar. The priest who kept the gates went outside the temple. He struck
an enormous copper disc with a wooden mallet, proclaiming to all the
universe that the great mystery of the fecundation of the goddess had
been consummated. And the high, singing sound of the copper floated away
over Jerusalem....

Queen Astis, her body still quivering without cease, threw back Eliab's
head. Her eyes were aflame with an intense, red fire. And she spake
slowly, word by word:

"Eliab, wouldst have me make thee king over Judæa and Israel? Wouldst
thou be sovereign over all Syria and Mesopotamia, over Phoenicia and
Babylon?"

"Nay, queen, I desire thee alone...."

"Yea, thou shalt be my lord. All my nights shall belong to thee. My
every word, my every glance, my every breath shall be thine. Thou
knowest the shibboleth. Thou shalt go this day into the palace and slay
them. Thou shalt slay them both! Thou shalt slay them both!"

Eliab was fain to speak. But the queen drew him to her, and her burning
lips and tongue clung to his mouth. This lasted excruciatingly long.
Then, suddenly tearing the youth away from her, she said curtly and
imperiously:

"Go!"

"I go," answered Eliab, submissively.



CHAPTER TWELVE

XII.


And it was the seventh night of Solomon's great love.

Strangely quiet and deeply tender were the caresses of the king and
Sulamith on this night. Some pensive melancholy, some cautious timidity,
some distant premonition, seemed to have cast a slight shadow over their
words, their kisses and embraces.

Gazing through the window at the sky, where night was already
vanquishing the sinking flame of the evening, Sulamith let her eyes rest
upon a bright, bluish star that trembled meekly and tenderly.

"What is that star called, my beloved?" she asked.

"That is the star Sopdit," answered the king. "It is a sacred star.
Assyrian magi tell us that the souls of all men dwell upon it after the
death of the body."

"Dost thou believe it, my king?"

Solomon made no reply. His right hand was under Sulamith's head, and his
left did embrace her; and she felt his aromatic breath upon her,--upon
her hair, upon her temple.

"Mayhap we shall see each other there, my king, after we have died?"
asked Sulamith uneasily.

The king again kept silence.

"Give me some answer, beloved," timidly implored Sulamith.

Whereupon the king said:

"Brief is the life of man, but time is without end, and matter hath no
death. Man dieth and maketh the earth fertile with the corruption of his
body; the earth nourisheth the blade; the blade bringeth forth grain;
man consumeth bread, and feedeth his body therewith. Multitudes, and
multitudes upon multitudes, of ages shall pass; all things in the
universe repeat themselves,--men, beasts, stones, plants,--all repeat
themselves. In the multiform vortex of time and matter we, too, are
repeated, my beloved. It is just as true as that, if thou and I were to
fill a large bag up to the top with sea gravel, and were to cast therein
but one precious sapphire,--though we were to take pebbles out of the bag
many, many times, we still would, sooner or later, draw out the precious
stone as well. Thou and I will meet, Sulamith, nor shall we know each
other; but our hearts, with rapture and yearning, will strive to meet,
for thou and I have already met,--my meek, my fair Sulamith,--though we
remember it not."

"Nay, my king, nay! I remember. When thou didst stand beneath the window
and didst call to me: 'My fair, come out, for my locks are filled with
the drops of the night!' I knew thee, I remembered thee; and fear and
joy possessed my heart. Tell me, my king,--tell me, Solomon: if I were,
say, to die on the morrow, wouldst thou recall thy swarthy maiden of the
vineyard, thy Sulamith?"

And the king, pressing her to his breast, whispered in emotion:

"Never speak thus.... Speak not thus, O Sulamith! Thou art chosen of God,
thou art the veritable one, thou art the queen of my soul.... Death
shall not touch thee...."

The strident sound of brass suddenly soared over Jerusalem. For long it
trembled mournfully and wavered in the air, and when it had grown silent
its quavering echoes still floated on for a long while.

"This marks the ending of the mystery in the temple of Isis," said the
king.

"I am afraid, my comely one," whispered Sulamith. "A dark terror has
penetrated into my soul.... I do not want to die.... I have not yet had
time to enjoy my fill of thy embraces.... Embrace me.... Press me closer
to thee.... Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a seal upon thy arm!..."

"Fear not death, Sulamith! For love is strong as death.... Drive sad
thoughts from thee.... Wouldst have me tell thee of the wars of David,
of the feasts and hunts of the Pharaoh Shishak? Wouldst hear one of
those fairy tales that come from the land of Ophir?... Wouldst have me
tell thee of the wonders of Bakramaditiah?"

"Yea, my king. Thou dost know thyself that when I hearken to thee, my
heart doth expand from happiness! But I would ask a boon of thee...."

"O Sulamith, all that thou dost desire! Ask my life of me,--I shall
render it up to thee with delight. I shall only regret having paid too
small a price for thy love."

[Illustration]

Then Sulamith smiled in the darkness for happiness, and, entwining the
king with her arms, whispered in his ear:

"I beseech thee, when the morning cometh let us go together there ... to
the vineyard.... There, where it is green, and the cypresses are, and
the cedars; where, nigh the stone wall, thou didst take my soul with thy
hands.... I beseech thee to do this, my beloved.... There will I give
thee my loves anew...."

In a transport of delight the king kissed the lips of his love.

But Sulamith suddenly raised herself up on the couch and hearkened.

"What is it, my child?... What hath frightened thee?" asked Solomon.

"Stay, my beloved.... Some one is coming hither.... Yea ... I hear
steps."

She became silent. And the stillness was such that they marked the beating
of their hearts.

A slight rustling was heard beyond the door, and it was suddenly thrown
ajar, quickly and without a sound.

"Who is there?" cried out Solomon.

But Sulamith had already sprung up from the bed, and with one move
dashed toward the dark figure of a man with a gleaming sword in his
hand. And immediately, stricken through by a short, quick stroke, she
fell down to the floor with a faint cry, as though of wonder.

Solomon shattered with his hand the screen of carnelian that shaded the
light of the night-lamp. He beheld Eliab, who was standing near the
door, stooping a little over the body of the girl, swaying like one in
wine. The young warrior raised his head under Solomon's gaze, and, when
his eyes met the wrathful, awesome eyes of the king, he blanched and
groaned. An expression of despair and terror distorted his features. And
suddenly, stooping, hiding his face in his mantle, he began timidly,
like a frightened jackal, to slink out of the room. But the king stayed
him, saying but three words:

"Who compelled thee?"

All a-tremble and with teeth chattering, with eyes grown white from
fear, the young warrior let drop dully:

"Queen Astis...."

"Get thee hence," commanded Solomon. "Tell the guard on duty to watch
thee."

Soon people with lights commenced running through the innumerable rooms
of the palace. All the chambers were illuminated. The leeches came; the
friends and the military officers of the king gathered.

The chief leech said:

"King, neither science nor God will now avail. She will die the instant
we draw out the sword left in her breast."

But at this moment Sulamith came to and said with a calm smile:

"I would drink."

And when she had drunk, her eyes rested with a tender, beautiful smile
upon the king, nor did she again take them away, the while he stood upon
his knees before her couch, all naked, even as she, without perceiving
that his knees were laved in her blood, nor that his hands were
encrimsoned with the scarlet of her blood.

Thus, with difficulty, gazing upon her beloved and smiling gently, did
the beautiful Sulamith speak:

"I thank thee, my king, for all things: for thy love, for thy beauty,
for thy wisdom, to which thou didst allow me to set my lips, as to a
sweet well of living waters. Let me to kiss thy hands; take them not
away from my mouth till such time when the last breath shall have fled
from me. Never has there been, nor ever shall there be, a woman happier
than I. I thank thee, my king, my beloved, my fair. Think ever and anon
upon thy slave, upon thy Sulamith, scorched of the sun."

And the king made answer to her, in a deep, slow voice:

"As long as men and women shall love one another; as long as beauty of
soul and body shall be the best and sweetest dream in the universe,--so
long, I swear to thee, Sulamith, shall thy name be uttered through many
ages with emotion and gratefulness."

       *       *       *       *       *

Toward morning Sulamith ceased to be.

Then did the king rise up, command the means for laving to be brought to
him, and, donning his most magnificent chiton of purple, broidered with
golden scarabæ, he placed upon his head a crown of blood-red rubies.
After this he did call Benaiah to him, and spake calmly:

"Benaiah, thou shalt go and put Eliab to death."

But the old man covered his face with his hands and fell prostrate before
the king.

"Eliab is my grandson, O King."

"Didst thou hear me, Benaiah?"

"Forgive me, O King,--threaten me not with thy wrath; command some other
to do this. Eliab, having come out of the palace, did run to the temple,
and caught hold on the horns of the altar. I am old, my death is nigh; I
dare not take upon my soul this two-fold crime."

But the king retorted:

"Nevertheless, when I did instruct thee to put to death my brother
Adonijah, who had likewise caught hold on the sacred horns of the altar,
didst thou not hearken to me, Benaiah?"

"Forgive me! Spare me, King!"

"Lift up thy face," commanded Solomon.

And when Benaiah did raise up his face, and beheld the king's eyes, he
quickly rose up from the floor and obediently made his way to the exit.

Then, turning to Ahishar, who was the seneschal, and over the household,
he commanded:

"I do not want to give the queen up to death; let her live as she
wishes, and die when she wishes. But nevermore shall she behold my
countenance. This day, Ahishar, thou shalt fit out a caravan and escort
the queen to the harbour at Jaffa; and thence to Ægypt, to the Pharaoh
Shishak. Now let all get hence."

And, left alone face to face with the body of Sulamith, he long
contemplated her beautiful features. Her face was pale, and never had it
been so fair during her life. The half-parted lips that Solomon had been
kissing but half an hour ago were smiling enigmatically and beautifully;
and her teeth, still humid, gleamed very faintly from between them.

For long did the king gaze upon his dead leman; then, he softly touched
with his fingers her brow, already losing the warmth of life, and with
slow steps withdrew from the chamber.

Beyond the doors the high priest Azariah, son of Zadok, was awaiting
him. Approaching the king, he asked:

"What shall we do with the body of this woman? It is now the Sabbath."

And the king recalled how, many years ere this, his father had expired
and lay upon the sand, already beginning to decompose rapidly. Dogs,
drawn by the scent of carrion, were already prowling about with eyes
glaring from hunger and greediness. And, even as now, the high priest,
a decrepit old man, the father of Azariah, had then asked him:

"Here lieth thy father; the dogs may rend his corpse.... What are we to
do? Honour the memory of the king and profane the Sabbath; or observe
the Sabbath but leave the corpse of thy father to be devoured of dogs?"

Thereupon Solomon made answer:

"Leave him. A living dog is better than a dead lion."

And when now, after the words of the high priest, he did recall this,
his heart did contract from sadness and fear.

Having made no answer to the high priest, he went on, into the Hall of
Judgment.

As always of mornings, two of his scribes, Elihoreph and Ahiah, were
already reclining upon mats, one on either side of the throne, holding
in readiness their inks, reeds, and rolls of papyrus. Upon the king's
entrance they arose and salaamed to the ground before him. And the king
sat down upon his throne of ivory with ornaments of gold, leant his
elbow upon the back of a golden lion, and, bowing his head upon his
palm, commanded:

"Write!

"Set me as a seal upon thy heart, as a ring upon thy hand; for love is
strong as death; jealousy is cruel as hell: the arrows thereof are arrows
of fire."

And, having kept a silence so prolonged that the scribes held their
breath in alarm, he said:

"Leave me to myself."

And all day, till the first shadows of evening, did the king remain
alone with his thoughts; nor durst any enter the vast, empty Hall of
Judgment.


_Tamam Shud_



NOTES BY THE TRANSLATOR


[Footnote 1: The Russian version of this passage reads: "... jealousy is
cruel as the grave: the arrows thereof are arrows of fire." In this, I
have been given to understand, it adheres more closely than does the
English Bible to the original Hebrew.]

[Footnote 2: "Which _is_ the second month..." _I KINGS; vi:1_.]

[Footnote 3: "Which _is_ the eighth month..." _I KINGS; vi:38_.]

[Footnote 4: "A word fitly spoken _is like_ apples of gold in pictures
of silver." _PROVERBS; xxv:11_.]

[Footnote 5: Abimelech; _i. e._, Father-King.]





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